Prisons (Ministerial Visits)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1996.

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Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones , Birmingham, Selly Oak 12:00 am, 4th July 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the purposes of ministerial visits to prisons. [34525]

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I visit prisons to see for myself what is happening at individual establishments and to talk to staff, to prisoners and to members of boards of visitors about matters of concern to them. It is a particularly important part of my role as Prisons Minister and I have so far visited 70 prisons.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones , Birmingham, Selly Oak

What action did the Minister take following her visit to Holloway prison on 27 July last year? Was not her visit well in advance of the decision in December by the chief inspector of prisons to pull out his team because of the appalling conditions he found there? Does she consider that she misled the House on 28 March this year by denying that she had visited the prison six months before the start of the inspection, while conveniently omitting to mention that she had been there more than four months before?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

The answer to the second part of the hon. Lady's question is simple. She asked whether I had visited the prison six months earlier, but the hon. Lady could not add up—I therefore pointed out that she had got it wrong. I am sorry that she could not add up. As for what I did when I went to Holloway, it is on the record that I drew my concerns to the attention of the Prison Service, and it is equally on the record that the Prison Service put in an extra £300,000 in October of that year to combat the problems at the prison.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess , Basildon

Does my hon. Friend agree that our recent visit to Chelmsford prison was extremely valuable, as we saw at first hand that prison does act as a deterrent and that Chelmsford is an extremely well-run prison?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I congratulate Chelmsford prison on its many achievements, and I confirm what my hon. Friend says. It is a well-run prison, and there was much in it that impressed me.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On the subject of ministerial visits to prisons, when the Minister visited Parkhurst prison several months ago—as I did yesterday—did she look at the special secure unit on which more than £3 million has been spent? Did she also see the additional security measures installed there that have cost many millions of pounds more? Is she aware that no prisoner has ever spent a night in that special secure unit? Is she further aware that the additional security measures are far in excess of the need for the security classification of the prison, because the Home Office and Ministers reduced its security categorisation from A to B?

Is she not ashamed to have wasted so much taxpayers' money on security measures that are no longer necessary for that prison? Why does she not reconsider the matter and raise its classification back up to security A?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Just now, the Opposition were complaining that we had not responded to General Learmont's report. We removed Parkhurst from the dispersal system in direct response to a major recommendation in General Learmont's considered report. His reasoning for removing the prison was rather more considered than that just shown by the hon. Gentleman.