HC Deb 12 March 1980 vol 980 cc1341-81 3.56 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I am told that one of the great fortunes of life is to be called first to speak in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I hope that fate will continue to smile on me, and that this will not be the last time that I shall be so fortunate.

I wish to raise the matter of the additional burden on prison staff, which is set out in Class IX, Vote 9, where there is provision for an extra £4,085,000 for the payment to prison staff. The reason set out in the Vote is that it is due mainly to additional overtime and allowances.

I am grateful for your guidance in the matter, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I shall not stray beyond the bounds of propriety. I am aware that if I do so you will rapidly call me to order. Before I move to the gravamen of what I wish to say, I should like to pay tribute to the prison service. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, will wish to join me in paying tribute to the hard work and effort of the prison officers. I have been in and out of prisons in London for some time. [Interruption.] In view of the approbation from Labour Members, perhaps I should explain that that has been in connection with my work as a barrister rather than as a criminal.

The reason for the increase in payment of overtime for prison officers—I suspect that people who have visited prisons in London have noted the great burden and strain that is placed on prison officers, not least upon their family lives—is the extra workload that is placed upon them due to the number of persons in prisons who should not be there. I speak of one section—people who suffer from alcohol problems—and I shall confine my remarks to that aspect.

The number of alcoholics in prison is variously estimated. However, since the Criminal Justice Act 1977 a person cannot be directly imprisoned as a result of drunkenness, although that will not necessarily cut down the numbers incarcerated in prison for drunkenness offences. People who are fined and cannot pay their fines, or who choose not to pay their fines, will be imprisoned in default. People will be imprisoned as a result of other offences that have been generated through the consumption of alcohol. There are a number of crimes, particularly in the burglary or personal damage field, that have been committed while their perpetrators have been under the influence of alcohol. The estimate is that between 30 and 40 per cent. of prisoners have a serious alcohol problem. That represents about 3,000 persons in prisons.

I should like to endorse that point by a quotation from a booklet entitled "Community Services for Alcoholics" prepared by the Federation of Alcoholic Rehabilitation Establishments working party. On page 49, it states: A survey of Midland prisons in 1969 showed that 45 per cent. of inmates had an alcohol problem. Until October 1976 a unit for alcoholics functioned at Wakefield Prison but closed temporarily because it proved difficult to appoint staff to man it. The unit has not reopened and apart from discussion groups run by probation officers in prisons together with Alcoholics Anonymous groups and the Social Skills experiment at Ranby and Ashwell Prisons, little goes on in this field in prisons. Probation officers would welcome the Prison Department taking a more imaginative approach in assisting alcoholics. I certainly endorse that point.

I reiterate what I said earlier about whether people with alcohol problems should be in prison at all at the vast cost and expense of recruiting extra staff and the resultant need for overtime.

It may be questioned whether this is a Home Office or a Department of Health and Social Security responsibility. There was a transference of responsibility from the Home Office to the DHSS in 1971. Circular 21/73 was then published. I suppose that it is about the best statement of Government policy still in existence on the problems of alcohol. The circular stated: The Home Secretary announced early last year"— that was a reference to the year in which it came out— that it had been decided that departmental responsibility for the provision of facilities for those who are habitually drunk in public places should pass to the Department of Health and Social Security as part of a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation service for all alcoholics. The reluctance of the public to recognise the scale and nature of the problem in their midst is well known and it would be unrealistic to expect rapid, unaided development of community provision by statutory or voluntary bodies on the scale which is needed to meet the needs of all alcoholics in the community at large as well as those of the offender group studied in the report on habitual drunken offenders. This Circular offers certain special transitional financial arrangements to help increase and sustain the rate of growth of the voluntary services which is likely to be needed during the initial phase: it will make it easier for authorities, if they wish, to work with local or national voluntary bodies to provide services for this problem group. Authorities are asked to consider the needs in their area and how a start can be made toward meeting them: the plans made should be considered within the machinery of the local joint consultative committees — and should thereafter be reflected in successive revisions of the authorities' '10 year plans'. That quotation will have relevance when I speak about the existing facilities—notably, the Leeds detoxification centre.

Circular 21/73 comes to an end this year. Therefore, we are now entering a limbo period in which, subject to what my hon. and learned Friend may say, there will not be any clear restatement of Government policy. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will remedy that to a certain extent in his remarks today.

I was concerned about the attitude of the Departments towards this problem. In fact, in a parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Social Services, I asked if he is satisfied with current facilities for the treatment of alcoholics who are convicted of criminal offences"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am trying to give him a fair run. However, he must link his remarks to the reason for the increases which the House is asked to approve.

Mr. Best

I fully appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. The question that I put to the Secretary of State for Social Services was about those suffering from an alcoholic problem who are convicted of criminal offences. If they are convicted of criminal offences involving alcohol, there is an extreme likelihood that they will go to prison as a result. That will increase the burden upon the prison staff and necessitate the payment of overtime, which is the sphere that I am discussing this afternoon.

The answer that I received was: It is the responsibility of health and local authorities to decide, in the light of their resources and priorities, the services which are needed to help alcoholics. My right hon. Friend is including in his consideration of the report of the advisory committtee on alcoholism on the pattern and range of services for problem drinkers, consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the recommendations relating to links with the prison, probation and after-care services."—[Official Report, 6 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 245.] It seemed that the DHSS was saying that this was not its problem.

I then put a similar question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He replied: Treatment facilities for alcoholics who are offenders but are not in custody are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. With regard to those in custody, in addition to specific facilities for treatment at three prisons, all prisons have medical officers—many of whom have psychiatric qualifications or experience; many prisons have visiting psychiatrists; and most have an Alcoholics Anonymous group." [Official Report, 24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 312.] It will be appreciated that the additional burden of Alcoholics Anonymous groups in prisons will require extra supervision by prison staff. That must necessarily place an extra burden on those staff and involve the payment of overtime.

Recommendations for further facilities for alcoholics so as to take them out of the prison population and to alleviate the burden upon prison officers have been made by a number of bodies. I referred earlier to the report by the advisory committee on alcoholism on the pattern and range of services for problem drinkers. That report referred to the 1971 report entitled "Habitual Drunken Offenders", which included a recommendation that special arrangements for detoxification would be indispensable to any future system which attempted to deal comprehensively with public drunkenness". It went on to point out that if after two experiments in London and the provinces demonstrated that they were an effective alternative, detoxification centres should be established where they were warranted by the extent and pattern of drunkenness offences. That would obviously alleviate the burden on the prison services. The recommendation of the advisory committee on alcoholism was that detoxification facilities could play an important part in a comprehensive pattern of services for problem drinkers.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

My hon. Friend has raised an important point on the whole question of alcoholism and crime. Does he not agree that the problem of alcoholism extends much further than the narrow effect on crime figures and that it is time that the Government published the Green Paper on alcoholism the publication of which they seem to be holding up?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is inviting his hon. Friend to stray beyond the narrow path. That is something that I always frown upon.

Mr. Best

You will be glad to hear, Mr. Speaker, that, though severely tempted, I fall not. I shall maintain myself along the narrow tramlines to which you so properly directed me at the beginning.

Section 34 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 enables a police officer, when arresting a person for a drunkenness offence, to take him to a detoxification centre. But that section has not properly been implemented throughout the country, because the detoxification centres are not available. In fairness, I should say that it is because those at Leeds and Manchester are in the process of evaluation to see whether they are indeed one of the ways by which the prison population, and thereby the burden upon prison officers, can be alleviated.

I ask my hon. and learned Friend to tell me, if he can, what is happening about the evaluation of the Leeds and Manchester centres. When will the Government be in a position to say that that evaluation has taken place and whether it is right for further detoxification centres to be set up around the country, or, if those centres are found not to be the answer, whether some alternative method will be proposed?

I am not alone in calling for detoxification centres. Only recently the Police Federation, in a memorandum submitted to the Home Affairs Committee on 11 February, stated: I would like to inform members of the Committee that it was the Police Federation which proposed that simple drunkenness should be decriminalised. We took the view that to keep on arresting and locking up a habitual drunkard and sending him to prison for short periods was a totally unsatisfactory way of dealing with a person who is obviously suffering from a major illness. It was the Police Federation, also, which came out in firm public support of the proposals made by the last Government to establish detoxification or drying out centres. I wonder if it is public knowledge that the first legislation for drying out centres was passed a hundred years ago, and nothing was done. The advantages of detoxification centres can be seen at the highly successful centre run by skilled medical and social workers in Leeds which has been fighting a threat of closure for more than a year. It has transformed the position in Leeds so far as the alcoholic who is rootless and homeless is concerned. Men, some of them quite young, have been kept at the centre for several days and some of them have gone on to other houses run by the same charity in Leeds, from where they have been able to make a new start. Previously, all that could be done was to keep them on the same futile round of drunkenness, arrest, prison and release to get drunk again. Yet, because of a dispute about the level of support from public funds, it appears that the Leeds centre is still in danger of being closed. The memorandum then goes on to mention the hospital-based unit at Manchester and the problems that confront police officers. That leads us on to the problems confronting prison officers which gave rise to the need for them to be paid more because they are not medically trained to deal with the number of alcoholics admitted to prison.

I had the opportunity yesterday of listening to the all-party penal affairs group which meets in the House, and to Mr. Bill Kilgallon from the Leeds detoxification centre. Also, a recent parliamentary question has shown that since the incipience of the Leeds and Manchester centres and the Salvation Army centre in Tower Hamlets, 3,670 persons have gone through the unit at Manchester and 1,283 have gone through the Tower Hamlets centre. The House will remember the estimate I gave earlier of the numbers of persons in prison suffering from an alcohol problem.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would help the House by addressing his mind to another problem in this area, which is the demarcation between the Home Office and the DHSS in dealing with matters of this kind.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here when I ruled earlier that this is a narrow debate that must be linked to the reasons for the increases in the Estimate that have been asked for. If I may be allowed to comment, I believe that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) has done a remarkable job in managing to keep his argument linked with them.

Mr. Lawrence

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The relevance of what I said is that the increases might be greater if the Home Office had more responsibility than the DHSS.

Mr. Speaker

There might be more overtime, but I think it is a fair guess.

Mr. Best

I am grateful for your comments, Mr. Speaker. I do not believe that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I mentioned this possible conflict of interest between the DHSS and the Home Office. It may well be something that my hon. and learned Friend will deal with when he replies.

I end by asking my hon. and learned Friend two questions. First, what will happen to these centres, particularly the Leeds centre? I know that his Department has offered the centre £16,000, although it actually asked for £23,000. I hope that there will be continuing funding of the centre until it can be proven that there is an alternative and better method for keeping persons out of prison and thus lessening the burden on prison staff. Secondly, what general plans has the Department under consideration for trying to keep those with an alcohol problem out of prison?

One of the major problems that confront us today is that the increase in the number of persons incarcerated every year in our prisons, for whom society has no answer, is related to alcohol problems. This nettle should have been grasped long ago. Successive Governments have failed to grasp the nettle. We still do not have a comprehensive rehabilitative programme to deal with those who, often through no fault of their own, suffer from alcoholism and who are locked up because society has no other answer. That is an intolerable state of affairs. I hope that this afternoon we shall receive some guidance from my hon. and learned Friend or at least a restatement of the Government's determination to ameliorate this problem as soon as possible.

4.16 pm
Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I should like to argue from a slightly different angle from that of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best). I want to take the item under the heading Plant, Machinery, Tools and Vehicles, (2) For prison industries. I also want to take—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot do that. He must stick to the subject that has been ballotted for, which is the additional burden on prison staff.

Mr. Brown

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is really what I want to do. I am linking it to the increase in money, which Mr. Speaker said I had to do. I was being helpful. I could have gone straight on and spoken, but I thought that I would help the Minister to understand what I was speaking about. I want to speak about money for prison industries. I also want to refer to page 38: Deduct: AZ Appropriations in Aid, (01) Proceeds of sales outside the Prison Service. I hope to show the Minister that much of the time of prison officers is wasted looking into matters that are not their concern. I wish to draw his attention to the prison industries and to tell him that they are being used for manufacturing furniture.

Apparently, without any form of consultation with anyone, a decision has been taken to spend this increase in money on the provision of sophisticated woodworking machinery in order to set up in prisons an industry for manufacturing furniture—not just chairs and tables but three-piece suites. These three-piece suites are being retailed outside the prisons. That must place an enormous burden on prison officers.

Does the Minister believe that that is the right job for prison officers? Are they trained in health and safety matters connected with the type of machinery that is being used? Outside people are also being brought in to help to train prisoners, which places an unfair burden upon prison officers. Why does the Minister believe that prisons should manufacture suites of furniture and sell them to the trade outside at half the price for which they can be manufactured locally? Manufacturers in the furniture industry take great exception to this, because they are being put out of business by an industry that has no right to be there.

My union has always argued that it is prepared to see prisoners properly trained so that when they leave prison they can come back into normal life and take up a card in the union as furniture workers. I represent the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I do not think that the Minister of State will be able to answer his questions, because the debate that we are covering is Class IX, Vote 9. The hon. Member will find that on page 206. It is concerned with the pay and allowances of prison staff and officers, overtime, and that sort of thing, but it has nothing to do with furniture manufacturing—unless the hon. Member connects it to pay and allowances and overtime.

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it is very important that we all get straight what we can and cannot talk about, because both speeches so far have been interrupted and I would not like mine to be so interrupted, and I am sure that the Minister would not like that either—although he probably already has a speech that is totally in order. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you please say whether it is in order for an hon. Member to make a speech that puts forward suggestions for reducing the number of people in prisons at present, in order that consequently the burden on prison staff can be reduced?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that that will be in order, provided that it is related to Class IX, Vote 9, which concerns additional burdens on prison staff. That is what we are debating. I think that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who is an experienced parliamentary operator, will be able to keep himself in order within that ambit.

Mr. Brown

I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You say that you are referring to Class IX, Vote 9. I, too, am referring to Class IX, Vote 9. I have here a document that I got from the Vote Office, which I take to be the Ancient and Modern version, which has just arrived. It contains Class IX, Vote 9, which was published on the Notice Board as the subject matter that we were to discuss, and it was the prison service. [Interruption.] It may be the wrong book, but I am an Anglican, and this is the Anglican law, headed "Law, Order and protective services," which is exactly what the item was.

Therefore, I submit that I am totally in order. I know that the Home Office does not necessarily want to answer this question, but I have the opportunity of raising the matter on the Consolidated Fund Bill. It is particularly apposite having regard to the increase in moneys—£2 million in one case and an increase in sales of £1 million in the other.

What I am raising is a serious issue. This means that there is a burden on the prison staff. Since the Minister of State has not increased the prison staff for this purpose, the burden must fall upon them.

Since they are now engaged in the manufacture of furniture, surely their rates of pay should be very different. They should now enjoy the productivity rate and something of the £9 million under this Vote—I am told that that sum is being obtained in the year 1979–80—in their pay and remuneration. Clearly, if they are being asked to act as manufacturers of furniture, they must enjoy the benefits and the rewards that come from that.

Therefore, I want the Minister to explain today when the decision was taken to go in for manufacturing furniture commercially and what discussions took place between the Home Office and the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union and British furniture manufacturers. What were the agreements that were arrived at as to the type of work to be done, and what are the outlets that the Minister feels that he has in order to get rid of this furniture—or is he just dumping it on the market, and consequently having outlets that are the normal outlets of ordinary small manufacturers employing fewer than 50 men, who are now being put out of business-50 jobs going in the process —simply because the Minister has introduced this system into the prison services? I believe that the House is entitled to know.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should be grateful if the hon. Member would not now pursue that line. I think that he has made his point. Will he please return to the main thrust of the debate—the additional burden on prison staff? This is a balloted motion that Mr. Speaker has selected, and we shall stick to that.

Mr. Brown

I am trying very hard, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, if the prison staff are employed in their normal disciplinary functions, in keeping law and order within prisons and seeing that a prisoner serves his sentence as determined in accordance with the principles laid down by the Home Office, that is one thing. But now that the Home Office has decided that, in addition to those duties, the prison officer should become a general foreman of a furniture factory, what I am suggesting is that we are placing upon members of the staff an unreasonable burden in asking them to perform a function that has never been theirs. That is the first criterion at which one looks.

The second matter is the question of when the Home Office entered into discussions about this matter with the relevant authorities, the trade unions and the furniture manufacturers.

Thirdly, I am asking what training courses the staff have undertaken to fit them for being able to supervise men working with machinery. If there are any accidents—as there will be because of the type of industry of which we are speaking and the dangers inherent in furniture manufacturing machinery—are they properly trained in order to be able to save the lives of prisoners who may be hurt? How many prison officers have been placed on training courses? What are the programmes here, as outlined in Plant, Machinery, Tools and Vehicles, for undertaking the job of uprating the safety standards of these machines?

Because this is a Government enterprise, these machines are excluded from the health and safety provisions. Is the Home Secretary saying that he is accepting the health and safety provisions for these machines? Who is updating the safety precautions? Perhaps the Minister of State will say when these machines were last inspected, what the standard was seen to be, and whether the Government were satisfied with the overall safety measures.

That is important, because prison officers cannot be expected to keep up to date with all the issues involved in furniture manufacturing unless they are sent on courses regularly.

What training colleges are undertaking the training of prison officers in the manufacturing of furniture? I am anxious to know which colleges are running such courses, because under the Prime Minister's proposals local government expenditure is being cut back, and it is likely, therefore, that these courses could fail because of lack of funds. I would not want prison officers, who ought to be properly trained as a part of their normal standard procedure now as furniture manufacturers, not to be trained because there were insufficient courses.

I think that the Home Office is wrong. It has no right whatsoever to go into the manufacture of furniture. But since it has sought to do this, without consultation, will the Minister now tell me something about these proposals and what he believes to be the total production for the year 1979–1980, in how many prisons these programmes are running, and what his proposals are for 1980–81?

4.29 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

The real burden on prison officers and the reason for the unacceptable levels of overtime that they have to work—about which they complain frequently and vociferously—arises from the neglect of the prison service by successive Governments and Home Secretaries of both major parties.

In 1975, the then Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, said that if the prison population rose to 42,000 the situation would be intolerable and we would have a crisis upon our hands, a crisis which would affect very deeply and very intimately the work of prison officers. The prison population rose to 42,000 in October 1976. It increased to 43,000 in November 1979. Today it is at the all-time record level of 44,131. That totally unacceptable level has its origins in the constant neglect of the Home Office and successive Governments. There are consequences flowing from this for prison officers and the work that they are expected to carry out.

The consequences of the incredible jump in two months to 44,000 men, women and schoolchildren in our prisons are gross overcrowding for prisoners and unacceptable and intolerable working conditions for prison officers. The prison officers have to inhabit the same working conditions as the prisoners. They bear the brunt of the resentment, frustration and bitterness that is inevitably built up in our prison system. Yet we have the nerve and temerity to claim to be a compassionate and caring society. Is it a compassionate and caring society in which we have 44,000 men, women and schoolchildren in accommodation that was built largely in Victorian times and that should contain no more than 35,000 prisoners?

At any one time there are about 11,000 prisoners accommodated two or three to a cell—a cell built for one in Victorian times. Many thousands of prisoners are locked up for 23 hours out of 24 hours. They are denied proper access to recreation, education and vocational facilities and to the important facilities which, unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) chose to attack in a scurrilous, totally ill-founded and unresearched manner. If the hon. and learned Gentleman replies to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend, I hope that he will do so in the dismissive way that they deserve.

I have set out the situation that confronts us and the reason why prison officers are expressing their dissatisfaction and discontent. At 25 penal establishments the staff are involved in industrial action. For various reasons prison officers are expressing their dissatisfaction with Home Office policy and prison department administration. They are employing various sanctions. Today is the anniversary of the refusal of prison officers to allow a woman instructor at Leeds prison to work in an inmates' tailoring shop. She has turned up every working day for the past year. Today is her anniversary. She has continued to draw her salary as she has every right to do. The action of the prison officers has meant that she has not yet been allowed to work a full day and to give a full day's instruction to the 60 inmates. The consequence of the prison officers' action is that those inmates are being denied proper education and training facilities.

I make an appeal to prison officers. The remedy is in their hands. If they feel that the burden that has been described today is excessive, and if they have deep, real and legitimate grievances sufficient to warrant them taking industrial action and imposing sanctions, they should not impose the sort of sanctions that they are now imposing, which have little or no impact upon the Home Office —witness the lengthy neglect and complacency that the Home Office has shown to prison officers taking industrial action. Their action has no impact upon the Government. The public rarely hear about it. If they are made aware of it, they are unconcerned.

If prison officers have legitimate grievances about which they feel strongly, it would be better for them—it would relieve them of the unacceptable burden with which they are confronted—if they were to say "We shall now take industrial action that will be positive and constructive and will have an impact upon conditions in our prisons and upon our working conditions." If they were to say, for example, "We shall in future refuse to admit prisoners to our prisons once our certified normal accommodation has been reached. We shall not admit anyone over and above that figure", that would have an electrifying and immediate impact on the Home Office, the Government and public opinion.

At Brixton, the certified normal accommodation is about 690. The present population is about 1,056. If such action were taken by prison officers, it would be legitimate. They would be taking action related directly to their working conditions and the environment that they have habitually to inhabit. They would be taking action that in a sense is implicitly endorsed by the Home Office. After all, it was the Home Office that certified the normal accommodation level that is now being breached in all our local prisons.

If the prison officers wanted to look after their own interests, which they have a perfect and proper right to do, they should go further and seek to advance the interests of prisoners for whom they are caring and who are in then charge. It would seem acceptable for prison officers to say "From today onwards"—I hope that they will adopt this approach —" we shall no longer take into our prisons those categories of individual for whom prison is a totally inappropriate place." That would include the mentally disordered and the mentally M. It would include alcoholics, who have been referred to by the hon. Member fur Anglesey (Mr. Best). It would include drug addicts and perhaps other petty offenders.

We all accept that prison is a totally inappropriate place for the mentally ill, the mentally disordered and alcoholics. Prison officers are not trained or equipped to deal with them. We have no right to expect them to do so, and they have no duty to do so. They have no moral duty to look after the categories of individual who should be dealt with outside the penal system. They could relieve themselves of a massive burden by ensuring that they took action that was positive and constructive for themselves and the penal system. It would certainly cause the Home Office to do what it says it wants to do, but which it rarely implements in practice.

There are other things that could be done to relieve the burden on prison officers—for example by reducing the gross overcrowding and removing from the prison system categories of individual who are no real threat to the public or the community. We could remove thousands of petty offenders. The British Association of Social Workers estimates that there are about 10,000 petty offenders in our prisons. Naturally the Home Office is more cautious and its estimate is between 2,000 and 3,000. The governor of Holloway gave evidence to the Expenditure Committee last year and stated that about 60 per cent. of the inmates of Holloway at that time were petty offenders who were no danger to the community.

It is always said that we do not need to have petty offenders—they are sometimes called "social inadequates"—in our prisons. The prison system does not reform or rehabilitate them, or have an effect on their re-conviction rates. It serves no constructive purpose to use our prisons as social dustbins for the inadequates of society who pose no threat to ordinary law-abiding members of the community.

The Minister of State is sincere about his concern for the working conditions of prison officers and the state of our prisons. He could say today " We shall declare an amnesty for all petty offenders." The hon. and learned Gentleman could increase remission for those with sentences of 18 months or less to one-half of the sentence instead of the present one-third. On my estimate that would immediately reduce the prison population by slightly over 3,000. It would reduce it from the present 44,000 to the apparently acceptable level of 41,000, which would be well away from the intolerable level mentioned by Roy Jenkins in 1975. That could be done. All that is lacking is the political will. I accept that public opinion is a difficulty. However, it could be done, given the necessary political courage.

On any one day there are more than 6,000 men, women and schoolchildren on remand in our prisons. They are technically innocent. They have not been tried and found guilty of offences. Nevertheless, they are remanded to our prison establishments. In the name of the community, 6,000 men, women and schoolchildren are being held on remand. One accepts that remand is necessary in many cases. People may abscond while on bail and commit further offences. However, it is highly disturbing that of those who pass through the prison system in a year, 75 per cent. of the women and girls and 50 per cent. of the men are eventually found not guilty, or are given non-custodial sentences.

Every one of those who has been held on remand will have served the equivalent of a prison sentence. They will have experienced overcrowded and uncivilised conditions. It is disgraceful to remand people in custody, to put them behind bars and to force them to serve prison sentences. Many of them are schoolchildren between the ages of 14 and 16. Many of them are found not guilty. Often, someone who has been kept on remand may be found guilty of an offence that does not warrant a prison sentence. However, all those people will have served prison sentences. The majority of them will have been kept on remand for several months.

It must be remembered that the guilty have a right to be tried. However, three men are now inside Canterbury prison and they have been there for 14 months on remand. I shall not speculate as to whether they are innocent. I do not know. Nevertheless, it should be a matter of concern. Two elderly American women in their sixties are at present in Holloway prison. They have been there for 12 months. They are being held on remand.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That case is sub judice at present.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I understand the sub judice rule. According to that rule, I must not name individuals. The cases that I have referred to have been cited in answer to parliamentary questions. The Table Office has allowed me to table questions and those questions have been answered by the Minister. I have said no more today than the Minister has said in answer to my questions. On another occasion we might examine the sub judice rule. I do not understand why we cannot refer to a publicly named person who has already appeared before the courts and who has been charged and committed to prison. The case Las already been made public. Everyone else can talk about it, as long as they do not refer to the merits of the case. We can all refer to "Mr. X" who has been charged with rape. However, we are not allowed to mention such cases in the House. That is ridiculous.

Prison officers have to face unacceptable pressures. That burden can be relieved to some extent by changing court procedure and by avoiding such long delays between remand and trial. If that were done, fewer people would he held on remand. Perhaps we should adopt the system found in Scotland. If a person is not brought before the court within 110 days, he is acquitted. If the prosecution cannot assemble its evidence within three months and bring a case, the individual is set free. It is unacceptable to keep individuals in prison for 14, 12 or nine months. However, that is now the norm, not the exception.

The burden on prison officers could be relieved by reducing overcrowding, by giving an amnesty to petty offenders and by removing many of those who are remanded into custody unnecessarily. I am sure that the Minister will be the first to accept that we should take action now. We should reduce the length of sentences. The advisory council on the penal system issued an interim report in 1977. It convincingly showed that there is no relationship between the length of sentence and the harshness of the regime and the rate of recidivism. If shorter sentences were imposed prison officers would benefit, working conditions would improve, overcrowding would be reduced and, importantly, it would involve no extra threat to the community. The Minister will know of the hysterical reaction of the press to that report. However, he also knows that the evidence, not least from the Home Office, is overwhelmingly in favour of shorter sentences. Every country has followed that path—notably Holland—yet we lack the political courage and will to do so.

If certain individuals were taken out of the system, pressure on the prison service and prison officers would be eased. We should be able to adopt a more useful and constructive regime in the prison service. An offender will not be reformed or rehabilitated if he is put behind closed doors in an unnatural, single-sex, closed and secret community. If an offender is put in a tight little cell with three others, if he is locked up for 23 hours a day and denied the basic human rights of proper sanitation, food, educational, recreational and training facilities, one cannot expect him to return to society some years later as a positive, constructive, and contributing member of the community.

The ethos of prison is dehumanising and brutalising. It is nonsense to suggest that individuals will suddenly thank the Government, the prison service or the community—in whose name those two organisations act—for the way that he has been treated. It is nonsense to think that a prisoner will come out of prison thankful and determined to become a better citizen and a constructive member of the community. That will not and does not work. No one cares enough about our prison service to acknowledge that fact, or to do anything about it.

If we wish to reform our penal system so that the burdens placed on prison officers and the need for them to work an unacceptable amount of overtime are reduced, we should take certain categories of individuals out of that system. Certain categories—as a matter of principle—should never have been included in that system. For example, drunks and alcoholics should not be put in prison. On average more than 2,000 drunks are put in prison each year. They are put in prison not for drinking offences, but because they do not pay their fines. However, everyone accepts that they are some of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and deprived members of our community. By definition they are homeless. They are sick, not bad. They need treatment, not punishment. However, 100 years later a report on inebriates, we still punish drunken offenders. No one says that we should put drunks into prison. No one pretends that prison is an appropriate place for them. We put them in prison because it is administratively convenient. We prefer to use our prisons as social dustbins into which we can dump all the flotsam and jetsam of society. We are not prepared to commit the necessary resources and to provide alternatives within the community.

A report entitled "Habitual Drunken Offenders" was published in 1971. It attempted to relieve the burden on the prison system. It suggested a national system of care and after-care for alcoholics. It stated that 2,000 hostel places were needed immediately. A target of 5,000 hostel places was set. Detoxification centres were said to be needed throughout the country. The report confirms that prison is not the right or proper place to put such an offender. Nine years later we still imprison the same disadvantaged, inarticulate individuals. Many of them are elderly and are women in their sixties. They have no homes, relatives or friends. They have no jobs and no support. However, we consistently refuse to provide facilities in the community.

The previous Government set up detoxification centres in Leeds and Manchester, which are now at the end of their experimental period and have run out of funds for that period. Neither is likely to survive over the next few months, let alone years, unless the Government decide to finance them sensibly instead of by joint financing through local authorities and area health authorities.

That is a clearly defined area where action could be taken. It involves only 2,000 extremely vulnerable men and women, who are no threat to the community and no danger to the public. On the findings of every report over the past 100 years, those people should be treated more compassionately and humanely. However, we still take them through what is described as the vicious circle of arrest, police cell, court appearance and imprisonment, and the same process continues week after week. The removal of alcoholics from the prison system would greatly relieve the burden on prison officers and the overtime that they have to work.

We should also consider mentally disordered offenders. A couple of years ago the then Minister of State, Home Office, said in this House that it was no part of a civilised society or civilised policy to put the mentally ill into prison and make prisons receptacles for those whom no other agency in society will accept. Those were fine, almost noble, words, but it remains everyday practice to put the mentally ill or disordered into prison.

On 31 December last year there were 446 mentally disordered men and women in our prison establishments. They were defined by the responsible medical officer as coming within the terms of the Mental Health Act 1959 and requiring detention in a psychiatric hospital. The 1976 annual report on the work of the prison department pointed out that mentally ill people were entering prisons and borstals in increasing numbers, although their offences stemmed solely from their illness. In the following year the report pointed out that none of "these unfortunates" could receive appropriate medical or nursing care within the prison system.

The director of prison medical services Dr. Orr, speaking at the annual conference of boards of visitors in 1977, said that the service could not provide the mentally disordered with the degree of medical or nursing care which their condition warranted and which was proper for them. He said that the prison medical service would not even try to do so. If it did, the organisations outside the prison service responsible for those individuals would sit back complacently and accept that the prison service was doing their job. It is a classic "Catch 22" situation, in which the only losers are the mentally ill, some of whom are deeply disadvantaged and, by definition, inarticulate. Those people have a disproportionate effect on the prison service. Their numbers may not be large, but they cause trouble and disruption for the good management and work of prison officers, as any prison officer from a prison where mentally disordered offenders are kept will testify.

No one would say that it is a good idea to put the mentally ill in prison. No one would suggest that these people are not ill. They should be treated in regional secure psychiatric units or wards in National Health Service hospitals. Never- theless, those 446 people are there, and a further 200 are awaiting transfer from our four special hospitals. As a society we have not provided sufficient alternative resources and we do not use those that exist.

Prison officers in Brixton are having to deal with disruptive and violent mentally abnormal offenders because, throughout the country, National Health Service hospitals refuse to take those people. It is not because they do not have the space, the beds, the technology or resources. It is because a consultant has decided that those individuals are too disruptive and potentially violent and might upset his comfortable, cosy regime or because the nursing and medical staff have taken similar decisions. More shamefully, members of my labour and trade union movement in COHSE and NUPE have refused to accept those individuals in National Health Service hospitals. It is appalling and disgraceful that individuals who are ill are denied the treatment that is their right. It is the duty of doctors and the medical service to provide that treatment. However, individuals or groups decide that those individuals are too much trouble and do not want to know.

What would happen if it was decided not to treat accident victims because they were muddy, dirty and covered in blood, or heart or kidney patients, or trade unionists, or old people? There would be a major public outcry, with demonstrations in the streets, and rightly so. However, we treat the mentally ill and disordered in that way and no one says a word. No one complains, and no one wants to know.

That is one aspect of the problem. We have the resources, facilities and ability to provide for these people, but they are troublesome, difficult and perhaps not very nice as individuals. Sometimes they even smell. We therefore use the prisons as social dustbins. These people are put out of the way of sensitive public opinion, so that our consciences are not pricked and we are not discomfited by seeing them. We do the same with alcoholics and vagrants. We sweep them off the streets and put them out of sight in a secret, closed community. We believe that we can then forget about them and stop caring.

Unusually, the Government provided money to build regional secure psychiatric units. As long ago as 1974, the Butler committee on mentally abnormal offenders published an interim report that called urgently for the setting up, in each of the 14 regional health authority areas, of regional secure psychiatric units to take the mentally disordered from prisons and relieve the prison service of that pressure. They would also take people from special hospitals, NHS hospitals and from the streets. The recommendation was for 2,000 places. The then Secretary of State, Mrs. Barbara Castle, issued a circular to all regional health authorities soon after the report saying that it was a good idea and that they should be established as soon as possible.

In 1976, because of the slow progress, the Health Minister in the previous Government decided to encourage regional health authorities by giving them a special revenue allocation, specifically related to building these units. In the first year it was £5 million, and it is now £24 million. Six years after the report, in spite of the £24 million, with a further £5 million or £6 million next week, we still do not have one such unit in the country. The first will not open until the mid-1980s and the remainder in the 1990s.

About 90 per cent. of the money allocated to regional health authorities has been used for other purposes. Very little has been used to improve mental illness or psychiatric services generally. The South-West Thames, North-West Thames and East Anglia regional health authorities have not yet even submitted plans to the Department of Health and Social Security for such units.

We have not even been able to deal with that one small group, which has a disproportionate affect on the prison service. We have not taken the proper steps to ensure that the NHS cannot deny them their right to treatment. If those people are ill, they should have treatment. There has not been the local political will to establish regional secure psychiatric units. They are thought of as miniBroadmoors, and no one wants one in his area. Authorities can find more glamorous, popular and acceptable projects on which to spend money, for which there is pressure and for which there are campaigns.

Whether we are talking about the mentally ill, the mentally disordered, alcohol- ics, vagrants, prostitutes or drug addicts, the fact remains that none of these people should be in our penal system. They should all be cared for and rehabilitated within the community to relieve the pressure on the prison service and prison officers. These people do not have a trade union to lever any political power. They are all deeply unpopular as individuals and groups. They cannot campaign or demonstrate or write letters to their Members of Parliament, yet they are among the most deprived, vulnerable disadvantaged and inarticulate members of the community. For that reason, if no other, this House has a duty to speak for them loudly and clearly, to ensure that their proper rights are acceded to and that they are dealt with in a manner that is befitting of a so-called compassionate society.

Yet here we are today, with empty Benches all around us. There are no speakers getting up from the Conservative Benches and very few from the Labour side. No one cares, no one is interested. The only interest of people is to put these unfortunates away—out of sight, out of mind. People seem to want longer sentences, more viciousness and more retribution without any recognition of the damage that they are doing to individuals, or of the intolerable and unacceptable state of our prison system and the constraints and pressures put upon prison officers.

Sir Winston Churchill said a long time ago that one test of a civilised society was the manner in which it treated its criminals and those unfortunate members of it who had no political clout and no industrial leverage. By that test, we have failed.

5.3 pm

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) on being fortunate enough to draw first place in the ballot and on raising this extremely important aspect of penal policy. I shall follow the excellent example of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), who kept entirely within the rules of order and dealt specifically with the burdens imposed on prison staff. We want to and can reduce these burdens by obtaining a reduction in the numbers of people sent to prison.

There are two important and valuable reports available to the House which have not been mentioned in this debate. They both throw light on these problems. They are the May report, the commission of inquiry into the prison service, and the report of the Expenditure Committee on the reduction of pressure on the prison system. The members of those bodies are to be congratulated on providing important material for any debate on this subject and decisions that are to be made upon it. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has announced his intention to inform us soon after Easter of his decisions on the substantial reorganisation of the prison system. I hope his decisions will reduce the burden on prison staff and will in the long term reduce the number of people in prison. We look forward to debating the proposals, as the Home Secretary has expressed a wish that we should do so.

The May inquiry was set up by the Labour Government because it was apparent to everyone that all was not well in the prison service. The whole House was united in wanting to see a reduction in the number of people in prison and a lessening of the burden on prison staff. There was general approval of the Government's acceptance and implementation of all the recommendations on pay and allowances. This was clearly a first priority. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will say how the proposed increase in expenditure on prison staff compares in real terms with the increases made during the last few years. Apart from specific pay increases, what other aspects covered under the heading in the Vote will increase in real terms? We hope that the pay increases will have already produced not only an improvement in recruitment of prison staff to relieve the burdens on those in service hut a much-needed boost in morale. After a/i, burdens can be not only physical but mental.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) has already stated that, in connection with the pay and conditions of prison staff, we support the recommendation of the May report that the Home Office and the Civil Service Department should consider returning to a situation in which matters of pay and conditions of service are negotiated directly between the Home Office and the Prison Officers Association. We believe that the responsible Department is the Home Office.

Successive Governments have found that the greatest limiting factor in relieving the burden on prison staff is financial. Unfortunately, there is little public support for more expenditure on prisons. It costs the taxpayer more than £5,800 a year for every person who is kept in prison, and at the rate at which inflation is soaring the sum will go up considerably next year.

During the debate we have heard excellent suggestions as alternatives to putting people in prison—secure centres for alcoholics and drug addicts, and secure accommodation for mentally disordered offenders. All these suggestions involve massive expenditure, if not by the Home Office by some other Government Department. My party is pledged to provide more resources for prisons and for the probation service, and we certainly support the Government fully in any increase in expenditure that they may make on law and order in general, and on prisons and their staff in particular.

During the debate we have heard suggestions as to how overtime in prisons can be reduced. There is no doubt that an excessive burden is placed on the excellent men and women who staff our prisons. It is not fair to ask them to be just custodians who lock and unlock doors. They should have an opportunity to be more concerned with the welfare, education and rehabilitation of prisoners. Perhaps the Minister could tell us of any further steps that are being taken to increase the number of prison officers. Increased recruitment would relieve the burden on the existing staff.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk stressed the overcrowding of our prisons. When I was a Minister at the Home Office with special responsibility for prisons in 1974, the average daily population of our prisons was 37,500. Today it is more than 43,000 for only 38,000 available places. As my hon. Friend said, far too many prison buildings are Victorian structures, but, then, so are far too many of our hospitals and schools. We are paying the price for the fact that no new prisons were built in this country between 1950 and 1958.

Many new prison places have been created over the years, but the sad, regrettable fact remains that the number of convicted offenders given custodial sentences is increasing at a far greater rate than the expansion in accommodation. If we are to reduce the numbers in prison and the burden on our prison staff, we must keep questioning the benefit of a custodial sentence. A sample of people who were given custodial sentences for serious criminal offences in January 1971 was studied by the Home Office. It was found that by the end of 1976 about 70 per cent. of these people had been re-convicted. This makes a very depressing statistic.

The reasons for the increase in violent crime have to be analysed if we are to try to reduce the number of people in prison. The reasons are varied and complex. They are faced by many countries. We cannot, and do not, blame the Government for all the social, environmental and educational failings in our society. The whole community is responsible. We must jointly find a solution. That is why I regret the blame put upon the Labour Government during the election campaign last May for increased crime. I believe that this is a community responsibility.

The Opposition would support any measures taken by the Government to reduce prison overcrowding and to reduce the burden on prison officers. We support the specific proposals in the May report, its suggestions for reducing the prison population its alternatives to prison for petty offenders and its recommendations for shorter sentences and improved prison conditions. There is nothing particularly new about the proposals in the May report.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

During my hon. Friend's time in office, I came to see her on many occasions to try to reduce the prison population. She refused adamantly to let out any prisoners on parole that I suggested. She will recall the hassle in which we engaged over her attitude. I find difficulty in understanding why she is now pleading for a reduced prison population when she did so little while occupying a position in which she could have reduced it.

Dr. Summerskill

My hon. Friend refers to specific cases that he brought to me. I am dealing with general policy decisions that the Government could take that would reduce massively, we hope, in the long run, the prison population.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friend, in all honesty, must not be allowed to get away with this. She knows that the previous Labour Government in which she was a Minister were equally responsible as the present Government, and previous Labour and Conservative Governments who all paid lip service to the fine principles that are espoused. None of those Governments did much in practice to implement those principles.

Dr. Summerskill

I have said already that because there was something seriously wrong within the prison service my right hon. Friend set up the May committee to look into the prison system. That committee has now reported. It is right that this House should have the opportunity to debate the report. We are glad that the Home Secretary will be announcing after Easter his decisions on the basis of that report. That is progress in the right direction. I am sure that the house will agree that it is more sensible to have a proper committee reporting in depth on every aspect of the prison system and for the House to decide which of its recommendations to implement than to deal with the matter piecemeal.

One of the significant steps taken by the previous Labour Government resulted in increased use of community service orders to keep people out of prison. Their use has been generally welcomed for appropriate cases. They must have helped, to some extent, to relieve the pressure on prisons and prison officers. By 1978, almost 3 per cent. of all offenders sentenced for indictable offences were made subject to more community service orders. I hope that the Government can assure the House that the use of these orders will continue to be encouraged and that they will also be used perhaps for younger people than at the moment.

The Labour Government also extended the provision of secure accommodation in the community homes system and increased the number of attendance centres for juveniles. Both measures can help relieve the burden on prison staff. We are fighting a battle against a continually increasing rate of violent crime. We are fighting a battle of limits on public expenditure that existed under the previous Government but more so under this Government, although perhaps not in the sphere of law and order. The previous Government were able to take these measures in spite of the difficulties.

There has been a steady increase in violent crimes in the last 10 years resulting in prison sentences. The problem of alcoholism has been mentioned. In a significant speech recently, Lord Harris of Greenwich, chairman of the Parole Board, said: The relationship between alcoholism and violent crime is one of the most serious issues facing our criminal justice system. Violent crime has been increasing. And the evidence is clear and unmistakable; a high proportion of the offenders are drunk when they commit their crimes".

Mr. Best

Will the hon. Lady accept that, on my personal knowledge of the courts, although I have no statistics, not only violent crime but burglary has increased massively? The number of burglaries committed in which some element of alcohol abuse is involved is substantial.

Dr. Summerskill

I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is right. We should be directing our attention to the problem of getting alcoholic petty offenders out of our overcrowded system and tackling the far more difficult problem of the alcoholics who commit violent crimes. That is harder to solve.

The whole problem of alcohol abuse needs far more attention from this House and outside. Perhaps the Minister will give the House information about any plans there are for detoxification centres and, if not detoxification centres, what are called drying-out centres—a modification of detoxification centres and not so expensive. The question remains whether they would be an adequate substitute.

A further way of reducing the burden on prison staff and reducing the prison population is to deter serious crime. When the previous Labour Government left office, the police force was 7,500 stronger than when they took office. We hope that the strength will continue to increase steadily. The most effective deterrent to potential crime is the certainty of arrest and conviction. That deterrent can be put into practice by having more policemen and policewomen on the beat.

We should, therefore, concentrate on reducing crime in the first place, as well as the many measures mentioned during the debate. We should concentrate on attacking the deprivation that allows crime to flourish if we are to reduce the prison population. We must fight against the social injustice and decay in our inner cities and, above all, reduce unemployment among young people, who make up a disturbingly high proportion of the prison population.

The social and economic policies of the Government, which involve reducing public expenditure in the inner cities and cutting job protection and job creation schemes for young people, could hold back the advances that were being made, albeit slowly, under the Labour Government. Immediate attention must be paid to the specific proposals in the May report and the Expenditure Committee's report. I hope that, after the Home Secretary has made his statement and the House has had an opportunity to debate them, the Government's proposals will be implemented speedily and that some results will be seen, if not immediately, then in the mid term and definitely in the long term.

5.19 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

It is not surprising that a debate on the causes of pressure on the prison system, action that could be taken to reduce that pressure and the consequent financial implications of such action should have ranged fairly wide.

The debate was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) with particular reference to the problems caused in prisons by the presence of prisoners who are there primarily as a result of alcohol problems. I shall, therefore, concentrate my remarks on that aspect, though I shall attempt to deal briefly with some of the other matters that were raised.

I shall not seek to intervene in the private grief that has been manifested in the disagreements on the Labour Benches. Although only three Labour Members have taken part in the debate, they have found a great deal to quarrel about. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) has not been at one with the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and neither has been at one with the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. Given that degree of division, it is hardly surprising that the record of the previous Government in these matters does not bear close scrutiny.

Considering that we are not talking about relieving the prison system by the detection of crime, it was surprising that the hon. Member for Halifax referred to the police service. At one stage during the term of office of the previous Labour Government, as a result of their incomes policy, the police service was in turmoil and only the appointment of the Edmund-Davies committee defused matters. However, contrary to the express recommendations of that committee, the Labour Government did not implement the police pay proposals in full in one go, and it fell to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do so within days of coming into office. References to the record of the Labour Government do not bear much scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred to the production of furniture in prisons. That aspect must be looked at alongside other work of prison industries and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and everyone who favours a humane and constructive penal system will regard it as being to the advantage of society and prisoners that those in prison should, wherever possible, be engaged in constructive work and not in the mindless toil that characterised the work of inhabitants of our prisons 100 years ago.

I am sure that we all favour genuinely valuable work being done in prisons. Far from it being a drain on public resources, it provides a saving in the total cost of maintaining prisons and therefore eases the pressure on prison resources if prisoners are able to do work that can be sold because it is of value to the community. That is a wholly constructive development which should be extended rather than deplored.

Of course, there may be problems from time to time in respect of a particular type of work. I understand that most furniture made in prisons is built for the use of prisons and Government Departments. When prison work goes into the open market the aim is to compete in those areas where the main problem is imports rather than with domestic manufacturers.

I am told that the trade association has been kept informed of plans for production in prisons and that we have received no representations from the association in opposition to such production. I am also advised that the prison department has a consultative committee, involving both the TUC and the CBI, dealing with these matters. When goods are manufactured for the general market the policy is not to undercut work done in ordinary manufacturing firms but to charge the market price. If the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch has any examples where that policy has not been followed, I shall look into them.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the training of officers. They receive training —and have usually previously been employed in the industry—and their special training includes attention to safety in relation to any new machinery. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the work done by prisoners is the right work to be carried out in prisons.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk made a wide-ranging speech and referred to mentally disordered offenders. He will have heard me say more than once in the House that we are concerned about the presence of mentally disordered offenders in prison who ought not to be there and we are making renewed efforts to see that they can be transferred at a faster rate to proper hospitals that are able to deal with them.

The hon. Gentleman correctly identified some of the obstacles, and the problem in relation to trade unions is certainly one of the more important obstacles. I hope that the efforts that we are making in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will enable a faster pace to be set, thereby relieving the prisons of a group of prisoners which may be small, but is particularly disruptive.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk also referred to the length of sentences. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have, on numerous occasions in the House and elsewhere, made clear that we accept the proposition that for most prisoners and offences the fact of imprisonment, rather than a lengthy sentence, is the major deterrent.

Of course, in the case of offences of great gravity, particularly those involving violence, a long sentence is inevitable and right, but in many cases shorter sentences could be imposed with safety and that is a matter which my right hon. Friend and I have mentioned frequently. However, it is a matter for the courts to decide. The independence of the judiciary is vital in our constitutional arrangements.

I detected in some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks less concern for the rule of law than I like to hear from an hon. Member. The rule of law is all that stands between us and anarchy. Any suggestion that it should be impeded ought not to be made lightly or at all by an hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk also referred to an amnesty for petty offenders. That is not a matter which should be lightly considered on an administrative basis. When courts sentence an offender, within the powers that they have, and subject to the remission laid down in advance, they are doing something that they are entitled to do and it is inimical to the concept of the rule of law, except in the most exceptional circumstances, for there to be executive intervention simply on the basis of securing pro tanto a sort of gaol deliverance.

Mr. Best

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will accept that persons of good will on both sides of the House are grateful to hear his views on the rule of law and the shortness of prison sentences. Would he care to express a view on section 47 and whether we shall see a use of the suspended sentence alongside short prison sentences? My view is that that would be an extremely useful weapon in the armoury of the courts.

Mr. Brittan

We are still considering the effectiveness of the partial suspended sentence. It has obvious penological attractions particularly in relation to pressures on the prison service. The argument that we must weigh against that is the fear that the courts may feel that a dose of prison, leaving the balance of a sentence suspended, could possibly lead to an increase in the prison population rather than to a decrease. Whether that would be so is a matter that we are still considering and I do not believe that I can take that issue any further.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will end his speech with a long list of measures to be taken immediately to relieve the pressures on the prison population, but he has already slid over the important matter of petty offenders. I know of the hon. and learned Gentleman's distaste for executive action and I appreciate that, but I also know that he accepts that there are thousands of individuals in prison who could be loosely described as "petty offenders" and who are not a threat to society. If the hon. and learned Gentleman hopes to reduce the prison population from 44,000 to a more tolerable level the quick and easy way to do that will be to reduce remission from one-third to one-half.

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman exceeds even himself by his effrontery in accusing me of sliding over the subject matter of the debate. I am dealing with his points though not necessarily in the order in which he made them. The hon. Gentleman has had a pretty good run for his money and if he is interested in my answers to his questions he should allow me to carry on and deal with the points that he has made.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the remand system and the plight of those on remand who are subsequently found not guilty or are given non-custodial sentences. I deplore excessively long remands in custody. The hon. Gentleman has cited a particularly notorious example. Such examples are extreme and I do not think it would be right if people outside this House were to regard the hon. Gentleman's observations as accurately describing what normally occurs. We are working toward a reduction in the number of juveniles in custody in prison establishments and the next step in that direction is currently being considered.

The hon. Gentleman talked about overcrowding in our prisons. Here I come to one of the matters that prompted me to make my observations about his attitude to the rule of law. The hon. Gentleman suggested that, because conditions in prisons were bad, prison officers ought to refuse to admit prisoners over and above the number that could be normally accommodated and that they should also refuse to admit mentally disordered and alcoholic prisoners. That is a dangerous and irresponsible suggestion to which the prison service is far too wise to give any credence.

The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the law should be disregarded and that decisions about who should go to prison should be taken not by the court—administering the law of the land—but on a completely unofficial basis by prison officers. That suggestion is entirely incompatible with the rule of law and with the standards of responsibility that one is entitled to expect from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brittan

I will not give way.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Brittan

I am not giving way. I have made that clear to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman knows the rules—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Brittan

Not only is the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, that decisions about who should be in prison should be determined on an unofficial and informal basis rather than by the courts, completely incompatible with the rule of law; it is completely inconsistent with what the hon. Gentleman said about the mentally disordered.

The hon. Gentleman said, of mentally disordered prisoners, that it was wrong that hospitals should refuse to accept people who had been properly thought suitable for hospital treatment. I agree that it is quite wrong that trade unions such as COHSE and NUPE—the two that he specifically named—should say that such people should not go into hospital. The hon. Gentleman considers it wrong that hospitals should refuse to take those regarded as suitable for hospital treatment and yet he seriously suggests that people who have been sentenced by the courts should be prevented by industrial action from being admitted to prison.

If the hon. Gentleman expects the House and the country to take his compassion and his other proposals seriously I suggest that that would be more likely if his views were combined with a greater degree of respect for the rule of law and a greater degree of responsibility about these matters.

There are three aspects of the problem of alcoholism as it affects the burden on the prison service. First, there is the question whether we can take action to ensure that people do not go to prison as a result of actions caused specifically by alcoholism. Secondly, we should consider what can be done to treat the condition of alcoholics when they are in prison. Thirdly, having accepted that alcoholism often leads to criminal activity resulting in imprisonment, we should seek to treat alcoholism outside the penal system though the matter of treatment for alcoholics outside prison is primarily one for the Secretary of State for Social Services.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the relationship between the Home Office and the DHSS in dealing with these matters. There are no perfect solutions to the problems and I do not believe that shunting issues between Departments will help. However, relations between the two Departments in dealing with these issues are close and I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey that the answer to his point about the implementation of the hospital grant scheme under circular 21/73, "Community Services for Alcoholics", was given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) on 19 December 1979 in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon).

The Under-Secretary of State said that departmental funding to local bodies was exceptional and must not be regarded as permanent. He said that no new grants would be payable after 31 March 1980. However, he recognised that the Department's pump-priming scheme was due to end at a time of difficulty and he therefore announced a programme of related transitional aid to any voluntary organisation whose grant was due to end between 31 March 1980 and 31 March 1981 and which had been unable to make alternative financial arrangements. The detailed advice on those transitional arrangements was sent out on 1 February 1980.

I turn now to the question of treatment in prison. The facilities for treating alcoholics in prison are necessarily limited. Many other categories of prisoner, such as the mentally disordered, drug addicts and sex offenders have problems. The heaviest burden falls upon the hard-pressed medical officers in local prisons where drying-out treatment with attention to physical deterioration is all that can be done in the short time available to those serving short sentences. For those serving longer sentences and who are willing to be treated, more substantial facilities are available at Grendon, Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway.

Grendon prison specialises in dealing with those who suffer from personality or psychopathic disorders and who are likely to respond in an environment in which group therapy has an important role. It takes those with alcohol problems who are suitable for its regime. Most of them are treated in therapeutic groups led by a doctor or a psychologist. Different arrangements apply in Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway.

In addition, most prisons have a psychiatrically-qualified medical officer and visiting psychiatrists. The initiative lies with the prisoner who has to admit that he has a drink problem and is willing to accept treatment. Nearly all prisons have an Alcoholics Anonymous group which welcomes anyone seeking help with a drink problem. The groups are run by volunteers. The Home Office is grateful for the work that they do. That work does not end when the prisoner is discharged. Help is offered when a prisoner is released to encourage him to remain in touch with Alcoholics Anonymous and to continue to fight his problem.

Mr. Best

The Minister mentioned the specialised treatment in three prisons. What length of sentence must a prisoner be serving before he can avail himself of those facilities?

Mr. Brittan

No specific period is laid down. When discussing the long-term treatment in the community one should remember that, under the auspices of the after-care service, there are hostels which provide places and which are often able to help those with alcohol problems. Daycare facilities and support-at-work schemes are run by the probation service. Hostel places, for which we provide grants to voluntary organisations, provide more than 2,400 places for ex-offenders, many of whom have a drink problem.

I turn to the main brunt of the argument—stopping people being imprisoned directly as a result of alcohol problems. Reference has been made to the detoxification centres and to the change in the law whereby drunkenness is not a cause of imprisonment. In 1978, 2,600 people were imprisoned for failing to pay a fine for a drunkenness offence. We must consider what steps can be taken to prevent such people going to prison.

The whole question of alternatives to imprisonment for fine defaulters is being examined. It is suggested that community service orders should be extended to deal with fine defaulters. However, one is bound to have some reservations about whether that is a practicable alternative since, to a large extent, the motivation and readiness to co-operate will in many cases be lacking in those who are guilty of fine defaulting, particularly in those who have been involved in alcohol related offences.

There are other alternatives. Probation and bail hostels can be of help. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey referred to section 34 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 which enables a constable to take a drunk and disorderly or drunk and incapable person to an approved treatment centre for alcoholics instead of placing him under arrest. The intention of that section is to divert as far as possible from the criminal justice system people who have committed no offence but whose drunkenness is a considerable nuisance.

Since the section came into effect two centres at Leeds and Manchester have been approved by the Secretary of State for that purpose. The Department of Health and Social Security is assessing the value of the two detoxification centres. I understand that the results of its evaluation will not be available until 1981. There is no doubt that even if the centres achieve their goal, they are expensive to operate.

Statistics from the Leeds centre show that only 20 per cent. of those admitted complete the 10-day treatment programme and that 50 per cent. leave within 24 hours. Similar figures for Manchester confirm studies in Canada, which suggest that drunks need only simple places in which to sober up but from which the few who are willing or able to respond to treatment can be given access to other support.

It is probably right to recognise that drunkenness requires long-term treatment and that that requires co-operation on an extensive scale. Even the 10-day programme may not be long enough. One must take into account the nature of the conduct that leads to people being taken to a detoxification centre and the fact that they cannot be kept there against their will. We should consider whether the right answer is a combination of the type of hostel and care provision to which I have referred for people in the acute stage of drunkenness who might otherwise be taken to court and fined.

That view is in accordance with the recommendation of the Expenditure Committee in its fifteenth report on the reduction of pressure on the prison system. The Committee concluded that consideration should be given to the provision of a simpler and less elaborate service of an overnight kind for people who are drunk but not necessarily alcoholics. If a simple form of accommodation could be provided where drunks could sleep off the most anti-social effects of their drunkenness, it may be that we could save not only the prisons but the police and the courts a great deal of time and effort.

We have been examining facilities already available for homeless people, in the hope of identifying a way in which they could be extended to cater for people with drink problems. Every effort will be made to encourage local authorities and voluntary organisations to make appropriate provision at local levels on these lines.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I apologise for taking the hon. and learned Gentleman back to the question of law and order. I have just been informed that the prison officers at Wormwood Scrubs have made an official public statement tonight that if there is any concerted active indiscipline or disruption at the prison in future they will not obey orders from the Home Office, because they have been deeply disturbed by the neglect of the Home Office. Therefore, on a future occasion they will retire and decide among themselves what appropriate action shall be taken, without any recourse to advice, information or instruction from the Home Office. In the light of his earlier remarks, would the Minister like to comment on that aspect of law and order and the sovereignty of the rule of law?

Mr. Brittan

Before I gave any such reaction, it would be wise to check the accuracy of the report that the hon. Gentleman has conveyed hotfoot to the House and to consider what it would be appropriate to say, rather than to comment from the Dispatch Box in response to such a telegraphic communication as the hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to assist the House with. Therefore, I hope that he will forgive me if I do not comment now on the information that he has given.

When the hon. Gentleman intervened, I was dealing with a different matter—one that I am sure he will concede is important—the provision of an overnight service for people who are drunk but not necessarily alcoholics. I said that we were examining facilities available for the homeless in the hope of providing facilities of that kind. We are sympathetically examining the viability of such a scheme. We are also considering the precise way in which it should be financed. I am not in a position to make a formal announcement about such a scheme, but I can say that we are looking at it extremely sympathetically and favourably. I very much hope that it will be possible to move forward on those lines in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, concern has been expressed about the future of the Leeds detoxification centre. Funding for 1980–81 is assured from a consortium of interests, including Leeds city council, the area health authority, the police and the Home Office. We have put to the organisation running the centre an offer that the probation service regards as workable, and I see no reason for the centre to close.

As I have said, we have looked at a wide variety of ways in which the prisons can be relieved of pressure. I have concentrated on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, as he initiated the debate. I am glad to have had this opportunity to consider some of the broader points in relation to other sorts of offenders and more particularly to indicate the direction and shape of the Government's thinking on relieving the prisons of their present burden caused by those who are in prison as a result of defaulting on fines, usually imposed because of offences of drunkenness.

I think that if we can make the provision that I have outlined, it will relieve the prison system of a substantial burden. That is extremely desirable, for all the many reasons that the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have described.

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