HC Deb 15 December 1980 vol 996 cc101-14 9·18 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

I beg to move, That the draft Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 (Continuance No. 2) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 9 December, be approved. The House will recall that during the debate on the first renewal of part I of the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act I made it absolutely clear that, unless the prison officers' industrial action ceased" and they returned to their normal duties, the Government would have to ask for a further renewal. The action has not ceased and I therefore have to ask the House to approve the order before it for the continuation of the provisions of part I of the Act for one month from 29 December.

In asking the House for a further renewal, I must stress the Government's determination to end this dispute. The meetings to which I referred in my speech on 27 November between the Home Office and the POA have continued and, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) in answer to a question on 8 December, we have made the POA an offer. When the House debated the first continuance order, a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), pressed me to give details of that offer. At that stage it would have been premature to do so. However, I can now inform the House of the broad outlines of the proposals that we have put to the POA.

As the House will be aware, we stressed throughout the dispute that the way forward lay in the adoption of a new duty system for prison officers which would eliminate the anomalies created by the existing systems. Accordingly, the central feature of the offer that we have made is a new attendance system common to all prison establishments. The system which is at present under consideration eliminates the built-in overtime inherent in the present system. The present system is based on a working week of 40 hours which does not include meal breaks. The new gross working week would be 42 hours including five hours for meal breaks. This would be an effective reduction of three hours a week.

If the new system proves acceptable, the change from net to gross hours working will be introduced without abatement of basic pay, in recognition of the elimination of built-in overtime in exchange for the three-hour reduction that I have just mentioned. In recognition of those undertakings, we have asked the POA to return to normal working by no later than 20 December 1980, not to pursue any claims for unscheduled meal breaks in respect of periods prior to 21 December1980 and to agree in principle to the introduction of the new duty system as soon as possible—in practice, by 1 April 1981.

The new duty system will be common to all prison establishments, in place of the two systems now being worked, with their uneven rewards for staff. As part of the transitional arrangements to the new duty system, and wholly dependent upon its actually having been introduced no later than 1 April 1981, the Home Office has agreed to make various payments for meal breaks in establishments which have not qualified for them from 21 December 1980 up to the introduction of the new scheme. We would also propose, in the context of a wider agreement with the POA, to introduce a scheme for advances of pay for house purchase and to widen the eligibiity of staff in quarters with a garage entitlement to relief of garage rental. We are also negotiating a simpler and more equitable basis for rent allowance.

I have explained the terms of the proposals that we have put to the POA in some detail because I wish to show that the Government are doing all that they reasonably can to end the dispute and the need for the emergency powers I seek to have renewed. The proposals that we have made represent a substantial improvement in prison officers' conditions of service. They are also a step forward for the prison service. Prison officers generally have been aware of the proposals and are to discuss them at a delegate conference to be held tomorrow and on Wednesday. I very much hope that the POA will grasp the opportunity presented by the offer and at least suspend their action pending a final decision by them on the new duty system which is due to be taken early in January.

I am aware that the combination of the Christmas recess and the imminence of the POA delegate conference has meant that we have had to ask for a renewal of the emergency powers for a period when they might not be needed. However, there can be no guarantee of the outcome of the conference or, even if the POA action is suspended, of compliance by all the POA's branches. In these circumstances, we thought it right to come to the House to ask for a renewal of part I of the Act should it be necessary. Moreover, my right hon. Friend does not feel that it would be right to give up the emergency provisions until the POA action is ended. A suspension of the action, as opposed to a final resolution of the dispute, while welcome, would be insufficient to justify allowing the provisions to lapse. I shall, however, in reviewing the operation of the Act in the brief period since we last debated the matter, indicate the action that the Government would take on each provision in the event of a suspension of the industrial action.

The prison officers' action has continued at about the same level of intensity in most establishments since I last reported to the House on 27 November. They have continued to refuse to receive large numbers of prisoners remanded or sentenced by the courts. The number of prisoners in police cells has risen slowly to about 3,700, and Frankland prison and Rollestone camp now hold about 600 and 350 respectively. The police have continued to cope with the additional burdens placed on them by the prison officers' actions. However, increasing familiarity with the situation should not blind anyone to the very considerable difficulties caused to the police by the need to care for 3,700 prisoners in addition to their normal duties.

I should also like to emphasise once more the unsuitability of police cells for the prolonged detention of prisoners. Some comment has been made recently on the reduction in overcrowding in local prisons effected by the dispute. The House will be aware that that is only one side of the coin. The industrial action has not only reduced overcrowding but restricted prison regimes and facilities for prisoners. Moreover, any reduction in overcrowding has been achieved at the expense of the many hundreds of prisoners in unsatisfactory conditions in police cells.

So long as the prison officers' action and its consequences persist, section 1 of the Act, which enables prisoners to be held in places approved for the purpose by the Secretary of State, will be needed. However, if the action is suspended or terminated, I undertake that we shall move the prisoners in police cells and in Frankland and Rollestone into prisons as quickly as possible. If the action is comprehensively suspended or terminated by the forthcoming delegate conference, we shall hope to complete the operation before Christmas, although this would depend on a number of factors, including the extent and speed with which prison officers in particular establishments reverted to normal working. If industrial action continues, it is possible that some prisoners will have to remain in police cells or in Frankland and Rollestone into the new year and hence into the currency of the order.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the detailed manner in which he has given this information to the House. Could he go further? He will recall that there was some discussion in the House, and also in the other place, about the amenities or facilities that are available for prisoners in police cells. Concern was expressed, for instance, that prisoners are there for 24 hours out of every 24 hours, have now been held for 10 weeks and, if we look on the most pessimistic side, may be there over Christmas. What is the Home Office doing or what does it intend to do to ensure that prisoners in those conditions have proper facilities and amenities?

Mr. Brittan

That depends on what is meant by "proper facilities and amenities". There is no way of avoiding a situation in which, as a result of the action taken by prison officers, the prisoners in police cells do not have all the facilities that would be available to them in prisons. That is one of the consequences of the action that has been taken. Nothing can be done to convert police cells into prisons as such. They are unsatisfactory places for prisoners to be held for any substantial period.

Once Frankland and Rollestone have been emptied, they will take no more prisoners unless there is a resumption of the industrial action. They will, however, be maintained in a state of readiness until the action is formally ended. Frankland will then continue its progress towards opening as a dispersal prison.

Section 2 of the Act will also be needed while the prison officers' action continues. However, if the industrial action ends while the continuance order remains in force, we have to contemplate a situation in which it could be possible for remand prisoners to be produced and returned to prison in the ordinary way, despite the fact that the normal requirements of the law for the regular production of remand prisoners remain suspended. In that event, we would ask the magistrates' courts to use their powers under section 2 to direct the production of all remand prisoners at the end of their remand period. That would, in effect, restore the remand situation to normal. Naturally, there would have to be some interval between the end of the dispute and the resumption of normal remand appearances. Prisoners would have to be got back into prison, and the courts, the prisons and the police would all have to plan for the resumption. There may also be difficulties if the action is not terminated by all those taking part. These are largely matters that would have to be settled locally. But all concerned would be strongly urged to get the remand situation back to normal as soon as possible. I have no doubt at all that the courts—within whose judicial discretion the decision to order production lies—would reflect the general concern of all of us to see the criminal justice system working normally as soon as humanly possible.

When we last debated the continuation of the Act, various hon. Members asked for statistics on the way in which section 2 was working. I said that these might be available at a later date. Unfortunately, the information that was sought is not routinely recorded by all magistrates' courts and a special exercise has been necessary. Although it has not proved possible to mount an exercise that gave full national coverage, 50 courts, which deal with something like one-quarter of all criminal proceedings in England and Wales, have provided numerical data for the week 6–12 December.

The 50 courts tell us that in that week they remanded 345 defendants in custody in their absence. All save 23 of them were legally represented, and it appears that the 23 were unrepresented either because they had refused representation or because their legal representative did not attend court on the day. During the same week, however, a higher number of defendants—394—appeared in the 50 courts in person following a direction that had been given by the court under section 2. These figures are no more than a snapshot, but I think that the House will agree that they are generally reassuring about the way in which the courts are working under the Act.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

the Minister's noble Friend said in another place that a court usually called back a defendant when his legal representative asked for that. From the hon. and learned Gentleman's analysis of the 50 courts contacted, can he say roughly what percentage have appeared back in court—what "usually" means?

Secondly, where someone has been brought out of a prison because the court has requested it, has it been possible for him to be taken back to that prison?

Mr. Brittan

I do not have the figures in the form in which the hon. Gentleman has asked for them, so I cannot give him a percentage. But I think that the facts that I have given, which show the number of defendants who have been appearing in court as a result of a direction under section 2–394, compared with 345 remanded in custody in their absence, of whom all but 23 are legally represented—give a picture of what has been happening in the courts. I hope that the House will find that helpful, even if the information is not in precisely the form that the hon. Gentleman asked for.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second question, I am not aware of difficulties in the sense that people who have been brought up under section 2 have not been able to get back into prison. However, I shall check during the debate that the information that I have just given is correct.

When the House debated the first continuance order, hon. Members expressed particular concern about difficulties in obtaining psychiatric or medical reports. Prison medical officers have been asked to carry out the necessary examinations on defendants held in police custody whenever this is possible, but there are some problems in this. Seven of the courts we consulted told us that they had encountered difficulties, though in a number of these it had been possible to make alternative arrangements. None of the 50 courts had found any trouble with social inquiry reports.

The House will recall that sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Act enable the Secretary of State to reduce the prison population by authorising the release of unconvicted and unsentenced prisoners, by restricting the powers of the courts to imprison for the non-payment of money and by authorising the early release of prisoners up to six months before the date when they would otherwise have been released. My right hon. Friend and I have made clear our reluctance to use these provisions unless they proved absolutely necessary.

I explained in my speech on the first order that the combination of a fall in the prison population from 44,000 to 41,200 and the provision of additional accommodation outside the prison system in Frankland and Rollestone had enabled us to cope without resort to more extreme measures. That remains the position. The prison population has hovered around 41,000 for the last two weeks, and—despite an increase to 4,600 in the number of prisoners who have had to be accommodated outside the prison system—we have continued to cope.

If the prison officers' action continues, there remains a possibility that it will become necessary to use these emergency powers as well, and I must therefore ask the House to renew them. However, I can undertake to the House that, once the officers' action has been comprehensively suspended or ended, we shall not use sections 3, 4 and 5.

I hope that I have said enough today to convince the House of the Government's determination to end this dispute, which has disrupted the criminal justice system and interrupted the progress which was being made towards the improvements recommended by the May Committee. The offer we have made to the POA is, I believe, not only fair and, indeed, beneficial to the prison officers but provides a much sounder basis for the management of the prison service. I am sure that the House will share my hope that the prison officers will accept that offer and end their action. However, for the reasons that I have explained, I must ask the House to approve the order.

9.34 pm
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

It was with great reluctance that the House gave a Second Reading to the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Bill on 28 October. In fact, 77 of my hon. Friends voted against it and only 165 hon. Members voted for it. At that time, we expressed the hope that the Act would never need to be enforced in practice. Its provisions still represent a serious infringement of basic civil liberties and contain unprecedented powers.

The prison officers' dispute has now lasted for over 10 weeks. Nobody wants to see what started as temporary provisions become in practice more permanent ones, so, before the powers are renewed for a further period, it was right that the Minister should have given the House information concerning the effect on the prisons of the prison officers' dispute and the negotiations taking place with a view to ending the dispute.

With regard to the first point—the effect in the prisons and on police cells—I understood the Minister of State to say that there had been little or no escalation of the dispute since he last spoke to the House. There have been reports that the disruption of prison routine, controlled unlocking of cells and threats to end visits by friends and relatives have now spread to five more prisons. I shall be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman will confirm whether this is the case and, perhaps, give the House more details.

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that the number of prisoners in police cells has risen from 3,500, when we last renewed the order, to 3,700 now. While I recognise the difficulties that the task imposes upon the police, I hope that the Minister will reply to questons that he was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) during the last debate, to which I do not think he replied at the time. How many prisoners have escaped while in police custody, and also from the Army camps, since the prison officers' dispute began? This is, I feel, a matter of legitimate public and parliamentary interest, as well as throwing light on the efficiency of emergency procedures for guarding the prisons.

With regard to the negotiations taking place, the House has been patient and understanding concerning the Government's role in finding a satisfactory solution to this unhappy dispute. We know that there has been a series of meetings, both formal and informal, with the Prison Officers' Association, and I welcome the detailed account that we have heard tonight of the offer that has been made.

I also welcome the optimistic tone of the Minister's speech. The fact that he is making plans for the eventual ending of the dispute is a hopeful sign. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House hope that there will be a satisfactory, fair and speedy end to the dispute.

The Minister has been able to provide some welcome statistics concerning section 2 of the Act which were lacking in his last speech. That is the most objectionable secton of the Act and has caused the most criticism, involving, as it does, the legal rights of an arrested person.

I am pleased to note that the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is present, as I want to refer to a most pertinent question that he asked in the last debate and may intend to ask on this occasion. He asked how many instances there had been of courts making orders under the provisions of section 2, which enabled a court to require an offender to be brought back before the expiration of the remand period. As I recall, the hon. Gentleman did not receive an answer from his hon. and learned Friend, and many of us would like to know the answer.

There was another question from my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon). That, too, was not answered. If the Minister still feels that he cannot answer all these questions, perhaps he will let hon. Members have answers in writing.

The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for York related to the number of refusals of applications for legal aid made on the first occasion that a defendant appeared before a court if the court decided to remand him in custody. I feel that, if possible, we should have information on these matters—if not tonight, in the weeks ahead—although I appreciate that the statistics are not easily available without a survey of at least 50 courts.

The probation officers, who have special knowledge and experience of this section of the Act, have expressed great concern about its effects and their strong opposition to it. They assert that, as prisoners have lost their long-standing and automatic right to appear in court every eight days, there must be prisoners in the cells remaining totally unknown to the probation service and not in contact with any form of legal advice. I hope that the Minister can give some reassurance to probation officers and to the House that these fears are unfounded.

The Minister said that sections 4 and 5 had still not been implemented because it had not been found necessary to implement them. It is ironic that the two least objectionable sections have not been used. Section 4 relates to the restriction on committal for the non-payment of money. The overcrowding of local prisons often results from people being there for the non-payment of fines and maintenance payments. The Opposition have said that we would be very sympathetic to making the legislation in section 4 permanent, and many outside who work with offenders have agreed that the overcrowding in our prisons could be lessened to some extent by taking out of them offenders who are there for the non-payment of fines and maintenance payments.

Section 5 concerns the early release of prisoners. Here again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South, who spoke in the last debate, supported—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my hon. Friend now saying—I heartily approve if she is—that it is now party policy not to imprison fine and maintenance defaulters and that the next Labour Government will not continue the present system?

Dr. Summerskill

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) knows, the Labour Party's election manifesto will be drawn up by the Shadow Cabinet and the national executive committee. Unfortunately, I am not a member of either.

I had just referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South, a former Home Secretary, who until recently was Shadow Home Secretary. When my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he supported a 50 per cent. release scheme for those with sentences of between two and three years and also for those keeping parole. That is a version of what is contained in section 5.

Through the provision for the release of prisoners, we could make a virtue out of necessity in this legislation. All informed opinion among people working with offenders over many years has been that the most effective way to reduce permanently the unacceptable level of the prison population is by the greater use of non-custodial sentences, of shorter sentences and of bail. If the provision in section 5 can create a climate of opinion which will influence sentencing practices in the courts, it will have served a useful purpose.

We all want to see a significant reduction in the prison population. I welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman's announcement that there has been a further fall in the number of prisoners in custody since he spoke last—from 41,200 to about 41,000 in the last week or two. We should all very much like an evaluation of the reasons for this fall. Have sentencing practices altered in that fewer people have been sentenced to prison, or have more been given bail? With which offences are the changes connected? It is most important for future prison policy to know the reason for the fall, so that some benefit can be gained from the reduction. We hope that it is not temporary, that it is not simply connected with the Act and that it will be a permanent feature.

We all wish a speedy, satisfactory and permanent solution to the prison officers' dispute. Their unique and difficult work is fully appreciated by the House. While we await the solution, the arguments against the order are as strong and as relevant as when the Bill was introduced. They involve the rights of detained people. I hope and trust that this will be the last time that the House will be asked to renew the order.

9·46 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Life will not be the same when this order does not come before the House. Nevertheless, we shall be glad to see the end of it. I am grateful to the Minister for spelling out in detail the answers to some of our questions and anxieties.

I do not want to go over all the arguments, not least the penal reform by default argument. The least said about that, the better. I should like to ask the Minister several questions. He has already dealt with the arrangements for psychiatric and social reports. I appreciate that he may not be able to answer all my questions tonight.

I understand that prisoners are sometimes moved arbitrarily between police stations and the emergency prisons. After attending court they may be taken to a different place and a different area. That causes disruption to links with family, friends and lawyers. Is that happening on a large scale?

I am not entirely satisfied about the care being shown to youngsters in the 17 to 21-year-old bracket. I appreciate that no hard and fast line can be drawn. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments in the last debate about the 16-year-olds and younger people. Many 17 to 21-year-olds are experiencing custody for the first time in disturbing and emotional conditions. Some of the people with whom they are forced to live have social and psychological problems infinitely greater than those of the young persons.

I understand that medical checks were made on prisoners when they were admitted to prison. Are such checks being carried out in the police stations by police surgeons or other people? What is the cost? Some years ago it cost £9 per person for each police surgeon's visit. Is each prisoner being examined, and is that the cost?

The bail beds issue is important, because it indicates how many people at the disadvantaged end of the social scale are not looked after adequately. Are they going straight into custody, or are attempts being made to put them into bail hostels? A few weeks ago vacancies existed in bail hostels, although vacancies did not exist before the Act was passed. One had reason to assume that people who would have been able to use bail beds in bail hostels are now being held in police stations.

Given the time that the Act is operational, I am increasingly worried about the effect on the physical and emotional health of people either in prisons or police stations who are held in their cells for 20 hours or more each day. Anybody who has tried locking himself up in one room for 20 hours will know how difficult that is.

It is known that in some cases people are spending 23 hours in a cell—often a small cell. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has already raised the question of the facilities available for them. Do they have more ready access to books and games? To be locked up in any circumstances for 23 hours is extremely destructive psychologically. One would not expect a person to recover from such an experience if it had been going on for some months, as looks like being the case, unless some real effort is made to lessen the impact.

One should not understate, by looking at the psychiatric side, the seriousness in terms of a person's medical health, which can deteriorate through long periods of incarceration in a single room without adequate exercise or alternative activities.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the importance of the issue generally. There has been a lot of discussion about it. I have always said that the dispute was not necessary and that if it had gone to arbitration it could have been avoided. Section 2 of the Act is particularly offensive. It deals with the right of people to come back to court. My concern has always been for those who are not represented. They are the ones who can most arbitrarily suffer.

During the last two weeks, I have taken the opportunity to look at a number of books and associated documents that relate to the workings of habeas corpus. Wade and Phillips, in "Constitutional Law", say: The remedy of habeas corpus has been one of the most distinctive contributions of English law to the international vocabulary of constitutional law. It goes on to say that this is expressed, for example, in the European Convention of Human Rights, which states: Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful. The emphasis, of course, is on the word "speedily". Wade and Phillips also state: Accordingly English law provides in the writ of habeas corpus a means by which a person detained without legal justification may secure prompt release. I put the emphasis on the word "prompt" because there is good reason to believe that many of the less able people in police cells and elsewhere are not fully aware of their rights and are not able to use them.

Dicey, in "The Law of the Constitution", said Liberty is not secure unless the law, in addition to punishing every kind of interference with a man's lawful freedom, provides adequate security that every one who without legal justification is placed in confinement shall be able to get free. The Act, whose provisions we shall have approved on three occasions if it goes through tonight, as I am sure it will, against my wishes, is an interference with that declaration and leads to arbitrary justice. It is arbitrary in the sense that some people who are better represented and better able to speak for themselves will get a better service and be able to appear before a court whereas someone not so able will be less likely to achieve that situation. That is a serious action for the House to have taken. I do not feel that it has been justified by the industrial dispute with the prison officers. It could have been dealt with by other means. I still wish that this had been so.

9.54 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Hon. Members insisted that the renewal of the Act should be debated at monthly intervals so that the Minister would have to come to the House to report on the conditions in which prisoners were being held in police cells, given the emergency nature of the situation. The House rightly took a serious view at the time of the facilities and amenities, or restrictions on normal privileges, that would apply to prisoners in police cells.

I intervene in the debate only because the Minister has not so far been able to give a detailed and satisfactory reply to the questions that my hon. Friends and I put to him about what the Government are doing to try to alleviate what we all accept are necessarily the deplorable conditions in police cells. No one is criticising the police or the resources that they have at their disposal. It is important, however, now that many prisoners will have been held in those conditions for 10 weeks—indeed, 4,000 prisoners may be held for a further month or more during Christmas if the dispute is not settled—and the House will not be able to debate the issue again before January. I hope that such a debate will not be necessary. Will the Minister say exactly what the Home Office is doing to provide games, books, diversions or amusements for prisoners who are locked up for long periods during the day in clearly unsatisfactory conditions in police cells? It has been reported that all the facilities that have been made available to prisoners have been supplied voluntarily by the police, often from their personal resources.

What is the Home Office doing to help? What facilities is it providing for education, welfare or social back-up? We need to know, through the whole gamut of the demands that may be made by prisoners of all sorts, what provision the Prison Department is making to try to ensure that prisoners' rights are maintained and respected and that their needs for welfare advice and social welfare work as well as legal advice are dealt with adequately.

I hope that the Minister will refer to especially vulnerable and difficult categories of prisoner. How many mentally disordered prisoners are being held currently in police cells? As the hon. and learned Gentleman recogises, they pose a tremendously difficult control problem within a prison. One mentally disordered prisoner in a police cell for a long period could pose a disproportionately heavy control problem on the police force.

How many mentally disordered prisoners are there, and what medical care and treatment is being provided? Are there any alcoholics? Are there any drug addicts? If there are prisoners in those categories, what provision is made and what resources is the Home Office providing for them?

The Minister has come to the House in a forthright and forthcoming manner. He has supplied us with the details that we expected from him. He has answered many of the questions that were asked when we debated these matters on the previous occasion. However, it is necessary for him to give more than a snapshot picture of what conditions are like in police cells for prisoners who have now been in them, through no fault of their own, for an excessively long time and who are being denied their legal rights as well as many other facilities. The Minister has a duty to inform the House precisely what the Home Office has done.

If the Minister has not done any of the things to which I have been referring, I hope that he will tell us why that has not been possible. I hope that he will give the House an assurance that if the delegate conference and the ballot that will be held by the Prison Officers' Association go against the Home Secretary, he will tell us what further action the Government will take to alleviate conditions within police cells.

9.57 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) said that the criticism of the Act that we are continuing by order is that it derogates from the procedures of habeas corpus as instituted by the writ. That is not so. The purpose of the habeas corpus procedure is to ensure that no person is held unlawfully. That is the sole and simple purpose of the writ. There is nothing in the Act continued by order that in any way derogates from that principle.

The criticism of section 2 is that it enables people to he held unlawfully. It does not do that. It removes defendants from the supervisory eye of the courts. As a general proposition, it is desirable that defendants are brought before the court every eight days to ensure that they have ample opportunity to make representations about conditions and, where desirable, to enable them to make further application for bail. It is that aspect of the section that causes some hon. Members concern. The section does not derogate from the provisions of habeas corpus.

Mr. Soley

I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has any experience of the real world. There are some who appear in court unable effectively to speak for themselves. As a result, they are immediately held in custody. They are still unable to speak for themselves in that circumstance. That can result—the hon. Gentleman' can hardly deny this—in their being held unlawfully when there may be no lawful reason for them to be held. The fact that they are not able to speak for themselves or that someone else has not spoken for them is not a satisfactory excuse.

Mr. Hogg

Before the hon. Member makes interventions of that kind, he should reflect that I have appeared in a great many more courts than he has ever done and have acted for more defendants than he is ever likely to do. The plain fact is that the hon. Member's experience—as a probation officer, I think—does not equip him to understand the workings of the criminal courts, nor does it provide an adequate basis on which to make remarks of that kind.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

So there. Take 500 lines.

Mr. Hogg

The important point to realise is that the hon. Member should not come into this place and talk about habeas corpus without understanding its scope and purpose. The critisism of the hon. Member is that he is making points which have little or no merit.

Turning to the more serious matter—and the hon. Member's contributions do not come within the scope of that description—the criticism of section 2, as I say—the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) would be well advised to listen, because he might learn something—is that it means that defendants do not come before the courts on a regular basis.

As a long-term approach, that would be wholly unacceptable, but in the short term it is perfectly acceptable. It is acceptable basically for three reasons: first, because of the steps that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has taken to ensure that legal aid is available; secondly, because of the emphasis that has been placed upon the granting of bail in every relevant situation; and thirdly, because the courts have a power to require the defendant to be brought back before the court at a regular stated interval.

I do not much like section 2—though my objections are based on sound reasons and not unsound reasons, like those of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North—but I shall certainly support the order on the basis that this is a temporary provision designed to meet an exceptional situation.

10.2 pm

Mr. Brittan

Dealing first with the general observations that have been made about the nature of this legislation, largely for the reasons that have just been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), I simply find it quite impossible to accept that this legislation, regrettable though it is, can possibly be described as a great inroad into civil liberties, as the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) described it. That is a travesty of what we have been doing, and the steps that have been taken to deal with the very serious problems arising from the emergency measures belie that accusation.

In answering the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), with his quotations from Dicey, I am content to pray in aid the latter-day Blackstone from Grantham.

I turn to some of the points mentioned. I was asked whether the courts are granting requests for special directions requiring production. Our survey of 50 courts confirmed the impression that requests for special direction under section 2 are being granted in the overwhelming majority of cases. The 50 courts that we surveyed granted 371 such requests in the week 6–12 December and refused only six. That puts the matter substantially in perspective.

The hon. Member for Halifax asked particularly about the five establishments that she said had escalated the dispute and brought it to a further pitch by means of controlled unlocking. The position is that this was action taken in sympathy with the Prison Officers' Association branch at a prison that was involved in a local dispute, and the branches concerned have now withrawn from that action. This followed a number of similar brush fires, as one might call them, on the fringes of the main dispute, in which a local escalation of the action has been followed by a withdrawal of that action when a local solution has been found.

I was also asked by the hon. Lady about escapes. I am able to give rather more information about that than at one time had seemed possible. The latest information available is that throughout England and Wales 95 prisoners have escaped from police cells since the start of the prison officers' dispute. Seventy-three of those have been recaptured. There have been no escapes from the camp and the prison that are administered largely by the Army.

I was asked about the effect of the dispute on the population in custody and the reasons for the drop in that population. We are examining those reasons, but at the moment it is possible only to make a few preliminary observations. About 45 per cent. of the change can be attributed to a drop in the remand population, but until we have more information we do not know to what extent that is due to increase in the grant of bail or reduction in the number of proceedings initiated, and, of course, both of those are possibilities within the figures that I have given.

The rest of the change is largely due to a drop in the population sentenced to terms of 18 months or less. Included in this group are those in prison because of the non-payment of fines. The reduction in their numbers accounts for between 15 and 20 per cent. of the total, but until some of the routine returns from the courts and police forces are available and analysed it is not possible to do more than speculate about the reasons behind the changes.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) asked about books and education and other such provision in police cells. I am afraid that that kind of provision can only be on an ad hoc basis and will be patchy in the extreme. That is one of the consequences of the prison dispute and the effect of the action taken by the Prison Officers' Association. We have never pretended that that action is anything other than damaging to conditions for prisoners, and that is why we are as anxious as everyone else that the rnatter should be brought to a head as quickly as possible.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

This is a relatively small but nevertheless serious point, because it is something that the Government can deal with. Given that the dispute has continued for so tong and may continue further, it is important for the Minister to realise that a little thing like making books or games, or other recreation, available to prisoners can make a significant difference to their morale. Can he not now give an assurance that he will see that that is done? It is perfectly possible and it is within his power to see that such provision is made and not to persist with the present position, which he complacently acknowledges is patchy.

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman is underestimating the difficulties of doing what he says. It just is not possible to expect that those who are in police cells for what we hope will be a limited period should have the same facilities as they would have in prison. We should pay tribute to the police for the efforts that they are making to look after the prisoners who are in cells that were not designed and are not suitable for imprisonment for substantial periods.

Mr. Soley

This is an extremely serious point. The prisoners have been in the cells in many cases for 10 weeks, locked up and unable to go out for a significant time. That has an incredibly destructive effect on their personalities. Surely, it is unacceptable for us merely to say that we can do no more than is already being done. Even at the general social welfare level we are likely to make them worse for when they come out, and not better.

Mr. Brittan

I said that provision has to be on a local basis to the extent that that is possible. We are concerned here with a very wide distribution of police stations with cells and it is, therefore, not possible, within the confines of a dispute such as this, to make comprehensive provision in the way that the hon. Gentleman would wish. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will make his point to the Prison Officers' Association and explain to them one of the consequences of the action that they have taken. [Interruption.]The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he has done so. I am grateful to him for saying that. If I have misunderstood his comment from a sedentary position, that only goes to show one of the disadvantages of that position.

I hope that the House will feel that I have been forthcoming in the information I have given. I have provided a considerable amount of detail, which has illustrated the maxim that the more one gives the more one is asked for. I treat that as a gesture of confidence in that it is thought possible to give information of a complicated nature on a fragmented situation over the country.

Mr. Soley

What about the mentally disordered?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman, again from a sedentary position, asks about the mentally disordered. I am afraid that it is not possible to produce figures for those in police cells in that respect.

Having attempted to answer the points that have been raised to the extent that information is available, I hope that the House will agree that it is right that the order should now be passed.

Question put:

The House divided:Ayes 95, Noes 31.

Division No. 33] [10.10 pm
Alexander, Richard Major, John
Ancram, Michael Marlow, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Mather, Carol
Berry, Hon Anthony Mayhew, Patrick
Best, Keith Mellor, David
Bevan, David Gilroy Mills, lain (Meriden)
Biggs-Davison, John Moate, Roger
Blackburn, John Myles, David
Body, Richard Neale, Gerrard
Boscawen, Hon Robert Needham, Richard
Brinton, Tim Nelson, Anthony
Brittan, Leon Newton, Tony
Brooke, Hon Peter Normanton, Tom
Buck, Antony Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Percival, Sir lan
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Proctor, K. Harvey
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Chapman, Sydney Rhodes James, Robert
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Cockeram, Eric Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Colvin, Michael Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Cope, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Crouch, David Silvester, Fred
Dean, Paul (North Somerest) Skeet, T. H. H.
Dover, Denshore Speller, Tony
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Stanbrook, lvor
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Dykes, Hugh Stradling Thomas, J.
Faith, Mrs Sheila Taylor, Teddy (S' end E)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Tebbit, Norman
Fookes, Miss Janet Thompson, Donald
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Waddington, David
Gorst, John Walker, B. (Perth)
Gower, Sir Raymond Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Walter, Gary
Greenway, Harry Ward, John
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Warren, Kenneth
Hawksley, Warren Wheeler, John
Henderson, Barry Wickenden, Keith
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Winterton, Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Wolfson, Mark
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Young, Sir George (Acton)
Lester Jim (Beeston) Tellers for the Ayes:
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Mr. John Wakeham and
Macfarlane, Neil Lord James Douglas-
Allaun, Frank Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Beith, A. J. Johnson, Russel (Inverness)
Buchan, Norman Kerr, Russell
Campbell-Savours, Dale Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cook, Robin F. McCartney, Hugh
Dixon, Donald McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Dubs, Alfred Magee, Bryan
English, Michael Maxton, John
Flannery, Martin Maynard, Miss Joan
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Hamilton W. W (C'tral Fife) Penhaligon, David
Hardy, Peter Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hogg, N (E Dunb't'nshire) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Home Robertson, John Ross, Stephen (lsle of Wight)
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Tellers for the Noes:
Wainwright, E.(Dearne V) Mr. Clive Soley and
Wigley Dafydd Mr. Bob Cryer.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 (Continuance No. 2) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 9 December, be approved.