Skip to main content

Privately Financed Prisons

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question given by my honourable friend the Minister for Prisons and Probation in the other place earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, yesterday I attended the Justice Select Committee hearing on prison populations and confirmed that, in line with the 2016 White Paper and the 2017 manifesto, we remain committed to delivering 10,000 new prison places in order to replace the places in prisons which at the moment often have old, unsuitable and expensive accommodation.

During the committee testimony, I confirmed two things. First, we will be proceeding at Wellingborough with a publicly capital-financed prison, with work to begin at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, subject to the usual test of affordability and planning. I also confirmed that at the Glen Parva site we will be continuing with the current demolition and proceeding, again subject to the normal tests of affordability and planning, to a competition for a private finance initiative for the construction of the Glen Parva prison. We will then continue to push ahead with the four subsequent prisons, bringing us to the total of 10,000 places.

In addition, we are investing £16 million in further investment and repairs in the existing estate. All of this is absolutely essential because, as the shadow Lord Chancellor is very aware, much of our estate remains old, expensive and unsuitable for prisoners, and we must move to regenerate it”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement. But before I sit down, perhaps I may come back to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I gave the figure of 93,000; it should have been 83,000.

I am very pleased that the noble Lord knew it was 83,000, and now I can reassure him that I, too, know it is 83,000 and not 93,000.

My Lords, I respectfully remind noble Lords that this is an opportunity to question the Minister. Therefore, questions rather than long statements would be appreciated.

My Lords, of course I will follow the noble Baroness’s advice—up to a point. We have one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe, exceeded only by those in some of the less advanced countries in the east of Europe. Yesterday, the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, said that prison numbers would rise from the current 83,000 to 93,000—the figure inadvertently quoted by the Minister—by 2022. The state of our prisons is a national disgrace as the Government struggle to recruit and retain staff, yet the Minister in the other place feebly states that he would like the prison population to go down but that it is not very likely to happen because he is not sure that there is a will among the people or Parliament to take measures to reduce the population. Given this craven approach to a critically serious problem, should not that Minister resign?

My Lords, there is nothing craven about the approach that has been taken to the very real and challenging issues relating to our prison population. We are concerned that we should look more carefully at alternative forms of sentence, such as community orders, that would in themselves replace the requirement for sentences particularly of less than 12 months’ imprisonment. That is a matter for consideration. In addition, I remind the noble Lord that we are in the course of taking active steps to provide not only additional but new and refurbished prison accommodation in order to improve the standard of our prisons across England and Wales.

My Lords, new, modern prison places are sorely needed, but do not the failed Carillion maintenance contract, the CRC contracts that we have just discussed and other MoJ contracts show how far the ministry needs to take a serious look at its contracting procedures, just as Rory Stewart accepted when he was before the Justice Committee yesterday and assess tenders in a realistic and much more rigorous way? How does the department propose to improve its contracting procedures for these new prisons? Furthermore, Mr Gauke’s effort to get prisoner numbers down by cutting the number of short sentences, saving money in the process, is welcome. What proposals do the Government have to ensure that their prison building programme seeks to combine cutting numbers with transforming prisons, in both public and private sectors, to focus on rehabilitation and training rather than just containment and punishment?

My Lords, the model of having both private and public custodial services and privately funded and publicly funded prisons has been in place for many years and has distinct advantages. On the maintenance of existing prisons, we have agreed an additional £16 million to start to improve conditions across the estate and not just to address the provision of new prison accommodation. On sentencing, as I indicated earlier, we are concerned to see a development with regard to community and non-custodial sentences. On the matter of contracts, we are pursuing and putting in place robust means of ensuring that contracts are analysed correctly and not simply on the basis of the lowest tender.

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend said about contracts. Will he ensure that contracts make explicit and enforceable provision for useful out-of-cell activities?

My Lords, individual terms of contract make provision for appropriate facilities to be made available to those prisoners who are in private facilities. There is a system of management oversight by the Ministry with regard to the discharge of those obligations by private providers.

My Lords, I began my ministry as a prison chaplain in a young offender institution, Latchmere House, where every day some 60 to 70 young men arrived. As a chaplain you had to see them, but sometimes you did not succeed in seeing them because the place was overcrowded. In those days, the prisons were put there by Her Majesty and run with taxpayers’ money. Is the Minister confident that this private finance partnership will not create the same indebtedness from which the National Health Service is suffering? We owe a lot of money to private companies for our new hospitals. Are we walking into the same trap?

I thank the most reverend Primate for his question. Competition for custodial services in England and Wales is well established and has been in place since the early 1990s. On the funding of new prison facilities, there are now 14 privately operated prisons in England and Wales. Some of them have been funded by PFI, but not all. We consider that the mix of public and private financing has worked and does work.

My Lords, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for giving me a private briefing yesterday on what he proposes for the women’s prison estate. His announcement that there will be five women’s centres rather than five women’s prisons was very welcome. Will the Minister confirm that these, too, are to be privately run—and, if so, whether they could be run by charitable or not-for-profit organisations?

My Lords, we are committed to working with local and national partners to develop the residential women’s centres pilot on at least five sites, as indicated by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. I understand that these residential women’s centres pilots will be publicly funded.

My Lords, with the abandonment of the five community prisons for women in England and Wales, the trial residential centres to help offenders with issues of finding work and drug rehabilitation are welcome. Are the proposed residential centres for women all to be privately financed?

My Lords, as I hope I indicated earlier, the intention is that the five residential centres should be publicly financed.

My Lords, is it not the case that you can achieve considerable savings in a prison system if prisons are designed and built from the start with a view to the maximally efficient use of staff, bearing in mind the need to achieve targeted levels of out-of-cell time and community time for inmates? Is it not the case that you do not get those savings unless the same organisation, be it private or public sector, is responsible for managing the prison—at least for the payout period for the necessary financing—as well as for the design and construction? Otherwise, there will be no incentive to build a prison to maximally efficient levels.

My Lords, I do not accept that there is such a necessary link between the construction of the infrastructure and the operation of the prison. Nevertheless, we are committed to replacing our present prison estate with modern facilities to achieve the very outcome referred to by the noble Lord.

My Lords, I welcome the various initiatives taken by the Government in relation to the prison population—one of which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston—and the reduction of the prison population from what it was a couple of years ago: 85,000. Does the Minister agree that it is important when thinking about building 10,000 prison places not to become too ideological? HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found examples of good practice in both the private and public sectors. As a Government, we should be looking for examples of good and satisfactory proposals from either source.

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend’s observations. One of the reasons why we benefit from the competition between private and public provision of custodial services is that we can identify and take the best from each sector.

My Lords, as one who has always believed that it is the state’s duty to incarcerate and rehabilitate, could my noble and learned friend remind the House of the percentage breakdown between public and private prisons?

My Lords, I do not have to hand the figures for the breakdown between the number of inmates who are subject to custodial sentence in privately run prisons as against those in the public sector. I can indicate that there are now 14 privately operated prisons—13 in England and one in Wales—which currently provide approximately 16,000 prisoner spaces. That is just under 20% of all prisoner spaces. As to the level of occupation between those spaces and the spaces in the public sector, I cannot give a precise figure.