Prisons minister Rory Stewart has declared he is "pretty confident" he will keep his job after pledging to resign if a safety drive fails.

The Penrith and the Border MP said he was positive about his prospects after governors from establishments which will determine his fate spent two days at his home.

Mr Stewart declared in August that he would quit if there was no sign of a reduction in violence and drugs at 10 struggling prisons after a year.

He made the vow as he unveiled a £10 million initiative to boost safety and decency at the selected jails.

The cash injection funded a host of measures including scanning equipment to detect drugs and weapons on people or in mail, additional drug-detection dogs, enhanced physical security and refurbished cells.

Giving an update six months on, Mr Stewart admitted that if he was being judged on the first few weeks of the initiative it "doesn't look so pretty".

Mr Stewart said he was unable to provide more up to date statistics before they were officially published later this year.


But he insisted there had been "significant" progress, saying: "The early indications from talking to staff is that they feel that violence is coming down.

"I'm pretty confident."

In one example, after a specialist team was deployed at HMP Humber, there were no assaults in the lunch queue, which had previously been a flashpoint for violence.

Mr Stewart also said positive random drug tests fell from around 20 per cent to 10 per cent at one of the prisons.

He revealed that governors from nine of the jails spent two days with him at his home in Scotland after he launched the project.

"We went for walks, we sat for serious conversations," he said.

"We had a lamb on a spit. They had the privilege of having dinner with my mum."

The governors stayed at a bed and breakfast during the visit, the MP for Penrith and The Border added.

He said: "At the end of that period I was convinced that these are very impressive women and men who can turn those prisons around."

Ministers have come under sustained pressure in recent years over the state of jails after a safety crisis swept through parts of the estate in England and Wales.

The most recent statistics showed assaults and self-harm incidents reached new record highs in the year to September.

Drugs, in particular psychoactive substances such as Spice, have been identified as a key factor in the decline in safety standards.

Mr Stewart also suggested increases in serious violence seen in communities were having an impact behind bars.

"As society becomes more violent, our prisons become more violent," he said.

"We have to increase our focus on managing violence in the way that we didn't need to 30 years ago."

* The jails selected for the 10 Prisons Project are Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.