HC Deb 07 July 1994 vol 246 cc437-9
6. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to build more prisons.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Six new prisons are to be built under the private sector design, control and finance initiative announced on 2 September 1993. Sites for the first two have been identified at Fazakerley in Merseyside and at Bridgend in south Wales.

Lady Olga Maitland

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellent news on the prison building programme. Will he confirm the measures that he is planning to provide effective drug abuse treatment in prisons in the future, both in the maintained mainstream sector and the private sector?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right. That is an extremely important problem. Drugs do get into prisons, both public and private. They should not. We are seeking powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, as I think that my hon. Friend knows, so that prisoners can be required to be tested. That is the essential feature of the new strategy that we are developing, and of course it will include the private sector.

Mr. Hoyle

How can the Minister contemplate building any more private prisons when Derek Lewis, head of the Prison Service, has admitted to the Public Accounts Committee that the Wolds is costing £1 million more to run than it would cost if it were in the public sector, that it is costing £1.5 million more to pay Group 4 to manage the Wolds than was estimated, and that Group 4 has lost—a familiar word—control of certain sections of the Wolds prison? Will not even this Minister now admit that the time has come for the Prison Service to be administered by common sense rather than political prejudice?

Mr. Lloyd

The prejudice is all on the hon. Gentleman's part. All the points that he made and all the figures that he quoted were wrong. The Wolds is being run for £3 million less over five years than the benchmark of the Prison Service. The contract was awarded on that basis, and it will continue on that basis. There is no loss of control in the Wolds. The Wolds is pioneering new types of effective management. If the hon. Gentleman had read the chief inspector's report, he would have seen that the inspector found that the staff who run the Wolds were busy, hardworking and professional, and that their instinctive reaction was to solve problems rather than pass them on. That is the example that we want for the whole of the Prison Service.

Mr. David Martin

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, when it comes to building new prisons for persistent juvenile offenders, he will insist that the will of this House should prevail, rather than that of the interfering busybodies down the Corridor— [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I do not even have to ask the hon. Gentleman. I can see by his face what he is about to do.

Mr. Martin

Rather than that of those who sit from time to time in the other place, who are remote from the real worries of my constituents, and who, when they are there, represent no one but themselves.

Mr. Lloyd

I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said will be heard at the other end of this building, in another place. He can be quite sure that the question will return to the Chamber, so that the House may express its views on it again.

Ms Ruddock

Will the Minister confirm that, at the new Blakenhurst private prison, United Kingdom Detention Services refused to recognise trade unions, that assaults on staff are at least four times the norm, that there have been seven acts of concerted indiscipline, including one riot, and that eight warnings have been issued to the company, resulting in two default notices for failure to comply and a financial penalty of more than £40,000? Does the Minister really believe that that is a model for the prisons of the future?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Lady must know, if she looks across the Prison Service, that all prisons have their problems, especially when they are starting up. First, the impressive thing about Blakenhurst is how quickly its problems were brought under control. Secondly—I think that the hon. Lady found it a fault, but my hon. Friends and the public at large would find it something quite different—when Blakenhurst failed in a certain degree in its contract, it lost money as a result. The Home Secretary has the leverage to obtain the type of Prison Service that he wants from the private sector which is, alas, absent in the public sector, occasionally to the detriment of the performance of the public sector.

Mrs. Browning

Will my hon. Friend note that there is still considerable concern about the number of mentally ill people in our mainstream prisons and about the frequent lack of specialist medical attention in prison hospital wings? Will he ensure that he looks carefully at providing secure accommodation for those people, but with adequate medical provision?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right to perceive that as an important problem, but the place for mentally disordered offenders is not prison, but the national health service outside. Over the past few years, each year a much larger number of such prisoners has been moved out into the health service. The only bar to the speedy movement in every part of the country is places within the health service. The Prison Service medical staff are alive to the problem and are constantly in touch with the health service about it.

Mr. Trimble

Can the Minister comment on the prison transfers currently taking place from England to Northern Ireland? Is not part of the problem the differences that exist in the prison regimes of England and Northern Ireland, in relation to both the conditions of custody and the release procedures? Would not those difficulties be minimised if there were roughly similar prison regimes in both jurisdictions?

Mr. Lloyd

If there were roughly similar regimes, there would not be a problem. I admire the way in which the hon. Gentleman has successfully asked his question under the heading of private prisons. The delay has not been in making arrangements, but in satisfying ourselves on the legal position of prisoners under the different regimes. We have come to a satisfactory conclusion on that, which is why appropriate transfers are taking place.