HC Deb 03 December 1987 vol 123 cc1089-90
4. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to remove the Crown immunity of Her Majesty's prisons; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Patten

We are not persuaded that there is anything to be gained from the removal of Crown immunity from prison establishments, as we are satisfied that the present arrangements are effective in setting and monitoring the standards required by legislation.

Mr. Hinchliffe

The Minister will no doubt recall the outbreak of salmonella at Wakefield prison in August this year. I understand that his Department has received a copy of the document resulting from the environmental health officers' investigation into the outbreak. May I ask for his comments on paragraph 5.6, which states: In the absence of Crown immunity there is no doubt that a failure to take immediate action to remedy the many contraventions of the Food Hygiene General Regulations 1970 would result in recommendation that legal proceedings

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please paraphrase rather than reading?

Mr. Hinchliffe

Will we have to wait for another Stanley Royd disaster before we get some action?

Mr. Patten

I am aware of the outbreak last August. However, if the hon. Gentleman reads the whole report —as I am sure he has, and I appreciate his concern for the welfare of people in his constituency—he will see that nowhere in the report do the environmental health officers suggest that the outbreak of salmonella poisoning was caused by any problems with food preparation in the kitchens at that prison. Other remedial suggestions were put forward and have been taken account of by prison authorities. The prison was inspected independently by our environmental health officers on 25 November.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Does my hon. Friend recall that it was the present Government who removed Crown immunity from National Health Service hospitals, and that the principle has therefore been established? Has it not proved satisfactory and worked in the interests of the service? Will he reflect on what he has said and perhaps consider the question again?

Mr. Patten

I always reflect on what my hon. Friend says. I can only say that all the prison service environmental health officers are trained to the same level as local authority environmental health officers, and inspections are carried out to exactly the same high standard. It does not strike me that there is much difference between a service conducted by a group of long-established people who have given good service to the prison department, and one conducted by others who happen to be in a local authority.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that both Mr. Jim Kay, of the Prison Officers Association, and I were incredulous last week when Lord Caithness told us that conditions in British prisons, despite Crown immunity, were up to standard in regard to food hygiene, health and safety? Would he care to go on record as saying that that is the official Home Office position?

Mr. Patten

My noble Friend Lord Caithness had the opportunity last week to see the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. They were told quite clearly that the Home Office view is that to provide food to a reasonable standard is a very important part of providing a good prison regime. That is what the Home Office consistently tries to do, and that includes and involves all related environmental health issues.