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Column 36I have a copy of the 1992 report with me. Security is mentioned twice on page 2 alone. Even more significantly, page 32 of the report contains specific recommendations, addressed to the Secretary of State, about the need for him to ensure that the searching of all visitors to the prison was tightened. The report states:
"In our opinion, all visitors to prisons should be searched as a routine."
As a failure to search visitors properly was one of the major security lapses identified in the Woodcock report after the IRA prisoners had escaped, how on earth could the Secretary of State claim in the House on 19 December that the board of visitors report contained
"no reference to security whatsoever."--[ Official Report , 19 December 1994; Vol. 25l, c. l403.]
when demonstrably it contained a series of recommendations about security?
As for the 1993 report, the Secretary of State again implied in his earlier response to me that the security concerns in the 1993 report were only about the amount of possessions in cells and that those concerns had been dealt with by an addendum from the board of visitors submitted to him a few months later.
I have a copy of the addendum and the 1993 report here. The report contains a catalogue of complaints about security, not just about possessions in cells. It includes a charge that prison staff were being sent out of the prison on shopping trips not just to purchase "Cromer crabs, fresh salmon and budgie seeds"
but, most alarmingly of all, to purchase "special hobby tools". We all know to what use the hobby tools were put in the hobby room by the IRA prisoners. The addendum, which I have seen, was just two pages long, and it did not deal with the majority of those security complaints, as Mrs. Paddy Seligman, then chairman of the board of visitors who wrote those reports, has made crystal clear in a letter that she wrote to the Secretary of State a week ago.
Does not the Secretary of State recognise that, whatever his intentions may have been when he made those statements on 19 December, many right hon. and hon. Members will have been wholly misled by what he said about the contents of those reports, and that he now owes the House an apology and an explanation of his lack of candour? Thirdly, does the Secretary of State deny that he has continued to refuse to accept proper responsibility for this saga of ineptitude? Everyone except the right hon. and learned Gentleman is responsible for what has occurred. This Home Secretary is the "Not me, guv" Home Secretary.
Fourthly, since the breakdown in security at Parkhurst, as Judge Tumim made clear, is at least as grave as that at Whitemoor, on any scale, why has the Secretary of State continued to refuse to establish a wholly separate and fully independent inquiry into Parkhurst, as he did within 24 hours at Whitemoor? Does not he recognise that it was wholly inappropriate to put the director of security, Mr. Richard Tilt, in charge of the investigation, as any thorough examination by Mr. Tilt would have to involve the conduct of his immediate superior, Mr. Derek Lewis, the Director General of the Prison Service, and of the Secretary of State himself? In asking Mr. Tilt to conduct the investigation, he was effectively making the Prison Service judge and jury in its own cause.
Column 37Will the Home Secretary acknowledge also that the Learmont inquiry, which he announced on 19 December and which we supported, was a general one into the physical security of prisons throughout the country and that it cannot be a separate, free-standing inquiry? Indeed, I note that the Secretary of State was very careful not to suggest that the Learmont inquiry into general physical security would be an independent inquiry into events and into his responsibility at Parkhurst. Instead, he has very carefully not used the words "an independent, separate inquiry", but an "independent assessment of events"-- a very different kettle of fish.
Moreover, confidence in that independent assessment of events cannot but be undermined by the precipitate decision of the Secretary of State to seek out and, in effect, discipline the prison governor and six staff before a proper independent investigation has taken place. Does not the Secretary of State's refusal to set up a fully independent inquiry show that he has much to hide, and speak volumes about his own culpability?
Fifthly, does the Secretary of State accept that policy decisions made by Ministers have a direct bearing on the crisis of confidence that Judge Tumim, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, now says is overwhelming the Prison Service? Why does not he recognise that his policy of privatisation and of the market testing of the Prison Service is wholly wrong in principle and has sapped the morale of the service? As the general secretary of the Prison Governors Association said at the weekend,
"month to month changes in government policy"
are adding enormously to the burden and stress of all those involved in running the service.
Does not the Secretary of State now recognise that the so-called clear distinction that he has made between policy and operations in the Prison Service has no foundation whatever in reality and that, by maintaining that fiction, he continues only to evade his own responsibility? Did not the Director General of the Prison Service let the cat out of the bag at the Prison Service conference last year? He said that
"if it's difficult it's classified as operational."
Is not another example of the use that the Home Secretary has made of that operational device the fact that he sought to rely on the verdict of his subordinate, Mr. Richard Tilt, to escape any responsibility for the events and circumstances surrounding the Parkhurst escape?
Will the Home Secretary now accept that he must take three steps to restore confidence in the prison system? First, he must abandon market testing and privatisation of the service--that is what the former Conservative Prime Minister called for at the weekend. Secondly, he should sit down with governors and prison officers to agree a programme for restoring morale and good order in the Prison Service. Thirdly, he must face his responsibilities for the good management of the service as well as for its policy, and make himself properly answerable to the House.
Does not the whole of the Home Secretary's statement serve only to underline what everyone in the country now knows--that the conduct of his office is characterised by consistent evasion of responsibility, exceeded only by his readiness to scapegoat others? His failure properly to direct and manage the Prison Service and to keep dangerous criminals under lock and key represents a
Column 38failure in one of the most basic duties of any Government--to protect the safety and security of the public.
Mr. Howard: Of course, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the events; no one takes such matters more seriously than I do. I am also grateful to him for his tributes to the work of the police and of the Prison Service.
I shall deal with each of the hon. Gentleman's criticisms in the order in which he made them. I do not accept for one moment the allegation, in which there is no substance, that I have failed to act on security warnings. I have set out and clearly explained the action that I took when I received the warning from Judge Tumim. Furthermore, the Tilt report does not conclude that the matters identified by Judge Tumim, important though they are, were in any way related to the escape from Parkhurst. I have also explained clearly the action taken on the installation of geophones. While building work, itself related to security, is going on, it does not make sense to install geophones because they cannot work effectively in those circumstances.
It is a measure of the desperation of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that he has sought to reopen matters related to Whitemoor. I do not accept for one moment the construction that he put on the answers that I gave on that subject. Moreover, it was open to all those concerned with the board of visitors and its reports to put their concerns to Sir John Woodcock in the context of his inquiry into what happened at Whitemoor. Presumably the matters in question were put to him.
No one has suggested that Sir John's report pulled any punches, and if he had thought that there was any significance in what appeared in the reports by the board of visitors, he would have referred to them in that context in his report, but there is no such reference. Of course, I intend to ask Sir John Woodcock and Sir John Learmont to inquire fully into what happened at Parkhurst, and theirs will be a fully independent inquiry. Nothing will be ruled out of their purview, and they will not be constrained in any way. They are clearly entitled to consider to what extent, if any, questions of policy contributed to what happened at Parkhurst, and they are free to come to any conclusion that they think appropriate and desirable. I have stated that I intend to publish the findings, and there is no question of any kind of cover-up.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman sought to blame what has happened on market testing. To suggest that market testing can in some way explain, condone or excuse the failure to count prisoners out of the gym and into the wing, to ensure that cameras are properly pointed or to make sure that the duty governor is on duty at the relevant time, is to demean our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of that suggestion, and withdraw it.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight): May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for keeping me informed of events as they unfolded on the Isle of Wight within hours of the breakout occurring? Will he confirm to the House and reassure the people of the Isle of Wight that when he
Column 39receives the full report, the safety of the people on the island will be paramount in his mind? Will he join me in congratulating Colin Jones, who spotted the prisoners on the run, and the chief constable and his men on the successful recapture? Does he consider that closed visits at prisons would obviate the necessity of searching visitors?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend look again at the fact that the British Medical Association refused to allow doctors to perform internal searches of prisoners, as they might prevent highly dangerous drugs from getting into prisons and compromising security? Does he agree that to call for his resignation every time a villain manages to perpetrate a crime against law and order is a villain's charter, and that it is those on the Opposition Front Bench who are the real enemies of law and order?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a close interest in security matters in relation to prisons in his constituency on the Isle of Wight since he was elected to the House. I can certainly assure him that the safety of the islanders will be paramount in my mind when it comes to addressing the conclusions of the various reports. My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to those who played a part in bringing those who escaped from Parkhurst back into custody.
I can tell my hon. Friend specifically that I have asked Sir John Learmont to look into the possibility of introducing closed visits as a matter of urgency. No stone will be left unturned in restoring security to our prisons.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): When did the director general assure the Home Secretary that all Judge Tumim's recommendations relating to security at Parkhurst had been implemented, and was that true? Does the Home Secretary at least concede that the policy of delegating the operation of prisons to the director general has not worked? Does not he ask himself why he must stand at the Dispatch Box displaying dismay and producing more rhetoric? There has been a great deal of policy and many innovations, but there is no proper control of security at the prisons. Is not that something for which he must take responsibility?
Mr. Howard: The right hon. Gentleman has distinguished himself in the past few days by popping up on just about every television programme acting as the mouthpiece of John Bartell. When he has a bit more experience in those matters, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that parroting the allegations made by Mr. Bartell is not a responsible way of addressing the issues involved.
I shall deal with both the right hon. Gentleman's questions in turn. I was given the assurances from the director general to which I referred within days of receiving the information from Judge Tumim. I looked at the matter, and I asked for those assurances. I raised questions on the assurances, and I was given them on the basis of what the director general had been told by the governor. Mr. Tilt is at present addressing in detail the question of the extent to which all those matters had in fact been implemented.
With regard to operational policy, there has always been a division between policy matters and operational matters. That has existed not only since the introduction of agencies--it has been recognised for years, and indeed
Column 40for generations. I really do not see--the right hon. Gentleman ought to reflect on this--how, whatever structure or framework is in place, one can avoid a sensible distinction between policy and operational matters.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what happened at Everthorpe was provoked by a deliberate crackdown by the governor, under the instructions of my right hon. and learned Friend and his Department, on many abuses within the prison, which related not only to drugs but to prisoners barricading themselves into their cells and not being properly supervised? Would not it be a sad day if a Home Secretary of any party was forced to resign from office because prisoners rioted in the way that we saw at Everthorpe in response to a proper crackdown prompted by public concern about the conditions in our gaols?
Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I note that the hon. Member for Blackburn also agrees. We do not yet know the full range of causes of events at Everthorpe, but it is reasonably clear that the crackdown on drugs was a prominent one. It is absolutely essential that that policy continues to be implemented. The misuse of drugs in our prisons is a disgrace. Effective action has to be taken to deal with it. Governors who take that action deserve not only my full support but the support of everyone in the House.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): As the Home Secretary says that he is accountable to the House of Commons only for policy matters and has carefully defined as not policy matters the lamentable series of events that he has described today, and as the arrogant and incompetent Mr. Derek Lewis, whom no fish and chip shop or whelk stall would accept behind its counter, has proclaimed on the radio the success of his regime, blamed everyone else in sight and found a scapegoat in the governor of Parkhurst, who is accountable to the House of Commons for the events that the Home Secretary has described? Where does the buck stop?
uncharacteristically misunderstood the position. I am accountable to Parliament for the Prison Service. I am accountable to Parliament for all matters that are relevant to the Prison Service. I am responsible to Parliament for policy. The director general, according to the framework document, is responsible for operational matters. That is the distinction, but I am accountable to Parliament for the Prison Service generally. Since the director general became head of the agency, a great deal of progress has been made, not least in reducing the number of escapes, which has fallen by about a third during his period of office. That is an important matter to be taken into account. The Prison Service is clearly going through a difficult time. The director general is the best person to take it through that difficult time.
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, as someone who has had responsibility for prisons in the past, I understand the difficulties and problems that arise from that responsibility? Along with a substantial number of people outside the House as well as people on the Benches here, I urge him to continue his policies in the most resolute way. It is absolutely essential for the security and safety of both the prisoners and the general public that we
Column 41have a Home Secretary who believes that he must pursue the policies that he is pursuing as firmly as my right hon. and learned Friend has shown that he is determined to do.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, far from accepting the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that we should stop pursuing the policy of privatisation in our prisons, particularly in prisons that hold convicted prisoners, we should accelerate that policy? It is one of the ways forward in ensuring that greater responsibility is accepted by all those who run the prisons and are accountable for them.
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her remarks. I believe that the policies that we are pursuing are in the interests of the country as a whole. I have no intention of being deflected from them. The private sector clearly has a role in operating our prisons. The indications so far are that it can bring new ideas and greater cost-effectiveness to bear in the provision of prison services. I shall continue to proceed in a measured and responsible way.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): Judge Stephen Tumim's letter of December, which identified problems at Parkhurst, referred to one general problem--a staff reluctance to confront prisoners. Does the Home Secretary agree that such reluctance is particularly dangerous when it is manifested not by the prison officers on the wings, but by the management within prisons? Does he accept that the problem is not confined to Parkhurst but extends elsewhere? Will he consult the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who has responsibility for prisons in Northern Ireland? A similar if not more dangerous position prevails in prisons in Northern Ireland and it should be dealt with. Does he agree that the police on the Isle of Wight were greatly assisted by their ability to publish photographs and names of wanted men without being accused of collusion?
Mr. Howard: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. He is right to identify a refusal to confront prisoners as a problem of enormous seriousness, whether it occurs in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland. It is certainly a problem that must be tackled. I am sure that I can learn lessons from what happens in Northern Ireland and perhaps the reverse can happen. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): Will my right hon. and learned Friend disregard the personal abuse and party political claptrap of the Opposition? Is not it clear that the fault lay much lower down the line and that my right hon. and learned Friend has reacted vigorously and speedily to deal with that? The statement that he has made today has demonstrated that he is properly accountable to Parliament. Will the Learmont inquiry or possibly some other inquiry deal with the escape from Littlehey prison in my constituency, which is normally a very efficient and well-run prison, or will some other inquiry have to be set up? Does my right hon. and learned Friend think it rather odd that one of the prisoners who escaped was due for release in April? Does he agree that it is disturbing that one of the other prisoners who
Column 42escaped was a psychopathic rapist sentenced to life imprisonment whom, curiously, the Parole Board released after only a limited time?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. There will be an internal inquiry into the escape from Littlehey, but if any lessons of general application to prison security can be learned from that escape, they will come within the remit of General Sir John Learmont's inquiry. I know that he will be interested in them. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the oddity of someone whose release is almost imminent nevertheless escaping. These things happen in the Prison Service. I have a great deal of sympathy with the last point that my hon. Friend made about the circumstances in which parole was granted to one of the other prisoners who escaped.
Mr. Howard: I do not claim any personal expertise in such matters. I am advised that geophones cannot be installed when extensive building works are under way because they do not work effectively in those circumstances. [Interruption.] That is partly because they are constantly set off by the building works and partly--to deal with the night time point, which I understand--because the building works tend to damage the geophones regularly in a way that impairs their effectiveness. It was on the basis of -- [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is really interested in the matter and looks into it in detail, he will find that the decision to go ahead with the installation of geophones was taken in the first financial year for which I had any responsibility. So, I have no reason to give the hon. Gentleman anything other than the reason why the Prison Service did not install geophones while the building work was being carried out, which was that it acted on advice that they would not be effective while the work was under way.
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): No fair-minded or reasonable person could think that the matters that my right hon. and learned Friend explained today are a reason for resignation. It is a fact, however, that the Director General of the Prison Service has presided over a regime so lax that, in recent months, he was prepared to sanction a convicted rapist taking part in the London marathon. In recent days, a prisoner has written to me from a prison in Devon--a convicted rapist, serving a six-year sentence--complaining about the fact that he has not had enough home visits. It is that degree of laxity that is upsetting the public. That laxity is ultimately the responsibility of the person in charge of operations, Derek Lewis. How much worse have matters got to get before, at the very least, he considers his position or has it considered for him?
Mr. Howard: I dealt with that question in my answer to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I have taken action to deal with one of the matters that my hon. Friend mentioned--the extent to which home leave and temporary release were being granted excessively and without adequate regard to the
Column 43need to protect the public. New guidance has been issued to deal with that matter and it is having a significant effect.
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North): In view of the concern about security at Parkhurst, will the Secretary of State tell the House what correspondence about geophones has taken place since 1988, between the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and Home Office Ministers? Does he accept that he and the other Ministers are responsible for the fact that they were not installed prior to April 1994?
Mr. Howard: For the reason that I have already given, I do not accept that. It is perfectly true that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) corresponded with my predecessors about that very matter. He drew to their attention the advantages that geophones offer. That matter was consistently considered and the conclusion to which I referred was reached--that, in view of the building works that were taking place, it would not have been sensible to install geophones. The key moment when building works will be complete will be April 1995 and it is expected that geophones will then be operational, their installation having been completed by that date.
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby): Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that most improvements in operational performance, for example, in health or hospital care, or rail and air travel, have followed regrettable breakdowns in operational service? With regard to the public interest, the key issue is the positive response that is made to remedial measures following breakdowns. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore accept congratulations, at least from Conservative Members, on the completely assiduous and open way in which he has kept the House informed about all the operational breakdowns and the concentrated and energetic way in which he is making certain that long-term remedies and improvements are put in hand?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. There is much truth in what he said, and the Prison Service ought to look upon this train of extremely unhappy events as an opportunity for it to reform and improve itself, to ensure that they are not repeated.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does the Home Secretary recall that, just before the Christmas recess, he used as his excuse the fact that previous Home Secretaries had experienced prison breakouts, so those were not a reason for his resignation? Does not he realise that none of the reputations of those Home Secretaries was anywhere near as tarnished as his, and that there will be no confidence in wide-ranging matters of law and order as long as he is so desperate to cling to office?
Mr. Howard: The people will view the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and its importance in helping the police, helping them bring criminals to justice, helping to convict people who are guilty of crimes and giving courts the powers to pass appropriate sentences, in rather a different light from the way in which the hon. Gentleman views it.
Column 442 January, after the second riot at Everthorpe, to suggest that he should oblige prisoners who have rioted and done damage to remain in their cells until they have repaired them? I see no reason why the taxpayer should do that for them. I was therefore pleased to receive an assurance that prison labour has been used to restore much of the damage. Does he accept, however, that I shall be very angry indeed-- [Hon. Members:-- "Oh."] Yes, I should be jolly cross if any of the 67 or the 124 prisoners who are to be transferred were sent to gaols such as mine in Lancaster, which is very well run and has a good governor and wardens and prisoners who co-operate, as that would be wholly unfair.
Mr. Howard: The last thing that I would want to do is to make my hon. Friend cross or angry. I assure her that any prisoner who can be found to be responsible for taking part in the disturbances at Everthorpe will be subjected to disciplinary action and possibly to prosecution. I hope that that meets the essential concern that lay behind her intervention.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): The Secretary of State says that he is responsible only for policy. After the Strangeways riots four and a half years ago, the Woolf inquiry report made recommendations that most hon. Members on both sides of the House thought would transform the Prison Service. The Government and the then Home Secretary made a strong commitment to implementing Woolf. Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman became Home Secretary, the Woolf recommendations have been assiduously buried. That is policy, that is his responsibility and that is why we have the present crisis and why he should resign.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. If one studies some of the key objectives of the Woolf report, one finds that Lord Woolf attached great importance to reducing overcrowding. At the beginning of 1988, more than 5,000 prisoners were held three to a cell built for one, but now none is. In his report, Lord Woolf attached great importance to increasing the amount of purposeful activity in which prisoners engaged outside their cells. Such activity has increased by 12 per cent. during the past year. I do not think that Lord Woolf wanted his objectives to be achieved at the expense of prison security and the protection of the public and it is my job to ensure that the latter receive the priority that they deserve.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Does my right hon. and learned Friend have any evidence that the Prison Officers Association has been urging or instructing its members at Parkhurst not to co-operate with the police inquiry, or any other inquiry, into the escapes? If he has such evidence, what does he intend to do with it?
Mr. Howard: I have evidence that members of the Prison Officers Association were instructed not to co-operate with the police inquiry and that they did not do so. I am passing that evidence to Sir John Learmont and to the disciplinary investigation.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): Is not it a fact that the Home Secretary has made repeated comments about boards of visitors at Whitemoor and Parkhurst? Their annual reports were an expression of deep concern about security and many other aspects of the day-to-day running of prisons. What credibility does he give to the annual reports
Column 45produced by those boards, in view of the countless hours that many of their members give during their day-to-day involvement in overseeing what is happening in prisons? Can they have any confidence that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ever considers the work that they put in and looks at their annual reports?
Mr. Howard: I take those reports and the work done by boards of visitors very seriously. I spoke to the chairman of the board of visitors at Parkhurst this morning to congratulate and thank him and his board on the work that they have been doing, which is enormously appreciated. We are all in their debt as they work long hours on an entirely voluntary basis and perform an extremely useful task.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend is comforted today by the support from the Conservative Benches for the tough measures that he has announced and taken, contrary to the ridiculous press stories that we have been reading over the past few weeks about falling support on Conservative Benches. Will he ask those conducting market testing to explain why, since 1979, the prison population has gone up by 15 per cent., yet the number of prison officers has risen by 70 per cent? Is not it right for taxpayers to ask whether they are getting a good deal?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. The figures that he cited are important when considering the allegations constantly made about the effect of the increase in the prison population on conditions in prisons. They are telling figures. Even since 1989, the prison population has increased by about 1,000, yet the number of prison officers has increased by about 4,000. Those important facts are relevant to this debate and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to them.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): Does the Home Secretary know that, after a tragically high number of suicides in Armley prison in my constituency, his Department issued new and full guidelines to monitor potential suicides? Given that another prisoner committed suicide in Armley prison on new year's eve, will he explain what has happened to those guidelines? Were they temporary? Are they long forgotten? They seem to be proving ineffectual in the whole system.
Mr. Howard: The guidelines are certainly in place, but I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman on the case to which he has drawn attention. It is a matter of great regret that last year saw an increase in the number of suicides in prisons. The number of suicides is greatly to be regretted. On the whole, our record is significantly better than that of most other countries, but that gives no cause for comfort and we take the problem seriously.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): We have heard much this afternoon about inquiries, but is not it time that we took Judge Tumim's advice and had a wide-ranging inquiry into how prisons are run? Are not drug dealing and bullying rife in virtually all prisons? While I accept my right hon. and learned Friend's concern to stamp them out, we need more than concern: we must take a fresh
Column 46look at the problem. I do not ask my right hon. and learned Friend to take the words of Mr. Bartell as gospel, but, in taking that fresh look, will he take account of the views of prison officers who are operating prisons on the ground?
Mr. Howard: I take into account all relevant views and test them against the facts, which is the sensible way to approach matters. My hon. Friend is right to express concern about the misuse of drugs in prisons. One of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which came into force yesterday, enables the random testing of drugs in prisons for the first time. I hope that a random testing programme will be implemented in prisons over the next few months.
A wide-ranging general inquiry is exactly what I asked Sir John Learmont to carry out in the aftermath of Whitemoor. It is principally into issues of prison security, but I have had a preliminary discussion with Sir John, who clearly takes the view that in order properly to address issues of prison security, he must look far and wide across the Prison Service at how it is organised, and I have not sought to discourage him in that approach.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): The Home Secretary admitted that last October Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons warned him of serious deficiencies in security at Parkhurst. Why, then, did he go on television and radio so regularly and deny that he had been given such warnings?
Mr. Howard: I have never denied that I received warnings from Judge Tumim. Indeed, I have always totally accepted that I received the warning from Judge Tumim. I have told the House today what action that I took on that warning. The hon. Gentleman can see for himself the terms in which the warning was issued because I have put Judge Tumim's letter in the Library. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's recollection is false.
Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester): In respect of my constituent, Mr. Fred West, does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that an internally generated inquiry and report are likely to conclude that surveillance arrangements were adequate? Do not the facts speak for themselves? Did not Mr. West's son warn some weeks earlier that his father might commit suicide? Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore ensure that the prison officers directly responsible are held accountable for what must surely have been negligence?
Mr. Howard: The evidence that we have so far, based on the internal inquiry, does not justify my hon. Friend's conclusion. However, all those matters will be looked at afresh and fully at the inquest, which will, of course, be held in public. All my hon. Friend's understandable concerns about what happened can then be explored, investigated and thoroughly assessed in that forum, which is the appropriate one.
Order for Second Reading read.
Madam Speaker: Before I call the Secretary of State, hon. Members will observe that a money resolution is applicable to the Bill. They will recall that, under the Sessional Order passed on 19 December, the Question on the money resolution must be put forthwith immediately after Second Reading. In those circumstances, I am prepared to allow hon. Members to refer to the content of the money resolution if they so wish during the Second Reading debate. 5.6 pm
The Bill provides for the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance, providing a single allowance to replace unemployment benefit and income support for unemployed people. The legislation before the House will improve incentives to work, remove barriers that discourage people from leaving benefit, and focus the efforts of jobseekers on looking for work.
We shall also focus the benefit on those who need it most. Those who have worked and made contributions will be entitled to benefit, regardless of their means, for six months. Two thirds of those who are unemployed leave benefit within six months. Those who are still unemployed after six months and those who do not qualify for contributory benefit or who have dependants will be eligible for the benefit on an income-related basis for as long as they need it without a time limit.
The Labour party's main attack on the Bill has been that the contributory benefit should be available for 12 months. But on this morning's "Today" programme, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) was asked three times to say that a Labour Government would extend it to 12 months. Three times she dodged and ducked the question. She criticises and carps but will not say that she would do any different, were she in Government. That is not principled opposition but mere whining on the sidelines of politics.
This Second Reading debate provides an opportunity for the House to consider both the Bill and its context. The context is that, since December 1992, unemployment in Britain has fallen markedly. It is down by 500,000 to less than 2.5 million. The fall has been sharper in Britain than in any other major European Union country.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has no intention of introducing a new measure of employment, as suggested by Mr. Philip Bassett in The Times ? Has he any idea where those stories have come from?
Mr. Portillo: I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that I have no intention of introducing any new measure of employment as was proposed in The Times . My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. A fax has come into my possession which was sent by Mr. Philip Bassett to Mr.
Column 48Ed Milliband. It contains the draft of an article alleging that the Government were thinking of introducing a new measure of employment, and it was sent to Mr. Milliband to be cleared and vetted. Mr. Ed Milliband is the research assistant of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman).
It is perfectly clear that Mr. Philip Bassett of The Times is in the habit of taking stories suggested to him by the Opposition and submitting them to the Opposition for vetting before they are published in The Times . Not surprisingly, in his fax Mr. Philip Bassett says:
"I'd be grateful if you could of course keep it under your hat."
Mr. Portillo: I got it because it was inadvertently sent by Mr. Philip Bassett not to the fax number of Mr. Ed Milliband, but to that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim).