HC Deb 07 June 1962 vol 661 cc635-7
14. Miss Bacon

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many inmates in the Ashford Remand Centre in the last three months have been there for over eight weeks; and for how many hours a day they are locked in their cells.

Mr. R. A. Butler

At the end of February, March and April the numbers of those who had been in the centre for over eight weeks were, respectively, 8, 13 and 15. At present inmates spend an average of 14 hours a day in their cells; the possibilities of reducing this period are being actively examined.

Miss Bacon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, since I raised this matter in the debate in the House on 10th May, some of the parents of the inmates have been to see me? Two of the fathers, whom I regard as very reliable, allege that their sons and 10 others have been in this remand centre since 6th April and are not due to be in court until 19th June next. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that far from spending 14 hours in their cells they allege that, apart from three periods of a quarter of an hour each for meals, two periods for exercise and one period of 15 minutes for visitors—a total of one and a half hours—these boys aged 17 and 18 are locked in their cells for 22½ hours with no recreation or work of any kind whatever? Would the right hon. Gentleman look into this again and, if more staff is needed, will he see that it is sent?

Mr. Butler

Yes, in fact my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary is to visit this centre next week. I will go further and say that if the hon. Lady wishes to visit it we would arrange for her to be received there. I am anxious that these matters should be looked into. There are difficulties about staff, but I am informed that a full-time teacher is available for the education of boys who are waiting, and I understand that the position has slightly improved since she made her statement in May.

Miss Bacon

How can the right hon. Gentleman say that the situation has improved, since this shows that it is worse than when I made my statement on 10th May? Is he aware that these are not convicted criminals? They have not been convicted of any offence and if they were in any prison in the country they would not be treated in this manner.

Mr. Butler

It has been improved in this respect; it happens that today—and I made inquiries today—no boys awaiting removal to approved schools have been in the centre for more than eight weeks. That has been one of the great difficulties—waiting entrance to approved schools. I agree in other respects that the possibility of reducing the period when they are locked in their cells should be investigated, and that is why my hon. and learned Friend is to visit the centre next week.

Mr. C. Royle

Is not the position a complete abuse of everything we envisaged for remand centres? It is surely impossible that this kind of thing should ever go on.

Mr. Butler

I am aware of the difficulties. I was aware of them when the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) raised them in May. I have made my own representations and I am hoping to see the position improved. That is why the Under-Secretary is to visit the centre.

Mr. Fletcher

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is a serious scandal? He has known about it for a long time. It is not good enough merely to say that the matter is still being actively examined. Why will the right hon. Gentleman not give an assurance that these boys will not in future be kept for these extraordinarily long hours in their cells?

Mr. Butler

I am afraid that some of them are of an unruly disposition and close supervision is essential. This must be associated with the provision of staff, and I cannot promise a complete improvement in the sense desired by the hon. Member. The matter is under active consideration and, as I have said, the Under-Secretary is to visit the centre.

Sir G. Benson

Surely there is no evidence that detention for long periods in approved schools is any more beneficial than detention for shorter periods?

Mr. Butler

One difficulty is entry to approved schools, which are overcrowded. As I said in my speech in May in the debate on the Estimates, we are increasing the number of places at approved schools, many of which are not under the Government but under local authorities. A second problem arises in regard to persons awaiting trial. By putting into force the observations in the Streatfeild Report, we are hoping to improve matters.