HC Deb 09 February 1995 vol 254 cc440-1
2. Mr. Hanson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department who gave instructions to the Director of Custody (Prisons) with regard to the removal from office of the governor of Parkhurst prison on 10 January.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

The decision to move the then governor of Parkhurst to other duties was taken by the Director General of the Prison Service after consulting the directors of custody, security and personnel.

Mr. Hanson

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is a strong suspicion among the press, the public and prison staff that the governor was removed directly on his orders as a sacrifice to the House on 10 January? Does he further agree that, however the matter was resolved, it has had a detrimental effect on prison governors' morale and on the morale of the Prison Service? The right hon. and learned Gentleman should face up to his responsibilities by accepting that he had a hand in the removal.

Mr. Howard

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the minutes—available to everyone—of the evidence that I gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee just two weeks ago, in which I dealt with this and similar questions in great detail. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record of my answers, he will find that the suspicions to which he referred are quite without foundation.

Mr. Barry Field

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm yet again that none of the staff moved from Parkhurst prison was dismissed, and that people were moved for their own safety pending the outcome of the inquiry into the escapes?

Mr. Howard

I made it absolutely clear, as I told the House on that occasion, that the movement of those concerned was pending the outcome of disciplinary investigations and any subsequent proceedings. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that fact.

Mr. George Howarth

Is it not precisely because of the evidence in the minutes to which the Home Secretary referred that suspicion remains? Is not the clear truth of the matter that, in his desperation to retrieve his damaged political reputation, the Secretary of State was determined to come to the House on 10 January with Mr. Marriott's head on a platter? The manner in which Mr. Marriott has been scapegoated brings credit on neither the Home Secretary nor the Prison Service. It is a downright disgrace.

Mr. Howard

I notice that neither the hon. Gentleman nor other Opposition Members have seen fit to suggest how they would have acted in similar circumstances. It was essential that the management of that prison, with the number of high-risk category A prisoners still there, should be carried out efficiently and effectively in all the circumstances. It was made absolutely clear at the time that that was why the director general made his decision. If we are to have the kind of criticism that we have just heard from Opposition Members, they should tell us what they would do, or would have done, in similar circumstances.

Mr. Brazier

I have a prison in my constituency. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while we cannot prejudge the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, if the events at that prison were substantially as they have been reported, it is right that people should be held accountable for them?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend and the House will understand that I cannot and will not prejudge the outcome of those disciplinary proceedings. It has been made absolutely clear time after time why the director general took the action that he took on that day. We shall have to await the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings in due course.