HC Deb 05 February 1987 vol 109 cc1134-5
10. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the control of costs and management of construction of new prisons and procurement of supplies and stores for them.

Mr. Hurd

The design and construction of new prisons is undertaken by the Property Services Agency of the Department of the Environment, which is responsible, in consultation with the Home Office for cost control and management of construction programmes. The supply of equipment and stores for new prisons is undertaken in accordance with normal Government procurement arrangements. In the Home Office we have recently reviewed those arrangements to ensure that we receive proper value for money.

Mr. Latham

In view of the gross waste of public money which has taken place at the new Stocken prison in my constituency, of which my right hon. Friend is aware, will he consider introducing an experienced business man from the private sector to supervise the building, design and furnishing of new prisons?

Mr. Hurd

The Stocken prison is an illustration of the dangers of stop-go. The prison was designed in the early 1970s and scrapped, as a result of the Labour Government's cuts, in 1976. It had to be brought forward urgently when we took office, so the old design, which is below standard, was taken off the shelf and put into effect. The thrust of my hon. Friend's question is right. I expect he knows that the PSA is putting more resources into site supervision, which is, I believe, the key to most of this, and it is increasingly using outside private enterprise consultants to do that. My hon. Friend will know that the Environment Select Committee is looking into PSA operations.

Mr. Heffer

Although nobody would disagree with the view that construction must be cost-effective, is it not clear that the programme of building new prisons and improving existing ones must be speeded up because the problem of prison overcrowding, which affects prisoners and those who look after them, has reached crisis proportions? Is it not necessary for the Government to take speedy action to deal with this growing crisis?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. That is why we are pressing ahead with the programme to build 16 more new prisons and refurbishing a large number of traditional prisons. He is perfectly correct. However, our task would he much easier if this matter had not been so shamefully neglected by our predecessors.