Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24 )
I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss a specific and important matter that I believe should have urgent consideration—the loss of up to 600 jobs in my constituency owing to the announcement today of the closure of Her Majesty’s Prison Wellingborough.
It is with great regret that I move this motion at all. At 9.30 today, I was doing a live broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live when it was announced as breaking news that Wellingborough prison was to be closed. I was not told in advance and have only just received an e-mail from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who has responsibility for prisons, outlining the plans to shut the prison. I hasten to add that this came after I learned about it through the media first.
That is in total contrast to how the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) handled the situation when Wellingborough prison was put into the market testing programme. On that occasion, the then Justice Secretary rang me at 6 am on the day of the announcement to ensure that I was fully briefed before the public statement. Clearly, the coalition Government believe in making announcements to the media before telling the local constituency MP.
What is most disturbing about the matter is the number of jobs that will be lost in my constituency. Up to 600 people might lose their employment, whether they are employed directly through the prison or indirectly through local businesses. The independent monitoring board annual report states that the prison improved from a level 2 to a level 3 prison. Wellingborough prison has moved from 123rd out of 130 in the prison rankings to 93 owing to the hard work and commitment of its governor and staff. It has also become far more cost effective, with 5% efficiency savings in 2011-12 and further planned efficiency savings of 3% projected for 2012-13.
This is a good, improving prison that is now being closed without any consultation or appeal process. Closure would have significant ramifications for my constituents. The prison management and officers have done everything they were asked to do and more. The reason given for its closure is that we have too much space in our prisons. This comes after years and years of being told that they are overcrowded and that we need more spaces—the previous Government allowed prisoners out early because there were not enough spaces.
There seems to be no consistency within the Ministry of Justice. With Britain’s increasing population, surely to have spaces left in prisons would be a sensible precaution, not least in case we have a repeat of last year’s riots. Hundreds of people losing their jobs in my constituency for a short-term, dubious economic saving is plain wrong. This is the wrong prison being closed for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his application under Standing Order No. 24. I understand his extreme disappointment at the decision and the alleged handling of the matter and of him. That said, having listened carefully to his application, I must nevertheless conclude that the matter does not, on this occasion, meet the criteria under Standing Order No. 24. Agreeing to the application would, of course, cause the subsequent debates to be significantly delayed. I recognise that my decision will disappoint him, but knowing him, as I do, to be an extraordinarily assiduous parliamentarian, I feel sure that it will not be long before he returns to the matter. I suspect that Justice Ministers are also keenly aware of that fact.