29 January 2004

S2M-793 Private Prisons (Consultation)

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 29 January 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
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Private Prisons (Consultation)
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-793, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on public consultation on private prisons. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the concerns of many of its members and amongst the wider public about the proposals for private prisons in Scotland; notes that applications for two new prisons have now been lodged in Addiewell and Low Moss but that as yet the public have not been informed if either or both are intended to operate as private prisons, and expresses the view that the public should be entitled to know what kind of operation is being planned for their local communities as part of any consultation and decision-making process.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): If members will forgive me for saying so, it is very nice to see that so many old lags of prison debates are present once again, but of course we are always prepared to welcome new inmates to the madhouse.
Bristow Muldoon: I ask the member to refresh Mr Matheson's recollection by confirming that I was present in the chamber for Jim Wallace's statement on the prison estates review and that I questioned the minister. I have met justice ministers to discuss the issue on a number of occasions.
Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that, if the member says that he was there, there is no doubt that he was there, as he is an honourable man. At that time, I wonder whether he knew as much about Addiewell as any of the rest of us.
In the past 18 months or so, I have visited five prisons, but unlike Robin Harper, I have not been giving guitar tuition. An explanation of why recidivism rates in Saughton are as high as they are might be that people want to go back to complete the excellent tuition that Robin has been giving them. I visited a private prison in Wales at Parc, which is run by Group 4, a hybrid prison in France, at Bapaume, which is about an hour north of Paris, and three prisons in Scotland—Saughton, the young offenders institution at Polmont and my local prison at Peterhead, which I visit regularly.
Among those prisons, there is a mixture of public and private provision. All those prisons—whether private, hybrid or public—contribute to their local communities, so why is it important that the local community be informed of what kind of prison is proposed at the decision-making or consultation point? I will suggest a number of reasons, beginning with the sustainability in the long term of the different models.
It is no news to any member that I am antipathetic to private prisons. They involve long-term contracts with long-term costs. For example, the occupancy rate—the loading—in our private prisons throughout the United Kingdom is locked in for 30 years. The French do things better—they have shorter contracts and they pay only for the places that are occupied. The point is that, if we are successful in reducing the prison population—a goal which I hope we all share—such contracts could be economic albatrosses around our necks. The possibility is that the prisons have to be filled because we are paying for them. One way or the other, that situation promotes prison closures.
I do not know whether that will mean closing a private prison, buying one out because closure is too expensive or closing a public prison because we have capacity in the private sector that we feel we have to use, but it will influence the long-term viability and employment prospects for communities. That is one reason why communities have a right to know.
We do not properly understand the economics of private prisons. The borrowing for Kilmarnock in the long term is running at something in excess of 8 per cent—I believe that it is 8.75 per cent—and the mezzanine finance, which was part of the construction process, was 13.75 per cent. We know that Andy Kerr does not know what he is paying for the Government's borrowing: in the previous debate, I asked him that question and he said that he did not know. It is therefore extremely difficult to work out the issues, and that is why such information should be in the public domain. That would bring more people to the argument, inform the public debate and help us generally.
It is a bit rich of the Scottish Socialist Party to be campaigning in West Lothian. I see that they are on their holidays again; only two SSP members were here at decision time, and none is here now.
Perhaps one way we can break out of the problem is to publish all public sector contracts. The Executive would get a better deal on renewal if companies saw what they had to bid against; publication would inform public debate generally, and so doing could easily be made a condition of doing business with Government.

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