Chief Political Correspondent
Labour last night said a leaked letter to the Home Secretary from the Treasury showed that Michael Howard's commitment to carry out the Learmont report on tightening prison security was paper-thin.
But the Home Secretary's colleagues last night said the leaked document showed that Mr Howard was being cautious about committing the Government to long-term costs for a new maximum security prison, while accepting the thrust of Sir John Learmont's report.
The letter from William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was sent to the Home Secretary on 13 October, warning Mr Howard to make no financial commitments which had not been cleared by the Treasury in his statement to the Commons on Monday.
Mr Waldegrave, who is fighting to find expenditure cuts to make room for tax cuts, said Sir John may have "substantially underestimated" the costs of implementing his report.
Sir John, in his wider report on tightening prison security, said 21 out of 127 recommendations involved costs of pounds 36m in the first year. However, the long-term costs were inflated by a new super maximum security prison to a total capital outlay of pounds 134m over four years, with an additional pounds 154m in running costs.
Labour said the letter showed Mr Howard was being denied the money to implement the Learmont report.
But sources close to the Home Secretary said he made clear on Monday that the super maximum security prison would have to await a review over the next six months. If it went ahead, it was likely to be built with private finance.