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Hm Prison Blantyre House
17 January 2001
Volume 620

5.38 p.m.

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rose to call attention to the record of HM Prison Blantyre House as a resettlement prison, and to the circumstances in which a search of the prison was conducted on 5th and 6th May by officers from other prisons and the prison's governor removed from the prison; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, my great pleasure in succeeding in the ballot was slightly tempered by the recognition that my debate would follow a most distinguished debate. I can only say that I am most grateful to those noble Lords who, for the moment at least, are remaining in the Chamber.

I believe that I should perhaps begin with a declaration of interest. For many years now I have lived in the neighbourhood of Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House, in the Weald of Kent. It is a prison that has, in my experience, long held the confidence and even the pride of the local community. That is quite significant because it is a prison where a regime has pertained for many years in which a high proportion of prisoners, after being assessed as suitable, have been released into the community as part of the resettlement for work process. This community is not likely to take kindly to perceived navety in the handling of its local prisoners. Therefore, it is quite significant that the community has had confidence in that regime.

But what was the cardinal feature of that regime? I should describe it as a feature of trust: the governor trusted the prisoners; the community trusted the governor; and the prisoners, in large majority, betrayed the trust of neither. That has led to what Sir David Ramsbotham has described in a report on the prison as an amazing success rate among those who have been released from that prison. On the Home Office's own figures, the recidivism rate has been consistently about 35 per cent better than that of other prisons. I believe that the position can be stated even more favourably than that because the Select Committee of the House of Commons which looked into Blantyre House reported that of those who had left that prison in 1996, 8 per cent had reoffended within two years. The figure for all other prisons was in the region of 57 per cent. That is an enormous disparity.

For that reason one can truthfully say that Blantyre House had become the flagship resettlement prison in England. Confidence was not limited to what I might call "us laity". It was shared by authorities no less eminent than the present Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr Martin Narey, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the redoubtable Sir David Ramsbotham. I quote a few lines from the published opinions of each.

When Mr Narey visited the prison in May 1998 as director of regimes he wrote in the governor's visitors' book:
"If any establishment is delivering the Government's manifesto commitment on constructive regimes it is Blantyre House. Its offending behaviour programmes, education and general atmosphere—with singularly impressive staff/prisoner relationships—are likely to make a real difference".
I point out that the governor at that time was Mr Eoin McLennan-Murray. He had been in charge since June 1996 and he was still in charge on 5th May 2000 when he was relieved of his post and ejected from the prison premises at two hours' notice, as I shall describe. He was reallocated to Swaleside Prison in the post of deputy governor. But in the mean time Mr Narey had paid another visit in 1999, by now as director-general. On leaving the prison on that occasion he added o the previous praise in the governor's visitors' book,
"Blantyre House performs a valued role as a resettlement prison within the Service. Its general ethos supports its special function, and I am committed to protecting this".
Sir David Ramsbotham and his team had visited Blantyre in 1997 and then again in January 2000. In his resulting report, which nevertheless made some criticisms, Sir David stated:
"Our inspection wholeheartedly endorsed all the comments in the governor's Visitors' Book, and in our previous Inspection reports, and recognised by the Minister".
His preface ended as follows:
"Therefore, I conclude by praising the consistent, innovative and courageous approach of the governor and staff at HMP Blantyre House to their very difficult and challenging task, on behalf of the public. It has established a reputation for excellence as a resettlement prison, a most difficult role".
That was signed within two months of the governor's summary removal which was immediately followed the same afternoon by the installation of a new governor, who was ordered by the area manager forthwith to request a major search of the prison. He did so, perhaps not surprisingly. It was soon commenced by 84 prison officers from other prisons, including 28 specialists in restraint and control techniques, who were already detailed off and briefed for the purpose.

The committee was told that planning had begun eight days before, and well before the incoming governor was told of his appointment. The outgoing governor was kept in the dark about the planned search and about his imminent removal. So was the board of visitors. In the course of the search—there was no resistance of any sort—damage was done to property. The outside officers smashed internal doors and other fittings, including the two doors to the chaplain's office in the chapel, and the doors to the health centre, to the full repair value of £6,100. As to all that was discovered, Mr Narey's own memorandum to the Select Committee, five months later, stated that,
"The search found some cannabis, three ecstasy tablets, and some pornography. It also revealed inadequate arrangements for locking up tools and mobile phones, authorised for outside work, but which should not have been kept within the prison".
In his oral evidence to the committee, Mr Narey described the cannabis found as, "a very small amount". No prisoner had tested positive for drugs, although all had been tested. No criminal proceedings or even disciplinary proceedings have resulted against any prisoner.

If anything is unsurprising in this episode, it is that the ethos of mutual trust that characterised the regime at Blantyre House has been shattered by it. The prisons Minister, Mr Boateng, frankly admitted that to the committee. Trust had been the bedrock of the prison's success, yet it was destroyed just as crudely and immediately as the prison's physical fittings. The difference, of course, is that trust will take far longer to restore.

The very active and supportive board of visitors reacted with anger and dismay, while the Chief Inspector in his evidence to the Select Committee in October described the search as a ghastly mistake, admittedly, as he said, with hindsight. I know that it has given rise to suspicions, which in the light of Mr Narey's contrary evidence I must myself reject, that the object of the search, as evidenced by its manner, was to provide retrospective justification for the removal of the governor.

I suggest that it is not only the right of this House to examine the circumstances in which this extraordinary and disastrous action took place, it is also your Lordships' very proper concern. This is by reason of the implications it may be thought to have for the responsibilities of the other resettlement prisons, Kirklevington Grange and Latchmere House, to say nothing of any new policy in place at Blantyre House itself. May I ask the Minister—I have given him notice of the questions I wish to ask—what, for example, is now envisaged for education at Blantyre House. and especially for its budget, for art, and for photography there?

The Prison Service explanation of what happened, endorsed by Ministers, is that the search derived from developing intelligence of a grave and sensitive nature, and that the protection of the public made it necessary. On this, the committee, in its swingeing report, found as follows:
"We are completely unconvinced that the search was a proportionate response to the intelligence which has been used to justify it. We do not believe that the reasons given to us in public justify the exceptional search or the way it was carried out. Nor do we find the evidence (as to intelligence) given to us in private persuasive".
I suspect that your Lordships will find this worrying.

As to the removal of the governor, I was told in a Written Answer on 23rd May that his career move—I am not making this up—to a different type of prison had been planned for some time. The director-general decided that this move should take place to coincide with the security operation, so that the programme of action required to take the establishment forward could be driven through from the outset by the new governor. Be that as it may, Mr McLennan-Murray was only told of the actual date of his "career move" on 5th May itself. The incoming governor had been told of his own career move just two days earlier.

Your Lordships may consider that that kind of career planning and management is rather remarkable, and I am glad to see that in the Minister's response to the Select Committee, which he published on Monday evening, at least part of it is described, albeit with hindsight, as he said, as "undesirable".

It is here that one may find significance in the tense relationship that had long existed between the area manager, Mr Murtagh, and the governor. Mr Narey had known it to be tense—as he said to the committee—ever since he became director-general in early 1999. The board of visitors had been so worried by it that about a year before the search they had written about it to Mr Narey, and also to the chief inspector. That seems to have been the principal reason why each paid a further visit to the prison, at the conclusion of which each made the supportive comments that he did.

I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that the visitors in their letter had complained of this, and of the governor being bullied? When the chief inspector and his team visited the prison in January 2000, the board of visitors told him that there was little trust between the area manager and the governor. It was, they said, undermining confidence, but it was this confidence that was required to be able to run such a prison.

Sir David Ramsbotham in his evidence to the committee said,
"The governor had a very clear view of his mission, which had been endorsed by successive Directors General … I do not think that was actually shared by the Area Manager. I get the feeling that the Area Manager, for reasons best known to himself, did not actually support what the governor was doing or why. I think that is thoroughly unfortunate".
Not surprisingly, in its report, the committee stated:
"We conclude that the relationship between the Area Manager and the governor had deteriorated to such an extent that the Prison Service should have addressed it much earlier by moving one of them or by altering the chain of command or both".
So it would be helpful to know whether those perceptions from those quarters are accepted. Why did Mr Boateng's response this week to the report not deal with the relationship?

The management of a resettlement prison of course calls for judgment and courage. The security of the public has to be balanced against the objective of breaking the mould of criminal behaviour through a judicious degree of trust and programmes of activity tailored to individual prisoner's needs. It is the risk-taking in that process which calls for judgment. It is the uncertainty of the outcome which demands courage. Management will always be at risk of being damned if they do and damned if they don't; and not least by Ministers of whatever political colour who are themselves under the lash for presiding over some embarrassing event or another. But surely it is essential that where you have the priceless commodity of trust well established, you must draw on it rather than intemperately jettisoning it when your judgement tells you that changes in the regime are needed. Moreover, you must not let tense relationships in the hierarchy of management persist.

What happened at Blantyre House last year derived, I believe, at least in part from conflicting approaches to its resettlement role. The earlier manager seems to have placed primary importance on fulfilling the security requirements that are appropriate to any ordinary category C prison. Any resettlement programmes had to be subordinated to that. Mr Narey told the committee that in his opinion the staff had inadequate security consciousness.

On the other hand, the governor believed that in giving far greater prominence to a successful resettlement ethos he was delivering what Blantyre House was for. His decision to persevere with this was not unaffected by his having been refused by the area manager any of the extra resources he had said he would need to bring security nearer to normal category C standards. In the way of the world, his successor has, of course, now been given these. I should be glad if the Minister would confirm this contrasting treatment and explain it.

I have some further questions of which I have also given notice. Do the Government accept that there is as yet no formulated policy for resettlement in the Prison Service and that there urgently needs to be one? When will one be formulated and will there be a senior, experienced officer directing it? Is it satisfactory that such a post should be combined with that of a retitled director of regimes? What is the Government's policy towards boards of visitors and what weight will be given in future to warnings from them that relationships are causing them anxiety for the welfare of their prisons? Lastly, what is the Prison Service's own assessment of the damage that this episode has done to confidence in the other two prisons in England delivering resettlement programmes and known as resettlement prisons?

I welcome the decision to recategorise Blantyre House as a semi-open prison. When will that take effect, and will the board of visitors be consulted as to the implications?

This is a sorry story. It must not be allowed to arise again. The Government's answers to these questions can help to determine whether or not it will. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.53 p.m.

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My Lords, it is abundantly clear from the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on HM Prison Blantyre House that some very serious errors of judgment were made in the way in which the situation was handled. I want to single out one event in particular which has caused considerable disquiet: the way in which the chapel itself was broken into by the raiding party. That was completely out of order for two reasons.

First, a chapel—not least one which had made separate provision for Muslim prisoners—is not just "a. n. other" room. It is a place where the sacred is honoured, a place for prayer, the sacraments and worship. It is a place where people in need can think their deepest and most private thoughts. It is not sacred just because it represents the presence of Almighty God, although of course it does so; it is also sacred because it represents the deepest levels of our humanity. To trample so wantonly and brutally over a sacred place is to trespass upon the holy and upon the human. If chapels in prisons are not honoured, then nothing and no one else will be. A society which loses a sense of awe in the presence of the sacred—and whether one perceives "sacredness" in religious, aesthetic or human terms is not relevant to my argument—is a society which threatens to become ugly, depraved and deeply fractured.

I believe that it was also out of order that neither the chaplain, nor his colleagues, nor the board of visitors, were present when the raid on the chapel occurred. Not to have involved them was a serious abuse of power. I seek from the Minister an assurance that when considering raids in the future the Prison Service will be absolutely clear about what may or may not happen in relation to chapels in prisons, and will seek advice from the Bishop to Prisons or the Chaplain-General on the drawing up of guidelines to ensure that such an appalling act of desecration never happens again in our country.

5.57 p.m.

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My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I, too, thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for raising this matter. The background and the actions taken in respect of HM Prison Blantyre House are well recorded in the Select Committee's report. I, too, was glad to read the Government's response published in a timely manner for today's debate; namely, as recently as yesterday. One wonders whether it would have appeared so promptly had my noble and learned friend not been planning his debate. Be that as it may, the Government's response is no less welcome for that.

I speak not because I know very much about prisons—sadly, or happily depending upon one's point of view, I do not—but because I am chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority. We have been working in prisons for a number of years promoting engineering training, in particular in resettlement prisons. Our work has not recently included Blantyre House but a number of other prisons. In recent times we have awarded something like 1,000 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in basic, and some not-so-basic, engineering skills to prisoners preparing to leave prison. We attach high importance to that work. We hope and believe that the Prison Service does too. There have been some genuine difficulties. I do not make too much of them. For example, sometimes it has been difficult to track prisoners moving from one prison to another with regard to the pursuit of their studies and qualifications. But we have worked with the prison authorities to overcome those difficulties. I hope that the work can continue.

However, it is very difficult for us to pursue our task—I know that many others seek to do similar things—if, even in the model prisons like Blantyre House, there is the risk of the kind of disruption which occurred last year and to which my noble and learned friend referred. There has been no justification for the huge disruption to the resettlement process at Blantyre House by any ministerial pronouncement, any items discovered on the occasion of the raid or any statement to the Select Committee.

My organisation pledges its determination to provide as much training as can be absorbed by the prison system for those who are preparing to return to the outside world. Perhaps some of them will not be returning for a long time. They could also benefit from some of the training that we provide. I hope that our work will not in future be disrupted as it was at Blantyre House on the occasion in question.

6 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating the debate. It is important for the reasons already outlined—the events of 5th and 6th May and the matters of grave concern raised in the report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. It is also important because of the wider questions raised about the role of Blantyre House as a resettlement prison.

I have read the report of the House of Commons committee thoroughly, together with a number of other documents, including the annual reports from the prison's excellent board of visitors. What emerges from those reports is extraordinary. For someone such as me, whose daily work is about imprisonment: and how it is done around the world, the story of Blantyre House is remarkable. We read an analysis of a prison that is almost unique in the world. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I attempt to set out the particular elements of the work of Blantyre House that make it such an extraordinary place.

First, it ran a regime based on trust. I am not sure that it is widely understood what an achievement that is. The normal structure of a prison is of two sides—us and them. Members of staff and prisoners have, first, to be loyal to their side. If not, the consequences are serious and may be dangerous. That is a basic, universal law of prison life. At Blantyre House, it was challenged and, in many ways, overcome. The prison chaplain told the Home Affairs Committee that the prisoners,
"come into a culture where through working together there was trust, there was responsibility, there was respect".
Secondly, there was a basic rule at Blantyre House: no violence, either physical or verbal. Noble Lords will know that violence is deeply endemic in the culture of prisons in all countries, even here. To establish a prison where violence is not acceptable is remarkable.

Thirdly, the prison built an outstanding relationship with the community around it. Fourthly, the prison worked to make prisoners think not just of themselves and how to change themselves, but of other people less fortunate than themselves. There were projects in which the prisoners worked for old and disabled people. They did an annual day out for 1,000 handicapped people and their carers. That also happens in other resettlement prisons. Kirklevington Grange in Cleveland supports 20 local charitable projects and requires the prisoners there to do at least 15 days' community work.

Looking at those achievements, an experienced person knowing a lot about prisons might say that it was too good to be true and that the prisoners there must have been first offenders or perhaps Financial Times readers who had committed financial crimes. Not at all. The prisoners at Blantyre House in 1998–99 had, on average, served two previous prison sentences and had an average of nine previous convictions. Cynical people might then say that the regime must have been based on the personal charisma of one person and would collapse when that person moved on. That is not so either. The ethos has continued even though governors have moved on. The programme is based on a well thought-out set of stages, with the prisoners having to pass each one before moving to the next. It is a rigorous and testing programme.

It may be said, rightly, that prisons are not there to try out nice theories. That is not the test. The objective of the work is to help people to change and to come out of prison with a new view of life, a new view of what is a worthwhile life and a different approach to other people and their property.

Deprivation of liberty is the punishment for a crime, but once people are imprisoned there is an imperative in a civilised society to try to do things in prison that give them every reason to rethink their lives and stop committing crime. We have substantial evidence that the Blantyre House approach worked. The rate of positive drug tests was 0.7 per cent, against a Prison Service rate of 14.2 per cent. The figure for absconding—prisoners running away or not returning when they should—was two in the past two years out of 16,000 temporary releases. Reconviction rates have been mentioned. Noble Lords will be aware that that is a minefield. Claims are made and it is important to ask whether like is being compared with like. But taking all the complexities into account, the 8 per cent reoffending rate is well below the rate of 22 per cent that would be predicted for the sort of prisoners taken by Blantyre House.

Other aspects of the running of this mould-breaking prison should also make us feel that our Prison Service has much to be proud of. The oversight system—the board of visitors—which is such an admirable feature of our arrangements in this country, works very well. The board takes a deep interest in the prison and the prisoners. It is vigilant in protecting the work of the prison. It ensures that race relations work is properly done. It monitors the work placements and at the same time checks that security is adequate and public protection is in the forefront.

We are talking about a prison with much to be proud of, where we could be described as world leaders. It is very difficult to combine good security, concern for the protection of the public, intelligent assessment and responsible analysis of risk with recognition of what rehabilitation really means. It requires a dedication to looking at the prisoner as a person and a citizen with a capacity to help as well as to harm, to give as well as to take, to show loyalty and trust as well as betrayal and hatred and a determination to help prisoners to stop seeing themselves as the victim and to understand who are the real victims. That is highly skilled work. Sadly, much stands in the way of enabling the really good governors and staff in our prison system to do that.

Mike Newell, the chairman of the Prison Governors Association, wrote an article in the magazine of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors about the climate in the Prison Service. He described it as a climate of,
"fear, blame and a sense of impending doom".
He asks why the sickness rate for governors nearly doubled in the past year. He asks why more governors than ever before have been removed or have left their posts. And he says that the cause is the performance culture with an obsession for ever-improving results. He says that figures have overtaken people and that we accentuate the negative. He talks about bullying of governors by their bosses, the area managers. Governors feel that they are not trusted by Prison Service headquarters. He talks about the narrow imperatives of the performance measures; for example, governors are judged by how far they reduce the number of people who test positive under the mandatory drug-testing scheme in prison, even if all the prisoners who abstained in prison are released and return to drug-taking straightaway.

All those speaking in the debate today do so, I am sure, out of a deep concern for the Prison Service, its staff and its director-general and with enormous support for the task that it has to do in balancing custody and care, public protection and rehabilitation. However, we all know that nearly all prisoners will leave prison at some point and that many will do so after a relatively short time. The work of prisons makes sense only if it is geared to the outside world, to the life that prisoners will lead when they leave prison and to their capacity to lead a responsible life in the community.

Therefore, I am sure that everyone in this House will welcome some of the changes announced in the Government's reply to the Home Affairs Committee. I am sure that we all welcome the statement that the director-general expects staff to act with complete integrity. Presumably, integrity excludes the type of bullying mentioned by Mr Newell in his article. We must welcome the redesignation of the regimes directorate as the resettlement directorate because it shows a recognition that for most prisoners the prison regime should be oriented towards returning to the community. We must welcome the decision that a key performance indicator about resettlement will be operational from the year 2002.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, who I know is committed personally very much to resettlement and rehabilitation, whether he can assure us that the Prison Service values the work of the resettlement prisons, understands the complexity of the task of resettling those who have committed serious offences and intends to support, encourage and build on the work of those who try to carry it out. I should also like to know whether the Prison Service has responded to the concerns of the prison governors expressed by Mr Newell and what action is in hand to rebuild good working relationships. I should like to receive reassurance that the Government support fully the independence of the boards of visitors.

Finally, in view of the Prison Service statement which says that it will look after prisoners with humanity and the director-general's statement at the February 2000 Prison Service conference that prisoners should be treated with dignity, I ask the Minister whether he intends to produce guidelines setting out the minimum standards of humanity and dignity to be observed when prisoners and prisons are being searched.

6.14 p.m.

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My Lords, I begin by endorsing with enthusiasm everything that the noble Baroness has just said. I start from the premise that the purpose of the Prison Service is to reduce the level of crime in this country. I make the following observations: first, it is supposed to do so by deterrence and by the rehabilitation of the prison population; secondly, the figures show that it is manifestly failing; and, thirdly, rehabilitation has always seemed to take a very low place in the planning of the Prison Service.

When I was the Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service, I remember how it was necessary to keep repeating the mantra that prisoners went to prison as punishment, not for punishment. They were not there to be beaten up; they were there to be improved. I am not saying that beating up was a common occurrence, but in my day the ethos of the Prison Service was not that of an organisation bent on returning people into society in an improved condition from that in which they had been taken from it.

The increasingly important imperative of reducing crime in this country means that the rehabilitative function is of enormous importance. When one looks at the Select Committee's figures, one sees that by any yardstick Blantyre House was exemplary. Paragraph 109 on page 32 shows that the time spent in purposeful activity per prisoner was very nearly double the Prison Service target, half as much again as the Blantyre House target and double the Prison Service actual. The successful temporary release rate was above the Prison Service actual figure and above its own targets.

The noble Baroness has already pointed out that the percentage of positive tests for drug use was one-twentieth of that in the Prison Service as a whole. That makes one wonder what in the intelligence led the authorities to believe that a crash search of the extraordinary nature recorded was necessary. That search took place in a prison in which staff absence due to sickness, which in any industry is a good indication of morale, was well below the Prison Service target and 25 per cent below the Prison Service actual average. That provides a picture of a thriving organisation, but the next thing that we hear is that the governor has been removed at two hours' notice.

I must pick up that point from my noble friend. It is ludicrous and an insult to expect people to accept that a career move can be made with two hours' notice. However, that is what we are told happened. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the damage was done in a manner of far more significance to the culture of that prison than is generally recognised, even among those speaking in this debate. The inmates witnessed the spectacle of the people whom they had grown to know, respect and trust as the prison staff being removed. They saw a set of unknown people come in to replace them, smashing down the doors when they could not find the keys and going away just before dawn with the not particularly significant fruits of their search.

Therefore, what was the context in which the prison conducted its work? I am disturbed to read in a report written by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in March 2000 following an inspection:
"We spoke to a group of 12 ex-prisoners who had been released from between nine weeks and two years and returned to the prison for the afternoon to speak to us. This was the first time that this inspection team had had the opportunity to discuss a prison with its ex-residents. They told us the following. Prisoners at Blantyre House were treated with respect as individuals".
That is good.
"They owed a particular debt to the governor, who had put his job on the line for them".
That is impressive.
"Not all the staff supported the governor. The area manager tried to obstruct the governor".
That is reflected in paragraph 79 of the Select Committee's report, which states:
"We conclude that the relationship between the Area Manager and the Governor had deteriorated to such an extent that the Prison Service should have addressed it much earlier by moving one of them or by altering the chain of command or both".
That is the central paragraph in the report. It is extraordinary that that matter was not addressed in the Government's reply, which we have all been able to obtain, although we did so very late indeed. It would have been useful if we could have had it more than 24 hours before this debate.

The invasion was triggered by intelligence. Well, that is a word that we use in the forces and in security when we wish to say that we have very important information that must not be compromised, that nobody else should have and that should be acted on. I respect the fact that sources must be protected, and I understand that we cannot be told the exact detail of the intelligence, or who provided it. However, what was the route—I think that the Minister can tell us this—by which it came from those who gathered it to the Prison Service directorate? Was it through the area manager's office, one would like to know? It was the catalyst for what happened, and what happened is seen by everyone as a disaster.

An important recommendation of the Select Committee is that there should be a proper programme for resettlement and proper recognition of that in the management structure of the Prison Service. The document containing the Government's response currently eludes me, although I know I have it somewhere. The Government said that they recognise that the situation should be changed and that they will do what they have been asked to do, namely., to put one person in charge of resettlement. However, it transpires that they will simply give the directorate for regimes a different title, by calling it the directorate for resettlement. That is the thinnest coat of whitewash that I have ever seen. If nothing better than that can be done, it would be better to do nothing and at least be honest about the situation. I feel strongly about this issue. Having spent three years in the seat of the present Minister with responsibility for prisons, I sympathise with him. I understand that things go on out there, and that one hears about them only too late to do anything effective other than to try to prevent their repetition. The right honourable gentleman in question should ensure that no such event happens again. If he addressed some of the concerns that were expressed by your Lordships, some of whom have very intimate experience of the institutions that we are talking about, that would be greatly to the public good.

Having sorted out why the situation arose, why there was a breach between the area manager and the governor, why nothing was done about the situation, and what precipitated this unfortunate episode, the most important thing, above all, is to ensure that we restore rehabilitation or resettlement as the prime objective of the Prison Service and that that is not done at the last minute and in relation to the few people whom one thinks are possibly remedial. The appointment to a resettlement prison should be regarded as a plum job in the service, and the best people should fill it. They should be backed up to the hilt by the rest of the Prison Service. Until that is done, we shall still be in a mess.

6.24 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for bringing to the notice of your Lordships today the extraordinary treatment of Blantyre House by the Prison Service.

The report on Blantyre House by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place shows how important it is to have a democratic, independent body uncovering matters that so easily could be covered up and left to stagnate. The introduction of that report states that Blantyre House prison had a "reputation for excellence" in the resettlement of offenders. It has been described by successive heads of the Prison Service, chief inspectors of prisons and the Minister with responsibility for prisons in those terms.

On 5th May 2000, however, the governor, who had been praised for "doing an outstanding job", was removed abruptly from his post and an overnight search ensued, carried out by prison officers from other prisons.

At the end of this debate, I hope that the Minister will tell us how recommendation 21 of the report will be achieved. That recommendation states:
"Blantyre House will need a clear policy framework, significant resources and the commitment of senior management to rebuild the spirit of trust necessary to return to its role as an effective resettlement prison".
I hope that the noble Lord will be able to add to the Government's reply which has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House and that he will assure your Lordships that the matter will not happen again. It was a most unfortunate circumstance.

The Minister will, I hope, agree with me that when such a serious error of judgment is made about one prison, there will be ripples of insecurity throughout prisons across the country and among senior staff. That cannot be good for morale or for the people who undertake difficult jobs and need support from the Prison Service.

Why did not the board of visitors stay for the duration of the search? Were its members sent home before the sacrilege took place in the chapel?

While I was visiting a category B prison in Kent, to sit in on a drug rehabilitation session and to see how the prison was trying to cope with a drugs situation, I met one of the prisoners, who was a drugs counsellor in the prison. As sometimes happens, he kept in touch with me and, from time to time, gave me reports on how he was progressing. He graduated to Blantyre House and wrote to me from there. He stated:
"Things have really worked out well for me during my 6 years of imprisonment. I have managed to overcome my own addiction problems and re-train to a level where I am able to help others with similar problems, and to my shock people now not only listen to and ask for my opinion, but are willing to pay me for it. It makes a big difference to how I feel inside being able to support my wife and children again".
While in prison, that prisoner gained a diploma of higher education in addiction studies from the University of Leeds.

That is rehabilitation. It involves making people who came to prisons with a chaotic life-style that had turned them to a life of crime realise that they can mend their ways and work hard, and that there is a useful life waiting for them when they are released. The Prison Service should be proud of such success stories.

On 28th January 2000, I had another letter from the same man. He had been released from Blantyre House and was living and working in the community. I shall quote from the letter:
"I am afraid I am writing to you as I may need to ask for your assistance for a worthy cause. As you know I spent the last 3 years of my sentence at Blantyre House Prison. It is a small prison that holds about 120 prisoners, including 25 life-serving prisoners approaching their release dates. Blantyre House is unique within the prison system in that its main focus is on rehabilitation and reintegration back into society as opposed to retribution.
Unfortunately, Blantyre is under threat of closure or at the very least the dismantling of its regime to something more austere and I fear that the Governor whom I respect and admire is fighting a losing battle to keep Blantyre as it is. The governor at Blantyre does need, and in my opinion deserves the support of those with influence".
That did not happen. I received that letter in January. The raid took place in May, wasting public money and leaving staff, prisoners and supporters of the prison in a state of shock and disbelief. The Government said that the planning started in April. That does not add up.

6.30 p.m.

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My Lords, I too add my grateful thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for instigating this debate. The debate earlier this afternoon concerned marriage and traditional family values. This debate also is about values—the values that a civilised society attaches to its dealings with those who offend and find themselves in our prison institutions.

I should say also that I am delighted that we have so many contributions from noble Lords identifying precisely why they consider things to have gone wrong. I have been a member of a board of visitors for some years and have been involved not only at local level, but also in terms of advising the Prison Service from time to time on a number of issues confronted by it. I can say, like many others here, that I take credit from time to time for the fact that I receive Christmas cards from some former offenders who now lead useful lives.

What happened at Blantyre House prison must concern all those interested not only in the welfare of prisoners, but also, and more importantly, in the progressive policies which help resettle inmates to a law-abiding life. So overcrowded are our prisons that confinement rather than rehabilitation seems to be the primary aim. I know of just a handful of establishments where we can put our hand on our heart and say that they are good prisons. Blantyre House is one of them. Therefore what happened there on 5th May 2000 must shame us all.

In one single evening we demonstrated all that is unacceptable in the running of our prison establishments. Perhaps the Minister could indicate when we last had to send 84 prison officers from other prisons to search an establishment like Blantyre House. I can recollect no such incident in the 25 or 30 years I have been connected with the penal service in this country.

Let me say first that on many occasions I have praised Martin Narey, the Director-General of Prisons, for the way he has tackled difficult issues since taking up his appointment. I am still of the opinion that he is in the mould of progressive director-generals who have run our prisons in the past. We also have some of the best chief inspectors of prisons. Judge Stephen Tumim was no pushover and neither is Sir David Ramsbotham. That is why, the Minister will recollect, we opposed so strongly any idea of diluting the functions of the Prison Inspectorate by merging it with another department. I am glad that that is out of the way and the Minister saw the logic of our argument.

The incident of 5th May will go down as one of the worst examples of ill-informed, misjudged and damaging actions which are a blot on the good name of the Prison Service. I need not repeat in detail what has already been said by many noble Lords in today's debate. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee set out in detail what happened on that night. I have not been able to read the Government's response to that report as I only received a copy a few moments ago.

The main question—there are rnany—is: who is ultimately responsible for what happened in Blantyre House? Where does the buck stop? I would hate to go back to the situation of conflict which arose between the then Home Secretary Michael Howard and the then Director-General of Prisons, Derek Lewis. Passing the buck does not help. It would be helpful to know who knew what about the operation at Blantyre House and why the matter was handled in the way it was.

The work of Blantyre House prison in steering longterm prisoners away from a life of crime has been a beacon of enlightenment in the prison system for over a decade. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was able to give examples of the successes of the work undertaken in that institution. Prisoners released from Blantyre have a reconviction rate of 8 per cent, compared with the average of 57 per cent for the prison system as a whole. As the Home Affairs Committee pointed out in paragraph 111 of its report,
"It is possible to argue that part of Blantyre House's success with re-offending is based on the fact that those most likely to respond positively to its regime applied for and were selected to go there. This may account for it having a better than average record on re-offending, but it hardly accounts for that rate being one-seventh of the average".
So there was something unique about Blantyre House.

In 1999–2000 Blantyre House prisoners were involved in an average of 43.6 hours of purposeful activity a week as against a Prison Service average of 23.2. Again, that is a positive way in which to deal with those in our prison institutions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out, only 0.7 per cent of drug tests on Blantyre House prisoners were positive compared with an average of 14.2 per cent for the Prison Service as a whole. And, most importantly, there were no assaults and no escapes from Blantyre House during that year.

On seeing that record, one must ask what was the purpose of that raid. I sat for some years as a magistrate and when the police wanted a warrant to search somebody's premises they had to answer countless questions. Only if one was satisfied with the answers would one agree to put a signature to it. Did those in the Prison Service who took part in that raid take any interest whatever in looking at the positive record of the prison before agreeing to the activity carried out on that night?

That outstanding record has been put at risk by the aftermath of an extraordinarily heavy-handed raid of a kind which could only have been justified by powerful evidence of extremely serious, organised criminal activity. I ask the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Elton. What was the seriousness of the matter? What was the source of the intelligence which effectively resulted in the course of action taken on that night? For example, was there any evidence of a serious drug-trafficking operation involving staff as well as prisoners? In fact no evidence of such activity was found. The amount of illicit goods found in the prison was minimal, far less than would have been found in a random raid on almost any other prison in this country.

The result of the raid caused serious damage to the morale of the staff and prisoners at Blantyre House. Many grave points of concern arise from that disastrous episode and I shall concentrate on just three. The first concerns the misinformation given in an attempt to defend the raid after the event. I think that was shameful on the part of whoever made those statements. I refer, for example, to the Director-General's statement to the Home Affairs Committee that a quite frightening amount of contraband material was found, when the Prison Service's own internal inquiry concluded that there were no significant finds.

The damage caused by this episode could have been mitigated if the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General had made a statement such as, "I received information suggesting that serious organised criminal activity had occurred at Blantyre House and I authorised the raid in good faith on the basis of that information"—nobody would dispute that that is the right thing to do—"However, the raid found no evidence of such activity. It is therefore clear, with hindsight, that the information was faulty. We will now have to work hard to ensure that the work and ethos of Blantyre House receives the strong support it needs to continue its outstanding work of resettlement".

Even at this stage it would not be too late to say that. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to take that into account. Why did not the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General make such a statement instead of continuing to defend the raid?

We are entitled to ask, are we not, what was the source of their information? I have looked quickly at the response made by the Home Office and find no evidence whatever so far. Why did it not match the outcome of the search? Would it not have been better to admit to and apologise for the grave error of judgment on the basis of which the decision was taken? How much advance warning did the Minister receive and why did he continue to defend something which was not borne out by the search? That issue needs an answer.

Secondly, one of the changes made following the raid was to prohibit prisoners from having driving lessons in order to get driving licences for cars, heavy goods vehicles and fork lift trucks. Possession of driving licences makes a big difference to the chances of ex-prisoners getting a wide range of jobs. That was an extremely shortsighted move. Have the lessons been reinstated? If not, will the Minister ensure that they are recommenced as soon as possible?

Thirdly, a key factor in this episode appears to have been a difference of view between the area manager, Tom Murtagh, and the former governor of Blantyre House about approaches to resettlement. At paragraph 77 of the report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, told the Home Affairs Committee:
"I get the feeling that the Area Manager, for reasons best known to himself, did not actually support what the governor was doing or why. I think that that is thoroughly unfortunate".
Does the Minister agree that the resettlement of prisoners is so important that we must aim to ensure that all senior staff in our prison system are fully committed to it? One does not have the impression that the area manager was committed in the same way as the prison governor. Senior staff must be willing to give their full backing to governors who are involved in imaginative steps to resettle prisoners and divert them away from further crime. Does the Minister agree that a strong commitment should be a key criterion in recruiting staff and assessing them for promotion to area manager and other senior posts?

The point at issue is the hostility between the area manager and the prison governor. The questions we are entitled to ask are: why was the area manager at loggerheads with the policies pursued by the governor? Why was there such a difference of opinion on the matters of resettlement? There were complimentary reports, including independent reports, which praised the management of Blantyre House. Surely we are entitled to know how such policy differences are reconciled between the governor and the area manager.

Sometimes it pays to be bold; bold enough to say to inmates that we were wrong in our assumptions; we were wrong in the way that we carried out the operation at Blantyre House. An apology is due to all those who care about our civilised values.

The action of 5th May at Blantyre House was a blot on the good name of our Prison Service. It has a difficult task, which we all appreciate. We shall continue to praise the many good things it does. Equally, it must be accountable for its failures. We need to know much more about the lessons learnt and who was accountable for what. Nothing less will do. I trust that the Minister will be candid in giving that information.

I was delighted by the contribution of the right reverend Prelate, who mentioned the role of the board of visitors. Perhaps I may say that we need to look again at the role it plays. We want to ensure that it is effective and plays a full part in the operation of prisons. I would have had much confidence in the system, had I not been told a few minutes ago by my noble friend Lord Avebury that at Haslar the board of visitors undertook a race relations survey with the full agreement of the Minister but the governor did not like the way it proceeded to carry out its work and three of the board of visitors were dismissed. That is least likely to build confidence of people who give so much of their time caring about those who are in an institution. It is therefore right that we re-examine the role they play.

I conclude by saying that prison is not simply about locking up people. It is also about what happens to them when they are there. I do not refer only to prisons. As a member of a board of visitors I learnt that what happens in prisons affects families. It affects parents and their children. Yet here we are, carrying out the type of action which has effectively done irreparable damage. It is about time we put that right.

6.46 p.m.

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My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for such an excellent overview of this disastrous situation. Between his speech and the report of the Select Committee the case has surely been made for a damning criticism of the raid on Blantyre House Prison. As noble Lords have mentioned, the reply from the Minister for Prisons was received only yesterday. Therefore, we have had little time to digest its contents. To me it gives two contrasting impressions. I find it somewhat defensive in its reaction to several of the committee's critical findings. However, in addressing the plans for the future of resettlement institutions it is distinctly more positive. The undertaking to report progress to the Select Committee in one year's time is to be welcomed.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew set out the facts on the bungling of the raid. I note in the Minister's reply that no mention was made of the near desecration of breaking into the prison chapel, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has drawn attention; or as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the discourtesy extended to the board of visitors which was, it would appear, misled into thinking that this was only a routine visit and encouraged to leave the site. Thus an important element of independent witness was absent during the course of the raid. Perhaps I may say that not for the first time I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who brings such experience to this work, in this case as a member of a board of visitors.

Perhaps I may also draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that, while the excuse for the use of excessive force was that contrary to prison regulations, keys were in the hands of staff outside the prison, no disciplinary action appears to have been taken in respect of what would be a flagrant breach of regulations, either by the Prison Service or Kent police.

However, I recognise that the Minister broadly accepted the criticisms of the mode of the break-in. On the question of intelligence, the Minister upholds the view of the internal inquiry that in the weeks leading up to 25th April there were serious causes for concern. We must accept that view, though, in fairness to the Prison Service, in an otherwise balanced and fair report the Select Committee should have given greater prominence to the evidence given by Mr Narey on 16th May to another session of the Home Affairs Committee in which he stated:
"I think the worth of our doing that is proven by the quite frightening amount of contraband material we found, which included 25 bank or credit cards, not held legally, cameras, passports, driving licences in forged names, visiting orders for other prisons and escape equipment, which would have meant that an individual there fairly easily could have effected his escape".

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My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend is referring to the bag of builder's tools which was part of the legitimate equipment of one of the prisoners but happened to be in the wrong place when the search was made.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I cannot comment on what was said. However, we note that, in accordance with the recommendations of the committee, a review of intelligence gathering has been put in hand.

As regards the status of Blantyre House. the committee is critical. One of the failures of communication between the prison governor and the area manager, to which many noble Lords have referred and which clearly played a significant part in the whole disastrous incident, was their clearly different perceptions. The governor considered it to be a resettlement institution and the area manager viewed it as a category C prison.

It is worth mentioning a comment on the relations within the service. At paragraph 83 of the report the education manager told the committee that Mr Murtagh told her that prisoners,
"were not to he trusted because they were all beyond redemption".
Mr Murtagh, in his subsequent evidence, refuted that. He said:
"I certainly have not said anything of the sort. I categorically deny it".
But what of the future of Blantyre House? My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew has left us in no doubt of the reputation which Blantyre House had locally, at least up until the events of May. With due respect to his former constituents, they would not be reticent in voicing their objections had Blantyre House and its liberal and imaginative regime posed any threat to the neighbourhood. I understand that objections have been few, if non-existent.

The work placement is well established and successful and in several instances former prisoners now hold permanent jobs locally. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne drew attention to the opportunities made available by various crafts. The Prison Service, in its internal report, refers to the measures now being taken to improve the security of the regime. I am sure that that is all very fine but in evidence to the committee the Minister for Prisons said, "Trust has been shattered", and a former prisoner said that,
"you can buy drugs in here for the first time ever".
A representative from the Prison Governors Association said that,
"the way senior people are treated in the Service at the moment is such that it may not be the wisest career choice".
The Prison Service memorandum states,
"Although much has been said about a loss of Blantyre House's ethos, performance figures strongly suggest that what is best about Blantyre has been maintained and in some key areas enhanced".
I suggest that, in the light of a memorandum from the board of visitors that verges on the complacent. The memorandum refers to continued unrest at not knowing the reasons for the search—
"perceived misinformation repeatedly given out by the authorities"—
and to a lack of confidence in the regime leading to less co-operation in education in prison activities. That is the measure of the damage which has been done to this imaginative institution and, if I may say so, to the service as a whole.

Perhaps I may make one further point. Recommendation 17 of the committee's report states:
"We recommend that when something goes seriously wrong in the Prison Service, the investigation should be conducted independently by the Chief Inspector of Prisons".
It was the opinion of the committee that the two internal reports from the Prison Service appear to lack independence from the chain of command. I understand that similar complaints led to the establishment of the Police Complaints Authority. The Minister has the power to request such an independent inquiry from the Chief Inspector but Mr Boateng in evidence stated that it did not occur to him to do so on this occasion. I believe that the Government's reply to the committee's report on that matter was less than positive and I should like the Minister's assurance that, in the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, such a procedure in cases of such obvious sensitivity concerning the operation of the service should be the norm.

Blantyre House has been a model institution, well respected in the community and with a below average absconding rate. As many witnesses testified to the committee and as said by many speakers today, it was built on the basis of trust. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, put that particularly well. As to whether there were serious abuses by inmates and staff, and whether there was a serious security risk in the making, there are clearly two views. But the point made so eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew is that that trust should form the basis of improvements—no institution is perfect—rather than be the victim of some hasty reforms put in hand as the result of what can be described only as a philistine and destructive episode.

For good measure, the committee sought fit to include in its report a check list of how a search of this nature should be conducted. It is devastating in its simplicity and common sense. It reads:
"It could have been planned properly in advance … conducted shortly after dawn (or with adequate lighting provided) … with the direct involvement of the Governor and staff … with the keys obtained and forced entry unnecessary … only in the presence of outside visitors (Board of Visitors) … and under the overall command of Prison Service Headquarters".
The whole service, from the Minister downwards, would do well to bear that advice in mind should the occasion arise again.

The resettlement regime has attracted some of the most imaginative thinking into the Prison Service. It is a scarce commodity; there are only three institutions of its type. The setback to one of these should not be minimised and the Minister should be in no doubt as to the scale of the task facing him in restoring its effectiveness.

6.57 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, want to place on record my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for providing the Government with the opportunity to call attention to the excellent record of Blantyre House and to commend it as a resettlement prison.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord's opening observation that trust is at the heart of the debate. Whatever one's view of what took place at Blantyre House last May, we must all pull in the same direction and ensure that trust is put at the heart of what in future happens there and at other resettlement prisons. That is most important.

I have enjoyed listening to today's contributions to the debate. They have been excellent in quality and perception and all contributors have carefully constructed their comments and observations. Their criticisms have been precise and points made with honesty and integrity. In circumstances such as these it is invidious to draw attention to any one contribution but, as always, I listened with care and interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. She has a long interest and concern in this area of policy. I shall certainly take away her comment that we ought to have an expression of pride in the achievements of Blantyre House. None of us can be in doubt about the importance of that.

I shall try to answer as many questions as possible. However, if some stones are left unturned I shall try to respond perhaps in writing or in further discussions and meetings. The issue is important and I take it most seriously. The Home Affairs Select Committee held a recent and important inquiry into the search of the prison on 5th and 6th May. It was most critical of the way in which the search was conducted. The Home Office committee responded formally to its recommendations and I am grateful to the chairman of that committee for agreeing to make that response available in the Libraries of both Houses from yesterday. I am gratified by the welcome from all sides of the Chamber for the rapidity of its publication and some of its comments, although I understand that not all Members of your Lordships' House have had an opportunity to study the response in detail.

One key point is that, contrary to reports and some of the committee's suggestions and views expressed today, the search of Blantyre House was not indicative of the Government's lack of belief in the importance of resettlement; far from it. Not only do we pay great tribute to the work undertaken at Blantyre House but we fully recognise its importance and value within the overall prison estate.

We fully accept that unintentionally the search and the simultaneous move of the then governor of the prison led the Home Affairs Committee and others to doubt the commitment of the Government and senior managers in the Prison Service to resettlement and the regime at Blantyre House. We do not, however, believe that that doubt is in any way deserved. The Government greatly regret the damage caused during the search of the prison and accept the need for further work on the security classification of resettlement prisons and an overarching policy framework on resettlement. We are quite clear about the importance of ensuring that Blantyre House and the other two resettlement prisons continue to perform well in that role.

The Government regret that the Home Affairs Committee did not accept the explanation of the reasons for the search of the prison and remain fully supportive of the Director-General in carrying out his responsibilities. I echo the words of the Home Secretary that this is one of the most difficult jobs in public life. Like all Home Office Ministers, and many contributors to this evening's debate, I believe that Martin Narey carries out his job with great distinction.

Many questions have been asked about the decision to search the prison. Blantyre House provides a specialist resettlement role in preparing long-term adult male prisoners for their return to the community. It also caters for about 20 life sentence prisoners as part of their progression towards eventual release. Successful management of the prison depends on the careful balancing of security and resettlement needs. Prisoners who have daily access to the outside world mix with serious offenders who have not yet demonstrated that they can be trusted in open conditions.

While Blantyre House generally fulfils its resettlement role very effectively, the critical balance can be lost if security measures are not given sufficient weight. In the weeks leading up to 28th April 2000 emerging intelligence about Blantyre House built up into a worrying picture of possible security breaches, concerns that prisoners might be involved in criminal activities and the emergence of inappropriate work placements.

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My Lords, perhaps the Minister intends to deal with the following matter at the end of his speech. Is the noble Lord able to tell the House the route by which that intelligence reached the directorate and where in the chain it was evaluated?

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My Lords, it was my intention to deal with that point later. However, as the noble Lord raises it now I am content to clarify the position and place it on record. Intelligence was collected and analysed by a small group known as the Chaucer team based at HM Prison Swaleside. That team reports to the area manager for Kent. Clearly, that was the route whereby the intelligence emerged. I hope that that fully answers the noble Lord's point.

On 28th April the Director-General decided to conduct a full lock-down search of the prison and simultaneously to move the then governor. The Director-General and the Government stand by that decision, although we greatly regret the damage caused. The Director-General has said that, with the benefit of hindsight, the immediate posting of a new governor to start on the same day of such a search was, in his words I think, undesirable.

I do not believe that at this stage we can unearth new facts and judgments about the night of 5th/6th May. Damage estimated at £2,242 was caused by the forced entry through doors in the prison. The governor leading the search, who expressly took with him a colleague who knew the key system at Blantyre House, is adamant that he would never have authorised forced entry into any part of the prison had keys been available. Other evidence was put to the Home Affairs Committee which claimed that the keys had always been available and the damage was deliberate. Whatever the explanation, we can all agree that the damage was regrettable.

An internal Prison Service inquiry found failings in the planning of the search and made a number of recommendations, including the need for contingency plans, the importance of the attendance of the board of visitors at any non-routine event and practical planning issues related to the search. A full review of the security manual is being undertaken during 2001 and the section which gives guidance on searches is being given high priority. It remains the case that non-routine searches of the kind carried out at. Blantyre House are expected to be relatively rare occasions. The service has, nevertheless, accepted that the lessons emerging from the Blantyre House search need to be absorbed into routine guidance.

Allegations have been made of attempts to mislead Parliament and the public over the significance of the results of the search. I contend that those allegations do not hold water. The search team seized a total of 98 "unauthorised" items. It took time both to assess each item and to conduct an inquiry into the management of Blantyre House which provided the basis for improvements to the way in which security should be managed at that establishment. The objectives of the search were broad and included taking a snapshot of security and control measures at the prison.

The committee's criticism is based on public comments in the first four weeks after the search when it was not yet possible to assess the full significance of every item seized in the search. The results of the search do not stand alone as justification for the search. The Director-General accepts that a large number of items seized turned out subsequently to be relatively insignificant. But there were some significant finds, including three abandoned mobile telephones and some small quantities of drugs. The later investigation into the management of Blantyre H ouse revealed weaknesses in the supervision of prisoners working outside the prison, serious shortcomings in the application of security measures, weaknesses in the allocation and selection procedures for the transfer of prisoners to Blantyre House and apparent financial mismanagement of charitable and subsidiary funds.

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My Lords, the Minister makes a fairly damaging statement. As I understand it, money was found in the chaplain's office which, though unusually large for a prison, was not a significant sum. I would not have thought that that amounted to the mismanagement of public funds. Does the noble Lord refer to something else?

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My Lords, I repeat that there appeared to be some mismanagement of charitable and subsidiary funds. I am content to take away the noble Lord's point and give it further consideration.

There were also inadequate arrangements for the securing and locking up of tools and mobile telephones authorised for outside work which should not have been kept in the prison. In other circumstances there might have been considerable concern were it not for the particular nature of the prison.

The Director-General made it clear to the Home Affairs Select Committee that he held Mr McLennan-Murray in high regard. Mr McLennan-Murray is on a two-year secondment to the Department for Education and Employment. The timing of his return rests with him and the Prison Service. The director-general expects Mr McLennan-Murray to govern larger prisons than Blantyre House in the future.

The Government accept the committee's recommendation that the three resettlement prisons should have a new security status. The service has recently introduced a "semi-open" security classification for the women's estate which will accommodate prisoners who present a low risk but cannot be fully trusted in open conditions. The service has reassessed the security needs of the three resettlement prisons and decided to reclassify Blantyre House, Kirklevington Grange and Latchmere House as semi-open. That will allow medium- and long-term prisoners to come into a semi-secure environment and, subject to subsequent risk assessments, to be allocated work placements within the community.

The prison has conducted an analysis of the most recent temporary release failures. Each of the prisoners were at an advanced stage in their progression through Blantyre House and were allowed regular access to the community. There is no evidence to link their absconds to the changes at Blantyre House.

The Government are in full accord with the committee's view of the importance of resettlement. We also agree with the committee's view that resettlement should be part of the plan from the start for all prisoners. However, the Government do not accept the committee's view that there is:
"no policy or guidance on resettlement".
They have accepted that there is lack of a national policy framework. Work is in hand to correct that. That framework should be in place by April 2001. I hope that answers a question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked.

There are a wide range of resettlement-related programmes and projects to identify and promote effective practice, particularly with regard to getting prisoners employment and accommodation on release. The examples include the resettlement pathfinders under the Government's crime reduction programme at seven establishments, which explore effective resettlement work with short-term prisoners in partnership with the Probation Service and voluntary sector organisations; and the welfare to work pilots at 12 establishments which aim to increase the job skills and employability of younger adult prisoners and help ensure that they get maximum benefit from the New Deal for Young People on release. Over 6,300 young offenders have started the welfare to work programme and some 4,700 have successfully completed it.

There are housing advice and mentoring pilots at six establishments in partnership with the Rough Sleepers Unit. There is the Headstart programme which has been successfully run at Thorn Cross and is being extended to two more prisons. That programme helps prisoners to achieve job aspirations through individually tailored interventions, including building close links with the individual's home community prior to release.

There are many other employment and accommodation schemes based on locally developed partnerships between prisons and other agencies, particularly with the voluntary sector. The experience of those initiatives and programmes is being fed into the development and implementation of a new custody to work strategy for the Prison Service to deliver improved employment and accommodation outcomes for released prisoners.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I sense that he is moving away from the report of the Select Committee. I gave him notice of the questions that I mentioned. Will he find time in the remaining few minutes that he has to deal with, above all, the question of the relationship between the area manager and the governor of the prison? Will he answer the question why Mr Boateng's response made no reference to that? Will he answer the question about funds for greater security, refused to Mr McLennan-Murray but granted, I understand, to the incoming governor? Other questions were asked and we would be disappointed if he missed the opportunity to answer the questions of which he has had notice.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for bringing us back to those points. I intended to cover them in my conclusion. I recognise that time is pressing so, particularly in view of the noble and learned Lord's observation, I shall answer the points that he asked. There were some 11 of them.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether, when the board of visitors wrote to the director-general, it complained about the relationship between the area manager and the governor. The director-general says that to his knowledge the first time the specific question of bullying was raised by the board of visitors was before the Home Affairs Committee on 17th October. It raised other concerns to the director-general to which he responded by letter and in person.

The committee criticised those relationships and said that the matter should have been addressed earlier. The question relates to that and asks whether we accept that. We do not. The director-general believes in the professionalism of both the former governor and the area manager and their commitment to resettlement. The director-general explained to the Home Affairs Committee that had Blantyre House been re-roled to a juvenile prison, which was considered in early 2000, he would have wanted Mr McLennan-Murray to stay on as governor.

The noble and learned Lord asked about Mr Paul Boateng's response and why he did not deal with the relationship. I am in some difficulty here because a complaint has been lodged with the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office by Mr McLennan-Murray over the relationship. Because of an investigation being undertaken into that complaint, I am sure the noble and learned Lord appreciates that it would be invidious and wrong for me to comment. Therefore, I cannot comment further on that matter.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the former governor. There was a further question regarding resources to improve security and whether they were refused to him. The area manager asked the former governor to carry out a re-profiling exercise before consideration could be given to providing additional resources. That re-profiling exercise has been carried out by the present governor and, as has been widely expected, has led to a release of further resources. The improvements to security arrangements were carried out by the new governor without those new resources in place. The resources put into Blantyre House relate to resettlement work.

I have dealt with the noble and learned Lord's point on the policy formulation for resettlement establishments within the Prison Service. We are developing that policy.

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My Lords, there is a matter that concerns a number of noble Lords. Perhaps I may press the Minister on the matter. According to what he has said, the Government place much importance on resettlement. The governor did precisely the same. Yet the area manager was in conflict with that particular governor. Where precisely do the Government stand in relation to area managers who are in conflict with governors over the running of prisons?

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My Lords, I accept that that relationship is sometimes difficult and challenging, but clearly it must be right that there is a "negotiated" relationship. However, ultimately operational decisions rest with the director-general. That has to be right.

I want to try to go through all the questions and points. I hope that your Lordships' House will bear with me as I do that. The noble and learned Lord rightly asked whether the Government are satisfied that any senior officer directing our policy should combine with it other duties such as director of regimes. The answer is yes, and that is already part of the present director's responsibilities.

The noble and learned Lord also asked about our attitude towards boards of visitors. It has always been the case that the Government value the independent advice given to Ministers by boards about the NA, a y in which prisoners are treated and the state of the administration and premises within Prison Service establishments. My right honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for prisons and probation expects to receive by Easter a report on a review of boards of visitors that he asked Peter Lloyd to undertake, which is aimed at helping make boards even more effective than they are at present.

Furthermore, the noble and learned Lord asked what weight was to be given to future warnings from boards of visitors that there might be problems with relationships in their prisons. Again I want to put on record that we take these matters very seriously and that they are properly investigated. It is open to boards at any time to raise any of those concerns with Ministers and senior Prison Service managers. All issues raised formally by boards are and will continue to be fully investigated carefully by the Prison Service. The way in which issues are raised and reported upon by boards is being considered by the review group with a view to helping boards focus and report more clearly on matters of concern.

Then the noble and learned Lord asked for an assessment of damage done to Blantyre House in the view of the service. The Prison Service accepts that the new governor needs support. He has received that support. That support is being actively provided to regain the important atmosphere of trust in the prison. That comes back to a key point raised by the noble and learned Lord at the outset. As I said earlier, it is regretted that the damage caused in the course of the search has had some lasting impact. But we need to move on. That is the point I tried to make at the outset of my remarks and in summarising where we are now.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether Blantyre House is to be recategorised and whether the board of visitors will be consulted. It is not usual to consult a board of visitors on matters of security policy. That would not be right and I think that the noble and learned Lord will understand that. But the board is welcome at any time to raise this question with the governor. That will always be an important consideration.

I am in danger of greatly running over my time. Noble Lords raised a number of other points. I was asked about planning for the search—I would refute that it started eight months beforehand—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about education matters. I want also to put on record our great regret that the chapel had to be searched in the way in which it was searched. Sadly, however, it has to be said that from time to time chapels within prisons need to be searched. I would reflect that those searches need to be carried out with the greatest possible sensitivity. We will endeavour to ensure that that happens in the future. I was grateful for the comments and observations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, which will be taken to heart.

One could say and put on record much more about Blantyre House. It is an excellent institution. It is in many ways a flagship and provides a great service to the community and to the nation. Those points must be properly acknowledged. There is no desire on the part of the Government to undermine the resettlement estate in any way, shape or form. We think that this debate, although perhaps, some might say, a little uncomfortable for government, is an important debate to be had. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. For those questions that I have not managed to answer as fully as your Lordships would have liked, I shall prepare written responses and try to ensure that those written responses are received promptly, as is my custom. It has been a most valuable debate for me and for the Government and Prison Service.

7.22 p.m.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to those who, at a not particularly convenient hour, have stayed and taken part in the debate or who have listened to it with such attention. One is very nearly disarmed by the Minister, but not entirely. This has been, as the noble Lord put it, a rather uncomfortable debate for the Government and of course we all want to move on, as he, very understandably, was very anxious to move on. However, the events at Blantyre House have merited the parliamentary scrutiny that has been given, both by the Select Committee and by this House. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully the questions that have been asked. When the Minister writes to me with further answers, perhaps he would be good enough to place those answers in the Library.

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My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.

In conclusion, I think that the whole House will agree that there is a lot of unfinished business here for the Government and for the Prison Service in remedying the consequences of what happened at Blantyre House on 5th May. We welcome the commitment to resettlement but we will be looking carefully to see how that commitment is translated into practical policies and improvements. With those few words and a reiteration of my gratitude, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.