HC Deb 06 December 1973 vol 865 cc1433-4
10. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from prison officers about conditions in Her Majesty's prisons.

Mr. R. Carr

Views are exchanged between my officials and the Prison Officers' Association on a wide variety of matters as part of the normal consultative process, but I have personally had several meetings with representatives of the asociation about major issues—in particular, the control of difficult prisoners.

Mrs. Short

As we have a prison system which is scores of years out of date, and as the Prison Officers' Association has warned the right hon. Gentleman that the system is rapidly moving towards a disastrous situation, does not he agree that we can no longer expect prison officers to carry the responsibility of looking after men in overcrowded conditions, in which they have little or no opportunity of rehabilitation or occupation? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do when the prison officers make these representations to him?

Mr. Carr

I remind the hon. Lady that the present Government are taking action which their predecessors signally failed to take. There is a far larger prison building programme than for many decades past. That is the first thing one can do to make the physical conditions better. Secondly, there has been a decline in the number of prisoners and, I am glad to say, while this decline has been going on there has been an increase in the number of staff. I am not saying that the number of staff in relation to the number of prisoners, and the conditions in which prisoners are kept and in which officers have to work, are satisfactory, because they are not. But the fact is that that we have neglected the prison system for a long time and the present Government are paying more attention to it now than has been paid in our lifetime.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Department has found serious inadequacies in the physical conditions at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, and also overcrowding? What is the present extent of the overcrowding and what action is the right hon. Gentleman taking?

Mr. Carr

There is still serious overcrowding. I think—speaking from memory—that it is still, unfortunately, a fact that about one-third of our prisoners are sleeping three to a cell, very often in cells originally designed by our Victorian grandfathers to hold one. But with the decline in the prison population and the increase in prison staff, that proportion is declining, too, and at least the proportion living three to a cell is considerably smaller than it was three years ago.

Forward to