Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Crispin Blunt (Reigate, Conservative)
That would be fine if the markets had not entirely discounted the prospect of the hon. Gentleman’s party being retained in office in 2010. It was perfectly clear that Labour was being sent firmly through the exit door. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if the markets felt there was any chance of the former Prime Minister and his henchmen remaining in office, we should have faced a quite different picture.
Having just held a Ministry of Justice portfolio, I turn to the subject of prisons, which are mentioned in the Bill as a potential source for capital expenditure.
There is a case for measures that enable capital expenditure on prisons. There is a very strong case, which I shall continue to press from the Back Benches, for building new prisons, not to increase the number of prison places but to modernise the prison estate and make it fit to deliver rehabilitation, work and security at a sensible, affordable price in a prison infrastructure for the 21st century.
Oakwood prison offers an example. It was built with running costs of more than £10,000 a prison place less than other category C training prisons of its type. With capital expenditure at about £100,000 per prison place, one can easily see the rough order of magnitude in a 10% return on that scale of investment. If we then take into account the fact that we could sell off the old prison sites, that we will not have to deal with the accumulated maintenance deficit in the older parts of the prison estate and that we will get much better implementation of policy in prisons that are built with work, security and rehabilitation in mind, we can see that the case for including prisons in the Bill is extremely strong.
I am, and will remain, an advocate of wholesale reinvestment in our prison estate. It means new prisons that will be more efficient and older ones closing so that we end up with the estate we should have for the 21st century. There is currently a competition process for nine prisons, the second such round of competitions—eight are currently in the public sector and one is in the private sector. All the bids I have seen, from both the public and private sectors, show the enormous benefit of competition in coming forward with better ideas on how to run our prisons.
At this point it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the officials in the Ministry of Justice and to Michael Spurr and all the people at the National Offender Management Service with whom I have had the privilege of working over the past two and a half years. I put on record my gratitude to them and, as prisons are in the Bill, to Peter McParlin, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, the biggest trade union representative in the Prison Service. In an era of considerable change in the service, I commend the constructive relationship and dialogue I had with him and with other union officials and staff, including those from the National Association of Probation Officers.
I turn from my former responsibilities to the application of the Bill to my constituents. Reigate plays host to some serious national infrastructure. We have two prisons, but we are adjacent to Gatwick airport, the M25 runs through the middle of the constituency, and the London to Brighton main line is another key piece of infrastructure. The constituency has been under constant developmental pressure throughout my time as Member of Parliament. The borough of Reigate and Banstead has more than met the housing targets imposed by the previous Administration. It is not housing we are short of; it is infrastructure. For example, we are woefully short of primary school places, the M23 has yet to be finished and brought to an end at the Hooley interchange, and there needs to be a reorientation of the railway line that cuts across the London to Brighton main line and runs between Guildford and Tonbridge.
I share the criticism of others about the delay in the decision over the future of airport capacity in the United Kingdom. For me, the answer is blindingly
obvious: we need an airport in an estuary that can operate 24 hours a day and that has the capacity to deal with the primary needs of the United Kingdom, which is to have a proper hub airport. That has been fairly obvious since people were looking at Maplin Sands about 50 years ago. Frankly, it is about time we got on and made the decision. I seriously regret its being put off for another three years.
I will conclude by expressing my concern about housing appearing as infrastructure in the Bill. I do not think that housing is infrastructure. The financing of housing should come from other mechanisms. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand my concern about housing appearing in the Bill in conjunction with the Chancellor’s remarks about the green belt and the potential threat to it. I will be examining the Bill very carefully.