Prison Estates Review

– in the Scottish Parliament at 11:03 am on 21 March 2002.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 11:03, 21 March 2002

The next item of business is a statement by Mr Jim Wallace on the prison estates review. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 11:04, 21 March 2002

I would like to outline the Executive's proposals for the future of the prison estate in Scotland, which are being published today for consultation.

Prisons are a crucial element of the criminal justice system. The public is entitled to protection from those who commit serious crimes and it is our responsibility to ensure that those who are imprisoned are held in secure custody. It is also the Executive's responsibility to ensure that prison conditions meet modern standards. Many of our prisons were built in Victorian times, but their role has since changed. Prisons are no longer merely places for holding prisoners; they should help to reduce crime by working to help prisoners to change their behaviour so that they do not re-offend on release.

It is an uncomfortable but undeniable fact that the existing prison estate does not meet the needs of many prisoners, nor does it address the public's interest in effective rehabilitation as well as it should. That is not to denigrate the efforts of prison staff, who display dedication and expertise in dealing with a wide range of often very difficult prisoners. However, many staff work in poor conditions, which makes it harder for prisoners to address their offending behaviour and for staff to help to rehabilitate them.

Three main issues need to be addressed if we are to have a prison estate that is fit for its purpose. First, the number of prisoners is rising and is projected to continue to rise. Overcrowding is already an issue in some prisons and the situation will worsen unless additional prisoner places are provided. The need for extra prisoner places over the next 10 years cannot be met simply by refurbishing existing accommodation and building on existing sites. It is our responsibility to plan now to meet that need.

Secondly, we must deal with existing accommodation that falls well short of an acceptable standard. We inherited a prison estate that suffered from serious underinvestment. Her Majesty's Prisons at Barlinnie and Peterhead fall well below modern standards and at Low Moss, prisoners are held in wooden huts that were built 60 years ago as temporary accommodation. The buildings at Low Moss and Peterhead are reaching the end of their useful lives.

The third issue is slopping out. That a quarter of Scotland's prisoners must still slop out is wholly undesirable and we are committed to making that a thing of the past.

Prisons are important, but they are only one part of our criminal justice system. We are taking action to achieve a safer Scotland. That has had some success already, as falling levels of crime demonstrate. We will continue to build on that progress.

For many less serious offenders, imprisonment is not the answer. That is why our criminal justice strategy makes available to our courts an increasing range of tough, high-quality, non-custodial options. For example, restriction of liberty orders are being made available to all Scottish courts later this year and drug treatment and testing orders are being established. However, serious offences will remain, for which deterrence and the protection of the public require prison sentences and therefore prisons.

The proposals that we are publishing today have taken a long time to develop. We have been clear that we needed robust information on which to base our decisions. The issues are complex and the decisions have long-term implications and involve large sums of taxpayers' money. Our proposals meet immediate needs and long-term requirements and deliver value for money. Before I describe the proposals in detail, I will explain the basis on which they have been developed.

The remit of the estates review was to identify the likely pressures on the prison estate over at least the next 10 years and to generate options for dealing with those pressures. The review was conducted with an open mind. As I said in Parliament, nothing was ruled out and nothing was ruled in. To supplement the review, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an in-depth study of the cost of public and private sector options, and of a mixed option of private sector building and public sector operation for the provision of new prison accommodation.

Today, we are publishing not just our consultation document, but the estates review, including the statistical background to our prisoner projections, and the PricewaterhouseCoopers study.

The latest projections for the next 10 years are an increase in the prisoner population from the current population of 6,300 to a level that will range from a low of 6,700 prisoners to a high of 8,500 prisoners. Given the uncertainties that exist, and taking into account the Executive's policies to provide more alternatives to custody, we concluded that we could prudently plan on the basis of 7,200 prisoners. If numbers begin to exceed that prudent projection, there will be flexibility in the new capacity and time to put measures in place to meet greater demand. Projecting future trends in the prisoner population is not an exact science.

Although overall the level of crime is falling, levels of serious crime remain high. Detection rates are at their highest level since 1939 and the average length of sentences has increased by 40 per cent since 1980. I will never apologise for a criminal justice system that locks up serious and violent offenders for a long time. Those factors are driving up prisoner numbers and are central to the projections that I outlined.

The review concluded that to meet the projected demand for increased prisoner places and replace existing poor quality accommodation, a total of 3,300 new prisoner places must be provided. A significant programme of public sector investment in the refurbishment of existing accommodation or construction of new buildings can provide about 1,100 of those places within existing Scottish Prison Service establishments, so about 2,200 places in new prisons are required.

The optimum size for a new prison is about 700 places, although the actual size of any new prison will depend on a number of factors, including site availability and location. Prisons that are significantly larger than 700 places can be much more difficult to manage, while smaller prisons are often less economical to run. In order to meet the requirement for about 2,200 prisoner places, we need to plan for three new prisons, although a final decision on the third will be taken in the light of updated projections of the prisoner population.

How should those prisons be provided? As I said, the review considered public, private and mixed options. In order to compare the costs of the options, they have been assessed on the standard Treasury-approved net present value—or NPV—basis over 25 years. Using NPV, an option that would involve expenditure's being incurred over a long time can be compared objectively with one in which a greater proportion of the expenditure is incurred up front.

The NPV cost of three new public sector prisons would be approximately £1.3 billion. The mixed private-public option would cost between £1 billion and £1.3 billion and the wholly private sector option would cost £0.6 billion. The difference between the wholly private sector option and the public sector option is £700 million. No responsible administration can ignore such a difference. We should remember that if we choose the public sector option, there will be £700 million less to spend on other public services.

The public sector and hybrid options would take about 11 years to complete, but the private sector option could deliver the prisoner places in five or six years. That means a considerable difference in the time scale for ending slopping out. A number of factors lead to that difference. The experience of other private prisons is that the private sector can deliver major building projects more quickly and efficiently than the public sector. A public sector option would require longer for preparation and design. The need for the new prisons is too pressing for such a delay to be acceptable, and we would be failing in our duty if we did not take the route that offered the best value for money.

Some people oppose the use of the private sector in prisons because they believe that it is wrong to entrust the care of prisoners to the private sector. Others argue that the private sector will not be able to deliver to an acceptable standard, but experience in Scotland and elsewhere has demonstrated that the private sector can deliver successfully against very demanding requirements. The objective evidence is clear that the new prison at Kilmarnock was delivered quickly and economically, and is now operating as an effective part of the Scottish prison system. It is beginning to deliver accredited programmes and has the highest out-of-cell time of any Scottish prison.

Although we propose that the private sector would provide the new prisons, about two thirds of prisoners will continue to be housed within establishments that are operated by the public sector.

I turn now to issues concerning the public sector estate. The Executive remains committed to supporting the Scottish Prison Service in its management of the public sector prison estate. As I speak, a refurbished hall is opening today at Barlinnie. That represents investment of another £2.5 million in our public sector prison service and another £35 million of investment is already under way in new house blocks at Edinburgh and Polmont prisons. Further investment in the public sector prison estate is a key priority.

The estates review concluded at an early stage that the majority of the existing SPS prisons ought to be retained, but questions remained about the future of Barlinnie, Low Moss and Peterhead.

There is no doubt that Barlinnie is in an excellent location. It is close to the busiest courts in Scotland and has good transport links. Without Barlinnie we would need to establish a replacement prison near Glasgow. I can make it clear that we propose to maintain the prison at Barlinnie. However, the accommodation at Barlinnie falls far short of modern standards. Public sector investment in substantial improvements to the accommodation at Barlinnie is a high priority and progress has already been made. One of the halls at Barlinnie has been fully refurbished and another is being partially refurbished. However, refurbishing halls is very costly, and the resulting accommodation is less flexible than new build, so we propose to clear part of the site and build a new house block, which will provide 360 prisoner places. Combined with the investment that has already been made, that will secure the long-term future of the prison with at least 530 places.

The accommodation at Low Moss is also highly unsatisfactory and is nearing the end of its useful life. It is very poor in terms of security and fire risk. Refurbishment is not an option, so it is proposed that Low Moss should close as soon as possible. However, the site is well placed to serve the main population centres in the west of Scotland. It could be considered as the location for one of the proposed new prisons.

Peterhead raises particular issues because its population is made up of long-term sex offenders, although nearly half of all sex offenders are held in other prisons. The accommodation there is also reaching the end of its useful life and all prisoners there have to slop out. Because refurbishment of the buildings, including the introduction of night sanitation, would be a lengthy and extremely expensive exercise, the cost would be very difficult to justify. Given the age of the buildings, refurbishment could not in any case be a long-term solution and so would not represent good value for money. New accommodation could be built on the site but that, too, would be a very expensive process, as a result of being constrained by the need to build while the existing accommodation remained in use.

The fact remains that Peterhead prison is distant from the central belt, from where most of its prisoners come. That makes it difficult for many prisoners to maintain appropriate family and other links, which are important in their rehabilitation. We therefore propose to close Peterhead prison. That would take at least three years to implement.

Peterhead has delivered excellent work with sex offenders in recent years. However, many sex offenders are already housed elsewhere and the STOP 2000 programme, which addresses sex offending, is already being delivered in a number of existing central belt establishments. The role of Peterhead in delivering sex offender programmes will be retained within the public sector.

We estimate that of the current total of about 4,600 SPS staff, about 670 would be likely to be affected by reduction in the size of Barlinnie and the closure of Low Moss and Peterhead. However, the SPS has given a commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies and no cuts in cash pay for any staff as a result of the estates review. I endorse that commitment. Prison closures will inevitably take time to implement, which will provide the time to deal with staffing issues at the affected sites.

I will conclude. The key principles that underlie our proposals are: that the estate should have the capacity and the flexibility to cope with the projected number of prisoners; that slopping out must be ended and a definite timetable set that accelerates progress; that the prison estate must be modernised to provide secure prisons that facilitate effective rehabilitation through high quality programmes; and that the estate must meet the requirements of best value.

The public sector will retain the leading role in our prison system, with elements of best practice being identified and spread throughout the estate, regardless of where it comes from. Our commitment to rehabilitation will be a key part of contracts with the private sector.

That approach is reflected in the proposals that we publish today for consultation. I look forward to what I am sure will be a constructive public debate on a crucial issue.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The minister will now take questions on the issues that have been raised in his statement. We can be reasonably flexible about time this morning. I have a long list of members who want to ask questions. I invite remaining members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

So much for the Liberal Democrat manifesto before the 1999 Scottish Parliament election and new Labour's promises before the 1997 general election.

It is an amazing coincidence that nearly everything that the minister said in his statement appears to have been in the public domain since last Friday, when every journalist in Scotland who is interested in the matter tried to contact members through their pagers and mobiles. One can assume only that there was a great deal of unofficial briefing.

The minister has had the review since December 2000. Will he explain why—although the review took 13 months from when it landed on his desk to come before Parliament—he is prepared to allow only a 12-week consultation period? That is utterly ludicrous.

Will the minister undertake to ensure that the veil of commercial confidentiality is removed from Kilmarnock prison so that we can all compare the public and the private sector provision of prisons? At present, we are not permitted to know, for example, the number of prison officers at Kilmarnock, the conditions in the medical centre, the extent of staff bullying and the extent of staff turnover. Such information is necessary to establish a real comparison between the private and the public sectors. Does not the minister realise that Kilmarnock—in terms of cost and of the prison regime—is nothing like an ideal model for the future of the prison service in Scotland?

How on earth does the minister justify the closure of Peterhead prison? The prison system appears to be one in which the reward for success is closure. Dungavel prison, which was as close to being drug-free as a prison can be, was closed. Now, Peterhead, which has an internationally renowned sex offenders unit, will be closed. According to Clive Fairweather, that closure will set back the progress of the sex offenders treatment programme by three years. Where will the offenders in that unit go? I presume that the new recipient community will not be too happy about it.

Conditions in Scotland's prisons need radical improvement. Does the minister realise that most people in Scotland believe that the proposals are not the way in which to deliver that improvement?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I did not brief anyone on the proposals and no authorised briefing took place—I gave specific instructions that no briefing should take place. It was not rocket science for the press to eliminate some of the options, but it is interesting that some of the weekend press reports, which Roseanna Cunningham suggested were the result of a briefing, mentioned cost differences of £300 million, whereas the actual figure is £700 million. Those reports were out by a long way.

Roseanna Cunningham asked why the review took 13 months to come before Parliament. During that time, I have given explanations to the Parliament's justice committees, but I am happy to put them on the record again. First, when I received the estates review, I thought that there should be an independent audit of the costings in the review so that when the consultation began, the work had been done. The PricewaterhouseCoopers financial review of the Scottish prison estates review, which is published today, is a robust piece of work and gives details of how the costings were arrived at. I recommend it to Roseanna Cunningham and to the Parliament.

Secondly, the former First Minister, Henry McLeish, Iain Gray and I took the view that the estates review that the Scottish Prison Service originally presented to Scottish ministers considered the private build, private operate option and the public build, public operate option. We took the view that there ought to be an examination of the case for the private build, public operate option. That examination took PricewaterhouseCoopers considerable time, not least because there appears to be no model of that type anywhere in the world. That is another reason for the period between the review landing on ministers' desks and today's statement.

Thirdly, significant changes in the Cabinet led to a re-examination of some of the figures. One matter that particularly concerned us—especially Richard Simpson, who has done a considerable amount of work on the matter during recent weeks—is the projection of prisoner numbers. I take no satisfaction from the fact that, with the exception of two jurisdictions in western Europe, Scotland has the highest rate of prisoners per 1000 head of population. It gave me less satisfaction to discover that that figure is projected to rise. Given that the Executive is committed to tough non-custodial alternatives to prison, we wanted to analyse carefully the statistical basis for that figure. The statistical basis of the population projections is published with the review. That issue is important, which is why we took the time that was required to consider them carefully.

Roseanna Cunningham asked about the 12-week consultation period, which is a perfectly normal period for Scottish Executive consultations. Replies that are one or two weeks late will not be ignored or put in a separate pile. Given the amount of material that has been published today, I hope that the debate will be informed and constructive. I accept that Roseanna Cunningham has not had time to absorb all the information, but she did not propose an alternative to our proposals, nor did she challenge the need for three new prisons.

Roseanna Cunningham asked about commercial confidentiality. On 8 March, the contract for Kilmarnock prison, with very few omissions, was made available on the SPS website. I think that it was the first PFI contract to be published in Scotland. She asked about the figure for Kilmarnock's staff turnover, but that figure is in the public domain—the present figure is 14 per cent, compared to about 30 per cent 18 months ago. She asked for other comparators—I will give an example. A 2001 prison survey showed that prisoners feel safer at Kilmarnock than do prisoners at comparable establishments, and that Kilmarnock is in the mid range for prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. Mandatory drug testing applies as much to Kilmarnock as it does to other prisons—recent figures for positive test results show Kilmarnock at 24 per cent, which is almost identical to comparable establishments such as Edinburgh, which is at 24 per cent, or Perth, which is at 26 per cent. Over 90 per cent of prisoners at Kilmarnock do on average a 35-hour working week, compared to 43 per cent at Edinburgh and 70 per cent at Perth. A significant amount of information is available on Kilmarnock.

I salute, as I have on many occasions, the quality of the work that is done by the staff at Peterhead prison. We are concerned about people, not buildings, but Roseanna Cunningham's question suggested a greater concern for buildings than for people. I defy anyone to say that the buildings at Peterhead are fit for a modern prison estate. The STOP 2000 programme is run in other parts of the prison estate. As I made clear, the intention is that Peterhead's role in dealing with sex offenders will continue to be carried out in the public prison estate.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I will allow questions to run beyond the timetabled 30 minutes because of the extensive list of members who want to ask questions. I emphasise that members should ask questions.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Is the Deputy First Minister aware that his commitment to private prisons is similar to the conversion on the road to Damascus. Has he forgotten that when the draft Criminal Justice Act 1991 (Contracted Out Prisons) Order 1992 was debated and passed on 6 July 1992, he—with Malcolm Chisholm and John Home Robertson—voted against it, as did other leading figures in the present United Kingdom Government, such as Robin Cook, Dr John Reid and George Foulkes? Given the success of Kilmarnock prison, which was confirmed by HM chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, we welcome the minister's astonishing U-turn and the increased use of the private sector.

Will the minister endorse the cardinal principle that, to accommodate the disposals of the courts and children's panels, there must always be sufficient places in prisons for adults and enough places in secure accommodation for children? Will he take into account our view that the dismantling of Peterhead and its sex offenders unit might turn out to be a retrograde step and might lead to an increase in the risk of such prisoners reoffending? If the proposals are merely a cost-cutting exercise, they will not necessarily strengthen the rule of law.

Can the minister tell us what the cost would be of rebuilding Peterhead prison and how that compares with the cost of building a new prison elsewhere? Thirdly, will he acknowledge that there is a continuing need for special units to accommodate the small number of prisoners who disrupt mainstream activities? Finally, will he confirm that the degrading and deplorable practice of slopping out will be ended well before 2005?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

James Douglas-Hamilton has used the 15 months to undertake some worthwhile research to find out how various people voted in 1992. I do not deny that the view I took was as he said. I have had misgivings about the private sector in prisons, but I have been prepared to listen to the arguments and have visited Kilmarnock to see what happens there. It is not unreasonable to judge, on the basis of the evidence, that there is good work in the private and public sectors. It would be a sad day if everyone retreated to the bunkers. The Conservative party has experienced enough conversions over the past two years and should not be giving lessons on that subject today.

James Douglas-Hamilton asked about children in secure accommodation. I understand that that matter falls primarily within Cathy Jamieson's responsibilities. The numbers in relation to that issue are being considered. However, today we are talking about the prison estate for adult male offenders, not children in secure accommodation.

I made it clear that the options for Peterhead were examined closely. The existing building, with its stressed concrete, cannot be adapted. Adaptation would not do the job properly and would not last—the building would have to be refurbished again relatively soon and that would not represent good value for money. We considered the possibility of building on the site at Peterhead but, as I said, there are difficulties with that. Trying to build a substantial new prison there while running the existing prison would be very difficult and would slow down the process.

If we were to build a 700-place prison at Peterhead, that would accommodate considerably more prisoners than are currently accommodated there. It would not only house people on the sex offenders programme; it would have to accept other prisoners, many of whose families would have to travel considerable distances to the north-east of Scotland. Questions would also arise about the future of Craiginches prison in Aberdeen, in the light of the fact that the obvious place for short-term prisoners from the north-east would be the bigger prison at Peterhead. For those reasons, we decided that the future of Peterhead was not an option.

Nevertheless—I have said it before and I say it again—we acknowledge the quality of the work that is carried out at Peterhead. It is also important to recognise that more officers in other parts of the prison estate are trained in the STOP 2000 programme. That expertise must be retained in the public sector so that such valuable programmes can continue to be delivered to sex offenders.

James Douglas-Hamilton's final question was on slopping out. If we go down the road of having three prisons in the private sector, slopping out can be ended in five to six years. If we choose any other option, that time could extend to 11 years. I am determined to end slopping out. There is a contradiction in James Douglas-Hamilton's question. If we keep Peterhead, we will not end slopping out. I have considered all the factors and I believe that what we are proposing today will end slopping out as early as is physically possible.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Although I acknowledge the poor state of the prison estate and the Executive's desire to change it, how can the Minister for Justice expect Parliament to accept that the private sector can build and run prisons as cheaply as he has described this morning? I think that Parliament will agree that that is beyond belief. Can the minister assure Parliament that he will not accept any proposals that are based on a reduction in the terms and conditions of prison officers and other staff? Furthermore, can the minister tell us how the private sector can be trusted to deliver quality rehabilitation programmes if it has little expertise in correctional and rehabilitation work when compared to the Scottish Prison Service?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Pauline McNeill asks how we can justify such a wide difference in costs. The vastness of the difference is one of the reasons for the delay. We wanted to ensure that the figures stood up to robust analysis. I invite Pauline McNeill to read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which gives some of the reasons for the difference.

In getting public sector comparators for the costings, we accepted that the proposal would involve a modern prison in the public sector with some of the operational advantages that that gives. A fair comparison was made between the public sector and the private sector, in terms of buildings. The various documents set out the differences in operational costs, bit by bit. Even if a 20 per cent reduction in operating costs were made—which, as the report says, would lead to significant staff reductions in the public sector—there would still be a considerable difference between the public and private sector options. It is not intended that there should be any transfer of staff from the public sector to the private sector. I have given the undertaking and confirmed the SPS's undertaking that no one in the state sector will be made compulsorily redundant or receive any reduction in cash wages.

Kilmarnock prison delivers a range of rehabilitation programmes. Accreditation is given not only for a programme, but for its delivery on a specific site. When a prison opens, it does not have the track record immediately to get accreditation, but accreditation is now coming through for programmes at Kilmarnock. The SPS management monitors the delivery of those programmes in Kilmarnock and there is close scrutiny of what is being delivered. I emphasise the fact that our commitment to rehabilitation will be a key feature of the contracts that will be let. It is important that, in any prison system—whether in the public or private sector—we stress the importance of work that leads to rehabilitation of offenders.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

It is clear that the Scottish Executive and the Minister for Justice have spent considerable time investigating the differences between the two models before coming to a decision. Nevertheless, the figures must have a sound basis. The decision must be based on best value and £700 million is a huge cost difference. That amount of money could build many new schools and hospitals.

I have two questions for the minister. First, can he tell us why prison numbers are rising and are projected to continue to rise? Secondly, will he elaborate on how slopping out can be ended more quickly under the option that the Executive has chosen?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

George Lyon correctly points out that the difference in cost is such that, if we were to forgo that £700 million, we would have fewer resources to spend on the health service, schools and public transport. The £700 million would not be on a straight line over 25 years, because of the bulge that there would be at an early stage for capital build. That would impact significantly in the years that are not too far ahead.

I have indicated why slopping out would be ended sooner under the private build-and-operate option. The private sector has consistently shown—not only in Kilmarnock, but in England, where eight private prisons have been built and delivered—that it delivers more quickly. The truth of the matter is that, since Shotts prison was built, there has been no public build of a prison in Scotland. The SPS has no design team and to set one up would be costly and time consuming. The resources that are available to the SPS to manage a public sector prison build would mean that it could not deal with more than one prison at a time. It takes considerable time to commission prisons in the public sector. However, in the private sector, a combination of reasons leads to a different time scale. When the contract starts, the prison must be in a position to go ahead immediately.

We are serious about delivering the ending of slopping out and I invite anyone who has a better configuration that would end it earlier to come forward. I would be more than delighted to look at such a proposal. However, I assure Parliament that the issue has been looked at from every angle. We believe that the proposals in the consultation document represent the best and quickest opportunity to fulfil a commitment to end slopping out in Scotland's prisons.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The minister advised that about 670 staff will be affected by the reduction in size of Barlinnie and the closure of Low Moss and Peterhead but that there will be no compulsory redundancies. Can he explain what will happen to those staff? Will they be absorbed into the current estate? Will he also advise us whether the staff in the new prisons will be on a similar rate of pay to that of the current public sector staff? Will the ratio of prison officer staff to prisoners be the same in the new private prisons?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I confirm again that there will be no compulsory redundancies among those 670 staff. However, we are talking about something that will happen over three or four years, so there will be a natural loss in numbers. There will also be redeployment within the existing public sector prison service. Following the closures of Penninghame, Dungavel and Longriggend, it was possible to absorb the staff and there were no compulsory redundancies. The contracts for new prisons have not been tendered, so questions about staff ratios are at an early stage.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Can we have a guarantee on that issue?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Will there be different rates of pay?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I cannot say that there will be the same rates of pay because, as members know, there are different rates of pay in the private sector. [Interruption.]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Order. If Mr Swinney wants to ask a question, he can, like other members, press his button.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

We require of any private prison contract that those in custody are securely maintained and that numerous programmes, including education, are delivered. Those programmes are monitored and the company faces penalties if it does not deliver on those specific requirements. When looking at pay, we compared estimated pay levels in private prisons with comparable existing pay levels in the public sector. Those levels were for important professional jobs, but the public sector pay levels were in the same range as the estimated levels for private prisons.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour

Will there be an opportunity to extend Kilmarnock prison? If so, will that provide an opportunity to renegotiate the current contract, thereby addressing the problems of pay that were raised with the minister when he recently visited the prison? Does the minister agree that lessons have been learned from the first private prison contract, which was for Kilmarnock prison? Does he also agree that a review of that contract, taking staffing levels into account, would address the concerns of many members, including my concerns as the constituency member for Kilmarnock?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I recall that Margaret Jamieson accompanied me on my visit to Kilmarnock prison. On the contract, lessons have been learned and those lessons will be reflected in the contracts for new prisons. It is also possible, within parameters, to change the priorities of the various programmes that are delivered at Kilmarnock. However, it is not possible to renegotiate the contract fundamentally. The SPS does not set the rates of pay at Kilmarnock prison.

The possibility of extending Kilmarnock prison was raised with us late in the day. I do not want to postpone the consultation to examine that possibility in detail. However, if such a proposal is prepared during the consultation period, we would consider it.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I generally welcome the review. I regret the time that it has taken to bring it to Parliament, although I perhaps understand the reasons for that. Given the answers that the justice committees received in the first two years of the parliamentary session, why has the forecast number of prisoners risen so steeply? I seem to recall that, when the budget was being set, the number was considered to be declining, which concerned the committees.

The minister referred to longer prison sentences. One problem that prison staff face is that those sentences are reduced by early release, which does not give staff the time to do rehabilitation work with prisoners. Does the review deal with that?

The minister referred to the quick build of the new private sector prisons. Does he accept that there is also swift commissioning? Does he accept that the commissioning of Kilmarnock prison was highly successful, compared with what happened with Shotts prison in the 1980s, when commissioning was followed by a series of disruptions?

Will the minister re-examine the drugs situation in Kilmarnock prison? Instead of giving out general criticism, perhaps he will praise the Kilmarnock staff, because the higher than average throughput of remand and short-term prisoners creates a situation in which drugs are much harder to deal with.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I will take Phil Gallie's points in turn. Projections of numbers are not accurate predictions or precise science. The further one goes more than two or three years ahead, the more difficult it is to make accurate projections. We are conscious of that. Phil Gallie can study the details, as we published the basis of the statistical projections.

The numbers have increased significantly in the past 12 to 18 months. There is no apparent reason for that, but several points must be considered. There is a higher detection rate now than there has been at any time since the second world war. We are focusing on dealing with serious violent crime and drugs crime. For example, the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency is becoming more effective in targeting big dealers, who tend to get longer prison sentences. Strathclyde police's spotlight initiative for safer streets has been effective in finding people who carry offensive weapons, which is also the kind of crime that attracts higher sentences. Therefore, the number of prisoners who are serving longer sentences is increasing. We must take account of that fact. However, much is being done to promote non-custodial sentences for less serious crimes, for which custody is often inappropriate.

Phil Gallie asked about commissioning. He is right to point out that there were many difficulties in the commissioning of Shotts prison, whereas the period from the signing of the contract to the opening of Kilmarnock prison was relatively quick. The chief inspector of prisons for Scotland said in his 2000 report on Kilmarnock prison:

"Following an initial, turbulent period, HMP Kilmarnock has settled quickly and is enjoying a period of stability, due to a combination of generally sound preparation, co-operation with other parts of the SPS and a great deal of hard work and determination."

Phil Gallie also mentioned drugs. I did not think that I was being critical of Kilmarnock in terms of drugs. I indicated that mandatory testing for drugs finds about the same incidence in Kilmarnock as in other comparable establishments such as Edinburgh and Perth. I gave that figure not to criticise in any way, but to show that the problem is not peculiar to the private sector. In comparable public sector prisons, the figure is much the same. It is important to note that in between 80 and 90 per cent of prisoner receptions in Scotland's prisons there are indications of current drug abuse. The fact that that is driven down to 24 to 25 per cent in prisons is a remarkable achievement of prison officers and the work that is done in Scotland's prisons.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

The statement is important and I sympathise with the Minister for Justice as he tackles the problems, some of which have been neglected for many years.

The statement was about the public interest, public safety and having a modern, efficient and effective penal system in the 21st century. Against those criteria, I will pose two or three questions to the minister. I hope that members can unite around the debate for the next three months, because what we debate and discuss will be crucial to the people of Scotland, not to the politics of the chamber.

One of the difficulties that Jim Wallace faces and that I faced, which is why the report has been delayed, is that the differences between the figures for public and private provision are staggering—£1.3 billion as against £700 million. At a time when the public are concerned about comparisons, I ask the minister to ensure that we revisit the figures over the next three months. I do not think that the Scottish Prison Service is aware of the innovations and changes that are taking place in private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships. We should forget the issue of private versus public and consider the costs. It is important to ensure that the figures are absolutely right.

My second point is about Peterhead prison. That prison has an award-winning sex offenders treatment programme. It provides jobs and has public acceptability in the environs within which it is located. Over the next three months, should we consider the possibility of a new prison there? I do not think that concentrating everything in the central belt makes sense, given that the Parliament serves the wider interests of Scotland. I would welcome comments on that.

I turn finally—thank you slightly for your indulgence, Presiding Officer—to the projection of prison numbers, which is absolutely crucial. I make a plea to the minister about Cornton Vale prison. There are some serious offenders in that prison, but the overwhelming majority are there not because they have stolen or have not paid fines, but because they are involved in drugs. Given the situation in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, does the minister agree that we have to make a powerful push to reduce in the prison population the number of people who could be dealt with outside prison? Does he agree that we should ensure and demand that those who are in prison are there because they have received high tariffs for murder, rape or serious violence? If that issue were tackled over the next three months, I am sure that a positive picture could be presented to the public about difficult circumstances.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I invite no one to take that indulgence as an example to be followed.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I thank Henry McLeish for his questions and for taking a keen interest as First Minister in the work that was being done on the prison estates review.

As I indicated, we commissioned the PricewaterhouseCoopers report because when we saw the huge difference between the figures for the private and public sector provision options, we found those figures barely credible. I ask all members to consider carefully what is said in the consultation document and the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, which shows what factors have been taken into account and where many of the differences in costs arise.

During the consultation period, it is open to anyone to examine the figures; if anyone believes that anything has proceeded on a false premise, I ask them to draw that to our attention. The figures have been pored over so often that I would be greatly interested if anyone were to find serious flaws in them. That is not to say that we are not open to that possibility, which, if it were to be highlighted in the consultation, I would have regard to.

I recall the time when Henry McLeish and I met Alex Salmond in January last year. We gave him an undertaking that we would take into account the importance of the valuable work on sex offending that is carried out at Peterhead. I assure Henry McLeish and the Parliament that that was the subject of considerable discussion between the SPS, Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons and me.

Let me put Peterhead in context. It has targets for 91 prisoners to complete skills programmes, 40 prisoners to complete cognitive skills programmes and 35 prisoners to complete sex offenders programmes. Sex offenders programmes are being carried out at Barlinnie prison and in a modified form at the young offenders institution at Polmont. It is important to point out that those programmes are not being delivered solely at Peterhead. In the light of what the chief inspector of prisons said to me, which is partly what led me to make the statement today, the work that Peterhead plays in the sex offenders programme will continue in the public sector. I am happy to reiterate that.

Henry McLeish has a long-standing interest in Cornton Vale and the plight of women offenders. He is absolutely right to point out how many of them are in prison because of drug misuse. The estates review does not examine the women's prison at Cornton Vale, but I remind Henry McLeish that the report by the ministerial group on women offending, "A Better Way", was published earlier this month. It suggests a three-stage approach to tackling women's offending, focusing on prevention and early intervention, providing a framework of community disposals and working with women in Cornton Vale to address the problems of addiction and offending behaviour. Much is going on to tackle the important issue of women offenders and to try to treat the real problems, rather than relying on incarceration.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am beginning to get pleading notes and there are a lot of members on the list of those who wish to speak. I ask members to make their questions snappy.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I will press the minister on the question of alternatives to custody. Will he assure us that adequate resources will be made available for providing services and that any obstacles that are alleged to discourage sheriffs from putting people into alternatives to custody will be addressed seriously? Will he assure us that whatever we can do legally to make use of such alternatives will be encouraged? From the information that I have seen, short sentences seem to be a total waste of time, if not harmful.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I give Donald Gorrie the assurance that he seeks. We set considerable store by the development and resourcing of alternatives to custody. The fact that we will roll out electronic tagging throughout Scotland, that we have drug treatment and testing orders and that we have established drug courts in Glasgow, which we will extend, is indicative of that. The criminal justice bill, which is likely to be published next week, will also address a number of ways in which non-custodial sentences can be implemented. The budget for criminal justice social work has been increasing—it is funded 100 per cent by the Scottish Executive.

The important point to bear in mind is that the nature of short sentences—I accept that some people would be better off outside prison—tends to increase the number of receptions in prison. There are some 35,000 receptions a year—albeit that the current daily population is in the range of 6,200. A substantial reduction in the number of custodial sentences would be needed to impact on the daily population.

The base load—if we want to call it that—is increasingly made up of prisoners who are serving longer sentences for more serious crimes. I assure Donald Gorrie that our commitment to securing tough but worthwhile alternatives to custody is as strong today as it has ever been.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I thank Henry McLeish warmly for his support for Peterhead prison. Will the minister take account of that support? As it is based on a full understanding of all the issues, beyond what has been published today, he should give considerable weight to it.

Does the minister recall the answer to written question S1W-17717 which showed that the lowest figure for sickness per head among staff in the SPS is at Peterhead? Does he recall the answer to written question S1W-17716 which showed that the highest build-up of time off in lieu is among staff at Peterhead? Does he accept that those two answers show the commitment of staff at Peterhead?

Does the minister recall the answer to written question S1W-17669 which shows that Peterhead has the lowest level of self-harm in the SPS? Does he recall the answer to written question S1W-19663 which shows that there have been no reports of complaints from prison visiting committees about the treatment of sex offenders in the SPS? Is he aware that prisoners' families feel safe visiting Peterhead, whereas elsewhere they are abused and attacked?

Is the minister aware of the answer to written question S1W-12540 which showed that the price of keeping a prisoner in Kilmarnock was £23,000? Is he aware that the cost per prisoner at Peterhead has been shrinking over the past few years and that, after rebuild, it would be £19,800, whereas the SPS target continues to rise year on year and is £32,800 for this year?

Is the minister aware that more than 50 per cent of prisoners have offended against their own families and that that is an adequate justification for keeping prisoners away from their families?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Make this the last question please, Mr Stevenson.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

During the three years when the STOP 2000 programme would be disrupted by any move from Peterhead, will the minister meet the families of every child who is molested, every woman who is raped or any victim of any other sexual offence that happens as a result of the wrecking of the rehabilitation programme that would be caused by the closure of Peterhead prison and the transfer of that programme elsewhere?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I acknowledge that Stewart Stevenson has an important constituency interest and that it is proper that he should state the case for his constituency as best he can. However, I do not think that he did so in that contribution; he overstated the case considerably. I have written to him to offer to meet him to discuss the matter in greater detail.

I am aware of the written answers to which he referred because I answered most if not all of the questions. On more than one occasion today, let alone in the past, I have paid tribute to the valuable work that the staff at Peterhead do. I do not retract one iota of what I have said in their praise.

I have attempted to show that we examined the options for maintaining a prison at Peterhead, but that we did not believe that those options could be sustained for a number of reasons. I do not want to repeat what I have said. The reasons are set out in the consultation document and I have explained them at some length.

Stewart Stevenson said that there may have been family involvement in 50 per cent of crimes. That means that, in 50 per cent of cases, there is no family involvement. In those 50 per cent of cases, the families were not the ones who were sentenced to prison. Although that is by no means the determining factor, it is a factor in our decisions.

I assure the Parliament that the issue of Peterhead was thoroughly pored over. We came to conclusions, which are set out in the consultation documents. Stewart Stevenson and others from the north-east can make their representations, which will, of course, be considered. However, I am satisfied after exhaustive consideration that it is possible to deliver the STOP 2000 programme in other parts of the SPS. Indeed, that is already being done. It will continue to be delivered in the public sector of the prison service.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

I welcome the assurances that I understand have been given on staff protection following any closure. The minister's statement necessarily touched on prisoner rehabilitation. Does the minister acknowledge the considerable forbearance of my constituents in Bishopbriggs and their acceptance of the remand and short-term prison facility at Low Moss? Will the minister assure me that he will consider not only the whole prison estate but the wider public estate, including any opportunities for land swap, not least because of the challenges that might arise on planning permission for any early build?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I welcome what Brian Fitzpatrick said, not least his mention of rehabilitation. I know his constituency interest in Low Moss. As with Stewart Stevenson, I have offered to meet Brian Fitzpatrick to discuss the issues in greater detail.

I indicated in my statement that Low Moss is a possible candidate site for a new prison. However, I am also well aware that planning permission would be required. Those issues can be considered in far greater detail in the weeks and months ahead. I look forward to discussing them with Brian Fitzpatrick.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

The minister said in his statement that to build three new prisons through the private sector would save the public purse some £700 million. He also said that half of the sex offender programmes were being run outside Peterhead.

Does considering the effect of closure on the economy of Peterhead not change the way the minister does his calculations? He mentioned costs and savings to the public purse. What will be the cost of closing Peterhead, which will be the third Government-induced hit on the Peterhead economy? The first was the running-down of RAF Buchan, then there was the fallout of the decommissioning of fishing vessels and now we have the closure of Peterhead.

There will be a cost to the public purse. Has the minister considered taking the other sex offenders, putting them with those who are in Peterhead and creating a new centre of excellence in Peterhead, which might be more effective?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Even if we did so and built a new prison of 700 places, some short-term prisoners, possibly from far away from the north-east, would almost inevitably have to be housed in Peterhead. The solution is not as simple as putting every sex offender in Scotland in Peterhead.

The economic impact on Peterhead was, of course, raised and considered in the course of our deliberations. Aberdeenshire Council, as Mr Davidson is no doubt aware, is already doing work on the economic impact of Peterhead on the local community, not only in staffing but in resourcing various provisions for the prison. I have given a clear steer to the SPS to co-operate fully with that study. I fully expect that Wendy Alexander's enterprise and lifelong learning department will engage with Aberdeenshire Council in examining any economic impact of the decision on Peterhead and the surrounding area.

I remind Mr Davidson that the closure is likely to be phased and is likely to take three to four years to come to pass. That time can go quickly, but we are conscious of the impact and already want to engage in addressing it with the local authority in particular.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

The minister is no doubt aware that there are real concerns about the involvement of the private sector in the SPS. Will he therefore confirm that the public sector will remain the main provider of prison services in Scotland? Will he also confirm that the best practice that has already been developed at public sector establishments such as Shotts in my constituency will be adopted in any new establishments? And will he confirm that any staff who choose to transfer to new establishments will do so with their rights, terms and conditions fully protected?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I confirm that the public sector of the Prison Service will retain the lead. About two thirds of prisoners will still be held in custody in public sector prisons. Members should not overlook, as perhaps they have done so far in their responses to my statement, that I also announced that 1,100—that is one third—of the places that we need would be provided by the public sector.

I was at HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont to see a £17-million house block that has been put up there. At Edinburgh prison, £18 million is being invested in a house block. I have also announced a new house block for Barlinnie. In addition to that, there will be work on other prisons. I am aware that Perth prison requires refurbishment, as does the YOI at Glenochil.

I can give Karen Whitefield the reassurance that there will be a substantial investment in the public sector. Where there are examples of good practice in the public sector, we want to spread that. I have been to Shotts prison and was very impressed by what I saw there, not least by its employment programme. Whether that good practice comes from the public sector or the private sector, we are determined to improve the quality of the work done. Great strides forward have been taken in recent years, but we can always do better.

It is not anticipated that there would be a transfer of staff from the public sector to the private sector, and I can assure Karen Whitefield that there will be no compulsory redundancies among public sector staff as a result of these measures and no cuts in their cash pay.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Is the minister aware that, in evidence given to the Justice 1 Committee on Peterhead prison—which we are visiting again on Monday—it was plain to all that the success of the sex offenders programme was to do with the culture in the prison and with the dedication and experience of the 240 staff, who are now extremely worried people? It was made plain to us by a senior academic that that programme would not transfer elsewhere.

The minister referred to the governor of Barlinnie. In evidence to us, he said that to run a sex offenders unit in Barlinnie would be like running a prison within a prison and would be extremely difficult. Why does the delivery of what is an excellent programme seem to count as nothing against bricks and mortar? If a new prison for 700 is to be built, does that mean that the 250 sex offenders will be mixed with other prisoners, or does the minister propose to do what the governor of Barlinnie describes as almost impossible?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I am aware that there are arguments for monocultural, homogeneous prisons; I am also aware that they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, universally accepted. That is an issue. We will obviously think very carefully about where the core work now done at Peterhead is transferred.

I cannot accept that that work can be done only at Peterhead. To date, 39 sex offenders have completed the STOP 2000 programme, 33 of them at Peterhead and six at Barlinnie. There are a further 43 offenders at Peterhead who are undertaking the programme, and seven at Barlinnie; 10 young offenders are on an adapted course at Polmont. Eight establishments have staff available to deliver the programme. Of those, nine officers are based at Peterhead, with 42 staff, including 16 officers, based at the seven establishments in the central belt. There are officers who are already trained to deal with the programme and who are already in the SPS but not based at Peterhead.

While I have every respect and praise for the dedication of the officers at Peterhead, I do not think that we should demean the work done by prison officers in dealing with sex offenders in other parts of the public prison estate. I met some of them in Polmont on Monday, and they are doing a good job. It would be regrettable if the message that came out of the Parliament was that their contribution is not valued too.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

It is no secret that Labour members, and I am sure others, are cautious about the involvement of the private sector in the Prison Service. Some, like me, would go a bit further, and suggest that there is a moral argument against such involvement, which requires to be considered alongside that of value for money.

Is the minister satisfied that the experience of Kilmarnock prison to date shows the correct way forward? Can he assure me and other members that the vital work of rehabilitating prisoners prior to their release, which is as key an ingredient of imprisonment as pure containment, will not be compromised by the Executive's proposals? How exactly will the Executive ensure that rehabilitation, and not simply containment or indeed profit, will be the main priority?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I certainly understand Scott Barrie's concerns about and approach to the use of private prisons. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton pointed out, I voted against them myself in the House of Commons in 1992. I hope that I am not totally misrepresenting the former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Andrew McLellan, in saying that, after his visit to Kilmarnock prison, he found that his prejudices were not confirmed. I found that my prejudices were not confirmed when I went to Kilmarnock.

I recognise and treat with great respect the anxiety and caution that is felt among Labour and other members. I would like to think that some of what motivates that support for public services is the same motivation that makes us want better investment in the health service, in schools and in public transport. Quite frankly, if we were to go down the public-build, public-operate road for prisons, there would be significantly fewer resources for investment in those other important public services.

Scott Barrie is absolutely right to press the point about rehabilitation. I consider that to be one of the key functions and objectives of the prison system. It is therefore important that that takes place in the private sector, as it does in the public sector. One way in which we can help deliver rehabilitation in the private sector is by stipulating in the contracts what targets have to be met. It is not only a matter of setting those rehabilitation targets—such targets are very closely monitored. I can assure members, and Scott Barrie in particular, that when those contracts come to be drawn up, the issue of rehabilitation programmes will be carefully examined. We want to carry through our commitment to rehabilitation at that time.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Could the Deputy First Minister give the Parliament a flavour of the criteria that will be used for the selection of sites for the new prisons? Unlike Peterhead, they are unlikely to be greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm by the local communities next to which they are sited. Can he assure us about the consultation that will take place?

On the public-private dispute, can the minister give the Parliament a flavour of the extent to which the difference between the two sets of figures that he has quoted—which have been regarded, to use Henry McLeish's word, as staggering—is endemic to private and public provision respectively? To what extent might the different practices that have developed be regarded as transferable between the two sectors?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

On the selection of sites, I have already indicated that Low Moss may well be a candidate site. The Prison Service has been looking for other sites. Be they public build or private build, sites are required. For obvious reasons, we do not wish potential developers to get wind of where the sites are and to step in ahead and make the public purse pay a high premium. I do not have the information about what sites have been considered. From what I have said, somewhere in central Scotland would, for obvious reasons, appear to be the likely place. Full planning procedures will, of course, apply. The local community will have adequate opportunity to make their case known at the planning stage.

On the matter of comparisons, I draw the attention of Robert Brown and the Parliament to paragraph 64 onward in the consultation document. It gives a number of reasons for the cost differences between the various options. On running costs, it is fair to say that some of the difference between the figures has been because of practices that have developed over the years. The Parliament will remember that the changing of attendance patterns last year was not easily achieved. We allowed for making a reduction of some 20 per cent and, even then, the costs were considerably different.

I commend to members a careful read of the consultation document and of the PricewaterhouseCoopers review. Frankly, I did find the difference between the figures to be staggering, as Henry McLeish said. One of the reasons why this has taken so long is that we wanted the figures to be gone over again, to ensure that they stood up. I believe that they do stand up, and the reasons for them are set out in some detail in the consultation document.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I think that the Deputy First Minister's statement has delivered a blow to the north-east of Scotland, to the community of Peterhead, to prison staff and to the justice system itself. As someone who represents the town of Peterhead as a regional list member and as someone who lived there for a number of years, I can tell the minister that the prison plays an enormous role in the local community. As Henry McLeish and others have said, that must be taken into account.

Has the Deputy First Minister spoken to or consulted any authority in Scotland, apart from his own civil servants, that has indicated support for closing Peterhead prison? Can the Deputy First Minister today give the chamber an assurance that the consultation to be carried out over the next three months will be genuine, and that if the case for retaining Peterhead prison remains overwhelming, he will give a guarantee to save it?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

First, I would like to thank Richard Lochhead for the moderate, but effective, way in which he advanced the case for Peterhead. I have given a number of the reasons behind the decision to close Peterhead. I do not know how often I can do this, but I repeat that nothing that I have said today detracts from what has been achieved at Peterhead. However, we do not believe that it is the only place where that work can be done.

Obviously, evidence and contributions that we receive during the consultation will be considered. However, I want to make it clear that our proposal has not been made lightly. The issue has been considered with very great care indeed. I believe that what we have proposed today is far from being damaging, as Richard Lochhead says it is, to the Scottish criminal justice system. By ensuring that we have a modern prison estate, we can end slopping out and we can promote effective rehabilitation of offenders in the kind of prison environment that is conducive to that, rather than in outmoded Victorian buildings. That will be a positive contribution to the development of the Scottish criminal justice system.

Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour

The Deputy First Minister has already answered a question on sites. He did not mention specific sites in his statement, but I am sure that he is aware that various rumours have circulated in the past year concerning potential sites—particularly in the central belt and, indeed, in my constituency of Glasgow Rutherglen. Notwithstanding the minister's comments about commercial confidentiality, will he tell me whether it will be possible to include in the consultation process an opportunity for communities in which sites have been identified to play a part?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I do not know which sites have been considered; I deliberately sought not to find out so that, if challenged about a particular site, I could quite genuinely say that I did not know. It would not be helpful if one were to say that there was to be a site in, for example, Cambuslang or Rutherglen. Developers might rush out to try and buy it before the Prison Service got in. I am certainly aware of rumours, but I do not know whether they are correct. Until sites are purchased, it is not in the public interest to identify them.

I assure Janis Hughes that, when it comes to the planning process, we will ensure that there is adequate opportunity for the local community to be engaged and to make its views known. I acknowledge the sensitivity that, for obvious reasons, surrounds any proposal to build a prison in any particular area. That is why the planning process will be so important.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

We are all having great difficulty with the minister's figures. I have not had the benefit of reading the report, but I wonder whether the minister is costing screwdrivers and hammers at 90 quid a throw and wheelbarrows at the cost of a brand-new Jaguar.

The minister has referred to the unit at Peterhead and to the treatment that is taking place in other prisons in Scotland. However, the point that many people want the minister to listen to concerns the uniqueness of the unit at Peterhead and the work that is done there in regard to re-offending. What impact will there be on that work if the unit at Peterhead is done away with? I do not think that anyone believes that the unit can be replaced anywhere else. Given that it has already taken 10 years to get the world-renowned unit in place and working well at Peterhead, how and when could it be re-established elsewhere in Scotland?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I indicated that the closure of Peterhead would take some three or four years, which will allow a considerable time to ensure that alternative provision in the public sector of the Prison Service is made available and is properly established. We have to ensure that officers other than those at Peterhead are delivering that work.

On the first part of Gil Paterson's question, we asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to go over the figures because I wanted to ensure that the debate took place on the basis of comparing apples with apples. That is why net present value has been used as the basis of comparison. As Gil Paterson will recognise, cash flow would differ if everything were done in the public sector. There would be an early bulge in the public sector route because of the capital needed to build a prison, whereas the money is spread more evenly if a fee is paid to a private contractor. Net present value is the Treasury-approved and most widely accepted way to ensure that there is a fair and proper comparison between the two options.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

When the state imprisons its citizens, should it not keep direct responsibility for them? Could the minister outline how that moral responsibility is maintained under his proposals?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

It may not be widely known, but the Scottish Prison Service has a senior officer—of the rank of a governor—in place at Kilmarnock. He has two important functions: to monitor whether Kilmarnock prison is delivering according to the targets that have been set and to perform disciplinary and other statutory functions in relation to prisons. Disciplinary action taken against prisoners in Kilmarnock is carried out by the public Prison Service rather than by the contractors.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

I listened to the response that the minister gave in relation to Cornton Vale and I understand that that will be dealt with separately. However, I am conscious of the great pressures on the system when prisoner numbers increase. Can the minister tell us when we will have greater detail on alternative strategies such as the time-out centre? What is the projection for the reduction in prisoner numbers? When can the minister give me that information?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I will elaborate on what I said earlier about female prisoners. It is our intention to create time-out and independent-living centres, which are far more appropriate for dealing with many women offenders, whose problems are often drug related, rather than being those that require custodial sentences. Richard Simpson tells me that, by the end of the year, we will be in a position to see how that can be developed.

The main prisoner population projections do not distinguish female prisoners, because the total number of female prisoners is relatively small. However, I accept that, for various reasons, the number of women in prison has been increasing. There are several women in our prisons who have been convicted of far more serious offences and alternatives to custody are not always appropriate. I should also point out that the number of fine defaulters in prison has decreased. I assure Sylvia Jackson that Richard Simpson and I accord considerable priority to the issue of female prisoners. The time-out and independent-living centres are certainly part of our programme.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

In the light of the concern expressed regarding the future of Peterhead prison, does the minister accept that it might help if he were to detail how the costs of a new-build prison at Peterhead would be more expensive than elsewhere? That seems a likely proposition because of the location, but it would help if we were to have the figures in writing.

The minister neglected—inadvertently, I am sure—to answer Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's question about segregation units, which are necessary for prisoners who disrupt the system. Will the minister confirm that the requirement for such units has been included in future planning?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

The prison estates review has not gone into the detailed planning of individual prisons. In most prisons—I think that I am safe to say all prisons—there are units where people can be segregated if operational needs require that to happen. I imagine that the situation would be no different in any prisons that it is proposed would be built. I will certainly undertake to write to Bill Aitken—and publish the letter in the Scottish Parliament information centre—about the particular build and refurbishment options that we considered for Peterhead prison.

I cannot swear blind that we have all the particulars down to pounds and pence. I have tried to indicate that there are other considerations. Not least is the fact that if a 700-place prison was to be built in Peterhead, there would be issues about how that prison would relate with the existing one, which would have to be taken down. It might also mean that there would be prisoners from the north-east who would have to be housed in Peterhead. That raises questions about Craiginches.

The question is not solely one of money, but a refurbishment of Peterhead would be a sticking-plaster solution, if I can put it as bluntly as that. I do not believe that that would represent proper value for money.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Minister, at this stage we have passed the time when I had intended to close the meeting. There are three members remaining who have sat for an hour and a half. It has been a marathon session for them as well as you. Are you willing to take the further questions?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. You have taken a wise decision to extend the debate because of the interest in the statement.

I have two questions for the Deputy First Minister. The first question is about location. I was concerned about the response to Janis Hughes's question about the involvement of communities in the decision-making process. It is a problem if communities are not given the opportunity to contribute to that process until after sites have been purchased. Sites will already have been purchased by the SPS and the ultimate arbiters on the planning process will be the Executive. Can the minister reassure me that any consultation on locations will be meaningful, as expansive as necessary and not restricted to the normal planning process?

Secondly, I reiterate members' concerns about the question of the public-private mix. As the minister has suggested, I will read the document with great care over the forthcoming months. For there to be such a variance between the figures for public and private provision, some assumptions must have been made about levels of pay in private prisons and about levels of staffing compared to prisoners. Will the minister indicate what those assumptions are?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

On the choice of sites, I cannot say much more than I have already said. The purpose of the consultation is not to consider specific sites for new prisons, for the reasons that I have already indicated. It would not be good news for the public purse if someone could step in and purchase a site and then hold the public sector over a barrel.

I emphasise that the planning process is not a rubber-stamping process. It ought not to be and it will not be. If planning permission is not granted for a site that has been purchased, other sites will have to be found. That is one of the reasons why I say that the ending of slopping out might take five to six years. One of the factors in that is the length of time it will take to get planning permission. I assure Bristow Muldoon that the SPS's approach is that the planning process is a genuine exercise and nothing is taken for granted.

Bristow Muldoon also asked about the private sector and what assumptions were made in examining the issue. Private sector figures are available, not just from Kilmarnock prison but from the existing private prisons in England that we considered. The costings of the private sector are therefore reasonably well established. That comes through in the material that has been published today.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I thank the Deputy First Minister for taking extra questions.

I return to the issue of Low Moss prison. On a few occasions, the minister said that Low Moss prison was nearing the end of its useful life. He then said it would close as soon as possible. Will the minister define "as soon as possible", given that the time scales for a new build he had been talking about range from five to 11 years? If Low Moss prison is going to be closed before a new build is produced, can the minister tell us where prisoners and staff will go in the interim? Is the minister aware that there are already plans for a new build on the site at Low Moss and that the project is one step ahead of most others?

Finally, I ask the minister to extend to me, as a West of Scotland MSP who also has a constituency interest in the future of Low Moss prison, the courtesy of the invitation that he gave to Brian Fitzpatrick.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

We would be happy to have a conversation on that point. With regard to Low Moss, I said that it would close as soon as possible. As we have seen, there are some factors about which we cannot be specific, not least the ones that I have just explained to Bristow Muldoon. Prisoners from Low Moss will have to be transferred elsewhere before we can close Low Moss. That will require a lot of reconfiguration, and possibly also one of the new prisons to be built.

Low Moss would be a candidate for closure before Peterhead, because the Low Moss site is a potential site for a new prison, but it would have to be cleared before a new prison could be built on it. I regret that I cannot be as definite as Fiona McLeod would like me to be. A lot of logistical arrangements will have to be made, for example, with regard to when new house blocks at Barlinnie will be brought on stream. There are a number of different configurations. Saying that Low Moss will close as soon as possible is the best I can do at the moment.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Finally, I call Maureen Macmillan.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Last, but not least, I hope.

I wish to ask the Deputy First Minister about local prisons. Does he agree that the projected rise in the prison population will affect local prisons that are away from the central belt, such as Inverness, which is the smallest prison in Scotland but which serves the Highlands and Islands courts? How will the building of new prisons in the central belt relieve the pressure on Inverness prison in future, given that it is an old building on a restricted site? Does the minister have any plans to create more capacity at local prisons such as Inverness prison?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I think that I am right in saying that it would be difficult to increase the capacity at Inverness because of its location and layout. Equally, it would be wrong to build a 700-place prison in the Highlands and Islands. I assure Maureen Macmillan that the future of Porterfield prison in Inverness is secure. It provides an important local prison for the Highlands and Islands. Off the top of my head, I do not know if it is one of the candidates for refurbishment. It is a good and effective prison, but I do not know if there is any scope to extend it.

Meeting suspended until 14:30.

On resuming—