HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc706-7
6. Mr. Janner

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will pay an official visit to the Welford Road prison, Leicester, to discuss conditions of prisoners and staff. [30266]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

I will be making a routine visit to Leicester prison on 27 June.

Mr. Janner

Is the Minister aware that, since the Conservative party came to power, crime in Leicestershire has trebled and the population of Leicester prison has risen from 207, which is permitted, to 324? When she makes her routine visit—which will be very welcome as she has a well-earned reputation for gentle, quiet and caring compassion—will she be kind enough to consider the terrible effect that such overcrowding has, not only on inmates and their rehabilitation but especially on those who are in charge of them and whose life's work it is to work in prison?

Miss Widdecombe

Despite the earnest expression on the hon. and learned Gentleman's face, I think that he must be having a little joke at his own party's expense. He seems to be suggesting that we are responsible for overcrowding in prisons, but, during the Labour party's previous term in office, the prison population was rising by 15 per cent. and the party responded by cutting the prison capital programme by 20 per cent. That was how seriously the Labour party took overcrowding.

In contrast, we have built 22 new prisons, eliminated the practice of trebling, eliminated the use of police cells since last June and reduced the percentage of prisoners sharing two to a cell designed for one. That should make the hon. and learned Gentleman very happy about our compassionate policy on overcrowding. Will he stand up and congratulate us and apologise?

Mr. Garnier

Before my hon. Friend makes her routine visit to Welford Road prison in Leicester, will she ignore the routine rant of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner)? As it happens, crime in the county of Leicestershire—I am sorry about the city of Leicester—has fallen quite markedly. Will my hon. Friend also make a special visit to Gartree prison, which is on the way to Leicester, which she will find is well run and not overcrowded?

Miss Widdecombe

I can absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Crime in Leicestershire fell by 5.5 per cent. last year. I congratulate him on giving his constituents the good news and the facts, in comparison with the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West, who wants nothing more than to depress his constituents and paint the worst possible picture. I shall of course be delighted to visit Gartree, although I cannot, of course, guarantee to visit it before I visit Leicester. When I visit both prisons, I shall congratulate the prison staff on a magnificent achievement that is always belittled by the Opposition.