Clause 14

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 18 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Powers of authorised persons to perform custodial duties and search prisoners

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I waited to see whether the Opposition spokesman would stand up, in which case I would not have bothered. However, I am one of the members of the Committee who has received two letters from the Prison Governors Association. I thought that everybody had. [ Interruption. ] They say that they have not. I want to ask the Minister whether he has had discussions with the PGA about this provision, and I want him to explain why he is not persuaded by its argument that this is a dangerous move.

To remind the Minister of the argument, if we approve clause 14, section 85(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 will be repealed. Section 85(3) was introduced to prevent private justice being dispensed in private prisons. It was seen as a safeguard that there would be a public sector presence in such prisons to dish out the punishments, so that if people were subject to punishment because of breaches of prison discipline, such as an in-sentence punishment of days to be served, loss of licence time, segregation, confinement in their cell or the use of mechanical restraints, such matters would be deliberated on and pronounced by a public sector representative called the controller. If we repeal that provision today, we will be permitting the private sector to dish out the punishment instead.

The PGA, which is not known for being a radical, publicly protesting body, has said that it is particularly concerned, because it feels that, when imposing a punishment in a prison, public accountability is an important issue and that such a function should fall within the public sector. The new provisions provide that there will be some monitoring by a public servant, but it will be left to the prison to impose its own punishments. I think that the PGA has introduced a good public policy issue, and since no one else stood up to raise it, I decided to do so.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which was brought to his attention by the PGA. I have a great deal of respect for the PGA—I have met its representatives on a number of occasions, and I spoke at its annual conference last year—and I hope that I am a friend of the PGA and in the same way as I am a friend of the Prison Officers Association. We disagree about things quite regularly, but we do so in a friendly spirit.

There is a subplot to the activities of the PGA. It is sad that none of the private sector directors are eligible to become members of the PGA, and I hope that it will remedy that. Although I have not met it about that particular issue, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has provided Members of Parliament with a suggested response to the PGA.

On clause 14, we are seeking to transfer to the directors of contracted-out prisons—

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

I just want to elucidate that document, because I do not recall getting that advice from the Home Secretary. I wonder whether the Minister would like to make that document available. Is it available only to Government Members, and can it be made available to Opposition Members, too?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Apparently, I sent the letter. [ Laughter. ] I assure the Committee that it is very good.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister will know that Home Office Ministers have difficulty in getting things to the Home Secretary; we now learn that they have difficulty getting things from the Home Secretary, and they have to make it up and say that letters from the Home Secretary were actually written by them. We need to sort this out.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I apologise to the Committee. I am the guilty man in this case. To help the Committee, I will make available the copies of the suggested response to the PGA from the Home Secretary to MPs, which I passed on to the Home Secretary.

Let me help the Committee by setting out what we are trying to do, which is to transfer to the directors of contracted-out prisons certain powers concerningthe segregation, control and, where appropriate, disciplining of prisoners that are currently exercised by controllers under the Criminal Justice Act 1991. All the powers that we propose to transfer are existing ones that are seen as essential tools for governors in the public sector to maintain order, control and discipline, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford has said. The powers are closely regulated by secondary legislation, such as the prison rules, and detail the instructions that private prisons are statutorily and contractually bound to follow. The instructions closely reflect the rules that apply in public sector prisons.

The power to conduct adjudications, which are internal disciplinary hearings for prisoners alleged to have broken prison rules, is a crucial control mechanism for governors in the public sector. The proposed changes will enable the directors of private prisons to be more responsible for the order and control of their establishments. In addition, they will free up controllers, who currently undertake that task on behalf of directors, to spend more time monitoring the quality and value of the services provided by the contractor. The changes will ensure that the disciplinary system in private prisons operates as speedily and effectively as possible, which will bring benefits to prisons and prisoners generally.

A disciplinary offence that may result in the award of additional days must be dealt with by an independent adjudicator, whether in a public or private prison, rather than by the governor or controller, as required  by article 6 of the European convention on human rights. This proposal does nothing to alter that.

The powers of segregation and control are currently available to directors in an emergency, for which they must seek retrospective approval from the controller. The amendment that the clause makes to the 1991 Act will enable such powers to be exercised by the director acting alone, even when there is no emergency. There is no evidence to suggest that directors have misused the powers since the first private prison opened in 1992. Indeed, private prisons have been credited with a key role in improving the decency of prisoners’ treatment and conditions over the past 10 years in both sectors. I hope that with those safeguards, the controller will have a wider role, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s comments about the effect of the provision in the private sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Atkinson. Before we finish, I would like to say that I am happier now that we have corrected, as best we can, the transcript of the evidence session that took place before the Committee started. I thank you for explaining that procedure. I also thank Peter Butler in my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State’s office for working hard on the transcript. It is imperfect, as there are one or two points at which the evidence is inaudible, but we have endeavoured, in so far as we can, to produce a readable document. I leave it to you, Mr. Atkinson, to advise us how you would like to receive it and what will happen to it thereafter.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

I shall come back to the hon. and learned Gentleman after I have taken advice, as this is uncharted territory.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Atkinson. Having had a conversation with a Clerk in the scrutiny unit who already has an electronic copy of the transcript, I understand that the Chairman has to authorise the publication of any evidence that is submitted as part of a Committee’s documentation. I will submit the transcript to you now, Mr. Atkinson, and you can then have it admitted as evidence and published in time for our sitting on Tuesday, if you and the Clerk are content that the procedures have been followed.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

I understand that that should be no problem.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Four o’clock till Tuesday 23 January at half-past Ten o’clock.