HC Deb 28 October 1980 vol 991 cc362-99
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I beg to move in page 1, line 7, after 'person' insert 'over the age of 16'. I think that we have been helped regarding clause 1. It might further help if the selection on other clauses could be circulated during the debate on clause 1 so avoiding a similar situation where the information has to be given at the start of the discussion on clause 2.

The purpose of this amendment is to discover what the Government are doing about those who are under 16 and who are affected by the provisions of the Bill. Most of my hon. Friends welcome the Government announcement that they intend to phase out the committing to prison of those under 16. I understand, however, that the phasing out has not yet been completed. It will take place only later in this financial year. For the time being, some people under 16 are still committed to prison while others are held on remand and in borstal institutions. It is unsatisfactory that the Government should be allowing those under 16 to be remanded in this sort of accommodation. I hope that the Minister will say that he will make special provision to ensure that anyone under 16 will not be included in the provisions but will be held in local authority accommodation, which is much more satisfactory than prison, remand or borstal accommodation. Police accommodation is also unsatisfactory for this age group.

This is a probing amendment. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that people under the age of 16 are being considered carefully and that the Home Office is taking steps to ensure that children are held in local authority accommodation.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has raised some important issues which need clarification. So far we have heard only that about 3,500 individuals are incarcerated in police cells. How many are juveniles, and are they being segregated from adult prisoners? Do any special provisions or conditions attach to the holding of juveniles, particularly female juveniles, in police cells and approved places?

We are dealing with significant numbers. We are talking not about people who, under the existing "unruly certificate" procedure, are remanded in custody to prison or local remand centres, but about those who expect to enter a detention centre or borstal. The prison officers' action is preventing the admission of boys to detention centres and of boys and girls to borstals, remand centres and local prisons on remand. We need to know exactly what is happening to them, how many are involved and what it is proposed should happen to them when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Brittan

It is not possible to give the statistical information sought by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). The position changes a great deal from day to day. It is not possible to give the breakdown for which the hon. Member has asked.

The amendment would prohibit the use of temporary accommodation for those under the relevant age by confining clause 1 to those over the age of 16 years. I cannot advise the Committee to accept the amendment, because it is necessary to preserve a degree of flexibility. We are faced with a crisis and difficulties among offenders of all categories.

A young person who has committed a serious offence might be sentenced to borstal or detention. When considering where such a young person might go, one must take account of age and make the best use of the accommodation available. At present, all young people who have been given sentences are kept in police cells. That is a consequence of the action by the Prison Officers' Association. It is refusing to admit prisoners.

12 midnight

Any flexibility that is granted to the Government by the clause can only be to the good in that we have provision at Frankland and we are considering using military camps. The more accommodation that is available other than in police cells and the more varied that accommodation, the greater the flexibility and the greater the opportunity to take special account of the cases of those who are particularly young and should be considered separately. If they are excluded from the Bill, there is less flexibility and that means that those youngsters will have to stay in the police cells. No advantage would be served by doing that.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) nor I suggested that we wished to press the amendment. My hon. Friend pointed out quite clearly that it was a probing amendment.

The Minister has failed to satisfy us on any of the issues that concern us. He cannot tell us how many have been involved. I accept that, although I should have thought that he would be briefed. We are dealing with a fairly sensitive group. He has given the commitment to provide the information. We need to know what plans he has to house juveniles and where. He referred to Frankland. Is he seriously proposing that juveniles from the South-East—perhaps young girls—should be carted off to a maximum high security prison at Durham and incarcerated there with adult prisoners?

The hon. and learned Gentleman's other comment consisted of vague words about the need for flexibility. The amendment covers that. My hon. Friend does not particularly want to press it so that the Government would not be able to take the juveniles out of police cells. There is no dispute between us on that. We want to know what the Minister proposes to do. He owes the House and the country an explanation of where juveniles of this kind will be housed. The Government gave a commitment in the White Paper published only two or three weeks ago that these juveniles would no longer be remanded to prison service establishments. He recognises them, therefore, as being a sensitive group. With an emergency Bill of this kind, the Government should involve themselves in some kind of contingency planning for a special, identifiable group.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Would it be possible under the clause for a local authority residential home or something like it to be categorised as an approved place, even if it were at the same time being used for another purpose? Would it be possible for five, six or 10 places in such a home to be specified as an approved place for housing people in this age group?

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). The Government should be a good deal more forthcoming on this issue. Whatever the arguments for suspending all the normal rules for the imprisonment of adults—that is highly controversial in itself, and some hon. Members have already voted against it this evening—the idea that by a sweeping enactment of this kind one can dispense with all the safeguards and rules that apply to children under the age of 16 is not on.

The Minister seemed to indicate that the Government had given little or no thought to the matter. He merely said that the only option was to leave them in the cells. That surely is not so. We could have had an assurance from the Minister that the Government would bring forward some amendment under which it might be possible for places such as those suggested by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) could be designated as places where offenders under the age of 16 could be detained since the ordinary borstal, prison and remand home provision was not available.

The Minister owes it to the House to make a much clearer statement about what the Government intend for dealing with children in this emergency. If the Government have not yet thought about that, he should promise that they will think about it seriously in the next hour and table an appropriate amendment in another place. The House would then be assured that this blanket legislation would not sweep away all rights and consideration for children under the age of 16 simply because of a silly quarrel between the Government and a group of workers about meal breaks.

Mr. Tilley

I wish to reinforce the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley). Whatever fine words there may be in the recent publication on young offenders, there is still considerable suspicion and dislike on the Opposition side of the Government's attitude to the problems of young offenders, especially what they said about the short, sharp shock treatment. The lesson to be drawn is that the first reactions of Conservative policy makers on issues affecting young offenders soon proved to be incorrect. The Government now admit that their short, sharp shock treatment approach has limitations and often has the opposite effect to that originally desired.

In this short debate we have established not that the Minister will not tell us what the Government have decided to do, but that the Government clearly have not thought through what they intend to do, and whether they will make provisions for young offenders. We must continue to make the point that switching adult prisoners from a conventional prison to an Army camp may not be—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I think that my hon. Friend would like the Minister to listen to his speech. Perhaps he should ask the Minister whether he wishes to adjourn for five minutes so that he can finish his conversation.

Mr. Tilley

I am sure that the Minister is getting the gist of my remarks. I should be happy to say it all again in case he missed it. I hoped that the Minister would say that there had been some rough and ready thought by the Government on which possible approved places would not be used for young offenders. I thought that he would say "Of course we shall not send them to Frankland or Army camps staffed by soldiers who have no training in and experience of dealing with young people". I hoped that the Government would try to avoid that course of action wherever possible and say that they would use only the more suitable premises such as local authority homes and hostels. It is disappointing that the Minister has nothing further to say on the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said that this was only a probing amendment. I do not think that anyone would dare to suggest a confrontation knowing that he is more experienced in these matters and would push everything to the limit. I shall not press the matter any further than he has. We have established that the Government need to think more about how they will deal with young people. It is no good saying that they are in the terrible frying pan of police custody, therefore let us have total flexibility in terms of the fire we decided to put them into.

We want more assurance. The Government have not had time to think through the matter. I hope that as a result of this short debate they will think it through. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley said, in another place they may at least be able to give some verbal assurances that it has been thought through and that some of the possible alternative premises that may be used for adults will not, in any circumstances, be used for children.

Mr. Stainton

The remarks that have just been made encapsulate my own thoughts and reactions on this matter. In fact, over the years and not infrequently I have had to make demarches with the Home Office to have young girl constituents under the age of 16 removed from Holloway gaol where they have been incarcerated almost wantonly en route for borstal or some other establishment. Indeed, on one occasion one girl of 15 was closeted, if that is the right word, with none other than Myra Hindley. That was a scandal that was rectified immediately.

I should like to gather from the Minister the theme of the thinking of the Home Office and also receive some assurance about monitoring.

Mr. Brittan

I welcome the fact that this is a probing amendment. It is right that it should be so, because the thoughts that have been expressed in the debate have been entirely in accord with the need for the provision to apply to the younger as well as the older age group. At present, to the extent that there is any problem, police cells are the only place for the youngsters to go.

At the moment, branches of the Prison Officers' Association are admitting detention centre trainees when detention centres are not overcrowded, and borstals are doing the same thing. Under-16s are going from police cells to detention centres and from Crown courts to remand centres and then to borstals. There are delays for a few days, but we hope to keep these arrangements going as long as the action is not escalated.

However, at the same time, one wants to have this provision in case the situation changes, in which case we shall obviously need to make alternative arrangements for youngsters. When we do so, we shall certainly take into account the anxieties the Committee has understandably expressed about the need for such accommodation to be suitable and separate.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The Minister has not answered my simple question. Is it possible under this clause for a local authority home or for part of such an establishment to be specified as an approved place? If that is possible, what are the planning considerations, and is there scope for objection by local residents? Is it possible for a local authority establishment to be designated as an approved place? Must this be done by agreement with the local authority, and what are the planning implications?

Mr. Brittan

The answer is that it is possible. We are not planning to do so, although it could be designated as an approved place, and if the Secretary of State removed people to such a place it would be lawful under the provisions of the Bill. But the fact that it is designated as an approved place, and it is lawful to remove people to it does not give the Secretary of State the right to move people to it, because they would be local authority places and the local authority would have control over them. Therefore, an agreement would have to be reached that they be available for that purpose before they could be used.

However, for the purposes of this Bill, the Secretary of State has the power in any event to designate them, so that if they become available by whatever means the transfer of people to them would be lawful.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Minister has not answered any of the legitimate and justifiable questions that have been put to him. The Minister is muttering. He is telling me that he does not have the information. That is clear to all of us. But it is also clear that he has a responsibility to come to the House with the information.

It is the Minister who is asking for the powers, not us. If he wants the House to give him the powers, he must show how they will be used.—[Interruption.] The Minister knows his way to the Dispatch Box if he wishes to intervene. 12.15 am

Justifiable and legitimate anxieties have been expressed from both sides of the Committee. Under pressure, the Minister has obtained more information from the Home Office. He has now told us what has been happening so far—to a certain extent. But that is not enough. We need to know the Government's thinking about the accommodation for 14 or 16-year-old boys and girls.

The Minister did not take up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) of ruling out those institutions that the Government will not use. Perhaps there are good reasons why he should not do so, but he has not yet given any indication of the sort of facilities in which he proposes to accommodate juveniles. Nor has he said whether they will be accommodated within a locality where their relatives can visit them easily.

There are many points on which the Committee has a right to information and on which the Minister has been unusually unforthcoming. if that is because the Government have not thought out their policy, it is a condemnation of them for bringing forward the Bill in such a hurried fashion. The Minister cannot trample over these matters and expect hon. Members not to be concerned and not to want answers to these questions. If he does not have the answers tonight, he should give an assurance that he will report to us fully on what the Government propose to do, and give regular reports to us on what the Government have done.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Would the Minister reflect on two points arising from his answer to my question? He said that in certain circumstances it would be possible for an agreement to be reached whereby a local authority home could be used as approved accommodation. If that happens, will there be planning implications from change of use, and who will be responsible for the custody of offenders? Could that person be a local authority employee, and would that employee automatically have the powers of constable? There is no scope for flexibility in the clause. If a local authority home is used as approved accommodation for offenders, someone, who would automatically have the powers of constable, must be appointed by the Home Secretary to be responsible for the offenders.

Mr. Brittan


The Chairman

Order. Would it not be convenient to hear all the speeches before the Minister replies?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I shall reply to the debate, and I had intended to comment on the lack of satisfactory answers from the Minister. But if the Minister wishes to speak, it is perhaps fair to let him have the opportunity to make his final remarks before I reply.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I have listened with care to the debate and I am amazed by the length to which it has been allowed to drag. This is a debate that the Minister should have been able to dispose of in a few minutes.

This is not a party political point. The entire Committee is concerned about the fate of 14 and 15-year-old boys and girls. The sort of information that the Committee is seeking is, first, what institutions will these offenders not be sent to; secondly, what is the maximum distance to which they will be sent; and, thirdly, will the Minister assure us that the next-of-kin will be informed as a matter of urgency when any movement of young offenders is necessitated by events? That is what the hon. Members want to know, and I hope that the Minister will now tell us.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I apologise to the Committee for missing the first few minutes of this debate, but I have listened attentively to the points that have been raised and to the Minister's reply. I should like to take up one of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk).

I take the Minister's comment that for the moment the problem has not arisen because of the way in which the decanting is taking place. However, will he give us an assurance that if any problems arise an assurance that if any problems arise in this respect he will inform the House of Commons? Right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about the matter. The decanting is working at present, but the moment that it is not working properly we should like to be informed, because it is too late to hear about it a week or two later. I think that we would be satisfied with that, whether the information is given to the Select Committee or in an answer to a parliamentary question, or, in some other way, and our minds would be set at rest.

Mr. Brittan

I ant grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am very happy to assure him. I described the arrangements operating at present very specifically, even naming the establishments. I can certainly happily assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that if a change is necessitated, I shall arrange for the House of Commons to be informed of that in one way or another.

With regard to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), the position is that it is the Home Secretary who has the power to appoint anyone as an officer responsible for the custody of persons detained in an approved place, and he can appoint staff if he so wishes.

Planning is an aspect of the matter which one would need to consider before making a designation. But, as I have said, this is hypothetical because what my hon. Friend has suggested is not something that we are envisaging doing.

Mr. Hooley

I should like to pursue a feature of the Minister's earlier remarks that I found curious. He seemed to suggest that, if the Home Secretary wished to designate some place which was under the control and direction of a local authority, he would require the explicit consent of the local authority. As I read the Bill, it gives an unqualified power to the Secretary of State to designate a place—full stop.

If what is intended, or what will be the law under the Bill, is that a local authority will have power to say to the Secretary of State "We are sorry, but we are not willing that this place shall be so designated. whether for young people or older people", we ought to have some definite clarification that this will be so. It seems to me that the Minister is putting an interpretation on the Bill which the words do not bear and which, as a layman, I certainly would not have recognised.

The Minister will be well aware that there is considerable tension now between local authorities and the Government over a wide range of matters. I should be interested to know whether the Minister is now suggesting that, in addition to all the other quarrels that exist between local authorities and the Government on a wide range of matters, we could possibly be landed with further quarrels in which the Secretary of State wished to designate a certain place as a proper place, for example, to which to send boys and girls while this emergency existed, and the local authority could say quite firmly "We are very sorry but we shall not put up with them."

That is what the Minister has suggested, although he may not have intended to suggest it.

Mr. Brittan

Perhaps I may assist the hon. Gentleman; it may save time. I had thought that in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) I made it clear that there was no such intention whatsoever and that the problem that the hon. Gentleman was envisaging would not arise because the Government have no intention of doing what he was suggesting.

Mr. Hooley

I am sorry. The Minister says that there is no intention, but we do not know how this quarrel will escalate.

Mr. Brittan

There is no quarrel.

Mr. Hooley

The Home Office may find that there is virtually no option, when dealing with boys and girls, but to say that they must go to residential homes, or whatever, which are under the control of the local authority. We should be absolutely clear whether in that case the local authority would have the power to say to the Home Secretary "We are sorry, but we are not prepared to agree to this arrangement." If so, the clause should be drafted to make it clear that local authorities have that power.

Mr. Tilley

Perhaps I may again amplify the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield. Heeley (Mr. Hooley). In talking about local authority homes, it seems to be assumed that somewhere there are large numbers places, such as local authority hostels, children's homes and so on, where there are vacancies. My experience as a councillor in London and as a Member of Parliament is that there are few vacancies in local authority homes. That is because of the pressure of need and because the Government cuts have made it impossible to make provision where the accommodation is less than the need.

If there is not a great deal of local authority accommodation that would be suitable for young people, and if the only other places are Army camps, why should it not be assumed that the Government are saying that they are taking powers to put young offenders into Army camps because they feel that that is all that they will be able to do?

If the Government will not rule out the use of Army camps for young offenders, and therefore control by soldiers to a degree, will the Minister mention the institutions to which the provision could apply which would be more suitable than Army camps and in which there are likely to be a reasonable number of spare places? If the hon. and learned Gentleman is not prepared to do that, why should we not assume that if pushed the Government will use Army camps for young people? As the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said, the camps may be a long way from their homes and social environments. Is there anything that the Minister has not told us? Are we talking about Army camps or nothing?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

When the debate started, some of my hon. Friends felt that they had had little time to prepare amendments. It seems that the Minister has had little time to prepare his replies. His reply to the debate has been completely unsatisfactory. It is a mark of that that he has had to be pressed so many times by hon. Members on both sides to give a clearer answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) asked why the amendment was only probing. The reason is that I had difficulty in drafting it so that it would ensure that young people were kept neither in police cells nor in the new places that have been set up. I feel tempted to table an amendment on Report to cover that issue unless the Minister can provide clear assurances to cover our arguments.

The Government have said that they will not commit those under 16 years of age to prisons in future. Why cannot they say that they will bring that provision forward so that no young people will be committed to prison? They say that young people are being moved satisfactorily from police cells to other institutions. It seems reasonable that the Minister should give an assurance that if that system breaks down he will report to the House and tell it what will happen to the young people concerned. Surely he should indicate which of the approved places that have been established will, in his view, be unsuitable. Does he consider that Army camps will be perfectly suitable for young people? The Committee has a right to this information. If we do not get it now or when we debate whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, there will be a strong temptation to try to draft an amendment that will be suitable for selection on Report.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.30 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, at end insert: 'Arrangements shall be made for any such "approved place" to be inspected within 7 days of its coming into use by Prison visitors'.

The Chairman

With this it will be convenient to take the amendment in clause 2, page 2, line 33, at end insert: (c) Magistrates shall take all necessary steps to satisfy themselves as to the health and safety of any person remanded to an approved place in custody by them'.

Mr. Bennett

I tried to discuss the previous amendment briefly so that I should not detain the Committee. Perhaps that was a mistake. We received such a poor reply from the Minister that my hon. Friends wish to pursue the matter further. Again, I hope that if I am brief, we shall receive a satisfactory reply. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman has learnt that if we do not receive a satisfactory reply there will be a temptation to go on pressing this issue.

Both amendments seek to discover what system will be applied to ensure that the approved places are satisfactory, that prisoners have some means of voicing complaints and that the normal means of supervising prisons and ensuring that they conform to reasonable standards are exercised. The Minister may say that the prison rules will apply to such institutions, and that the normal procedures will exist for those prisoners who wish to make complaints and for ensuring that a prison lives up to certain standards. However, I should like a firm assurance.

The amendments approach the issue in two ways. First, it is suggested that any approved place should have a set of prison visitors appointed within seven days. Those visitors will then be able to exercise the normal duties of prison visitors. The alternative approach is to suggest that, if magistrates remand people to approved places, they will have a duty to inspect such places and to see that the welfare, safety and health of prisoners are maintained. I hope that the Minister can tell us what provisions he has in mind to ensure that approved places reach a basic minimum standard and to ensure that prisoners have the basic right to make complaints about the way in which they are being looked after.

Mr. Mikardo

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has explained that he wishes to ensure that the approved places are of the same standard as those found in ordinary prisons. They are bound to be of a lower standard. During the debate on the money resolution, the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) made a point that received no reply. I imply no criticism, because the chopper came down in the middle of the Minister's speech. No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman would have answered that point.

The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge pointed out that the money resolution states that the costs involved are to come out of the Vote of the prison department. There is to be no additional financial provision. The costs have been estimated at about £10 million. Such money is to come out of a sum that has already been fixed for the operation of prisons. Where will it come from? Does it mean that prisoners will get less food? Will the heating in prisons be reduced in winter? Will the number of occupants in prisons be increased? Will the cells, which hold two prisoners although they were designed for one, now have three prisoners in them? Will those cells that have three prisoners in them now have four? We have not had an answer.

The conclusion that must inevitably be drawn is that, if one gets a bit more liquid from the pint pot, that liquid must be thinner. Will the prison officers have poorer conditions? Where will the Minister get the money to pay for the Bill? We must conclude that these approved places cannot be places in which standards are equivalent to those in other prison accommodation.

My hon. Friend is right to put forward this amendment. I do not see how the Minister can give us the assurances we require while being consistent with the statement in the financial memorandum that the money will come out of the present prison budget.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in this amendment, and in his intention to probe what is in the Government's mind. I want to know what they propose for the rules that will govern these new prison places.

The Minister of State will accept that there are certain basic minimum standards which are important and which should be maintained at all times, however exceptional the circumstances. We do not expect him tonight to define exactly the new rules for the approved places, but we need to know the Government's thinking. Many of the current prison rules cover some extremely important and sensitive issues.

For example, we need to know what the Government propose to do to enact something similar to the present rule No. 17 dealing with the medical needs of those in the new approved places. We need to know whether there will be new rules. This clause gives the Secretary of State power to suspend or modify prison rules. If he intends to exercise that power and leave a caucus of some basic minimum standards, we need to know by what means prisoners will be given that information. We need to know what action will be taken and what rules will govern any special illnesses or any special conditions relating to prisoners. What procedures will be established for notifying the next-of-kin of a prisoner's illness or death? There will be deaths and there will be illnesses in the new approved places. Presumably also there will be some form of discipline imposed. The form of discipline that is imposed must be backed up by rules, regulations and standing orders. What are they?

My hon. Friends who are familiar with prison rules, and more particularly with the prison standing orders, will know that they form a formidable volume. Prison standing orders are of enormous length and complexity. I do not know why that should be so, but for some reason the prison department seems to find it necessary to circulate new instructions and standing orders almost by the day, and certainly by the week.

If that is necessary in the existing system, something akin to it will be necessary in the new system. Someone must lay down the rules, someone must tell the prisoners, and someone must ensure that the rules are abided by. We want to know the rules on the important matters—on medicine, information to prisoners, special illnesses and conditions, notification to next-of-kin of illness and death, discipline, complaints procedures, whether prisoners will have the right to petition the Secretary of State, what powers they will have in terms of writing letters or visiting, and a whole series of other measures that we regard as basic. These must be retained in any circumstances.

This Government claim to be the Government of law and order. Therefore, they will be all the more concerned to ensure that the rules and regulations are maintained. What are those rules and regulations?

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In considering the amendment, it would be helpful to know what kind of places the Government have in mind. If the dispute continues for a long period, quite a number of approved places will be required. Does the clause in any way override normal planning considerations? What kind of animal is an approved place under planning law? If an Army camp, holiday camp or an empty country house—and the Socialists have plenty of wealthy friends with empty houses—is used as an approved place, will they require the same application and consideration as the establishment of a prison?

Mr. Hooley

The amendment puts forward a modest and reasonable suggestion. It does not say that the Home Secretary may not designate a place until it has been checked, examined and inspected to the nth degree to make sure that it complies with all reasonable conditions. It simply suggests that, once a place has been designated, there should be an independent inspection within a few days to make sure that there are no outrageous defects that would offend the House of Commons and the public.

The Government have made it clear in subsection (4) that they want the rules relating to prisons to apply fully to places designated for the emergency purpose. That is reasonable. Unfortunately, in subsection (5) they have put in the dangerous and sweeping phrase, only so far as is practicable in the circumstances". That is a let-out for the Home Secretary to designate almost any establishment for the emergency purpose. If the kitchens are insufficient to cope with the numbers, he can say that he is sorry but that, according to the law, he has to go only as far as practicable in the circumstances. If there is no provision for exercise or for people to get out of the huts and if complaints are made, he can again invoke subsection (5). That phrase is a let-out. The Home Secretary can designate camps that may be severely lacking in important amenities. It is an escape phrase.

Some of us voted against the emergency arrangements, but if they are accepted some of the camps designated will be lacking certain amenities expected in a modern prison in relation to air, space, light, cooking facilities and even health and medical facilities, which are of great importance. If we are to suspend all the rules because of a silly quarrel over a meal break, there will inevitably be shortcomings in the camps designated.

The safeguard proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is that there should be an independent inspection of the new institutions to make sure that the basic amenities are adequate. If there are serious and justified complaints by prisoners treated in this arbitrary and high-handed fashion, at least they would then be attended to. It seems that that proposition is eminently reasonable and fair and ought to be accepted by the Government. If it is not accepted by them, that sweeping phrase, so far as is practicable will give the Home Secretary formidable powers which no one will be able to call into question—certainly not the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman will be able to designate whatever he likes, whatever kind of accommodation happens to be available. No doubt, if there are complaints, he will say "This is temporary. We have no intention of its going on for more than a fortnight or so. You are making a lot of fuss about nothing and I am not prepared to do anything about it."

12.45 am

All that my hon. Friend is asking is that there shall be some form of independent surveillance over these arrangements so that some more or less independent body can report, publicly I hope, to say that these temporary prisons at least satisfy certain civilised standards. I hope that if we do not get a satisfactory reply my hon. Friends will press the amendment to a Division.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I add my support to what I consider to be two modest amendments, whether they are both accepted or regarded as alternatives. It would be strange if the Government did not accept them. If they did not do so, they would open themselves to the criticism that there was too much secrecy about these places.

In addition to the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) about provision for medical treatment and such places being open to inspection, there is the further point that the people in these approved places will be allowed visitors. We know that visitors, wives and spouses of prisoners, for example, see and hear the worst side of the situation. If the prison authorities can assure the prisoners and their families that there has been an inspection by official prison visitors or magistrates, and the health and safety aspects approved, that would help to allay suspicions.

This proposal is a matter of the utmost simplicity and could not do anyone any harm or damage. It ought to be something which the Minister can accept automatically. If he does not do so, I hope that he will tell us why. The suggestion would not cost anything. Its adoption would be a sign of the openness and the good intentions of the Government in putting forward the Bill. It would also give some reassurance to the families of those who will be sent to such places.

Mr. Cryer

The amendment was moved in modest terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and I support it on the general basis of protection in relation to the duties that the Home Secretary is to be given.

The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) asked what sort of places we were dealing with. We are dealing not with examples that the Minister can cite, but with the provisions of the Bill. When it has been rushed through Parliament, it will become legislation and the Minister will be able to do as he likes. The Bill says that he may. It says that he may designate any place as a prison. There is no question of our having any examples culled from the Minister's jaded memory. We are dealing with the words in the Bill and they give unfettered, unqualified, utter and absolute power for the Home Secretary to designate any place a prison. We say that it needs a slight qualification. We do not like the legislation. We want nothing to do with it. But we have it, and we are in the business of trying to improve it.

We do not like the Home Office either. Its reputation throughout its history has not been one of untainted honesty. Special control units were set up at Wakefield in breach of prison rules and without the authority of the House. There is also the subject of telephone tapping which is, to say the least, a little shrouded.

It may be that the Home Secretary protection alliance will say that everything is superb. But there is a credibility gap around the Home Office and those who run it. In order to counter our cynical view that those who run that gigantic empire perhaps feel that they run the whole show, with Ministers, occupying positions intermittently, being fed little nuggets of information and legislation which the House will approve, the Government should show that they are human and concerned by accepting the amendment.

The Home Secretary may be under considerable pressure. People will be coming to have warrants signed for telephone tapping. He deals with those personally and we are assured that he deals with them carefully and always has the matter under consideration. In addition, the prison officers' dispute will be ebbing and flowing and, in order that he is not bounced into approving unsuitable premises, we ask for an additional modest safeguard.

I say "modest" because we know what happens to prison visitors who speak out of turn: they are sacked. We are not talking about people who are regarded as anti-establishment creatures hunting out the worst aspects of prisons. We are talking about those who are, generally, part of the establishment and do a good job. They are not noted for their militancy. We are not asking for anything that the Minister could say was outlandish or unreasonable.

By the Minister's own definition, the people concerned are reasonable people. We simply want them to be able to go to the premises, which the Minister can define. He has no other check. Once the matter leaves the House the Secretary of State can say "I have done what Parliament authorised me to do." We are authorising him mightily, and all that we are asking is that there should be arrangements for approved places to be inspected within seven days of their coming into use.

The amendment is modest. We do not even seek to give any right of veto. We say that in this way the Secretary of State will have at the back of his mind that his decision will be subject to an element of scrutiny; it is no longer under our scrutiny. I do not believe that a degree of examination is much to ask.

Those of us who do not view the Home Office as having had the most lavishly libertarian record over the past few years ask the Home Secretary to ensure that in a highly anti-libertarian Bill there is a gesture towards a continuing element of scrutiny. It will not constitute a condition and it will not stop the Secretary of State, but it will enable him to have in mind these decent people, exercising their responsibilities for the good of their standards of humanity and civilisation. That sounds a grandiose aim. I am speaking of a standard of decency based on their own, relevant experience. "Scrutinise" is too strong a word to use, as the people in question will have no veto. We want them to keep a friendly eye on the Home Secretary. It must be friendly, because if it is not he can sack them. Therefore, it is bound to be a co-operative eye.

This is redolent of the helpful way in which my hon. Friend has put forward the amendment. I look forward with interest to learning whether the Minister shares our modest and moderate view.

Mr. Stainton

I have found myself at a distinct disadvantage in trying to follow your provisional list of amendments, Mr. Weatherill. Incidentally, I presume that by now it should be definitive, and the word "provisional" should have been deleted officially.

I almost feel like reciting in full the amendment to which I wish to speak, but perhaps I may describe it as the prison visitors amendment. I have sympathy with the amendment and with the points that have been made about it. I should not have thought it particularly offensive to the Home Office.

Whenever I visit prison establishments—I have a large borstal in my constituency—my general impression is that prison visitors are, lamentably, fairly toothless. However, they have a role to play. The atmosphere between them, the governor and the deputy governors is usually very good.

It is curious that the amendment has come to the Committee as it has, because I spent between 6 pm and 6.30 pm today in the Public Bill Office putting down 13 amendments, none of which has seen the light of day. I am sure that none of them was out of order in parliamentary terms. However, I do not intend to press that matter. The discretion lies with the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chairman of this Committee—

1 am

Mr. Hooley

There is surely no discretion not to publish amendments put down by an hon. Member. There is a right not to select, which all hon. Members accept, but surely no discretion not to publish and not to include amendments on the list.

Mr. Stainton

I do not intend to pursue the point. I am content to accept the position as we go along. By this process, I am able to point out to the Chairman what I have done and ask for some latitude when we come to "clause stand part". I had approached this problem without seeing the list of amendments that appeared while I was visiting the Public Bill Office and intended to add after approved place' means a place for the time being so approved the words and which has been so designated for seven clear days before use by publication in the London Gazette. My purpose was to encompass not only the safety and well-being of the prisoners but also the question of the public's concern generally. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) may find next week that he has a new type of prison on his doorstep. One would like seven days' notice of such an event. If there could be some publication in advance in, say, the London Gazette, the House of Commons and the country would be alerted. The worst of one's fears, both in terms of the comfort and safety of the prisoners and, on the other side of the coin, the well-being of the community at large, could be clarified and, I hope, safeguards provided. My amendment did not make it, but I hope that I can leave my thoughts, now made orally, with the Minister.

Mr. Mikardo

On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. In the exchanges that took place during the speech of the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) a point of importance regarding our procedures arose. We have a photocopied Notice Paper that contains some amendments that have been selected and some that have not been selected. It is the practice for all amendments that have been submitted and that are in order to be published. It transpires that the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge went to a lot of trouble—his speeches show how much close attention he has paid to the Bill—to put down a lot of amendments. None of them has been selected. I make no complaint about that; it is a matter entirely within the discretion of the Chair. Can you tell us. Mr. Weatherill, why none has been published?

The Chairman

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) was present in the Chamber when this point was raised. Since one could not be certain at what time the Committee stage would start, I had to make a decision to have a preliminary selection of amendments. Until that time, we circulated the amendments. Afterwards, the amendments were not circulated. It was purely for the convenience of hon. Members that I produced the preliminary selection at what I thought would be a convenient time for hon. Members to have an opportunity to scrutinise the amendments before the Committee stage.

Mr. Freud

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I wonder whether you can assure the Committee that there will not be any amendments that have not been published but have been selected.

The Chairman

Will the hon. Gentleman make that point again? I did not quite get it.

Mr. Freud

You explained, Mr. Weatherill, that certain amendments were not published. I wondered whether any of the amendments that had not been published had been selected. The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge has explained that he spent a lot of time tabling amendments that have not seen the light of day. The Committee is concerned that there may be amendments that have not seen the light of day that will suddenly be called.

The Chairman

I dealt with that matter earlier. I assure the Committee that I considered that all the amendments which I selected were appropriate for debate.

Miss Richardson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I do not follow what you are saying. I was not in the Committee when you explained earlier. I understood from the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) that he was in the Public Bill Office between 6 pm and 6.30 pm. You, Mr. Weatherill, said that there must be a cutoff point at some stage because you had to make your selection. Since we did not finish the Second Reading debate until a few minutes before 10 o'clock, the hon. Member has a case for having his amendments published, although not selected. Would you explain why the amendments have not been published?

The Chairman

There is always a difficulty when we take a Bill through all its stages in one day. We circulated as many amendments as possible. It took more than an hour to scrutinise all the amendments and therefore the provisional list was not circulated until just before the end of the Second Reading. Perhaps that is why the amendments in question were not printed.

Mr. Mikardo

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I understand the problem of a cut-off point and the difficulties involved in trying to push a Bill through in one day. However, should one not distinguish between selection and publication? At one stage you made a selection and, because of the time factor, you said that you could not consider anything beyond that for selection. We all accept that. However, Report stage is to come.

Some of those amendments might be worthy of consideration on Report, even though you were compelled by time not to select them for Committee. It is wrong that the Committee should be deprived of knowledge which the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge has discovered in his researches. Even at this late hour, we should be given a sight of the hon. Member's amendments in case he or other hon. Members wish to move or discuss them on Report.

The Chairman

I dealt with that matter earlier. It would be time wasting to go over the same points of order just because some hon. Members were not present earlier. I have dealt with the point of order. Each manuscript that has been submitted by any hon. Member was seen by me both before and after the cut-off point.

Mr. Stainton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I was reasonably satisfied with the assistance which I received from the Table Office. The Chair has asked for this trouble and difficulty. After spending much time on the amendments, nobody could tell me what had happened to my documents. They are lost and gone. I begin to feel keenly about the issue now. I am not prepared to accept that my amendments were out of order unless someone demonstrates that to me.

I hesitated to ventilate this point previously, but there is the important issue of the cut-off point. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) made the point that the strict cut-off time is the finalisation of Second Reading, and that it is incorrect to accept amendments previously. One understands that the machinery has to be got under way, but I have extended the observations of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. We are not working on the basis of a document that holds water in parliamentary legal terms. This document is headed "Provisional selection of amendments", and the Chair cannot get by on that. This is the selection of amendments or it is nothing.

The Chairman

It is customary to put out a selection that is provisional. That simply means that if other amendments are received subsequently they can be incorporated if selected. The difficulty we were in tonight—I explained this earlier—was that we could not be certain at what time the Second Reading would end. It was therefore necessary to take a decision to make a selection at a certain point in the evening or the selection would not have been ready for the Committee stage. I took that decision and made the selection, and I have seen all the manuscript amendments, both before that cut-off point and after it.

Mr. Cryer

I was here earlier, Mr. Weatherill, and I do not think that you touched in detail on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He said that it was the practice of the House of Commons to table a resolution allowing earlier consideration of amendments and selection before the end of the Second Reading. He said that no such resolution had been tabled. I wonder why the House troubles to put down a resolution to allow in these circumstances consideration of amendments to be undertaken when the Bill has been presented on those occasions when the whole procedure can be thrown to the winds. We do not have to have a resolution. Why have we wasted time on previous occasions tabling resolutions? Is the explanation that the Government have been careless on this occasion and have forgotten and that the point has been ignored? If that is so, we ought to adjourn the proceedings until we can remedy the position and get the proper resolution tabled. This is not the fault of hon. Members. The blame is with the Government for not having tabled the proper resolution.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I do not want to get involved in this wrangle; I want to talk about the Bill. There are fundamental and important points to be debated. Nevertheless, I believe that an important new principle is being established here and that it may establish an important new precedent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said that it was the convention that amendments could not be tabled until the end of Second Reading. You pointed out, Mr. Weatherill, that there have been precedents for this. The Table Office has accepted amendments from myself and my hon. Friends throughout the day on that basis. The Table Office told me that I could table amendments up to the end of Second Reading and, indeed, during the Division on Second Reading. I did not know, the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) did not know, in fact no one knew, that a new principle was being established—understandably in the light of the difficulties with which you were confronted, Mr. Weatherill. Because of the position in which the Government have placed you, it seems that you are exercising a cut-off point. In doing that, you are setting a precedent that will be followed on other occasions, one of which the Committee is unaware and has not had the opportunity to discuss or determine. In those circumstances, you should again consider what has happened, and whether it was right to prohibit any further consideration of amendments tabled up to the end of Second Reading.

1.15 am
The Chairman

We have been in this position before. I was not creating any precedents. I was following previous precedents when we have had to take a Committee stage on the same day as Second Reading. There was nothing new in what I did.

Mr. Mikardo

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. You have replied to the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Nottingham, West (Mr. English), but, with respect, you have not replied to the point that I raised about the difference between selection and publication. You said that you dealt with it when I was not in the Chamber, but you did not and you are not dealing with it now. I shall reiterate my point. My hon. Friends are not happy about your making a cut-off point before the time of Second Reading. I am making a quite different point. You applied a cut-off point and said that beyond that time you would not consider any amendments for selection. I accept that—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is pursuing a point that I did not make. I said that, for the convenience of hon. Members, as we did not know when Second Reading would be completed, I had made a provisional selection. It was provisional so that I was open to receive manuscript amendments which came to me after that time if Second Reading lasted longer than expected—as it did—so that I could consider the additional amendments and incorporate them if they were correct for incorporation and in order. That is exactly what I did.

Mr. Mikardo

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. That is all right. I was about to say that. You made your provisional selection with a fall-back position that you could select further amendments. I am not querying that. There came a point at which provisionally you said that you would not select any further amendments. I wish to know on what authority you decided that amendments that you did not select should not be published. That is my point, and it is different from that of my hon Friends. I have been a Member of the House a long time. I cannot recall an occasion when bona fide amendments submitted were not published, regardless of whether they were selected. The whole point of a selection list is to show that of all the amendments that have been tabled the following have been selected and that, ipso facto, the remainder have not been selected.

I am not asking why you did not select the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge. I am asking why they were not published. You have not answered that question at any stage during the proceedings.

The Chairman

I shall answer that point now. In an ordinary Committee stage, if a manuscript amendment is accepted, it is not published. Today we have had a whole series of manuscript amendments. It was not possible to publish them in the time available. Up to a certain hour they were typed and circulated. After that time it was not possible to do that. I think that it would be right if we proceeded with the amendment that we are discussing.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. My hon. Friend is saying that it was not possible to publish.

Mr. Mikardo

Publish them now.

Mr. Cryer

That means that it was not possible to get them typed and photocopied. I cannot believe that the facilities of the House of Commons stop at 6 o'clock in respect of typing and photocopying. Indeed, that is one of the things that we are very good at—producing reams of photocopied material. I should have thought that even now facilities were available in the building for publishing—that is, typing and photocopying—50 or 100 copies of all the manuscript amendments that have been submitted and which by decision have not been published.

The point of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said is that a Report stage is to come later. It may well be that amendments which have not been dealt with in Committee can be submitted on Report. But we are not in a position to make a judgment on whether we would want to add our names. If 30 or 40 names were added to an amendment, that would clearly give it strength with regard to selecion. That is the normal procedure.

By not typing and duplicating the manuscript amendments that have been submitted, hon. Members are, in effect, being denied the right of assessing their judgment for a later stage of the Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. If it is not possible for the amendments to be handed around in duplicated form, where is it posible for hon. Members to consult those that have been submitted so that they can at least look through them and consider the points that they contain?

The Chairman

That is a perfectly reasonable request. Manuscript amendments will be placed in the Table Office, and, if hon. Members wish to consult them, that is where they will be found. Let us now proceed with the Committee stage.

Mr. Tilley

I was about to make two final points which I should like the Minister to answer. I believe that I am the last Member to speak before the Minister replies.

I hope that the Minister will give us some more examples of what establishments he has in mind in terms of these instant gaols that he will be creating. We have tried to guess and second-guess him with talk of local authority children's homes, holiday camps and so on. But apart from Army camps and Frank-land, which is clearly something quite separate, we have had no indication or examples of what sort of other buildings are available and which he thinks would be suitable.

We are giving a wide discretion to the Home Secretary in this clause and we are right to ask for some examples, because, in view of the omniscience of the Home Office and how much work it does, it must have a contingency list of establishments. I am sure that the Home Office will not wait until the Bill is passed tonight before looking at this. It must have some contingency lists. It must have lists of specific places. Even though we do not expect all of them to be published at this time of night, we are right to ask that some examples of types of buildings be given, for otherwise we shall waste a lot of time trying to speculate on the rules, regulations and protection that there should be in regard to the use of buildings about which we know nothing.

I hope that the Minister can give concrete examples of the sort of establishments, other than Army camps, that he has in mind.

In his reply, the Minister said—the Secretary of State made the same point earlier—that he deeply regretted the degree to which the Bill gave executive discretion over the judiciary. He made a valid constitutional point, and I do not in any way impugn his sincerity. He said that he regretted the departure from the separation of powers which is such a vital part of the British constitution.

These amendments allow the Government to redress that shift of the checks and balances, because they give them two choices. The first choice is to give magistrates who have or will have some of their powers removed extra powers over the premises in which people will be imprisoned. That is a reasonable redress in the shift of balance, and it is relevant because it will be important for the magistrates in deciding whether to continue to remand in custody prisoners whom they do not see. Therefore, the amendment would have the benefit of giving magistrates the power not only to supervise the premises in terms of general suitability, but to judge the suitability of the premises in relation to each individual prisoner. That would be advantageous to the Government and it would meet their fears about the undue tampering with the separation of powers.

The other choice that is given is the suggestion that prison visitors should be involved. Let us be clear about the role of prison visitors and about what the "gospel according to May", as we must now call it, says about them. The May report states: We think the Boards are vital institutions which, although their work is little known and appreciated, are important parts of the prison system. Their chief role is to act as agents of local accountability and control over the good management of institutions. They should, therefore, be well informed and acute but friendly watchdogs of the public interest. I leave Mr. Justice May to explain what he means by "friendly watchdogs". The report continues: Whilst formally their powers are limited to certain disciplinary and control functions, the potential for their activity is substantial, if not uniformly exploited by them. We think the recent growth in interest in their functions in England and Wales is entirely healthy, and we think the same appropriate elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Attempts to widen their background should obviously continue, and further development of their training and collective conscience would seem sensible. The Government have said many times that they accept the broad thrust of the recommendations of the May committee. It calls for prison visitors to be given an expanded role. We shall now have a new set of instant prisons where prison visitors will have no role. It seems reasonable to suggest that by accepting the first of these amendments the Government could not only meet the aspirations of May with regard to prison visitors by giving them a bigger role, but could add a check to the increased executive discretion that the Minister has said, and the Committee agrees, is the most worrying aspect of of the Bill.

1.30 am
Mr. Brittan

I deal first with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who asked about the relationship between these provisions and planning law. Nothing in these provisions alters existing planning law in any way. To the extent that planning permission is required, it continues to be required, and the Bill does not alter that at all.

I was asked about the kind of places that my right hon. Friend has in mind to designate. At present, my right hon. Friend has in mind designating Frank-land and possibly, if necessary, military camps. There are no other places that my right hon. Friend has in mind at present.

Mr. Mikardo

Windsor Safari Park?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Member is not doing himself justice—but I suppose that that was too much to expect.

The fact is that my right hon. Friend has no intention at present of designating anywhere else; but, of course, the power exists.

I turn to the subject of the prison rules, which is a matter of some importance. The Bill clearly provides that the prison rules apply to places which are designated except and to the extent that the Secretary of State orders that they should not apply.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Brittan

If the Committee will bear with me, I shall try to explain.

The position is as a number of hon. Members have pointed out. There are a number of detailed provisions in the prison rules which it may not be appropriate or possible to apply to temporary accommodation. There is absolutely no question about that. Existing rules will apply as far as possible, especially as regards channels of complaint, medical treatment, correspondence, notifications, and so on. The governors and administrative staff will be familiar with the rules and will see that prisoners are informed of any modifications. If modifications have to be made, I assure the Committee that the House of Commons will similarly be informed. That is the position concerning the prison rules.

I now turn to the main thrust of the debate, which is in accordance with these amendments. I deal with the second amendment first, which proposes that magistrates should take all necessary steps to satisfy themselves as to the health and safety of any person remanded to an approved place in custody by them. The difficulty of that suggestion is that the courts will not be remanding people to temporary accommodation direct. The courts will simply be making a remand and then it will be for the Secretary of State, in accordance with the situation that operates at present, either to get them into permanent accommodation, if that is available, or, and only as a second best, to put them into temporary accommodation.

The first amendment would require the temporary accommodation to be inspected

Division No. 476] AYES [1.36 a.m.
Beith, A. J. Hooley, Frank Soley, Clive
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Whitehead, Phillip
Campbell-Savours, Dale McKelvey, William
Davidson, Arthur Mikardo, Ian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
English, Michael Penhaligon, David Mr. Bob Cryer and
Flannery, Martin Richardson, Jo Mr. John Tilley
Freud, Clement Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Alexander, Richard Boscawen, Hon Robert Budgen, Nick
Ancram, Michael Boyson, Dr Rhodes Butcher, John
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Braine, Sir Bernard Carlisle Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Bright, Graham Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Brinton, Tim Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Berry, Hon Anthony Brittan, Leon Cope, John
Best, Keith Brooke, Hon Peter Costain, Sir Albert
Biggs-Davison, John Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Dorrell, Stephen
Blackburn, John Bruce-Gardyne, John Dover, Denshore

by a board of visitors. I am very sympathetic to the thought behind this amendment. Arrangements are in hand for just such a board to be appointed for Frank-land. We hope that the members of that board will visit Frankland during the next few days to carry out the purpose that a board of visitors normally carries out. If other accommodation is required and designated, it is our intention that similar arrangements should be made for the appointment of boards of visitors for such other accommodation that is designated.

That meets the substance of the requirement that is proposed by those putting forward the amendment. However, I ask the Committee not to impose a requirement of that kind by means of a legislative requirement. I know that the Committee will accept that my right hon. Friend is following the policy that I have described to the best of his ability. However, there must be an element of flexibility. He will do what he can to follow the policy that I have described. It is his firm intention to do so in respect of Frankland and the other places. None the less, the full provision for boards of visitors may not be appropriate in circumstances that we cannot foresee.

I have no doubt that the issue will be coming before the House of Commons with considerable regularity. I hope that the Committee will feel that I have accepted the spirit of the amendment and that it is not necessary for it to be set out in precise legislative form.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 113.

Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Marlow, Tony Silvester, Fred
Eyre, Reginald Mates, Michael Sims, Roger
Faith, Mrs Sheila Maude, Rt Hon Angus Speller, Tony
Fell, Anthony Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stainton, Keith
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mate, Roger Stanbrook, Ivor
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Stevens, Martin
Garel-Jones, Tristan Murphy, Christopher Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Gow, Ian Myles, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Gower, Sir Raymond Needham, Richard Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouh N) Nelson, Anthony Tebbit, Norman
Gummer, John Selwyn Normanton, Tom Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Onslow, Cranley Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Hawkins, Paul Page, Rt Hon Sir Graham (Crosby) Thompson, Donald
Hawksley, Warren Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Henderson, Barry Parris, Matthew Trippier, David
Hogg, hon Douglas (Grantham) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Waddington, David
Hooson, Tom Percival, Sir Ian Wakeham, John
Hordern, Peter Proctor, K Harvey Waldegrave, Hon William
Hunt, David (Wirral) Raison, Timothy Watson, John
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rathbone, Tim Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rees-Davies, W. R. Wheeler, John
Knight, Mrs Jill Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Lang, Ian Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Wickenden, Keith
Le Marchant, Spencer Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wilkinson, John
Lester, Jim (Beeston) St. John-Sieves, Rt Hon Norman Wolfson, Mark
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lyell, Nicholas Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Macfarlane, Neil Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Mr. Carol Mather and
Major, John Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills) Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Question accordingly negatived.

1.45 am
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I beg to move, in page 2, line 20, leave out "constable" and insert "prison officer".

The matter that I wish to raise arises on clause 1(6). When I first read the Bill this wording stood out from the page. It says that a person appointed by the Secretary of State as an officer responsible for the custody of persons detained in an approved place … shall, while acting as such, have all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of a constable. That strikes me as rather odd. The power of a constable is given to those doing the work of a prison officer.

In the course of the Home Secretary's Second Reading speech I asked him why the Bill gave privates in the Army the power of a constable. He said in his rather benign way that he did not know, and that he would leave the matter to his Minister of State to deal with later. I thought that that was rather odd.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), whose contract with the Police Federation obviously does not include overtime, thought that this was a serious matter. He spent the whole of his Second Reading speech telling us about it. The Minister of State intervened to indicate that the powers of a prison officer were set out in section 8 of the Prison Act 1952, which provides: Every prison officer while acting as such shall have all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of a constable. The same words are used in clause 1(6) of this Bill. The parliamentary draftsman has simply transposed the words. It is scruffy to put in that language without referring to the Prison Act and indicating that this is the existing power.

I did not know that prison officers always had the powers of a constable when acting within the prison and neither did the Home Secretary. It will surprise most people to know that a prison officer can act as a police constable in the execution of his duty. Interference constitutes the same offence as interfering with a police officer in the execution of his duty. An assault on him is the same as an assault on a police officer and does not carry the right of trial.

The parliamentary draftsman should have made that plain. I shall not press the matter further. I do not withdraw the amendment as I do not wish to stop my hon. Friends raising other points that I may have failed to notice.

Amendment negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Cryer

Clause 1 is the most draconian measure in granting power to the Home Secretary. One of the amendments proposed was so modest that even the Minister of State could have accepted it, yet if his civil servants had had time to write a brief it would read "Resist".

Clause 1 gives the Home Secretary absolute power. The Minister says that prison visitors or boards will be able to inspect designated places but that the Home Secretary does not want to be tied by legislation. The inspection will be not within seven days but when it suits the Home Secretary. Once legislation leaves our hands, it is out of our control and in the Minister's hands. I deeply oppose the Home Secretary's desire for absolute power. He will have the power to make any place in the country a prison. He has made it clear that places other than military camps may come under his jurisdiction. There are widespread powers enshrined in clause 1.

We do not want the Bill in principle. We should like more time to give it proper consideration. We are handing over power to the Secretary of State to do what he likes. Conservative Members talk of Eastern European, Marxist States. The powers that the Government seek would be undistinguished in such States. They want unchecked, unscrutinised power. We put forward a tiny amendment to make the Home Secretary look over his shoulder. It did not suggest qualifying powers to alter his decision. We are told that he is entirely in agreement with the spirit of it but he does not want to be bothered with the letter of the law.

That is what it amounts to, because his Department would then have to follow what Parliament had laid down. That, plainly put, would be a damned nuisance. It does not want to be troubled with any fettering by Parliament; it wants to go as it pleases. To allow seven days for prison visitors to examine a place would be a nuisance, something to administer, some little obstacle in the free and unfettered use of these powers. So the proposal has to be rejected with some smooth words about accepting the spirit of the amendment.

We do not legislate in spirit. The interpretation of the courts of our legislation is not to do with the spirit of the legislators but with the narrow, literal and grammatical meaning. If it were interpreted in the spirit of the legislators, such words as "accepting the spirit of the amendment" might have some meaning. That is not the position. It obtains in other countries, but not here. The literal and grammatical interpretation is that the Minister has free and unfettered powers, and I object to that.

Mr. Mikardo

I want to add one word to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). It is the business of Back Benchers to be ever suspicious of Ministers. That is the only thing that makes this place work properly—the constructive tension between the Back and Front Benches, and the vigilance that Back Benchers exercise over Ministers. It is my experience that the time to be most suspicious of a Minister is when he says of an amendment "I agree with its intention, I propose to do exactly what it says and for those reasons I will not accept it." That gives a pretty fair indication that it is the second half of that statement and not the first half that is the operative part.

The trouble is that civil servants always say to Ministers "When you get these nuisances in the House of Commons, these chaps on the Back Benches, especially late at night, the best thing to do is not to say 'No'; say Yes, but'. That has the same effect as saying 'No.' "What the Minister has done with regard to these amendments is to say "Yes, I agree with them, indeed I am going to act entirely in accordance with them, as though they had been written into the Bill, but …" The "but" is "But I want to be free not to act in accordance with them any time it suits me."

I always find that sort of pretension on the part of Ministers—and I have been listening to them for more than 30 years—hollow and incredible. It does not carry conviction or credibility. I hope that during the remainder of the Committee stage and on Report which is to follow—we have a long stint but the old 'uns unlike me will stick it out even if the young 'uns get tired—we shall not hear that oily hypocrisy from the Minister of State again.

Mr. Brittan

It seems that the only point that has been raised in the speeches of the hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is that it is not sufficient to rely on assurances as to policy, but that it is necessary in every case to spell out matters in the statute. I tried to explain why, in relation to the last amendment, I did not think that that was appropriate. Obviously, the Committee would not wish me to rehearse those arguments now. The only thing that is worth pointing out is that basically what the hon. Gentlemen were saying, with varying degrees of politeness, was that they did not trust Ministers to say what they would do. That is a view which they are entitled to take.

Mr. Mikardo

We are speaking from experience.

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman certainly has much more experience than I, but the position is slightly different when the power in question is to be exercised for a period of one month, if it is to be exercised at all, after which the Minister must come back to the House. The hon. Gentleman does not have to trust us for long. He will soon see whether we do what we say we will do. If we do not, he will have the opportunity to make his point even more forcefully. For that reason alone his anxiety is not well founded.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause I ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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