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Wormwood Scrubs Prison: Redevelopment

Volume 478: debated on Friday 18 July 1986

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11.15 a.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the current state of the rebuilding and reorganisation work at Wormwood Scrubs Prison.

My Lords, an extensive redevelopment programme is planned in order to bring the prison up to modern standards and to improve conditions for the inmates and staff. It will include the construction of a new building linking the four large existing wings of the prison to provide additional cells and ancillary accommodation. Integral sanitation will be provided throughout the prison. Subject to financial approval, work on the preliminary phase of the redevelopment will begin at the end of this year or early in 1987. The whole project will take about eight years to complete.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am also pleased to know of the amount of capital expenditure that is involved, not only at Wormwood Scrubs but elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that a further £ 1½ million will be spent to transform a purpose-built kitchen into a prison workshop? Can the Minister also confirm what I believe he said, that eventually there will be integral cellular sanitation throughout the prison, and that the disgusting practice of slopping-out will not proceed into the 21st century?

My Lords, I can confirm that the practice of slopping-out will not go on after the new building has been built, and that integral sanitation will be provided throughout the prison. I think I should say that the conditions for inmates and staff are thoroughly unsatisfactory, which is why we intend to undertake this major scheme. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur is taking a particular interest in the redevelopment and visited Wormwood Scrubs on 27th June. He has told me how impressed he was by management at the prison and by the dedication and professionalism of all the staff in what are far from ideal conditions. We are anxious to proceed with the scheme as quickly as possible.

My Lords, I am grateful for the admission by the Minister, which in my view took a bit of courage, that the conditions there are deplorable. But I should be grateful if he could reply to the point 1 made concerning the purpose-built kitchen. May I also ask him to comment on the fact that £762,000 was spent on the prison hospital and, when it was decided not to proceed, that £762,000 capital expenditure was used to store equipment from the works department? Will the Minister take on board that I am as concerned as he is that, when the Prison Department is making statements concerning a waste of prison expenditure, it ought to look very closely at home and at matters of this kind as well?

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for not answering his first supplementary question. The earlier scheme, on which work began in 1982, was abandoned in 1984 following an investment appraisal. The alternative scheme took account of factors that were not apparent when the original scheme was devised, including the need to retain the prison chapel, the increase in the size of the London remand population and the likely staffing implications. The new scheme offers better value for money. The new kitchen and refurbished hospital were to have been provided under the earlier scheme. It was impracticable under the revised scheme to retain these buildings for their original intended purposes and further work on them was discontinued. The extent to which the work was abortive has, however, been minimised as alternative uses for the buildings have been found. The constructive loss was not the figure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, but £400,000. The kitchen is to be used as a laundry and for prison industry, and the hospital for storage and other short-term purposes during the redevelopment.

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, visited Wormwood Scrubs, I think he would understand why it has to take such a long time. It has to be done in phases within a very limited area.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that we on our side agree entirely with his comments about the governor and the staff of Wormwood Scrubs? But is he not aware that there is a desperate need for works to be done in the Wormwood Scrubs hospital? My understanding is that these would cost something of the order of £350,000; and, in the light of his reply that the programme is subject to financial approval, can he assure the House that the financial approval for this particular expenditure will be advanced as quickly as possible?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that my noble friend is doing everything in his power to get approval advanced for this expenditure as soon as possible.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that recently—I think it was yesterday or the day before—a Select Committee of the House of Commons and of your Lordships' House published a very sad report about the state of prisons generally. In fairness to the Government, and in the light of what the Minister has said about the money they are spending and about the effort they are making at Wormwood Scrubs, is it not about time that we saw'a list of what is now being done to make some of these prisons at least reasonably respectable for the types of prisoners they have? No one is asking for luxury, but no one is asking for filth, either.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, and I shall see that he gets that information. But it might be more useful if he would care to put down a Question for Written Answer.

My Lords, the Minister has been very fair to the House with the supplementary questions. But taking the point made by my noble friend Lord Williams concerning the state of the hospital, is the Minister aware that the accommodation in B-wing which is being used as a hospital has urine running down the walls from a defective sewerage system? In conditions of that kind surely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is absolutely right, and that remedial measures can be taken very quickly in order to alleviate the distress not only of the inmates and prison officers but also of the community at large?

My Lords, as I said, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur visited the hospital on 27th June. He is very well aware of the problems there. A temporary hospital was established in B-wing when the refurbishment of the old hospital began. The temporary hospital will remain in use until the permanent hospital and operating theatre in the new spine link building are completed. Conditions in the temporary hospital are unsatisfactory and, as the noble Lord said, the main causes for that are a leaking steam main underneath the wing. Work is in hand to divert the main and so alleviate the problem. About £315,000 will be spent during the preliminary phase of the redevelopment on upgrading the temporary hospital itself.

My Lords, with the very serious growing concern about drug abuse, AIDS virus and hepatitis, perhaps the Minister will take to his senior colleague the concern of the House to make the hospital a priority.