Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I do not propose to rehearse the history of this sentence, which is well known to most of the participants in the Room. This is an opportunity to look forward rather than back. To summarise the basic facts, there are 2,892 IPP prisoners in prison; 1,498 of them are on remand, 1,394 have never been released and nearly all of them have served their minimum term—in many cases well over it. The difficulty of completing the hurdles required for progression to release, a lengthy 10-year statutory parole period and the ease with which one can be yanked back into the prison system have made this scandal both intractable for the authorities and a continuing mental torture for the prisoners and their families.
Hence the optimism when the Justice Select Committee in another place produced its courageous and morally unarguable report last year, drawing attention to the scandal and the suffering, and recommending some clear ways of cutting this Gordian knot through resentencing. The Government’s rejection of that was perhaps not unexpected by some—it was not unexpected by me, to be perfectly honest—but it has had a devastating effect on the mental health of prisoners and their families alike. One of the most dangerous things here is raising hopes only to see them dashed.
Instead, the Government have offered an action plan by way of response to the committee’s report. I think this is your Lordships’ first opportunity to review and consider that action plan. What can one say about it? First, it is a welcome advance on the previous action plan, which consisted of two sides of paper. This at least is a serious effort and it has a great deal of detail. Secondly, it does have a plan, and a timetable. Both those things are very much to be welcomed. Thirdly, I know from ministerial assurances that its implementation has been entrusted to competent and experienced civil servants. I welcome that and have confidence in them.
However, it is yet to be seen whether the plan is the transformative approach we are looking for that will help to resolve this issue. First, the plan fails to acknowledge the injustice lying at the heart of this problem. The Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor—the new one—appears to be moving in that direction. In the other place recently in debate on the victims Bill, he referred to the IPP regime as a “stain”, possibly echoing comments previously made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. In a letter I have recently seen he refers to it as an iniquity. These are new terms; this is new language that we have not heard from the Ministry of Justice in the past. It is wholly welcome that the acknowledgement of the injustice is coming from the Secretary of State, but is it properly reflected in the action plan, which, it must be said, was prepared before he came into office, although he signed it off? Does the action plan still read too much like an administrative task, rather than what it should be: a morally based mission?
Secondly, the action plan fails to respond fully to what we know are the challenges faced by prisoners who are out on parole. One cannot overestimate the fragility of a person who has to carry the difficulty of rebuilding their life while on parole for a lengthy 10-year period—set by statute as a minimum, despite our efforts in this House to have it reduced when we considered the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill a year or two ago—constantly under threat of being pulled back into jail for what is, in effect, a life sentence. You would have to be a very strong person indeed to be able to live with that and make your life work well.
Other comments could be made about the action plan, but my final point is that it implicitly assumes that prisoners will engage with the new approach rationally and in good faith. The sad fact of the matter is that prisoners have lost their faith in the system. It requires a great deal more than simply turning up and saying, “It’s all different now, and we’re going to make it work”. One has to understand that these people are very fragile and damaged. The plan does not acknowledge that or coherently think about how to approach and engage with them, or indeed with their families, who are potentially a very important part of helping to resolve this issue.
Before I finish, I will say a few words about mental health. As a result of being involved in this over the last six to eight months, I have got to know psychologists working in the field. Some of them have approached me, and I have got involved. Previously, I did not have those contacts, and it is worth repeating a few of the things that they say.
The first is to emphasise that these prisoners are damaged people. Secondly, as was identified in the Justice Select Committee’s report, they have a tendency to hide that damage because they know that if they admit to mental health problems it makes it more difficult for them to get their parole. Therefore, they tend to hide it rather than look for treatment and support. Many of them are constantly on the verge of suicide and self-harm. I understand that there have been at least three suicides since the Secretary of State rejected the resentencing proposal and that, in general, the rate of suicide among IPP prisoners is double that of the normal prison population.
These things need to be borne in mind as examples of completely understandable suffering. One psychologist commented that these prisoners now think in the same way as somebody who has been sentenced wrongly, for a crime they did not commit. It is important to unpackage that: they all acknowledge that they have been sentenced for a crime they did commit and that they should do time in jail, but the fact that that time never seems to come to an end puts them in the same mental place as prisoners who have been wrongly convicted. That is not a good place to be if you are in prison. It is much better to be there knowing that you did something wrong and acknowledging that you have to pay the penalty but knowing that you will leave in due course when that penalty has been paid. They are in great difficulty.
I would like to see, and hear from my noble and learned friend when he speaks at the end, how the action plan could be improved by, first, a sense of the scandal, urgency and harm that underlie the problem, rather than it being purely administrative. I would like to see a credible plan to remove the obstacles for those in prison to complete the progression steps that they have to in order to qualify for parole and release into the community. I would like to see a radical reduction in the parole period and, most importantly, resources and support given to the parole service. That has always been the Cinderella of this problem and, without proper resources, the parole service will not be maintained.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on obtaining this short debate, and thank him for the tenacity that he has shown in continuing to harry and expose a situation that we all accept as disastrous. I would also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, on obtaining the Question this morning. It is important to continue to have a laser-like focus on what is happening to those prisoners who are still experiencing incarceration or the trauma—because it is trauma—of being under the present licensing scheme.
I hope the Minister will appreciate it when I say how much I value that he is always prepared to listen and respond. If he and his opposite number can work with the new Secretary of State, we might just begin to get somewhere. The Secretary of State, who I welcome as the new Lord Chancellor, sent me a very helpful letter recently, in which he described what would happen on the back of the establishment of the progression board and the external stakeholder reference group. This group will consist of a range of interests from outside the Ministry of Justice, including the independent monitoring board. I pay tribute to the unsung, unpaid people who give their time to go into prison, as I experienced in the Easter break when I spent a day in a prison in Yorkshire. They deserve great credit. If this stakeholder reference group is to be of any value, it should meet more than twice a year, which is the current proposition. There should be a very clear line and relationship between the progression board and the work that Chris Jennings—who I also welcome—will lead to make the action plan a reality. The time lags that are built in at the moment are of deep concern.
To save time, I will write separately to the Minister about the Question this morning. Understandably, given my responsibility for some of this, many IPP prisoners are in touch with me. I will communicate with the Minister about David Richardson and Geoffrey Boston; they have found themselves caught up in this terrible spider’s web. It is acknowledged that they are in need of open prison conditions to prepare them for release, but this is being blocked by the Ministry of Justice. Thomas Wallace, who has been in touch with me, is in the erroneous situation of finding even greater restrictions and requirements placed on him now that he is on licence, even though he has been out for a long time and, according to him, has not committed any offence or breach. Difficult as it is for the probation service, with the trauma of the history that we all know about over the last 10 years, part of the action plan will have to look seriously at how it is performing.
The Justice and Home Affairs Select Committee, on which I serve, is undertaking a review of community orders. As part of that, the revelations about the underfunding and real difficulties of the probation service—including the challenge of recruitment now that resource is being put in—have been quite staggering. We need to take seriously how we help the probation service to fulfil its crucial role in carrying through the action plan. The plan will not work unless it does so. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out, it will be crucial that the probation service understands what is happening to those in its care, including those who are on licence and licence conditions.
Yes, we need more resource for the Parole Board, but we need also to determine the line of approach once someone is out of prison and how we can engage the voluntary and community sector. Many have written to us ahead of today, because every time there is a Question for Short Debate or a Question people quite rightly home in on what we are talking about. The evidence base that is now being collected, including from psychologists and forensic psychiatrists, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to, is crucial in getting the new Secretary of State to be able to address where we go from here. He said on the Second Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill that has already been referred to:
“I am considering carefully what the Justice Committee has to say about it”—
“it” obviously being IPP—
“and I will be saying more about it in due course”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/05/23; col. 592.]
I hope that “more about it” means to help us all to find a solution.
My Lords, it is a privilege as ever to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. There is so much one could say in this debate and so little time to say it. I shall focus solely on the burden of proof. This is far from just a snapping up of unconsidered trifles; it is really important.
We all know that the injustices of the IPP regime have long since reached scandal or crisis levels, but we all know too the political difficulties confronting a Minister newly in post who is facing an election next year where both main parties appear to be vying to be toughest on law and order. I fully support the projected resentencing proposal in the Commons report, but meantime, and altogether less politically problematic, we should recall that over 10 years after Section 128 of LASPO was included precisely for this situation, it remains unused. Surely at the very least a Section 128 ministerial order should now be made, at last reversing the burden of proof as to future dangerousness when the Parole Board considers release.
This would have several benefits. First, it would be easier for the Minister to introduce such an order than having to promote primary legislation. Secondly, it would counteract the Parole Board’s present risk-averse approach, encouraged—indeed, recently required—by Mr Raab’s insistence on supposed “public protection” at the expense of all else. With the burden reversed—a burden repeatedly said by Ken Clarke, Matthew Parris and others to be effectively impossible for the prisoner to discharge—the Parole Board need not be so defensive. If an IPP prisoner were to reoffend after release, the board would simply point out that the evidence of serious future risk relied on by the department was insufficient to justify further detention.
Thirdly, under this proposal there would be no question of sudden multiple releases. The new approach would take effect as and when individual IPP prisoners come up for Parole Board review. This consideration, too, should help the Minister. I urge our new Secretary of State for Justice to go at least this far as soon as possible.
As I have a moment left of my time, I will use it to urge the new Minister, of whom I hear nothing but good, to focus yet further on the immense and still-growing iniquities of the whole IPP scheme. These I believe to be incurable simply by improving yet again earlier versions of the action plan. The Minister must do what Sir Robert Neill and his committee urged last year.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity and for keeping this terrible situation before us. I rise with a certain reluctance because I do not have the expertise that many other noble Lords in this debate have, though like all bishops I have a right to visit the prisons in my diocese, which I do, and I am regularly in touch with people working in the legal and penal systems. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the lead bishop on prisons, has raised this matter on numerous occasions and sadly cannot be here today.
It is now seven months since the House of Commons Justice Select Committee issued its report on IPP sentences. There were some alarming conclusions in it, such as noting:
“The indefinite nature of the sentence has contributed to feelings of hopelessness and despair”,
leading to some suicides within the IPP population. There are reports that perhaps as many as 81 people have taken their own life when serving an IPP sentence. If we could identify in any other area of life that 81 lives had been taken, we would be calling for inquiries and wanting answers. Many of us are concerned to hear of further, more recent suicides.
It seems it is the very nature of these sentences that contributes to the hopelessness—sentences where there is no end in sight and where people are uncertain about the necessary threshold for return to prison. As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, many are fearful that even speaking about their mental health to a professional—the very person to whom they would be looking to get support and treatment—could be used as further evidence against them towards continued imprisonment.
One of the promises of the new IPP action plan is to introduce further measures to ensure that individualised support is available for each offender. One recommendation from the Justice Select Committee that I would like to draw attention to is the Parole Board’s agreement to review the listings priority framework in the light of IPP prisoners. These prisoners are stuck with incredibly long waiting times and what the committee calls an “ineffective” parole process stemming from chronic underresourcing. Will the Minister be able to update us on this review?
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, so rightly remarked two years ago, IPP sentences are the greatest single stain on the justice system. The suggestion that a person can, at a moment’s notice, be arbitrarily recalled to prison without having committed any further crimes is surely fundamentally opposed to natural justice and can have no place in our legal system. We often talk about our legal system in this country being a beacon; this surely brings that into question. The IPP action plan serves only to prolong an unjust legal mechanism, one that has been widely condemned by campaigners, charities, and psychiatrists and psychologists, and is contributing to self-harm and suicide. It is an affront to our legal values.
The solution recommended by the Justice Select Committee is a resentencing exercise where prisoners can be given a sentence appropriate for their crime. If we cannot do that, I hope that the Minister and his advisers will look closely at the need to find some other mechanism to address this terrible problem as quickly as possible and to give people fair sentences for their crimes but, once they have served them, to allow them to be released back into society.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the right reverend Prelate. Like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his concern about this issue and congratulate him on securing this short debate. As many noble Lords will know, my background is not in law or the justice system, but I am profoundly concerned by injustice. That IPPs have been described by the Justice Minister in another place, to quote the noble Lord, as a “stain” on our justice system has both caught my interest and provoked me to speak in this debate. I am grateful for all the briefings that I have received from the Prison Reform Trust, the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, UNGRIPP, the independent monitoring boards and, of course, the House of Lords briefing. I was struck particularly by the bald statement in the House of Commons Justice Committee report, which said:
“Whilst there have been some efforts made in the last 10 years to reduce the IPP prison population … not enough has been done”.
I think that focuses our minds on the urgency with which we now need to address this matter.
The report goes on to identify a number of issues—I shall speak to just three. One is the psychological harm caused by the indefinite nature of the sentence. The Prison Reform Trust reports that
“self-harm amongst IPP prisoners is twice that of those serving a life sentence”
and that nine self-inflicted deaths in 2022 was the highest number in a single year since the sentence was introduced. I began to understand this when I read the numbers, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan: 46% of the people held have been held for 10 years or more beyond their original tariff—no one can imagine that that is justice.
A second area of concern is the limited availability of appropriate courses for IPP prisoners. This seems to amount to a dereliction of duty. If the Parole Board needs to see evidence of a course to address offending behaviour before considering release on licence but no course is available, that must aggravate the deep-seated hopelessness that many IPP prisoners feel. I therefore ask the Minister specifically in relation to those courses what resource would be needed to facilitate access for all IPP prisoners and how the Government propose to provide that. Frankly, it is hard to see how the IPP plan can be accomplished without the necessary resources.
On a related matter, I have now developed a significant interest in education in prisons in a general sense. Although educational courses are not a necessary precursor to release, as I understand it from the Prison Reform Trust, it is clear that interest in and engagement with education by IPP prisoners are taken into account. Therefore, if they cannot access those courses, or if they are moved as the courses are going on and cannot pick them up, that is clearly a significant issue too.
The issue of resources within the probation service is also significant. The Commons Justice Committee found that a lack of resources leads to an ineffective parole system and described it as a “significant barrier” to release.
I believe that there is significant cross-party support for an action plan if it can be shown to deliver real change, of which the Justice Minister spoke on 26 April this year. Can the Minister say how His Majesty’s Government plan to implement principle 2 of the updated IPP plan, which is that:
“HMPPS ensures that those serving an IPP sentence have a sentence plan specifying the required interventions to reduce risk and has access to them”?
Might the deadline for this be the same as the June 2023 deadline for identifying funding streams for expanded psychology services provision in the community?
In conclusion, I was going to ask the Minister about transfer to open provision, but I understand that there was a Question on that this morning while I was in a committee. I will certainly read Hansard to see what the Minister had to say. I am bound to say that I am advised by the Prison Reform Trust that the change to criteria has had a significantly negative impact on IPP prisoners. If the Minister has time, could he say anything further about the transfer to open prison?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on securing this debate. The Government’s response and action plan are
“as shoddy a response as I have ever seen to a Select Committee report”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/4/23; col. 444WH.]
Those are not my words but those of Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the Justice Select Committee, which produced the original report.
I was delighted with the JSC’s report. It was thorough, facts-based and bold. To use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, it was moral. It really took care to think about the people it was talking about. As we know, the main recommendation was to conduct a resentencing exercise, informed by an expert panel, to end the mental torment that IPP prisoners face. Sir Bob said that resentencing would
“give certainty to everybody and give hope”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/23; col. 605.]
Within the first four weeks since the publication of the Government’s response, three IPP prisoners have already committed suicide. We have heard about the mental fragility from which these people are suffering. I am not saying that the publication of the response caused these deaths directly, but it has certainly done nothing to lift the general feeling of hopelessness. Nothing has been done to stem the increasing self-harm, suicide and deteriorating mental health of this cohort.
Amazingly, there is no acknowledgement throughout the whole government response of the damage being done to these prisoners—the whole system is conspiring to make them less able to achieve release and make a success of their lives, if and when they are eventually released. I am tired of making the same depressing points, both in debates and during the passage of the police Bill. Is it not the truth that there are no votes in making the lives of IPP prisoners possible, or in giving them justice, hope and an end in sight?
My noble friend Lord McNally commented during the police Bill that the progress of IPP prisoners was being foiled by a series of Catch-22s. Catch-22 was read recently on the radio. The main character, Yossarian, is an American World War II fighter pilot. Every time he reaches his target number of missions to be allowed home, the target is increased or the rules are changed. When he feigns insanity, he makes the mistake of saying that he does not want to die. He is declared sane because that is the decision of a sane man.
The Catch-22 for IPP prisoners works like this. We set out a route for IPP prisoners to work towards release and then we block the path. We say that they need to attend various courses, then we ensure that those courses are either rare or not available at all. We do not put the resources in to provide a path to jump through the hoops that we set. We make them wait endlessly for Parole Board hearings and, of course, we do not give the Parole Board the resources to do its job in a timely and effective manner. We give these prisoners a possible route out through open conditions. When, against the odds, the Parole Board recommends them for open conditions, the Secretary of State blocks their path. I asked the Minister earlier why currently fewer than one in six Parole Board recommendations for transfer to open conditions go through. Apparently, the Secretary of State can do what he likes and override the Parole Board, even if it deems a prisoner fit.
The final Catch 22, and arguably the cruellest, is that when we finally release a prisoner, having not prepared them properly, with insufficient resources, we expect them to instantly behave as law-abiding citizens after all they have been through. And, need you ask, we have underfunded the probation service so they cannot properly be supervised, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned. Any infringement of parole terms, such as loss of accommodation, attracts a recall, so we put them and their families through it all again. It is a bit like a cat playing with a mouse—or, as the JSC calls it, the “recall merry-go-round”. It is not so merry for the victims and their families.
My rant over, I have two questions for the Minister, who I know does care. I expect he will not be able to answer them both. I would love to know, under this excuse for an action plan, how long the Government think it could be before the last IPP prisoner changes their status to release or other circumstances under the current rules. I know the Minister cares but I suspect that his political masters do not. I bet he will also not be able to tell me what additional finite resources will be devoted to enacting this plan, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, asked. Without resources, nothing will change, and the Catch 22 will continue for ever.
My Lords, it is pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I know that she has spent considerable time campaigning on this issue, and I agree with many of the important points that she made. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on this Question for Short Debate. To take up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, needs to be congratulated because this is one of those issues that you hear being debated with people making all sorts of irrational comments. It is important that we have tried to discuss this in a calm and measured way. One hopes that quicker progress can be made through the action plan that the Government have put forward.
To take up my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s comments, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, I see some hope in what seems to be a change of attitude by the Secretary of State. That gives us some expectation that things will change. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out, the use of words such as “stain” and “iniquity” signifies a change of approach, and one hopes that, as a result, some of the concerns laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, will be addressed.
The challenge for the Minister is that the action plan has to be actioned—that is the key point about it—otherwise it is a good action plan that we all agree with, but what difference will it have made? It is the famous “So what?” question. My noble friend Lord Blunkett said that he will write to the Minister and make some points. It would be interesting to see them; if appropriate, perhaps we could see that correspondence and the Minister’s answers.
Countless testimonies and studies have shown the link between serving an IPP sentence and deteriorating mental health, self-harm and suicide. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, 81 IPP prisoners have taken their own lives while in prison. In 2022 alone, there were nine suicides—the highest number in any year since IPPs were introduced. Does the Minister agree with the Royal College of Psychiatrists that
“Mental Health services in prison are not equipped to manage the complexities of many of those subject to IPP in prison and additional resource and development of expertise is needed”?
Can the Minister outline what action is being taken to deal with these mental health problems?
Alongside that, as the Chief Inspector of Probation outlined, most recalls to prison arise from non-compliance with licence conditions rather than from new crimes. Non-compliance often results from homelessness, a relapse into substance or other misuse, and a lack of continuity of care between pre-release and post-release service provision. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, made the point that, in short, failing services are leading to unsuccessful licences. This means that we are setting up too many IPP prisoners to fail. They return to custody in a system that sets them goals that it does not then allow them to meet. Will the Minister commit to accept recommendations from the forthcoming inspection of recalls that stress the need for proportionality and attention solely to serious risks in making recall decisions?
We have to also recognise—again, other noble Lords have raised these points—that problems lie not just with IPPs. Even if individuals on IPP sentences are eventually released on licence by a Parole Board, to keep us safe we still rely on a functioning probation system to ensure that those individuals comply with their licence conditions and do not lapse back into the behaviours that made them a risk originally. Could the Minister comment on how the action plan will help ensure that the probation system functions in a way that supports IPP prisoners?
The statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, read out at the beginning were stark and deserve repetition. Some 2,892 people are still subject to the IPP regime; 1,394 have never been released, and 1,498 are on remand. It is no wonder the Secretary of State called this a “stain” on our justice system. Something certainly needs to be done.
Importantly, in reference to the point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, I note that the discussion about IPPs often takes place with respect to public protection. All of us agree that there is a need to consider public protection; it would be ludicrous to say that it is not an important consideration. However, as my noble friend Lady Blower and other noble Lords mentioned, this country is about justice and a system that works and is consistent with the values of our democracy and country. It is right to say that the public need to be protected in this situation, but individuals, however difficult their crimes are, also deserve justice. As such, there needs to be reform and change quickly.
My Lords, I very much thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for his opening remarks and for securing this debate, and all noble Lords who have spoken. As some of your Lordships know, I have met a number of you already and my friend, the right honourable Damian Hinds, the relevant Minister in the Commons, and I recently met the families and explained the Government’s reasons for proceeding with the action plan.
First, to restate the problem, IPP prisoners who have never been released have all, without exception, come before the Parole Board, which has been unable to say that they are safe to release. That is the essential stumbling block with which the Government and previous Governments have been struggling. The question is what to do about it.
As far as the resentencing exercise is concerned, as I think I have explained on a previous occasion, the Government’s position is that most of the relevant prisoners have already served a sentence, so on what basis exactly can one resentence such a person? What one is really doing is looking to find a way to release, or to improve the prospects of release for, the individuals concerned, and/or—as has been rightly pointed out—to address the problem of recall. Quite a lot of these prisoners have been released but found themselves being recalled for one reason or another.
With the greatest respect to the right reverend Prelate, there is no evidence that these recalls are arbitrary; they are for the breach of licence conditions. It may well be that there are some licence conditions that are difficult to comply with, or that the individuals themselves find it difficult to comply with; that, therefore, is something to be looked at. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has just remarked, the Chief Inspector of Probation is about to investigate in detail the processes of recall to see whether this is being done properly and proportionately. That is a very important new element of the situation.
I respectfully suggest that the action plan is a very important step forward and another new element. The essential purpose of the action plan is exactly the purpose that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, referred to, which is to break the Catch-22. How will we go about breaking the Catch-22? This is a shared problem. The Government are not trying to reserve the problem to themselves; it is a problem that every noble Lord and every member of the community can make an important contribution to. That is why, among other things, we have included an external stakeholder group in the arrangements, and why the Government have committed to publishing regularly information on its progress, so that everybody can see the data—data is a pretty important part of this—and the whole process can be put under the spotlight. That is what needs to happen: this issue needs to come up the agenda and be put under the spotlight.
Just for a moment, I shall record some aspects of the action plan, so that they are on the record. First, we have something we have never had before: a senior IPP progression board chaired by Mr Jennings, to whom reference has already been made, who is a most dedicated civil servant. That board is to drive forward measures in this area.
There are four basic principles set out in the plan; we have all read it, so I will not spend time reproducing them. There are success measures. There are six workstreams, two of which—I think workstreams 3 and 4—will in due course try to deal with the futility of the prisoners and the feelings of hopelessness that have been mentioned; to deal with the mental health issues, as there are quite a number of references to psychologists and so forth, and one is aware of the views of the Royal College in that respect; and to make a real, effective, tangible change.
The plan also extends, of course, to the community. Progression panels are being established in the community for each prisoner, in addition to their bespoke sentence plan, to give everybody a reasonable chance of getting through what is a very difficult situation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, rightly said, no responsible Government can ignore the need for public protection. That has to be borne in mind. I have to record—I make no apology for doing so—that this is yet another debate in your Lordships’ Committee where no one has used the word “victim”. Victims and potential victims have to be borne in mind as well, so one is struggling to find a balance in what is an intractable and difficult historical situation.
It is quite difficult at the moment to put flesh on the plan, as I think my noble friend Lord Moylan was asking us to do—has it taken account of this and has it taken account of that? Such points will of course be fed back. As the board takes control and drives this forward, I have every reason to hope and believe that all the points that have been made by your Lordships today will be taken into account. This is a very important advance. It will be driven by competent and experienced civil servants, and I would ask your Lordships to judge us by results. We do not have any results yet because it has only just started, but it is intended to respond to the very special situation where people have possibly lost faith in the system, are fragile and need special attention. I hope that will be delivered.
It is perfectly true that there have been staff shortages in the probation service. We have recruited some 4,000 new probation officers during the last three years—1,500 in the last full year. We have to make sure that the action plan adapts to those resources. There will be a review by the IPP progression panels, which we have directed largely to prisoners in the community.
I take very much to heart the opening comment from my noble friend Lord Moylan that it would be quite wrong to raise hopes only to see them dashed. However, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that the Victims and Prisoners Bill will come before the House, so I anticipate that this is not the last debate that we will have on this subject. I would personally be very open, as I am sure would be the Government, to serious and concrete suggestions for a further look at, or even reform of, the structure that we have at the moment. That is something that any responsible Government should continue to consider. I hope that the forthcoming Bill will be an occasion for further debate. To touch on one point made by my noble friend Lord Moylan, in the Government’s view this is in part a moral issue, and I think the supervisory board will also have that well in mind under the action plan.
I am afraid that I cannot answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, as to how long it will be before the last IPP prisoner is released, nor can I say at the moment, or quantify, what kind of additional finance in due course might be devoted to this problem. I can say—as I hope I have tried to illustrate—that the whole issue is very much on the radar. Obviously, from any Government’s point of view, nobody wants to keep anybody in prison unnecessarily—it is going to be expensive; no one wants to recall people unnecessarily. The strain on the probation service of dealing with all this is already pretty heavy, so if we can lighten that strain and reduce the general burden, and find ways in which people can break this Catch-22 and make their way successfully through the system, that is the Government’s objective.
I am conscious that I may have not responded to every point that has been made. I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that I am afraid I cannot accept that the report is shoddy. Enormous effort has gone into this and will go into this. Your Lordships have my personal assurance that the Secretary of State and relevant Ministers will continue to drive this forward. Let us look forward. I would not say that this is the end of the story, and I am sure there will be opportunities for further reflection and debate when the forthcoming Victims and Prisoners Bill reaches this House.
Forgive me if I have not answered all questions; I shall write to anyone who would like a further answer than I have been able to give today. I thank noble Lords for their attention.