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Brixton Prison (Escapes)

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the escape of two category A high-risk prisoners from Brixton prison using a firearm on the morning of 7 July. They were awaiting trial at the central criminal court for serious offences, including conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.

Yesterday moring the two prisoners, named Pearse Gerrard McAuley and Nessan Quinlivan, attended the first Roman Catholic mass of the day in the prison. The service began at 9.15 am and finished at about 10.5 am. Since both were high-risk prisoners, they were subject to the usual security precautions. Accordingly, they underwent a rub-down search before leaving their secure unit for the chapel. They were escorted there by three officers.

After the service, and again in accordance with the usual procedures, the prisoners were escorted by three prison officers to return to their unit. A dog patrol supervised them between the chapel and the main prison building. Once inside, and in a narrow passageway, one of the prisoners produced a firearm and took one of the escorting officers hostage, holding the gun to his head. He fired a shot above the officer's head, and the other prisoner took the keys of the hostage officer and used them to gain access to the prison centre. In the centre a further shot was fired, which passed through the clothing of another officer. The prisoners and their hostage went through two other gates, entering a building yard.

In the yard, another shot was fired to keep pursuing staff at bay, and the prisoners reached the prison wall at a point where they were able to scale it despite the razor wire at the top. They then escaped into the married quarters area outside the prison and threatened a prison officer who was cleaning his car. They took possession of the car, but abandoned it when they found that their route was blocked. They were at that point within a few yards of Brixton hill, where they stopped a private car. The driver was ordered out and shot in the upper right leg and the woman passenger got out unharmed. I am pleased to say that the driver is recovering in hospital. The car was driven into Brixton and abandoned in a side street. With the money that they had taken from the car driver, they used a taxi to take them to Baker street tube station.

I am deeply disturbed by this grave lapse of security, and by the associated risk to members of the public. I have decided that we must have a swift and independent inquiry into the circumstances of this deplorable incident, so that any necessary lessons can be learnt promptly. I have therefore asked Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, his Honour Judge Tumim, to carry out a full inquiry with the following terms of reference :

"To inquire into the circumstances of the escape of prisoners McAuley and Quinlivan from HM Prison Brixton on Sunday, 7 July, and in particular to review the security arrangements for handling high risk prisoners in this prison ; to assess how those arrangements were operated on the day concerned ; and to make recommendations". I spoke to Judge Tumim this morning, and he told me that he will be starting the task immediately. He will be assisted by the police. I have asked him to submit an interim report by the end of this month. Subject to the


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need to protect sensitive security material, and to the possibility of criminal charges being laid, I intend that the chief inspector's findings should be published.

When Judge Tumim inspected Brixton last year, his report referred to certain comments on security matters which he had put directly to the director-general of the prison service. These dealt with matters of physical security, including the position and coverage of closed circuit television. I shall be asking the inquiry to pay particular attention to the progress made in these areas.

Judge Tumim also recommended that we should reconsider holding category A high-risk prisoners in Brixton when new accommodation became available at the new Belmarsh prison in Woolwich. The director-general accepted this recommendation. The new unit at Belmarsh for all category A prisoners in London who are designated as a high risk has been recently completed. It had been planned to use this as from November, but I have decided to bring this forward to next month.

In the meantime, I have taken the following action. All governors of prisons which hold category A prisoners, other than dispersal prisons, have been asked to review urgently their procedures for handling category A high -risk prisoners whenever it is necessary for them to leave their secure units. In particular, governors must consider immediately whether religious services can be provided for such prisoners in their living areas rather than allowing them to move to chapels. I have asked the director-general of the prison service to report to me on this as a matter of urgency.

I have also given instructions that other prisoners awaiting trial on terrorist charges should be moved immediately from Brixton to high-security dispersal prisons.

This was a very serious incident and no time must be lost in finding out exactly what happened and taking all possible measures to prevent such an event re-occurring.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : The Home Secretary will know that the public response to yesterday's escape of men charged with such serious crimes has been a combination of anger and incredulity that such a thing should happen. We certainly welcome the promise of a full inquiry and we insist that the Home Secretary report its findings to the House. However, there are questions that can properly be answered and must be answered today.

Before I ask those questions I express our sympathy for the man who was wounded during the escape and our admiration for those prison officers who attempted to recapture armed men.

I shall ask the Home Secretary specific questions so that he may, as he must, answer them directly. Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons told the Government that high-risk category A prisoners should not be held in Brixton. He said :

"It did not have the physical defences necessary for the job." Why were men on terrorist charges not moved out of that prison at once? Why did the Home Secretary wait until two other escapes had occurred? Why is the Home Secretary now taking action that he should have taken last year, and how does he justify such incompetence? Her Majesty's inspector went on to make recommendations about improved security at Brixton. Why were his


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comments on the dangers of overcrowding ignored, and why were his recommendations on improved physical security not implemented? The Home Secretary referred in his statement to "two other gates." Will he confirm that one gate in the prison was open because its security locks had not yet been fixed? He also spoke of the prisoners scaling the wall in spite of razor wire. Will he confirm that all that was necessary for that task was a conveniently placed dog kennel and a wheelbarrow? Will he also confirm that those two category A prisoners charged with terrorist offences were not even kept in a security wing but were held--incredibly--together in an annexe overlooking the builder's yard from which they escaped?

Lord Justice Woolf said in his report on prison disturbances that break- outs were most likely at weekends because of reduced staffing levels. Why has the Home Secretary not even responded to Lord Justice Woolf's recommendation on those matters? Why has action been taken, specifically at Brixton, to increase activity, such as visiting, at weekends while staffing has been left at levels considered inadequate by Lord Justice Woolf six, eight or even 10 months ago? Can we now expect the Home Secretary to take belated action on that subject? Yesterday the Home Secretary chose not to make a statement himself but to allow an official to represent the Government's point of view. That in itself showed the Home Secretary's attitude. That official response was terrifyingly complacent, for the official described arrangements at Brixton as "adequate", even though that morning two men on terrorist charges had escaped. Nothing that we have heard from the Home Secretary this afternoon suggests that, even now, the Government recognise the seriousness of the situation or that the Home Secretary begins to accept a jot of responsibility for what happened. His response--his wish to skip away from all responsibility for what occurred yesterday--shows that he is entirely unfit to occupy his office.

Mr. Baker : I am not slipping away from any responsibility in this matter. I answer to the House and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I want the report of Judge Tumim published when it becomes available. I have asked that it should be available by the end of this month, which case will make it the fastest report on any prison incident in recent years.

First, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the securing of high-risk category A prisoners in Brixton. Judge Tumim's report referred to the possibility of other accommodation becoming available as a result of Belmarsh opening, and we have accepted that recommendation. The accommodation has only just been completed : it was to be ready in November, but I have now made it available next month, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked where the individual prisoners were kept. They were kept in A wing. The responsibility--

Mr. Hattersley : Is the Home Secretary still sliding away from responsibility?

Mr. Baker : Perhaps I may answer the right hon. Gentleman's original question. The matter will have to be examined by the inquiry, but where individual prisoners are kept is the direct responsibility of the governor.


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The right hon. Gentleman asked about overcrowding. I do not believe that yesterday's incident had any bearing on the overcrowding problems in Her Majesty's prisons. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have increased the size of the prison officer force by some 4,200 in the past three years, at a time when the prison population has fallen by 5,000. He should at least recognise that that means that there are now two prisoners for each prison officer. When we came to office, there was one prison officer for three prisoners, and in the 1950s there was one prison officer for six prisoners.

We have totally shown our commitment to increasing resources in that way. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the incident that occurred yesterday, deplorable as it was, had any relationship to overcrowding.

Mr. Hattersley : What about the gate?

Mr. Baker : The question of the gate will be a matter for the inquiry to examine, as indeed it should be. I have already heard different evidence from other people about that, and it will be for the inquiry and Judge Tumim to resolve. The right hon. Gentleman is unfair to say that staffing levels have any bearing on the issue. Staff at the secure units in Brixton yesterday were fully up to strength.

Sir William Shelton (Streatham) : Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what priority the Government give to security in prisons and how much money the Government spend on security? Does he agree that the prison officers in Brixton, in my constituency, do a remarkably fine job, given the antiquated Victorian building in which they have to work? Does he agree that to avoid entirely incidents as lamentable as yesterday's would take a draconian regime such as that at the Lubyanka under Stalin, which would be unacceptable in a civilised country such as this?

Mr. Baker : On the last point, the first responsibility of any prison governor is to ensure that those prisoners submitted to his care and custody are kept in custody. That must be the first responsibility, and he must take measures appropriate to fulfil it. As for expenditure on security, this year we are spending £13 million on schemes to improve specific aspects of security in prisons, compared with £8 million last year. I must emphasise that that applies only to specific security work. Security protection, and improvements to it, are implicit in almost every facet of the building programme, from major refurbishment of prisons or parts of prisons--which this year alone will cost £81 million--down to quite minor building works carried out at the discretion of individual prisons.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the work of prison officers, to whom I also pay tribute. I accept that working in an old prison such as Brixton is much more difficult than working in a modern one, which is why we are committed to the largest prison building programme that this country has ever known. We are currently building 12 new prisons, which will come on stream in the next two to three years.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Does the Home Secretary acknowledge that Judge Tumim's report drawing attention to the security dangers of Brixton was available to him as long ago as last August but it took him five months to accept the recommendation that high-security prisoners should be moved to Belmarsh


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in December, the Belmarsh accommodation being opened in April, but the prisoners not being moved then? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in announcing that prisoners are not to be moved until next month, he is showing a dilatoriness and an attitude to the security of our citizens that is wholly unacceptable in a Home Secretary?

Does he also acknowledge that Judge Tumim's earlier recommendations spoke of the security dangers in having such a depleted staff? Unless and until Judge Tumim contradicts himself, we shall have to hold the right hon. Gentleman personally responsible for not having acted on that advice. The right hon. Gentleman said that he is now asking Judge Tumim to consider whether or not his recommendations on security, made to the director- general, are progressing appropriately. Why did he not ask those questions before the escapes?

Mr. Baker : Various measures were mentioned in Judge Tumim's report in December last year, and specific recommendations were made to the director-general. One recommendation was made to me about the possibility of moving prisoners when Belmarsh became available. I confirm that next month will present the earliest opportunity for Belmarsh to be available, but by then it will be fully equipped and provided with the specialist officers necessary for high-category prisoners.

As to the other recommendations, I was advised by the director-general of the prison service that they were all considered and that action was taken. It will be for the inquiry to decide whether further action should have been taken.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I know that my right hon. Friend accepts the seriousness of the incident, and he rightly advised the House that Judge Tumim's inquiry will investigate management failings, or whatever went wrong, and will report accordingly. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Brixton prison, despite its deficiencies, has a special unit for high-risk category A prisoners, although whether or not that unit was in use at the time of the incident is a matter for the inquiry. Will my right hon. Friend further confirm that Brixton's establishment of prison officers is up to strength?

Mr. Baker : Yesterday, about 150 officers were available in the rest of the prison, and in the security unit the number of officers dedicated to category A prisoners--that is, high-risk prisoners--was fully up to strength.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Home Secretary is responsible for policy. Is it the case that there has been an increase in recent years in the number of provisional IRA prisoners in our gaols? If so, has that been discussed with the prison service? If there are more PIRA prisoners, we are growing nearer, if not close, to the situation in Northern Ireland. Would it not be a good idea to talk to the Northern Ireland Office prison department, which has for many years faced the problem of containing PIRA prisoners who, if they escape, are prepared to injure and to murder, as we saw yesterday?

Will the right hon. Gentleman quickly review the situation at all establishments holding PIRA prisoners, because even if there are only one or two such prisoners at each, the same problems are created? Will he allow the anti-terrorist squad to advise prison officers, because they


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know more than ordinary prison officers, in the same way as Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in Northern Ireland do?

Will the Home Secretary investigate, in particular, prison perimeters? Yesterday's events proved that security measures suitable for ordinary prisoners are not sufficient to contain persons determined to escape with the aid of a gun.

Mr. Baker : I listened with interest to the right hon. Gentleman's comments, because he has borne responsibility both for prisons and for Northern Ireland. There is a great deal to learn from the Irish penal system and from the Irish prison system. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that there was once a much larger escape than that which occurred yesterday, and we have learnt from such experiences over the years.

As to the question of convicted IRA terrorists, and terrorists generally, yesterday I passed an instruction through the system that particular measures should be taken to review the security of all terrorist prisoners. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, most such prisoners are held in dispersal prisons, where the degree of security for the whole prison--not just for secure units, as in a remand prison such as Brixton or a local prison--is much greater. Their features include a series of walls and dog patrols.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that a big prison such as Brixton presents particular problems because it contains a large number of remand prisoners who expect their families and their legal representatives to be allowed access to them. That creates considerable problems when high-risk category A prisoners are being held on remand in the same establishment--as was the case with the two who escaped yesterday. There are two secure units in Brixton, but the men managed to escape when they were in transit from one part of the prison to another. That is why I specifically asked all prison governors immediately to review the situations in their prisons. The problem does not arise in a dispersal prison, but it does in prisons where there are remand prisoners.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : My right hon. Friend's initiative in commissioning an immediate inquiry is welcome. Is it normal practice for visitors to Brixton prison to be adequately searched, given that Brixton contains high-risk category A prisoners? Will my right hon. Friend invite Judge Tumim to consider whether such prisoners should still be allowed to attend acts of collective worship, or whether it would not be more satisfactory for them to be provided with facilities allowing them individual acts of worship, bearing in mind other prison disturbances in the past year?

Mr. Baker : In certain instances, going to chapel has provided an opportunity for prisoners to engage in activities other than spiritual devotion. I have therefore asked all prison governors immediately to examine whether the religious service can be provided in the secure units themselves. That is a sensible suggestion. My hon. Friend asked about visits. All visitors have to be cleared under special arrangements. Their identities have to be verified by the police, and visits are subject to close supervision. Visitors are not allowed to take any hand luggage to the visit, and they are screened by a metal detector. The inmate is searched before each visit, usually


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a rub search, and he is strip-searched after each visit. The visit is supervised by two prison officers who remain in the same room within sight and hearing.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Will the Home Secretary impress upon all concerned the damaging effect on the morale of the police and the security services whose members risk their lives to put behind bars ruthless men who, when they get out or are let out, quickly revert to their murderous activity?

Mr. Baker : I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. I think that the general feeling in the country is of considerable annoyance and anger that this breach of security has led to the escape of two suspected terrorists.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will give all possible assistance to the police and security services in their efforts to capture these two criminals? Further charges relating to yesterday's incident and not to what these two men may have been arrested for before seem likely. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the publication of Judge Tumim's report will not be delayed and changes in security arrangements held up because of any case against these two men?

Mr. Baker : I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I was careful in my description to the House not to identify which of the prisoners was engaged in which action, because it is possible that criminal charges will be laid when these two men are apprehended.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Since these men were outside the secure unit yesterday, can the Minister clarify an earlier answer and say whether that was normal on a Sunday for those two men? He said that the secure unit was fully up to its establishment of prison officers. Rather differently, he said that in the rest of the prison 150 officers were on duty. Is 150 the establishment figure and, if not, how much is it short of establishment?

Mr. Baker : Yesterday another nine or 10 officers should have been on duty in the rest of the prison. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the complement for what is called the A secure group was up to strength and that the number needed to escort category A prisoners was also up to strength yesterday.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that prison officers in this country have better wages and terms and conditions than prison officers anywhere else in Europe? Instead of complaining about underfunding would it not be better for the Prison Officers Association to consider whether its members acted competently in this matter?

Mr. Baker : That is really not a matter for me. I think that it is a matter for the inquiry under Judge Tumim, who will clearly wish to identify the way in which a small firearm and bullets could be smuggled into a prison and used by the two prisoners in their escape.

I confirm my hon. Friend's general remarks about prison officers. I again remind the House that in the past three years we have increased the number of prison officers by more than 4,000 which is the largest ever increase in


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prison officers. Some 2,500 prison officers are currently being trained, which is the largest ever number undergoing training. That shows our determination and commitment properly to protect the public.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich) : In the light of yesterday's events, does the Home Secretary accept that my constituents will not be exactly overjoyed to hear that high-risk prisoners are to be moved to Belmarsh? Having visited that prison, however, will the Home Secretary confirm my view that high-risk prisoners are likely to be a great deal more secure there than at Brixton? Furthermore, is it normal for high-risk prisoners on terrorist charges to be allowed to associate with each other to the extent that they can concoct an escape plot of this sort? If that is the case, will that matter also be examined by the inquiry?

Mr. Baker : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that matter will be looked at by the inquiry. As I said earlier, the disposition of prisoners around a particular prison, once they have been allocated to it, is entirely the governor's responsibility. Belmarsh is a very secure prison. That is why we have decided to bring forward the opening date of the secure unit so that high risk category A prisoners can be moved from Brixton at the earliest possible time.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is grotesque for the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to come here with a bellyful of outrage when he has consistently opposed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act and when both he and his party are pledged to repeal it?

Mr. Baker : I agree entirely. The right hon. Gentleman and his party refused to vote for the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. They also never funded the prison service or the police service properly when they were in office. The right hon. Gentleman's outrage is entirely bogus.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley) : The Home Secretary reported today on what took place on a Sunday. May I remind him that the last serious prison incident, which was at Strangeways, also took place on a Sunday? Does that point in any way to an insufficiency of officers and personnel on duty on Sundays? Were any lessons learnt from the Strangeways inquiry? Will the Home Secretary also comment on the fact that it is now claimed that there has been no random search at Brixton prison since 1987?

Mr. Baker : I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information. Both prisoners were searched thoroughly on 28 June and 3 July, and on 3 July their cells were changed. I fully recognise that there is a problem with high-risk security A prisoners when they go to chapel on Sundays. That is why I have asked governors throughout the country with high-risk security A prisoners to examine whether church services, if prisoners wish to attend them, should be provided in the prisoners' own secure living quarters.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Would it be fair to assume that shooting an innocent motorist is a criminal offence and not a political offence? Therefore, should the fugitives find their way to the Irish Republic,


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may we assume that there will be no difficulty whatever in bringing them back to this country under the extradition procedures?

Mr. Baker : The short answer to that question is yes.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : As previous inspectors' reports have suggested that weekends are a time of high risk, can the Home Secretary state categorically whether staffing arrangements and levels in Brixton and other prisons are the same at weekends as during the week, or even increased to take account of that danger--or is there a reduction in staffing levels at weekends?

Mr. Baker : The practice for many years in all our prisons has been to reduce staff at weekends because there is less circulation of prisoners, education does not take place, and workshops are not open.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that the Opposition spend most of their time worrying about prisoners' rights rather than about their own responsibility to the public? Does he agree that if these prisoners had been left in their cells over the weekend, without the right to have visitors or the right to a so-called church visit, we should not be discussing today what happened at Brixton?

Mr. Baker : If that had been the case, there would have been tremendous complaints to the Home Secretary about what was available to prisoners. There is no doubt whatever about that. A balance has to be struck but, as I made clear to the director-general of the prison service today, the first responsibility of the prison system and of the governors is to ensure that prisoners are held in secure custody.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Would the Home Secretary be good enough to answer my question if he can? What does he feel that Sir Thomas Dugdale would have done if he had been Home Secretary? Given all the incompetence of which we have learnt today, does the Home Secretary feel that he has some responsibility for what happened?

Mr. Baker : I accept responsibility, as the Home Secretary must. As the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said, the Home Secretary is responsible for policy in prison matters. The administration, development and running of the prisons are the responsibility of the director-general and of individual prison governors.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the understandable concern and shock felt at this news, which will partly be reduced by the news that there is to be a full and published report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be ridiculously premature and facile to apportion blame at this stage, in advance of that report?

Mr. Baker : I agree with my hon. Friend. Already this morning, I have received reports from people who witnessed what occurred in the prison. I specifically did not refer to those reports, which do not confirm many of the points and allegations which have been made. It would be appropriate for Judge Tumim's inquiry to investigate because, as I said, criminal charges are a possibility. One


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should not, therefore, be too quick to apportion blame or to say that certain events took place when there are question marks over them.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the Home Secretary make sure that Judge Tumim's report is published before the House goes into recess around 25 July, so that we have an opportunity to discuss its contents? Would not pressure on the prison authorities at Brixton as a remand prison be relieved if some of the prisoners on remand were brought speedily to trial? There are still a large number of people there who have served longer on remand than they would have served in gaol if they had gone to court and been convicted of crimes.

Mr. Baker : In this case, the evidence was being accumulated in order to bring a prosecution. In general, I agree that it would be better to telescope the time spent on remand. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General are considering various changes in procedure which will accelerate that process.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is something of a red herring to complain about a shortage of prison officers at weekends, as some Opposition Members did, when in reality those men would not have escaped if they had not had a gun? It is important for the inquiry to get to the bottom of that security lapse and find out how the gun came to be smuggled into the prison. Will my right hon. Friend also ask the inquiry to look into the effectiveness of the razor wire, over which the men were apparently able to climb without injury?

Mr. Baker : I am sure that that point will feature strongly in Judge Tumim's report and that he will investigate how it was possible for that event to occur. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that a wheelbarrow was used, but the evidence that I received this morning shows that such a device was not used in the escape. Reference was made to the proximity of dog kennels to the wall, and the inquiry will certainly investigate that.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : As the hon. Member for a constituency adjoining the prison, I remind the Home Secretary that he has had the advantage not only of Judge Tumim's report but of an earlier report on the escape of two suspected serious terrorists when, in similar circumstances, Lord Whitelaw assured us that such incidents would never occur again. How much personal responsibility does the Home Secretary accept for this disgraceful incident?

Mr. Baker : I am not trying to shirk any personal responsibility. As Home Secretary, I am responsible for the prison service. It is right that Judge Tumim's inquiry should establish what happened to ensure that such events do not recur.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : Have not the Government employed increasing numbers of prison officers in recent years to provide an increasing number of searches? Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that there will be regular searches not only of the cells of category A prisoners but of the prisoners themselves so as to lessen the possibility of such incidents recurring?


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Mr. Baker : I can assure my hon. Friend that high-risk prisoners are searched very frequently. As I said, whenever they have had a visit--a prisoner on remand has the right to a visit once a day- -they are strip-searched. Their cells are also searched, and high-risk category A prisoners are moved from cell to cell randomly and at short intervals.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : May I commend my right hon. Friend not only for the speed with which the inquiry is to report, but on the manner of his statement? Does he agree that, although staffing levels are properly a subject that the inquiry will wish to consider, it is the height of irresponsibility for those who ought to know better to jump to the easy conclusion that staffing levels must have been responsible, even though such conclusions may be politically convenient for them?

Mr. Baker : It is quite clear that staffing levels are not one of the factors involved in this incident. Judge Tumim will explore all the circumstances to try to throw light on how it was possible for a small firearm and bullets to be smuggled into a prison and to be used by prisoners in their escape, which is unacceptable not only to me but to the House and to the country.

Mr. Hattersley : I note that the Home Secretary does at least accept responsibility for policy matters. Why has he been so dilatory in responding to the Woolf recommendation and the Tumim recommendation about weekend staffing? When will he be ready to make recommendations on an issue which, as he has already been warned, causes increased danger on Saturdays and Sundays?

Mr. Baker : The right hon. Gentleman also said that I had not interpreted the findings of the Tumim inquiry correctly with regard to Belmarsh. We are discussing weekend staffing with the Prison Officers Association. At present, there are disputes about manning levels at about 40 prisons. Given the tremendous increase in prison officers and the fact that we are currently training 2,500, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage the Prison Officers Association--if it listens to him, which I doubt--to engage in the disputes procedure to resolve those issues.

The right hon. Gentleman attacked me earlier by saying that I had not acted quickly enough on Judge Tumim's recommendations in relation to Belmarsh. I refer him to section 6.11 of the report, which states :

"The need for high risk category A inmates to be held in Brixton should be re-examined in the light of (a) the opening of Belmarsh and prevailing security arrangements."

That is exactly what I have done.


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Bank of Credit and Commerce International

4.12 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Maples) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Bank of Credit and Commerce group.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is today attending a meeting of the Economic and Finance Council in Brussels, which is discussing a number of issues that occupied the recent meeting of the European Council. He has asked me to give his apologies to the House for being unable to make this statement himself.

The Bank of England, along with the authorities in a number of other jurisdictions, took action on Friday to secure control of the assets of the Bank of Credit and Commerce group.

The BCC group operated in this country through a Luxembourg incorporated company, BCCI SA, which had a number of branches in the United Kingdom, mostly in the London area. On Friday, the directorate of the Luxembourg Monetary Institute took action under Luxembourg law to secure control of the assets of the company. This was done in consultation with other regulatory authorities concerned, which have taken appropriate action against other subsidiaries and operations of the BCC group.

The effect of these actions was to place the assets and liabilities of the entities concerned under the protective control of the supervisory authorities or of the courts, as appropriate, of each country. In the United Kingdom, following a petition made by the Bank of England, the United Kingdom courts have appointed Touche Ross as provisional liquidator. The effect of this action is that deposits with the United Kingdom branches of BCCI SA are frozen.

The action taken by the regulatory authorities resulted from prima facia evidence, contained in a report commissioned by the Bank of England and recently received, of widespread fraud in a number of jurisdictions stretching back over a number of years. The action was taken in order to safeguard the interests of depositors, other bona fide creditors and the shareholders of the BCC group. A copy of a press notice issued by the Bank explaining its action has been placed in the House Library.

The principal supervisory authorities are seeking the co-operation of other authorities in other countries in which BCCI has been in business, with a view to securing a rundown of the group. They are seeking co-operation to identify and take appropriate action against those responsible for any wrongdoing. Relevant papers have been passed to the Serious Fraud Office.

Within the United Kingdom, the immediate effect of the supervisors' action is that United Kingdom depositors cannot withdraw their funds. Sterling deposits in the United Kingdom branches are covered by the deposit protection fund to the extent of 75 per cent. of deposits up to £20,000--that is, up to £15,000 per depositor. The Bank of England has issued a notice explaining the position of United Kingdom depositors and the operation of the funds. A copy has been placed in the House Library. The


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