Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-166)
MP, MR MARTIN
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
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
(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
(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.