Orders of the Day — Home Secretary (Prison Service)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 19th October 1995.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:22 pm, 19th October 1995

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me, I shall deal with precisely those points.

Let me deal with each of the matters in turn. First, there is the distinction that the Secretary of State draws between policy and operations. In questions on the statement on the Prison Service on Tuesday 10 January 1995, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put this to the Secretary of State when he said: but there is no proper control of security at the prisons. Is not that something for which he— the Home Secretarymust take responsibility? The Secretary of State replied: With regard to operational policy, there has always been a division between policy matters and operational matters … I really do not see … how, whatever structure or framework is in place, one can avoid a sensible distinction between policy and operational matters."—[Official Report, 10 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 39–40.] The problem for the Secretary of State is that he is the only one who believes that in practice such a sensible distinction can be made to the point of rigidity to which he takes it, for if ministerial responsibility means anything, it must mean that his policy is judged against the operation of that policy. How else can we judge a policy? Policy is not some intellectual abstract. It can be judged only by whether it has good or bad effect.

Judge Stephen Tumim said earlier this year that the Prison Service faced a crisis of confidence. That crisis has grown worse since he spoke those words. Is it any wonder that the service is in crisis when it has no effective leadership? The Secretary of State provides none. Indeed, he does not even pretend to provide any, because he says that he is not responsible for the operation of the service. The Director General of the Prison Service, who was personally appointed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and was complimented to the hilt by the Secretary of State in the House on 10 January, has now been dismissed without notice. There is only an acting successor, Mr. Richard Tilt, who on the day of his appointment was in open disagreement with the Secretary of State, telling a meeting of prison governors that in his view the removal of Mr. Lewis was "unnecessary".

Virtually everyone associated with the Prison Service—the governors, the staff, all six trade unions, Judge Tumim—have palpably lost confidence in the Secretary of State. As we heard on the radio this morning, that now includes the chairman of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors, Mr. Julian Alliss, who called on the Secretary of State to resign.