HC Deb 30 April 1980 vol 983 cc1378-94
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the present situation in the prison system in England and Wales and about the action that I am taking on the main recommendations of the report of the committee of inquiry into the United Kingdom prison services—the May committee. We shall also within the next few weeks publish a detailed reply to the 15th report from the Expenditure Committee for Session 1977–78, and we shall publish proposals for changes in the powers of the courts in relation to young offenders later in the summer.

As the May committee made clear in its report, this country has for many years paid too little attention to its prisons. The result is that our prisons are chronically overcrowded and the prison service operates under severe strain. In the period since the report was published last October, the prison population in England and Wales has risen from 42,500 to a total of 44,000 on 18 April. The figure continues to fluctuate, but the present level is dangerously high. Exceptional measures by way of legislation or administrative action would be unpalatable and frustrating to those whose task it is to administer justice, but they cannot be ruled out if the situation demands them. Our primary task must, however, be to prevent such a situation from developing.

The following action is being taken. First, we must ensure that the prison estate is adequate for the job that it has to do. We have every sympathy with the May committee's recommendation that the building programme should be increased. The present programme, together with a considerable maintenance commitment, is substantial. Work already in progress will produce about 3,400 new or refurbished places by 1985, including a major new dispersal prison, which should come into use next year. Firm plans are being made to start two new major projects in both 1981–82 and 1982–83, which will provide 1,500 further places by the later 1980s. I hope to continue the programme on that basis in 1983–84, and preliminary planning is now proceeding.

Secondly, we shall continue our efforts to develop alternatives to imprisonment. The Government believe that the outside community must play an increasing part, whether through statutory or voluntary agencies, in the treatment and containment of offenders, particularly those who have not committed violent offences. We shall give full support to non-custodial methods, and we recognise the major contribution that the probation and aftercare service must make to them.

The mentally disordered offender presents particularly difficult problems. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I accept that it is undesirable to detain in prison persons whose mental disorder permits them to be detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. We shall continue our efforts to have such persons transferred to hospitals with the appropriate levels of security. My right hon. Friend will continue to give priority to the establishment of regional secure units. The programme that has been planned will make a valuable contribution to the provision for these offenders.

A new development is that we are making public funds available to enable voluntary organisations to make a start in providing simple overnight shelter for people who would otherwise be charged with offences of drunkenness.

Measures of this kind may not individually achieve a substantial reduction in the prison population, but taken together they can have a significant impact.

Thirdly, the Advisory Council on the Penal System, the Expenditure Committee and the May committee have all emphasised the need for shorter sentences. I have already said that the Government would welcome shorter sentences for nonviolent offenders, and it should be possible to bring about a significant reduction in the general level of sentences without sacrificing the protection that the public is entitled to expect. I believe that such a reduction can be achieved by the exercise of judicial discretion, and recent judgments have suggested that there is an increasing awareness among judges that the less serious type of non-violent offence can properly be met by a shorter term of imprisonment than has been imposed previously. I turn now to the May committee's vitally important recommendations on prison reorganisation. Like the committee, I fully support the principle of preserving direct ministerial responsibility for the prison service and for the treatment if individual prisoners. Subject to that, I endorse the May committee's objective of a structure which will give the prison services a greater corporate sense and enable those in charge to be more directly responsible for its own affairs. I am, therefore, instituting a major change in the prison department's position in the Home Office and in its internal organisation. The prison department will be given wide delegated authority within the Home Office for the management of its staff and for the control of its finance. Special attention will be paid to improving the system of financial information and control.

The present director general will remain in his post. A new post of deputy director general will be created and the membership of the Prisons Board will be expanded to include the four regional directors and two outside non-executive members whose appointments I shall announce shortly.

I accept the May committee's crucial recommendations for an inspectorate separate from the prison department, and for the publication of its reports. A new Crown appointment of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be announced as soon as possible. He will inspect and report to the Home Secretary on prison establishments in England and Wales, conducting regular inspections of individual establishments and investigating particular incidents or situations on the Home Secretary's directions. He will submit an annual report, which will be published, and other reports, which will be made publicly available as appropriate.

I endorse the May committee's objective of a reconstructed regional organisation, which will enable regional directors to concentrate more closely on the supervision of individual establishments, reporting directly to the deputy director general. As the committee recommended, most specialist functions will be concentrated at headquarters.

I will, with permission, circulate further details of these organisational changes in the Official Report. Copies of this information are now available in the Vote Office.

I endorse the May committee's views on the need to achieve better industrial relations, to make the best possible use of staff and to improve staff accommodation and amenities. I am pursuing these matters with the staff associations concerned, with priority for improvements in the procedures for handling industrial relations and for the design of a new attendance system and the associated conditions of service. I accept the committee's recommendation for a comprehensive review of training.

I believe that the changes that I have announced will provide a framework in which members of the prison service, of all grades, will be better able to perform their difficult tasks. I shall do all that I can to help them to maintain their high traditions and to develop new and constructive methods in the context of the concept of positive custody as put forward in the May committee's report. Work will be put in hand to translate it into the design of prison regimes and the development of prison industries, and I will lay the necessary amendments to the prison rules in due course.

All the measures that I have announced have a common objective—to ensure an effective prison system and an efficient and confident prison service.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I note what the Home Secretary said about the Iranian embassy. The less said about that the better at present, but no doubt we shall have a full report when appropriate.

The right hon. Gentleman's statement on prisons was a long one, which requires far more discussion than is appropriate now. It was our impression that we should have the opportunity to debate the May report before anything was said. I know that the Expenditure Committee report is to be debated shortly, as the Home Secretary said.

The latter part of the statement was concerned with the organisation of the prison service. As its terms of reference show, I set up the May committee to look into the organisation of the prison service. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is my view—a view that I quickly reached as Home Secretary—that not enough thought had been given to the prisons themselves, whatever the size of the prison population, and certainly not enough thought has been given to the wider and more important question of penal reform? The structure of the prison service was and is wrong, and needs change. Although part of the Home Office, relations between the prison department and the Home Office were not good, and industrial relations were bad, as we saw last year. I welcome all that the right hon. Gentleman says concerning changes in the internal structure and in finance and management. I approve of the changes announced in the Prisons Board and of the sharpening of responsibilities of the prison organisation regionally.

Is the right hon. Gentleman farther aware that his acceptance of a separate inspectorate is a significant change? However, will he accept that without an improvement in the relationship between the trade union organisations, any changes will fail to have maximum impact? Without the full co-operation of the Prison Officers Association, which itself needs change, there will be further industrial troubles.

I set up the May committee to deal with organisational changes, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was and is my strong view that there must be a radical reduction of the prison population? That needs political will. I do not believe that I was short of that, but I certainly did not have the strength of this House to implement the idea.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman says on alternatives to prison and what he says about the mentally ill. Money was provided for regional secure units a long time ago. The Health Service administrators have much to answer for over the delay, and the attitude of some staff is also responsible. The right hon. Gentleman's statement about what I understand are called " wet " shelters, which in this case are for alcoholics and not for dissident Cabinet Ministers, is an improvement, but little more.

Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the judiciary will oblige over shorter sentences? All Home Secretaries have asked for shorter sentences, yet more and more people are going to prison, which is not so in the remainder of Europe. The number of people on remand for longer periods, about half of whom are then released, needs judicial action. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is only one way forward, if variable in application? The one-third remission of sentence must be replaced by the half remission that I introduced in Northern Ireland and that this House approved. It will require changes in the parole system. The Home Secretary has a majority in this House to implement that radical change, or variants of it. I wish that I could have implemented the change. Without that change any proposals about prison organisation, and so on, will not go to the root of the matter. We are sending far too many people to prison. The judiciary will not oblige. We can deal with the problem only in this House.

Mr. Whitelaw

I readily recognise that the opportunity to make the necessary changes in the organisation of the prison department within the Home Office and the various proposals that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed stem directly from his decision to set up the May committee. I applauded that decision at the time. I believe that it was entirely correct. It has helped in these changes. I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about my reaction to what the May committee said about organisation.

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman over the question of shorter sentences and the judiciary. Recently there have been signs of an increasing feeling among judges that in many cases shorter sentences are appropriate. I hope that that feeling will develop.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's view about remission as in Northern Ireland, with changes in the parole system, I have made it clear that I am ready to consider many of these changes. However, I believe that they will be frustrating to, and disliked by, many who administer justice. There will therefore be opportunities for those people, in turn, to frustrate such changes if they are made, and it is important not to make them unless it becomes absolutely clear that they are essential.

Mr. Wheeler

I welcome this opportunity to support my right hon. Friend in his statement, which I completely endorse. The whole House must be aware of the serious problem in the prison service, with a prison population in excess of 44,000. [HON. MEMBERS: " Question."] I welcome the review of prison building. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the other alternatives. [HON. MEMBERS: " Question."]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will be happier if the hon. Member says " Is my right hon. Friend aware that...?"

Mr. Wheeler

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will welcome his continued review of those problems, in particular the creation of an independent inspectorate for the prison service, which is a radical advance? Will my right hon. Friend comment further on that proposal?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has personal experience of working in the prison service.

Mr. Russell Kerr


Mr. Whitelaw

Whether inside or not, my hon. Friend has experience of working in the prison service, which I understand the hon. Gentleman does not have, and nor have I. I greatly welcome the fact that from my hon. Friend's experience he believes that the changes that I have made are correct.

The new chief inspector will be a Crown appointment. He will be independent of the prison department and will report directly to the Home Secretary. Those are three important developments.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the Prisons Board and the inspectorate are welcome, but does he accept that the general response to his statement will be great disappointment over the opportunities that he has missed to make a radical inroad into the crisis in our prisons? He has not addressed himself to the problem of numbers, with about 45,000 prisoners occupying space designed for 37,000. About 11,000 prisoners are crammed two and three at a time into cells built for one. This year already, 150 prisoners have had to sleep in corridors and a further 150 have had to be held in police cells. The right hon. Gentleman's statement, fine words though it contained, is no solution to the problems of numbers, the mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts and petty offenders. Will the Home Secretary accept that the judiciary is not looking after our prison system, and that this House and the Government must do so? A significant impact on the population can be made only by the immediate introduction of 50 per cent. remission.

Mr. Whitelaw

That may be the hon. Gentleman's view. He says that the prison population is 45,000, but my figure of 44,000 was for 18 April, which shows that there has been a small downward trend. I said that the number fluctuated and that it was right to watch it carefully. I must tell the hon. Member that the measures that I have introduced, taken together, can have a significant influence on the prison population. Some of the measures that he puts forward would have considerable repercussions on the administration of justice. Such measures may be necessary, but I do not wish to take them in a panic, which is what the hon. Member is trying to make me do.

Sir Paul Bryan

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the new prison to be built at Full Sutton? When will construction start, when will it be finished, what is the scale of the prison, and what category of prisoner will be housed there?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall give my hon. Friend the fullest details, but I do not have them with me this afternoon.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

May I return to the issue of the figures? It is perfectly clear that we shall not have a prison population similar to that of Holland unless we change the sentencing strategy of the judiciary. We can do that only after clear consultations between the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary about the kind of sentencing tariff that the judiciary has. Meanwhile and urgently, will the Home Secretary look again at the question of 50 per cent. remission? He mentioned " panic ". We have been talking about this problem since Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in 1974. That is not panic. There have been clear delays by successive Governments in getting to grips with a very thorny problem. However, it is a problem that must be tackled.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point, the hon. Member will agree that there have recently been signs, in some of the sentences and the way in which they have been imposed, that there is an increasing awareness that shorter sentences are appropriate for some offenders. The hon. Member will have seen evidence of that in the papers recently.

On the second point, of course I will consider the question of half remission, but I do not believe that it is necessary that I should accept it until it is absolutely certain that we will not succeed by other means.

Mr. Edward Gardner

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask that in his attempts to deal with the dangerous overcrowding in our prisons he will keep well in mind the alarming increase in violent crime? Will he assure the House and the country that he will do everything in his power to ensure that criminals who use violence will face long-term imprisonment, not merely to punish them but to ensure that the public are protected from the menace of their activities?

Mr. Whitelaw

The position of violent offenders is very much appreciated in the country, and certainly among the judiciary. It is not for me to comment on particular sentences, but I would have thought that the attitude of members of the judiciary to non-violent offenders shows that they are increasingly aware of the value of shorter sentences. From the judiciary's point of view, it is fair to say that it is seen to be very well aware of the need for long terms of imprisonment for violent offenders.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I welcome the Home Secretary's changes in administration and the devolution of power in the Home Office. I echo what has been said about his needing to be far more radical in his attitude to the prison population, if he wishes to cut that population. The May report dealt with many matters of substance, particularly in respect of prison officers and their role. In the statement nothing was said about the inconvenience or locality allowance. Will the Home Secretary tell us something about that? Also, will he help the voluntary associations that can assist in keeping people out of prison? Will he consider giving them some financial aid, which has not been available up to now?

Mr. Whitelaw

I made it clear in my statement, and I welcome the opportunity to repeat it now, that we are discussing many matters of industrial relations with the Prison Officers' Association. We are also discussing the question of an attendance allowance system, which is extremely important. In relation to the voluntary organisations, I have mentioned the question of " wet " shelters. We shall do everything we can, through the probation service and in other ways, to encourage alternatives to custody.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Will the Home Secretary tell the House when the special Home Office tribunal that he appointed following my Adjournment debate on the subject of the Barlinnie special units in Glasgow will report to the House? Will he personally give a progress report on the work of that tribunal?

Mr. Whitelaw

My officials went to see the position at Barlinnie. However, the hon. Member must remember that prisons in Scotland are for the Secretary of State for Scotland and not for me.

Mr. Grieve

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for some years now the judiciary of the Crown courts has been exercised by the problem of prison overcrowding, and that this has been a constant theme of the sentencing conferences that have been organised every year by the higher judiciary, and attended by Crown court judges and recorders? Will he bear in mind that one cannot protect society against grave crime—not only violence against the person, but grave offences against property—without adequate provision of prisons? Will he keep that to the forefront of Government policy?

Mr. Whitelaw

In the statement I sought to provide the right balance between prison places and having alternotive methode of custody, so that those who have to be imprisoned can be put there properly.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most of our prisons are those that the Conservative Government nationalised in the 1870s? Does his statement not amount to a tacit acceptance of the position that in his decade, and probably the next as well, none of those prisons will be closed? Is it not true that we shall be left with the same antiquated prisons? Does that not mean that we need a far bigger prison building programme than the one that he announced this afternoon?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the point of the hon. and learned Member's history, there is no Government—and no House of Commons or individual hon. Member—in the last 100 years who can honestly say that they have paid sufficient attention to the provision of prisons in this country. We are all equally to blame—every Government and every hon. Member. That cannot be remedied quickly or easily. The hon. and learned, Member must appreciate that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

While welcoming shorter sentences in appropriate cases, may I urge my right hon. Friend to stress that neither prison sentences nor remissions should ever depend on the availability of prison places? They should depend, rather, on the seriousness of the offence and the need to protect the public.

Mr. Whitelaw

That is exactly the balance that I have sought to preserve in my statement.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Will the Home Secretary provide any more money? Can he throw a little light on his plans for providing alternatives for alcoholics? Is it not an absurdity that habitual drunkards should be sent to prison? When the Home Secretary talks about overnight lodging, can he say exactly what he means? Also, where will the money come from?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the various alternatives to custody, first, we shall strongly support the probation service in all its work. Secondly, we have provided more attendance centres for both junior and adult offenders. Those centres have a most important part to play Thirdly, we believe that community service orders, which were instituted by the last Conservative Government, also have an important part to play. We will encourage all voluntary efforts on alternatives to prison. On the question of " wet " shelters, £30,000 will be available for their provision this financial year, and also in 1981–82. That is far more than has ever been done by any Government before.

Sir Bernard Braine

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's recognition that prison is the wrong place for the alcoholic and that help should be given to people through the " wet shelter " system, but does he not realise that that is only a small part of solving the problem of alcoholism? Treatment is necessary, and what we really need are more detoxification centres. Therefore, before coming to any final conclusion on this matter, will he have discussions with the Department of Health and Social Security in order to establish just how much help can be given, for example, from the licensing compensation fund and by voluntary organisations in order to solve a distressing and growing social problem?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would seek to differentiate what I was saying on the need to keep out of prison those who will not respond to treatment. The hon. Gentleman, who has studied these matters, knows very well that those who will not respond to treatment cannot be cured in detoxification centres or anywhere else. A necessary part of such a cure must be a readiness to respond to treatment. I am seeking to deal, through the " wet shelters ", with those who are not prepared to respond to treatment and who otherwise come in and out of prisons. They are two different points. Of course, I will discuss the major treatment problem with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Minister made a long statement but he gave us not the slightest bit of detail on the provision of £30,000. May we have the actual or estimated total cost of these new plans, and be told whether it will increase or decrease Government expenditure?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have said that, as far as expenditure on these various measures is concerned, at a time of economic stringency I am continuing a prison building programme which, I readily recognise, was in many cases started by the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor. As for the other expenditures I cannot give an exact estimate. What I want to make clear is that these expenditures will have to be kept within the cash limits that I have for the prison service as a whole.

Mr. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the alternative to long prison sentences is not necessarily short prison sentences, and that the possibility of taking other action, such as having the convicted criminal report three times a day to a centre, is worthy of being considered as a way of dealing with the problem?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will consider what my hon. Friend said. She will be aware that she is referring to various systems of parole and the work of the probation service, to which we are giving full support.

Mr. Speaker

I propose to call three more hon. Members from either side.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the Home Secretary aware that many who will welcome his statement this afternoon find it somewhat quixotic that penal reform should be motivated by the need for economy? Does he accept that cutting sentencing for crimes not involving violence will not have a major impact on prisons such as Strangeways prison, in Manchester, which in the main caters for long-term offenders, many of whom have been involved in crimes of violence? In those circumstances, will he assure the House that money will continue to be found for improving conditions for both prisoners and staff at Strangeways?

Mr. Whitelaw

I must not particularise on one prison or another, but I made it clear in my statement that in spite of a need for financial stringency, thanks to my colleagues I have been able to preserve a prison building programme which, while it may be modest, is certainly more substantial than for a very long time. I have also entered into considerable maintenance commitments. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am able to spend some money. Naturally there is not enough; there has not been enough for many years. However, I am making some improvements.

Mr. Speaker

I should explain that I shall be calling two Front Bench Members at the conclusion, because I am going to call one with a Scottish interest.

Mr. Stanbrook

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way of reducing the pressure on prison accommodation in the long run is to reduce the level of crime? Some improvement may be made by building more prison accommodation and providing detoxification centres, and so on, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is not serving the interests of the prison service simply to increase the remission rate to 50 per cent.?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is why I have sought to preserve the balance in the statement and in the various measures that we are putting forward. I shall have further measures of penal reform to announce to the House in due course—measures that will meet some of the points that my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Is the Home Secretary aware that talk of £30,000, for example, for the alcoholism services is wholly inadequate in relation to the problem, especially in an area such as I represent—Lambeth, Vauxhall—and that a campaign has been launched—Save Alcoholism Services—in the area because of a lack of funds? Projects such as Consortium, for detoxification units, have capital sums, but insufficient revenue to provide these services. Also, while Claiming that it is important to keep people out of prison who need not be there, could the right hon. Gentleman reply to the point that the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders lacks funds and was recently, for the first time, charged VAT by this Government, a fact that threw it into further financial difficulties?

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend's first point would be more properly drected to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. For my part, I was making a particular point about money that I can provide on the prison front. What the Department of Health and Social Security can do in the wider aspect of the treatment of alcoholics is another matter, and I shall certainly call my right hon. Friend's attention to what he has said.

In answer to the second point, the hon. Member will be aware that over the years the Home Office has worked very closely with NACRO and has provided financial help to it.

Miss Fookes

Can I persuade my right hon. Friend to grasp the nettle over shorter sentences? It will be done not by ineffective exhortations to the judiciary but by a review by the House of the maximum sentences that ought to be imposed, and legislation to back it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note my hon. Friend's view. I acknowledge her considerable experience in this matter. I still believe that if judges, by their own decisions, opt for shorter sentences, that will be a great help. I repeat that I see evidence that that is what they are doing. I do not know, therefore, that I accept the second part of my hon. Friend's statement. As many of my hon. Friends have already said, there are great difficulties in pursuing that course.

Mr. Heffer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who represent constituencies containing very large prisons cannot be satisfied with his statement, and that there is a clear acceptance that much more has to be done? In relation to the building programme, does he agree that it is clear that although he is doing more, perhaps, than others have done before him, it is inadequate? The intolerable conditions in our prisons—for both inmates and officers—must be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly. Even if there is a reduction in the prison population, the accommodation problem must be dealt with. It cannot be allowed to go on as it has in the past.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman's intervention prompts me to say that in my strictures on Governments and hon. Members I was perhaps somewhat too general, and that he and some other Members who have prisons in their constituencies have campaigned in this way for a very long time. I should like to take the opportunity of putting the record straight and recognising their efforts. I appreciate very much the need for improvements of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for recognising that I have made some improvements. I have to tell him that it is extremely difficult to put right everything that is wrong in a short space of time.

Mr. Lawrence

I warmly applaud my right hon. Friend's medium and long-term approach to this problem, and his undoubted commitment not only to the protection of the public but to the efficiency of the penal system, but is it not a fact that there is an immediate crisis in our prisons? Is it not also a fact that the only alternative to letting existing prisoners out earlier is to send fewer people to prison? Would my right hon. Friend please tell the House that he is redoubling his efforts to bring to the attention of all the judiciary—that means recorders as well as High Court judges—exactly what position of crisis our prisons have reached?

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept that there is a problem. I must repeat, once again, that I believe that amongst the judiciary there is a wide recognition of this problem and that its members will seek to keep the right balance. I am sure that they will pay attention to many of the comments that have been made in the House this afternoon.

Mr. Millan

The May committee report dealt with the whole of the United Kingdom but this afternoon's statement deals only with England and Wales. What about Scotland and, for that matter, Northern Ireland? Why, for example, is there no Scottish Office Minister present in the House today? Are we going to have a separate statement later? If so, can we be assured that it will be made in this House, so that we can ask questions about it? The habit has been adopted by the present Government of no Scottish statement ever being made in this House. It really is not good enough on an important matter like this.

Mr. Whitelaw

I was, of course, making a statement about the prison situation in England and Wales, for which I am responsible. I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friends to what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Can the Home Secretary help the House? Quite properly, he made a long statement. There have been many supplementaries, and there could have been more. We felt that there was to be a debate. The word " promise " was used. There is now to be a statement on the Expenditure Committee's report. There will have to be a discussion on the prison rules. Will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon the Leader of the House that what today has shown is that we want to debate the question of prisons?

Mr. Whitelaw

Naturally, I would welcome such a debate, but it must be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is here and will have heard the exchanges. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will agree that it was right for me, in all the circumstances—as I wanted to get on with very important reorganisation—to make this statement as soon as I was ready for it. If it is felt that there has been any discourtesy in not having had a debate before this, I must apologise to the House. I thought it was right to get on as fast as I could. I hope that there will be a debate as soon as possible, but that must be a matter for my right hon. Friend.

Following are the details of organisational changes: