Parc Prison

– in the House of Commons at on 13 May 2024.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee

Before we begin the urgent question, I will make a short announcement about the House’s sub judice resolution.

A coroner’s inquest has been opened into some of the deaths of men at HMP Parc, and those proceedings are now sub judice. However, given the significant public interest in addressing this matter, I have decided to grant a waiver in respect of the inquests under the House’s resolution relating to the matter of sub judice. While hon. Members may refer to those deaths, I would urge the House to bear in mind the possibility that criminal or civil proceedings might be brought in future, and hon. Members should exercise caution in their remarks.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:36, 13 May 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will provide an update on the situation in Parc prison.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Ensuring that our prisons are safe and secure for both prisoners and staff remains our priority. I extend my sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost a loved one, and my gratitude to the staff at HMP and YOI Parc.

There have been nine adult deaths at HMP Parc since March 2024. It is important to note that these deaths are not all drug-related, However, four have so far been linked to substance misuse, with another potentially so. Any death in prison is thoroughly investigated by the prisons and probation ombudsman and is subject to a coroner’s inquest. Until the results of these investigations are available, I must be a little careful not to pre-empt the detail of their findings or to comment on individual, identifiable cases, so there is a limit to what I can say with certainty.

I am able to say that we believe that the two deaths this month have not currently been linked to substance misuse. The deaths at HMP and YOI Parc should be considered in the wider context of the threat that synthetic opioids pose to His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, to those in our custody and, indeed, to the country more widely, recognising the broader societal issue.

Our work at the prison can provide vital learning as we respond to this challenge, both in custody and in the community, where I understand this challenge has also occurred. HMPPS and G4S, the prison operator, are working closely together, using the latest technologies to gather intelligence on drug entry points and movements within the prison. There have been extensive searches of prisoners and staff, and any suspicious substances are tested on site with Rapiscan. Drug amnesties have been run to improve safety, and X-ray scanners are being used on entry to prison.

We have also expanded the use of naloxone at the prison, focusing on duty managers and night staff. In total, around 400 members of staff at HMP and YOI Parc are now trained to carry the drug during working hours. We also have specialist teams in HMPPS, including the substance misuse group and intelligence, supporting staff in the prison.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I am one of the local Members covering the prison site, so I also thank the Minister for the genuinely constructive and extremely open way in which he has engaged with me.

I also thank Heather Whitehead, the governor of Parc, for engaging with me over recent months as the deaths have sadly increased. My thoughts are, of course, with the inmates who are no longer with us, and with their families. Obviously, every death is a tragedy, regardless of the circumstances.

The Minister made reference to issues around Spice in the prison. There is an assumption, mainly based on social media, that it is like the wild west inside the prison. He touched briefly on the concerns of the Bridgend community that the prison is a catalyst for Spice, because it is being transferred in and out of the prison. Will the Minister expand on what work can be done with the MOJ, Public Health Wales officials and Bridgend County Borough Council intervention teams to try to bring some sort of control to the drug abuse taking place inside and outside the prison?

I pay tribute to the prison staff. They are working in what appear to be extremely difficult circumstances. Issues around staff to prisoner ratios have still not been dealt with. We must ensure the prison officers who have had to deal with the deaths over the past nine to 10 weeks are receiving the mental health support they need, so they are able to continue to work in what are some of the most difficult circumstances, in one of the largest prisons in Wales. It is a category B prison and some of the inmates housed there pose significant challenges.

Finally, will the Minister expand on the work with the health board? I have had some constructive meetings with health providers over recent weeks, but there appears to be a disconnect between the reality on the ground in the prison and what the Ministry of Justice seems to be saying. I would be grateful for any update he can provide to try to bring some calm, not just to the prison estate but to the wider Bridgend community.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the typically measured tone he has adopted on what is a very sensitive subject, which he and I have spoken about previously. I join him in thanking staff. I visited HMP Parc last month and met some of the staff for myself. It is also right to thank the broader system, if I can put it that way, including the health board and South Wales police. I put on record my gratitude to Lesley Griffiths for her engagement on this issue in the Welsh Government. We look to work with all those partners to tackle this problem, because it is a shared societal challenge not just in the prison but in the community.

The prison has put in place a strategy to tackle drugs by restricting supply, promoting recovery and seeking to reduce demand, and by ensuring there is co-ordination between G4S, HMPPS, Public Health Wales and the local health board. We are seeking to bring into that the local police and the local authority, so there is shared ownership of tackling the issue.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight mental health support for staff. When a death occurs in custody, the impact on staff, just as on other prisoners, is significant. When there are a number of deaths in custody, that is amplified. Therefore, we are putting in place support to ensure staff feel and are supported. The hon. Gentleman highlighted staffing; I believe there are currently around a dozen vacancies. We have significantly increased the number of staff, but I recognise a number of staff are new in post. They need to be supported by experienced officers to enable them to perform to the best of their ability.

Spice is a very strong drug; I believe the hon. Member for Ogmore has been briefed that we are looking carefully at nitazenes, which are a variation of Spice. I commit to continuing to keep the hon. Gentleman engaged and informed, as a local Member of Parliament, alongside my hon. Friend Dr Wallis .

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

We should be clear that the number of fatalities we have seen at HMP Parc this year is by no means normal. It is an extraordinary situation, so I am grateful you granted an urgent question today, Mr Speaker, and I am grateful to Chris Elmore for requesting it. The Minister knows there have been multiple allegations of staff bringing illegal substances into the prison. A current prisoner at Parc recently wrote to the Welsh Affairs Committee:

“Drugs are everywhere in prison, from cannabis to heroin and the so called spice. Dribs and drabs may enter through visits and some by way of drone, but let us not confuse the issue, far more comes in by people employed in prisons.”

Given the written answer that the Minister gave me last week, in which he said that currently no prison staff are searched using X-ray body scanners, can he say why not, and, in the absence of such measures, what action he is taking to ensure that all the staff who work in these difficult prisons share in the safety culture and are not part of the problem?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important matter. The reality, as he will know, is that the overwhelming majority of staff who work in HMPPS do so honestly and with good intent, and it is right that we continue to root out those who do not. In that context, we continue to work with police forces where prisons are located across the country, and where there is evidence, including in this case, in order to take action against not just prison officers, but any staff.

More broadly, we have body scanners in operation at this prison for visitors and others. Alongside the Rapiscan system that can test substances, we have also rolled out handheld detectors that can be used in cells to locate drugs in a much more effective manner. Considerable progress has been made, but we are clear that we need to continue making that progress not just in HMP and YOI Parc, but across the estate.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Justice)

I thank my hon. Friend Chris Elmore for submitting this urgent question, and the Minister for the constructive way in which he has replied. This is the second time in a week that Ministers have had to come to this Chamber because of the crisis in one or more of our prisons.

I wish to start by saying that we are all thinking of those who have died at HMP Parc, their family and friends, and the governor and her staff. I appreciate that, as this matter is currently under investigation, we are limited in what we can say today, but it is important none the less that we give voice to this crisis.

It was shocking that the prisons ombudsman had to warn prisoners at HMP Parc to throw away drugs immediately due to the severe risk that those particular ones posed to public health. I hope that the Minister can outline what specific steps are being taken—in fact he has already done so—to remove drugs and ensure that we do not have further unnecessary and tragic deaths. He has promised action, but we do not want this to be yet another bout of activity that happens after the fact and does not last.

Drugs featured in the decision by the chief inspector of prisons to issue an urgent notification concerning Wandsworth prison last week. He went on to address the chronic lack of national leadership—from the HMPPS to the Ministry of Justice. We are looking at a national failure of leadership across our prison estate. Drugs are fuelling the violence that we see in our prisons. We are witnessing a crisis across the prison estate—a crisis of 14 years of Conservative rule.

In the spirit of today’s question, I thank the Minister for his commitment, but ask him whether the action plan that he has just outlined will continue once HMP Parc sinks from the headlines.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question. If it is helpful, I will write to her in the same terms that I have written to Chris Elmore, to give some more information that I may not be able to say fully at the Dispatch Box. As she kindly acknowledged, I have set out the steps that are currently being taken to restrict supply, and to tackle at source those scanners and measures at the gate. As I understand it, there is a bid for enhanced gate security, which is currently being looked at and taken forward by HMPPS. At the appropriate time, I am happy to update her in the usual way.

On promoting recovery, training has been undertaken by around 400 staff in the use of naloxone, which, when administered, can swiftly counteract the effect of, for example, nitazenes. That is an important step forward. In terms of reducing demand, we are working at the prison with the alcohol and drug treatment centre Dyfo—this is where Welsh colleagues will correct my pronunciation—

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the shadow Minister. We are engaging with Dyfodol, and indeed the health board. We are also supporting the Welsh emerging drugs and identification of novel substances project through prison radio and literature, to seek to be integrated and joined up in tackling what is, as I say, a challenge for both the prison and the community.

Photo of Jamie Wallis Jamie Wallis Conservative, Bridgend

I reiterate the comments made by Chris Elmore on the way the Minister has engaged. In Gwent, this is more than just a few headlines. This is not the first time that the area has had to endure a spate of deaths like this—in a very different setting, but still a worrying one. The hon. Member for Ogmore touched on the social media speculation. It is not just a case of some irresponsible people; there is genuine worry about what this means for communities and for the town. Where does the buck stop? Where does the accountability line take us? Is it to G4S or to the Ministry of Justice? Who does it reach at the top?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He alluded to a point made by the shadow Minister, Ruth Cadbury, that I failed to answer. I reassure her and him that the focus on this matter will be sustained even when it is not necessarily on the front page of newspapers, because we recognise that the necessary work cannot be done overnight; it will take sustained focus and sustained work from the team there.

My hon. Friend rightly alluded to the challenges that social media can pose, in an already sensitive situation, by exacerbating community concerns. I hope that some of what I have said, going as far as I could, will help to reassure him on some of the issues. On his final point, as I said to Chris Elmore, this is essentially a shared responsibility between G4S, HMPPS, the council, the health board, the police and others, because this is a challenge for both the community and the prison, and it will be best tackled and resolved by working together in that spirit of co-operation.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The nine deaths at HMP Parc in less than three months highlight how prisoner welfare in Wales is fragmented, with responsibilities split between the Welsh Government and the MOJ. Ultimately, of course, devolution of justice will streamline responsibility, but given that health is devolved, does the Minister agree that deaths in prisons in Wales should be subject to scrutiny both here and at the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

With the caveat that we do not have the final reports from the coroner or final findings from the PPO, we have to remember that the deaths appear to have a range of causes, so we need to be a little cautious in respect of the conclusions we draw at this point. On the right hon. Lady’s underlying point, she is right about the devolution of health. That is why working with the local health board is extremely important, but I consider that the current arrangements on justice, and on the scrutiny of matters relating to justice and prisons, are adequate.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

A constituent of mine who is detained in the prison says that he feels unsafe in Parc. He describes prisoners walking around with shanks just to feel safe. The prison has said that safety is a priority, but my constituent’s parents feel that their son is in danger. Staff will also be very concerned. It cannot be right that knives are easily carried. How many knives have been taken off prisoners in the last six months in Parc prison?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact answer he wants now, but I am very happy to write to him with that information. On his broader point about safety and assaults on staff or on prisoners, while assaults on staff by prisoners remain too high, they are significantly down from where they were in 2016-17—although, as far as I am concerned, any assault on a member of staff is one assault too many. Similarly, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in custody at Parc has come down significantly from where it was in 2015, 2016 and 2017, but it still remains too high. There is more to do, but if I am able to extract the information he seeks, I will happily write to him.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

We know that roughly two thirds of prisoners arriving on the secure estate have suffered a brain injury before they arrive in prison. That can lead to poor executive functioning, anxiety and depression—all problems that can be massively exacerbated by being in prison. I understand that the MOJ wants all prisoners to be screened for brain injury when they arrive in prison. Is that happening at Parc, and are those people then getting the support they need to be able to function as best as possible given those circumstances in prison?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work campaigning on this issue, on which I have interacted with him previously as a Health Minister. On his specific question, it is important to remember, in the context of this very challenging issue, that Parc is generally a well-run prison. One thing that stands out there, which I saw when I visited, is the specialist neurodivergence wing and the work being done there with specialist trained officers and staff to understand the specific needs of those individuals. If he was ever at a loose end and able to visit—with the permission of my hon. Friend Dr Wallis and Chris Elmore—I think that he would find the work being done there encouraging and fascinating. I encourage him to go.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Shadow Minister (Wales)

I agree with what my hon. Friend Chris Elmore has said today. Many constituents have been in touch with our office in recent weeks, and one mother this morning said, “Every day I expect a phone call fearing the worst. Is my son going to be another statistic?” Some parents, including that constituent, have raised concerns over a long period about drugs. Does the Minister understand that actions so far have done little to reassure those with loved ones in prison and that they need to know that the Government are acting urgently?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for articulating the understandable concerns of parents, family and others in a typically sensitive and measured way. It is right that those voices are heard in this Chamber. I hope that some of what I have said today will provide a little more clarity and reassurance, but the other reassurance I can offer is that I will continue to take a close, direct and personal interest in the ongoing work to resolve issues that may remain in Parc.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

We have all been saddened by events at Parc. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the mental health of prisoners, both in Parc and elsewhere, of staffing shortages that force prisoners to spend 23 hours each day in their cells and leave them without access to appropriate rehabilitation courses? What steps will he take to remedy the situation?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I can offer the hon. Lady reassurance that the regime for time out of cell at Parc is one of the most effective in the prison system, with extensive periods out of cell being facilitated. She quite rightly talks about mental health; it is important in this context to remember, as she does, the mental health not only of those prisoners, but of the prison staff and prison officers who are impacted by a death in custody. We are working closely with the prison, and the prison is working closely with the health board, to ensure that that, among other things, is addressed.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

One inmate at HMP Parc is reported to have been moved there from HMP Exeter. Devon Live reported on a dangerous inmate who was moved to Parc after he threw boiling water in the face of an officer and attacked another prisoner with a tin opener without any warning or provocation. Does the Minister feel satisfied that officers and inmates will be safe from prisoners at HMP Parc?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As I set out earlier, although I consider assault rates still to be too high, they are lower than they were in 2015-16 and similar years. It is clear that any assault on a member of staff is one too many. Sadly, assaults occur across the estate, and that is why we are backing our staff with body-worn cameras, and why they have PAVA, for example, which they can deploy when they are at imminent risk.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers and helpful suggestions to other Members. What steps can be taken to restore confidence in the safeguarding and access to appropriate medical care for those who are imprisoned in facilities throughout this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? An investigation may well conclude that there was no fault, but this matter has certainly raised questions regarding levels of care and access to medical care and facilities.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his important question. I have set out the steps that we are taking in Parc to train staff to use naloxone in order to buy precious time to enable professional medical services to arrive. Across England and Wales, prisons come under my jurisdiction as Prisons Minister. In Wales, healthcare is devolved; in England, healthcare in prisons is the responsibility of and provided by the NHS. We seek to ensure that prisons have effective and close working relationships, at a macro and operational level, with their local health board or local NHS.