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Wellingborough Prison Site

Volume 570: debated on Monday 18 November 2013

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Anne Milton.)

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the proposed sale of the Wellingborough prison site and for being granted this Adjournment debate so early on by Mr Speaker. I am pleased to be joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). I thank Eliza Richardson, my researcher, for all her efforts in preparing this speech and for the extra hours she has put in.

I thank the prisons Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), for taking the time to be present this evening. As was said recently in the House of Commons, and as was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Justice,

“we have a most excellent prisons Minister who has many superb qualities… One of the best of his qualities is that when he has made a decision and new facts are put to him, he has the courage to reconsider and change his decision.”—[Official Report, 12 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 799.]

I agree totally with that endorsement.

I shall start by talking about the sorry history of how we have got to this situation. When the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) was Secretary of State for Justice, he had the kindness and respect for Parliament to phone me from Downing street one day at 6 am to state that Wellingborough prison was going to be put out for market testing and that he would be making a statement in the House of Commons later that day. He answered my questions privately and I was in a position to ask a sensible question when he made his statement.

I worked with prison officers, management and members of the public to improve Wellingborough prison and to put in an excellent public sector bid. I would particularly praise the prison officers for going against union advice and co-operating with the project. Wellingborough was so improved that it was the third-cheapest prison in the country and the Ministry of Justice decided not to privatise it. So all was well; the prison operated efficiently and with the support of the local community.

But then, without warning, on 17 July 2012, the last sitting day of Parliament before the summer recess, the then Secretary of State for Justice announced the proposed closure of Wellingborough prison. I was given no warning of the decision and found out about it only during a live BBC radio interview. In my opinion, that was a totally unacceptable divergence from parliamentary protocol and utterly disrespectful to me as a local Member of Parliament, but more importantly it was disrespectful to my constituents.

I immediately applied for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 24. In turning down my request, Mr Speaker made it clear that it would not be possible to grant it as the House was going into recess the next day. The then Secretary of State kindly wrote me a handwritten letter apologising for what had happened and saying that it should never have occurred. That was followed by a debate in Westminster Hall on 5 September 2012—I think it was the prisons Minister’s first debate—in which I made clear my displeasure at the appalling handling of the situation. He said:

“The way in which he heard about the announcement of the closure is, as he said, profoundly unacceptable. It should not have happened, and I apologise to him for that.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 125WH.]

He was also kind enough to visit the prison and see its potential for growth.

I also presented a petition on 4 September 2012 from many residents of Wellingborough and the surrounding area against the closure of the prison. On 13 March 2013, a press notice from the Cabinet Office announced that HMP Wellingborough had been sold, but after an emergency question the prisons Minister said the site had not been sold and that it had been a clerical error. There were also a number of private meetings with him and the Secretary of State.

Given this history, one would have thought that the Ministry of Justice would be extremely sensitive about making any changes to the Wellingborough prison site without contacting and discussing the matter with me, the local MP. One would have thought there would be huge red flags on both the file and computers saying, “Make sure the local MP knows what’s happening”. That makes the events of the last few weeks completely baffling.

On 3 September, I wrote to the prisons Minister requesting a meeting. I was going to bring along a local prison officer who had some radical ideas on how Wellingborough prison could be reopened. Apparently, that letter was lost in transit. In any event, I received no reply. Next, the Minister told me privately that he was writing to me to say the site of Wellingborough prison was to be sold. At the beginning of November, I received that letter, which was short and gave no indication of why the site was surplus to requirements.

So yet again a decision about Wellingborough prison had been taken without consulting the local Member of Parliament. If the Department was considering selling the site, it should have discussed it with me in private so that at least I could have put my concerns and those of my constituents before a decision was reached. It is also unacceptable that this was done at a time when a request for a meeting was outstanding. In my view, this was yet again disrespectful not only to me, but to Parliament and my constituents.

Tonight’s debate is not a party political matter, but one that directly affects the lives of many of my constituents. However, it is a debate about something that has national consequences. I will be arguing strongly for the Secretary of State for Justice’s policy on prisons. He recently said:

“My intention is to have more adult male prison capacity available than we had in 2010 but at a much lower unit and overall cost. Our strategy for achieving this is to replace accommodation which is old, inefficient or has limited long-term strategic value with cheaper modern capacity which is designed to better meet the demand for prison places and supports our aim to drive down stubbornly high reoffending rates.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 22WS.]

I could not agree with that policy more: keep open and develop low-cost prisons and close expensive, Victorian prisons. What a splendid policy—one that any Conservative should be able to support, and a significant shift from the previous Secretary of State, whose policy seemed to be: “Close prisons and let’s hope the prison population falls.”

As the Member of Parliament for Wellingborough, I could not be happier, as Wellingborough has the third cheapest prison in the country and the second cheapest in its category. Official Ministry of Justice figures show that the cost of a prison place in 2011-12 at Wellingborough was £17,894—the second cheapest out of all male category C prisons. Not only that, but the prison has significant room for expansion, a local population that supports it and a council that wants to encourage its development. It has a superb location as an overspill prison from London, yet is an easy location for people from the rest of the country to reach. Wellingborough prison absolutely fits the Government’s policy. Terrific: another success story for the Conservative-led coalition. Er, well, no, I am afraid not. Instead of developing Wellingborough prison, the Justice Department first closes it and then, this month, decides to sell it. It flies completely in the face of the Department’s stated policy.

Wellingborough prison lies midway between Bedford and Leicester prisons, 22 miles from Bedford and 45 miles from Leicester. The cost of a prison place in Bedford is £33,679 per person, while in Leicester it is £41,855. Let us compare that with the cost in Wellingborough, at £17,894. It does not take a rocket scientist to say that we should close Bedford and Leicester prisons and keep Wellingborough open. That is what should happen, if the Government policy was implemented. After all, the Secretary of State said we should

“replace accommodation which is old, inefficient…with cheaper modern capacity”.—[Official Report, 10 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 22WS.]

I do not understand why the prisons Minister does not want to support the Secretary of State in implementing this sensible Government policy—it is surely in his career interests to do so, if for no other reason.

We will hear the argument tonight that Wellingborough prison is somehow located in the east midlands, where there is no shortage of prison places, and miles from London, where there is a huge lack of prison capacity. When that was suggested to me, I am sure I saw a fleet of flying pigs doing somersaults and belly laughing. Wellingborough prison has for a long time been an overflow prison for London. It is located 50 minutes from central London by train and has superb road links from the M1. However, it is just over an arbitrary line drawn by the Prison Service to say that it is in the east midlands. Wellingborough looks to London and is the ideal location to take surplus London prisoners.

I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on securing this debate but on the way he is delivering his excellent speech. I do not think any Member of Parliament could have mounted a better campaign in defence of their local prison than he has. I can confirm exactly what he has just said about the population of the prison largely coming from London. When I visited Wellingborough prison, it was fairly obvious that most of the inmates were from London, and many of his constituents will work in London. Wellingborough is only 70 miles from London, and if anyone goes down the high street in Wellingborough and says, “Where do you live?”, they will be told, “Wellingborough.” People will not say, “The east midlands”.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention and his support. He is absolutely right: this “east midlands” thing in Wellingborough is a sort of invention.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on making a good speech. He will know that in my Daventry constituency, we have two prisons: Onley and Rye Hill. If we were to draw a line from London as the crow flies, both would be further away than Wellingborough prison, and they, too, are pretty much full of prisoners who originate from the London region.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that, which is an issue I shall develop a little later in my speech.

Wellingborough prison also has the huge advantage of being a very cheap area in which to build and develop. If that were not enough, the Wellingborough prison site has a massive amount of land for development, a proposed new road link to the A45, a community that supports and wants the prison, a council that is keen to see the prison develop and many prison officers living just minutes from the site.

In addition, there is another difficulty for the Ministry of Justice in trying to sell the site. If the sale of land were to go ahead, there would be serious questions about whether the Government would remain financially responsible for the prison-owned sewerage system on the site, which is used by the local housing estate. We could end up having to fork out more money for a site of which we are not even making use. I cannot see how that is cost-effective on any level. Much more than that, most of the prison is very modern and has, in fact, won prizes for its design. In the five-year period from 2004-05, an incredible £22.4 million was spent on the prison—all to be thrown away if the site is to be sold.

Clearly, we have a golden opportunity to knock down the 1960s old prison blocks, to extend the existing modern blocks and facilities and to build new blocks within the existing boundaries. We should then implement new prison operational procedures, mix both state and private employees on the same site, allow prison officers to do the essential running of the prison, while allowing private contractors to carry out other functions. We would then have the cheapest prison in the country per prisoner place and a model new prison, which could be the basis for the rest of the prison estate and provide additional overflow capacity for London.

What, then, is my hon. Friend’s understanding of the extra investment that the Ministry said it needed to bring the prison up to what it regards as modern standards?

That is a very good question. The figure of £50 million has been bandied around; I always think that when something is around the sum of £50 million, it cannot really be based on anything. That was for revamping the existing prison, but I am arguing for something different. I say we should knock down the old bit, which is the minority of the prison, and build new blocks to make a much bigger, cheaper prison, with a capacity of more like 1,000 prisoners.

I am very interested to hear my hon. Friend’s answers. Earlier today, in the statement from the Secretary of State for Wales, it was confirmed that the Ministry of Justice is about to build a new prison in Wales for 1,000 prisoners at a capital cost of £250 million. My hon. Friend is telling us tonight, however, that the Government could have provided modern accommodation for 600 prisoners at a fraction of that cost.

I thank my hon. Friend again. I would argue even further that for that investment, we could actually get 1,000 prisoners accommodated. Let me correct my hon. Friend on one issue, because I believe that the proposed prison in Wrexham is going to be for 2,000 prisoners. I shall comment on that later in my speech.

Just for a moment, let us look at the London problem. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures say that it needs 18,000 prison places and has capacity for 11,000. The prisons Minister will say that he is going to build a 2,500-place prison at Feltham. Well, even if that is possible, there will still be a shortage of 4,500 prison places. The prisons Minister may say that he is going to extend other London prisons, but—hand on heart—he knows that thousands of prisoners from London will have to be imprisoned outside London. That is why the Wellingborough solution is such a sensible option. I hope that some of the extremely expensive Victorian London prisons will be closed, because that would make Wellingborough even more important.

The Minister may have been sold the idea of super-duper prisons with places for 2,500 prisoners. That may be the whizz-bang new policy at the moment, but I believe that the strategy involves a great deal of risk. I think that there will be considerable management diseconomies of scale which would make such huge establishments exceptionally difficult to run. I also think it extremely unlikely that they would be opened on time. Indeed, I think that there would be much opposition to them, and that they might never be built.

My argument, in a nutshell, is that Wellingborough prison is the right size for future development because of its location, because expanding it would be cheap, and because its running costs are very low. The Minister may say that his other plans render it surplus to requirements, but can he be sure of that? I do not think that he can, and I suggest that the prison site should remain on the Ministry of Justice estate for at least another 12 months. If by then the Minister is sure that all his plans are working and there is no need for the site to be retained, then let him go ahead and sell it; but if, as I believe, there are likely to be significant problems, let us look again at the possibility of opening and expanding Wellingborough.

In short, keeping the Wellingborough option open is simply a sensible insurance policy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on securing the debate. Let me also congratulate him—as others have—on working so vigorously to secure the reopening of Her Majesty’s Prison Wellingborough, and, indeed, on representing his constituents as actively and effectively as he always does.

I well remember debating the closure of the prison with my hon. Friend some 14 months ago. That was not just my first debate as prisons Minister, but my first day in the job. I put on record at that time, and I do so again today, the Government’s appreciation of the efforts of all who worked at Wellingborough. As I said then, any decision to close a prison is not made lightly, and is never easy. The decision to close this prison was not a reflection on either the work or the performance of the staff. As my hon. Friend pointed out, I said then—and I am happy to repeat—that the way in which he found out about the closure was profoundly unacceptable. He was entitled to an apology. As he knows, I gave him one on that occasion, but I am happy to repeat it.

It is regrettable that the letter to which my hon. Friend referred, dated 3 September, was not received in my Department. We checked again after he spoke to me about it, but there is still no record of its having arrived. I regret that, because I think he knows me well enough to know that had I received it, and had it included—as it did—a request for a meeting, we would have had such a meeting. He also knows that I have taken every opportunity to speak to him and to give him what information I can about progress in relation to Wellingborough prison.

The decision to close the prison followed an evaluation of every establishment on the prison estate, based on age and economic factors such as operating costs, outstanding maintenance issues and their proximity, and an operational assessment of the geographic and strategic function that the prisons performed. That included consideration of whether it would be difficult to replicate such functions elsewhere. According to those criteria, Wellingborough was chosen for closure.

The fact is that parts of the site were in a poor state of repair. Its physical fabric, like that of other facilities that were built in the 1960s, had deteriorated over the years. It was not simply the accommodation that needed to be brought up to standard; many other improvements were required. It was increasingly unsafe, with poor services and infrastructure, poor electrics, and inadequate water pressure which failed to meet the required standards for the fighting of fires. It was in need of a substantial further investment of about £50 million. I know that my hon. Friend does not like round figures, so I shall give him the precise figure: it was £49.7 million, and that was for the full refurbishment that it needed in order to remain viable.

As I said last September, the proximity and size of the financial liability forced the prison management to decide whether to proceed with the outstanding and necessary refurbishments—at a time when there was sufficient prison accommodation on the rest of the estate, and there were many other pressures on the Department’s budget—or to close the prison and use the capital to better effect elsewhere.

On 4 September this year, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary updated the House on our plans to modernise the prison estate so that we always have enough places for those sent to prison by the courts, but at much lower cost and in the right places, and on our plans to deliver on our ambition of reducing stubbornly high reoffending rates, and to do so in a way that gives taxpayers the best possible value for money.

I am listening to my hon. Friend’s speech with great interest, in particular in respect of the figures. What is the Department’s assumption of capital cost per new prison place and how does the refurbishment of Wellingborough prison stack up in terms of that criterion?

As I have already said, the cost of £50 million—or £49.7 million if we want to be precise—is the cost of bringing part of Wellingborough prison up to standard, so that is not a directly comparable figure in this regard. My hon. Friend may also know, as he may have heard this figure mentioned in the House earlier today, that we estimate that the cost of a new prison in Wrexham—which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough pointed out, will provide some 2,100 places, not 1,000—will be about £250 million. My maths is not good enough for me to do that sum, although perhaps the maths of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is, but there is a clear problem with Wellingborough, which is that substantial capital investment would be required to bring it up to standard. This also has to be seen against the backdrop of what was a strategic consideration as to where those prison places would best be provided, and I will come on to that subject.

We have a lot of time this evening, so we can explore this subject in some detail, with Mr Speaker’s permission.

It would seem from the figures my hon. Friend has just given the House that the cost for the refurbishment of Wellingborough prison is in the same ballpark as would be needed in new spend on a new prison, but the advantage of Wellingborough is that it is a prison that works and the community accepts it. One of the big difficulties about new prisons is getting the communities where they are to be built to accept all these prisoners in their midst.

I can tell my hon. Friend that there is very considerable enthusiasm among the local authorities in the Wrexham area to have a new prison, and that is one of the reasons why we considered that to be a sensible site for the building of a new prison. Again, if my hon. Friend will be a little patient I will come on to why we consider that Wellingborough would not be the right site for the development of what would in effect be a substantially new prison.

I was talking about the comments my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary made on 4 September. As I said, the intention is to deliver reduced reoffending rates in a way that delivers the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said, we are replacing accommodation that is old, inefficient or has limited long-term strategic value. Reshaping the rest of the prison estate will enable us to release offenders closer to home, which we know improves their resettlement and helps prevent reoffending. Linked intrinsically to this, a nationwide through-the-prison-gate resettlement service will be put in place, meaning that most offenders are given continuous support by one provider from custody into the community. We will support this by ensuring that most offenders are held in a prison designated to their area for at least three months before release. To achieve that we must have the best fit between custodial capacity and demand.

We will open an additional 1,260 places in four new house blocks at HMPs Parc, Peterborough, the Mount and Thameside. The first of these at HMP the Mount is on track to accept prisoners in September 2014. The construction of the new prison in Wrexham, subject to planning approval, will offer 2,100 places when it is fully operational from late 2017. In addition, we are looking into replacing the existing Feltham young offenders site with a large new adult prison and a discrete new youth facility. It is our aim that we will have more adult male prison capacity in May 2015 than there was at the start of this Parliament. As a result of this new capacity coming on stream, we were able to announce the closure of a further four prisons, removing 1,400 uneconomic places from the prison estate, in addition to those closed earlier this year.

It remains the Government’s intention to ensure that the prison system retains sufficient capacity and resilience to manage all those who are committed to custody by the courts. It is equally clear that the Government have a duty to their citizens to ensure that we make the best use of public funds. As I said in the earlier debate, the prison system is necessarily complex and it must be able to meet a variety of needs. That includes being able to receive new prisoners direct from courts throughout England and Wales, providing health care and education, tackling deep-rooted, dangerous and harmful behaviour and providing specialist interventions for particular groups of prisoners.

Maintaining a wide geographical spread of prisons and a functional balance that meets the changing needs of the prison population is essential. By doing that, we remain able to carry out the punishments set by the courts, to maintain strong security to protect the public and to provide opportunities for different types of offenders in order to reduce the likelihood of their committing further crimes. Accordingly, individual prisons are robustly assessed to determine whether their closure is operationally viable before a recommendation is made. Such a recommendation was made in relation to Wellingborough, and the decision to close it was subsequently taken. That was because Wellingborough prison is located in a region with too many places and it did not perform a function that could not be replicated at other prisons. Furthermore, there were enough other prisons located nearby to allow us to avoid compulsory redundancies by redeploying staff.

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough disagrees with much of that. We met today to discuss the matter in more detail, and he argued that I should have considered Wellingborough as a London prison rather than an east midlands one. He has made that point again tonight. He suggested that Wellingborough might provide a better solution to meeting the shortfall of London places than the other options we are considering, which include the redevelopment of Feltham that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 4 September.

The Government’s prison policy is quite radical, but does it extend to encouraging people in the private sector to design, build and operate prisons? If not, why not? Would not Wellingborough be an ideal site for that kind of project?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that when making decisions on who should run new prisons, be they in Wrexham, London or anywhere else, we will consider private sector bids as well as public sector bids. We want to reach the best deal for the taxpayer in the provision of a quality service. I can at least assure him that there will be a competition, and I hope that we will consider all bids fairly.

But that covers the contracts for the running of prisons once they have been built. I have in mind companies from the private sector designing, building and operating prisons in a way that allows us to develop the best rehabilitation for offenders, which is very much at the forefront of the Government’s policy.

It is our conclusion that it is best to separate the building and the running of a prison. That gives us more options when we consider the contracts for the running of the prison. I can assure my hon. Friend, however, that private sector bids will certainly be actively considered for the building of the prison, which is the first decision that we will take. We will then mount a separate competition for the running of the prison and I can again assure him that we will consider carefully all the bids that we receive.

Let me return to the issue of Wellingborough as an alternative London prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has said that large numbers of London prisoners find themselves in Wellingborough. Indeed, they also find themselves in Onley and in other prisons. That is due to the significant deficit of prison places in the London area for London prisoners. As he knows, I firmly believe that the best solution to the shortage of places in London is to build a new prison in London. That is why we are considering the development of the Feltham site.

My hon. Friend is correct, however, to say that we need alternatives to the Feltham site, and we have other potential locations that fall within the designated site search area. Unfortunately for Wellingborough, that designated area does not stretch into Northamptonshire. It is my expectation that we will find a suitable location for a new London prison on one of these sites.

My hon. Friend’s advocacy and passion, with which you are well familiar, Mr Speaker, command respect. He has asked me to look again specifically at the alternative sites that may be considered for a new London prison. He knows of my scepticism that Wellingborough could be the right candidate for that role, and I make absolutely no promises about the outcome of that further consideration, nor do I undertake to postpone the disposal of the site for as long as 12 months. However, in view of the fact that our conversation on this matter took place only this morning, I will take time to consider properly what he has said before making a final disposal of the Wellingborough site.

As my hon. Friend knows, however, we cannot hold on to the site indefinitely. The level of security, utilities and maintenance has been reduced to one appropriate for a site that has been closed, but it does not come cheap, none the less. We estimate that about £237,000 will be spent in this financial year on holding costs alone. It is therefore in the taxpayer’s best interest to avoid unnecessary holding costs and to seek to dispose of the site expeditiously, in accordance with central Government guidelines governing the disposal of surplus property assets.

I am grateful to the Minister for doing what I said he might consider doing right at the beginning, and the Secretary of State was right to say that when there are new facts, the situation will be looked at again—I very much appreciate it. I have one thing I wish to take up with the Minister. He rightly talks of a number of prison closures, but they have been undertaken under the new Secretary of State for very sound reasons. I believe that Wellingborough’s closure was done under the old Secretary of State, when we did not have the policy in place that we now have.

I would say two things on that to my hon. Friend. First, he must always remember to complete his quotes. When the Secretary of State did endorse his generous assessment of me, he also said, equally generously, that I was prepared to follow through on difficult decisions where I believe them to be in the national interest— I hope he is right about that, too.

The second point relates to the closure of Wellingborough prison and the comparison with other prisons. My hon. Friend knows my view, and I do not think we are ever likely to agree on this. Having looked again at that decision, I believe it was the right decision to close Wellingborough prison in the circumstances. We are now considering a different question: what to do with the site and what prospects it may have for future use. I repeat that he knows where my scepticism lies, but he asked me to consider the matter again, specifically whether Wellingborough might form a suitable site for another London prison. I said to him this morning, and I am happy to repeat it, that he may have some task persuading me that it is better to build a London prison in Northamptonshire than in London.

This afternoon, I had the fun of looking up the travel times to Feltham and to Wellingborough, and I found that there was not a lot of difference.

I am not sure what method of travel my hon. Friend was looking at. As I have explained to him, there are a number of factors to consider: the transfer time between the relevant prison site and the local courts it would serve; and the relevant travel time for those who may be visiting inmates at the prison. Given that the majority of prisoners we would be looking to accommodate will come from the London area, it, again, seems logical that where we can, we look at a site within the London area. I say again to my hon. Friend that given what he has said to me, I think it only right that I should take the opportunity to look at this matter again, and I will do so.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) will be pleased to hear of the Minister’s generous offer. I have a question on the policy for London prisoners. As the Minister knows, I have a vested interest, because my area contains two prisons that take prisoners from London. When I have visited these prisons, I have found that they have mainly been full of former gang members who have been taken out of London. Removing them from the north of London, where they come from, is seen as a benefit, because that makes it more difficult for them to maintain contact with the gang networks from which we have just extracted them. How far have we gone with this policy so far? What are the thoughts for the future? Surely we are going against our own vested interest here, which is to remove these people from whence they came.

My hon. Friend is right to an extent, and he knows that the two prisons in his constituency are probably no more than a stone’s throw from the edge of mine, and I know them well. He is right that there are a number of London prisoners who are in prisons outside London for good and sensible population management reasons. I can reassure him that it is highly likely that whatever provision we make for an additional London prison, there will remain some transferring of London prisoners to sites outside London. That will be necessary because of the figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has given the House tonight. That does not mean that we should not consider the needs of the majority of London-based prisoners, which will be to remain in the London area, and the needs of their families who will wish to visit them, as much as the needs of those offenders themselves. It still seems to me that we will want to consider the building of additional prison capacity in or around the London area.

I applaud the Minister for his open-mindedness with this new question that he now poses for himself, and stress the excellent connectivity of Wellingborough, both north to south—it is less than 50 minutes on the train to London—and east to west, with the excellent road network. Moreover, much to local people’s consternation, a campaign sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government a couple of years ago saw Northamptonshire marketed in London as “North Londonshire”, attracting people from London to Northamptonshire. In his efforts to answer this new question, I urge the Minister to ignore this regional boundary, which very few people recognise. Northamptonshire is the southern most part of the supposed east midlands, but it really does not feel like it.

I sense that the next application from my hon. Friends will be an extension to the tube network to Wellingborough and Kettering. In any event, I feel it necessary to point out that it is still a hard sell to make the argument that it is a more effective location for a London prison to put it in Northamptonshire than to put it in London. None the less, as I have said, I will consider that case, and I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has said. He will recognise that I cannot undertake indefinitely to hold on to a prison site that we may not need and do so at a significant cost to the taxpayer. It follows that, as a first step to what may be the disposal of that site, officials in the Ministry of Justice have a meeting scheduled already with the local planning authority to begin discussions on the future of the site. That process is obviously at an early stage and no decisions on its future use have been made. It must surely be in the interests of my hon. Friend’s constituents and the taxpayer at large that we, in close consultation with the local planning authority, look at the possible future uses of the site, including its potential for development. We will continue with that process alongside looking again at the viable options for the new London prison. I trust that my hon. Friends will accept that that is a prudent way to proceed.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.