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Mr. Cash: Stone.

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). He moved, as it were, like every other Conservative who survived the election.

We have made it clear that we shall maintain Britain's frontier controls, including controls at the internal frontiers with other European Union states. Our commitment to that is clear and absolute, and it will be made even clearer at the intergovernmental conference negotiations in Amsterdam next week. It is time to put the issue of frontier controls beyond doubt.

I have left until last the Home Office Bill that is due to be introduced to the House first.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Before he leaves immigration law, will he tell me what plans he has in government to end the routine imprisonment of asylum seekers in this country? Is he aware of the protests made by a number of asylum seekers who are currently held in prison in Birmingham? Is he prepared to examine their cases?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. Let us, however, start as we mean to go on. I share or agree only with the congratulations that he included in his intervention. We did not criticise the previous Administration for what my hon. Friend described as routine detentions of immigrants. About 1 per cent. of immigrants who are here unlawfully are the subject of detention. I am, of course, concerned to ensure that no individual who is required to leave this country is detained unnecessarily, but, as with prisoners, those who are detained for immigration purposes cannot be allowed to secure their own release by taking action, such as going on hunger strike. The prison and detention systems would break down if that were so.

I have left until last the Home Office Bill that is due to be introduced to this House first. The previous Government acted in the face of considerable opposition from its own side to tighten firearms controls following Dunblane. We supported those measures, but made it clear that we believed that they did not go far enough. We will, therefore, give Parliament the opportunity to vote on a total ban on handguns in general civilian use. A Bill will be introduced quickly. Labour Members will have a free vote. If Parliament supports a total ban, we will implement the necessary legislation as quickly as possible.

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That is a substantial programme of action and legislation from a Government who will tackle crime and disorder, make people safer and help to build a better society. We shall encourage greater responsibility and, in doing so, seek to protect the rights of all.

Ours is an ambitious but attainable programme. Great good will and trust have been invested in this new Labour Government by the British people. That is a heavy responsibility, but it is a responsibility which we are proud to carry. We can and will make a difference to people's lives for the better. On that let us be judged.

4.41 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Madam Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and for your advice that it will be in order for me to concentrate on events that occurred in the Home Office under the last Administration. If my remarks need a current context, they are made in the light of the necessity for the current Home Office Ministers to sort out their proper relationship with the Prison Service and other agencies.

Before embarking on my remarks, I should like to join in the tributes paid to Sir Michael Shersby, and in the congratulations to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the right hon. Member for Blackburn(Mr. Straw) and the rest of his Front-Bench team. That is probably the nicest thing that I shall say to them for the rest of this Parliament.

I should say two things at the outset, because it is now generally known that what I have to say will be less than encouraging to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). First, I pay very great and very genuine tribute to his work at the Home Office. He put the protection of the public at the top of the agenda, and he kept it there. His term of office saw a fall in crime and a vast improvement in Her Majesty's prisons. He introduced a raft of measures to make Britain a more orderly place, and had the courage to make much-needed reforms to our widely abused asylum system.

It is therefore with genuine sadness and considerable reluctance, which I have had to overcome, that I turn to the rest of my remarks. But for my utter conviction of their rightness and of the imperative that lies behind them, I should not be making these remarks at all.

Secondly, although my remarks are informed by a number of documents and oral evidence, I shall not identify any individual document or any civil servants and Ministers whom I may quote. If ex-Ministers were to do that, government would become unworkable. However, if my right hon. and learned Friend hears me allude to things that he does not recognise, I will be happy afterwards to point out to him where the words occur.

It is urgently necessary for the House to restore its reputation with the nation. Many of our great institutions are falling into disrepute. I was wretchedly aware of how many people to whom I talked during the election uttered the sentiment that politicians of all parties are sleazy and corrupt, and principally concerned with their own interests and survival. That is an unjust and distorted picture, and does great disservice to the overwhelming majority of dedicated, honourable and hard-working Members of the House. It is regrettable that the House has been back only five minutes and already there is a corruption story--this time on the Labour Benches--all over our newspapers.

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It should alarm us all that the House is now so comprehensively viewed as devoid of honour and a sense of service. In case there are smug looks on the faces of Labour Members, I have to say that the Labour party is ill placed to talk of principle when it changed its mind on policy three times a day merely to win an election. Whatever fun the public make of us, and no matter how upset the public may be by our decisions, it is still essential for there to be an underlying view that Members of the House are just, honourable and truthful. The higher the office, the greater that imperative.

Honourable treatment means that we treat those in our power justly, and that we do not reject from them defences that we regularly mount for ourselves. I profoundly regret that, in the previous Parliament, Ministers were criticised in independent reports and did not resign. I am not saying that they necessarily should have done, but if it is justice for them not to resign, it is also justice for our loyal servants not to resign.

If a party can go to the country and urge that its occasional disasters, however monumental, be overlooked on the basis of its otherwise truly magnificent achievements, it cannot, in honour, deny that same defence to individuals. Regularly to protect and excuse ourselves while visiting serious vengeance on others corrupts justice and demeans office.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that there had been a great improvement in Her Majesty's prisons under the former Home Secretary. That improvement was the result of the efforts of two men: my right hon. and learned Friend and the former head of the Prison Service, Mr. Derek Lewis.

Mr. Lewis was an outstanding director general. He inherited an appalling and troubled service, which in 14 years we had not got right. Escapes took place daily, assaults were rife, industrial relations were chaotic and financial management poor. Under his vigorous leadership, escapes fell by a staggering 77 per cent.; overcrowding was reduced, despite a sharp rise in the number of prisoners; purposeful activity was increased by hundreds of thousands of hours, despite a reduction in costs per place; industrial relations were transformed; and the private finance initiative was so successfully run that it became a model for the rest of Whitehall.

The agency essentially met all targets set by Ministers, and new initiatives, such as reform to home leaves, drugs testing and the incentives and earned privileges regimes, were successfully implemented. All that was managed in the space of two and a half years.

There was still a great deal to be done--that is common ground--but it would have been unreasonable to expect everything to be achieved in the first 18 months, which is when the escape from Whitemoor occurred. After all--although I hesitate to point it out--we still had things to achieve after 18 years.

If people want a snapshot comparison of the Prison Service before Mr. Lewis came and when he left, they need only read the speech of the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). He referred to the poor state of the Prison Service and correctly and courageously said that Ministers of all parties must take the blame. That speech, which was made in 1992 before the establishment of the agency, should be compared with the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe to the Prison Service conference in 1996--only

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a few months after Mr. Lewis left--in which he praised to the skies the achievements of the service in the previous two years.

It was for those reasons that Ministers, very senior civil servants, the Prisons Board and its non-executives, urgently advised the then Home Secretary that he should not dismiss Mr. Lewis. It was for those reasons that two of the four non-executives resigned in protest, and that others chose other forms of making their views known. It was for those reasons that I nearly resigned, and now regret not doing so. I put that on the record: I now regret not doing so. If Mr. Lewis had been an indifferent director general, there would have been less achievement and certainly less support.

The Learmont report--which was used by the Home Secretary to dismiss Mr. Lewis--took no account of that progress; nor did it attempt to measure it, because that was not the general's brief. But, when--two months after Derek Lewis had left--the general was briefed to measure progress on implementation, this time on the Woodcock recommendations, he found:

Another report produced at that time found thatMr. Lewis had provided visible leadership, and reached other conclusions not compatible with the main Learmont report. One wonders what my right hon. and learned Friend would have made of it if he had had all three reports when reaching his conclusions. It is also worth recording that a previous report on the Whitemoor breakout had specifically exonerated Mr. Lewis of any negligence.

Before I end this section of my remarks, it is worth pointing out that there were serious flaws in the Learmont report in terms of approach and substantiation. I find its credibility severely dented by the fact that, when the general appeared before the Select Committee, it became obvious that he had no idea how escapes were measured and he admitted to simply missing a basic analysis of escape by categorisation of prisoner. Having made a large number of recommendations about Prison Service headquarters, he said that he had not visited the headquarters. The reason he gave was that he did not think that his team would be very welcome.

In a major report on security and organisation, that does not inspire me with confidence. My right hon. and learned Friend is very skilled forensically, and I cannot believe that he was taken in by the superficiality of some of the report. It is hard to conclude other than that the report was his pretext rather than his reason. There is evidence within the Home Office that he had wanted for a long time before that report was produced to remove Mr. Lewis from his post.

In his Spectator article, the former Home Secretary says that any chief executive of a private company who had received such a damning report would have been expected to resign. I say that any chief executive who had secured a 70 per cent. improvement in performance would in fact have received the highest rewards.

What did we actually achieve by the dismissal ofMr. Lewis? We had to pay him £220,000 in compensation, in return for which the taxpayer received nothing at all. We had to pay his costs, in the sum of £41,000, in return for which the taxpayer received nothing at all. We had to pay our own costs, in the

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sum of some £16,000. A most unnecessary bill of more than a quarter of a million pounds was the cost to the general public of my right hon. and learned Friend's decision.

We severely damaged relations with the private sector, as we found out when we considered the possibility of running an open competition for Mr. Lewis's job--a possibility from which we quickly retreated. We created a false distinction between policy and operations which has reverberated around the whole of Whitehall, not just the Home Office. We have endured swingeing headlines in the press, not least when the Home Office was ignominiously forced to consent to the judgment on the very day that the Conservative faithful were being rallied at the central council.

We left the Prison Service without a confirmed leader for five months, and we shattered its morale, just when things had been going well for 10 months. Manpower and time have been taken up by endless briefings and Select Committees--not just the Home Affairs Committee but the Public Service Committee--and the effects of the whole affair still rumble on.

And, for all that, did we eliminate disasters from the Prison Service? No. Only a few months later, approximately 541 prisoners were released before the end of their sentences. They did not even have to break out. The fact is that there were disasters in the service before Lewis--including high-profile escapes--disasters in the service during Lewis, and disasters in the service after Lewis; but, as the current director general--to whom I pay considerable tribute--has told the Home Affairs Select Committee, the real progress has been made since the granting of agency status and that was due largely to the man who ran the agency at the time.

Quite apart from the merits of the case, the handling was deplorable--and personally witnessed by me--and was the cause of the distress that has now become public knowledge. The former director general was refused point blank on two occasions the opportunity to discuss the basis on which he was being dismissed. He had filed a large and detailed defence to the Learmont report, which was subsequently published, and even the former Home Secretary acknowledged that defence to be "persuasive and impressive".

My right hon. and learned Friend decided, however, that it painted a different picture of the Prison Service from Learmont's, and that he preferred Learmont's.Mr. Lewis immediately said that the two pictures were compatible, but the Home Secretary would hear no argument on the point. I consider that an amazing act on the part of the head of a justice Department.

A dismissal meeting on the 15th lasted 20 minutes; a meeting on the 16th lasted 12 minutes, with, again, the former Home Secretary refusing to hear Mr. Lewis's defence. Although we had had the report on27 September, a decision was not communicated toMr. Lewis until 15 October, and he was then given six hours in which to resign. That was subsequently extended, and, in the meantime--although he had been asked to resign and to give notice and was therefore presumably still head of the service--he was not admitted to meetings, and not copied into documents then being prepared for the statement. It is not surprising that Mr. Lewis did not go quietly.

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I might add that it was the minutes of those meetings that convinced me that minutes of meetings may be perfectly accurate without reflecting the tone and full content of the meetings. For example, there was a question of security audit which showed that the then Home Secretary believed that Mr. Lewis had set up security audits only after Whitemoor. In fact, they had been set up before Whitemoor, which suggests that Mr. Lewis did not need a disaster to see the importance of security. That exchange is not recorded.

It has often been said that Mr. Lewis was dismissed because, after Whitemoor, he failed to take action to prevent Parkhurst. One could be forgiven for believing that absolutely nothing was going on between the two events. In fact, the opposite is true.

Mr. Lewis had already put in hand additional cameras, alterations to fence height, infra-red screens, alarm-activated static cameras, installation of closed-visit facilities, new methods of recording intelligence, an increase in rub-down searches, routine searching of all staff and visitors, upgraded supervision of visits, the introduction of specialist arms and explosives search teams, local staff training, high-technology searching equipment, the introduction of personal alarms and volumetric control--but, of course, he did nothing in that couple of months.

We all know that, when Ministers come before the House, they sometimes give us coded messages. [Laughter.] These Ministers will do it, too. We know that, if a Minister appears before the House and says, "I have received an important report, and I will publish it shortly," we may truly expect to find it in the Library shortly. If he says, "I will publish it as soon as possible," we know that it will take quite a long time. If he says, "I will publish it in due course," it is going to take a very long time indeed. But if he says, "This report has very serious implications which need very careful examination, and I will not be able to report to the House until that has happened," that means, "By gum! I am leaving this one for my successor."

My right hon. and learned Friend has a most exquisite way with words. On 16 October 1995, when presenting the Learmont report to Parliament, he told the House--hon. Members will find this in column 32 of Hansard--

He told us:

    "That coincides with the policy that I introduced in June this year."--[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol.264, c.32.]

The use of the word "coincides" is intriguing. It is not unsustainable, but it is a bit curious, because no coincidence whatever was involved.

The Salmon version of the Learmont report specifically recommended that there should not be closed visits, even in SSUs. However, my right hon. and learned Friend subsequently wrote to General Learmont and stated in a very brief letter that he had decided that, when the SSU was opened at Whitemoor, closed visits would be implemented, whereupon the obliging general wrote back in five lines thanking him for that input, and stating that it would be reflected in his report.

The final version of the Learmont report totally reversed the original conclusion, and recommended closed visits. That says a great deal about the methodology of

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the Learmont report, on which I have already commented, but it also causes me to raise my eyebrows a little at the choice of words that were used to the House.

When there was a decidedly embarrassing court settlement, a document was put in the Conservative Whips office for the use of Members. That suggests that Members could have used the information to deploy in the House. I think that, had they done so, they would have left themselves open to serious embarrassment.

That document was certainly not written personally by my right hon. and learned Friend: it was produced by Conservative central office. But it is inconceivable that it would have arrived in the Whips office if he had thought it inaccurate. That document told Members that the settlement is not an admission that Mr. Lewis was either wrongfully or unfairly dismissed. That statement is sustainable only on the utmost technicality.

I shall read to the House, because they have already been published, as has the foregoing Learmont exchange, by Mr. Lewis in his evidence to the Select Committee and are therefore in the public domain, the exact terms of our lawyer's letter, our having been told that we admit no wrongful dismissal. The letter states:

No wonder Mr. Lewis described our defence as

    " a fig leaf so small as to be grossly indecent."

I shall now turn to the censure debate in October 1995. My right hon. and learned Friend said:

    "On Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition made three allegations:".

He went on to list them and said that the first one was

    "that I personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately;"

He listed the other allegations, and said:

    "Each and every one of the allegations is untrue."--[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 524.]

In other words, he categorically denied in the House that he had personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately.

Some hon. Members may have watched "Newsnight" on Tuesday 13 May, in which my right hon. and learned Friend was far less categoric. He said of Mr. Lewis:

I can tell the House that the "Newsnight" version is the correct one.

There is ample documentary evidence that my right hon. and learned Friend did indeed personally tellMr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended. The atmosphere at that meeting, attested to in the documents, is of fury and confrontation. I was told in a personal note by one of those present:

Another document recorded:

    "the discussion generated a lot more heat than light . . . and you made it clear that your preference was for suspension."

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    The warning that Derek Lewis has said that he received after he had been asked to reconsider his decision--that

    "this is all getting white hot and I do not want it to become nuclear"--

is documented within the Department.

I say categorically to the House that the documents in the Department and the recollections of the civil servants and Ministers concerned show that Derek Lewis was told that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended, and that he was told to take time to reconsider his decision when he refused. That is a very different picture from the one that was painted in the House on 19 October 1995, when all that my right hon. and learned Friend would admit to was wondering whether suspension might be more appropriate, and asking questions. I can only ask the House to imagine "white hot wondering" or "questions going nuclear" or "querying in strong language" consist of.

To tell Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended is completely different from instructingMr. Lewis. My right hon. and learned Friend has frequently said that he did not instruct Mr. Lewis--and he did not: there is common ground on that. However, he told him that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended. The threat of instruction was distinct and was the second allegation, and we need to make sure that the two are disentangled.

The reason why the right hon. Member for Blackburn, now the Secretary of State for the Home Department, came to such grief in the debate on 19 October 1995 was that there was insufficient precision in using terms, and my right hon. and learned Friend is very precise in his terms. In the debate, my right hon. and learned Friend was asked by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin):

My right hon. and learned Friend replied categorically:

    "There was no question of overruling the director general".--[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol.264, c. 520.]

Oh, yes, there was. As he rather belatedly admitted last week, and as documentary evidence within the Department shows, after Mr. Lewis had been asked to reconsider his decision, my right hon. and learned Friend took advice on whether he could instruct Derek Lewis to suspend Mr. Marriott--this bearing in mind that he had told the House that he had not personally told Mr. Lewis that Marriott should be suspended.

But my right hon. and learned Friend was now carrying matters to the extent of seeking to instruct Mr. Lewis, and, after consultation with the Cabinet Office and legal advisers in the Department, he was advised that he could not instruct him. Therefore, it cannot be said that there was no question of overruling the director general. The question was asked, it was pursued, and it was answered in the negative.

In the October 1995 debate, my right hon. and learned Friend was asked whether Mr. Lewis had left the meeting to consider the deadline that the Secretary of State had set him to reconsider his decision. The former Home Secretary replied:

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    However, the day before, he had received an account of that meeting, which clearly showed that Mr. Lewis was asked when he left the meeting to "talk further" and "to think it through". I cannot believe that my right hon. and learned Friend's formidable memory should cause him to feel that 24 hours is a great distance in time.

In column 523 of the Official Report, my right hon. and learned Friend referred to minutes of the disputed meeting which he had placed in the Library. He told the House that the minutes were the detailed official account, and that he was doing his best to give the House a full account. But those minutes are not a full account. For example, they omit the very important fact that Mr. Lewis was invited to reconsider his decision. They are not the most detailed account. That would be the transcription of the private secretary's notebooks. The minutes are silent on matters that are well documented elsewhere.

There has also been some uncertainty about why the former governor of Parkhurst was moved from his post on the day that my right hon. and learned Friend made his statement, rather than within a few days, as the director general and operational director had intended. I have now seen detailed evidence that makes it clear that it was only a transcript of the words used by my right hon. and learned Friend to the House, which was transmitted to Parkhurst, which caused that change.

Hon. Members will note that there has been much interest in the press this week as to whether there was a direct threat from the former Home Secretary to the former director general that my right hon. and learned Friend would have to consider overruling him if, when he had reconsidered his decision, he did not come to a different view. We know that he was sent out to reconsider his decision. We know that, during that time, advice was taken on whether he could indeed be overruled. It is very strange that my right hon. and learned Friend refused to answer that question 14 times on "Newsnight" last week, and was so uncharacteristically tongue-tied that he could not explain, as he later claimed, that he was simply unsure about that element of such a traumatic disagreement, and needed to check the papers.

Although it was not debated in the House on19 October, questions had been raised in that week as to whether the Home Secretary had threatened not only to overrule Mr. Lewis, but to sack him. This was 10 months before he was sacked. I can confirm that he did talk about sacking him that day, but not to Mr. Lewis himself.Mr. Lewis subsequently found out from a third party, but it shows the degree of ferocity that existed in that fateful meeting.

Therefore, the questions to my right hon. and learned Friend are these. Why did he say that he had not personally told Mr. Lewis that Mr. Marriott should be suspended immediately, when he had? Why did he say that there was no question of overruling Mr. Lewis, when the question had been pursued as far as consulting the Cabinet Office and legal advisers? Why did he say that he could not recall at that distance in time why Mr. Lewis had been asked to leave the meeting, when he had received only the previous day an account of that meeting, which showed that Mr. Lewis had been asked to reconsider his decision?

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Why did my right hon. and learned Friend say that he was giving the House a full account, when he well knows that important issues that were discussed in the House were in fact omitted from the minutes that he laid before it as a full account? Will he now, to clear any doubt at all that may exist in the minds of hon. Members, ask the current Home Secretary to release the full transcript of the meeting, minus of course anything that might have involved security in our prisons?

I should say that, intriguingly, when I asked the Home Office whether I could have access to the document, it was denied, on the perfectly proper basis that I had not been involved in the meeting at the time. I then said, "Ah, but the document does then exist," and I was told, "Yes, but it might need some adjustment."

My right hon. and learned Friend has a problem, in that his first reaction to attack is denial and refuge in semantic prestidigitation. Why did he not simply come to the House on 19 October and say, "So what? Yes, I did tell the director general that Marriott should have been suspended. Yes, I did feel about it so strongly that I put huge pressure on him. Yes, I did tell him to reconsider his decision, and, yes, I did consider overruling him"? It was just too important not to consider it. Why on earth did he not say that, to what I have no doubt would have been high cheers from the then Government Benches? He could not do so because he had dug a hole for himself over policy and operations, and he would never have had to dig such a hole had he been prepared to keep the director general in place.

The issues before the House are not whether Marriott should have been suspended; I think that he should have been. They are not whether there was a smoking fax; the Opposition were confused. They are not about the precise form of words used in evidence to the Select Committee on the Marriott removal. It is purely statements made in the House on 19 October to which I am addressing myself. As a matter of fact, as I have said, I do believe that the former Home Secretary would have been right had he taken all those actions. It was simply that he told the House that they were not taken.

In the winding-up speech on 19 October 1995, I said that there was no doubt of the validity of the statements made to the Select Committee by the then Home Secretary and the then director general of the Prison Service, but, even as I stood at that Dispatch Box and spoke those words, I was starting to have very severe doubts about some of the statements that had been made in the House on that day.

Even so, for a long time, I could not be sure that actual words, as opposed to tone and impression, could be challenged. All manner of things made me determined to carry out the analysis that I have now carried out; and I regret that among those things was the treatment ofMr. Lewis after he left the Prison Service.

My right hon. and learned Friend has been defending himself this week against various statements that have come out--they have come from me, most of them. None of those defences has taken us much further forward. Asked why he refused 14 times on "Newsnight" to deny something that he had already categorically denied in the House, he said that he would have to check the record, but that seems, in the words of an article in The Economist,

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    He then offered a defence in The Spectator, saying, significantly, that civil servants would have checked his account, and that they would have told him if it had been wrong.

I have two comments to make on that statement. The first is that it contains the familiar sound of looking for scapegoats. Can my right hon. and learned Friend really not take responsibility for what he said himself? Secondly, it the question: supposing the civil servants had pointed out an inaccuracy, would he have rushed down to the House to correct it? He did not do so when he inadvertently--I stress that it was inadvertent--misled the House of Commons Select Committee over geophones.

In January 1995, my right hon. and learned Friend told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that money had not been switched from construction projects, including geophones, to building new house blocks. Indeed, he made the clear and unambiguous statement that additional money had been provided for the house blocks. Many months later, he was advised by his civil servants that that was wrong and he was also advised that statements that he had made in the House in connection with the timing of the decision to install geophones were also wrong. The issue was important, because the absence of geophones had been criticised by Sir John Learmont.

When I pointed out that no correction had been made, the former Home Secretary issued another of his statements. He said that he had sought immediate advice from Derek Lewis, who had advised that there was no practical significance to his answer, as funds were found for the geophones from other sources. Therefore, he advised the former Home Secretary that probably he had not misled the Committee, and the former Home Secretary takes refuge in that advice from Derek Lewis. It must be one of the few times that he was grateful for advice from Derek Lewis.

My right hon. and learned Friend omits to point out that, in two succeeding memoranda, his own Prison Service monitoring unit stuck to its guns and said that the statements were misleading; that they did not consist of a full account, which Ministers are obliged to give under "Questions of Procedure for Ministers"; and that, had officials given such information, they would have been obliged to correct it.

But no correction was ever made, despite the fact that an ideal opportunity was presented when the Learmont report was published. A very bland, all-encompassing statement could then have been made, to the effect that the detailed analysis replaced all previous information and corrected any previous information inadvertently wrongly given.

My right hon. and learned Friend has made much of how he is the one to take tough decisions. Tough decisions concern a great deal more than instant law and instant dismissals. The toughest decision of all that he would have had to take was to come to the House on 16 October, told it that a damning report had been received, but that half its recommendations had already been implemented or were actively being put in hand; that the progress of the Prison Service under the director general was of such outstanding quality that he was continuing, with my right hon. and learned Friend's personal support; and that he, the Home Secretary, also had no intention of resigning, because there was no direct connection between himself and what had happened.

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That would have been tough, because the then Opposition would have howled for a head, and, if they were not given Mr. Lewis's, they might have howled for that of my right hon. and learned Friend, but we had a majority, so there was no reason to suppose that they would get it. However, he had been through that terrible sort of confrontation in the House in January, immediately after the Parkhurst breakout, and he was not quite tough enough to face it again in October.

Courage and toughness are both more than instant law and instant dismissal. We demean our high office if we mistreat our public servants. As hon. Members, we demean ourselves if we come to the House to indulge in a play of words and make statements which, although they may not be untrue--they never are in the House--may be unsustainable.

My decision to do what I have done today was extremely difficult to reach, and I have agonised over it for months. One of the worst moments was when I decided that I would do it. I knew how shocked, hurt and upset not only my right hon. and learned Friend but many of my colleagues would be, but I formed the view that I could do no other. I reached my decision in the interests of giving very belated justice to Mr. Lewis, of giving some comfort to his wife Louise--who supported him faithfully while he gave us seven days a week looking after the Prison Service--partly of clearing my own conscience, although that is my problem, because I should have resigned at the time and did not--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear.] Yes, I agree.

I reached that view also to draw to the attention of the House the overwhelming necessity for the Leader of the Opposition--whoever he will be--and the new Prime Minister to clean up Parliament's image in the eyes of the British people. It is not enough to preserve our own positions at all costs. When we occupy high positions, and certainly when we occupy such positions in justice Departments, justice must be our first concern.

I am aware that I probably will not be forgiven for my decision by some Conservative Members until the day I leave Parliament. If I had not done what I have done today, however, I would not have forgiven myself until I left Parliament and beyond.

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