HC Deb 26 February 2002 vol 380 cc1255-6W
Colin Burgon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for the use of the private sector in the Prison Service. [38401]

Beverley Hughes

I am placing in the Library today a report of a review which the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), asked Patrick Carter, a non-executive member of the Strategy Board for Correctional Services, to carry out on the future role of the private sector in the prison system.

We believe that a mixed economy of provision is essential in achieving a modern, dynamic Prison Service.

I am most grateful to Patrick Carter for his report, which shows how much the private sector has achieved to date providing high quality prison services at lower cost. The report also shows how well the public sector prison service has responded to the challenge of private sector competition.

Both the public and the private sectors are important to the future of the Prison Service. Both can show big successes that benefit prisoners and the public. I want to create conditions in which both can flourish, but in which both have to continually prove themselves. I believe the overall thrust of the recommendations of the report will achieve this. Some can be implemented straight away, but others need further work or will have to be subject to discussions in the current spending review and our wider vision for modernising the Prison Service.

The proposal that under-performing prisons should be required to show how they will meet tough benchmarked standards, or face contracting out or closure, offers the potential for big improvements in performance and value for money. I announced on 19 December 2001 the first scheme of this kind, at Her Majesty's Prison Leicester and Her Majesty's Young Offender Institution and Remand Centre Reading.

The report also provides a welcome contribution to finding ways of bringing the aging prison estate into the 21st century. I will consider this as part of our current assessment of the options for providing a range of carefully targeted new approaches to dealing with offenders, and the spending review.

I note the recommendation for a limited programme of market testing. For the moment, I believe the performance testing process I have announced offers a better, faster and cheaper means of improvement. But I do not rule out using market testing again in the future.

The private sector has demonstrated that it can make a valuable contribution to the delivery of a high quality service by prisons. This report outlines a way ahead for their continued involvement.