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HMP Liverpool

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, and if so when, they will publish the recent report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool; and what steps they are taking to address the problems identified in that report in order to prevent serious harm to prisoners.

My Lords, the inspection report on Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool will be published on 19 January 2018. A comprehensive action plan is being developed that will urgently address the inspector’s recommendations. Immediate action taken at Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool since the inspection includes the appointment of a new governor, a review of prisoner accommodation to facilitate refurbishment and urgent work with the contractor to deal with the backlog of repairs.

My Lords, the situation in Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool is the latest manifestation of the crisis in our prisons. It is a shameful litany of squalor, sickness and apparently even death. Instead of initially refusing to comment on the chief inspector’s leaked report, the Government should already have published it, together with their response. Will they in particular examine the apparent failure of contractors over a long period to carry out major repair work in a way that did not threaten the well-being of inmates and staff? In addition, will they review the performance, in Liverpool and elsewhere, of an overstretched and underfunded NHS in protecting the health and well-being of our prison population?

My Lords, very troubling matters were raised by the report, but I am not going to comment on the contents of a leaked report. What I can say is that the inspector debriefed the Prison Service immediately after and we have responded to that. Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool was originally a Victorian prison, and there are indeed real issues with the standard of cell accommodation. It is worth noting that no expenditure—not one pound—has been spent on cell accommodation at Liverpool since 1994. In the intervening period, there was a Labour Government from 1997 to 2010.

My Lords, is not one of the most disturbing aspects of this troubling report the failure to respond to the mental health needs of inmates? Given the reported suicides or deaths of perhaps as many as three prisoners in recent weeks, and the absence of secondary screening, is not this a national requirement? How do these squalid conditions, in a prison overrun with rats and cockroaches, meet Churchill’s famous dictum that the treatment of criminals is,

“one of the most unfailing tests of a civilisation of any country”?

How does it encourage fundamental reform of those we have incarcerated?

My Lords, where the courts impose a custodial sentence, the punishment is deprivation of liberty. But where someone is kept in custody, the conditions should be decent, safe and secure. We accept that as a Government.

The MoJ may say that it does not comment on leaked reports and the Minister has repeated that, but there is no doubting the authenticity or content of this one. The prison was the worst that inspectors have seen, with prisoners spending 22 hours a day in filthy, vermin-infested cells with exposed electrical wiring and blocked and leaking lavatories. Within weeks of inspection, two inmates killed themselves. Yes, the governor has been sacked, but that is not enough. Will the MoJ please now act urgently to establish a crisis task force to work with the inspectorate’s recommendations, there and elsewhere, to turn around the dreadful conditions in our failing prisons?

My Lords, we have replaced not only the governor but the deputy governor and the head of healthcare at the prison itself. We intend to establish a new unit in the Prison Service to enhance our response to the inspector’s recommendations, which will involve monitoring and auditing progress on the recommendations. This will commence in January 2018. In addition, on 30 November we announced the introduction of an urgent notification process. Unfortunately, the report took place in September and therefore did not trigger that notification process. Under that process, the inspector can go directly to the Secretary of State for Justice in cases where urgent reform is required, and the Secretary of State will undertake to respond publicly within 28 days of such notification.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord practises insouciance in response to these questions, particularly in saying that he cannot comment on a leaked report. Perhaps he could comment on last month’s report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, which highlighted conditions in youth offender institutions. It said that it was routine for young boys to be confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day and that in 40% of the youth offender institutions inspected, education and medical visits had to be cancelled. That was certainly my experience a year or so earlier when I was reviewing the conditions in prisons. Is not the real problem the continued understaffing of our prisons and the failure, therefore, to provide the care that common humanity suggests is necessary for those in the care of the state as prisoners?

We are all concerned to ensure that where persons are placed in custody, whether youth custody or otherwise, their conditions should be decent, safe and secure and that they should have the opportunity for rehabilitation. We have taken steps over the past year or so to increase quite considerably the number of prison officers employed in our prisons. The goal is 2,500 prison officers and we are on course to achieve it.

My Lords, one of the most shocking sentences in the Chief Inspector’s introduction to this report, which is a shocking indictment of the way prisons are run, reads:

“We saw clear evidence that local prison managers had sought help from regional and national management to improve conditions they knew to be unacceptable long before our arrival, but had met with little response”.

Will the Minister please tell the House who in Prison Service headquarters is responsible and accountable for the oversight of Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool and how that oversight is exercised?

I am sorry—I was concerned that the noble Lord had become unwell. I will not name individuals; it would be most invidious to do so. The Prison Service is responsible for the conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison Liverpool. I will not comment on the terms of a leaked report, but in response to the briefing, we have already taken 182 cell spaces out of use immediately to facilitate refurbishment. We have determined the level of remedial work required on accommodation and we have instituted an increased and improved cleaning programme, with robust management checks.