18 April 2002

S1M-2993 Prison Estates Review

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We move to our first item of business, which is the debate on motion S1M-2993, in the name of Jim Wallace, on the prison estates review, and on two amendments to that motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank the many members throughout the Parliament who have approached me to express their support for Peterhead. I also thank Maureen Macmillan for her helpful remarks. My first point relates to what the minister said and what Maureen Macmillan spoke about. I suspect that I am one of only a few people to have read the Kilmarnock contract. I have here paragraph 6 of schedule D of the contract, which relates to the way in which Kilmarnock prison must deal with prisoners. There is absolutely nothing in the contract about the prevention of reoffending.

The situation at Peterhead is the main issue that I shall address. The prison was built in 1888 at a cost of £57,400, on land costing £5,000. It has been a centre of innovation for many years. In 1923, the major innovation was the production of mattresses for the prisoners for the first time. However, the prison's recent history has been more substantial. The case for knocking down Peterhead prison has been made. The first argument is that the building is clapped out. It is true that the building needs to be replaced, but members of the Justice 1 Committee—including me—who visited the prison recently know that it will do for a few years more. It is unsatisfactory in modern terms, but prisoners there put toilets seventh on their list of priorities. Nonetheless, we must do something about the sanitation.

The second argument relates to remoteness. The minister will be aware that, although 85 per cent of the prisoners come from outside the Peterhead area, this week two thirds of them have petitioned to keep the prison open. Neither the prisoners nor the staff are a source of pressure regarding the prison's remoteness. It has been suggested that the pressures of delivering sex offenders programmes are considerable and that staff need to rotate to other prisons. However, the absence rate at Peterhead is the best—that is, the lowest—in the entire service, and the absence rate is one of the key indicators of stress.

The third argument relates to finance. However, the cost per prisoner at Peterhead is only 11.7 per cent more than the cost per prisoner at Kilmarnock, according to Clive Fairweather's report on Kilmarnock, which was launched this week. That is despite the fact that Peterhead is a specialist prison with inefficient, old premises.

George Lyon (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I would like to, but I do not have time.

I am slightly baffled by the exclusion from the discussion of Parc prison, in Wales, which I visited a week ago, where the cost per prisoner is substantially greater. Parc prison opened in November 1997 and is delivering at £31,000 per prisoner. That is at odds with the statement that private prisons need time to settle down.

George Lyon: Will the member take a short intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in his last minute. The Presiding Officer has said that we are tight for time, and I cannot allow a member to speak for more than four minutes.

Stewart Stevenson: I respond to the minister's plea for an alternative model by informing him that a private sector person is even now considering a building at Peterhead and drawing up plans and costings. They are also prepared to lease the building for public service operation, should the minister come through on that.

Do we trust accountants? The Kilmarnock prison service's accounts claim that Kilmarnock prison was sold to the Home Office in 1999. Apparently that was an error, but it did not stop Deloitte & Touche managing to sign off the accounts. We should not always listen to what big, international accountants say.

I close with a comment about the staff at Peterhead. When the Justice 1 Committee visited Peterhead, it spent 45 minutes with the staff. All members should take account of one significant fact: in those 45 minutes, not a single word came from the staff about the adverse effects of closure on their personal circumstances. What we heard was about public safety and their dedication to the public service ideal. Good leadership, committed staff and the public service ideal are what we need in the prison service.


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