|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Wakeham : I cannot promise a debate on the second subject in the near future. We had a good and interesting debate, with divided views from hon. Members of all parties and a pause to consider those views is the right thing.
I do not know how the hon. Gentleman conducted himself when he was in the late-lamented, or the not-lamented Greater London council--
Mr. Wakeham : --or whether he was a Member of the House under a Labour Government, but it does not seem a particularly strange idea that the Government should bring forward a Bill and be keen on having it enacted without too much amendment. That seems a perfectly normal sort of proceeding for a Government. It is the Opposition's job to propose amendments to Bills. That is perfectly reasonable, and I do not see what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. The question is whether we are allowing enough time for the process to be dealt with decently and reasonably, and we think that we are.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's reply earlier concerning the prospect of a London tube strike commencing Monday, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an early statement to the House about how he intends to tackle the increased congestion that such a prolonged Underground strike might cause? Some proposals could include the lifting of parking restrictions on motorists, ensuring that busways are kept open, and seeing that there is extra space for commuting road coaches to be parked off street. If this is a prolonged stoppage, such measures will probably be found necessary.
Mr. Wakeham : If there is a need for a statement, my right hon. Friend will come to the House and make one. However, as I said in my earlier reply, the negotiations are between the management and the union. It is not for my right hon. Friend to make statements about those matters. The matters raised by my hon. Friend are important, and appropriate statements will be made if that is the best way of proceeding.
At 6.15 pm on Sunday 30 April, as inmates in B wing were being unlocked for evening association, a prison officer was confronted by an inmate brandishing a weapon who demanded the officer's keys. The keys were not surrendered, and the staff on duty withdrew from the landing leaving 17 inmates unlocked. These inmates then put up barricades and smashed cells. This incident was contained. On the morning of 1 May, two officers were trapped on a landing in D wing by inmates who again erected barricades and caused systematic damage. The officers were released by staff breaking through the outer wall of the building after the trapped officers had locked themselves in a cell.
Inmates than broke through on to the roof of D wing. They had control of two landings, and access to the roof space and the roof. Staff retained control of the remaining landings of the wing. Yesterday, the inmates agreed to come down, provided that they were photographed and their solicitors were informed. This was agreed, and they were returned to custody at about 7.45 pm.
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will wish to join me in paying tribute to the bravery of prison service staff in containing this incident. There have been injuries to officers, but fortunately none of them has been very serious. I am also grateful for the immediate and highly professional help provided by the police. Two hundred and fifteen inmates were moved from Risley to other prisons. I have set in train an urgent inquiry into the disturbances which will be conducted by Mr. Ian Dunbar, the regional director for the south-west. A police investigation is also under way. Criminal charges and prison disciplinary proceedings will depend on that investigation.
The shortcomings at Risley provide no justification for the destruction and violence which took place and which made those shortcomings worse. As I have told the House, I broadly accepted the criticisms made by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons following his inspection of Risley. We have embarked upon a refurbishment and rebuilding programme which will transform the establishment. The refurbishment programme was due to be completed by autumn this year. That was a much-needed temporary improvement. We have decided to rebuild Risley entirely and the construction of new house blocks will begin at the end of August. Plans are for it to become a modern local prison holding both sentenced and remand prisoners, and work has already begun to this end.
Risley is overcrowded, but it is not undermanned. The staff-inmate ratio has improved even allowing for the effect of the fresh staff changes. Thinking more widely, we are taking steps to reduce both the number of people remanded in custody and the time taken to deal with cases awaiting trial. It is too early to draw any firm conclusions on the long-term effect of these measures on the people on remand, but the remand element in the prison system grew more slowly in 1988 than in any of the previous five years.
Column 373This year, the number of remand prisoners has actually fallen. The average remand population is about 500 lower so far during 1989 than the average last year.
The damage and lost places at Risley are a setback at a time when, in other respects, there are signs of more settled times in the prisons. The total prison population has been roughly steady for several months, new places are becoming available to relieve overcrowding, and staff are being recruited in large numbers and used to better effect. There are opportunities here that we do not intend to let slip.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : No one should either defend the violence at Risley or react to it in a way which might incite similar action in other prisons and remand centres during the summer. It is in that spirit that I ask the Home Secretary some questions about Risley.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the latest report on that remand centre, which he does not intend to publish, shows his Department to have been slow in implementing Judge Tumin's proposals to improve a prison which the judge himself described as barbarous and squalid? Does the Home Secretary understand that the real problem is remand and its contribution to overcrowding? Blandly to assert, as the Home Secretary did, that Risley is overcrowded, like many of our local prisons and remand prisons, is to make a statement of staggering complacency. Overcrowding is the Government's responsibility.
In his statement today, the Home Secretary played his usual statistical tricks. Certainly the number of remand prisoners is slightly smaller than it was a few months ago, but I am sure that the Home Secretary will confirm that it is twice as high as it was in 1979. Will he confirm that, over the past 10 years, the number of remand prisoners in British gaols has risen from 5,000 to 10,000? As 40 per cent. of those men and women will either be found not guilty or awarded non-custodial sentences, their frustration is understandable, to say the least, particularly as the length of time spent on remand has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Therefore, once again, I ask the Home Secretary whether he will take the necessary action to reduce the remand population. First, will he introduce generally in England the rule which works successfully in Scotland--that all remand prisoners are brought to trial within 110 days? To talk of pilot schemes, as I am sure the Home Secretary will, is to misunderstand the urgency of the problem. Secondly, will he use his influence to ensure that the courts are more consistent in granting bail? It is not a matter for the courts alone : as the Home Secretary knows, the Government can play a decisive part in the matter. Will he further increase the number of bail hostels which are available for remand prisoners?
Thirdly, does the Home Secretary not yet understand that what happened at Risley earlier this week is the direct result of the Government's penal policy--sending too many people to prison, keeping them there for too long, and failing to take the--
Does the Home Secretary realise that the Government are responsible, by failing to take the steps which could have resulted in the number of remand prisoners being reduced from its present intolerable level?
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's first point, which is quite correct. I have read press reports, as has the right hon. Gentleman, of a later report by an inspector to the chief inspector, but I have not seen such a report. If the right hon. Gentleman forwards it to me with his comments, of course it will be considered. For the reasons which I have given, I believe that we have acted promptly on the criticisms of Risley in the chief inspector's report, both as regards the immediate refurbishment which I have described and the long-term transformation of the prison into a local prison.
The right hon. Gentleman concentrated on the remand population. He is perfectly right--there is no news in that. Over recent years, the population has grown both absolutely and as a proportion of the total. What is news and what I have imparted to the House, although the right hon. Gentleman has some difficulty in accepting it, is that, recently, in the total prison population as with the remand population, there has been a small improvement. The right hon. Gentleman is concealing his obvious satisfaction with that. He should be glad that the trend which he has advocated for a long time is just faintly beginning to appear. I would not put it higher than that. The right hon. Gentleman went on to the details. Time limits are important. It is not a pilot scheme that we are introducing. What we are doing, in accordance with the permission given us by Parliament, is introducing time limits throughout England and Wales. On 1 April last year, they were extended to Wales and nine English counties, which included the Greater Manchester and Chester circuit, of relevance to Risley. On 1 June this year, they will be extended to most of the rest of England, including Merseyside, Cumbria, Lancashire, Staffordshire and West Yorkshire. The principle of time limits is not a matter of pilots ; it is being applied. As time limits begin to work, they reduce delays. As they reduce delays, it will be possible to tighten them further. That is advice that I took a long time ago.
Equally, with hostels, there will be people whom magistrates might be willing to send to a bail hostel but to whom they would not be willing to give perfect freedom while they are awaiting trial. We are building up the bail hostel programme. There will be 500 extra places in bail hostels by 5 April 1991. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention bail information schemes, but the spread of such schemes from court to court makes it more likely that magistrates will have information about individual offenders which may lead them to feel that they can grant bail. He did not mention electronic monitoring. We are beginning trials in Nottingham, north Tyneside and Tower Bridge this summer to see if that technique can make a contribution to bringing down remand.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to convey the impression --I do not think he does--that magistrates are wrong in many cases in denying bail. There are two occasions when bail comes up in the House. The first is after an incident like this, when everyone says that too many people are remanded in custody. The other is
Column 375when someone on bail commits a fearful offence. Then I am told from all sides of the House that the Bail Act 1976 is far too lax. The Bail Act is about right. There is a presumption for bail. In certain circumstances magistrates are entitled to deny it. I do not think that anyone who has watched the events of the last four days at Risley could reasonably deny that, for the protection of citizens, it is inevitable that quite large numbers of people awaiting trial will be, and should be, remanded in custody.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a general welcome on the Government side of the House for his statement and in particular for the remarks that he has just made about the proposals to reduce the remand population and improve the prison service as a whole? Does he accept that there is a recognition of the important part played by prison staff at Risley under the leadership of the governor at this difficult time? They did very well in controlling the situation. Will he confirm that the staff ratio at Risley is perhaps the highest that it has ever been in many years, at 1.5? Does he accept that it is most welcome that that rather unhappy institution is to be rebuilt? When it is rebuilt, will he ensure that the locking mechanism is electronic, so as to avoid the seizure of keys which led to the beginning of the incident? Will he accept that his contribution to improving the prison system by a huge 46 per cent. increase in expenditure this year is the highest ever?
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The point about the locking system is relevant and is one that Mr. Dunbar will want to cover. My hon. Friend is right about the staffing level. Obviously the fresh start changes and the abolition of a lot of overtime affect it, but even since fresh start, whereas the number of prisoners went down between 1988 and 1989 from 690 to 580, the number of staff went down by only 10. That is why the ratio of staff to inmates has improved.
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is with sadness and sorrow that I rise on this occasion? I want to joint in the tributes to the prison officers who showed bravery in difficult circumstances.
Will the inquiry's findings be made public? How will the inquiry affect the plans to change Risley into a local prison, which should come to fruition at the end of June or the beginning of July? Will the right hon. Gentleman see whether Risley could be rebuilt in less than eight years? Will he accept that a warning was put in the log on the Friday that disturbances were likely on the Sunday? Am I correct that there were only 25 discipline officers on duty on Sunday evening? If the right hon. Gentleman's reply is that many of the prisoners were locked away, is it not a fact that the locking away of prisoners like animals brings about such an incident?
Does he not agree that the remand system cannot be all that perfect when 5 per cent. are found to be innocent and 35 per cent. do not receive a custodial sentence? Is there not something gravely wrong with the system?
Mr. Hurd : As the Member of Parliament for the constituency, the hon. Gentleman has taken a close and constructive interest in Risley during the time that I have been responsible for it. I have asked Mr. Dunbar to prepare and present his report in the usual way, which is as a report to me. I doubt, therefore, whether it should be
Column 376published. I will ensure, however, that the hon. Gentleman in particular, but the House in general, receive a summary and the conclusions.
There will be no change or delay in the conversion of Risley into a local prison. The hon. Gentleman knows from his knowledge of the subject that that will take time, but there will be no going back on that.
I have nothing to substantiate the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the log, although I, too, have heard such reports. The log and the number of discipline staff available at the relevant time are obviously matters for the inquiry. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will agree--as I have heard the representative of the Prison Oficers Association say--that, even if there had been a substantial number of extra staff, that probably would not have averted what happened. No one would claim that the remand system is perfect or that mistakes are not made in bail decisions. I have stated our measures to reduce to the minimum the numbers remanded in custody. However, I believe that it is clear that, even if all those measures were entirely effective, it is right and inevitable that, for the protection of the citizen, a large number of people--perhaps those accused of violent offences--are remanded in custody by the magistrates. We must find places for them.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the number of people in the last recorded year who committed offences while on bail? Is it not a fact that if a person is refused bail, he has the opportunity to reverse that, perhaps wrong, decision by appealing to a judge in a Crown court? However, if the public interest is not adequately safeguarded by magistrates who grant bail too easily, there is no appeal. Will my right hon. Friend not listen to the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and, above all, avoid administrative interference in the discretion of the magistrates in deciding whether to grant or withhold bail?
Mr. Hurd : I cannot give the figure for which my hon. Friend has asked. However, he is right to say that it is precisely the number of such incidents that causes a great deal of public controversy and pressure on the Bail Act. The Bail Act makes it clear that the responsibility is with the courts, and that must remain so. The Bail Act is as clearly tilted towards a presumption of bail as is satisfactory and safe. There is room for greater concordance in magistrates' decisions on the granting of bail, but that is a matter for the magistrates. I want to create other options among which magistrates can choose, so that they are not left with just a choice between leaving X completely free while he awaits trial, or locking him up in such a place as Risley. The whole point of electronic monitoring and of bail hostels is to give magistrates a rather wider discretion than, in practice, they sometimes have now.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : I gladly join in the tribute paid to the officers and the police in their handling of this episode, but I express great concern that the Home Sectetary has betrayed again his gross complacency about those held on remand in this country. I draw his attention to the fact that, in each year that he has been Home Secretary, more than a score of young people have committed suicide on remand and that last year, on average, 11, 439 prisoners were held on
Column 377remand, which was an increase on the previous years. What is it that makes him so complacent and so shameless in seeking to defend the small steps taken as adequate to deal with a national scandal? Why does he do so little--by his own admission, a mere 500 additional places in bail hostels by 1991--to solve this appalling situation?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is being silly, which is not characteristic. I am not the least complacent, either about the prison system in general or about the remand population in particular. What I have listed is a series of measures--I believe unmatched in the past--for improving a deeply unsatisfactory situation.
I must remind the House that, although it is perfectly right for the reasons I have given--I believe that most of the House accept them--that we should take measures to reduce the remand population where possible, the other side of the equation, which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) persistently ignores in all our debates, is that the citizen requires protection. If we were to change the law and lean on the magistrates so that a larger number of people who may be accused of violent offences were given bail--
Mr. Hurd : Hon. Members will have seen what happened on the roof of Risley and what preceded it. Without prejudging any particular cases, what people have seen on their television screens during the past few days has reinforced the notion held by most of them that--I state again--it is inevitable and right that quite a substantial number of people awaiting trial will need to be remanded in custody. It is realistic to say that, not complacent. We must provide adequate, decent, austere places for that purpose.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : My right hon. Friend has handled the situation at Risley extremely well and I am sure that most of my hon. Friends would support him, the police and the prison authorities in the action that they have taken.
There are lessons that we can learn from this particular incident. Before 1995, my right hon. Friend plans to provide a further 25,000 prison places. Does he consider that there is a strong argument for dividing the prison system from the remand system and that we should look carefully at the system operated in many American cities, where remand centres are close to court centres? At those centres, alienation is reduced by improving the standards of family and legal visits and by improving the standard of care. We should accept at the same time, however, that there are people who are a danger to the community and who are likely to offend or intimidate witnesses, and that such people need to be kept in custody.
Mr. Hurd : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to be open to new ideas within the framework that he has suggested--that we should consider the design, construction and management of remand centres. I made a statement on that a few weeks ago. Because our situation is serious, I believe that we should be ready to learn and listen, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended to us.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Is the Home Secretary aware that, during the disorders at Risley, inmates were taken from there to Strangeways prison in Manchester? What further strain did that impose on the staff and prisoners alike at a gaol that is already dangerously overcrowded? What can he say today to allay the fears of those in Manchester who feel that, unless further action is taken soon, we shall have still further ugly scenes at the Manchester prison?
Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman is right, and it applied not only to Strangeways but also to Armley prison in Leeds, both of which are operating in great difficulty in terms of overcrowding. An absolutely necessary result of the action that was taken by some of the inmates at Risley was that others had to be moved quickly to where there was just space to accommodate them. We have had to use a few police cells but, for reasons with which the right hon. Gentleman will agree, that is a highly unsatisfactory practice, and we kept it to a minimum.
Undoubtedly, the action taken by the inmates has put a strain on other, already crowded prisons, such as Strangeways, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and there can be no denying that. We must now pick up the pieces and restore the accommodation at Risley, and at the other places which are now becoming available thanks to the programme which we have set in hand and which the Opposition have consistently denounced.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Does the Home Secretary appreciate that, while most people are aware of the huge effort that he has made to get more resources for the prison building and reconstruction programme, many people felt heartily sick to see the prison governor on television stating publicly that he had agreed to the full demands by the prisoners' so-called shop stewards, which included their being photographed by a particular newspaper as they disengaged from their costly vandalism? How much damage was caused? Does my right hon. Friend accept the principle that those who committed acts of vandalism should be strongly disciplined?
Mr. Hurd : I cannot assess the total damage, but it was clearly substantial. I said in my statement that a police investigation was in hand and that criminal proceedings, and possible prison disciplinary measures, would obviously need to be considered as a result of that investigation.
My hon. Friend is wrong about the so-called negotiations. There was no negotiation on matters of substance. It was simply a matter of timing and who should be present when they came down. He is also astray on the question of photographs. We are not allowed by law to take individual photographs of unconvicted prisoners. It may prove satisfactory that, at the request of the inmates, we have been able to do so.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the situation in Liverpool prison is now rather bubbling because of what happend at Risley and that 60 remand prisoners have been transferred there? It is true that 30 detached staff have been put into Liverpool prison, which is already overcrowded and understaffed. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the first reaction of some of the prison inmates in
Column 379Liverpool was, on exercise, to stage a sit- down? Clearly, immediate action must be taken by the Government to get rid of unnecessary remand prisoners.
I do not know all the answers. I wish I did. There must be some immediate action ; otherwise the situation in Liverpool could get very difficult indeed. We are already aware of the terrible overcrowding and conditions in that prison. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look into the matter seriously and to act quickly to avoid difficulties that otherwise are likely to arise.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman puts the point fairly. When inmates create that type of damage and put out of action that amount of space at Risley, there is bound to be a strain elsewhere, and the right hon. Gentleman described the strain at Liverpool. The remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook were wise in that respect, and I hope that no one, whether hon. Members or leaders of the POA, will give any encouragement to the copycat notion, which is always a danger in prisons when events such as this occur.
I have listed the measure that we are taking to provide possibilities for the courts other than remand in custody, but I do not believe it would be right for us to ask the House to change the Bail Act or for the Government to give instructions to the magistrates to go against what, in their judgment, case by case, they believe to be necessary for the protection of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents and others.
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an answer to the problem? It is to introduce private sector involvement into the running of remand centres and the taking of prisoners to and from court--the type of measures that my right hon. Friend announced four or five weeks ago. Can he announce the timetable for those steps? Will he take it from me that many of his hon. Friends deeply resent the attacks made on him by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? My right hon. Friend has done more to ease this problem through the introduction of time limits than any Home Secretary for 40 or 50 years.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is being unfair. The hon. Member for Sparkbrook was in one of his statesmanlike modes this afternoon and I do not need protecting from him on this occasion. As my hon. Friend said, I told the House some weeks ago that, following the Select Committee's report, the possibilities of private management of remand and of escort duties are well worth pursuing. I told the House of the steps that we were taking to pursue those possibilities. It will require a change in the law if they are to be effected.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : I ask the Secretary of State not to set his face against any further change in the clarity of advice to the courts or the training of magistrates. It is worrying that 40 per cent. of those on remand are either found not guilty or do not receive custodial sentence. I hope that, when the Minister of State addresses the Centre for Policy Studies on sentencing in a few weeks time, he will bring with him some ideas, or, at least, will not be as immoveable on this matter as the Secretary of State has been today.
Mr. Hurd : There is nothing immoveable about our position. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the figure he quoted is worrying. Why has this situation arisen? Certainly, in some cases, magistrates feel that they do not know enough about the young man in front of them and therefore play safe and sentence him to remand in custody, as would the hon. Gentleman.
If sufficient information were immediately available to magistrates about the defendant's family background and job, which the bail information scheme gives, it would be more likely that magistrates would decide to give bail.
In addition, magistrates may feel that they are not happy for the defendant to be entirely free during that time. If it were shown that electric monitoring and the curfew principle worked, or if they knew that there was a well-run bail hostel in the neighbourhood, they could take either of those two options, rather than send a man on remand to somewhere such as Risley. We are not immoveable about considering such practices and possibilities, but are actively developing them. I hope that they are beginning to produce results.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : I am sure that, having seen on television the events that occurred at Risley the public will be glad of the prompt action of the police and prison officers. I am sure that they were equally glad that the magistrates recommended that those people should be remanded in custody. I am sure that they will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that the protection of the public must be paramount in deciding whether prisoners are kept on remand in custody. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in tackling prison overcrowding with the range of measures that he has outlined, it is also important to take more action to classify remand prisoners? Not all the prisoners in Risley caused the damage. One of the proposals in the Green Paper that was outlined some months ago recommended that more would be done about the classification problem. That is important if there are to be more bail hostels. One fifth of those in bail hostels abscond, which is not entirely satisfactory. I hope that my right hon. Friend will pursue this matter with the urgency with which he is pursuing the other measures.
Mr. Hurd : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. On Friday I visited B wing at Hull prison, which has some of the same problems as Risley. One wing suffers from the same disadvantages of design. A large number of remand prisoners tend to bully others, while a minority are bullied. That is true of most remand centres, so categorisation is crucially important.
In my moment of irritation, I failed to pick up an important point made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), on which my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) almost touched : the problem of suicides. When a suicide occurs it is always a disaster and a tragedy, and even more so in prison than outside. That is why we have worked out, and are applying, the lessons which have, I hope, been learned. We must try to categorise and spot dangers as best we can, then try to communicate effectively with those whom we believe to be in danger. That is an important point.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : The Secretary of State will be aware that I recently made representations to his Department about constituents who have been in Armley. Given the seriousness of recent events and conditions
Column 381there, I am staggered by the complacency that he and his Department have shown this afternoon. We shall never know whether the young people on remand in Armley who killed themselves were innocent or whether they were a danger to the public, because, sadly, they are now dead.
How many of the 215 prisoners who have been moved from Risley will go to Armley? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that his Department was warned that closing Thorpe Arch to young remand prisoners could lead to the recent tragedies in Armley? If others are to go to Armley and conditions there get worse, what special measures does he intend to take to alleviate those problems. How many more staff will he provide and what special measures will he take to try to prevent any more tragedies there?
Mr. Hurd : I have already volunteered, in answer to an earlier question about Strangeways, the information that some of the inmates of Risley were transferred to Armley. Whether detached staff follow them, as they have elsewhere, or how long they will have to stay, I do not know, but I shall let the hon. Lady know.
I hope that the hon. Lady will not be entirely captured by the argument that suicides and attempted suicides are the result of conditions, whether in Armley, Risley or anywhere else. I do not believe that that is so. The correlation is not clear. The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) is nodding in agreement. That is clear if one looks at the individual cases. They have to be looked at carefully. Often it is the prospect of trial, the existence of charges, their shadow and, perhaps, the collapse of personal life that results which produces the outcome.
There has also been the story which got around in Armley, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State drew attention--that a prisoner was more likely to be given bail if he did himself some injury. I am not denying that in some cases what the hon. Lady says may be true, but I ask her not to over-simplify. There are many reasons which may result in such a tragic decision, and we have to ferret them all out as best we can in advance. That will not always be possible, but that is what we must try to do.
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Conservative party returned to power the then Home Secretary, my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, announced one of the biggest prison building programmes that hon. Members have ever experienced, a momentum which future
Administrations carried on? Does he also agree that, if the police make strong objections and it is right for a prisoner not to be granted bail, that must be in the public interest because there were strong reasons to suggest either that the prisoner might abscond or that he might abscond and commit further serious offences? Therefore, bail is given in the public interest according to the circumstances. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that there are no votes in building prisons? He knows how angry I am about the remand prison proposed for Milnrow in Rochdale in my constituency, and how cross I have been that Rochdale council was too co- operative in those early days in talks with the Home Office. However, if it is in the public interest for prisoners not to receive bail, that has to be done. We cannot start changing the rules of the courts
Column 382because of bricks and mortar, but we are doing more than any other Government, and the prisoners should understand that.
Mr. Hurd : I agree with all my hon. Friend's points. My noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, I think last week, opened the new prison at Garth. The latest example of the prison building programme. It has taken far too long to build prisons, partly because of planning difficulties. I shall look carefully to see what sites are available in my hon. Friend's constituency now that I know that I have his co-operation.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : Is the Home Secretary aware that, whenever we get prison disturbances, as we do quite regularly, he comes along and makes the identical statement that he has made today, to the effect that everything possible is being done? Why, then, is there such unrest within the prison service? He must know, his advisers must tell him, that, as any hon. Member with a prison within his or her constituency who has contact with that prison and the people who run it will say, there is always an underlying situation that could ignite at any time. Last week it ignited in Risley.
Until the Home Secretary realises that it is the numbers that are the root problem within our prison system, until we get the numbers down, until we get meaningful work in the prisons, until we get men and women out of their cells, where they are often locked up for hour after hour, we shall continue to have explosions within our prison service. When the Home Secretary faces the fact that the important thing is not building prisons but getting the numbers down there is a real possibility that we shall start to tackle the whole issue of the prison service in this country.
Mr. Hurd : Both I and my hon. Friend visit prisons regularly. When I do so, I always ask that I have a period alone with members of the POA and the board of visitors. So I think that I get as clear a notion as anybody of the underlying tensions and dangers which of course exist. The hon. Member is perfectly right to say that they are due, not wholly--because running a prison in a society with as many violent people in it as we and the rest of western Europe have is a dangerous business--but partly to overcrowding. That is partly the result of neglect in the past.
If I had taken the advice of the Opposition and stopped the prison building and refurbishment programme the position at Risley, instead of being serious, would have been a total disaster. It is precisely because we have a little hope, thanks to the modernisation programme, that we are able to make progress. But certainly we have to work towards the elimination of overcrowding. That is why I am glad, as I said at the end of my statement, that for the last few months the total population of the prisons has been roughly steady. Meanwhile, thanks to our programme, new places are becoming available, with the hope, despite the setback at Risley, that the position which the hon. Member describes will slowly improve.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : Will the Home Secretary accept that, while I agree with him that the level of violence cannot be justified by the disgusting conditions at Risley, it is quite disgusting that he is so clearly complacent about those conditions and the fact that they inevitably had an impact on the behaviour of those in Risley over the last four days? He quite fairly congratulates the POA on the role it has played this week, but that would come a bit
Column 383better from him if he listened to those voices within the POA telling him that they do not feel that they have the resources or the training to deal with those who are mentally ill, are drug addicts or have any of the other behavioural problems found within an institution such as Risley. That is a significant part of the problem that has arisen there.
The right hon. Gentleman has been questioned and criticised by my hon. Friends about the conditions of remand prisoners in the north-west, and beyond the north-west, as a result of Risley. Can he tell the House, as he ought to, what steps he will take to alleviate the build-up of tensions at Walton, Strangeways, Armley and all those prisons in which pressure will have increased because of the events at Risley?
Mr. Hurd : We shall do this by detaching staff to meet the new responsibilities and limiting those responsibilities in time as much as we can. But that will depend on the assessment of how quickly we can bring the cells at Risley back into operation and what space elsewhere may be available. That is a major prison management task in the north, thanks to the action taken by the inmates at Risley,-- [Interruption.] --by some inmates at Risley who have done a great deal of damage.
On the question of staffing, this is, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, a matter which the POA constantly and naturally presses. Since 1979, the total of staff has risen by 45 per cent. while the number of inmates has risen by 16 per cent. In the last year, we have recruited 1,600 prison officers, of which 900 represent net growth, after allowing for retirement and wastage. Obviously, these are needed to man the new prisons. Although, as the hon. Gentleman says, this point is constantly argued, I do not believe that the record on staffing is bad. Staff time and talent is much better used than it was when the system depended on a great deal of inefficient overtime.
Mr. Hattersley : The Home Secretary says that he is a supporter of the 110-day trial rule, and claims to be its instigator. The right hon. Gentleman says that it has passed through its pilot stage and that he is happy that it is operating successfully in Manchester. Why does he not refute allegations of complacency by applying the 110-day rule all over Britain, and so automatically and inevitably reducing the remand population?
Mr Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to talk about the 110- day rule. In England and Wales, the time limits are flexible ; that is, they vary from place to place. I gave the timetable in which I am introducing those limits. Before one can introduce them sensibly, there must be discussions with the Crown prosecution service and with
Column 384other people concerned, to ensure that they are fixed reasonably. I have experienced some difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman's own city. If he makes inquiries, he will discover why Birmingham said that it was difficult for it to accept the same kind of restrictions that I imposed on the rest of the west midlands.
That work must be done realistically, but it is being done. This afternoon, I announced the next stage, beginning on 1 June. When the whole of England and Wales is covered, we can begin, in the light of experience, to tighten and reduce the time available. That will have some effect on the remand population.
Questions to Ministers
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to your earlier ruling about not allowing supplementary questions to open ministerial questions. Speaking for myself, I am concerned about that ruling, because it affects the ability of Opposition Members to catch Ministers on the hop. Were it not to apply, Opposition Members would have an opportunity to be somewhat more immediate in terms of the subjects that they raise in supplementary questions. As I believe that problems arise out of the use of syndicates of right hon. and hon. Members, would it not be better to act against such syndicates rather than move against open questions to Ministers, which give Opposition Members in particular an opportunity to put Ministers on the spot? Will you, Mr. Speaker, examine the question of syndicates? Perhaps the matter might be referred to the Procedure Committee for examination in greater detail.
Mr. Speaker : I enunciated nothing new today, for that has always been the rule. I merely drew attention to that ruling because there were five questions on the Order Paper early in the day that were clearly open questions. As the hon. Gentleman's second point, I am aware of the problem of syndicates. When right hon. and hon. Members are not present, very often it is because they have forgotten or that a syndicate has put in a question for them. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's referring that matter to the Procedure Committee, because that practice is not beneficial to our procedures.
That the Plant Health (Great Britain) (Amendment) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 553) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Legal aid (Functions) (No. 2) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Fallon.]