Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-166)



  160. That is a big progress.
  (Mr Narey) It is a big progress. I am not sure how much further we can go. I think while you retain visit arrangements which are reasonably civilised and typically allow a father to embrace his child or embrace his spouse there are limits to how much further we can go and I do not particularly want a Prison Service that does not allow that sort of thing. I do not want routine closed visits.

  161. I am sorry to jump about but we are in the miscellaneous section of our brief. You mentioned in your evidence, I believe, that a number of prisons were still causing you serious concern. I think several of the dispersal prisons in Inner London were mentioned, Leeds was mentioned, Birmingham I think was mentioned.
  (Mr Narey) Yes.

  162. I note that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, the previous one, referred often to Chelmsford. To what do you attribute these relatively intractable problems?
  (Mr Narey) I am not sure that they are intractable. I do not think I would have signed on to do this job again if I thought they were intractable. The number of prisons which really cause me grave concern has significantly reduced from when I took over the job. None of them, incidentally, are dispersal prisons.

  163. I am sorry.
  (Mr Narey) You are right, I was extremely concerned about Birmingham, which was the worst prison I visited in England and Wales.

  164. Sorry?
  (Mr Narey) Birmingham was the worst prison I visited in England and Wales but it is not now, it is improving, very, very quickly. Chelmsford, which has had a tradition of very critical Inspectorate reports, has just had quite a glowing one. The number that are on my mind and which I am very worried about are now about five or six and I am about to put proposals to the Minister for taking a couple of those and putting them on six months' notice that unless significant improvements are achieved in a six month period they will be contracted out to the private sector without a public sector bid.

  165. Can you be sure that the private sector will want to bid? You mentioned a moment ago that it did not bid for Brixton.
  (Mr Narey) The private sector has been reluctant to bid against the public sector because they believe that we are now difficult to beat. I am confident from speaking to the directors of the four companies in the market that while they would be just bidding against one another we would have competitive bids.

  166. To what extent is your ability to improve conditions still limited by the working practices?
  (Mr Narey) It is still limited. I have a trade union, the POA, which I think has reformed itself considerably over the last couple of years, not least under the leadership of Mark Healey. I do not think anyone would have believed, I certainly would not have believed it a few years ago if someone had told me the POA would sign up to an agreement never again to take industrial action in exchange for a peer review body. There are pockets where we continue to have extreme resistance. At Feltham quite recently I took the quite extraordinary step, with the Minister's support, of removing the POA Chairman and posting him to another prison because I thought he was an obstacle to the sort of improvements which I am assured are on the way there.
  (Beverley Hughes) Could I just add to that. We have talked about a number of issues today which are crucially important for effective prisons, for rehabilitation and resettlement. Clearly investment is important, joint working between agencies is important, having a staff that feels trained and has got the capacity is important. Certainly as I go round prisons I am constantly struck by the fact that this is a Prison Service in a state of transition. The way that demonstrates itself to me very often is I do meet not just new and young people coming into the Prison Service but also some existing staff who really are thirsty for change, who want to do the kind of work we want them to do. In fact, one of the most impressive senior officers that I met, who has actually transformed a wing in Feltham, was a senior officer at Feltham. Equally, I go to prisons, and went to one last week, where I am still faced palpably with the legacy of a culture which is resisting change and does not want to move forward. In those prisons where we do have concerns this is the biggest single block to change and development and it is something we have to tackle. We do have to get this culture which welcomes change, which sees the role for the Prison Service in the way we have talked about it today as what the Prison Service is about. I think where we do meet those pockets of resistance still we will have to deal with them.

  Chairman: Thank you. On that relatively positive note perhaps we should conclude. I think we do all acknowledge that within the last decade great changes have occurred for the better within the prison system but we do know that we have still got some way to go. Mr Sutton, Mr Narey, Minister, thank you very much for coming.

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Prepared 19 December 2002