I visited Liverpool prison yesterday. The inspector’s report was genuinely disturbing, and of course that is reflected on the ground. There are some very good prison officers working there, but unfortunately the conditions are really shocking, particularly basic sanitation, with piles of garbage. We now have a new governor in place, millions of pounds are going into the infrastructure, and 172 places have been closed so that we can begin a proper refurbishment and maintenance programme. Most importantly, we must not allow this to happen again.
These appalling conditions did not emerge overnight. Who will be held to account locally and nationally for failing to implement the recommendations of the many critical reports about the prison? How in 21st century Britain could this national disgrace be allowed to happen? Lack of adequate healthcare meant that lives were lost. What happened to the regulators and the leadership? Were they being paid while asleep?
Those are important questions that we will look at closely. We have published an action plan for Liverpool prison. There are two key things we need to do. The first is about leadership. The governor has now been replaced. The second is that we have put in place a new urgent notification process, so if anything like this happens again and inspectors raise it, we will be forced to reply within 28 days. But that is only the beginning, because this requires a complete change in culture that focuses on getting back to basics: cleaning the prison, reducing the violence, reducing the drugs and making sure the healthcare provision is in place.
This is a big question of management. There are many very hard-working people at Liverpool prison who take their jobs very seriously and work very long hours, but we have to balance that with a recognition that clearly there have been fundamental failings. People will be held to account. Above all, we need to work with the team at the prison to ensure that in future it is a clean and decent place, both to protect the public and to reduce reoffending.
I welcome the Minister’s prompt visit to HMP Liverpool in his new role, and to Altcourse prison, which is in my constituency. His action plan states that there will be a full conditional survey and investment proposal for medium-term refurbishment. Given that Walton prison was built in 1855—some 15 years before this Palace was completed—is that the most realistic outcome for the future of the prison?
It is certainly true that there are challenges with older buildings, as we see with this place, but it is possible to keep them going—Westminster Hall was built in 1080. Stafford prison, which was built in the late 18th century, is a clean and decent prison. We will look carefully at the fabric, and in some cases there is reason to build a new wing. But in Liverpool prison we can make a huge difference simply with £2.5 million for new windows and for refurbishing individual cells.
The inspectors described the conditions at HMP Liverpool as the worst they have seen, citing rat infestations and filthy conditions. Prison maintenance at Liverpool was outsourced to Amey. This shows that the problems with outsourcing go way beyond Carillion, which mismanaged maintenance at 50 different prisons. Will the Secretary of State commit to a review looking at bringing prison maintenance back in house, in Liverpool and at all prisons, as Labour has pledged to do?
We will look carefully at the maintenance issues in Liverpool, but sadly the problems are not only to do with Amey; they are also to do with relationships between management and the contractors and how prisoners were, or were not, used to clean the estate. We have made a huge amount of difference in just the past five weeks by changing not the Amey contract but the management approach and the focus on cleanliness.
I thank the Minister for his answer on Amey and contractors, but it is hard to have faith that he will address the problems at Liverpool or, in fact, any prison, because it has recently come to light that his Government handed £40 million to Carillion in 2017, even after the then prisons Minister had expressed concerns in Parliament about Carillion’s performance in prisons. Will not poor maintenance in Liverpool continue to contribute to inhumane conditions while responsibility is left in the hands of private contractors who, in reality, put profit first?
We do not believe that this is fundamentally an ideological fight between the private and public sectors. Most of those people working for Carillion—70% of them—were public servants just three years ago, and most of those people working for Amey were public servants in the prison service. Most of the problems have been solved through basic management and leadership. There has been a deep clean, the yard units have been increased from five to 18, and the conditions have improved rapidly. In the end, a lot of this is about management, not a private/public debate.