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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Lib Dems accused of prisons 'betrayal'
Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace was lobbied by demonstrators
Prison officers have staged a demonstration outside the Scottish Liberal Democrats conference in protest at plans to build three private jails in Scotland.

The party was accused of "betrayal" after a motion criticising the plans failed to make it onto the conference agenda.

Prison staff claimed that the party had closed ranks to protect the position of leader Jim Wallace, who as Scotland's justice minister presented the plans to parliament last month.

Liberal Democrat delegates will instead debate a less critical motion on Saturday which welcomes the Scottish Executive's decision to stage a consultation process on the controversial prison plan.

Prison officer
Prison officers lobbied the conference

The Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition in the Scottish Executive has come under pressure from within over the plans.

Several Scottish Lib Dem members had demanded an emergency debate on proposals at the party's spring conference in Perth.

However, party conference managers decided against allowing a motion which was critical of the proposals.

A party spokesman said: "There were two motions submitted on prisons - one of which asked to look again at the policy of using private finance, and the other welcoming the executive consultation on the prison estates review.

"The conference committee have decided to put together a text which reflects the spirit of both.

"This is not about criticism, but about formulating policy."

But prison officers lobbying the conference were angry at the move.

Preferred option

David Melrose, chairman of the Scottish Prison Officers' Association, told reporters: "It is a betrayal of the Scottish public.

"It is a cop-out to protect (Jim) Wallace's position."

Earlier, the UK Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy defended Mr Wallace.

Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy defended Mr Wallace
He said: "I don't think that it's anybody's preferred option but we have to look at the issue - the social dilemma as well as the political dilemma which arises here.

"If you are to deliver something affordable, in terms of three new facilities, and you want to end the Dickensian process of slopping out, then somehow this budget head has got to be met."

Mr Kennedy conceded that he did not envy the "dilemma" Mr Wallace has been confronted by when there was no enthusiasm for private prisons within the party.

"But at the end of the day there is an enthusiasm for doing something that is socially progressive," he added.

The executive's plans would also mean the closure of Low Moss prison near Glasgow, as well as Peterhead prison in Aberdeenshire.

Consultants had told Mr Wallace that the move might save the Scottish Executive 700m.

But the Prisons Estates Review, has been dismissed as "fundamentally flawed" by two academics.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Political editor Brian Taylor
"If Jim Wallace is to change his verdict he will need hard evidence"
Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy
"There is an enthusiasm for doing something that is socially progressive"
See also:

18 Apr 02 | Scotland
Ministers face prisons revolt
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
Private prisons opposition mounts
15 Apr 02 | Scotland
Private jail costs under fire
21 Mar 02 | Scotland
Private prisons plan confirmed
01 Apr 01 | Scotland
Lib Dem conference in pictures
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