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The May Report: Recommendations On Organisation

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 30 April 1980

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Chapter V of the May committee's report made a number of recommendations designed to improve the administration of the prison service in England and Wales. These recommendations covered the status and independence of the prison department within the Home Office; the structure of its senior posts; the arrangements for inspection; the organisation of regions and establishments; and the functions of boards of visitors. The following paragraphs set out the conclusions which I have reached.

Enhanced responsibilities of the Prison Department.

2. Under the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, the prison department will assume delegated authority for manpower and staffing matters affecting prison governors, prison officers and administrative and specialist staff serving in prison service establishments and regional offices, and certain professional, technical and other specialist staff serving at headquarters. These groups comprise virtually all those non-industrial staff who expect to spend a full career in the prison service. The prison department will also assume delegated responsibility for the day-to-day management of its finance. Work is in hand on the improvements in management accounting methods and financial information systems to which the May committee attached importance.
3. As the May committee recommended, there will continue to be a single principal establishment officer, responsible for manpower and personnel matters affecting the Home Office as a whole. A single principal finance officer will exercise similar responsibilities in relation to finance, and there will be a single accounting officer for all Home Office Votes.

Structure of Senior Posts.

4. The post of director general of the prison service will continue at deputy secretary level. The principle will remain that this and all senior appointments should always go to the best available candidate: it will continue to be held by the present holder of the post.
5. The deputy director general will occupy a position between deputy secretary and undersecretary. As head of the operational service he will be responsible to the director general for the operations of the prison service in the field. The present controller (operational administration) will be appointed to the post.
6. Other senior posts will be the director of regimes and services, responsible for the planning and co-ordination of prison regimes, the prison building programme and the provision of services; the director of operational policy, responsible for policy and casework on the treatment of prisoners, the director of personnel and finance, responsible for personnel management, industrial relations and staff training, and also for manpower and financial control, including accounting and financial information systems; and the director of prison medical services, whose responsibilities will be unchanged.
7. The holders of these six posts will be members of the Prisons Board. The board will also include the four regional directors, in view of their operational responsibility for the prison service in the field; and two non-executive members, as recommended by the May committee, to bring to the board an independent viewpoint as well as their own particular knowledge and expertise. The appointments of the outside non-executive members will be announced as soon as possible.


8. Appointments to the new post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be made directly by the Crown on the advice of the Home Secretary. The widest possible field of candidates will be considered.
9. The chief inspector will report to the Home Secretary and will be a member of the Home Office, but he will not be a member of the prison department or have any responsibility to that department. His terms of reference will be
" To inspect and report to the Secretary of State on prison service establishments in England and Wales, and in particular on:
  • (a) conditions in those establishments;
  • (b) the treatment of prisoners and other inmates and the facilities available to them;
  • (c) such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct ".
  • 10. The chief inspector will conduct regular inspections of individual establishments and he will investigate particular incidents or situations on the Home Secretary's directions. He will submit an annual report, which will be published, and other reports, which will be made publicly available where appropriate. In accordance with the May committee's recommendation, individual grievances will continue to be dealt with under existing procedures.
    11. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked, and I have agreed, that the services of the Chief Inspector should be available to inspect prison establishments in Northern Ireland.
    12. The chief inspector will be supported by a deputy chief inspector and by a small team, most of whom will be drawn from the prison service. Other professional or specialist support will be provided as necessary.

    Regions and Establishments

    13. The primary tasks of regional directors will be to secure the application of national policy and to contribute to its formulation; and to ensure the proper functioning of their establishments and of the prison system as a whole. They will assume full management responsibility for their establishments, with direct accountability to the deputy director general and with the full support of headquarters. The casework at present done at regional offices is for the most part closely associated with the supervision of establishments, and most of it will remain, but specialist functions will for the most part be concentrated at headquarters as the May committee recommended. I recognise the value of the work which many of the staff have done while they have been at regional offices and their contribution to the prison service, but I am satisfied that their contribution can be made as effectively from headquarters in the future.
    14. Establishments for women and girls will for the first time be brought within the regional structure; regional boundaries will be redrawn to remove some of the present anomalies; and the internal organisation of regional offices will be reviewed and standardised.

    Boards of Visitors

    15. I accept the recommendation that boards of visitors should continue to exercise both an adjudicatory and an inspectorial function. In respect of the latter they will continue to be concerned both with inmates and with members of the staff, but I share the view which most boards have expressed that their links with staff should remain informal. I shall give boards every encouragement to extend where practicable their establishment's involvement in its local community.

    Further Action

    16. The changes to which I have referred will be carried out within the existing staff resources of the Home Office. Those at headquarters should be largely completed by the end of July; those at regional offices will take longer. Organisational change cannot by itself provide a solution to the more fundamental problems of overcrowding and prison regimes, but the decisions which I have announced today should produce the more cohesive and effective management structure which is an essential basis for the wider but inevitably more gradual changes which are now required.