HC Deb 05 December 1991 vol 200 cc219-20W
Sir John Wheeler

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for further private sector involvement in the prison system.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

On 11 July 1990, my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary announced that preparations to reorganise arrangements for court escorts, custody and security were to proceed. Subsequently, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 made provision for these services to be contracted out to the private sector. A recent detailed study commissioned by the Home Office recommended that England and Wales should be divided into 10 areas for the court escort and custody service and I have now decided that the first of these to be contracted out should be Humberside and the east midlands. All movements of prisoners to and from courts in the area, except high security prisoners, will be carried out under the contract. Invitations to tender are expected to be issued next year and it is hoped that the service will be under private sector management from early in 1993, subject to the receipt of satisfactory tenders. Consideration is also being given to a phased programme of contracting out to cover other areas.

The present complex and overlapping arrangements, whereby both police and prison officers are responsible for escorting prisoners, inevitably leads to duplication of effort and consequently inefficiency. The contracting out of this work to private sector personnel, who will of course be required to be properly trained and security vetted, will free police and prison officers for tasks which make more use of their skills and training.

I have also decided to seek the agreement of Parliament to the contracting out of the management of another prison, Blakenhurst, currently being constructed near Redditch in Hereford and Worcester. I hope to be able to lay an order before the House in the spring. This follows the success of the recent tendering exercise for Wolds remand prison which demonstrated that the private sector has much to offer. A number of tenderers showed that they were capable of undertaking the task of operating a prison establishment securely, efficiently and humanely.

I believe that it is right to extend contracting out to another type of prison: both the prison service and the private sector will be able to learn from this experience. Blakenhurst will be a local prison and will therefore hold remand prisoners, like Wolds, but also some convicted prisoners. The capacity of the prison, due to open early in 1993, will be 649. It is not designed to hold high security prisoners.

I hope that the two projects will maintain the momentum of the contracting-out initiative in the prison system.