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Orders Of The Day

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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Home Secretary (Prison Service)

4.21 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Prime Minister's Question Time the Prime Minister said that in the debate that is about to take place the Home Secretary would be producing comprehensive evidence to dispel the allegations that have been made against him in relation to the Prison Service. If the Home Secretary is to refer extensively to documents, are you aware of any preparations having been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to enable all Members to obtain copies at the Vote Office at the earliest opportunity? If not, hon. Members will be at a severe disadvantage if we do not have access to the full documentation.

The House must wait to see how the debate proceeds. I am sure that the Home Secretary will be as helpful as possible to the entire House.

I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the Prime Minister. I understand that there is some uncertainty about the application of the sub judice rule in today's debate following the taking out of a writ against the Home Secretary. That is a civil case which has not yet been set down for trial. If hon. Members refer to page 378 of "Erskine May", they will find that in these circumstances the sub judice rule does not come into force. That said, I do not believe that it would be right for the debate to concentrate on whether the recent dismissal of the chief executive of the Prison Service was fair or unfair. I am glad to note that the issue is not mentioned in either the Opposition's motion or the Government's amendment.

As so many Members wish to contribute to the debate, I have had to introduce a 10-minute limit. Members will be lucky to be called today, given the short time that is available for the debate.

4.22 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the unwillingness of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to accept responsibility for serious operational failures of the Prison Service.
The Home Secretary has vested in him by section 1 of the Prisons Act 1952 all powers and jurisdictions in relation to prisons and prisoners in England and Wales. He is responsible to the House for the exercise of those powers and jurisdictions. The Act makes no distinction between his responsibility for the policy of the Prison Service and the operation of that policy. We say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is following a constitutional fiction in seeking wholly to separate the two. He says that he is responsible only for his policy towards prisons but not for operational matters, for which he is accountable but not responsible. Responsibility for the operation of the Prison Service, says the Secretary of State, is in the hands of the Director General of the Prison Service. In return for that operational responsibility, the director general has vested in him, by the agency framework document and other documents, power over operational matters, in which the Secretary of State says emphatically that he does not interfere.

We say, however, that in practice the Secretary of State has on numerous occasions taken decisions and otherwise interfered with the operation of the Prison Service, but because of the fiction that he is not involved in it or that he is not responsible for operational matters, he has at all times had to avoid any admission that he has been so involved. That has produced two results. First, in the damning words of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim,
"it means that the Home Secretary is not responsible for anything at all."
That means that the Home Secretary takes the credit but is free of any responsibility. In other words, he has exercised power without responsibility.

Secondly, we say that the Secretary of State has had to be so evasive as to his real involvement in operational matters that in respect of the fate of Mr. John Marriott, the former governor of Parkhurst prison, he gave explanations to the House and to the Home Affairs Select Committee which are uncorroborated and wholly at variance with other evidence that is now available.

On the subject of veracity, I assume that the hon. Gentleman accepts that Mr. Derek Lewis is a man of impeccable veracity. Will he therefore support the evidence that Mr. Derek Lewis gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee, "The Frost Programme", the Daily Mail and the "Today" programme in mid-January 1995, when he said that it was he who made the decision on operational grounds to move Mr. Marriott, the governor?

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me, I shall deal with precisely those points.

Let me deal with each of the matters in turn. First, there is the distinction that the Secretary of State draws between policy and operations. In questions on the statement on the Prison Service on Tuesday 10 January 1995, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put this to the Secretary of State when he said:
"but there is no proper control of security at the prisons. Is not that something for which he—"
the Home Secretary—
must take responsibility?"
The Secretary of State replied:
"With regard to operational policy, there has always been a division between policy matters and operational matters … I really do not see … how, whatever structure or framework is in place, one can avoid a sensible distinction between policy and operational matters."—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 39–40.]
The problem for the Secretary of State is that he is the only one who believes that in practice such a sensible distinction can be made to the point of rigidity to which he takes it, for if ministerial responsibility means anything, it must mean that his policy is judged against the operation of that policy. How else can we judge a policy? Policy is not some intellectual abstract. It can be judged only by whether it has good or bad effect.

Judge Stephen Tumim said earlier this year that the Prison Service faced a crisis of confidence. That crisis has grown worse since he spoke those words. Is it any wonder that the service is in crisis when it has no effective leadership? The Secretary of State provides none. Indeed, he does not even pretend to provide any, because he says that he is not responsible for the operation of the service. The Director General of the Prison Service, who was personally appointed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and was complimented to the hilt by the Secretary of State in the House on 10 January, has now been dismissed without notice. There is only an acting successor, Mr. Richard Tilt, who on the day of his appointment was in open disagreement with the Secretary of State, telling a meeting of prison governors that in his view the removal of Mr. Lewis was "unnecessary".

Virtually everyone associated with the Prison Service—the governors, the staff, all six trade unions, Judge Tumim—have palpably lost confidence in the Secretary of State. As we heard on the radio this morning, that now includes the chairman of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors, Mr. Julian Alliss, who called on the Secretary of State to resign.

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear his view? Does he think that the Director General of the Prison Service should have been dismissed? Let us have an answer to that.

As the—[Interruption.] I am about to answer the question. As Madam Speaker made clear, perhaps before the hon. Gentleman came into the House, the issue before the House is not whether Mr. Derek Lewis should have been dismissed—[Interruption.] That is the subject of Mr. Lewis's legal action against—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman has the right to answer questions as he believes is appropriate.

The issue before the House is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for running the Prison Service.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has not Madam Speaker just ruled that the issue is not sub judice and therefore could be discussed if the House so wished?

I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to read out the ruling, other than to say that the matter is not sub judice. However, Madam Speaker drew the attention of the House to the fact that neither the motion nor the amendment referred to the issue and she therefore hoped that the debate would not be on that issue.

It is certainly the case that a great many of those with far greater knowledge of Mr. Derek Lewis's competence do not believe that he should have been summarily dismissed by the Secretary of State. That is why two non-executive directors, both with great experience outside the service, have now tendered their resignation in protest against the treatment of Derek Lewis. Mr. Geoff Keeys resigned yesterday and Mrs. Urmila Bannerjee, a senior director of British Telecom, resigned today.

For all that, the Secretary of State continues blithely to refuse to acknowledge any responsibility. When the Woodcock report into the Whitemoor escapes was published, he denied responsibility by claiming that the report contained "no recommendations to me".

Surely the real question is not the one put to my hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), but the one answered by the Home Secretary on 10 January 1995. When I put it to him that Mr. Derek Lewis should be dismissed, the Home Secretary said:

"The Prison Service is clearly going through a difficult time. The director general is the best person to take it through that difficult time."—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 40.]
What has changed since then other than the Home Secretary's need for a scapegoat?

For all the crisis which has now engulfed the Prison Service—I understand Conservative Members' unwillingness to consider the fact of the crisis over which the Secretary of State has presided, but that is the reality and it is known outside the House to everybody associated with the Prison Service—the Secretary of State continues blithely to refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for this crisis. He did so when the Woodcock report—[Interruption.]

Order. This is a relatively short debate and hon. Members should listen to the hon. Member who has the Floor.

As I have said, despite the extent of the crisis now engulfing the Prison Service, the Secretary of State refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for it.

I will give way later.

The Secretary of State evaded responsibility when the Woodcock report on the Whitemoor escapes was published, claiming that it contained "no recommendations to me" although it stated in terms:
"There exists at all levels within the Service some confusion as to the respective roles of Ministers, the Agency Headquarters and … Prison Governors. In particular, the Enquiry has identified the difficulty of determining what is an operational matter and what is policy, leading to confusion as to where responsibility lies."
The Secretary of State did the same on Monday, when he sought to avoid any responsibility for the matters which were the subject of the report by claiming that Learmont
"has not found that any policy decision of mine, directly or indirectly, caused the escape."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 31.]
No such words were used anywhere in Sir John's report. Moreover, the Learmont report is replete with criticism of political involvement by Ministers in the operation of the service. Paragraph 3.83 states:
"The Director General … needs minimum political involvement in the day-to-day operation of the Service",
and then charts how the reverse has been the case.

The report continues:
"Any organisation which boasts one Statement of Purpose, one Vision, five Values, six Goals, seven Strategic Priorities and eight KPIs"—
key performance indicators—
"without any clear correlation between them, is producing a recipe for total confusion and exasperation amongst those undertaking a most difficult and dangerous task on behalf of the general public."
Who is responsible for the "total confusion" identified by Learmont? Is it the Prison Service board, the director general or someone else? That "recipe for total confusion" is contained within the framework document itself. It is here that we find the
"one Statement of Purpose, one Vision, five Values, six Goals, seven Strategic Priorities and eight KPIs, without any clear correlation between them".
That document, drawn up by the former Secretary of State for the Home Department—now the Chancellor of the Exchequer—is explicitly endorsed by the current Secretary of State.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on Monday, asking him where the distinction between policy and operations was explained. His private secretary wrote back saying that the document
"explains the distinction between operations and policy."
The document, of course, does no such thing. What it does do—in Sir John Learmont's damning phrase—is to prescribe a recipe for the total confusion for which the Secretary of State is responsible.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred in an intervention to the question that he asked on 10 January. In that question, he described Mr. Lewis as "arrogant and incompetent". As so much of the charge that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is making relates to Mr. Lewis, will he now tell us whether he agrees with his right hon. Friend that the man was and is arrogant and incompetent?

The arrogance and incompetence are the Secretary of State's.

The Secretary of State will, I believe, seek to rely on the framework document for the Prison Service agency, or on that part of that document which states that
"the Secretary of State will expect to be consulted by the Director General on the handling of operational matters which could give rise to grave public or parliamentary concern."
However, the preceding sentence states:
"The Home Secretary will not normally become involved in the day-to-day management of the Prison Service."
We now know that the reverse has been the case. Mr. Lewis makes that claim in his statement of claim, and the Learmont report corroborates it. Mr. Lewis claims that, on average, he had to attend meetings lasting an hour every day with the Secretary of State and others. He claims that on occasion after occasion the Secretary of State questioned decisions that were plainly within the director general's remit of day-to-day management, including
"pressure brought to bear upon him in relation to internal disciplinary decisions taken by prison governors"
relating to the disciplining of individual members of staff and prisoners—
"with a view to increasing the severity of the action to be taken".
There is overwhelming evidence in the Woodcock report, in the Learmont reports, in the now public documents produced by Mr. Lewis, and in the constant complaints made by prison governors, of day-to-day interference in the running of the service, which goes well beyond the right laid down in the framework document for the Secretary of State to be consulted in certain circumstances.

There is, however, no more compelling evidence than the Secretary of State's involvement in the decisions about the future of Mr. John Marriott, the former governor of Parkhurst, which were announced to the House on 10 January. The framework document and the code of discipline in the Prison Service make it clear that decisions on the transfer and disciplining of staff are matters for the director general of the Prison Service and his managers, and not for the Secretary of State.

The code also crucially distinguishes between a transfer of a member of staff and his or her suspension from duty. It restricts suspension, saying that
"while suspension is not in itself a punishment or disciplinary penalty it may be seen as such, and that detached duty must be considered, where appropriate, as an alternative to suspension."

I have already given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

It is also claimed that as the discretion—

Some time ago, the hon. Gentleman said that, if the policy is right, it will be all right. Is it not possible that the policy can be right, but that, because what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said was an "arrogant and incompetent" subordinate, is in place, the policy can fail? If that happens because of an arrogant and incompetent subordinate should not that arrogant and incompetent subordinate be fired? Would not the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) fire him in the same circumstances or is he concerned with seeking to smear the Government and not the slightest bit interested in the reform of the Prison Service?

What is perfectly apparent is that the people who are not the slightest bit interested in the facts of this situation are Conservative Members. The Secretary of State has continually sought to evade his responsibility for the proper running of the Prison Service. That should be the Secretary of State's overriding policy and it is that which he has evaded continually to this House and outside.

The code of staff discipline also makes it plain that, as discretion about staff transfer or suspension is vested in the director general and not in the Secretary of State, so too is the timing of such decisions. That is far from a trivial matter. If the confidence of staff in the management is to be sustained, staff generally must believe that their colleagues facing transfer or suspension are treated fairly and, where appropriate, without gratuitous humiliation. There is a world of difference between giving time—just a few days—to go with some dignity, and being peremptorily removed from one's office at a minute's notice.

It is common ground that the director general, after consultation with his senior managers, came to the conclusion late on Monday 9 January that Mr. Marriott should be moved from his post as governor of Parkhurst, should then stay on the Isle of Wight for a period to help with immediate investigations, and should then take up a desk job at Prison Service headquarters. The director general considered the question of whether Mr. Marriott should be suspended from duty, but, having regard to the code, decided that that would be wholly unjustified.

Following what the hon. Gentleman has just said, was he right when he wrote in The Guardian yesterday that Mr. Lewis was against the removal of Marriott?

Yes, Mr. Lewis was against the suspension of Mr. Marriott, as I will show. It has always been on the record—there has never been any doubt about it—that Mr. Lewis was in favour of and indeed decided on Mr. Marriott's transfer. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not recognise that distinction.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman of the precise words that he used in The Guardian yesterday? In precisely the words used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), but not the words the hon. Gentleman has just used, he said in The Guardian yesterday:

"John Marriott was moved against the advice of Derek Lewis".
Does the hon. Gentleman now accept that that was a completely incorrect allegation?

If that was what The Guardian said, it was wrong because I—[Interruption.] The last thing I am responsible for is misprints in The Guardian.

That is the last intervention I am taking. There has never been the least doubt that Mr. Derek Lewis was responsible for the decision to move John Marriott. What is at issue is whether Mr. Lewis was responsible for seeking to suspend Mr. Marriott, which attempt was made by the Secretary of State and not Mr. Lewis.

It is also common ground that, at 4.10 pm on the next afternoon, 10 January, the Secretary of State told the House:
"The present governor"—
of Parkhurst—
"is today being removed from his duties at Parkhurst."—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 33.]
[Interruption.]

Where the House and the country are faced with two conflicting and different stories relates to what happened between the decision made by Mr. Lewis to move Mr. Marriott with his duties, and the statement that the Secretary of State made in the House on 10 January that Mr. Marriott was that day being removed from his duties as governor.

The Secretary of State told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that the decision to move Mr. Marriott was an operational decision made by the director general and not by him. The Secretary of State also said of that decision:
"it was there in black and white"—
in the disciplinary code—
"the director general is very familiar with it, there was no need therefore for me to talk to him."
More emphatically, the Secretary of State, in words that he will come to regret, answered an overall charge that I had put to him with the words:
"I reject absolutely the hon. Gentleman's allegations of interference".
The director general, however, charges that there was extreme interference by the Secretary of State in his decision to move but not to suspend Mr. Marriott, and about the time when that decision should take effect. In his statement of claim, he complains of
"the extreme and unjustified pressure exerted"
by the Secretary of State—
"upon the Plaintiff … to suspend the former Governor of Parkhurst Prison, rather than (as the Plaintiff had decided to do on operational grounds) to move him to another non-operational post".

I am not giving way. I will give way to the Secretary of State but not to hon. Members. I have given way six times already.

The statement of claim says that the
"pressure included a requirement for the Plaintiff to reconsider his decision by a specified deadline and the suggestion that he (the Defendant) would consider overruling the Plaintiff if he did not comply".
The former director general goes on to say:
"following the expiry of the deadline referred to … above"—
the defendant insisted—
"contrary to objections put forward by the Plaintiff on operational grounds, that the statement to be made by the defendant to the House of Commons later that day concerning the position of the said governor of Parkhurst Prison would include the word 'today' in reference to the steps to be taken (as indeed it subsequently did)".
I have spoken with Mr. Lewis at some length and he has confirmed to me the accuracy of the allegations in his statement of claim. He has also said that he is ready—[Interruption.]

Order. I am quite capable of saying the appropriate word or words. I do not need help. The hon. Gentleman who is speaking from the Front Bench deserves to be heard by the whole House, and I mean the whole House. I hope that the House will now settle down and just listen to the hon. Gentleman. If he is giving way, he will give way. If not, I should be grateful if those seeking to intervene resumed their seats instead of continually standing up.

As I said before, I quite understand the reluctance of Conservative Members to listen to the facts of this case and the seriousness of the allegations made against the Secretary of State.

Mr. Lewis has said that he is ready to justify and corroborate what he said in his statement of claim to the Home Affairs Select Committee and is writing to the Chairman to confirm that. Mr. Lewis is adamant that he was put under intense pressure by the Secretary of State at a meeting on the morning of 10 January to suspend rather than to move Mr. Marriott. He said that it was an extremely heated meeting during which he was subjected to greater pressure to change a decision which was properly his than on any other occasion that he can recall.

Mr. Lewis then told me that he was directed by the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision and withdrew from the meeting to do so, although others remained. During that withdrawal, he decided to stand by his decision and informed the Secretary of State of that when the meeting resumed. As he went into the resumed meeting, he was shown the text of the Secretary of State's statement, which included the words used that the
"present governor is today being removed"—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 3.]
as governor of Parkhurst. Mr. Lewis says that he objected to the use of the word "today" as he had already decided that the precise timing of the move, within a framework of a few days, was a matter for his operational director, Philippa Drew, to determine at a meeting with Mr. Marriott at Parkhurst to which Miss Drew had travelled that morning.

Mr. Lewis says that the Secretary of State, in response to his objections, simply indicated that he would make his statement as drafted, including the word "today". The allegation is therefore—[Interruption.] If the Secretary of State wishes to deny it, he can deny it now if he wishes. He has every chance to deny it. If he wants to deny it, he can deny it now.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman of what Mr. Lewis said to the Select Committee on 18 January? He said that

"it was essential for operational reasons that the change in governor took place immediately so that there was no distraction or confusion and there was clarity as to who was in charge."

The Secretary of State has not answered the question. Did the Secretary of State insert into his statement the word "today" against the advice of the director general—yes or no? Let me ask the Secretary of State the question again. Did he insert into his statement to the House, for which he was responsible, the word "today"—Mr. Marriott was to be removed "today"—against the advice of Mr. Lewis?

The director general answered that question himself in what he told the Select Committee on 18 January. Every decision that was made on that afternoon was a decision of the director general. It was the director general who decided exactly what happened, as he has told the Home Affairs Select Committee on more than one occasion.

The House has now heard the Secretary of State refuse to answer the question twice. It is of crucial importance. Here we have a major dispute as to the evidence between what Mr. Lewis says and the Secretary of State says. Mr. Lewis was not asked this question in the Home Affairs Select Committee; he was asked a different question. Let me ask the Secretary of State this question again. The public are watching. Did the Secretary of State himself insert the word "today" into his statement against the advice of the director general? I ask the Secretary of State to answer that question, yes or no.

As the Secretary of State will not answer, we shall instead let his civil servants give their evidence. I have here the minutes of the meeting which took place on the morning of 10 January. In a moment I shall ensure that the House knows that.

The allegation against the Secretary of State is that he interfered in two decisions of the director general and that, in respect of one of them—as to the timing of the move—he overrode a decision of an operational nature by the fait accompli of his statement to the House. The Secretary of State has sought to say that that version of events is untrue. A statement issued by the Home Office on Tuesday evening said that he
"did not tell Mr. Lewis that the Governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately. The Home Secretary did not threaten to instruct Mr. Lewis to suspend the governor of Parkhurst".
As we have just heard, the Secretary of State has refused on three occasions to deny a complete difference in testimony. Either Mr. Lewis is telling the truth or the Home Secretary is. Only one of them can he correct.

In briefing issued by the Home Office and Conservative central office, the Secretary of State has sought to rely on the evidence of the director general to the Home Affairs Select Committee, as we have just heard, that
"I and other members of the senior management team concluded … for operational reasons that it was vital we made a change in the … governor".
That, however, has never been in dispute.

In giving evidence to the Select Committee, Mr. Lewis was bound by the instructions of the Cabinet Office that
"Agency Chief Executives give evidence on behalf of the Minister to whom they are accountable and are subject to that Minister's instruction".

It is not rubbish—it happens to be from paragraph 42 of Cabinet Office instructions to every agency chief executive. Is the Secretary of State suggesting that Mr. Lewis should have refused to accept the instructions of the Minister as to that particular?

I am suggesting that it is rubbish—and disgraceful rubbish—to suggest that anything in that guidance or any other guidance requires a civil servant to lie to Parliament, which is what the hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that the former director general did.

I am not suggesting that for a moment. The Secretary of State cannot rely on the use of the director general's adverb "immediately" to suggest that he personally was requiring that the governor of Parkhurst went "today". The Secretary of State has refused three times to answer the question.

If Mr. Lewis was under some constraint, according to that direction, at the Home Affairs Select Committee on 18 January, why did he say exactly the same thing when he was under no such constraint three days earlier on "The Frost Programme"?

He is still bound. In any event, those answers to that question in no sense elucidate whether the Secretary of State insisted, against the advice of his own director general, that the word "today" should be inserted into the statement. Three times the Secretary of State has refused to answer.

What is in dispute is what happened on 10 January between Mr. Lewis and the Secretary of State. We do not have to rely on the word of the Secretary of State alone. On the question of the decision to remove Mr. Marriott "today", there is ample corroboration.

We know that this part of the Secretary of State's statement was transmitted to Miss Drew in Parkhurst, first by phone and then by fax. She then realised that the discretion that she had been given, which is in no sense inconsistent with the word "immediately", to determine within a matter of a few days when Mr. Marriott should leave his desk, had been overridden by the Secretary of State. Having received a telephone call and fax, she had no alternative but to act immediately on that fait accompli and remove Mr. Marriott from his office that day.

That is confirmed by those present in Parkhurst, including the chairman of the board of visitors, Mr. Richard Gully, and is consistent with the letter that Mr. Lewis wrote to the Select Committee stating that Miss Drew
"informed me of (rather than suggested) the specific action that had been taken".
In other words, in that letter Mr. Lewis is making it clear that the decision about the timing of the removal of Mr. Marriott was one made not by him but by someone else, namely the Secretary of State. If there is any doubt about that, why does the Secretary of State not accept the proposal put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister and allow Miss Drew and Mr. Marriott to give their own evidence on the matter?

Then there is the question of whether the Secretary of State sought the suspension of Mr. Marriott, not just his transfer, at a meeting on the morning of 10 January. It is well known, not least to the press, that the Secretary of State wanted Mr. Marriott's head and wanted to present it to the House that afternoon. He wanted to say that Mr. Marriott had been sacked, as a suspension would show. What is more, those briefing the press on the Secretary of State's behalf gave exactly that steer to the press before and after the Secretary of State's statement, which is why in virtually every newspaper the verbs "sacked" or "fired" were used. The Daily Mail, for example, said:
"Parkhurst Governor Fired Over Break Out".
Time and again the Secretary of State has denied the charge which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made on Tuesday that he asked the director general to suspend Mr. Marriott. He effectively denied it in his evidence to the Select Committee when he said that
"there was no need to talk to"
the director general about such matters. He evaded the question when he was asked on "Newsnight" and he explicitly denied it, as we have heard, in his statement—

I will go to the minutes first and then I shall give way. The Home Secretary explicitly denied in his statement issued on Tuesday evening that he told Mr. Lewis that the governor should be suspended immediately.

I have here, as I have told the House, the minutes of the meeting—

No. I have the minutes of the meeting which took place on the morning of 10 January, drawn up by the Home Secretary's private secretary, Miss McNaughton. The note is couched in the usual—

Order. Unless the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor clearly gives way, every hon. Member must resume his seat. Mr. Straw, are you giving way?

In a moment, when I have read these minutes out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] It is too late. I gave the Secretary of State three occasions on which to answer the question earlier, but he was not interested in answering it. What the minutes first show—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way, you coward."]—[Interruption.]

Order. I do not know who said the word "coward"—[Interruption.] Order. It is not a parliamentary word and I should be grateful if those who feel inclined to use it would go outside the Chamber.

This minute is in the form of a note addressed to Mr. Lewis. It said:

"You explained that it was proposed to move the Governor to other duties, pending the outcome of the disciplinary investigation. The Home Secretary asked why this action was being taken, and you explained there were several grounds"—
which were then set out.
"The Home Secretary said that these were serious charges at any time, but following the extra emphasis which Governors had been instructed to give to security post-Whitemoor they could scarcely be over-stated. The Home Secretary said that he entirely agreed with your analysis that Mr. Marriott could not stay as Governor of Parkhurst".
The note goes on to show, in my judgment, that the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] It shows that he was the first to raise this matter. It went on:
"but he wondered whether it was right for Mr. Marriott to be moved to other duties as distinct from being suspended from duty. You explained that the Code required consideration to be given to whether there were other duties available for somebody whose position in their current post was untenable … Moreover, you wished Mr. Marriott to be available to advise the incoming governor (when he was appointed) and to give assistance to the Learmont Inquiry, pending his being allocated to non-operational duties. The Home Secretary pointed out that this would almost inevitably be seen as a fudge, designed to enable Mr. Marriott not to be suspended. The tasks you had mentioned could scarcely be described as another post."
What those minutes show—[Interruption.] For all the bluster of Conservative Members, what the minutes show is that the Secretary of State himself raised the issue of suspension.

The Home Secretary says that he was entitled to. He complained about the decision. The minutes are also entirely consistent with Mr. Lewis's allegation, and that of my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party, that the Secretary of State told Mr. Lewis that he wanted Mr. Marriott to be suspended.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I shall deal with the point that he is making—which is entirely without substance—in the course of my speech, but I want to put a question to him on an allegation that he made just a few moments ago. It is necessary for me to remind the House of what he was saying because I want to make it quite clear that I am now specifically accusing the hon. Gentleman of misleading the House this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.].

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a very senior member of the Government. He must know that he cannot charge another hon. Member across the Dispatch Box with misleading the House. I suggest that he rephrases whatever it is that he wishes to accuse the hon. Gentleman of.

I shall certainly rephrase that remark. I accuse the hon. Gentleman of a fundamental inaccuracy in what he told the House a few minutes ago. He suggested on "Today" yesterday morning that an answer that I gave to the Select Committee indicated that the accounts which I have given of what took place on 10 January were wrong.

The answer that I gave to the Select Committee on that day was an answer that I gave to a question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). My hon. Friend is at present on his sick bed, but he took the trouble to write to the hon. Gentleman yesterday from his sick bed pointing out that the hon. Gentleman had completely misrepresented the nature of his question, and that his question was directed to something entirely different—to general policy matters and not to specific events of 10 January—and he ended his letter with the following words:
"I would be grateful if you would use your speech tomorrow to correct the untrue allegation you made this morning. Regrettably I shall not be in the House because I am at home recovering from a recent operation."

I have not received the letter—[Interruption.]—and I do not intend to look at a copy now. I certainly do not withdraw the matter—[Interruption.]

Order. If the hon. Gentleman on the Back Bench wishes to do gymnastics, I suggest that he does so elsewhere.

I have the minutes here, I have looked through them very carefully and I have seen the full transcripts of the Secretary of State's evidence. He moved from the particular to the general and said that there was no need therefore for him to talk to Mr. Lewis about the matters. In one answer after another—we are not just relying on that—the Secretary of State has denied that he sought to interfere in respect of two operational decisions made by Mr. Derek Lewis.

The first operational decision with which the Home Secretary said that he did not interfere was whether Mr. Lewis should, instead of moving Mr. Marriott, suspend him. The second operational decision with which he said that he did not interfere was as to the timing of those decisions. We say that he interfered in both.

Let me return to the minutes. Do the minutes not show beyond any doubt that the Secretary of State did indeed seek to interfere with that decision, that he raised it, that he sought to have Mr. Marriott suspended—and not transferred instead—from his duty? I offer the Secretary of State the opportunity to answer that question. Do the minutes not show beyond any question of doubt that the Secretary of State did indeed raise the matter—that he told Mr. Lewis that he wanted Mr. Marriott suspended and not transferred? The Home Secretary must deal with the matter now. Did he or did he not seek to change Mr. Lewis's mind? Again, the Home Secretary refuses to answer the questions that we have put and to accept the truth of this matter, which is that he sought the suspension of Mr. Marriott—contrary to the statement that he issued, which I draw to his attention again, that he did not tell Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately.

The minutes should corroborate Mr. Lewis's evidence if there is any question of doubt that the Home Secretary did indeed tell Mr. Lewis. If that is not so, will the Secretary of State—

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? [Interruption.]

Order. I should be most grateful if the hon. Gentleman—whoever it was—would volunteer for the Chairmen's Panel.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is making an important speech and he deserves to be heard. I should be grateful if hon. Members would now stop their tittering and listen to the speech.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put it to the Prime Minister on Tuesday that the Home Secretary personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst prison should be suspended immediately. We believe—there is no question because the minutes confirm it, which the Secretary of State has refused to accept until now—that he raised the issue of suspension and told the director general that. If that is not the case, he must explain why he has refused on every occasion to admit that he even raised the issue of suspension.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend said that when Mr. Lewis objected that it was an operational matter, the Home Secretary threatened to instruct him to do it. Does the Secretary of State deny that? Does he deny that he sought advice from his other officials in order to do that and that he gave Mr. Derek Lewis a deadline by which he had to come back and change his mind? The Secretary of State does not deny it.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that we issued a statement on Tuesday, which rebutted one by one the unfounded allegations made by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday. I deny each and every one of the allegations made by the Leader of the Opposition. They were unfounded, wrong and without substance.

But the statement issued by the Secretary of State in no sense acted as a complete rebuttal, and he knows it. Does he deny that he sought advice on that?

The third issue is that the Home Secretary told the operational director of the Prison Service by fax that he would announce in the House of Commons that day—and he duly announced it in his statement to the House—that the former governor of Parkhurst prison was to be removed that day. That is true. The Secretary of State—not Mr. Derek Lewis—decided that the governor of Parkhurst prison, Mr. Marriott, should be removed that day.

The question before the House today goes way beyond the employment of one man, the former governor of Parkhurst prison. It goes to the heart of whether this country should be governed by Ministers who are ready to tell the truth, and the whole truth, in the conduct of their high office, and whether they are properly to hold themselves responsible for the decisions in which they are involved. The distinction that the Secretary of State has sought to make between policy thought and the operation of the Prison Service is, in the words of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, "bogus".

The Secretary of State has been involved in operational decisions day by day and month by month. He has evaded his responsibilities to this House. He has not been frank with this House. In our judgment, he must go.

5.15 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"believes that the Home Secretary is and should be accountable to this House for all matters concerning the Prison Service; believes that he is and should be accountable and responsible for all policy decisions relating to the Service; believes that the Director General of the Prison Service is and should be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the service; and utterly rejects the very serious allegations made about the Home Secretary's conduct towards the former Governor of Parkhurst, Mr. John Marriott."
What we have seen this afternoon and the whole of this week is a cheap and tawdry attempt to make petty party political capital out of the difficulties of the Prison Service. I shall deal in due course, closely and with relish, with each of the allegations put by the Labour party.

On Monday, I made a statement to the House about the independent report by General Sir John Learmont on one of the most wide-ranging reviews of prison security that has ever been conducted. The report followed two of the most serious operational failures in the history of the Prison Service. It is a devastating report, which severely criticises Parkhurst and its management. It says that the security manual of the Prison Service was disregarded at Parkhurst and that the most basic security procedures were not observed. It also makes the most trenchant criticisms of the management of the Prison Service generally and concludes with the following words:
"There is an abundance of excellent people within the Prison Service whose most fervent wish is to do a good and worthwhile job. They are yearning to be led to better things. Although much has been done to improve the corporate planning within the Service, this inquiry has starkly illustrated the need to address urgently shortcomings in leadership, operations and security".
I said on Monday that I had to he able to assure the House, and through it the people of this country, that the grave weaknesses in the service that have been disclosed would be put right. General Sir John Learmont said that responsibilities reached prisons board level and that the criticism stopped there. [HON. MEMBERS: "That includes you."] I am not a member of the prisons board.

It was impossible for me to overlook the serious criticisms contained in that report. Of course, I took into account the lengthy submissions that the former director general put to me, which he has now made public, including his criticisms of the independent Learmont report. I had to choose between the view of the former director general and the independent views of General Learmont. I concluded that a change of leadership was required at the top of the Prison Service to address what General Learmont described as
"the shortcomings in leadership, operations and security".
So I decided that the director general's appointment should be terminated.

The material on which I made that decision is before the House—the Learmont report is a published document. The shadow Home Secretary, who has made such a fuss over all this, has complete access to that document but does not have a view on that central question. He was unable to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). That is the smack of firm opposition that we see from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and the Labour party.

I think that the Home Secretary can take it that we know that he sacked Mr. Lewis: that is on the record. He has, however, refused to answer specifically the question with which today's motions are concerned. He has refused to answer that question seven times, although he has promised to do so. He can dismiss one of the allegations simply by answering no at the Dispatch Box to the following question. At the meeting on 10 January did he insist that the governor of Parkhurst be removed that very day? Will he answer no, in which case one allegation will be dealt with? Did he insist, that very day, that the governor be removed—yes or no?

I did not. The answer is no because all the decisions that were made that day were made by the Director General of the Prison Service.

The Home Secretary has said that he had to choose between what Mr. Lewis has said and the Learmont report. Why, therefore, does he ignore paragraph 3.83 of the report, which says:

"The Director General also needs minimum political involvement in the day-to-day operation of the Service."?
The paragraph sets out what Sir John Learmont clearly considers to be too much political involvement in the day-to-day running of the service. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot accept one part of the report but ignore that paragraph.

The report goes on to indicate that it is for the director general to balance the various parts of his responsibilities and effectively to find a way of responding to reasonable ministerial requests and of dealing with operational matters. I shall refer to that function in some detail during the course of my speech, so I urge the right hon. Gentleman to restrain himself and to have a little patience.

I must make some progress, but I will give way in due course.

As to the question of accountability and my personal responsibilities as Home Secretary, my position, and that of all previous Home Secretaries, is perfectly consistent and clear. I am personally accountable to the House for all matters concerning the Prison Service. I am accountable and responsible for all policy decisions relating to the service. The director general is responsible for day-to-day operations.

That distinction between policy and operations is—

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. When I wrote to him in July, putting it to him that the policy of securing women prisoners in handcuffs or chains—for example when visiting their children or attending for medical treatment outside prison—was degrading and shaming, neither he nor any Minister replied to me. Eventually I received a reply from Mr. Richard Tilt, who was then director of security in the Prison Service. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really consider that keeping women prisoners in chains is not a matter of policy but merely an operational matter to be determined at discretion by staff in the Prison Service? If he means what he says about his accountability to Parliament, will he now accept that he, as Home Secretary, should personally have replied to me as a Member of Parliament about this?

I am enormously grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. I will deal with it in some detail, which will take a little time, because it will demonstrate to the whole world the quality of judgment of the latest recruit to the Labour party.

The hon. Gentleman made that accusation first when he appeared on "Breakfast with Frost". He said that he had written to me about what he described as the degrading practice of keeping women prisoners in chains. I was somewhat taken aback by his allegations, so I caused inquiries to be made. I discovered that up until April this year the escape rate of women prisoners under escort, being taken from one prison to another or from prison to court, was twice that of male prisoners. As an operational matter, the Prison Service looked into it to see what differences there were between the way in which women prisoners and male prisoners were escorted. It discovered that male prisoners were handcuffed while under escort, not put in chains, and women prisoners were not. So the Prison Service itself decided, as an operational matter, and without reference to me, that, after April, in order to reduce the escape rate women prisoners would be handcuffed while under escort. That is the step it took and that is what the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the newest recruit to the Labour party, describes as keeping women prisoners in chains. That is the nature of his judgment. That change was made by the Prison Service in April and I am happy to tell the House that as a result the escape rate of women prisoners has substantially been reduced.

Mr. Tilt's letter makes it clear that in certain circumstances women prisoners are secured in chains.

I have given the hon. Gentleman and the House the full explanation that I received when I caused inquiries to be made into the hon. Gentleman's question. I would be interested to know—perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us—whether it is the policy of the Labour party that the escape rate should be increased. Perhaps the hon. Member for Blackburn, who is so keen to establish his party's credentials on law and order, will tell us that he would countermand that operational decision of the Prison Service. He would say, "No. We can't have these women prisoners handcuffed while they are being taken from one prison to another." Would the hon. Gentleman like to respond?

The distinction to which I referred, before I was so happily interrupted by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, between policy and operations is nothing new. During my statement on Sir John Woodcock's inquiry on 19 December 1994, I reminded the House of what my noble Friend, Lord Prior, had said following the escape of a number of terrorist prisoners from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. He said:

"If I had felt that ministerial responsibility was such that in this case I should have resigned, I certainly should have done so. It would be a matter for resignation if the … inquiry showed that what happened was the result of some act of policy that was my responsibility, or that I failed to implement something that I had been asked to implement, or should have implemented. In that case, I should resign."—[Official Report, 24 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 23–4.]
The distinction between policy and operations is also reflected in the framework document that established the Prison Service as an executive agency. It says that the Director General of the Prison Service is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Prison Service. It also says that the director general is accountable directly to me for the Prison Service's performance and operations, and that, although the Home Secretary will not normally become involved in the day-to-day management of the Prison Service, he will expect to be consulted on the handling of operational matters that could give rise to grave public or parliamentary concern. I do not imagine that any hon. Member would argue that the Parkhurst escape was not in that category.

When I received Sir John's report, I studied it very carefully. If the criticisms in it had been made of me, I should not be standing at the Dispatch Box.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the two questions that arose out of the questions that I posed to him in January before the Select Committee on Home Affairs? There is a complete difference between the evidence of the Home Secretary as to what happened and what Mr. Lewis is saying. They cannot both be right. Would he release Philippa Drew, Marriott and all the other civil servants from their duty of confidentiality so that the whole story can be known? We can then know where the truth really lies.

Since neither of the people concerned was at the meeting that is the subject, apparently, of this great dispute, it is laughable to suggest that their evidence could help to resolve it.

I now turn specifically and directly to the many inconsistent and unfounded allegations that have been made this week about my conduct. Many people will think it extraordinary that, the day after the publication of such a devastating report on the security of our prisons, the Leader of the Opposition chose to concentrate, not on security, not on escapes, but on allegations about the treatment of the former governor of Parkhurst.

Let me remind the House of what General Learmont said about Parkhurst under Mr. Marriott's governorship. I shall use only a few examples. Hon. Members will find many more, if they need them, in paragraphs 2.56, 2.124, 2.062, 2.07 and 2.08. General Learmont had quite a lot to say about Mr. Marriott's regime. In paragraph 2.256 he says that Mr. Marriott decided not to undertake rub-down searches. In paragraph 2.124 he says that Parkhurst ignored an instruction that the duty governor should be in the prison when it was unlocked and when category A inmates were associating with others.

In paragraph 2.228 General Learmont says that there was
"a lack of visible leadership on the Wings and elsewhere at Parkhurst."
In paragraph 2.261, he pinpoints a
"multitude of security lapses and unacceptable practices"
and concludes that there was
"little to commend in the way things were done".
Those are the words of a man whose independent assessment is beyond doubt.

Given those stringent and damning criticisms, I find it hard to understand how anyone could question the decision to remove Mr. Marriott from his duties at Parkhurst without delay, or to suggest that he has been used as a scapegoat. That is the man on whose behalf the Leader of the Opposition has chosen to take up the cudgels.

The opinion of the former director general about that was perfectly clear.

No, I am not giving way at the moment.

As the former director general stated to the Home Affairs Select Committee during his appearance on 18 January:
"it was essential for operational reasons that the change in governor took place immediately so that there was no distraction or confusion and there was clarity as to who was in charge."
The former director general was asked by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is a member of the Select Committee, whether I had forced the director general to remove Marriott that day. When asked by the hon. Gentleman:
"Did the Home Secretary tell you to make sure Mr. Marriott was off the premises by the afternoon?"
the former director general replied, "No he did not." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Those are not my words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the words of the former director general.

Mr. Lewis says that he was given a deadline by the right hon. and learned Gentleman by which to agree to the removal of Mr. Marriott, after which he would be overruled. Is that true?

There was no question of overruling the director general. He made the decisions that were made on that day.

I now come to the events of 10 January, which so utterly fascinate the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Blackburn. To clarify matters, I am taking the exceptional step of releasing the official note of the discussions that took place that morning. I have placed a copy in the Library.

We met that day so that the former director general could advise me of the preliminary conclusions reached by Mr. Richard Tilt, who was then director of security and who had undertaken an urgent review of the escapes from Parkhurst, and to discuss my statement to the House.

Mr. Lewis began by explaining that, in the light of the Tilt inquiry, he proposed to move the governor to other duties, pending the outcome of the disciplinary investigation. I asked why that action was being taken. Mr. Lewis explained that there were several grounds.

It appeared that the governor had condoned, and possibly approved, the absence of a duty governor during the time that the prison was unlocked; he appeared not to be aware of the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the emergency control room, for which he had to bear a substantial, if not the main, responsibility; and there was confusion about whether he had fully implemented the recommendations made following Judge Tumim's inspection of the prison, on which assurances had been given to the director general and to Ministers.

The note goes on to record that I considered those to be serious charges and that I agreed with Mr. Lewis's analysis that Mr. Marriott could not stay as governor of Parkhurst. I asked, as I was perfectly entitled to, if it was right for him to be moved to other duties as distinct from being suspended from duty. Mr. Lewis explained why he thought that that would not be appropriate, and reaffirmed his decision not to suspend Mr. Marriott but to move him to another job elsewhere in the Prison Service.

I was entitled to be consulted by Mr. Lewis about that important matter, and I was. I was entitled to discuss the action that it was proposed to take, and I did. I was not entitled to give instructions: I did not. It was the director general who decided that the governor should be moved: he was.

The note that I have described, and which I have placed in the Library today, was addressed to Mr. Lewis. He had every opportunity to question, challenge or correct it; he did not do so. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that he accepted it as a fair record of the meeting.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. The minute, however, goes on to say that which the Home Secretary did not read out:

"The Home Secretary pointed out that this"
decision to move but not to suspend Mr. Marriott
"would almost inevitably be seen as a fudge, designed to enable Mr. Marriott not to be suspended."
Is not the truth of the matter that the Home Secretary disagreed with the decision of Mr. Lewis to move but not to suspend Mr. Marriott and that he sought to tell Mr. Lewis that Mr. Marriott should indeed be suspended, and is not that entirely consistent with those minutes?

I was entitled to be consulted, as I have repeatedly said, and I was. I was entitled, in the course of that consultation, to explore alternatives, as I did. But the decision was for the director general. He made it. He has made that clear time after time.

Will the Secretary of State now explain—which is admitted by the minute because it goes on to speak about later discussions—why Mr. Lewis left the meeting, albeit while it was still going on? Is it not a fact that he left the meeting to consider the deadline that the Secretary of State had set him to reconsider his decision?

I have no idea, at this distance in time, why he left the meeting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—but of course it is true that there was a deadline. I was making a statement to the House. There was nothing sinister about that. I had a duty to account to the House for what had happened. I took that duty seriously and, if I was to discharge that duty, it obviously had to be agreed what was going to be done in relation to Parkhurst.

May I press the Home Secretary further on that point? He is obviously a very busy man. He cannot even bother to respond to a letter from me dated 29 August on a very serious issue, about why he has applied for public interest immunity certificates—but that is another matter.

On this case, will the Home Secretary think back, and ask himself, why did that adjournment take place? Why did it go on for so long? If he is so busy, in this difficult time that he is experiencing, why did he allow that adjournment to go on for so long? Is it not the case that he set a deadline?

I have just told the House that I had to make a statement to the House that afternoon, so of course there had to be a deadline by which it was agreed what would happen at Parkhurst and what I would say in my statement. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with government will know that, if one is to make a statement to the House, there comes a time when one has to agree what is to be contained in it. It is not an astonishingly difficult proposition, even for Labour Front-Bench spokesmen to grasp.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have all heard a dreadful speech from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Three times in the past two minutes, he has been asked by the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions. Is not it in order for the Leader of the Opposition to ask his own questions rather than have to put up a stooge to do it for him?

Order. I hope that this is not an addition to the ruling that I have just given.

I would not dream of doing that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

For the avoidance of doubt, may I make it perfectly plain that I would be delighted to give way to the Leader of the Opposition?

Order. I understood that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) was registered handicapped. I should be grateful if he would give his good arm a rest.

I shall ask the Secretary of State the question that he refused three times to answer during the course of my speech: did he insert the word "today" in that statement against the advice of Mr. Lewis? May we at long last have a straight answer to that?

I shall answer that question, but I want to go through the events of the day.

I have given the House the evidence that the former director general put to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 18 January. In an interview on 15 January, Mr. Lewis was asked by Sir David Frost whose idea it was to remove Mr. Marriott from his post of governor of Parkhurst. Mr. Lewis replied:
"That was entirely a decision that was taken for operational reasons within the Prison Service by me and by other members of the line management team".
When asked by Sir David Frost whether he had discussed the matter with me, Mr. Lewis replied:
"Of course I briefed him on it, yes. But it was an operational decision taken within the Prison Service."
Those are not my words, but the words of the former director general.

In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) on the question of duty of confidentiality, the Home Secretary said that the two civil servants referred to were not at the meeting. As it is believed by many that those two civil servants, if released from their duty of confidentiality, would enable us to know exactly what happened, will the Home Secretary release them now? If he is not prepared to release them, will he explain why he is rejecting that as a proposition? Will he release them?

That is absolutely laughable. I have repeatedly made it clear that the two civil servants to whom the hon. Gentleman referred were not at the meeting, the minutes of which I have in my hand and are the detailed official account. Those minutes have been placed in the Library and were sent to Mr. Lewis, who had every opportunity to correct them. I am doing my best to give the House a full account and for that reason I have taken the very unusual step of putting the minutes in the Library.

The hon. Member for Blackburn asked whether I inserted a word in the form of words I used in the House. I did not produce the form of words that I used in the House. It was produced not by me, but by someone else at the meeting; it was agreed by me and the director general. Of course, as I have said more than once, and as the former director general has said more than once, the decision that was taken was taken by him.

No, I have given way already.

Yesterday, the former director general issued a writ that made a number of allegations about my level of involvement with the Prison Service. I utterly and completely reject each and every one of those allegations. I have already dealt with the ones relating to the former governor of Parkhurst. The others either relate to discussions on matters on which I was entitled to be consulted under the framework document or were policy proposals for me to decide. Some of them were staffing matters that were outside the scope of the director general's authority. It has been suggested that the then director general was required to attend, on average, one meeting every day with me and others. Our records show that he attended, on average, about one meeting with me a week.

Let me give a little more detail of what we are discussing. I shall first take the allegation in the former director general's writ about the appointment of a new personnel director, which he says I delayed. That was not a decision for the director general to take. His proposal was that the individual to be appointed as personnel director of the Prison Service should be paid a salary of £100,000 a year plus a 20 per cent. performance bonus. I thought that that was excessive and I make no apology for becoming involved in proposals like that.

The next allegation contained in the writ was that I refused to allow the Prison Service to proceed with a decision to reduce the number of prisons holding category A prisoners. After the Parkhurst escape, that issue was clearly a matter of grave concern. The then director general's proposals were submitted to me on 18 July. I knew then that I was going to receive General Learmont's report within a matter of weeks. It would have been completely wrong to pre-empt his conclusions. The recommendation on the subject in General Learmont's independent report differs significantly from the proposal put to me by the then director general. I was right to wait to have the benefit of General Learmont's independent assessment.

It has been alleged that I failed to provide sufficient resources to implement the Woodcock report. I was advised by the former director general just a few days ago that we are making good progress on implementing the Woodcock recommendations in accordance with the timetable that I have laid before the House.

On Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition made three allegations: that I personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately; that when Mr. Lewis objected as it was an operational matter, I threatened to instruct him to do it; that when Mr. Lewis further objected, I told the operational director of the Prison Service, by fax, that I would announce it in the House of Commons that day. Each and every one of the allegations is untrue. I have rebutted them all. Neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the hon. Member for Blackburn has made any serious attempt to contradict that rebuttal. The allegations are untrue.

Let us deal with each allegation in turn. The first is that the Home Secretary told the director general that he wanted the governor suspended. That is clear from the minutes—the Home Secretary raised it; it is absolutely clear from the minutes. The second is that the Home Secretary threatened to instruct Mr. Lewis. That is clear from the adjournment of the meeting, when he was asked, as has been admitted, to come back and answer. The third is that it was the Home Secretary who said that it had to be done immediately. The Home Secretary has totally failed on every occasion to answer that. Let me put two questions to him: first, was the idea that he should be removed that day—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is being excessive—one question is enough.

First, is it true that the suggestion that the governor be removed that day came not from the director general, but from the Home Secretary? Secondly, why does not the Home Secretary allow those who received the instruction—Miss Philippa Drew and Mr. Marriott—to give evidence on what they were told by the Home Office and allow the civil servants at the meeting of 10 January to give evidence?

I am bound to say that that intervention by the Leader of the Opposition casts the most serious questions on his judgment. I believe that it is an intervention that he will come to regret. It is most significant that, before the right hon. Gentleman got to his feet, I was making a detailed rebuttal of the three allegations that he made in the House on Tuesday. When he got to his feet today he did not seek to sustain or substantiate those allegations; he asked three completely different questions, unrelated to the allegations, which I have answered already in the course of this afternoon's debate. If there were any evidence required that the Labour party is unfit to govern, we have seen it in the actions of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon.

This is the seventh time that the Home Secretary has been asked this question: did the suggestion that the governor be removed that day come from the Home Secretary rather than Mr. Lewis—yes or no?

Here we go again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will come to that point. Throughout this week, the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the same pattern of conduct: he makes some allegations and they are rebutted so he abandons them and makes some fresh allegations, only to abandon them too.

Let me make it perfectly clear: I was entitled to be consulted, I was consulted and I expressed my view. I did not insert the word "today" in the statement that was made and we have the director general's word that he took the view that, for operational reasons, it was necessary to remove the governor immediately.

I shall now deal with the allegations that the hon. Member for Blackburn made yesterday. I had intended to begin with what he told The Guardian, but we are told that that is inoperative: there was a misprint in The Guardian, so we do not need to worry about those comments. The hon. Gentleman was quoted in The Guardian as saying that John Marriott was moved against the advice of Derek Lewis and that I had intimidated Mr. Lewis into taking that action. He said:
"Not only had Mr. Howard talked about it but he intimidated Mr. Lewis into doing it".
A few hours later the hon. Gentleman popped up on the "Today" programme. He said:
"Let me make this clear. What actually happened to Mr. Marriott was that he was transferred, that was an administrative matter. And that decision was certainly made by Mr. Lewis, not by Mr. Howard".
At last he was quite correct. However, those two statements—like most of the things that the hon. Gentleman says—were completely at odds with each other.

The problems in our prisons are deep-rooted and hon. Members will differ as to how they should be dealt with. I am clear about my prescription: I have always believed that prisoners should he treated decently and that every effort should be made, through work and training, to rehabilitate them. But I have no doubt that the good intentions of the reformers have been corrupted over the years.

Decency has become an excuse for pampering, laxity and even for licence. Ever since I became Home Secretary I have been determined to change that. I have been accused of intervening—yes, I have intervened and I make no apologies for that. I intervened to cut home leave by 50 per cent. and as a direct result home leave failures have fallen by 80 per cent. I intervened to cut drug abuse in our prisons and we are now seeing the introduction of mandatory drug testing. I also intervened to introduce a system of rewards for good behaviour and sanctions for bad behaviour in order to help prison governors maintain good order in their prisons.

I never forget—as many Labour Members seem to—that people are in prison because they have committed crimes, often serious crimes. They should not expect luxury, unearned privileges, or endless excursions back into the community against which they have offended. They should expect firm management, they should expect to be punished for bad behaviour and they should expect to have to earn any privileges that they receive. Those are my policies for our prisons and I believe that they command widespread support. As General Learmont said in his report:
"There is an abundance of excellent people within the Prison Service whose most fervent wish is to do a good and worthwhile job."
Our task is to encourage and enable them to do so. That fact is wholly ignored by the motion that the Opposition have invited the House to debate this afternoon.

I have comprehensively rebutted the various allegations made against me this week. They have been shown to have no substance, but that is far from the end of the matter. The conduct of the Leader of the Opposition has given rise to fundamental questions about his judgment. On Tuesday, and again today, he demeaned his office by allowing it to be used as a vehicle for the spleen of a bitter man. He has shown himself to be utterly unfit for office and he and his sidekick, the hon. Member for Blackburn, have shown themselves to be utterly unfit for government. I invite the House to reject them and their motion with the utter contempt they deserve.

5.55 pm

The Home Secretary has painted a picture of fearful errors in the Prison Service, which he claims to have put right. Every error that he described occurred under his jurisdiction and that of former Conservative Home Secretaries. Therefore, he is saying that conditions were appalling under the Conservative Government but that he has now ameliorated them. He confirms entirely the recent remarks of Judge Tumim, who said:

"If you are dividing policy and operations it means the Home Secretary is not responsible for anything at all.
That means the Home Secretary takes credit"—
as he sought to do in his speech today—
"but is free of responsibility. I'm saying it's a bogus distinction".
The issue this afternoon is not the trivial one concerning whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is fit to hold the office that he demeans; the issue is whether the House of Commons has authority in matters relating to the Prison Service.

The Government are undermining the House of Commons by seeking to mislead it over crucial matters, such as the Westland issue. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is present in the Chamber. His letter was misused by Sir Bernard Ingham in order to deceive the House of Commons. The Government sought to mislead the House of Commons over the conspiracy to break their own embargo on selling armaments to Iraq. The Government are now using the next steps agencies to destroy any system of parliamentary accountability based upon the totally bogus argument—which was controverted by Judge Tumim—that there is a difference between accountability and responsibility. On Monday, the Home Secretary said:
"It is essential, if I am to be properly accountable to this House and to the country, that I am properly and fully informed about what happens in our prisons".—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 35.]
On 10 January, when making his statement about Parkhurst, the Home Secretary said:
"I am accountable to Parliament for all matters that are relevant to the Prison Service. I am responsible to Parliament for policy".
This afternoon, the Home Secretary again sought to draw a distinction between accountability and responsibility. It is about time he told the House of Commons the difference between accountability and responsibility. If one looks up the word "accountable" in the Oxford English Dictionary, one finds that it means liable to be called to account and responsible to or for. If one looks up the word "responsible" in the Oxford English Dictionary, one finds that it means answerable, accountable and liable to be called to account.

The Home Secretary is twisting words to avoid the fact that he ought to be held to account for the mess that he made in the prisons. What is more, he completely accepts the responsibility because it was he, not my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who said that Mr. Derek Lewis was the man to deal with all the dreadful things that he claimed were going on in the Prison Service. When I said that Mr. Derek Lewis should be sacked and that he was not fit to run a fish and chip shop—I received many hostile letters from people who ran fish and chip shops—the Home Secretary said:
"Since the director general became head of the agency, a great deal of progress has been made, not least in reducing the number of escapes".
He said it again this afternoon in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). Apparently, Mr. Lewis achieved the miracle about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman boasts. The Home Secretary said:
"a great deal of progress has been made, not least in reducing the number of escapes, which has fallen by about a third during his period of office … The Prison Service is clearly going through a difficult time. The director general is the best person to take it through that difficult time."—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 39–40.]
He was talking about Parkhurst—the very matter on which he has sacked the director general.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is simply playing with words. What he is doing was quoted in "Alice in Wonderland" when the March Hare said to Alice,
"Then you should say what you mean,"
and Alice replied,
"I do … at least I mean what I say—that's the same thing, you know."
We are not dealing with words; we are not dealing with the right hon. and learned Gentleman twisting words to wriggle out of a situation for which he is responsible. We are dealing with the fact that the House of Commons has the right to call the right hon. and learned Gentleman to account. What we heard this afternoon was a shyster lawyer defending a shifty client with the Home Secretary being the shyster lawyer and the shifty client. What we have here is a system of scapegoats.

Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he was referring to the Home Secretary as a shyster lawyer—

Order. I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would withdraw the word "shyster" and think of something that he felt was appropriate.

I shall simply allow you to overrule me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and apologise to you.

The Government created the Child Support Agency and a mess was made of that, so the chief executive went. They created the Prison Service and, when a mess was made there, they got rid of the governor of Parkhurst. They received a report showing that that was not enough, so now they have got rid of the Director General of the Prison Service. The rule of the Home Secretary is, "The buck stops anywhere but with me." That is what the Government are doing.

Last week, at the Conservative party conference, Minister after Minister said that Britain would not stand for parliamentary sovereignty being destroyed by Brussels. The sovereignty of the House of Commons is not being destroyed in Brussels; it is being destroyed in Whitehall, in the Home Office and at 10 Downing street. The Government will not accept responsibility to Parliament, but the day is coming when, even if they can get a complaisant, biddable majority in the House of Commons at the end of the debate, there will soon be a majority in the country who are not complaisant and biddable and who will throw that lot out.

6.4 pm

The Opposition are making an oddly muddled attack on the Home Secretary. Not so very long ago, they were complaining that the Government were washing their hands of the Prison Service and leaving everything to the agency. Over the past few days, the charge has been that the Home Secretary is a compulsive meddler, constantly taking an interest in prisons when he should be confining himself to accepting responsibility when things go wrong.

Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, the agency has not altered the accountability of Home Secretaries from what it was in practice when the constitutional fiction was that Home Secretaries knew everything and did everything in their Department. In practice, when Labour Home Secretaries were embarrassed by notorious escapes, like Conservative ones, they set up inquiries and sought to learn lessons. However, despite the theory, it was always accepted that if escapes or other failures did not flow from ministerial orders or dereliction, there was no question of the Home Secretary assuming personal blame.

We now have the Learmont report, which deals thoroughly with the Parkhurst escapes. It was plain that they were the result of a gross failure of security at the prison. Proper rules and procedures were not followed. Obviously, the Home Secretary has no responsibility there, in the sense of personal blame for what went wrong. The position is exactly what it was under Home Secretaries before agency status.

The agency was set up to provide more freedom and scope for managers to manage effectively within the policies laid down by Ministers. The fiction that Ministers did everything or proved everything had stultified initiative and encouraged lethargy.

I shall not give way as I have quite a lot to say in a short time.

To put it mildly, it is not an easy relationship to manage, but, with all the difficulties, it is a huge improvement on what existed before, as the progress made in running prisons since the agency was set up demonstrates.

The second assault on the Home Secretary was the charge that he had misled the House over the removal of the governor. It seems to me that he comprehensively rebutted that in his speech this afternoon. In any case, of course it would have been perfectly proper if, on a matter of great importance and public interest, he had intervened and overridden the director general, had he found it necessary. The agency framework document makes that clear.

The catalogue of management and security lapses at Parkhurst that the Learmont report chronicles meant that the governor rightly lost his post. That is hard for a man who has real qualities—as the governor does—who had contributed much to the service and who had many extraneous problems, not least that the prison was being rebuilt around him, but the security manual simply was not being followed and the escapes occurred.

I take issue with the Home Secretary's conclusion that the Learmont report made the director general's position untenable. The report is thorough, detailed and convincing in respect of the escape itself. There it carries conviction and authority, but it reads quite differently when it deals with wider issues involving the Prison Service and its management.

In his statement earlier this week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary quoted the report, where it said:
"alarm bells should have been … ringing throughout the Prison Service"
because of Whitemoor, implying that they were not. Yet, later on, Learmont remarked approvingly of the system of security audits which started just before Parkhurst as the only thorough way of making sure that proper levels of security were maintained at all 130-plus establishments. Faxes and exhortations would not do; they would merely create more paper.

The report complained about the amount of paper that governors had to deal with, distracting them from more important concerns, and gave the impression that it was all from an over-bureaucratic, badly run head office, when, as it grudgingly admitted some time later, the prison headquarters had explained that only a small part of that paper came from headquarters, the bulk being generated elsewhere by the basic task of running prisons, receiving and transferring prisoners, answering parliamentary questions and a series of other day-to-day demands.

The report was unhappy that there were as yet no key performance indicators on drugs, but for such indicators to be worth anything, they must be accurate. Until Parliament made possible drug testing in prisons, the machinery could not be established to acquire the necessary figures. The report criticised the decision to rebuild Parkhurst by stages, while it held prisoners—as if the agency board were responsible. That decision was taken and work started long before the agency was established.

The report commented on security, and obviously its authors did not see it as their task, as they threw out the interesting general ideas—many sounding like those which I knew well and which were well known to the prisons board, which is presumably where they came from—to examine the state of the service when the agency took over, assess what could realistically have been achieved in the two and a half years since or identify what has been achieved in that time. As it was a report on security, it might have made more of the fact that, despite Whitemoor and Parkhurst, prison escapes have fallen by three quarters since the agency came into being.

I feel bound to stress those points, but there are many others. I read the report only once, but I marked and docketed a great number of other points. I was the Minister responsible for prisons when the agency was established and I worked with Derek Lewis and the board during their first year. They were set a tough job—to turn around what I know to be an ill-managed service. Clearly, that could not be done overnight. That would take years to do properly. As the Home Secretary said, the problems were deep-rooted. But the service was being turned around systematically and effectively—the only way that it could be turned around. The fact that the service consistently reached the Home Secretary's targets shows that.

I realise that the Home Secretary had a difficult decision to make. He is usually admirable in refusing to be guided by reports that are insufficiently cogently argued to the point in question. I am sorry that he did not show that same characteristic here. I believe that, to achieve the kind of efficient Prison Service that this country deserves, the Home Secretary should have backed the director general and his board.

6.12 pm

At times, this debate seems far removed from the harsh world that prison officers have to face—the prison officers to whom we give a task that few of us would like to undertake, of confronting and dealing with some of the most dangerous people in society, who are contemptuous of authority, scheming, and extremely difficult to organise and control.

Sir John Learmont commented in his report that the catalogue of things that went wrong is not confined to the two prisons on which he was concentrating, but is symptomatic of wider problems in the Prison Service. There is a combination of the tremendous and courageous work done by prison officers, and serious failings in the way that the whole service has been conducted and some of its work undertaken.

The matter goes much wider than the issues on which part of the debate has concentrated. I like to believe that, if the Home Secretary had been shown specifically and in terms to have misled the House and the Select Committee, there would be no question but that he would resign. He believes that he did not mislead the House or the Committee on the specific matter of the time at which the governor of Parkhurst left. Obviously, Conservative Members have been convinced by his explanation. I say that is not the end of the story. Perhaps the most important issue is the attempt to draw a distinction between policy and operations, and to base on that distinction the belief that the Home Secretary cannot be held to account and be required to resign because of things that have gone wrong in the service.

The Minister of State provided us with a good illustration of the distinction between policy and operations at Question Time this afternoon. He said that criminal investigations are an operational matter for the chief constable. The Home Secretary understands. He would not seek to instruct the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis—who is answerable to the Home Secretary in other respects—as to how he should investigate a particular crime. The Secretary of State knows that, and his officials would advise him accordingly.

There is no such clarity in the distinction between operations and policy in the running of the Prison Service. The Home Secretary's answers and assertions this afternoon made it clear that he recognises no such distinction. He knows that some operational issues are extremely important, politically and in terms of public concern about prisons.

The Woodcock report—the original inquiry into the Whitemoor escape—made this clear:
"There exists at all levels within the Service some confusion as to the respective roles of Ministers, the Agency Headquarters and individual Prison Governors. In particular, the Enquiry has identified the difficulty of determining what is an operational matter and what is policy, leading to confusion as to where responsibility lies."
The Home Secretary already has on his desk an authoritative report telling him that he cannot rely on such a distinction.

It is clear that the Home Secretary has frequently intervened in operational matters, for what he regards as compelling reasons—sometimes involving matters for which he has to answer to the House. There is also considerable pressure on decisions in which the Home Secretary has not intervened directly—the extent of the process of consultation, the questioning, the preparation of lines from which to defend decisions.

All that leads to a situation in which everybody in the Prison Service knows that they must refer upwards all the time. There is a feeling, inherited from old Home Office days, that, "You must watch the Minister's back all the time. If the Minister thinks that something should be done in a particular way, even if he does not tell you to do it that way, you had better take some notice." That contributes to an atmosphere of involvement and intervention.

The massive extent of ministerial involvement in the work of the director general and of those under him is detailed in the Learmont report. The Home Secretary cannot deny that it criticised the relationship between Ministers and the service. This week, he has sought to pretend that the report offers no criticism of Ministers. It does, and he ought to heed it carefully.

Frequent policy interventions by Ministers in a wide range of matters have a direct impact on the service's operational efficiency—by their sheer number and extent, if nothing else. If the service is constantly required to make changes, attention is diverted from security matters. The Everthorpe inquiry found that a substantial proportion of management time had, in the months prior to that incident, been directed at the establishment's inclusion in the market testing bid procedure. That caused uncertainty among staff and prisoners, and adversely affected staff morale. The extent of policy initiatives has a policy impact.

The Minister said that he was proud to intervene. We do not agree with all his policy initiatives, but we understand the political pressures that led the Minister with responsibility for prisons to intervene. However, he cannot then say that there is a clear distinction between policy and operations, and that he is responsible to the House only for policy.

That is why the Government amendment is so wrong and dangerous. It states that the Home Secretary is
"accountable to this House for all matters concerning the Prison Service; believes that he is and should be accountable and responsible for all policy decisions".
The amendment seeks to draw a distinction where there is no real difference. It invents a dangerous constitutional doctrine to save the Secretary of State's skin. Even Conservative Members who have a higher opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's stewardship as Home Secretary than I have will come to regret that they trooped through the Lobby in defence of the idea that there was a difference between matters for which the Home Secretary is responsible and those for which he is accountable.

Under another Minister or Government some day, Conservative Members will regret having changed the British constitution so that Ministers are no longer held responsible for matters in which they act, intervene or have considerable influence.

I must not, because there is considerable pressure on time.

Meanwhile, fundamental weaknesses in the Prison Service will harm its work and effectiveness, because the problem of control will remain unchanged.

After the debate, the problems involving Ministers and the service will remain unchanged. There will not be more effective definition. No one in the Prison Service will say tomorrow, "Now we know precisely where our responsibility lies. We know that the Home Secretary will not interfere in this area. We know now that we are in a Howard-free zone, and that we can exercise responsibility." No one in the Prison Service will respond in that way. The same old muddle and confusion will continue. No one in the service will know on what matter the Home Secretary will intervene.

We shall be leaving the Prison Service in the hands of a Minister who wants to increase the prison population by up to 25 per cent. That has been made clear by the various measures that he has announced. The increased population will inevitably lead to greater damage to prison security. That is because it will mean more appeasement of the most troublesome inmates. The more overcrowded and overstressed a prison is, the more there is appeasement. That prevents the implementation of proper security.

We shall be leaving an overstretched Prison Service in the hands of a Minister who is always ready to pick up the phone, to issue a memo or to send a fax to the Prison Service. Unfortunately, he is never willing to carry the can for what he has done. We face a fundamental and dangerous change in the British constitution that will do no good to the effective running of the prisons, on which we depend.

6.20 pm

Most of the comments of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) would provide an interesting debate for another day. In fact, the debate is about the survival of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We have been told that many groups throughout the country are opposed to him. A sacked director general with a record of achievement in all other areas of the Prison Service will, of course, be bitter. A union leader of a sacked director general would not, in those circumstances, be worthy of membership if he or she did not fight for him. A prison governor who is fed up with having a quiet, cosy life disturbed by relentless changes will want to get rid of his tormentor.

The Labour party, facing a Government who have secured the largest fall in crime this century will, of course, be desperate to get rid of them before their success helps to win them the next general election. The media, of course, like whipping up a good row. They like "good" news that is lively and highly visible on television.

However, anyone who takes a reasonable, open-minded and objective view will think that it is too ridiculous for words that a Home Secretary should not be allowed to sack a prison chief who is responsible for two appallingly serious prison breaks and a devastating catalogue of security failures and inefficiency in the Prison Service. That was the simple issue: should Lewis have gone?

When the respected independent investigator and his assessors were asked to attach blame wherever it fell, and as high as it fell, they came to the conclusion that it rested with the prison board and its director. If my right hon. and learned Friend had left the director general in place, he surely would have been accused of a dereliction of duty by Opposition Members and the public. After all, the public are entitled to be protected against prisoners who escape with Semtex.

All else of this matter is secondary, a red herring or diversionary nonsense. Labour Members have revealed themselves at their most absurd. Let us take account of the issues that they have raised. They tell us that the Home Secretary should go as well. However, the Learmont report points no finger at the Home Secretary, although my right hon. and learned Friend invited him to do so. The report points no blame at him. Of course there is no need for my right hon. and learned Friend to go.

The Labour party says that my right hon. and learned Friend became involved in operational matters, and so should take the blame. The Learmont inquiry was not concerned about the distinction between operational matters and policy matters. Instead, it was asked to consider who was to blame.

I am sorry, but I do not have time to do that. I have only 10 minutes.

The Learmont inquiry responded by saying that Lewis was to blame, and that my right hon. and learned Friend was not. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend is ill advised to proceed so strongly on the distinction between operation and policy, but under the Prison Service framework document he is entitled to be involved. He must be kept informed of what is going on, so that he can answer questions in the House. Sadly, from time to time he must be involved in the minutiae of day-to-day operations to stop the wastage of public money.

That is all a thousand miles away from being directly and personally responsible for the failure to search visitors to prisons to ascertain whether they have Semtex, the failure to search cells, and the failure to ensure that governors are in place when they should be.

My right hon. and learned Friend is not responsible for the failure to stop prisoners doing whatever it was that they wanted to do. He is not responsible for a lack of leadership, or a failure to hear the alarm bell ringing. That is the indictment framed by Sir John Learmont, as set out in the report. The reasons for the appalling escapes are about a million miles away from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who, unlike the director general, who is concerned only with the Prison Service, is responsible for the security service, law and order, the immigration service, the fire service and much else. It is nonsense to say that the Home Secretary should shoulder the blame.

The Opposition say that my right hon. and learned Friend made the operational decision to move the Parkhurst governor. He has consistently said no. The Labour party said yes on Monday. Unfortunately, it forgot the proceedings during the meeting of 10 January, the transcript of which is now in the Library. It forgot what Lewis said on 15 January on "The Frost Programme". It forgot also what he said on 18 January before the Select Committee on Home Affairs. He settled the matter once and for all on "Newsnight" on 16 October. That was the end of the Labour party's absurd allegation.

So the Labour party changed tack, and said, "But Lewis was under pressure to say what he did." Unfortunately for Labour, Lewis said before the Select Committee on 18 January that he was under no pressure, and took the decision himself because it was operational. In marches the First Division Association, Liz Symons being its general secretary. It asserted that poor Mr. Lewis had to say what he did because a civil service directive told him to do so. It seems to have stated that Mr. Lewis had to obey instructions, even if that meant lying to the Select Committee.

No one has produced such a document. Why is that? The answer, of course, is that no such document exists. If such a document existed, and if it required a highly placed civil servant to lie to a Select Committee, why did Lewis lie three days earlier on "The Frost Programme", when he was under no such constraint? That is hardly consistency, given that the programme took place three days earlier. Again, the Labour party's accusation is seen to be absurd.

To maintain the smokescreen, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, while at the Dispatch Box, along with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), on every spot of green or place where there might be a camera, has made one stupid allegation after another.

We were told that Marriott was suspended. He was not. It was alleged that my right hon. and learned Friend lied to the Select Committee. He did not. The Labour party did not read the question properly. It was asserted that my right hon. and learned Friend had no right to interfere in operations. He did. We were told that he sent a fax over the head of his operations director, Miss Drew. He did not. It was said that Marriott was moved against the advice of Lewis. Lewis said that he was not. The hon. Member for Blackburn talked about a typing mistake in The Guardian. It seems that it was all down to typing.

Apparently Lewis wanted to move Marriott, but not immediately on the afternoon in question, but a couple of weeks later. Given that allegation, it is unfortunate for Labour that, on 18 January, my friend and colleague on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), asked Mr. Lewis whether the Home Secretary had told him to make sure that Marriott was off the premises for the afternoon. Lewis said that he had not. He added that it was essential for operational reasons that the change in governor took place immediately, so that there was no distraction and there was clarity about who was in charge.

This morning, we woke up to the news that Labour had a startling new fax that would provide blinding new evidence that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had lied, cheated and misled, was to be blamed and should be hanged. Where is the fax? It seems that the magician forgot the trick. All we have heard is that Miss Drew and others, who incidentally were not present on 10 January, may have broken their oaths under official secrets legislation and told the right hon. Member for Sedgefield something, but what, we have not been told.

The Opposition have suggested that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary wanted Marriott suspended rather than transferred. Does that not destroy the Opposition's case, for Marriott was transferred? He was not suspended. Whatever my right hon. and learned Friend said to the director general was not what happened. His diktat—if there was such a diktat, and we have heard that it was only a wondering—was not put into effect; the diktat of the director general was; so that is where the responsibility clearly lay, not with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Then, finally, we were told that the Home Secretary wanted the transfer to be taken that day, so that he could announce it to the House. That was denied by Mr. Lewis before the Home Affairs Committee on 18 January, at paragraph 49, and in paragraph 50 he gave the reason why he denied it.

Every single one of these absurd allegations has failed to be substantiated. It is even worse, because they were refuted before today, yet Opposition Members did not withdraw this absurd debate.

Where is the evidence that the Home Secretary lied? Where is the evidence that he took the decision to sack the governor? Where is the evidence that, even if he did intervene operationally from time to time, any such intervention was wrong, that it was unnecessary or that it led to the escape of six terrorists from Whitemoor, and three prisoners, two of them category A, from Parkhurst weeks later, and a number of security breaches and failures in the high-security prison—

6.30 pm

In this century, only one Home Secretary has resigned—Reginald Maudling, in July 1972, over the Poulson affair. His letter of resignation said:

"I think I can reasonably claim a respite from the burdens of responsibility … which inevitably surround a Minister."
It is that question of responsibility around which the debate turns today.

When the then Prime Minister in February 1988 delivered a statement to the House on management in the civil service and announced the establishment of next steps agencies, she said:
"Each agency will be accountable to a Minister, who will in turn be accountable to Parliament for the agency's performance."
She went on to say:
"There will be no change in the arrangements for accountability. Ministers will continue to account to Parliament for all the work of their Departments, including the work of the agencies."
She continued:
"there has been too much splitting between the duties of those concerned with making policy and those concerned with management. We feel strongly that those concerned with making policy should know from experience how that policy is implemented".—[Official Report, 18 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 1149–52.]
The role of the Prison Service is set out in its framework document. When the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the then Home Secretary, launched the Prison Service as a next steps agency, he said:
"The move to agency status presents the prison service with challenges and opportunities. The challenge is to find ways of improving the quality of service it provides—which means higher standards and better value for money."
The former Prison Commission was structurally not unlike an agency. Yet the Secretary of State was regarded as wholly responsible. When it was replaced by the Prisons Department, within the Home Office, there was a clear line of responsibility to the Secretary of State. The framework document, published when the Prison Service agency was established, on 1 April 1993, states unequivocally:
"The Home Secretary is the Minister responsible for the Prison Service."
Only this week, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim, insisted that the Home Secretary was responsible in law for prisons. He said:
"If you are dividing policy and operations, it means the Home Secretary is not responsible for anything at all."
Professor Terence Morris of the London School of Economics, when questioned on BBC radio yesterday, described this notional division as
"a novel doctrine unknown before Mr. Michael Howard went to the Home Office."
The Secretary of State persistently refuses to take responsibility when things go wrong but is only too ready to claim the credit when things go right. He denies that he has any responsibility for operational matters, yet the statement of claim issued by Mr. Derek Lewis alleges a whole series of incidents in which it is claimed that the Home Secretary did exactly that. Mr. Lewis has also made it clear that he was dumped from his £125,000-a-year job because the Secretary of State needed a scapegoat for his own failings. The headline in Today newspaper could not have put it better when it said:
"Home Secretary Howard plays Get Out of Jail Free card by sacking prisons boss".
The Learmont report into the escape from Parkhurst disclosed a chapter of errors at every level and a naivety that defies belief. It revealed that the governor of Parkhurst was spending 50 hours a week dealing with a blizzard of paperwork, leaving him only two to three hours to spend time with staff and prisoners. It found that, in a four-month period, 1,000 documents and 137 submissions were required by Ministers. It said that there were no technical reasons why geophones could not have been installed; that prisoners were known to ring the victims of their crimes; that certain landings were essentially no-go areas; and that all this chaos was made much worse by
"rapid changes and developments dictated by the political agenda."

The Learmont report is saying very clearly that there should be an inquiry into the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service. It says:

"with a view to giving the Prison Service the greater operational independence that Agency status was meant to confer."
Does that not clearly imply that agency status was not working in the way in which Conservative Members have suggested, and might not General Learmont have been influenced by the fact that, during the time he was interviewing him, Mr. Lewis was interrupted and called to the telephone five times by the Home Office Minister responsible at that time for prisons?

I thank my hon. Friend for that well-timed intervention. He described yet another example of ministerial interference.

Once again the Prison Service finds itself reeling from the effects of the Home Secretary's speech to the Tory party conference, the policy implications of which are enormous. Yet I gather that even the Home Office press office had to wait until the Home Secretary rose to his feet in Blackpool to find out what he was going to say.

The head of security in the Prison Service, the short-term replacement for Derek Lewis, has now had to rush out a circular to staff and prisoners to forestall panic on the wings and landings of Britain's gaols.

Surely there can be no precedent for political interference at ministerial level on this scale. The Home Secretary's prison works doctrine has meant an increase of 12,000 in the prison population in the past 18 months alone. Instead of leaving Mr. Derek Lewis to get on with the job of dealing with that, we now know that the Home Secretary required him to turn up at the Home Office for meetings almost daily. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) pointed out, there was ministerial interference to ensure that the governor of Parkhurst was removed from his duties before the Home Secretary made his statement to the House on 10 January this year. Someone's head had to roll. In January, it was John Marriott's. This week it was Derek Lewis's.

Much has been made of various bits of evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee. I refer to some of Mr. Lewis's evidence, which is relevant. The Home Secretary said that, on average, he met Mr. Lewis once a week. In evidence to the Select Committee, Mr. Lewis said that, on the day of the Home Secretary's statement to the House on 10 January, he had
"several meetings with the Home Secretary during that day."
Moreover, he points out that he had had several telephone conversations with Miss Philippa Drew, who was at Parkhurst that same morning. Was not the reason for those meetings and telephone conversations that Mr. Lewis refused to accept the Home Secretary's insistence that the word "today" be inserted in his statement to the House?

6.39 pm

Never in the history of the House have so many bricks been made with so little straw. I have listened very carefully to the evidence that was given in these very serious accusations against my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. If the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) sets himself up as the keeper of constitutional rectitude in exposing new evidence today, he is about as plausible as Saddam Hussein's claim to have been democratically elected.

When I hear criticism of the Home Secretary about the way in which our prisons are run, I just recall the occasion when we were treated to the spectacle of an escaped prisoner on the roof of Strangeways prison, dictating his terms and grievances to the nation's television reporters and newspapers, and the fact that A and D wings at Parkhurst were left unused year after year.

People talk of security. I recall approaching my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) when she was the Minister responsible for prisons. I told her of the prison officer, newly recruited from the north of England, who had so many debts and was so far from home that he could not afford digs on the Isle of Wight, so he slept in his car in the prison car park.

To those in the press who talk sneeringly about publicity-seeking Members of Parliament, I ask why neither the House nor my constituents have ever seen the correspondence about the geophones and microphones in the walls of Parkhurst. That correspondence goes back a long way, long before John Marriott, right back to 1988. I have never made it public because it would have been completely irresponsible of me to have given the IRA a blueprint of the weaknesses at Parkhurst, particularly when the IRA had murdered our colleagues in the House, and Lord Mountbatten too, the author of the original report on maximum security prisons.

Of course, Parkhurst is an old prison. It opened in 1838. It was the first prison in the country for young offenders. For more than 125 years, Parkhurst prison has been dealing with the worst and most difficult offenders in our nation. That was recognised by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne when she visited the prison.

I hope that when we go to see my right hon. and learned Friend with a deputation he will listen to our claims because we are concerned about the downgrading of the prison, the number of job losses and the effect of that on the local economy.

Hon. Members will expect me to deal with the case of John Marriott. Throughout my life, I have made it a principle that when somebody apologises to me I accept that without revocation and I do not go back over the matter again. On 3 March I wrote to John Marriott saying:
"Dear John, Thank you for your letter of 28 February and your very kind apology which is accepted. I have always tried to make it a rule in my public and private life that an apology when given should be graciously accepted and put an absolute end to the matter."
The letter goes on.

I do not go back on that principle, not even for Home Secretaries, and I make it clear that the Home Secretary has not asked me to do so, and I am sure that he would not. That is the end of the matter, except to record the fact that, of his own volition, John Marriott left the service before the reports were published.

6.41 pm

The substance of the Opposition's charges against the Home Secretary are that since January last year and beyond, he has consistently maintained that there is a clear distinction between policy, which he quite properly maintains is his own territory, and operations, which he maintains are the responsibility of the Director General of the Prison Service.

Despite the mounting evidence that the Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues have routinely and regularly interfered with operational matters, which are highlighted in all sorts of publications and documentation which we have and of which the Home Secretary is aware, he has again repeated this afternoon the distinction that he has tried to maintain over all this time.

On 17 October on the "Today" programme Judge Tumim said:
"the Home Secretary's defence, I use that word, it is maybe not the most appropriate word, the way the Home Secretary has defended himself in this whole business is to make that distinction which you said can't be made"—
that is, the distinction between policy and operations. There have been some difficulties between Judge Tumim and the Home Secretary, so the Home Secretary may not accept him as an authoritative source, although he is well respected throughout the Prison Service and the country.

But perhaps the Home Secretary could give some thought to what was said by his right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who is in his place now and made a speech earlier, on 19 April 1993. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, when asked by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) whether the director was accountable to Parliament through him, he said:
"Not through me. As I say, I am but an arm, leg or foot of the Home Secretary—a limb. It is the Home Secretary who is accountable to Parliament. If you like, there is no suitable analogy from outside, but I suppose you might say that the Prison Service is a wholly owned subsidiary."
The right hon. Gentleman, a previous Minister of State, clearly understood that matters relating to the Prison Service were the responsibility of the Home Secretary, who has sought ever since then to distance himself from that.

The Secretary of State, in seeking to destroy the credibility of Mr. Lewis and his recent allegations this afternoon, used selective extracts from Mr. Lewis's television interview with Sir David Frost on 15 January this year. But the transcript of that interview tells a different story. In that interview, Mr. Lewis conceded that it had been his opinion that Mr. Marriott, the former governor of Parkhurst, should be moved, but what he did not say, and nor was he asked to, was by what means he should be removed or over what time scale.

I shall return to that crucial point in a moment, but the heart of the Opposition's charge against the Home Secretary is that he used Mr. Marriott as a scapegoat on 10 January, which has triggered off a series of events which led to the scapegoating of Mr. Lewis earlier this week.

The Home Secretary made a speech that slipped and slid around the issues but failed concretely to address them. He has thrown no light on what took place on 9 and 10 January between him, his office, the Director General of the Prison Service and the Prison Service officials involved.

I have two questions for the Home Secretary which, so far today, he has signally failed to answer. First, by what route and in what form was the decision to "move" Mr. Marriott "today"—those were the Home Secretary's words—on 10 January communicated to Philippa Drew on that afternoon? Secondly, what instructions did Miss Drew have about the timing and manner of Mr. Marriott's departure when she set off for the Isle of Wight, and how and by whom were those original decisions changed? Will the Secretary of State enlighten us on that? I do not think that he is even bothering to listen. The fact of the matter is that he has refused repeatedly to cast any light on those issues. His slipping and sliding around today has cast no further light on it.

More crucially, we maintain that those issues and the truth of what occurred have not been rebutted. All the evidence is that these events have the Home Secretary's fingerprints all over them. If the Secretary of State has any honour left, surely he must accede to the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and allow all the relevant officials, whether from the Home Office or the Prison Service, openly to give evidence about what happened on those dates. Today and previously he has refused to do that. Until he does, there will remain a large area of doubt about his personal involvement in those events.

On seven occasions today, the Home Secretary was asked to confirm that it was he who insisted on the application of the word "today" in relation to Mr. Marriott's removal. We can establish the complete truth only if he allows all those officials to give evidence, free of any restraint. His failure to do so will tell all the story that we need to know about what took place between him and them on those occasions.

Particularly as the hon. Gentleman was not there.

That is right. Is the Home Secretary saying that no officials were present at the meetings that took place between him and the director general? Is the Home Secretary trying to maintain that no Minister communicated with Philippa Drew while she was at Parkhurst? Is he saying that? If not, let those officials tell the story themselves.

The Secretary of State has repeatedly evaded any responsibility. He is always blaming somebody else and today he has cleared up nothing. As a result, the Prison Service is now rudderless, leaderless and in complete chaos. Far from being a focused service, clear on its objectives and in which direction it is going, it is a complete shambles.

Earlier today in a statement to me, a serving governor—we must remember that the governors are responsible people—said:
"I think governors have formed the view that Michael Howard's treatment of John Marriott was unprincipled, and set party political advantage above fairness and decency. Whether or not it was the Home Secretary or the Director General who decided that John Marriott should be immediately removed from Parkhurst, Michael Howard's use of the situation to draw back bench cheers was dishonourable, and I think governors were deeply offended by it."
That is the governors' opinion of the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary may dodge and weave, but when the chips are down those employed in the Prison Service—the officials who must carry out that difficult work on behalf of society—receive no support. This is a discredited Home Secretary in a discredited Government, and he should go now.

6.50 pm

Was ever a damper squib trailed as a blazing red rocket? Was any opportunity for the Labour party to demonstrate its real interest in the Prison Service so comprehensively wasted? The word "shambles" has been used frequently this evening. We have been told that Parkhurst is a shambles, that the Prison Service is a shambles—everything is a shambles, but the biggest single shambles is the Opposition's contribution to the debate.

I realise that it is very difficult for the Labour party to keep up with the dizzying changes in policy, but let me remind it that it has recently been parading itself as a party of law and order. It discovered law and order after four election defeats; sadly, however, it lost it again, and now endlessly votes against law-and-order measures. It is not very surprising that, when we come to discuss the role of Government and that of the Prison Service, the Opposition reduce the entire debate to irrelevant wrangles.

Do the Opposition want to debate the single biggest prison-building programme of the century? No—because the Conservatives introduced it. Do they even want to consider improvements in the prison system, such as the reduction in overcrowding? In 1987, 5,000 prisoners were living three to a cell; none is doing so today. No, the Opposition do not want to talk about that. Do they even want to mention the 75 per cent. reduction in the number of escapes over the past two and a half years? No. Do they want to talk about the improved value for money in our system? No, they do not even want to do that.

The hon. Lady is issuing a catalogue of praise for the former director general of the Prison Service. If the service was run so wonderfully, why was he sacked?

The hon. Gentleman has not been listening. He was not around in 1987, the date that I just cited.

I meant that the director general was not around in 1987. That is the second occasion this evening on which the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what is being said to him.

Rather than wanting to debate the issues that I have mentioned, the Opposition want to waste the House's time in arguing about the precise words used in a meeting 10 months ago to move an ineffectual prison governor from his post after one of the biggest security disasters in prison history. They dressed it up in grand phrases, however. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) decided that he was going to discuss parliamentary accountability: he said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had not defined his accountability. I can only say that he cannot have been listening to the debate, because my right hon. and learned Friend's statement was extremely clear about his accountability to Parliament. He does not dispute—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that if the Minister does not give way he must resume his seat.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have also been here long enough to know that when a Minister refers to a Member, that Minister should in honour give way to him.

I think that the whole House heard me say that I would give way presently. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was too indisciplined and too disorderly to take that, so I now withdraw my promise.

My right hon. and learned Friend asserts that he is accountable and responsible to the House of Commons. He must give answers at the Dispatch Box, and he is personally responsible for policy. That is precisely why he is entitled to be consulted. That is why he is entitled to inquire and to raise questions that he may expect to be asked at the Dispatch Box. But perhaps the most incredible thing that we heard—

The right hon. Gentleman was too indisciplined to take advantage of my promise to give way presently. He wasted my time, and he ain't going to waste any more of it.

We have heard that officials appearing before Select Committees must give the views of their political masters.

I should like to hear your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. When a Minister promises to give way and then breaks the promise, does that constitute a breach of an order of the House?

I am not responsible for what hon. Members may say to one another. The rule states that, if the hon. Member making a speech does not give way, the other must resume his seat. That is the only rule for the Chair.

I think we can deduce from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to waste the House's time that he does not want to hear the reply to his question.

We have been told that officials appearing before Select Committees are the slaves of their political masters. Paragraph 46 of the Cabinet guidance issued to officials attending Select Committees states:
"Officials appearing before Select Committees are responsible for ensuring that the evidence they give is accurate."
I think we may assume that the former director general made sure that the evidence he gave was accurate. It entirely ties in with my right hon. and learned Friend's version. I do not believe that there can be any further dispute about the validity of the evidence given by both my right hon. and learned Friend and the former Director General of the Prison Service.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) raised many issues that were, he said, to the credit of Derek Lewis. Let me tell him that my right hon. and learned Friend specifically paid tribute to those achievements in his statement on Monday, and that it nevertheless remains true that we received a seriously condemnatory report. My right hon. and learned Friend had a duty to the House to consider that report, to consider whether to accept it and, if he did so, to act on its conclusions.

Allegations of "scapegoating" have also been made in regard to the former governor of Parkhurst prison. The activities of this poor man who was apparently "scapegoated" were analysed extremely clearly in Sir John Learmont's report. As we have heard, he did not actually undertake rub-down searches. Why not? Well, he thought that the requirement was unrealistic: such searches were time-consuming, and a bit impractical in a prison that was undergoing major structural reorganisation.

The governor also decided to reduce the amount available on phone cards, because he discovered that they were being used to pay for cannabis, heroin and syringes—to finance drugs, gambling, trade and debts. Then he went and doubled the allowance. How does that make for a responsible governor? How can a man who could act like that be described as a scapegoat? Surely it was incumbent on both my right hon. and learned Friend and the director general to ensure that that man ceased to govern Parkhurst prison at the first possible opportunity, and that is what they did. They fulfilled their duty to the House. If the Opposition object to that, they should go and explain their objections to the electorate—and they will fail completely in that, as they have failed persistently in the past four general elections and will fail in the next.

And the right hon. Member for Gorton did not prevent me from answering the question!

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 231, Noes 280.

Division No. 219]

[6.59 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Adams, Mrs IreneDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Ainger, NickDewar, Donald
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Dixon, Don
Allen, GrahamDobson, Frank
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Donohoe, Brian H
Armstrong, HilaryDunwoody, Mrs Gwynelh
Ashton, JoeEagle, Ms Angela
Austin-Walker, JohnEastham, Ken
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Evans, John (St Helens N)
Barron, KevinEwing, Mrs Margaret
Battle, JohnFatchett, Derek
Bayley, HughField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretFisher, Mark
Beith, Rt Hon A JFlynn, Paul
Bell, StuartFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Benn, Rt Hon TonyFoster, Don (Bath)
Bennett, Andrew FFoulkes, George
Bermingham, GeraldFraser, John
Berry, RogerFyfe, Maria
Betts, CliveGalloway, George
Blair, Rt Hon TonyGarrett, John
Boateng, PaulGeorge, Bruce
Bradley, KeithGerrard, Neil
Bray, Dr JeremyGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Godman, Dr Norman A
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Godsiff, Roger
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Golding, Mrs Llin
Byers, StephenGraham, Thomas
Caborn, RichardGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Callaghan, JimGrocott, Bruce
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gunnell, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hain, Peter
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hall, Mike
Campbell-Savours, D NHanson, David
Cann, JamieHarman, Ms Harriet
Chidgey, DavidHarvey, Nick
Chisholm, MalcolmHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clapham, MichaelHenderson, Doug
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Heppell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hinchliffe, David
Clelland, DavidHodge, Margaret
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHoey, Kate
Cohen, HarryHome Robertson, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hood, Jimmy
Corbyn, JeremyHoon, Geoffrey
Corston, JeanHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cousins, JimHowarth, George (Knowsley North)
Cox, TomHowells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Cummings, JohnHoyle, Doug
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Dalyell, TamHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Darling, AlistairHutton, John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Ingram, Adam
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)

Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)O'Neill, Martin
Janner, GrevilleOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Johnston, Sir RussellParry, Robert
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jowell, TessaPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPrescott, Rt Hon John
Keen, AlanPrimarolo, Dawn
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)Purchase, Ken
Khabra, Piara SRandall, Stuart
Kilfoyle, PeterRaynsford, Nick
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Reid, Dr John
Lewis, TerryRoche, Mrs Barbara
Litherland, RobertRooker, Jeff
Livingstone, KenRooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Llwyd, ElfynRuddock, Joan
Loyden, EddieSedgemore, Brian
Lynne, Ms LizSheerman, Barry
McAllion, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McAvoy, ThomasShort, Clare
McCartney, IanSimpson, Alan
McCartney, RobertSkinner, Dennis
Macdonald, CalumSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McFall, JohnSmith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McKelvey, WilliamSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McLeish, HenrySnape, Peter
Maclennan, RobertSoley, Clive
McMaster, GordonSpearing, Nigel
McNamara, KevinSpellar, John
McWilliam, JohnSquire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Madden, MaxSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Mahon, AliceStevenson, George
Mallon, SeamusStott, Roger
Mandelson, PeterStrang, Dr. Gavin
Marek, Dr JohnStraw, Jack
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martlew, EricTimms, Stephen
Maxton, JohnTipping, Paddy
Meale, AlanTouhig, Don
Michael, AlunTurner, Dennis
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Tyler, Paul
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Vaz, Keith
Milburn, AlanWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Miller, AndrewWalley, Joan
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Moonie, Dr LewisWicks, Malcolm
Morgan, RhodriWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)Winnck, David
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Wise, Audrey
Mowlam, MarjorieWorthington, Tony
Mudie, GeorgeWright Dr Tony
Mullin, ChrisYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Murphy, Paul
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

Tellers for the Ayes:

O'Brien, William (Normanton)

Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Joe Benton.

Olner, Bill

NOES

Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanBaker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Alexander, RichardBaldry, Tony
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Amess, DavidBatiste, Spencer
Arbuthnot, JamesBellingham, Henry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bendall, Vivian
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Beresford, Sir Paul
Ashby, DavidBody, Sir Richard
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Booth, Hartley

Boswell, TimGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaGorst, Sir John
Bowden, Sir AndrewGrant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Bowis, JohnGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brandreth, GylesGrylls, Sir Michael
Brazier, JulianGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bright, Sir GrahamHague, Rt Hon William
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHamilton, Sir Archibald
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Browning, Mrs AngelaHampson, Dr Keith
Bruce, Ian (Dorset)Hannam, Sir John
Burns, SimonHargreaves, Andrew
Burt, AlistairHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Butler, PeterHawkins, Nick
Butterfill, JohnHawksley, Warren
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Hayes, Jerry
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Heald, Oliver
Carrington, MatthewHeath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Carttiss, MichaelHeathcoat-Amory, David
Cash, WilliamHendry, Charles
Chapman, Sir SydneyHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Churchill, MrHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Clappison, JamesHill, James (Southampton Test)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Horam, John
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Coe, SebastianHoward, Fit Hon Michael
Congdon, DavidHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cormack, Sir PatrickHunter, Andrew
Couchman, JamesHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cran, JamesJack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Jenkin, Bernard
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Jessel, Toby
Davis, David (Boothferry)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Day, StephenJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Devlin, TimJones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Dicks, TerryKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenKey, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKing, Rt Hon Tom
Dover, DenKirkhope, Timothy
Duncan, AlanKnapman, Roger
Duncan-Smith, IainKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dunn, BobKnight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Durant, Sir AnthonyKnight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Dykes, HughKnox, Sir David
Eggar, Rt Hon TimKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Elletson, HaroldLait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Legg, Barry
Evennett, DavidLeigh, Edward
Faber, DavidLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fabricant, MichaelLidington, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lightbown, Sir David
Fishburn, DudleyLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forman, NigelLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Forth, EricLord, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanLuff, Peter
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerMacKay, Andrew
French, DouglasMaclean, Rt Hon David
Fry, Sir PeterMcLoughlin, Patrick
Gale, RogerMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gallie, PhilMadel, Sir David
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMajor, Rt Hon John
Garnel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanMatone, Gerald
Garnier, EdwardMans, Keith
Gill, ChristopherMarland, Paul
Gillan, CherylMarlow, Tony
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMarshall, John (Hendon S)

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mates, MichaelSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianSpink, Dr Robert
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidSpring, Richard
Merchant, PiersSproat, Iain
Mills, IainSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Stephen, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Stern, Michael
Moate, Sir RogerStewart, Allan
Monro, Rt Hon Sir HectorStreeter, Gary
Montgomery, Sir FergusSumberg, David
Moss, MalcolmSweeney, Walter
Needham, Rt Hon RichardSykes, John
Nelson, AnthonyTapsell, Sir Peter
Neubert, Sir MichaelTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Newton, Rt Hon TonyTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Nicholls, PatrickTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Thomason, Roy
Norris, SteveThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Oppenheim, PhillipThurnham, Peter
Ottaway, RichardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Page, RichardTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Paice, JamesTracey, Richard
Patnick, Sir IrvineTredinnick, David
Patten, Rt Hon JohnTrend, Michael
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Pawsey, JamesWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Pickles, EricWalden, George
Powell, William (Corby)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnWaller, Gary
Renton, Rt Hon TimWard, John
Richards, RodWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Robathan, AndrewWaterson, Nigel
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir WynWatts, John
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Wells, Bowen
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Whitney, Ray
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaWhittingdale, John
Sackville, TomWiddecombe, Ann
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir TimothyWiggin, Sir Jerry
Scott, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWilkinson, John
Shaw, David (Dover)Willetts, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Wilshire, David
Shephard, Rt Hon GillianWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Sir MichaelYeo, Tim
Sims, RogerYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Tellers for the Noes:

Smyth, The Reverend Martin

Mr. Michael Bates and Mr. Timothy Wood.

Soames, Nicholas

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House believes that the Home Secretary is and should be accountable to this House for all matters concerning the Prison Service; believes that he is and should be accountable and responsible for all policy decisions relating to the Service; believes that the Director General of the Prison Service is and should be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the service; and utterly rejects the very serious allegations made about the Home Secretary's conduct towards the former Governor of Parkhurst, Mr. John Marriott.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have just had a debate in which serious accusations were made. The issue was of great concern to my constituents, but I was given only one minute to speak. I hope that the Government will bring the important report on prisons before the House so that we can have a proper reasoned debate rather than the wild accusations that we have heard today. These are serious matters, but great progress has been made in our Prison Service under this Home Secretary.

That is not a matter for the Chair, but I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will find ingenious ways of raising such issues.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the recess many hon. Members had their offices rewired. We now have a television system that enables us to see what is happening in the Chamber. We were told that the Division bell would ring, whichever channel one was watching. However, the one channel on which it does not ring is that which shows the Chamber. Will you draw it to the attention of the authorities that something is wrong with the system?

I shall ensure that the matter is raised with the relevant authorities.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Over the past two days, there has been a farrago of wildly inaccurate statements from the Opposition. We have been promised faxes that never arrived, and incorrect and unfair comments have been made about my right hon. and hon. Friends. Have you, Madam Deputy Speaker, yet received what you must surely receive: an apology from the Leader of the Opposition and a request from him to come to the House to put matters straight?

I have no knowledge of any apology; nor do I think that it would be appropriate for it to come to me as a Deputy Speaker. However, I warn the House against seeking to continue a debate that has been concluded.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you allow me to remind the House that we are about to have a debate which is a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on the important subject of disability which is not often debated? In the presence of the Prime Minister, may I say that hon. Members will be doing a disservice to 6.5 million disabled people in Britain if they continue with these bogus points of order?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, thank Madam Speaker for a ruling given by letter on a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher)? One point that he raised related to the interaction between what we allow in the House and the ruling of the European Court of Justice on Monday which abolished quotas for women. The Opposition Chief Whip is chosen from the shadow Cabinet which is elected through a quota system. In other words, an employee of the House is chosen through an illegal system which has been outlawed by the European Court of Justice. Will you please consider that point?

I understand that Madam Speaker has already given a ruling. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he has another matter to raise—one not covered by that ruling—I advise him to write to her.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a national newspaper to misquote an hon. Member, thereby making it appear as if he has misled the House? The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was put in that position this afternoon. Will you entertain the idea of bringing the editor of The Guardian before us so that he can apologise to the House and to the hon. Gentleman for placing him in such a position?

I have enough to do keeping order in this place without taking on board the editor of The Guardian.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some Home Office minutes were published today and they made very clear a conversation between the Home Secretary and Mr. Lewis earlier this year. The Leader of the Opposition then misquoted from those minutes and attempted to say that there were things in them that were not there. What sanctions do we have under the orders of the House to rectify that position?

That seems to be a debating point—no doubt a very important one in the hon. Member's eyes. The debate in which that point could have been raised has been concluded. If hon. Members want to raise such issues further, they will have to do so by means other than points of order.

Yes, a totally different point of order. In the past three or four days, the House has been subjected to a co-ordinated campaign of smear and innuendo, orchestrated by the leader of the Opposition—no doubt aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). It has been based on baseless foundations which have all been proved totally wrong today. In normal circumstances, any hon. Member who had done that and had been found wanting would have apologised before the House—

Order. Mr. Marlow, would you kindly sit down? I have already indicated that the kinds of points of order that I am now receiving are an attempt to continue a debate which has already been concluded. Hon. Members know full well that there are usually ample opportunities at a later stage to deal with such issues.

On an entirely fresh point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In a debate yesterday, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), then the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, suggested from the Dispatch Box that he, on behalf of the Labour party, wished to encourage leaks by civil servants and others in the field of transport. Have you received any indication from the new Opposition Front-Bench team that they wish to resile from the announcement yesterday of wishing to encourage leaks by Crown servants?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you are no doubt aware, there is a tremendous amount of interest—certainly among disabled people—in the subject that the House is due to debate next. Does it not occur to you that we are witnessing an orchestrated filibuster from Tory Members of Parliament who could not care less about the disabled and are trying to stop the debate being initiated? They are showing total contempt for the disabled.

It is, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on the arrangements which have to be made to enable one to make a personal statement before the House. You will appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition will want an early opportunity to withdraw the baseless allegations made against the Home Secretary, which have been comprehensively answered today. What are the arrangements for the Leader of the Opposition to make such an approach and thus make a personal statement?

I expect hon. Members to find that out for themselves without wasting the time available in this Chamber.

Further to the points of order raised by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), Madam Deputy Speaker. Is not it the case that the Leader of the Opposition could well have tabled a motion on disability which could have been debated rather than the useless, wasteful debate which we were forced into having this afternoon?

The Leader of the Opposition certainly could not do that this evening because it is not Opposition time.

In many ways we have seen the House at its worst, and I hope—[Interruption.]

Order. I need to be clear whether the hon. Member is seeking to raise a point of order or is trying to start the next debate.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &.),

Northern Ireland

That the draft Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.

That the draft Police (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 12th July, be approved.

Customs And Excise

That the Travellers' Reliefs (Fuel and Lubricants) Order 1995 (S.I., 1995, No. 1777), a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th July, be approved.—[ Mr. Streeter.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees),

Relations With Japan

That this House takes note of European Community Document No. COM (95) 73, relating to the European Union's relations with Japan, and of the conclusions reached by the Foreign Affairs Council on 29th May on this Communication.—[ Mr. Streeter.]

Question agreed to.

Chronically Sick And Disabled Persons Act 1970 (Anniversary)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Streeter.]

7.24 pm

What we have witnessed is an absolute disgrace. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who intervened and who cannot now be seen, at least by me—[HON. MEMBERS: "He came back."] Yes, he came back because I had the courtesy to tell him that I was going to refer to him. Yet Conservative Members did not have the courtesy to tell Opposition Members, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People or my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is a giant among pygmies when we discuss disability, that they were going to behave as appallingly as they have.

I regret that the Prime Minister, who appeared a few moments ago to be interested in disability, has suddenly lost that interest. I therefore trust that the Minister will convey to him the views expressed in what I believe will be an important and informative debate.

I welcome the Minister to his new and extremely important responsibilities. I can assure him that very often, in contrast to what he has just seen, he will see the House at its best as we discuss disability. I cannot give him an assurance that my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) will be any less difficult on the football field than they have proved so far, but I welcome the Minister to his post.

I am delighted to open this debate as the first holder of this portfolio at shadow Cabinet level. There can be no clearer signal of the high priority that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, gives to the issue of disabled people's rights.

I am equally delighted to be joined on the Front Bench by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, whose appointment in 1974 as the first Minister responsible for disabled people in any country was also a milestone in the growing recognition of the importance of the subject by the Labour party, then led by Harold Wilson.

I also take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous contribution of so many hon. Members of all parties in the continuing battle for disabled people's rights—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and, of course, for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth).

I will give way later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and I have much in common. This evening we mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was highly unusual in that it was a private Member's Bill which passed into law.

To set his remarks in context, will the hon. Gentleman say exactly how much his party is prepared to pledge as extra spending on the sick and disabled if it were to be in government in order to make the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) happy as a member of the party?

I have not often heard the hon. Gentleman call—apparently—for increased expenditure, but he will be delighted to know that on this issue, in 1974, under the 1970 Act, the Labour Government went further than their manifesto commitments. I am very pleased with that achievement.

Next year we will mark the 10th anniversary of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. I was privileged to pilot that measure through Parliament as a private Member's Bill and, like my right hon. Friend's Bill, it reached the statute book. The difference between our Bills was that, 25 years ago, my right hon. Friend received the support of the Labour Government who took on board the objectives that lay behind his proposals. In contrast, my experience of the Tory Government of 1986 was that they at first opposed my Bill but, when prevailed upon to make it into an Act, they then avoided implementing the new law in full. That has happened to a greater extent under the present Prime Minister than under his predecessor.

Those matters are relevant to us today because, as the House will know, there is once again a disability measure before Parliament, for which the Minister will shortly be seeking Royal Assent. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has monitored the Government's position and wriggling. He knows as we do how much progress we made in demanding from the Government, on behalf of organisations of and for disabled people, that which already exists elsewhere from America to Australia and New Zealand, and we demanded it from a most unwilling Government. Those matters will be relevant when we consider the Government's Bill once it returns from another place and the question of Royal Assent.

The Disability Discrimination Bill leaves a good deal of discretion to Ministers. The lesson of the past 25 years is that Labour Ministers can be trusted to carry through the wishes of Parliament in implementing disability legislation whereas Conservative Ministers simply cannot.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls
(Teignbridge)