With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 15, in clause 2, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
‘(1A) Before Her Majesty makes an appointment under this section, the Chair of the Justice Committee of the House of Commons shall recommend for Her Majesty’s consideration an appropriate person who in its view could satisfactorily carry out the functions of the Chief Inspector by moving a name on the floor of the House.”
This amendment provides that the Justice Select Committee should make a recommendation on the appointment of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
At the moment, there is no statutory obligation for the person appointed as Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons to be independent of Government and associated bodies, and I think we would all agree that it is essential that the chief inspector of prisons is independent. There are provisions in the Bill to empower prison governors to deliver on extra responsibilities, so it is more important than ever that independent chief inspectors of prisons are able to scrutinise and hold prison governors, as well as the Ministry of Justice, to account in a way that is beyond any question of bias.
We already have the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which in legislation is clearly stated to be just that—independent. In the Police Reform Act 2002, through which the IPCC was created, there are stringent tests precluding candidates with particular backgrounds, which might bring into question their independence, from becoming a chairman or member of the commission. The Government must recognise that that imposed, and legislated for, distance between any appointee to the IPCC and a body that that person might investigate is required also for senior prison inspectors. The inspectorate is already advertising itself as an independent body. Surely now is the time to enshrine this common-sense policy in law, both transparently and explicitly.
I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but I hope that the Government will give a detailed answer explaining why they have not chosen to include this wording in the legislation and whether on reflection they might be amenable to a more specific and stringent statement.
These amendments concern the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons. Increasing the inspectorate’s impact is one part of our plan to have in place effective mechanisms to monitor and improve performance. There will be new performance measures, on the outcomes of which governors will be held to account. We will create new three-year performance agreements, which will be phased in over the next two years.
If we are to hold governors to account for meeting the new standards, they must be given the power to deliver change. We are devolving key operational policies to give governors greater flexibility, and have already cancelled 101 policies to help to reduce bureaucracy for prisons.
We are empowering our leaders, but at the same time strengthening our monitoring of leadership. That includes a more prominent role for HMIP: for the first time in legislation, the chief inspector will be required to report on the effectiveness of leadership in a prison. We will set up a new quarterly performance committee, chaired by the permanent secretary. The committee will reach evidenced assessments of performance, both at individual prison level and across the system. We will also make data available so that the public and governors can see how prisons are performing across different measures. This monitoring is supported by other assurance activities, such as internal audit, providing a complete view of prison performance. It is clear that we will not be waiting around for the inspectorate to signal problems, but within this framework, external scrutiny is vital, too. We need independent, objective assessments of our prisons to hold the governors to account.
We are seeking in the Bill, and specifically in clause 2, to achieve a number of aims for HMIP. I will set those out before turning to the amendments. First, we are making changes to what the inspectorate is required to report on. Importantly, the chief inspector will continue to set his own inspection criteria and report to the Secretary of State on the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in prison, but in addition, when preparing inspection reports, the inspectorate must have regard to the statutory purpose of prison. That will align inspections with the new statutory purpose of prison. As I have set out, inspections will also be required to consider the effectiveness of the leadership in a prison.
Secondly, we are seeking to increase the inspectorate’s impact: we want inspection reports to lead to improvements. There is a requirement for the Secretary of State to respond to the findings of an inspection within 90 days. Where the chief inspector has significant and urgent concerns about a prison, he can trigger an urgent response from the Secretary of State, but as I have outlined, the system will not be waiting for an inspection in order to ensure that proper oversight takes place in our prisons.
Thirdly, we wish to enhance the statutory footing for the inspectorate to conduct inspections. For the first time, it is established in legislation that there is an inspectorate of prisons supporting the chief inspector. The clause also gives the inspectorate new powers to enter prisons and to request information so that they have the right tools to do their job.
Finally, clause 2 provides statutory recognition of the inspectorate’s role in meeting the objectives of the optional protocol to the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment, or OPCAT.
The final point is relevant to amendments 6 and 15 and is about independence. We have above all in the Bill sought to maintain the independence of HMIP. I hope the chief inspector would agree with me that his role includes being able to report freely on what he sees. We believe the Bill reinforces such independence.
Amendment 6 seeks to make it explicit that “an independent” person is appointed as chief inspector. The independence of the chief inspector derives from how the inspectorate is set up and how it operates. The chief inspector sets his own inspection criteria, so he decides what matters he wishes to look at and report on. He decides where and how inspections will be conducted. That includes, for example, whether inspections are announced or unannounced and the frequency of visits. The chief inspector publishes his own inspection reports, so the findings are not restricted in any way.
Following interest from the Justice Select Committee, we have just finalised a protocol between the Ministry of Justice and HMIP setting out the terms of engagement between the two organisations. Taken together, we consider the chief inspector’s independence is clear, and I am therefore not persuaded that amendment 6 is necessary.
Amendment 15 concerns the appointment of the chief inspector. Like other chief inspector posts, this role is subject to the Cabinet Office’s governance code on public appointments, which is overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Commissioner regulates the processes by which Ministers make appointments to public bodies. The appointment therefore follows an established transparent process for public appointments. We agree that Parliament should play a role in such an important appointment. The Justice Select Committee is consulted on the job description and criteria prior to a recruitment being launched. The chief inspector appointment is subject to pre-appointment hearing by the Justice Select Committee. This allows the Committee to assess the preferred candidate and provide its views to the Secretary of State before any appointment. The Cabinet Office guidance on pre-appointment scrutiny states:
“In relation to the findings of the Committee, Ministers should weigh the views of the committee carefully against the evidence from the appointments procedure to reach a final view to ensure that the decision is made fairly and taking all relevant considerations into account.”
There is, therefore, an important role for the Committee, but, overall, I consider that the choice for this critical role should rest with the Secretary of State, who is accountable to Parliament for prison performance.
I hope that I have been able to set out our plans for strong, external scrutiny of the prison system, with an empowered, independent inspectorate at its heart. The Bill strengthens the independence of the inspectorate, and on that basis I hope that the hon. Lady is able to withdraw the amendment.
We are asking for this provision because we think it is important that the chief inspector of prisons is independent from the Government and other associated bodies. I will therefore press the amendment to a Division in a few moments.
The Justice Select Committee looked at this issue and recommended that the Committee should be able to move the name of the person from the Floor of the House. This corresponds with many other independent bodies who have also expressed concern about the apparent lack of independence of the chief inspector of prisons. One of the former chief inspectors, Nick Hardwick, has publicly said that the question of independence is affected when the person somebody is reporting on is the person who will extend their contract, so there is a question about whether they carry on being employed by that person. We therefore say the independence aspect in this particular appointment is very important.
The Prison Reform Trust has said that the independence of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons should be bolstered by having the chief inspector appointed by the Justice Select Committee. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has stated:
“If the Secretary of State now has a statutory duty to support rehabilitation, with the prisons inspectorate charged with assessing this, then surely there is a logical and ethical argument for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons to be appointed independently?”
The Prison Governors Association has also said that giving new powers to the chief inspector of prisons is welcome provided he is able to hold the Ministry of Justice to account. So we welcome the changes in the legislation which bolster the powers of the chief inspector of prisons, but we think that going one step further and making him completely independent would make the system even better.
It is right, I am sure everyone will agree, for the chief inspector of prisons to be beyond any doubt in relation to the independence of his role and of his judgment. It seems to me that this should be stated explicitly in the Bill. Amendment 15 would make changes to the appointment procedure. That would put what is proposed into effect and on to a robust footing. There would then be no doubt in that respect. I have some difficulty in understanding the Minister’s response, particularly in relation to the explicit use of the terminology of independence. None the less, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment proposed: No. 15, in clause 2, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
“(1A) Before Her Majesty makes an appointment under this section, the Chair of the Justice Committee of the House of Commons shall recommend for Her Majesty’s consideration an appropriate person who in its view could satisfactorily carry out the functions of the Chief Inspector by moving a name on the floor of the House
This amendment provides that the Justice Select Committee should make a recommendation on the appointment of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The Committee divided:
Ayes 7, Noes 9.
The purpose of amendments 16 and 17 is to say that the work of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons should be compliant with OPCAT, the optional protocol to the convention against torture, a treaty that supplements the 1984 United Nations convention against torture. It establishes an international inspection system for places of detention and requires “national preventive mechanisms” to be independent. Her Majesty’s inspector of prisons is one of 21 statutory bodies that together make up the UK’s national preventive mechanism. We know that the Government consider that the UK’s national preventive mechanism is already OPCAT compliant, but the previous chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, voiced concerns, as I mentioned earlier, that having to apply to the Government for reappointment compromised his independence. Amendments 16 and 17 would make this commitment to OPCAT explicit and have been welcomed by John Wadham, chair of the UK’s national preventive mechanism. To assume OPCAT compliance is not sufficient.
Clause 2 provides statutory recognition of the chief inspector’s role in meeting the objectives of OPCAT. In the context of making changes to the provisions in the Prison Act 1952 on the chief inspector, we consider it helpful for the statute expressly to recognise the role of the chief inspector in relation to OPCAT. The UK is, and has always been, a strong supporter of OPCAT and we consider that we are fully complying with the international obligations contained in the protocol. OPCAT requires states parties to establish a national preventive mechanism to ensure regular, independent inspection of places of detention to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Clause 2 captures the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons in relation to OPCAT. However, the obligations contained in the protocol are aimed at the states parties to the protocol—thus, the UK—not the organisations that are designated by those states to be members of the national preventive mechanism. It would therefore be inappropriate to place upon the inspectorate international obligations aimed at the UK, as amendments 16 and 17 seek to do. In addition, the inspectorate alone would be unable to fulfil all the OPCAT obligations. The UK national preventive mechanism is in fact composed of 21 members from across the UK.
The statutory recognition of the inspectorate’s OPCAT role is an important change that I know is strongly welcomed by the chief inspector. Given the difficulties that I have highlighted, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
‘(3A) In preparing a section 5A(2) report, the Chief Inspector must also consider the effectiveness of practices and procedures in the prison in relation to the protection of the rights of prisoners.”
This amendment requires the Chief Inspector to report on the rights of prisoners.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 19, in clause 2, page 4, line 22, leave out “90 days” and insert “60 days”
This amendment requires a response from the Secretary of State within a set timeframe when a HMIP report makes recommendations.
Amendment 20, in clause 2, page 4, line 23, at end insert—
‘(5A) The response must set out the actions that the Secretary of State has taken, or proposes to take, in response to the concerns described in the report.”
This amendment requires the response from the Secretary of State to set out actions.
Amendment 21, in clause 2, page 5, line 2, leave out “28 days” and insert “14 days”
This amendment requires a response from the Secretary of State within a set timeframe when a HMIP report giving rise to significant concerns makes recommendations.
Amendment 18 would require the chief inspector to report on the rights of prisoners. That is really important, because it would ensure that prisons are safe and decent places to be, based upon the set of minimum standards in prisons that we have proposed are set by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 19 would require a response from the Secretary of State within a set timeframe when Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons makes recommendations. We believe that 60 days is a more appropriate timeframe and allows any problems to be dealt with a lot more quickly.
Amendment 20 would require the Secretary of State to set out what actions they will take to deal with issues raised by the inspectorate. It is not clear in the current legislation what should happen as a result of an adverse report from the inspectorate. Although there are protocols on what prisons and other inspected institutions should do, there is no requirement at the moment to accept the inspectorate’s recommendations. In line with agreed protocols, inspected bodies should produce an initial action plan, approved by the Secretary of State, in response to inspectorate recommendations. The action plan should set out the consequent action taken or planned, approved by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 21 would require a response from the Secretary of State within a set timeframe when an inspectorate’s report gives rise to significant concerns. That is really important, and the response should be given within a shorter period—14 days, instead of 28.
The idea behind the amendments is to ensure that when the inspectorate’s report is produced, the turnaround period is shorter, there is a shorter time limit on action being taken and an action plan is put in place to deal with the problems in a prison quickly and effectively. That would avoid further deterioration in the prison or institution and ensure that prisoner and prison staff safety is taken much more seriously. There should be a much quicker response.