§ 23. Mrs. Renee Short
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will provide suitable and convenient alternative remand accommodation to the Brockhill Remand Centre for women in the West Midlands.
§ 25. Mrs. Knight
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in view of the resolution passed unanimously by the Magistrates' Association at its annual general meeting on 10th October, 1969, concerning the need for remand accommodation for women in the Midlands, a copy of which is in his possession, if he will consider the possibility of re-opening Brockhill Remand Centre to women.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I am reviewing this matter in the light of the representations received, the many other demands on an overstrained prison system and the need to ensure that where-ever women and girls are remanded in custody adequate nursing care is available.
§ Mrs. Short
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that the Magistrates' Association has expressed great concern about the closure of this remand centre, and that it means that women now have to travel to Manchester or London, and that their relatives and legal advisers have to make the same journey? Will she therefore consider reopening the Brockhill Remand Centre—which would be the easiest way to deal with the problem?
§ Mrs. Williams
All that my hon. Friend says is true, but I should add that a high proportion of women in custody and on remand are in need of psychiatric attention. We have had to balance the difficulties of getting nursing staff to go to Brockhill because of the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred. I have already promised to do my best and to look into the matter, but I cannot promise that Brockhill will necessarily be the place at which we try to meet the needs of the Midlands.
§ Mrs. Knight
Will the Minister bear in mind—thinking of the remarks that the Minister made a moment or two ago—that although the magistrates are well aware of the problems that she outlined, their recommendation in this matter was quite unanimous?
§ Mrs. Williams
I would hate to suggest that the recommendation was valueless, but the hon. Lady will realise that we cannot quickly bring about changes in matters which are causing great difficulty and are very complex. We are looking into this matter. Owing to the extreme legality and conformity of the female sex, we have so few female prisoners that we cannot have prisons situated within close reach of all their homes.
§ Mr. Dance
Does the hon. Lady agree that Brockhill is a good place and that other alternative proposals have been put forward which could work, with the provision of a nursing staff? Will not 1503 she agree that someone in her Department has made a grave error in coming to the decision? Will not someone have the courage to say so, so that the decision can be reversed?
§ Mrs. Williams
The hon. Member will recognise that I am most unlikely to follow him in his tempting remarks. It is not clear that Brockhill will be the answer, because there have been extreme difficulties in recruiting nursing staff. Nevertheless, I recognise the difficulties that now face the Midlands in this respect.