Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and Inspectorate of Prisons

Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 am on 29th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment proposed (this day): 18, in clause 2,  page 4, line 19, at end insert—

“(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.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 19, in clause 2, page 4, line 22, leave out “90 days” and insert “60 days”.

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

Amendment 21, in clause 2, page 5, line 2, leave out “28 days” and insert “14 days”.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Welcome to the Chair, Mr Stringer. I explained earlier that we are making changes to what Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons is required to report on. The chief inspector will continue to set his own inspection criteria, but in addition the inspectorate, when preparing inspection reports, must have regard to the statutory purpose of prison, which is set out in the Bill. It must also report on leadership.

Amendment 18 would require the chief inspector to report on procedures relating to prisoners’ rights. We have discussed how the Bill gives statutory recognition of the inspectorate’s role in relation to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. OPCAT is about preventing ill treatment of prisoners and HMIP draws on OPCAT in setting out its inspection criteria.

Furthermore, section 5A of the Prison Act 1952 already requires the chief inspector to report on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons. The current inspection framework focuses heavily on prisoner rights. One of the four HMIP “healthy prison tests” is “Respect”, which assesses how far prisoners are treated with respect for their human dignity. Prisoners’ rights are therefore already central to the work of the chief inspector.

Amendments 19, 20 and 21 relate to responses provided by the Secretary of State to inspection reports. We want to increase the impact of the inspectorate and we want inspection reports to lead to improvements. Amendment 19 seeks to shorten the time taken by the Secretary of State to respond to an inspection report, from 90 days to 60 days. Although I am sympathetic to the intention behind the amendment, which is to ensure a timely response to inspection reports, I would not want that to compromise action needed to implement recommendations.

Some inspection reports have around 80 recommendations, which involve contributions from prisons, policy leads and other providers, such as NHS England. It can take time to evaluate inspection reports and then to put in place meaningful responses to them, particularly if recommendations relate to services that are not directly provided by the Prison Service, such as health.

Of course, that does not mean that action is not taken before 90 days. Where a report highlights matters of concern, those matters will start to be addressed immediately. The 90-day limit to respond to inspection reports is informed by current practice. It enables thorough responses to be given to what are serious and detailed reports.

Amendment 20 seeks to shorten the time for the Secretary of State to respond to an urgent notification from 28 days to 14 days. I must stress that of course action will be taken from day one of an urgent notification by the chief inspector, but immediate energy should be focused on securing improvements rather than drafting a report. We consider that 28 days is an appropriate period, first to take action and then to present the steps that were taken through a report.

Finally, amendment 21 would require responses to inspection reports by the Secretary of State to set out actions that have been taken or that will be taken to address concerns. We consider that that is already covered by subsection 2(6), which requires the Secretary of State to provide a response to recommendations made by the inspectorate. It will be clear from such a response what actions are planned.

Having given these assurances that prisoners’ rights will be central to inspections and that we will act immediately when significant concerns are highlighted, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 22, in clause 2, page 5, line 12, after “prison” insert “at any time”.

This amendment enables the Inspectorate to enter prisons at any time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 7, in clause 2, page 5, line 20, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Chief Inspector may require any person to provide information on—

(a) the adequacy of staffing levels,

(b) the nature of education and literacy programmes, and

(c) the effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes and re-conviction rates.”

This amendment ensures the Chief Inspector has the necessary powers to obtain information relating to staffing levels, education programmes, rehabilitation programmes and re-conviction rates.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

I will speak to amendment 22 as well as speaking on behalf of the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, who tabled amendment 7. The amendments would enable the inspectorate to enter prisons at any time. At the moment there is no guarantee that it has access to an establishment at the time of its choosing. Clearly that is unacceptable, and it must change. Different duties are performed in prisons at various times of the day and night, and it is important that the inspectors be allowed in to observe the policies and procedures of the prison regime at all times. It is important for that to be codified in law.

Amendment 7 would ensure that the chief inspector had the necessary powers to obtain information about staffing levels, education programmes, rehabilitation programmes and reconviction rates. Again, that is important because those are crucial markers showing whether a prison fulfils its statutory purposes. They are rightly of concern to the inspectorate, which should be able to get the information.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The Bill gives the inspectorate new powers to enter prisons and to request information so that they have the right tools to do their job. That brings it into line with other inspection bodies that already have such powers. Although the inspectorate currently enjoys good co-operation with prisons, the powers put it beyond doubt that it can request information to complete its inspections.

Amendment 22 is intended to make it clear that the chief inspector may enter a prison at any time. We agree that that is an important requirement for an independent inspectorate. We consider that access to be implicit in the clause, which reflects the fact that inspections can be conducted unannounced.

The purpose of amendment 7 is to make it explicit that the chief inspector can request information on specific areas such as staffing levels and literacy programmes. Paragraph 2 of new schedule A2 to the Prison Act 1952 requires any person who holds relevant information to provide it to the chief inspector. “Relevant information” is defined in paragraph 4 of new schedule A2 as information needed for the inspection that

“relates to the running of a prison, or to prisoners detained in a prison”.

The definition is therefore sufficiently broad to capture the information described in amendment 7.

We agree that the inspectorate should be able to get the information and access that it needs. Given those assurances, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment 23, in clause 2, page 7, line 29, at end insert—

“(8) Before this section comes into force the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report describing progress made towards the implementation of recommendations of the Chair of the Parole Board concerning the treatment of prisoners serving

This amendment enables issues relating to IPPs to be debated within the long title.

The purpose of the amendment is to deal with the issue of prisoners who have effectively served their custodial sentence but who are still waiting to be released because they have been detained for public protection. It is important because there are currently thousands of people in that category still in the prison system. We ask that the matter be specifically addressed in the Bill.

The amendment would enable issues relating to sentences of imprisonment for public protection to be debated within the long title of the Bill. It would also allow the Government to outline the steps taken to implement the recommendation of the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, on the treatment of people currently imprisoned and serving an IPP sentence. If the sentencing issue is not dealt with in the long title of the Bill, it will not be possible to address the injustice faced by thousands of people serving indeterminate sentences for public protection years beyond the expiry of their original tariff date.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 abolished the IPP sentence and introduced powers to change the release test for IPP prisoners. However, although the IPP sentence is no longer an option for the courts, the powers to change the release test have not been enacted, and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons has called on the Justice Secretary to take decisive action to reduce the number of people serving IPPs who have been held beyond the tariff.

Although the rate of release of IPP prisoners has increased in recent years, the effect of Parole Board delays, limited resources, poor procedures for amending risk and the lack of available places on offending behaviour programmes is that a large number of IPP prisoners continue to face significant obstacles to working towards their legitimate release. According to the Ministry of Justice, of the 3,683 people in prison currently serving an IPP sentence, 3,081 have passed their tariff expiry, and 603 remain in prison despite having been given an original tariff of less than two years. I must declare an interest: I have a client who has served his tariff and is still in prison because he is waiting for the IPP procedures to be carried out. That group would not have been able to receive an IPP sentence following the reforms to the legislation introduced in 2009. Instead, it is likely that they would have been given relatively short determinate sentences.

Statistics released by the Prison Reform Trust in June 2016 showed that IPP prisoners have one of the highest rates of self-harm in the prison system, and highlighted the impact of ongoing incarceration on the mental health and wellbeing of IPP prisoners. A thematic review of IPP prisoners published by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons in November 2016 found that the cost to the public purse of continuing to hold high numbers of IPP prisoners and the pressure that they exert on the system in terms of risk management activity and demand for offending behaviour programmes and parole processes are significant. It stated that

“resources are being stretched increasingly thinly.”

It concluded that

“for many IPP prisoners, it is not clear that holding them well beyond their end-of-tariff date is in the interests of public protection and therefore there are issues of fairness and justice”.

Without a legislative change, the Parole Board has confirmed that it will not be possible to reduce the IPP prisoner population below 1,000. It will also be impossible to address the particular injustice faced by IPP prisoners with an original tariff of less than two years or tackle the growing problems of IPP recalls and the disproportionate licence period attached to the IPP sentence.

In my excitement, I might have slightly misled the Committee when I said that one of my clients is still waiting to come out. What I was trying to say is that, in my practice in the past, I have had clients who were detained under the IPP and whose sentence expired, but years later they were still in the system. One of the main problems was that many of those people had to attend a number of different types of courses before they were released, some of which were very expensive and quite lengthy, and the system—the prison, the probation service and the Parole Board—did not allow them to attend them in time to be ticked off as having done them. They therefore ended up spending more time in prison than they had been sentenced for. That is a very relevant issue. There are more than 6,000 people—that is a big figure—who really should be out but are not, and only because the Parole Board was slow in signing them up to those courses.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 2:15 pm, 29th March 2017

Having listened to the shadow Minister, I believe that amendment 23 is a probing amendment, so I will give assurances about the work we are doing on IPPs. In dealing with all IPPs, public protection is and will always be of paramount concern to us. I recognise, of course, the concerns about prisoners serving IPP sentences. We are taking considerable steps to address those concerns and continue to explore what further improvements could be made to the process.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to prepare and lay before Parliament a report describing progress made on recommendations from the chair of the Parole Board concerning the treatment of prisoners serving IPP sentences. I do not believe that there is a need for such a report. We work very closely with the independent Parole Board and its partners on tackling the issues presented by IPP prisoners and will of course take account of any views or recommendations from its chair on further improvements that could be made. We do not believe that there should be a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament in response to such recommendations.

The Government are already making significant efforts to address the issue of IPP prisoners. Our most up-to-date figures show that there were 512 first-time releases of IPP prisoners in 2015, the highest number of releases since the sentence became available in 2005. I fully expect that trend to continue. Figures on releases in 2016 will be published in April. I believe that these figures show that the efforts we are making to give IPP prisoners support, opportunities and motivation to reduce their risks and so progress through the system are bearing fruit. Those efforts, which are being taken forward by the Parole Board and, from April, the new HM Prison and Probation Service, are encapsulated in an IPP action plan. A new unit has been set up within the Ministry of Justice to improve progress in individual IPP cases. We are also working with the Parole Board to improve further the efficiency of the parole process for these prisoners.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I am very grateful to the Minister for explaining what is happening. He may recall that I have raised a constituent’s case with him. Will he continue to be alive to such cases, so that we can continue to bring those cases to him and he can continue to explain how the process will improve in the future?

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Yes, I am always open to representations on specific cases, although decisions are made by the independent Parole Board. Where there are challenges in the system that hon. Members become aware of, I am open to receiving representations and will look into them. Obviously, in order to speed up the process, the board has increased its capacity and is successfully tackling delays in the listing of cases. We are making sure that IPP prisoners have access to accredited offending behaviour programmes where appropriate and ensuring that such programmes can be delivered more flexibly, so that prisoners with particular complex needs, such as those with learning difficulties, can have greater access. I should mention, in particular, the progression regime at HMP Warren Hill, which has proved very successful, with 77% of IPPs who have had an oral hearing under the regime achieving release. The potential for additional places within the progression regime is currently being explored, with the aim of improving the geographical spread of places, including in the north of England.

All these measures are already having a significant beneficial impact on the IPP prison population and are facilitating the release of prisoners where the Parole Board is satisfied that their detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. These diverse measures, and the evidence that they are working, shown by the current highest-ever release rate, demonstrates that a report of the sort proposed by the hon. Member for Bolton South East is simply not necessary, and I therefore ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4