HC Deb 02 December 1981 vol 14 cc274-346
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.55 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, That this House, believing that conditions in Her Majesty's Prisons are now both an affront to a civilised society and a continued threat to the maintenance of law and order within the United Kingdom, calls upon the Home Secretary to meet the crisis of overcrowding by reducing both the number of offenders sentenced to imprisonment and the lengths of those custodial sentences which must be imposed, and to introduce those reforms which would enable the Prison Services to treat offenders in a way consistent with the real objects of the penal system. Neither the existence nor the extent of the crisis within our prisons is, I believe, in dispute. We have recently had dramatic evidence provided, for example, by the governors of Wormwood Scrubs prison and Manchester prison in their letters to The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Adding to the drama and the serious nature of the crisis is a statement that I understand has been made today by the Prison Officers Association at Strangeways, which has announced that it will accept into that prison no more prisoners on remand or prisoners committed to it by magistrates' courts until it has received from the Home Secretary a written assurance concerning the date on which new building in that prison will begin. I emphasise that I neither applaud nor support such unilateral action. However, it seems that that action, like a statement that I understand has been made on behalf of all prison governors to the Home Secretary today, is certain evidence of the conditions that are now applying in British prisons.

I am told that there are now 1,600 prisoners in Strangeways, which at best was designed to accommodate 1,021. I do not wish to dwell on the evidence provided by the more dramatic sources, such as prison officers and prison governors, who have recently made their position clear. We have a more authoritative and in every way a more important source of evidence from which to describe the degradation which is now our prison system. It states: two or three men crowded into a small and deteriorating cell in boredom and futility with no integral sanitation facilities and crowded for up to 23 hours each day. It continues: less and less attention, training and work experience". The third passage states: more and more frustration and resentment building up among men and women who are obliged to live every hour of every day by the strict routine associated with minimum free association and few facilities. That indictment of our present prison system was made by the Home Secretary when speaking to Sunderland Conservatives two months ago. As well as winning high marks and, from me at least, high praise for his description of the crisis, the right hon. Gentleman deserves equal commendation for his prescription of the cure. He said: Our task is to seek to reduce both the numbers of offenders sentenced to imprisonment and the length of those sentences which must be imposed. It is those words that make up the bulk of the Opposition's motion, a motion which I understand will not gain the Home Secretary's support although it repeats his words exactly. We have tabled the motion because we hope to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he and the Government are about to turn platitude into policy. We disagree with neither his prescription nor his account of life in our prisons.

We know that the one imaginative proposal to be made during the past two years has been abandoned. I do not propose to follow the strange semantic argument that took place in another place on whether that proposal had been abandoned because the judiciary had vetoed it or had given "wise advice" on which the right hon. Gentleman eventually acted. Whatever the reason and whatever the relationship between the right hon. Gentleman, the judges and the magistrates, the plan to release some prisoners after serving one third of their custodial sentence and requiring them for the next third to be out of prison but under constant supervision has been dropped. That real prospect of removing substantial numbers from the prison system has been abandoned. It has been replaced by a plan that is described rather paradoxically as a modified suspended sentence, which on the Government's admission will have nothing like the effect on the prison population that the original plan, proposed by the right hon. Gentleman and subsequently abandoned, would have had. The modified proposal may have no effect on the prison population.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

The right hon. Gentleman has been describing the evils of overcrowding in our prisons but it is not suggested in the motion that the most important contribution which could be made to easing that problem would be the provision of new prison accommodation. That remedy is set out in the Government's amendment. I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman is going on so much about other alternatives instead of directing his mind to providing extra prison accommodation.

Mr. Hattersley

If the hon. Gentleman will apply his normal rule of patience, he will discover that I do not advocate that solution because I do not believe in it. I do not believe that additional prison places are the answer. New prison places are, but they should be places that accommodate a substantially smaller prison population. If I may correct the hon. Gentleman as well as command the attention of the Home Secretary, I was not describing the evils of our present system, but quoting the Home Secretary's description of the evils of that system. It is on his definition of degradation that we in the Opposition stand, and on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman continues to stand in the debate.

I repeat that the new scheme that the Home Secretary has introduced as a second best alternative to the one that he has dropped may not reduce the prison population. In our submission what we need above all is a substantial and immediate reduction in the numbers of men and women serving custodial sentences. The truth is—

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The criminals should cease attacking and robbing people, so that there would be fewer criminals in prison.

Mr. Hattersley

I shall deal with that attitude, which I shall later describe as being as unintelligent as it is barbarous. However, before I move on to that, I shall describe what I believe to be the position.

In this country we send too many people to prison. Many of those who have to be incarcerated go to prison for far too long. In 1937 the prison population averaged each day a little more than 10,000. Now it fluctuates between 44,000 and 46,000. There has been an increase in the 14 to 17 age group, the prison population of young people having quadrupled over the last 15 years.

That enormous prison population is largely accommodated in Victorian institutions, in conditions that the Victorians themselves would not have tolerated. They would not have tolerated three men in a cell for 23 hours a day or workshops that are closed because staff cannot provide adequate supervision. They would not have tolerated prisoners who enjoy the luxury of one bath every seven days.

While in some ways there has been a deterioration from Victorian standards, the worst of Victorian facilities have been maintained, such as the obligation to slop out rather than enjoy proper sanitary facilities. All that seems absolutely intolerable. I hope that the Home Secretary says that it is intolerable to him and that he does not propose to tolerate it any longer.

Perhaps in some ways paradoxically, only in Northern Ireland are our prisons anything like acceptable to the standards of a civilised community. Perhaps one of the things that we should do is to have a crash building programme in Great Britain to provide facilities here of the sort that are enjoyed—if that is the right description—in Northern Ireland.

I emphasise to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), because I failed to explain this to him at first, that I do not want a facility of 44,000 or 46,000 modern places, but a substantial reduction in numbers. The men and women who must remain in prison—the residual minimum—should be housed in decent facilities.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I have considerable sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman says, as I hope the House will hear if I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that this is a new phenomenon, a problem that has occurred only in the last 2½ years? If not, will he say what his Government, of which he was a member, did, and how they addressed their minds to the problem when he was in office?

Mr. Hattersley

The point that I hope the hon. Gentleman already knows, if he has prepared a speech, is that the prison population has substantially increased over the last three years. I do not suggest that the problem did not exist. Of course, the prison population has increased. Those are matters that should not be in dispute. The figures are there and available. I do not pretend that there were not too many people in prison when I had the honour to serve as one of Her Majesty's Ministers. However, I insist that the position has substantially deteriorated. The things that governors and prison officers have said over the last months and the breakouts and disturbances in the last two years are comparatively recent phenomena as a result of the figure approaching and perhaps breaking the crisis barrier.

The hon. Gentleman will discover when I reach the end of my speech that I hope that the matter will be decided not as one of party dispute, but as one of both parties facing a crisis. If he wants the debate to degenerate to the level of party dispute that is his problem, but it is not my attitude and I believe that it is not that of the House or of the country.

More appropriate is the objective analysis of what happens in Britain and the proper comparison of the people whom we send to prison in this country with those who are sent to prison in other parts of Western European society. Our figure for convicted prisoners who are serving their sentences is 80 per 100,000 of the population. In Holland it is only 13.4, in Italy it is 21.8, in Luxembourg it is 56.8, in Denmark it is 44.8 and in Germany, which has the highest figure apart from us, it is 67.1. In France, when the figures were last available, it was 39.4, which is only half the British figure. I said "when the figures were last available" because on coming to power President Mitterrand announced an immediate amnesty for prisoners in French prisons who were convicted and sentenced for crimes that he did not believe justified custodial sentences and were causing overcrowding in French prisons, a factor that he found unacceptable.

One of the things that the Home Secretary must do in the light of what the governors and prison officers have told him, and of all the evidence that has been presented to him, is to consider whether he should have a general amnesty for the many people, whom I shall describe in a moment, who are presently in British prisons and who, by any standards of reason, sense, and humanity, should not be there. Surely he agrees that there are men and women in our prisons who not only should not be there but should never have been sent there. Men and women have been sent to prison for maintenance and small fine defaults. There are prostitutes convicted of soliciting, and drunks, beggars and the homeless, guilty of sleeping rough. We need immediate legislation to remove those offenders from the categories of custodial sentences. We need immediate Government action to remove from our prisons mentally sick men and women who are there only because hospitals will not accept them.

I do not pretend that removing those categories from custodial sentence will result in a dramatic reduction in the prison population—it would be rather less than 4 per cent. While I do not pretend that that would make a dramatic reduction, first I believe that it is right and, secondly, I believe that it is a step in the right direction which, together with some of the other proposals that I have advanced to the House, would make a substantial, if not dramatic, reduction.

My next proposal concerns prisoners on remand. The record for the whole United Kingdom for holding prisoners on remand compares favourably with at least half the other countries in Western Europe. However, the entire United Kingdom record is improved because of the average period spent on remand in Scotland. That is not the same for England and Wales. In Scotland there is an admirable system of requiring a man or woman to be brought to trial within 110 days of committal or requiring that man or woman to be allowed out there and then on bail. That system does not undermine the processes of Scottish justice, but concentrates the courts' and advocates' minds on the necessity to get on with the trial. When one considers the periods for which men and women are held on remand, one sees that a similar rule should be introduced in England and Wales. It is wrong that often an innocent man or woman may have to wait six months in prison for the opportunity to demonstrate his or her innocence. A reduction in the period of remand, as well as being right in itself, would also be a second step towards limiting the size of the prison population.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

How many?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) sitting down—indeed, lying down—cries "How many?" The answer depends on how quickly his profession would respond to the 110-day rule. I cannot put a precise figure on it, but I believe that it is right in itself.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)


Mr. Hattersley

There are many estimates, one of which my hon. Friend is about to give me, although I shall not necessarily endorse it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I know that my right hon. Friend will endorse what I shall say. He will recall that the May committee referred to the fact that 44 per cent. of those held in custody on remand were subsequently found not guilty or given a non-custodial sentence. The May committee referred to this practice as a scandal. Not only are many of these people at least technically innocent, but invariably they are held in the most appalling conditions in our overcrowded local prisons. That is certainly an affront to any civilised society.

Mr. Hattersley

I endorse every word that my hon. Friend has spoken. The only shortcoming of his intervention was that it did not answer the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham. My hon. Friend did not do so, because I do not think that an answer is possible. I suspect that the hon. Member for Grantham knows that no figure can be given. I hope that, as a distinguished member of the legal profession, the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is wrong that an innocent man or woman should sometimes be required to wait six months to demonstrate his or her innocence.

I make a third suggestion as to how the prison population can be reduced. That is by the implementation of the one part of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure with which I am in enthusiastic agreement—part II. The creation of a national prosecution service, staffed by solicitors and barristers who work independently of the local police force, would in my view avoid many of the present prosecutions that now send people to prison in an unnecessarily arbitrary way.

I emphasise for a second time that those three suggestions do not constitute a policy that would reduce the prison population sufficiently dramatically, but they are a beginning, and the Home Secretary should implement my more radical proposals.

We must legislate across a wide spectrum of the law for lower maximum sentences. If there are lower maximum sentences, the evidence suggests that the courts will impose a lower sentence when they determine where, within the maximum, the penalty ought to fall.

I convince myself that the Home Secretary agrees with that general proposition, but the difference between him and me is that he wants to move by exhortation rather than by legislation. In Leicester two months ago, when speaking to local magistrates, he said that in his view there ought to be shorter sentences, but the evidence again suggests that exhortation to shorter sentences will not produce the results that he and I both want to see. There must be legislation to reduce maximum sentences before a reduction is reflected in general sentencing policy.

We shall convince the public of the efficacy of that policy—and only that will be acceptable to the House—only if we examine the purposes of imprisonment in a more rational and objective way than they have been examined in the past. We must move away from the idea that sentences must inevitably and always be either a fine or a custodial sentence. We should begin to introduce alternative penalties that will deter and punish in the way that fines and prison are supposed to do, but which will avoid the reckless waste of months spent in prison.

We should examine the whole range of punishments at least for serious crimes, excluding crimes of violence, and decide how many would be more appropriately punished by an obligation to serve the community in some way to right the wrong that has been done and by a duty to provide some sort of restitution.

For instance, it seems absurd that men and women convicted of an offence involving goods to which others are entitled, theft, fraud, or even the regular refusal to pay maintenance to wives and families should be sent to prison in a way that makes it impossible for them to make any restitution for the damage that they have done.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a third of our prison population is made up of those convicted of burglary? What would he do with the burglars?

Mr. Hattersley

Some of them might be better occupied outside prison than inside prison.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

They would be burgling.

Mr. Hattersley

That demonstrates one of the hon. Gentleman's prejudices. One of my convictions is that they are no less likely to burgle after they come out of prison.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

They will not do it while they are inside.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman says that they will not do so while inside, but even he would not expect people convicted of burglary to be inside for ever. I want to create a society in which crimes are less likely to be committed, rather than an unthinking society that considers punishing individuals only once a crime has been committed. It is enormously simplistic to say that all burglars ought automatically to be imprisoned.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Will my right hon. Friend remind the critics across the Chamber of the experience in Holland where, in 1973, it was deliberately decided to cut the rate of sentencing by about half? There has been no increase in the crime rate there, which was then greater than the crime rates in other Western European countries.

Mr. Hattersley

That is one of the clear implications from the figures of imprisonment that I gave in my comparison with other Western European countries. No one is suggesting that, inherently, those countries are more law-abiding than we are. Nor is anyone suggesting the obverse—that because of the small amount of custodial sentencing they have experienced rampant crime waves that we have somehow avoided. The truth is that different penal systems have achieved better results than ours. My contention remains that non-custodial sentences, examined instance by instance by the Home Secretary and applied when desirable, would produce a better result.

Of course, all this will need some money for hostels and more probation officers as well as many other additional resources, but prisons cost money as well. At present it costs a minimum of £7,000 a year to keep a man in prison. I believe that that money could be far better spent on a more progressive way of deterring and preventing crime.

We should understand what happens when a man is sent to prison. We should examine why a man or woman is sent to prison in the first place. The hard fact of the matter—and this in some ways refutes the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham—is that nothing is more likely to send a man to prison for a second time than sending him to prison for the first time. If we want to reduce the prison population, the avoidance of sending first offenders to prison, or people being sent there at an unnecessarily early stage, is an absolute necessity for all of us who want to see a general improvement.

I know that the Government accept that point of view. I also appreciate that one of their most important tasks is to convince the public that by reducing sentences and taking some crimes out of the realm of custodial sentence they will not be undermining the entire basis of the prison system as well as the prospects for law and order.

One educational job which must be done concerns the reason why we send people to prison. Almost all hon. Members—certainly those educated in the 1950s—believe that people are sent to prison for moral improvement and social regeneration. The hard facts of the last 30 years are that that has not happened, and that the opposite often happens. If men or women leave prison improved, that is probably because of their resources rather than those of the prison.

Prisons exist for three purposes. One is to punish, one to deter and one to protect from society those who must be permanently excluded from the continuing damage and injury they might do. If we consider prison in those terms, rather than believing in its reformative role, we shall consider more rationally how long men and women need to be incarcerated in order to maintain the deterrent and provide the punishment. We need to consider rationally the alternatives to prison as a punishment.

This is only half a party point, but I know that the Home Secretary has some conversion and explanation to do within his own party, which contains the people who naturally and properly influence him most. I recall the lady at the Conservative Party conference who went to the rostrum shaking a pair of handcuffs at the assembled delegates. She had the remarkable good fortune of being almost one of my constituents. She explained that, although she felt some moral guilt, she could not bring herself or find it within her heart to feel sorry for those in prison, irrespective of how degrading and intolerable were the conditions in which they lived.

I hope that the Home Secretary will do his best to argue against that attitude. He has chosen to be unpopular within his party in other good causes in the past, and I hope that he will have the courage and farsightedness to do the same again. The attitude of those who say "What does it matter what happens to them once they are inside? Since they are offenders, let them be treated in the most barbarous way", seems to be as foolish as it is uncivilised.

What we now do with too many offenders is to incarcerate them in a way which wastes money and lives, destroys families, and patently does nothing to reduce crime. The penal system as it now operates is not having the deterrent effect for which much of society hoped. I repeat that once people have been inside they have almost a prescription for going to prison again. Our chief and principal obligation, in terms of law and order and a civilised wish and duty, is to prevent the prisons from operating as they now do.

To improve prison conditions and to make them something like tolerable, our first duty is to reduce dramatically the prison population. That would enable the prison regimes to be transformed. It would free them from a constant risk of disturbance and mutiny. It would increase the status of the prison officer. It would provide the prospect of training and rehabilitation in a way that does not exist today. Most importantly, it would redeem Britain's reputation as being a civilised society applying penal policies which are conducive to the standards which we in this House claim to hold.

Even at this late hour, I ask the Home Secretary to accept the Opposition motion rather than to pursue the amendment, which is at best apologetic and at worst simply an attempt at self-justification. I do not regard the debate today as a party political affair. I have attempted to advance my case in essentially non-political terms.

I have described what the Opposition believe to be a national emergency. The Home Secretary should choose to work with the entire House in facing and overcoming the emergency. I therefore hope that he will accept our motion rather than choose to divide the House and pretend that this is a matter of proper party controversy. It is not. It is a matter which equally concerns, exercises and worries all men and women of good will who want Britain to be a truly civilised place in which law and order are properly and reasonably preserved.

5.25 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, recognising that, as a result of increasing crime and decades of neglect, conditions in many of Her Majesty's Prisons are now both an affront to a civilised society and a continued threat to law and order, endorses the Government's strategy of providing new and improved prison accommodation through a sustained building programme, and of seeking the reduction in the prison population by encouraging the use by the courts of non-custodial sentences and shorter sentences of imprisonment, consistent with the need to protect the public". I shall explain to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) why it is right not to support his motion and why I believe that the amendment sets out the basic strategy that I shall put before the House. However, I assure him that I do not approach the matter in any party political sense. He knows that if I did that I could make the most devastating case against the previous Labour Government, of which he was a member, on every front that he has spoken about today. I shall not do that, because I agree with him that we must approach these serious problems as a united House.

I welcome the debate as an opportunity for the House to discuss frankly the grave difficulties facing the prison system and the options open to the Government in confronting them. I intend to describe the Government's strategy for dealing with the problems of the prison system—problems which are certainly in part the product of neglect and national indifference.

That is why the Government have taken the lead during the past two years in opening up the prison system to the public gaze. We have exposed the human consequences of the decay of the prison estate and the overcrowding that results from a prison population well in excess of the accommodation available for it. My ministerial colleagues in the Home Office have repeated the message time and again, both in the House and elsewhere, that conditions in some of our prisons are, in the words of the director-general of the prison service, "an affront to civilised society". The message has been reinforced in a number of recent television programmes. Because of the Government's openness of approach, there is now probably more public understanding of prison conditions than at any time in the recent past.

The problems are perhaps now too well known to require elaboration. I should, however, like to remind the House of one or two stark facts about their effects on the people within the system, both staff and inmates. No new closed prison or borstal was built in England and Wales in the 40 years between 1918 and 1958. As a result, 60 per cent. of adult male prisoners are accommodated in inadequate Victorian buildings. Just as important, about half the prison staff work in those inadequate conditions. That is bad enough. Yet the worst conditions are often found in the temporary wartime buildings which have reached the end of their useful life but which cannot, while the prison population remains high, be relinquished.

The House will be well aware of the size of the prison population. The latest total is about 44,000 as against certified normal accommodation of less than 39,000. In practice, more than 37,000 means a degree of overcrowding. The global figures mask considerably greater overcrowding in local prisons. For example, on 31 October Birmingham prison, with room for 537 prisoners, held 927, of whom 576 were three to a cell. The sharing of cells is not necessarily wrong in itself, but when it is enforced and three to a cell it is intolerable. The weight of numbers imposes enormous strains on the ability of prison management to do more than cope. As a result of the priority afforded to manning the courts and escorting prisoners, staff are seldom available to provide more than the absolute minimum regime. There can be no dispute that conditions in some of our prisons today are quite unacceptable and that action must be taken to improve them.

The May committee paid an eloquent tribute to the staff of the prison service—a tribute I endorsed when the committee's report was published and which I wish to reinforce today. The circumstances in which many staff work make it hard for them to feel that their task has any positive aspect, and their fundamental duty of protecting the public becomes more difficult to discharge. I have spoken of the physical limitations of the prison system. There are also human limits—limits on the ability of staff to do a constructive job if they are offered no hope.

Of course, such circumstances do not apply throughout the prison service. There are some establishments which have modern facilities, which are not overcrowded, in which prisoners have access to a wide range of regime activities, and in which staff are able to play as active a role as they wish. Nevertheless, I have stressed the worst of the problems facing the prison system, because I do not want the House to underestimate their scale or intractability. These are major problems. There is no single solution to them. The Government are, therefore, attacking them on several fronts.

I turn, first, to what is being done to increase the available resources. The Government have a substantial building programme, which should produce 5,000 new places in the 1980s. We have approved the construction of six new prisons to start over the next three years, and work on Wyland in Norfolk, a new category C prison, has already begun. The others, in order of starting, are young offender establishments at Stocken in Leicestershire and Appleton Thorn in Cheshire; a dispersal prison at Full Sutton on Humberside; two category B prisons at Garth next to Wymott and Swaleside next to Standford Hill.

I can also announce today decisions to proceed with two more new prisons—making eight in all—at Bovingdon in Hertfordshire and Lockwood in Oxfordshire, starting in 1984–85. In the longer term, we are considering, among other possibilities, a new women's prison at Featherstone near Wolverhampton and a much needed local prison in the London area at Woolwich.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the important matter of bringing new prisons into existence, will he explain why he is not prepared to use places such as Beckingham on a long-term basis until the new prisons are available? They are perfectly able to house category C prisoners.

Mr. Whitelaw

I visited the Army camp at Beckingham, which we had on a temporary basis and which we have just closed. Army camps, by their very nature, are not suitable for use as long-term prisons. They are extremely expensive to run in terms of staff, who have to live away from their homes and in very poor conditions during the period in which they are there. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to those who ran the temporary prisons, and to my hon. Friend's constituents for their understanding. The wartime camps are no substitute for the sort of programme that I am announcing today, although they were valuable to us during a short major emergency.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

In the light of the decision by some prison officers today not to accept further remand prisoners, how can the immediate problem be resolved to their satisfaction?

Mr. Whitelaw

The prison governor is seeing the members of the Prison Officers' Association who are concerned with that problem. It would be wrong for me, when the governor is discussing these matters, to make any comments that might prejudice his discussions in the prison. I know that the House and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to do that.

In addition to the new prisons that we are planning, there are 14 major capital projects at existing establishments on which we are spending £23 million in the current financial year. There are dozens of smaller schemes elsewhere. Moreover, following the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, I am able to announce an important enhancement of our redevelopment programme. In 1982–83, a substantially larger sum of money will be provided for this purpose than had previously been planned. During the 1980s, we are planning major reconstruction projects at over 60 establishments which will, among other things, bring much improved access to sanitation.

In present economic circumstances, this is a substantial investment in the future of the prison service. We have set in hand the most ambitious programme of building and reconstruction this century. Indeed, if it had been undertaken in the past it would have alleviated many of the problems that the Government inherited. Nevertheless, it is only a part of the solution to those problems, and, I am afraid, not the larger part.

There are two reasons why an expansion of resources cannot be a complete answer to the problems of the prison service. First, the legacy of the past is such that a considerable building programme is needed simply to replace accommodation which will need to be taken out of use as a result of decay or through hazards common to any prison system. I said that 5,000 new prison places should be provided during the 1980s. How many of those would be additional places will depend on the unpredictable factors that I have mentioned.

Secondly, new buildings are for tomorrow; the problem is with us today. The time which a new establishment takes to build could be shortened by disregarding the normal processes of local consultation, but I know that hon. Members lay much store by those processes. Let them try to build a prison in any part of the country, and find what the local Members of Parliament have to say in the course of the planning procedures.

We cannot, in the short term, create prisons that will meet all the deficiencies of the past and all the demands that are being made upon the prisons now. We have soldiered on with an inadequate system for long enough, and successive Governments have done too little about it. Perhaps they have done no more than reflect a public feeling that there are better things on which to spend our money than creating decent conditions in the prisons. But if that feeling exists, we cannot as a society simultaneously demand a sentencing policy that assumes the existence of resources on a scale that we have not provided. We must have fewer prisoners. For lesser offences we must have shorter sentences.

Getting public understanding of this is not easy. We have, above all, to retain public confidence in our determination to maintain good order in our society. With 2½ million serious offences being reported to the police last year, and reported crime having risen in recent years by about 5 per cent. a year, the public expect an effective response to crime from the police, the courts, the prisons and the probation service. There are all too many offenders who, on any showing, must expect to go to prison for their offences. But that need not, and cannot, mean that the use of imprisonment must stay at its present level.

No one doubts—the courts least of all—that imprisonment must be the last resort. The emphasis has for years been on extending the alternatives, and of exhausting those alternatives before recourse to imprisonment. Far and away the most frequently imposed penalty is the fine, and the courts make extensive use of other methods which enable offenders to be dealt with in the community.

Last year, nearly 30,000 offenders were put on probation. That was a welcome increase of more than 20 per cent. on the previous year. In addition, 20,000 offenders were made the subject of community service orders. That was an increase of more than 40 per cent. over the previous year. I am glad to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) in his place today, because he played a major part in introducing community service orders under the Conservative Government of that time. Community service has existed for less than 10 years. In that short time it has established a significant place in sentencing. It accounts for 4 per cent. of all sentences imposed for indictable offences. If imprisonment had kept pace with the increase in the number of offenders, our prison population would be many thousands greater than the present crisis level.

Offenders must be dealt with in the community, wherever that is consistent with the protection of the public. Despite the need for restraints in public expenditure, I have enlarged the probation service so that it can offer the courts convincing alternatives to custody. This year there was provision for an increase amounting to 50 extra probation officers. Following the decisions announced by the Chancellor earlier this afternoon, I am glad to say that I shall be able to make available to the probation service additional resources for more rapid growth in 1982–83 than had previously been planned. Overall, there is now provision in that year for 150 additional probation officers compared with this year.

During the last year we have provided the full cost of 86 new places in approved probation and bail hostels and have increased our contribution towards the number of such places in voluntary sector schemes. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) has done in many of those cases. That number has in turn risen by about 250 since 1 April 1981.

But no one should be under the illusion that our prison problems can be solved easily by diverting offences from custody. We can all agree that in an ideal world we should prefer our prisons to he rid of some offenders—those convicted of offenders of drunkenness, the mentally disordered and fine defaulters. But there are no simple alternatives for dealing with them, not least the fine defaulters, for whom imprisonment must be the ultimate sanction. Offenders in those three categories in any event amount only to 1,000 to 1,500 in the prison population of 44,000 at any one time.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Home Secretary twice said that there is a crisis in our prisons and that the problem is today's problem. Why does he not attempt to create an interim breathing space to deal with the problem by granting an amnesty to all those serving sentences of 18 months or less so that they can be released six months before the end of their sentences? He has the powers now under the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 which would release immediately 5,000 or 6,000 petty offenders and another 5,000 or 6,000 in six months? That would provide an important breathing space for the hard-pressed prison service and the staff who work in it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall come to some of those matters later in my speech. If one makes such decisions, it is crucial, as I have said, that the House should take public opinion with it. One must be careful not to make moves with which one cannot take public opinion at a time of rising crime rates, about which many people are worried.

The great majority of prisoners are in prison because they have committed serious offences, not once but repeatedly. Just to take one figure, there were more than 10,000 men in prison on 30 June last year for offences of burglary. More than 8,000 were known to have three or more previous convictions. The public want the police, quite rightly, to detect more of those who commit burglaries. People expect the courts to deal with them. In many cases, therefore, the question is not whether there should be a custodial sentence, but whether a shorter sentence will do.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

It will not.

Mr. Whitelaw

That is my hon. Friend's opinion. It may not always be the opinion of all those in the legal profession, all judges and all magistrates.

How is that to be brought about? First, we must consider the criminal justice system in its entirety. Many of our present problems arise from the fact that we have all tended to consider its component parts—the police, the courts, the prisons and the probation service—in isolation from one another. We also tend to see the role of Parliament in isolation from the role of the courts. Neither Parliament nor the courts alone hold the key to the problem. Parliament and the courts complement each other. We in Parliament determine the resources that the country can afford to devote to the criminal justice system. I have made it clear that we cannot provide the prison space required to enable the courts to continue using imprisonment at its present rate. Parliament also lays down in statute the framework of the sentencing powers available to the courts. Within those powerss it is for the courts—and rightly so—to decide how each individual offender should be dealt with. The total prison population, which causes us so much anxiety, is the sum of thousands of those individual decisions.

The Opposition motion cannot, in my judgment, be supported, because it suggests that the Home Secretary can directly reduce the numbers of people sentenced to imprisonment and the length of sentences imposed. That over-simplifies the position. It is for the courts—within the framework laid down by Parliament—to determine who of those brought before them and convicted should be sentenced to imprisonment and for how long, not for the Home Secretary. Parliament must set the framework best suited to the needs of the system as a whole, but the courts must retain their discretion in individual cases.

Changing the statutory framework of powers will, therefore, not by itself solve the prisons crisis. It is suggested, for example, that we should reduce maximum penalties. It is not the maximum penalties—which the courts reserve for the most serious offenders—but the length of sentences imposed on ordinary offenders that creates the pressure. Substantial prison sentences are sometimes necessary, but we can afford them only for really serious offenders.

The judgments of the Court of Appeal, under the leadership of the Lord Chief Justice, make that principle abundantly clear. In the case of Upton, the Court of Appeal emphasised that judges should take into account the conditions in the prison system. In imposing sentences the courts have a number of objectives: to deter the offender and others, to register society's disapproval of serious offending, and to give society protection from the offender's activities. The courts are bound to have those considerations in mind in deciding the length of sentence. The more serious the offence, the more severe the sentence.

However, there is scope for prison sentences to be shorter without the sense of proportion being lost. The Lord Chief Justice, in the Bibi judgment, said that many offenders can be dealt with equally justly and effectively by a sentence of six or nine months' imprisonment as by one of 18 months or three years. There are encouraging signs that, in consequence, shorter sentences are being imposed. The average length of sentence imposed in the latter half of last year was two months shorter in the Crown court compared with the year earlier, and nearly two weeks shorter in the magistrates' courts.

How can Parliament reinforce that trend which I believe has only just started? We suggested one possibility in the proposal for early release under supervision for short sentence prisoners which we included in the "Review of Parole" published in May. The scheme would have involved the release of prisoners serving sentences of six months to three years after one-third of their sentence. The next third would have been served under supervision in the community instead of in custody as at present. The final third would have been the existing period of remission. So the scheme would have halved the period of effective custody for offenders coming within it.

We put forward the scheme for consultation. Before embarking on so fundamental a change, we were bound to weigh very carefully the comments made on the merits of the scheme and its likely effects. There was support for the contribution that it could make towards easing the prison problems that we are debating today, but there were also widespread misgivings. The effectiveness of short periods of supervision, especially without consent, was doubted. More important, as Lord Justice Lawton and the chairman of the Magistrates' Association have made clear in recent letters to The Times, there were fears that an automatic scheme which created such large gaps between the length of sentence imposed by the court and the period of custody actually served would undermine the authority of the courts and the confidence of the public in the courts' ability to protect them from recidivist offenders. In reaching my decision whether to give effect to the proposal, I was bound to take the comments made on it seriously. That is the point of consultation. It would ill befit anyone in the House, so keen as we are on consultation, to suggest that that should not be taken into account. Because its overall merits were seriously doubted and its effectiveness uncertain, I concluded that this was not the right way to proceed.

That was my decision, freely taken. I also reached the conclusion that the benefits of the kind that I was looking for through the supervised release scheme could be found by activating the power of the courts to suspend part of a prison sentence. That power is already on the statute book in section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. It has the advantage, therefore, that it can be brought into effect as soon as the necessary preparations have been made, without awaiting the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Our consultations with the judiciary make it clear that the courts would regard that as a valuable addition to their sentencing powers. I am accordingly making the necessary preparations in order to bring section 47 into operation in the spring. The Criminal Justice Bill that I presented today includes provision to make the operation of section 47 even more flexible by extending its availability to sentences of as little as three months and by enabling the courts to reduce the period served in custody initially to 28 days if, through the exercise of their discretion, they think it right to do so.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

How does the Home Secretary square what he is now saying with what he said in his review of the parole system, about there being no certainty that such a proposal would reduce the prison population? More important, how does he square it with the statement made in the House by the Minister of State on 13 December 1979 that the introduction of the partially suspended sentence would increase the numbers of people held in prison? In view of those two statements, why is he proposing this measure as one that will reduce the prison population?

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that, in view of the evidence of progress towards shorter sentences, it is right to reinforce that trend. The judges and magistrates believe that in this new climate partially suspended sentences would be a valuable addition and would reinforce the trend. I have made a choice. I did not choose some form of supervised release that would reduce the prison population, because there was no evidence that that would be so. That would depend on what the House decided to do about the discretion that it might have provided for the courts during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill. I am not pretending that partially suspended sentences are certain to reduce the prison population, but I believe that in the present climate they will probably succeed. I want to work with the judiciary in its efforts towards shorter sentences. My proposal is the best way to reinforce that trend. I have taken a decision based on my belief in what the judiciary is doing under the leadership of the Lord Chief Justice.

The climate of opinion is right for the successful introduction of partly suspended sentences. They can play a valuable part in reinforcing the trend to shorter periods in custody. It will be essential that they are used—and I believe that they will be—as a substitute for full immediate imprisonment and not instead of fully suspended sentences.

Parliament has made it clear that the present level of imprisonment is too high and that the present level of the prison population must be drastically reduced. That can be achieved without going soft on the minority of violent and serious offenders. I believe that the courts understand that, but the courts make individual decisions. They do not have the means to regulate the system as a whole. That is for Parliament. If the approach that I have outlined—the courts' move towards shorter sentences reinforced by improved powers—does not afford the prison system the relief that it so desperately needs, Parliament will have to intervene. Parliament cannot stand by if the system threatens to break down.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

What is the Home Secretary doing about it?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman does not have much patience. In my next sentence I shall say what I am doing. I hope that he will give me a chance to do so.

The Criminal Justice Bill includes permanent provisions with similar effect to those included in the temporary provisions legislation passed to meet last year's emergency. Under these powers the Home Secretary of the day would have to lay an order before Parliament which would—subject to an affirmative resolution—have a direct effect on the level of the prison population. The order would have to specify the categories of offender to be released up to six months before their normal remission date. The powers are carefully drawn so that early release can be limited to suitable offenders—for example, offenders nearing the end of sentences for non-violent offences.

I have never sought to minimise the dangers facing our prisons. I do not do so now. Breakdown is all too close. I do not seek to evade that, but I ask the House to recognise the Government's comprehensive strategy for improving prison conditions which is set out in the amendment. A reorganised prison department is carrying through substantial changes to bring increased efficiency throughout the system. An independent inspectorate has been appointed. The Government are carrying forward a substantial programme of new prisons and improvements, repairs and maintenance to existing prisons. They have thus embarked on the biggest prison improvement programme undertaken by any Government this century—and at a time of scarce economic resources.

The Government have given every encouragement to the use of non-custodial sentences. We have devoted increased resources to the probation service to encourage probation orders and community service orders. We have reversed the neglect of attendance centres for young adults. The Government have supported the lead given by the Lord Chief Justice for shorter sentences in appropriate cases. Now we are planning to build on that by the introduction of partly suspended sentences which the judges and magistrates believe will reinforce the trend towards shorter sentences. Finally, in order to mobilise public opinion behind the need for prison reform, we have opened up the prison system to the public gaze and will continue to do so.

That, in total, is easily the biggest reform of the prison system undertaken by any Government in modern times. That is the programme that I am asking the House to support in the Lobby tonight.

5.58 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and also the Shadow Cabinet on tabling the motion which gives the House a rare opportunity to debate what the Home Secretary called a neglected subject. Both the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend referred to the crisis in the prison system. Indeed, when the Home Secretary spoke to the Cumbria probation and after-care service on 13 September he said that the crisis was undermining the criminal justice system. He said that if we did not take speedy action we might have a crisis by the spring of next year.

There is a crisis. That is generally accepted on both sides of the House. The crisis is in numbers. There are 44,500 prisoners now—the figure was 45,500 a few months ago—in accommodation designed to accommodate fewer than 39,000 prisoners. There are 17,000 prisoners two or three to cells that were built for one in Victorian times.

There are 17,000 prisoners locked in their cells for 23 out of every 24 hours and denied proper access to educational, recreational or work facilities. Moreover, they are held in the most appalling, degrading, disgusting, dehumanising and brutalising conditions that no one in this House would inflict upon animals. If we suggested that cattle or dogs should be held in the same disgusting and degrading conditions as exist in many of our local prisons, there would be an immediate public outcry and controversy, and rightly so. But we are subjecting many of our fellow citizens to precisely those conditions over inordinately long periods.

The Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and everyone else who has taken an interest in this subject are aware of that, acknowledge it and point to it. To give him credit, the Home Secretary has probably done more than anyone else in this House, certainly more than the two previous Home Secretaries, to draw attention to the problem in our prisons. He has spoken throughout the country on every conceivable occasion, and before the Select Committee, sometimes using his words very extravagantly, but always pointing to this disgraceful problem and the need for remedial action. But he has done nothing substantive to reduce the prison population. For all the trumpeting and the fanfare of the package presented today, very little will result in the short or medium term significantly to reduce those numbers.

The Home Secretary has nailed his colours to this mast. On one occasion he said that he put his political reputation on the line in reducing the prison population. But he has failed, even though he has been in office for two years. I accept that there have been decades of neglect. The Labour Government were no better, and in many ways much worse, but that in no way exonerates the Home Secretary from his responsibilities, particularly in the light of his acknowledgment of the need for remedial action.

Many options and opportunities are available to the Home Secretary. For example, he could have accepted my suggestion during an earlier intervention. He could announce an immediate amnesty for all prisoners serving sentences of 18 months or less. They could be released six months before the end of their sentence. That would immediately remove 5,000 or 6,000 from the prison population, and another 5,000 or 6,000 in six months' time. Those are not negligible numbers, but it is extremely important to provide a breathing space to prisoners, staff, and to the Home Secretary himself, so that a wider package of measures of a more permanent nature can be devised and implemented. The Home Secretary had that option, to which he referred as a potential future option that he might use. It is available now. He does not need to introduce legislation. Such an action would not involve additional resources. There would be no need for more probation officers or hostels. There would be no need for the other excuses traditionally given as the reason why action cannot be taken. Indeed, he is not arguing against the idea in principle, because today he accepted the principle of such an amnesty by indicating that it is enshrined in the Bill presented, but not published, today.

If the Home Secretary is deeply serious—and I believe that he is—in what he has repeatedly said over the past two years and has reiterated today, that was one area where he could have taken immediate and effective action, but yet again he has put it off to some far-distant future date. He could also have legislated in the Criminal Justice Bill—we understand that it is not in the Bill—to reduce the length of prison sentences. That is something that has been put forward not only by the advisory council on the penal system and the parliamentary penal affairs group, but also by the recent report of the all-party Select Committee on Home Affairs, which was unanimous in this respect.

In evidence to that Committee, and elsewhere, the Home Secretary has acknowledged that a reduction in the lengths of sentences is the most significant single feature that could reduce the prison population substantially. Whether he does it by continuing to exhort the judiciary or by legislation may be a matter of judgment and choice. But certainly the evidence that we have as to the way in which the judiciary has responded in the past to attempts to get it to mould its behaviour to what Parliament and the public deem to be appropriate does not suggest that it is likely to reduce the lengths of sentences in practice over a long period.

The evidence for that is provided by the way in which sentences have increased over precisely the decade since parole was introduced. Coincidentally—I do not suggest that there was any conspiracy—the increasing lengths of sentences imposed by the judiciary since the introduction of the parole system have wiped out all the benefits that came from that system. That may be another reason, which the Home Secretary did not produce, for not introducing release on licence.

Those are just two things that could be done. There were many other options available to the Home Secretary—not least that of supervised release, which appeared to be his own favoured option, which he endorsed and recommended in recent months on several occasions in different parts of the country. That, too, would have had the immediate impact—a third; a third; and a third—of reducing the prison population by 7,000. It may not have had the long-term consequences and benefits that many of us on the both sides of the House desire, but it would, at the very minimum, have provided that essential and crucial breathing space for the prison service.

I shall not enter into the argument as to whether the Home Secretary has capitulated, and, if so, to whom—whether it was the Tory law and order lobby at the Tory Party conference, or the allegedly enlightened considered views of the judiciary—except to say that on the evidence of the letter quoted by the Home Secretary, Lord Justice Lawton's letter in The Times, although Lord Justice Lawton clearly said that he was against this proposal, he also intimated that both he and the rest of the judiciary would implement it in practice if that was Parliament's will. That is quite a different thing from any suggestion that the judiciary on that occasion was thwarting either the Home Secretary or the proposed will of Parliament.

Mr. Whitelaw

I should like to confirm what the hon. Gentleman has said. Constitutionally, it is extremely important that it should be so confirmed. There never was any question in Lord Justice Lawton's letter or in anything that was said to me by anyone in the judiciary that the judiciary would not have loyally worked with the scheme if I decided to introduce it through Parliament. That was clear from the start. There have been suggestions otherwise. I want to confirm absolutely, as Lord Justice Lawton sets out, that that was the judiciary's position and is its position.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Then there is every reason in the world why that proposal should be in the Criminal Justice Bill, and no reason why it should not be there, given what the Home Secretary has said. During his speech he paid careful attention to those who were against the proposal. I acknowledge that we are all entitled to have a judgment and a different view of matters. But, as the Home Secretary has confirmed, no one has suggested that, if it were the will of Parliament, it would not be implemented.

The Home Secretary did not indicate that many people supported the proposal, not least, again, the Select Committee on Home Affairs. There are Opposition Members present today who were members of that Committee and who supported the proposal. The Home Secretary has had wide all-party support in the House. For some reason he has chosen to disregard the political input into that debate and to take advice from other quarters, so far unspecified, which has led him to dismiss the proposal, even though he was actively in favour of it as little as two or three months ago.

There are other options, too, that were available and are still available to the Home Secretary. Not least, there is the 50 per cent. remission, which operates so successfully in Northern Ireland. If we can manage to have a scheme of 50 per cent. remission without the kind of recidivism which is always assumed to occur on such occasions—or with no increase in recidivism, at least—operated effectively in Northern Ireland with all the difficulties there, there is no reason why we cannot also operate such a scheme effectively on the mainland.

Those are just a few of the perhaps more important options that would have been open or available to the Home Secretary if he had been serious and sincere in his desire to reduce the prison population. They go beyond all the other measures that I want to see and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook mentioned today because they stand on their own ground in terms of getting out of prison the mentally ill and disordered, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, vagrants and all the others who, as my right hon. Friend said, should not be there. I was glad to hear that said from the Labour Front Bench because, if there is a Labour Government after the next election, much of what has been said today will be rammed very firmly down my right hon. Friend's throat if there is any backtracking on this issue.

All those things should have been done anyway. We should no longer have to come to the House to make out that case. The case has been made frequently and vehemently and stands on its merits. The numbers are small and relatively insignificant, but we have no right to include such people in the penal system.

Those are a few of the options that the Home Secretary could have taken and activated. What has he chosen to do instead? He said that he would build more prisons and provide more capital expenditure for refurbishment, even though he knows that the 5,000 places being provided only replace the buildings that are falling down and may not even be sufficient to replace those that will fall into disuse before the 5,000 places come into operation. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will do that even though he knows that the time between taking the decision such as the one he has announced today to build a new prison and the first prisoner entering the cells in that prison is 10 years. Work on the new prison will start in 1984 but the first prisoner will not enter the cells until 1994. Meanwhile the number of prisoners is increasing and the conditions in which they are held become more deplorable and more appalling. We have no right to hold people in such conditions.

The Home Secretary's other suggestion was a partially suspended sentence, even though the Magistrates' Association has gone on record against it, the advisory council on the penal system is against it and even though, in Question Time, on 13 December 1979, the then Minister of State, the present Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: The difficulty in introducing the measure immediately is that it is difficult to know the impact that it would have on the prison population. Even if accurate forecasts of the overall impact cannot be obtained, there is reason to believe that it would increase the number of prisoners detained for short periods."— [Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1519.] Those are not my words, the words of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) or anyone else who wishes to see a reduction in the prison population. They are the words of one of the Home Secretary's Ministers of State. Less than two years ago the then Minister of State argued against the measure on the ground that it would increase, not reduce, the prison population. That is the one important proposal that the Home Secretary has produced today that he says will reduce the prison population.

But that is not all. The right hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) is not the only person to have said that. In May this year, the Home Office's "Review of Parole in England and Wales" referred in paragraph 58 to section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and said That section has not been activated because of fears that the new sentence would be used to give a taste of imprisonment in cases where at present the courts would impose a fully suspended sentence or non-custodial sentence. Inevitably, too, in a proportion of cases the suspended part of the sentence would be subsequently activated. Thus there can be no certainty that implementing section 47 would achieve any reduction in numbers in custody and would not confer any advantage in the treatment of individual offenders. Therefore, only a few months ago, in May, the Home Secretary's own review of the parole system made a sustained and substantial case against the proposal that he has put forward today as his contribution to reducing the prison population.

I make my next remarks with deep regret because I have great personal respect for the Home Secretary both as a person and for what he has done in this area. I am sorry, but the Home Secretary's proposals will not do. Today, the Home Secretary has provided just another catalogue of the failures that are symptomatic of Home Secretaries on both sides of the House, who, decade after decade, have tried to grasp the important and serious nettle of how to deal humanely, compassionately and decently with the prison population.

I shall conclude by quoting from someone at the sharp end. He has to deal with the conditions that we are prepared to allow such men to work in. We have seen the unprecedented step of two prison governors writing to the press. They are not really courageous, because they are only enjoying the dispensation that the Home Secretary—according to the May committee's recommendation of openness of mind and of approach—has accorded them. Those governors are not brave or courageous to write to the press. That is the new regime. That is what we expect. They are contributing to the debate.

None has made more important and forceful contributions to the debate than the governors of Wormwood Scrubs and of Strangeways, Manchester. I shall quote from a letter published in The Daily Telegraph, on 30 November. It was written by Mr. Norman Brown, the governor of Manchester prison. He wrote: We just cannot go on locking men and women up, many for 23 hours a day. Why do the warnings continually given by the Prison Service go ignored? That is a good question. Perhaps the Home Secretary will answer it. He continued: We are the people who have to work and contain our inmates in the squalor that we do; we are the people who have to deal with the barricades, the fires, the hunger strikers, the riots, the slopping out. Is it not time that the necessary legislation be introduced to reduce our prison population and restore the morale of the prison staff, allowing us to operate a system with decent standards and dignity, or must we go on being ignored by Parliament and the courts while they carry on talking about overcrowding for yet another 30 years. Hon. Members cannot go on talking about the appalling conditions in our prisons for another year—let alone another 30 years.

Even the guilty have a right to minimum, decent, civilised standards. That right is now being denied them. That is an affront to human dignity—as the motion states—and is an offence against the European Convention of Human Rights. Every one of us should be deeply and thoroughly ashamed of what is done in our name, which we allow to continue. The Home Secretary bears the ultimate responsibility. It is on his head and shoulders. He started out with apparently great prospects as a reforming Home Secretary, but on the evidence of the last few years and on the evidence of the Bill's proposals I regret to say that he, like all the others, has failed and shows no sign of being a success.

6.17 pm
Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

This is the first time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have attempted to catch your eye, or that of Mr. Speaker, since ceasing, this summer, to be a member of the Government. Therefore, I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having called me to speak now. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and I have been Members of Parliament for the extremely long period of 17 years. However, this is the first time that I have addressed the House from the Government Back Benches. Perhaps I cannot crave the indulgences normally given to maiden speakers. The more appropriate analogy might be for me to crave whatever indulgencies are advanced to an old maid.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is not in the Chamber. I was a junior Minister in the Home Office from 1970 to 1974. Throughout that period I was responsible for the Home Office's criminal department and for at least part of that period I was responsible for the prison service. Throughout, I believe that I was responsible for parole. I should have liked to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as I come back to the issue seven years later, my overwhelming impression is that very little has changed.

I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said about the need to look upon prison as a last resort and the need for shorter sentences. It was not so much the content as the occasional tone of voice of the right hon. Gentleman that gave the impression that all that was happening was new, that this crisis had arisen quickly and unexpectedly, and that the courts were manned by people sitting and waiting for the opportunity to send other people to prison as quickly as possible. I do not believe that this is the true situation. I believe that little has changed since the debates that occurred between 1970 and 1974.

The figures, for instance, have changed very little. There is talk today of crisis with a prison population numbering 44,000. In 1970, the prison population was over 40,000. Of more significance are the predictions that awaited the incoming Conservative Government in that year. It was predicted that if no steps were taken to deal with the problem the prison population would rise to 42,000 by 1971–72, to 52,950 by 1975–76 and to between 62,000 and 67,000 by the end of the decade—in other words, the present year.

I hope to explain the action that was taken by that incoming Conservative Government. It is important, however, in all this talk of crisis and overcrowding, to set the figure of 44,000 against the background of the predicted increase in the prison population 10 years ago. It is also necessary to take account of the fact that indictable crime known to the police in 1970 was miming at 1.5 million offences a year. By 1974, the figure had risen to 1.9 million. In the current year, the figure is 2.5 million. A smaller proportion of those convicted of indictable crime are sent to prison today compared with 10 years ago.

The figure given by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook of 10,000 in the 1930s as against 40,000 in the 1980s is wholly meaningless. It has meaning only when examined against the rate of crime at the time. The chances are that the number of people sent to prison in the 1930s was a higher proportion of those convicted of indictable offences than is the position now. My overwhelming immediate reaction returning to this debate after seven years is that the language and the words have changed very little.

I should like to deal with three matters that have changed. First, the attitude and the awareness of society and particularly the prison service to conditions within prisons have altered. As the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) generously remarked, this is largely due to the lead given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The second change is that on this issue, as on so many, we talk today in much more strident tones, through the media, of crisis and riots. The third change that has occurred—I do not wish, like the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, to make a party political speech—is that in the intervening period, between 1974 and 1979, a Government were in power that took no action to alleviate the situation.

One cannot examine overcrowding simply in terms of numbers. Numbers alone do not mean overcrowding. One has to take numbers in relation to the capacity that exists within the prison service. In two decades of substantial increase in crime, it is inevitable that, whatever has been done to try to keep people out of prison, the figure of those going to prison would be likely to some extent to increase, although, as I have attempted to point out, the figure has been far less than predicted. If we are to provide adequately for those in prison, to get rid of the intolerable conditions and to replace some of the Victorian prisons with modern prisons, the only answer is a prison building programme.

In an Adjournment debate on 20 November, the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), said that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had inherited a nil building programme. That is almost exactly the same situation that existed in 1970. At that time, the incoming Conservative Government inherited a situation in which 80 new places had been provided in the previous year in the whole of the prison service although the prison population then stood at about 40,000. During the following three years, we created new prison places at the rate of 2,000 a year. We left an inheritance that would have provided for 11,000 new places between 1974 and 1978 together with 9,700 starts in the same period.

That programme, devised in the early 1970s, was cut dramatically when it became the first casualty of the capital programme. The annual report on prisons in 1977 stated that the redevelopment of Victorian prisons had become more remote than at any time in the previous 30 years.

A prison building programme is essential. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about the programme. I do not believe that we can debate our penal policy as a Parliament purely to meet the everyday convenience of the availability of resources. If we are to carry out our duty to provide the facilities necessary in the fight against crime, we have to be willing to provide prison accommodation in which people can be kept in conditions of humanity and where those required by society to be punished in this manner can be humanely treated. I regret the fact that the previous Government left an inheritance of nil building and earlier cancelled a programme that they had inherited. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has realistically taken up the matter again and provided more capital projects that many Conservative Members have argued, in another capacity, would be welcome at this time.

There are two methods of dealing with an overcrowded prison population. One is to build prisons and the other, as has been rightly said, is to reduce where possible the number of people who are sent to prison and the length of time for which they are sent there. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and to the hon. Member for Ormskirk, who spoke in terms of an amnesty, that we cannot dictate penal policy merely by short-term expediences to fit in with resources. If we want a small prison population—I believe that there is a strong case for it—we must justify it on penal grounds, not merely on the ground of financial expediency.

As I say, there is a case for having a smaller prison population. Prison must be a traumatic event, and it should be used as sparingly as possible. I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary generously said about the community service orders which we introduced in 1971 as a means of providing wider alternatives.

Moreover, we should remind judges and those who sit in courts that, when it is necessary to send a person to prison who has not been to prison before, a short sentence may be totally adequate for the purposes that they have in mind. In the past, we have criticised short sentences and have assumed that it is never right to impose a short sentence. I would rather that those people who get short sentences were dealt with in other ways, but if a court decides that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary, a short sentence, certainly on the first occasion, can well be adequate. It is a deterrent and a retribution, which are the aims of imprisonment in those circumstances.

Inevitably, a tariff of moral guilt is built up by courts. Inevitably, the length of sentence is bound to demonstrate the court's view of the outrage created to society by the offence. Inevitably, the length of sentence imposed at the time of sentence is where the deterrent effect of the sentence is indicated.

Within the framework laid down by the House, we need to allow freedom for the courts to exercise their own judicial discretion concerning what the length of the sentence should be, but thereafter we should be willing to be far more adventurous in the use of such matters as parole as a means of ensuring that people are able to return to society.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is there not also an obligation on us to teach judges that there is a positive benefit in shorter sentencing, and that shorter sentencing does not necessarily contribute to an increase in the crime rate? Should we not teach judges what the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself knows from his experience at the Home Office?

Mr. Carlisle

I am not entirely sure that I agree with the phrase "teach judges". I believe that we should persuade those who sit in courts, at all levels, of the desirability of dealing with people in ways other than imprisonment, and convince them of the argument for short sentences when prison is imposed. I agree with that, but I am totally opposed to the suggestion in the Opposition motion that somehow arbitrary executive action by the Home Secretary should achieve that end. Surely our task as a Parliament is to set the parameters, the framework within which courts act, and to give wider opportunities for alternatives to imprisonment.

I personally would oppose a suggestion for increasing the period of remission. If we automatically increase remission, I fear that we shall increase the length of sentences that are given. I would rather advance through further use of parole, where courts can give a sentence which will be the maximum that a person will serve as a penalty, leaving it to those who watch over him during that period to decide the right moment for release.

I remain cynical of the Home Secretary's views about partial suspended sentences. I am ready to be persuaded, and I look forward to hearing the debate, even if I do not take part in it. However, I ask the Home Secretary to look at the evidence. There is no doubt that the introduction of suspended sentences in its early days increased the prison population, because the number of people who were given suspended sentences and then committed another offence during the period of suspended sentence received longer sentences than they otherwise would have been given. I question whether partial suspended sentences will achieve the Home Secretary's aims.

I accept that there is something in looking again, as the hon. Member for Ormskirk suggested, at the recommendations of the advisory committee about providing shorter maximum sentences within which the court will then have to work. I would also like to know what is the present amount of use of community service. I believe that we should widen the use of parole. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say whether the failure rate of parole is still as low as 7 per cent., as it was in earlier years.

We ought to take up the views of Lord Justice Waller in a letter to The Times the other day, suggesting the introduction of parole for those with sentences of 18 months or less. I know the difficulties of being unable to obtain full reports, but we now give parole through a local parole board without going through the main parole board. In my view, there are openings there. That is a more effective way, combined with the prison building programme, of meeting the crisis, if crisis be the right word, of the long-standing overcrowding in prisons. The Home Secretary should look again at the wider use of open prisons.

I cannot accept an Opposition motion which calls for executive action. That would be wrong and unacceptable to the people of our country. The motion was delivered in a critical tone of voice, and it was largely hypocritical. We should continue, start and press on with the necessary building programme and influence and persuade those people who have the difficult task of sitting in a judicial capacity of the importance of keeping sentences down, instead of the Executive attempting to interfere with that discretion.

6.38 pm
Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) criticised my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for having delivered a party political speech. If my right hon. Friend had not taken this opportunity, which was welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), to set out the official Opposition's view on the prison service, he would have been open to the criticism that he had missed an opportunity of explaining the Opposition's view on these matters. Therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a little unkind to criticise my right hon. Friend in that way.

The Home Secretary referred to the prison in Birmingham. I shall say a few words about that later. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman is mindful of the critical situation in local prisons, and Birmingham is no exception.

The Home Secretary did not respond fully to what my right hon. Friend said about the ways in which the prison population could be reduced. The arguments are well known and have been put forward in this place and elsewhere, but surely the Home Secretary could have taken the time to explain a little more fully the Government's views.

There are substantial numbers of people who, in the view of those who know about these matters, should not be in custody. The Government have not put forward a valid reason why such people cannot, in the foreseeable future, be regarded as prisoners in the category unlikely to be given custodial sentences. In fairness, most of these people are inadequate to cope with our society. They obviously need some care, guidance and attention, but they do not necessarily need the harsh regime of a prison. That is particularly true of those who are in prison because of alcoholism, drug abuse and other related matters.

There are two main strands to the argument that I wish to pursue. The first concerns the control of the offender—the punishment that deprives him of his liberty. Few in society would fail to recognise that that is necessary. The punishment must be effective both as a measure of control of offenders and as a deterrent for others who might commit serious offences.

The second strand of the argument is a view that most people would hold. The prison policy of Her Majesty's Government should include a regime designed to rehabilitate the offender. One would hope that after a spell in prison an offender would be discouraged from committing further crime.

The humane aspect of how offenders might be treated in prison has already been mentioned. Without doubt there are considerable shortcomings in educational facilities and vocational training, and from time to time it appears that there are deficiencies in the medical attention received by inmates. Most people would agree that a custodial sentence should be a meaningful punishment to the criminal. Any crime regarded by society as unacceptable must be punished accordingly.

Many people argue that the regime in which criminals are detained should be fair and reasonable and should be conducted in such a way that it will lead to rehabilitation. The demand is that all centres—prisons, detention centres, borstal institutions, or open prisons—should be in keeping with the needs of our modern age, not those of the Victorian age.

The policy that the Home Secretary seemed to be outlining earlier gave some encouragement, which it would be churlish not to recognise. The Government have in mind to do something about the matter. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk said, it is somewhat too little and it is certainly too late. The Home Secretary is trying to contend with today's problems, but only in five years' time. That is not good enough. The Home Secretary should speed up the programme to try to overcome some of the difficulties in prisons now.

The problems of Winson Green prison in Birmingham were outlined by the Home Secretary. That prison, designed for 527 inmates, now houses 927. Of those, 576 are three to a cell. The Birmingham media have reported that the prison has often held more than 1,000 prisoners. That is getting on for twice the number of prisoners for which it was designed. When men are confined for 23 hours a day, three to a cell, that must, by any civilised standards, be regarded as totally unacceptable. The Government must address themselves to correcting the situation not only in Winson Green prison but in other prisons where similar conditions obtain.

I hope that the Minister will address himself to some specific points which I shall put to him. Will he provide some information about the ways in which prison regimes can be improved, in particular about ways of improving standards of education and vocational training? That is of paramount importance to the correction of the offender.

Widespread criticism has been expressed in the Birmingham area about prisoners' medical care and supervision. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to that. I do not wish to dwell on any case which has come to light recently, but there is public disquiet about the medical treatment being offered to prisoners. There is concern about the possibility of shortcomings in the way in which medical treatment is given. In the event of a serious complaint by a prisoner or his family about medical treatment, will the Minister undertake to hold a public inquiry immediately after the complaint has been made?

In the past few months there has been a welcome move towards making the prison service more accountable. Many people with interests in the prison service welcome that move. If someone is given medical treatment which is held to be unsatisfactory later, and a complaint is registered, the Home Office should make the complaint public and the outcome of the Home Office's findings more readily available. Such matters are important to those who have raised the future of Winson Green prison with me.

I am aware that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I ask the Home Secretary to undertake an early reappraisal of the whole of the building programme for the prison service. He should take account of the view expressed by many right hon. and hon. Members that the programme is insufficient in terms of its demand and that the envisaged time scale for the programme is far too long. It must be telescoped to be more meaningful and to cope with the demand by prison service workers of all grades to improve our prisons.

6.47 pm
Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

Since the first day that the Home Secretary took office he has done more than any Home Secretary in recent years to draw public attention to the crisis of overcrowding in our prisons. From the beginning he has drawn the attention of the courts, the judges, the press and everyone involved in the penal system to the great effort needed to put right the damage done in the last 20 or 30 years. Little improvement has been made to most of our prisons in that time.

Over one third of the prison population have to spend at least 23 hours a day living three or four in cells built for one. Cells in our prisons do not have integral sanitation and the sordid result is the clearing up in the prison yard every morning of parcels of excrement thrown out of the window in the night, and the lining up of prisoners every morning for the degrading process of slopping out.

Children in our schools are taught to look back in horror at the prison conditions of John Howard's time. Future generations will ask how those living in the 1980s could have called themselves civilised when, for all our technical advancement, they subjected so many human beings to such appalling treatment and had the temerity to refer to it as part of a system of "justice".

I have been constantly critical of Governments of both political persuasions for their failure to tackle the problems of our prisons. The criticisms that we are now hearing from the Opposition Front Bench ring very hollow when we recall the abysmal record of the previous Labour Government on these issues. I remember that in 1975 Mr. Roy Jenkins, now a leading contender for the leadership of the SDP but then a Labour Home Secretary, announced that if the prison population reached 42,000 conditions would be intolerable and drastic action to relieve the position would be inevitable. The following year the prison population totalled 42,000 for the first time, yet, during the remainder of the Labour Government's term of office, the inevitable drastic action was notable by its absence.

No reasonable person can doubt the Home Secretary's deep and genuine concern about the problems of overcrowding, which affect not only the men who are subjected to sentences, but each and every person who has to work in the prison system. Let us not forget those men and women in the prison service and those who make a great contribution through the probation and after-care service. We need a less posturing recrimination from those who did nothing when they had the chance in Government, and more constructive support for the Home Secretary in the form of practical suggestions that will help him to achieve his aim of reducing the prison population without endangering the public.

I give some examples that might help towards that aim, and I emphasise that most of my thinking is geared towards the non-violent offender. First, the Home Secretary could look again at the recommendation that was made in 1970 by the advisory council on the penal system that a new sentence of weekend imprisonment be introduced. That could be imposed as an alternative to full-time imprisonment when the court considers that a non-custodial penalty is not right. Weekend imprisonment operates successfully in West Germany, Holland, Belgium and New Zealand and avoids such undesirable side-effects of custody as loss of job, total disruption of family life and the continuous exposure to the contaminated effects of a closed prison life.

We have seen that army camps can be brought into use as temporary prisons with remarkable speed in an emergency. Why cannot such camps be brought into use with equal speed, even if on an experimental basis, as they are already being used, as weekend prisons? Instead, I understand that some of the camps are being closed and will no doubt go into disrepair. The cost of servicing that sort of system should not be astronomical. An offender who would serve a weekend sentence is most unlikely to be the sort of offender who will either wish to escape or be violent.

Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Irving

No, I am sorry; I never give way.

Secondly, the Home Secretary should remove the penalty of imprisonment for many minor offences, some of which could be decriminalised with no adverse effects for public safety. For example, there is a growing body of opinion in Parliament that regards the practice of imprisonment for soliciting as throughly objectionable. Organisations as disparate as the Prison and Borstal Governors' Society and the Police Federation agree that the practice is both harsh and pointless.

There is also weighty all-party support for making the offences of sleeping rough and begging non-imprisonable, in the form of the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on vagrancy earlier this year. I was disappointed that the report did not go further and recommend the total repeal of the Dickensian laws that punish men and women and label them as criminals for being homeless and disadvantaged. I hope that as a minimum the Home Secretary will implement the Committee's recommendation that they should at least become non-imprisonable offences.

Thirdly, the Home Secretary should take steps to reduce the number of people imprisoned for failure to pay fines, of whom there were nearly 16,000 in 1980. Fine defaulters now constitute a quarter of all receptions into prison of sentenced inmates and they make disproportionate demands on the time and resources of the staff.

In July, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, of which I have the honour to be vice-chairman, published the report of a working party under the distinguished chairmanship of Lady Howe. It made a series of excellent recommendations designed to reduce the use of imprisonment for fine defaulters. I commend it to all concerned, as there are 34 sensible, considered recommendations that would act as alternatives to imprisonment.

Many of those alternative methods of enforcing fines are rarely used by the courts. The report recommends that, before committing a defaulter to prison, the courts should have to certify that all other options have been considered and are inappropriate, giving reasons for that view. I hope that the Home Secretary will implement that reasonable and sensible proposal.

Fourthly, immediate steps should be taken to remove mentally disturbed offenders from prisons to either psychiatric or secure hospitals. It is a national scandal that the practice of imprisoning them is increasing because suitable hospital space, although available, is refused to the offenders.

The Home Secretary should also encourage the greater use of existing alternatives to imprisonment. The steady increase in the use of community service orders since they were introduced by the Conservative Government in 1972 is the only significant success story in sentencing policy during the last 10 years. Even now, however, only 4 per cent. of adults convicted of indictable offences receive a community service order. There is scope for even greater use of such orders.

Even fewer offenders are sent to senior detention centres, even though they provide a straightforward, easily understood penalty without the undesirable side effects if imprisonment. They are cheap to set up and run because they use existing premises and are manned by volunteer police or prison officers in their spare time.

Although the Home Secretary has taken steps to extend the number of senior attendance centres—unlike his predecessors in office—courts in most parts of the country still have no centre available to them for young adult offenders. A crash programme should be instituted to establish senior attendance centres throughout the country. I believe that a determined programme of measures along those lines would receive widespread support from those in and out of Parliament who are concerned and distressed about the appalling and deteriorating conditions within our prisons.

Let us, if our humanity fails us—I pray that it will not—not forget the cost. About £70,000 to £80,000 is the capital cost per new prison cell and £7,000 to £10,000 is the annual revenue cost. Let us compare that with some of the alternatives that are provided through a number of housing associations, including Stonham housing association. An alternative for the minor offender, the alcoholic or the drug addict costs a housing association £7,000 in capital costs and £3,000 a year in revenue costs. Surely that must be an avenue into which it would better to pour some of the millions that will go into the new prison building programme.

I am certain that not everyone will agree with me, but in my view no new prison cells should be used until one old cell is demolished. By that method less expensive and non-custodial methods will have to be adopted.

One cannot but conclude with a certain amount of praise and anxiety for the heavy responsibilities that rest upon the shoulders of the Home Secretary and his colleagues in the Home Office. I can only suggest that if ever he wished to change his job there is only one worse in the House of Commons and that is chairmanship of the Catering Sub-Committee.

7.2 pm

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) has long been a campaigner for penal reform. I endorse many of his suggestions, particularly his suggestions of weekend imprisonment, that soliciting, sleeping rough, begging and so on should no longer be imprisonable offences, that we should not send people to prison for such offences as fine defaulting, that we should not send the mentally disturbed to prison and that we should go out of our way to develop more alternatives to prison.

I know that the Home Secretary has also been committed over at least the last two and half years to achieving shorter sentences and to reducing the size of the prison population. Therefore, regret must be felt on both sides of the House at the reception that he received during the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. This is not a party political point. I am sure that many of us in the House felt sad that he was subjected to such criticism.

However, having praised the Home Secretary, I shall now proceed to make one or two criticisms of his points. No one will say that we should not have a prison building programme and that we should not improve, modernise and replace our decaying prisons. However, I wonder whether the Home Secretary has his priorities right in the interests of the prison system and the prisoners.

I draw the attention of the House to the recent report of the Home Affairs Committee. It says in the first conclusion and recommendation: Priority within the prison building and maintenance programme should be given to substantial redevelopment and refurbishing of the existing local prisons, including the provision of integral sanitation". Some of the six new prison developments mentioned by the Home Secretary would hardly come into that category. I am concerned that some of the things that we urgently need, for example to replace Brixton as a remand prison in London—I know that the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) has long been saying this—will be delayed for too long in the interests of other developments which are not of similar urgency.

Before the evening is out I hope to have a clear commitment from the Minister that not a single additional prison place will be provided through the prison building programme, but that any new prison place will represent the replacement of a place in a decaying prison, which will be done away with. Otherwise, experience is such that we must be fearful that those extra places, if they are provided, will be filled up because they are available. Thereby the aim of reducing the prison population will be frustrated.

There are other priorities in the prison building and development programme. It is regrettable that, when we have the plans for a new wing of Wormwood Scrubs, it does not have integral sanitation. That subject was raised in an Adjournment debate initiated a few days ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). In reply to that debate the Minister said that plans were too far advanced to make a change and provide integral sanitation. That is a disappointing decision. It is sad that even now, when the blueprints are available, we are not providing the integral sanitation that is widely regarded as essential, and that we are not constructing more prison buildings with integral sanitation.

A little while ago I went to Wandsworth prison in my constituency. It was impressed upon me how desperately short and inadequate were the facilities to enable prisoners to have baths. It was an enormous burden on the prison officers to try to enable the 1,400 prisoners to have at least one bath a week. That was because the facilities are inadequate. It has imposed enormous pressures both on the staff and the prisoners. There should be a high priority to correct that state of affairs.

The Home Secretary referred to partially suspended sentences. He seemed to suggest that, although the decision to go for partially suspended sentences was his, he had listened to the advice of the judiciary. In the recent past, the Home Secretary has been badly let down by the judiciary in his attempts to get shorter sentences. The Minister shakes his head, but I remind him that during the prison officers' dispute the number of prisoners fell dramatically because no new prisoners could be taken into most of our prisons.

However, as soon as the prison officers' dispute was over, the numbers shot back up to their present high levels. That is clear evidence that as soon as the dispute was over the judiciary behaved precisely as many of us in the Opposition had claimed. Therefore, I urge the Home Secretary not to show too much faith in advice from those quarters and to balance it against advice from other quarters. Those people would say that his other proposals would be preferable to those on partially suspended sentences.

Over the last couple of years I have visited a large number of prisons and other penal establishments. Many visits are depressing, and one feels disappointed that we have such an inadequate prison system. One of my most disappointing experiences was in Wormwood Scrubs about a year and a half ago. I asked to see one of the overcrowded cells. There was a bunk bed with a man on each bunk and a single bed on the other side of the cell with another man lying on it. It was mid afternoon. I could barely squeeze between the bunks to walk along the length of the cell.

My colleague and I asked the prisoners, "Will you get any work today?" They replied: "No". We asked: "Did you have any work this morning?" They replied: "No". We asked: "Did you have any work earlier in the week?" They replied: "No". We asked: "Have you had any work at all since being in the prison?" They replied: "No". They had been there for three or four months of a five-year sentence. Those were three young men of about 25. That is a depressing sign of the failure of our system. Because of the inadequacies of the system we are obliged to force three young men to lie in their prison cells on bunks for 23 hours a day. They had been doing that for several months. God only knows for how much longer they would have to do that without having the chance to do some work in other parts of the prison. Nothing will make those three men more embittered, frustrated or difficult to persuade to become ordinary citizens on release than the circumstances that I have just described.

I balance those comments with an encouraging experience I had when I visited a borstal near Rochester. It must have been the original borstal because the place was called Borstal. I met a young man who was just completing a City and Guilds course in painting and decorating. He was full of enthusiasm that when he would leave borstal he would get a better job with better pay. I am generous enough to say that he did not take up painting and decorating merely to gain access to other people's homes. He was genuinely excited at the prospect of a better future as a result of what he had learnt.

I put the one experience against the other because all is not depressing or a cause for pessimism, but the encouraging reaction resulting from my visit to that borstal is not as common as my depressing experience during my visit to Wormwood Scrubs. I have no doubt that that experience would be repeated if I were to visit other prisons.

When one speaks about prison, one tends to get letters from constituents and others suggesting that because one is concerned about prisoners one is being soft and condoning their offences. Most emphatically, that is not the case. It is not my motive, or that of any other hon. Member, to condone most of the offences that send people to prison. We are merely saying that in respect of nonviolent offenders and people sent to prison for relatively short sentences we should think again about the best means of getting them out.

Other hon. Members have said that the United Kingdom has the highest prison population in Western Europe. I am concerned that over the years the media have heightened expectations of what an adequate prison sentence should be. The media have tended to suggest that what would have been a perfectly fair and proper sentence for a particular offence years ago is now no longer adequate, and by means of a horrific auction they are building up public demand for longer sentences. That is the very thing that we must resist and argue against.

I am disappointed that the Home Secretary does not intend to proceed with the proposals contained in his review of parole in England and Wales, which was published last May. The case he put for departing from those proposals lacks conviction. The review said of the alternative which the right hon. Gentleman will now adopt: there can be no certainty that implementing section 47 would achieve any reduction in numbers in custody and would not confer any advantage in the treatement of individual offenders. I am puzzled as to why the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Office have changed their minds.

I admit that in answer to parliamentary questions I have been told that on the most favourable assumptions the effect of introducing partly suspended sentences would be to reduce the prison population by up to 4,000. Further parliamentary questions elicited the fact that other unfavourable assumptions would reduce that figure, and might well increase the number of people in prison in all but the short term.

The Home Office has been coy about putting figures to the most unfavourable assumptions. I doubt whether the House will be convinced by the arguments this afternoon in support of the Home Secretary changing from his original proposals to the ones tht he now intends to introduce. I am puzzled by his change of mind, and I hope that he will think again before introducing the necessary measures to bring those proposals into force.

There is widespread concern about the prison medical service. I shall not go into full details about the way in which the service operates and the dissatisfaction there is about it. Many people have suggested that the service should be fully integrated into the NHS. It is doubtfulwhether many of the anxieties about the operation of the service will be allayed unless the Home Secretary comes forward with some such proposal. There have been too many disturbing incidents in relation to the treatment of prisoners, and too many occasions when the Home Office and the DHSS have been shamefaced about what has happened to prisoners for anyone to say that the operation of the prison medical service is satisfactory and that we should leave things as they are. I very much hope that the Home Secretary will shortly come to the House with proposals to change the basis of how the prison medical service operates.

A few days ago, we discussed the Scarman report on the riots in Brixton. There is perhaps one lesson we could learn from that report and apply it to prison officers—what it said about racial prejudice in the police force. I am not for a moment suggesting that more than a minority of prison officers are racially prejudiced, but in some prisons a significant minority of prisoners are black and there is evidence that the relationship between them and the prison officers is not all that it should be. We have heard disturbing stories about some prison officers wearing National Front badges on their uniforms. I cannot give the Home Secretary conclusive evidence of where that is taking place, but I am sure that he is just as aware of these stories as I am.

I urge the Home Office to consider applying the Scarman recommendation on the selection and training of the police to the recruitment and training of prison officers. That would benefit relationships between black prisoners and the people who look after them.

Two motives underline our belief that the prison system should be altered, that fewer people should be in prison and that prison conditions should be made more tolerable. The first argument is simply one of humanity. When we sentence people to a loss of liberty, a civilised society should not at the same time say that they should be subjected to misery and degradation. Loss of liberty is punishment enough. That is not being soft with prisoners; it is simply behaving as a civilised society should.

Secondly, we should bear in mind the self-interest of society. Virtually every prisoner about whom we are talking will one day be discharged to take his place in society. If we subject them to some of the conditions under which they must now survive, we shall make it more difficult for them to take their rightful place as decent citizens. It is in the interests of society, as well as of protecting us from further crime, that we should ensure that when prisoners are released they have the best chance of taking their rightful place as law-abiding citizens.

7.18 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs). I congratulate him on his speech. I share many of his convictions, and he presented his case in a balanced and constructive way.

I should like to comment on some of the points the hon. Gentleman raised, but first I want to refer to the interesting proposal, by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), of weekend imprisonment. That seems an attractive proposition at first sight. It seems as if such a proposal would prove effective, but the question that I have asked in the past has not yet been answered: how would it work in practice?

If an inner London court sentences a man to serve a number of days imprisonment during weekends in an open prison, the nearest being Ford prison, how will that person reach that prison every weekend? If he has funds, will he be required to expend his own money to get there? If he does not have funds, will he travel at the taxpayers' expense?

Secondly, how will the prison staff react to such a proposal? Weekend work in prison is always difficult. Will extra prison officers have to be made available to man the prisons where these people are to go, including remote areas such as Ford in Sussex? Where will they live? What will be the nature of the accommodation requirements? What would be the economic advantages or disadvantages of such a proposal? These questions must be considered seriously.

I have always maintained that there is nothing to be gained from a proposal which a first sight seems attractive. If a person can be dealt with in a non-custodial fashion, that is the proper course to follow. We should avoid the tiresome business of locking people up when there is no need for it.

It is undeniable that on both sides of the House there is deep and real concern about the state of the prisons. During the recent inquiry of the Select Committee on Home Affairs a prison official said to the Committee that he believed that part of the prison estate was held up by the paint. He was exaggerating, but he struck a real chord.

It is true that the prison estate is in a deplorable condition. The consequences of this for those who have to serve sentences of imprisonment and for those who have to work in our prisons are disgusting. The House has said so on many occasions. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said—and, if I may say so, said very well—all this has been said before over years and over many decades.

When I first had something to do with the prison service in 1967, the prison governors were saying that there was a state of crisis. They warned that there would be riots and disorder and that the service would not be able to cope. Hon. Members and those outside the House who took an interest in the state of the prisons said that that was the true position. On and on it has gone for years. The saddest feature of the story is that successive Governments have failed to take action to deal with the problem because it is unpopular to build new prisons. There are no votes from the electorate in building new prisons.

I do not want to introduce a party political note but it has to be said that the previous Labour Government cancelled the prison building programme and thereby gave my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary an abominable inheritance which has become so bad in recent years and which he has had the honesty to seek to tackle in a way which I support.

About 17,000 prisoners are accommodated two or three to a cell. Those cells were designed in Victorian days for one person each. Many of the cells were constructed with proper latrine facilities that have been withdrawn in recent years. That has been done partly to meet the problem of overcrowding and partly to make it possible for more prisoners to be accommodated in these tiny rooms. It was said with considerable justification by the 1977–78 Expenditure Committee that in many of the Victorian prisons the conditions were much worse than when they were built.

The appalling sanitary conditions are totally inhumane, the process of slopping out, which means spending all night in a cell with not only one's own but other people's excreta, is disgusting, but there are still those who suggest that the conditions in our prisons are not bad enough. These conditions are to be found in prisons such as Wandsworth, Brixton, Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville. Unfortunately, the list is endless.

One inmate has said that the stench in the early part of the morning was such that many prisoners vomited and that those who went into prison for the first time found the experience disgraceful. This has gone on for many years. It is a matter of shame that the House has not spoken out in the past with sufficient conviction to justify the changes that some of us are seeking.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs reported this year and made a number of proposals. It suggested that a programme to refurbish and raise standards in existing prisons, together with the rebuilding of new prisons, was essential. That was the first recommendation in the report. It recommended a genuine attempt in the large and old-fashioned prisons to restore some dignity and to install necessary facilities.

The Select Committee's third recommmendation was a rapid development of shelters for drunken persons, together with an adequate level of staff and the availability of skilled medical assessment. It is true that very few prisoners will be removed from the prison system because of that recommendation. However, it would be an advantage if there were a gain of only a few hundred. Surely it is right that there should be such alternatives for those who are ill rather than wicked.

The Select Commitee's fourth recommendation was that legislation should be introduced to require the provision of National Health Service places for any mentally disordered offenders on whom the courts make hospital orders. It is regrettable that elsewhere in the Government my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has not received the necessary support to enable him to deal with mentally disordered offenders. I hope that there will be a real attempt to do something about that category of prisoner who should not be within the prison system. Prison officers are not trained to deal with the seriously disturbed. They are put in a position of confrontation with such persons which is wholly unacceptable.

It is essential to build new prisons. Governments between 1918 and 1958 did not build any. For 40 years there was an absence of any attempt to provide the accommodation that is now necessary. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having the courage to start a programme of prison building which should produce 5,000 places in the 1980s and which will cost the taxpayer slightly more than £30 million in the next five years.

I was glad, too, to learn from my right hon. Friend today of the additional expenditure and resources that he will have at his disposal. However, the new places will do no more than replace units that are in such a bad state of repair and so inhumane that they have to be taken out of commission. The Governent's programme is at least making up a little for the failure of the recent past.

I hope that new prisons will be located in or near large conurbations. The proposed prison at Woolwich is essential. One third of all crime is committed within the Metropolitan Police district. Consequently, about one third of the prison population emerges from within the London conurbation. Therefore, it is desirable to provide the prison resources close to where the prisoner lives.

The Home Affairs Select Committee made an important recommendation in that connection. Recommendation No. 9 said: There must be greater co-ordination between the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office with regard to the location of new courts. Every effort should be made to obtain or, as in the case of Holloway, to redevelop prison sites in urban areas, whose advantages include easy access to prisoners by families, friends, probation officers and legal advisers, as well as a decrease in the social isolation of prison staff. It is for that reason that I urge the Home Department to press on with the building of the Woolwich prison as soon as possible. That is essential if we are to make an impact in London.

I recognise that some offenders obviously have to go to prison for a long time—for example, the man who commits a bank robbery, carries a firearm and shoots it at a police officer or a member of the public. Such people must go to prison for a long period in the interests of protecting the public. For the majority of offenders—non-violent offenders—the shorter prison sentence is more likely to be effective in a penological sense as well as having an economic advantage.

During the past few years research has confirmed the experience of those who are familiar with the criminal justice system, that the impact of imprisonment falls during the first few days or weeks of a sentence. Thereafter the public is paying out money for no good cause. Long sentences simply do not succeed in deterring crime or the individual. They simply entail locking a man away for no real advantage.

I wholly commend and support the Home Secretary in his determination to persuade the judiciary, in the higher courts and in the magistrates courts, to look with favour on shorter sentences. The message is getting across and the arguments to sustain shorter sentences are now being understood. That is the way to deal with the prison overcrowding. It is the only honest way that we can go. I am glad that the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor have also unhesitatingly supported the proposal. It is the right way to proceed.

I am sorry that we cannot proceed with the proposal to amend the parole system and to apply it to sentences of between six months and three years, in the manner suggested in the Home Office review which the House had before it earlier this year. The Home Secretary said in his foreword to that Home Office document that he believed that it would be helpful to the House and the public to have the document available as a basis for informed discussions. Those discussions took place, and as a result the Home Secretary concluded that it would be better to take a different route to achieve the same objective. I congratulate him on having the wisdom to produce the document, to listen to what many concerned with the criminal justice system had to say, and then to heed their advice. One could not ask for a better response.

While I do not think that suspended sentences have been at all successful and agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn that on the whole—certainly in the early days—they might have contributed to increasing the prison population, I believe that there is a considerable difference between a suspended sentence and the provision of section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. I therefore support the proposal to activate section 47 of the 1977 Act, and I am glad to learn that the House will be given an opportuity to expand that provision, one hopes during the passage of the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill.

I support the 1977 proposal because it would retain the power within the courts to suspend the operation of a prison sentence. The great virtue of that proposal is that courts would be able to decide for themselves the appropriate sentence, and we would be conforming to the accepted theory that a shorter sentence—if someone must be sent to prison—is best.

There is much to commend the proposal because it will also provide for an element of supervision after release. The prison service will be able to prepare a prisoner for his release, and that must be an advantage. There is a considerable difference between the section 47 proposal and the straightforward suspended sentence, when a court simply says that a sentence is suspended and there is little examination of the prisoner or his needs in advance of the decision.

Much time has been spent in the House debating the number of people in prison. It is true that a third of them are there for the abominable crime of burglary. The public view burglary with great distaste, for the straightforward reason that it involves invasion of a person's home and harm and damage to the lives of average householders. The courts rightly believe a sentence of imprisonment to be appropriate.

We have failed in Britain for many years to consider more seriously a proper programme for controlling crime through crime prevention. I pay tribute here to the British Insurance Association, which yesterday launched a crime prevention campaign specifically aimed at deterring the burglar and preventing such crimes occurring. I am glad that the Home Secretary found time to give support to that campaign. I know that the Home Department is about to spend approximately £1 million, or certainly a substantial sum, on encouraging the concept of crime prevention. We must grasp the nettle if we really intend to reduce the number of people going to prison and do something about the crimes that oblige the courts to send them there in the first place.

In the big cities, why do local authorities and the owners of mansion blocks do so little to prevent crime? Why are there not telephone answering machines installed at the entrances of all blocks of flats? That is essential. Large blocks of flats should have a 24-hour porterage or caretaker service, and closed circuit television should be provided to monitor corridors and entrances. The police service should be pressing managements or councils to provide that facility. To control burglary, the police should be more systematically involved in an analysis to prevent the crime.

No new buildings—especially houses or flats—should be erected without first involving the police in a review of the design, environmental features, and the nature of the materials to be used. For example, recommending toughened glass would help to defeat not only the burglar but the would-be vandal. Strengthening door frames and doors, and providing good quality mortice window locks and metal grills are all aspects of prevention which should be included in a new building from the beginning.

The job of the police should be to advise that those things are done. A modified use of the police service would contribute much to the control of crime and thus lead to a reduction in the prison population. I hope that that strategy will be given increased incouragement, because the problem is how to stop crime occurring in the first place. If we can achieve that, many of the problems that we are discussing today will begin to diminish. That should be an essential part of our strategy.

7.41 pm
Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

We have heard much today about the state of Britain's prisons, and there has been no exaggeration. In fact, a number of prisons are exceedingly close to breakdown. In Leeds prison, for example, the number of prisoners is about double that for which there is accommodation available.

Since the living conditions in prisons are the working conditions of prison officers, it is not surprising that prison officers are also feeling great strain. We must do something to reduce the pressure on prisons. I have a theory that most penal reforms of the past decade have occurred not because of the persuasion of penal reformers but because of the sheer desperation in the Home Office about where to put people sentenced by the courts. Therefore, it appears to favour the arguments advanced to justify some change in the system to reduce the pressure on prison space.

The position has become worse, and we are now casting round for further ways in which to reduce the prison population. There are many good arguments, other than pressure on prison space, for reducing the prison population, but one feels that Home Secretaries nowadays are more enlightened than they used to be because their officials advise them that they do not know where to turn to find accommodation for the increasing numbers of people sent to prison.

How can we improve the situation? One proposal that has been put forward by the Home Secretary today would, in my view, increase, not reduce, the prison population. That is the proposal for partly actual and partly suspended sentences.

The House may be interested to know how that proposal found its way on to the statute book. At the time of the Criminal Law Bill Committee in 1977, of which I was a member, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) was a Minister of State at the Home Office. The Criminal Law Bill contained no provision whatever for partially suspended sentences. One day the present Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), who was a member of the Committee, produced a new clause embodying partially suspended and partially actual sentences. That proposal came out of the blue. It was not in the Bill. To my surprise—which I expressed at the time—the then Minister of State said that he would favourably consider the clause proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I spoke against the proposal then and I have spoken against it since. It was obvious to me—I say this with the greatest of respect to those concerned—that the present Minister of State was a civil lawyer of considerable ability, but that he was less knowledgeable about the criminal courts. The then Minister of State, who is also an exceedingly able Member of the House, is a solicitor, but, in my view, he has a deficiency of knowledge about what happens in criminal courts in relation to suspended sentences. The result was that the amendment proposed was accepted by the then Minister of State and accordingly, with some redrafting, it went through on Report.

In Committee, I said that the effect of the new provision would be that judges would impose the sentence that they thought was appropriate and then would say "To deter the guilty person from committing any further offence, I shall tack on to the end a suspended sentence." The result is that some people will come back to the courts—people who would otherwise not return—to receive a suspended sentence, and the effect will be to increase the prison population.

That proposal became law in 1977, but it was not brought into effect for four years. Why not? Why was that proposal, produced by the present Minister of State, not brought into effect for four years? Why did not his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), say that it would have the effect of increasing the prison population?

The Minister of State who took that view in 1979 has been replaced. The present Minister of State has gone in to bat with the proposal that he introduced into the Criminal Law Bill and has persuaded the Home Secretary, who is not a lawyer, of the value of his original proposal.

I believe that the proposal was included on the advice not of the judges, but of the Minister of State, who is pursuing an idea, to which he gave birth, in the teeth of my lonely opposition in Committee. When the hon. Member for Pontypridd, out of the blue, acceded to that clause, I looked at the Home Office officials sitting in the Committee Room and I rather suspect that they were absolutely horrified.

Of course, the Minister of State disappeared, but the officials remained. I assumed that they would ensure that the proposal, though it had passed into law, was never brought into effect. Then the wheel of time brought the man who gave birth to the idea into the crucial post of Minister of State, Home Office. The Home Secretary, desperately wondering how he could show the British people that he was reducing the prison population without attracting much odium, found by his side the man who gave birth to the idea, and he told the Home Secretary, as he told the Committee in 1977, that it was a very good idea.

Mr. Whitelaw

Before that fantasy continues much further, I wish to make the position clear. The hon. and learned Gentleman has become an indulger in fantasies because he is now in places where people indulge in fantasies: The truth is that judges and magistrates, in today's climate, with the shorter sentence initiative, believe that the proposal would reinforce that initiative. The hon. and learned Gentleman tells me that they did not say that. I must tell him that they said it to me. It is no use him telling me that they did not say it to me. I may not be a lawyer, but I can hear very well.

Mr. Lyons

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I remind him that the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science, and right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), has this afternoon expressed strong reservations about the proposal, as did the previous Minister of State, who was also a Queen's Counsel. However, I have no doubt that judges, confronted with a proposal to halve the current period of imprisonment—which was the original proposal—would be happy to settle for something that gave them some kind of discretion. That proposal will have the reverse effect to that hoped for by the Home Secretary. For the sake of the prison system, I hope that I am wrong.

The other original proposal was that a person should serve one-third of the sentence imposed on him and should be granted not only one-third remission but one-third licence. That proposal has been scotched because the judges—we understand why—said that to impose a sentence of 12 months when only four months would be served would be unrealistic.

I invite the Home Secretary to consider a less drastic alternative put forward by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders in 1980. It is that we increase remission from one-third to one-half, which means an increase of one-sixth in current remission. Various conditions could be attached to the increase. I doubt whether the judges would react so strongly to that lesser increase.

The imperative that drives us is the terrible shortage of prison accommodation and the terrible conditions in the old prisons in which convicted persons have to survive. Because most of our current prisons were badly run in 1870, the then Conservative Government nationalised them in the hope that they would be run properly. Therefore, we are talking of prisons that are more than a century old. As the Home Secretary rightly said, successive Governments are responsible for inadequate building programmes. It is not a party matter, because we all have responsibility for the failure. The prisons were constructed before the modern ideas of penology. Prisoners are degraded by having to live two and three to a cell. I understand that at one time in 1980 almost 80,000 were sharing either two or three to a cell and were performing all their private functions before others. It is difficult to imagine how a person recovers his self-respect after such an experience.

I am not saying that all our sympathy must go to convicted persons. We must remember that there has been a large increase in crime. It is necessary to be tough with those convicted of crimes of violence. Our prime responsibility is to ensure that the ordinary citizen can live his life securely. However, we must seek to reduce the numbers entering prisons. There have been a number of suggestions about vagrants and alcoholics. The suggestions have been made before, but they still have considerable value.

There has been some reference to weekend sentences. I hope that the Government will reconsider that suggestion. Prisoners in the concluding stages of their sentences are often sent home at weekends to begin the process of rehabilitation. They could be replaced by people serving weekend sentences. That experiment might succeed. It should be given a trial period, although I understand that it may not be easy to achieve success. I believe that many persons would choose to work and maintain their families during the week and then enter prisons on weekends rather than to serve several weeks or months consecutively away from their families and work. The systems in Holland and Sweden show that there are methods other than ours for dealing with criminals and custodial sentences.

The question of remand is difficult. In the London area people have to wait a long time for trial. Two-thirds of all women held on remand are not given custodial sentences. One knows that two-thirds of women held on remand will not be sent to prison. Yet they have to wait a considerable time before their trials. Similarly, one knows that more than half of the men held on remand will receive custodial sentences and that the period spent on remand will count as part of that sentence. Statistics prove that a much higher percentage of women than men do not receive custodial sentences. There is, therefore, a just argument that high priority should be given to bringing forward trials for women. The women suffer unnecessarily. There are few penal institutions for women, so their relatives have further to travel. It is also more difficult to visit them.

The issue of time spent on remand is tied to resources. If there were more courts, judges and staff, there could be a faster dispatch of trials for those on remand. We know that about half of those held on remand do not receive custodial sentences—some are acquitted and some are given non-custodial sentences. That is one area in which we could possibly reduce the prison population without building more prisons. We must accelerate the period between arrest and trial. Considerable progress has been made in the provinces, but London is still a black spot. Provincial judges are having to assist in London courts.

The attitude of judges is crucial to the question of shorter sentences. A number of judges have made it cear that it is not part of their job to consider whether accommodation is available for those sentenced by them. Doctors, when they make recommendations about patients, must have regard to the facilities available. It is no use saying that a patient must have treatment on a kidney machine if no machine is available. They must tailor their recommendations to the availability of facilities.

Lord Justice Waller, a highly distinguished member of the Court of Appeal, believes that it is proper to consider the state of the prisons. Furthermore, there is a difference in the quality of the sentence served in an open or modern prison, where there is one prisoner to a cell, and the quality of the sentence served in an old prison where there are three to a cell. Nine months in an open prison is a lesser punishment than nine months in a cell shared with others in an old prison. Many prisoners now go into shared cells in old prisons, so courts might well take that matter into account.

I do not believe that judges should divorce from their sentencing policy their knowledge that the Home Office is at its wits' end to find places to which to send prisoners. As judges approach sentencing, it is not wrong for them to consider, simply as one factor, that there is a dramatic shortage of places for convicted persons.

If we do not cut sentences at the lower end, we may ultimately force parole boards to recommend earlier release of criminals convicted of more serious crimes to create space for short-sentence prisoners. Everything interacts.

I hope that the judges will have some regard to what is happening in the prisons. I do not know how often they visit prisons to see the conditions. There is an argument that every year they ought to look at the places to which they send convicted persons.

We must continue the search for ways of keeping the prison population within limits, having regard to the places available, without enabling people to commit crimes with a feeling of impunity. The Home Secretary is seeking to achieve a reduction in the prison population, but he knows that he must balance in the scales his duty to the community as a whole and his duty to provide in our prisons what is expected of a civilised society, so that both prisoners and prison officers are treated properly and humanely.

We have a long way to go. We desperately need resources. There has been neglect from all quarters in the past. The statistics are clear. In periods of unemployment, the prison population increases. The indications are that unemployment will increase. That means that we can expect further increases in the prison population unless other methods are applied to reduce that population. It is not popular outside the House to talk about reducing the prison population or cutting sentences. However, if proper prison places are not available, there is no alternative but to acknowledge that we shall have to apply our minds to seeing how we can alleviate the situation by adopting methods which are quicker than waiting for new buildings and resources.

There is not much with which to quarrel in the motion or the amendment. Both assert desirable propositions. I should not find serious difficulty in supporting both.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I am sorry to lean on those who have not yet been called to speak and who may feel aggrieved, but if the length of the last two speeches were repeated by other hon. Members only two more from each side of the House would be called. I therefore ask for some restraint.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In relation to the remarks that you have just made, may I ask whether it is in order for a former member of the Opposition, who has now changed his party and represents no one, to take 25 minutes addressing the House on this subject? During that period two hon. Members could have spoken. I think that Mr. Speaker should examine this matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It was in order. It is not out of order for hon. Members to speak at length.

8.5 pm

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

I begin by paying a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the very sincere interest that he has taken in this difficult subject. We all know that it is not a subject on which one is likely to receive bouquets from the grateful. If anything, it is only likely to make one unpopular.

I particularly welcome the new moneys that are to be allocated for new prisons and new projects at existing prisons. This is a most welcome development. At a time when every aspect of public expenditure is under scrutiny, I regard it as little less than a triumph for this money to be allocated for the prison service.

I am very mindful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of your strictures about keeping speeches short, so I shall say nothing tonight about the need to remove certain categories of prisoners from the prison system altogether. Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), have made the point most graphically, and I endorse what has been said. However, tonight I should like to deal with the question of shorter periods of imprisonment.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I enter one caveat. I do not suggest for one moment that short terms of imprisonment are suitable for violent offenders who are a real danger to the public, and anything that I say should be read in that context. But there is clearly no single action which could more effectively resolve the crisis in the prison system than a reduction in the length of sentences.

That point was made in the Expenditure Committee report in 1978, in which the Committee said that it regarded that as being a "major contribution" to dealing with the problem. I suspect that even if only one month were cut from each of the approximately 44,000 prisoners' sentences, it would make a marked difference to the overcrowding in our prisons.

I suggest, however, that a reduction in sentences has merit in its own right. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that longer sentences have precious little effect in deterring criminals from offending again, that the greatest impact comes from the first few weeks or months of the first prison sentence and that, after that, human beings adapt, as they always do, and the deterrent effect is then lost.

This point was made by one of the prisoners when the Expenditure Committee took evidence in prisons. One prisoner was most graphic in saying the the major impact that he felt was on first going into prison, and the shock was terrific, but he said that after some weeks the impact wore off and he gradually adapted to the regime.

The interim report on the length of prison sentences from the advisory council on the penal system said: A steadily accumulating volume of research has shown that, if reconviction rates are used to measure the success or failure of sentencing policy, there is virtually nothing to choose between different lengths of custodial sentence, different types of institutional regime, and even between custodial and non-custodial treatment. That sounds a bit bleak, and when one considers the cost of keeping someone in prison, that sort of statement is not encouraging. We might just as well keep them there a shorter time and hope that this will do the trick. Keeping them there for long periods will not improve the situation.

Hon. Members have suggested that the experience of other countries, notably Holland, should be borne in mind. I agree that there seems to be no appreciable increase in the crime rate in countries that impose much shorter sentences. I suppose it could always be argued that the experience of a continental country is too removed from our own to make a valid comparison. What cannot be brushed aside is experience in Scotland which, on the whole, has much shorter sentences but apparently no greater rate of crime—unless anyone suggests that Scotland exports all its rogues to England. I have been unable to obtain figures more up to date than those for 1974. It appears, however, that sentences of up to three months amounted to 14 per cent. in England and 63 per cent. in Scotland. Scotland relied heavily on a large number of short sentences apparently without ill effect.

Much discussion has centred on methods of imposing shorter sentences. There has been reference to the partially suspended sentence. I gave up trying to follow the convoluted argument of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) explaining why this was not a good idea. I can only hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not entrusted with the task of explaining his party's other policies because we shall never know what the Social Democratic Party stands for.

Mrs. Renée Short

It does not have any policies.

Miss Fookes

I believe that the partially suspended sentence is a useful device. I am delighted to know that it is to be introduced after four years of suspended animation. It came second in the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee report in 1978. The report also suggested that the lowering to three months of the minimum period of imprisonment at which a partial suspension can be made should be considered at an early date. I suppose that in parliamentary terms the period that has elapsed between 1978 and the end of 1981 is still an early date.

The partially suspended sentence has the merit of giving the person who is sentenced the feeling of what it is like to be in prison without staying there too long. Above all, the courts are given the discretion to decide whether such a sentence shall be used. I suspect strongly that the judiciary is more aware now than ever before of the need to keep sentences short. I expect therefore to see far greater understanding and co-operation. At the very least, it is worth while having a shot at implementing this proposal.

I should like my right hon. Friend to think again about the possibility of 50 per cent. remission of sentences. This should not be automatic but should be tied to a prisoner's conduct. For the same reason, I am much opposed to parole. When parole is given—or not given—it lies beyond the power of the prisoner to do anything about some of the factors taken into consideration while he is in prison. There is an inherent injustice in that system. I make no apology for saying that I would like to see its total abolition. While the prisoner is waiting for the response from the parole board there is a traumatic period that is not enhanced when he may be refused parole without reasons given. I believe that remission is far more sensible provided that it is not automatic and depends on how a prisoner conducts himself.

Discussion has also taken place on weekend prisons. To those sceptical of their value, I would suggest that a small pilot scheme be tried as proposed in the Expenditure Committee report. This is always a wise method of proceeding with something that is untried to see how it works in practice.

I doubt even now whether my right hon. Friend has fully grasped the nettle in the longer term. A major review is required of all imprisonable offences and the sentences attached to them. I believe that the advisory council on penal reform was right to say that the old, rather Victorian notion of acting for the worst possible offence and gearing the maximum sentence to that offence should be jettisoned. There is a need to re-examine all offences and to bring forward some ideas of what is thought reasonable but also to introduce a mechanism enabling courts to have total discretion to go beyond what was normal in a particularly unusual and appalling case. Until that is done we shall never tackle the nub of the problem. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give some words of encouragement on that matter.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

I believe that my hon. Friend was Chairman of the Select Committee in the last Parliament that was considering the question of women's prisons. I am sure that many hon. Members would appreciate my hon. Friend's comments on this important matter. Many hon. Member's are concerned about the appalling state of women's prisons and about the conditions that women have to suffer in them.

Miss Fookes

I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in order not to incur your wrath I had better keep my comments short. I was Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee that examined women's prisons, but the inquiry was unfortunately aborted by the general election. There is greater argument in many respects for bringing out of prison more women than men. Many of these women have great emotional and psychological problems that could be far better dealt with in a non-custodial atmosphere. There are many instances where women should not be in prison. The pressure on existing women's prisons would be eased. The fact remains that because the number of women in prison is still comparatively small, the prisons are scattered, which presents difficulties in maintaining contact with families. The Sub-Committee was toying with the idea of suggesting that women's wings might be attached to, but separate from, men's prisons, but that never came to any conclusion because of the ending of the inquiry.

I hope that encouragement will be given by the Government on the question of reviewing in depth imprisonable offences and seeing how sentencing policy can be radically altered.

8.18 pm
Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

I shall respond to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and keep my speech as brief as possible. There is located in my constituency one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country. It has a governor and a staff engaged in the unenviable task of trying to make a deteriorating system work. The prison is called Strangeways. It has recently been the subject of a brilliant documentary series on television. I recommend the repeat showing as worthwhile viewing.

The governor, Mr. Norman Brown, has been outspoken over a long period in warning of the deterioration in the prison system. He described his prison on television as a human warehouse. In The Daily Telegraph, he has stated that conditions are an affront to a civilised society. His comments follow many years of trying to impress various Governments of the deplorable, degrading and deteriorating conditions in the prison service. Despite all the pleas and overtures, it is felt that the only reward will be yet another dialogue with the deaf or a call for more and more reports. Nothing has changed.

Strangeways prison was built in 1868 to accommodate 744 males and 315 females. It is now bursting at the seams. Yesterday, its prisoners numbered 1,766, with 555 men existing three to a cell, 23 hours a day. Can hon. Members imagine being locked up 23 hours a day, perhaps with prisoners with whom they have nothing in common and with whom they cannot converse? One prisoner in the cell may want to play his radio at all times of the day whilst another prisoner wishes to read. One of the other prisoners may smoke and have other disgusting habits.

Can hon. Members imagine sharing the overcrowding, the poor sanitation and the stench of the slop bucket? At night, the cell becomes the toilet and prisoners have to sleep in it. Hon. Members should try to imagine three men in a cell living in such conditions. Indeed, those conditions have been described as being worse than a stable. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) rightly said, at night excreta, wrapped in paper, is pushed through the bars to land in the prison yard, to be collected by a work party the next morning.

Is it any wonder that prisoners turn to hunger strikes, rioting, setting fire to their cells and suicide attempts? Governor Brown is correct to say that such conditions are an affront to civilised society. He should know, because he has to work in such a place. Without such men and the good will of the Prison Officers' Association, the system would collapse tomorrow. We should ask ourselves whether that is the way to run a so-called civilised and so-called Christian society.

Pressures on local prisons such as Strangeways are intense. Strangeways by its very nature is a transit prison and takes remand prisoners that have to be transferred to courts throughout Greater Manchester or to other prisons. It is now taking remand prisoners from Risley—a modern prison—that has been found to have latent defects and on which repair work must be done. Strangeways itself is becoming a remand prison. Such transfers take up a tremendous amount of time, because Strangeways has to provide the escorts. While manpower is used for such purposes, it cannot be used to supervise the workshops. Therefore, line after line of machinery—which could be put to useful purposes—lies idle, merely because prisoners cannot be supervised. The men have to rot in their cells.

Manpower is so scarce that after 4 pm on Fridays the prison is run by the prison officers doing extra duties. I repeat that, without their good will, the system would collapse. As has been said, the community in any society must be protected from crimes of violence. Such crimes must be condemned. Justice must be brought to bear and sympathy must be extended to the victims.

However, not all prisoners are murderers, rapists, or violent criminals as the press would have us believe. Many are in prison merely for petty offences, such as constantly breaking the street trading laws, fiddling electricity meters, or for being vagrants, beggars or prostitutes. If we are to prevent such prisoners from becoming isolated from the rest of the community we must find an alternative to sticking prisoners in cells for 23 hours a day. Such prisoners merely become victims of the system and will, more likely than not, return to prison again and again. The bulk of prisoners have committed petty, boring antisocial acts. Many are not a danger to the public. It is in that sphere that the initiative should be taken.

The governor of Strangeways agrees that many prisoners should not be there. Some prisoners require hospitalisation rather than imprisonment. Many are vagrants who require special attention. They are men who cannot even cope with the basics of keeping themselves clean. They have to be looked after by prison officers. Such prisoners perhaps require far more attention than hardened criminals, because they need intensive care.

The cuts in recruitment mean that there is a totally inadequate number of officers to carry out such duties. The pressures are becoming intolerable. That is why governors such as Mr. Brown of Manchester, and Mr. McCarthy of Wormwood Scrubs, have spoken openly of the overcrowding and squalor and of "human warehouses" and "dustbins". Those are the men—the professionals—who are expected to carry on regardless and who are never consulted or put on advisory committees to supervise the degradation that takes place behind high walls and hidden from the public, who have little or no knowledge of what life is like for the staff and prisoners inside those walls.

The first prison rule states: The purpose of training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life. What chance has Mr. Brown to fulfil such obligations in present conditions? The appeal is for action, not reports, promises or platitudes. The appeal is for a reduction in the prison population, which has escalated to over 44,000 with about 17,000 prisoners sharing cells.

How can an antiquated local prison such as Strangeways, which lacks facilities and manpower, continue to cope with an ever-increasing prison population, with conditions that deteriorate daily and with morale among prison officers at a new low? The situation is desperate. If it is to be contained, urgent methods and solutions are needed. Otherwise, the prison officers will have no recourse but to refuse to accept further inmates.

Overcrowding causes deep distress to the prison service, to the staff—as a result of increased stress—and to prisoners who are confined for 23 hours a day to cells that measure 12ft. by 6ft. The relationship of tolerance between the officers and prisoners is eroding and, if nothing is done, can lead only to a total breakdown.

I have been heartened by some of the comments that I have heard, even from Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Cheltenham. The hon. Gentleman recognises the need for urgency. I disagree with some of the Home Secretary's intentions. We want not words, reports or platitudes, but action. There is a crisis. Tonight, the gates of Strangeways have slammed shut against taking any more prisoners until the position is altered.

8.28 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)

Before I was elected to the House of Commons, when I was a parliamentary candidate, I imagined myself addressing a packed House which hung on my every word. I imagined myself speaking persuasively and convincingly, perhaps—immodestly—even to change the course of history. Of course, when one gets here it is rather different. I am certainly not likely to change the course of history in a debate on Her Majesty's prisons.

Having sat through the entire debate today, I have learnt something, and that is that politicians, by and large, have little idea of what the person in the street wants. What is now happening is not happening because the person in the street wants firm action on law and order, long sentences and discipline in schools and in the country as a whole. This debate is taking place because the prison service is breaking down and because the conditions in which prisoners now live are absolutely disgusting. It is not because of the brilliance of my Government that this programme is being put forward, but because over the years politicians have neglected to provide for the building of prisons. Making such provision is not popular, and does not win votes. When people hear about prisons being built near them, they hold public inquiries to resist them. They will do anything to keep a prison away. At the same time, because we have neglected to build prisons over many years, today's politicians must sort out the job—as they say in Yorkshire. How can we do that?

We have heard an announcement of the most massive prison building programme this century. We cannot grumble about that. There have also been announcements and suggestions about short-term sentencing. That appals the general public and does politicians no good. The only reason we suggest it is that the prison service has broken down. The politicians of successive Governments have failed to build prisons which would enable magistrates and judges to give sentences which are appropriate to the crime, and not just to fit a system that is falling down through lack of facilities.

We even hear talk this evening of releasing mentally disordered people. Yet those are the people who sexually assault children. Those are the people who rape women. We cannot generalise.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) casually mentioned street trading offences. He knows that that is absolute nonsense. Magistrates do not give custodial sentences for that sort of crime unless they have tried everything else in the past and have been through all the possible options that are available to the courts. A custodial sentence is given only as a last resort. So when a person is given a custodial sentence, a custodial sentence is appropriate. It is a shame that there has been so much talk tonight about various ways of shortening sentences and, indeed, of keeping people out of prison when, strictly speaking, that is exactly where they should be.

Why has our nation's character been destroyed? It is my view, and only my view, that after the Beveridge report at the time of the Attlee Government, and the birth of the Welfare State in 1947, that Welfare State gradually became almost uncontrollable. It became universal and not selective. People could get many different benefits. There was no great merit in providing for oneself. It became easier to lean on the State. That has all happened gradually.

I blame even municipal housing, with high-rise blocks and council houses. When people live in those circumstances, they lose their character and self respect. That is why the crime figures have risen over the years. People are not getting the right sort of leadership.

Our Government are doing the right thing. By making the Welfare State selective and not universal, by allowing people to have their own homes and to take pride in their possessions, we are doing more to help to keep down crime than all the institutional methods that we have debated this evening. We have talked about the dilution of powers and about persuading by discretion magistrates and judges to give a different form of sentence to help us out of the mess that the system is now in. We should be thinking along different lines, however.

This is a time when the country is experiencing violent crimes of terrorism. I remind the House of something that is highly relevant to this debate but which has not been mentioned so far. Let us consider the state of terrorism. A children's toy with a bomb in it was left near a children's nursery the other week. A bomb was put in a Wimpy bar that was used by young people. The same thing has happened in London stores where mothers and children shop. Before that it was railway stations and a hotel. The same people, just to give publicity to their cause, think that they should take the lives of distinguished people like Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and the former Member of this House, Airey Neave, whose plaque is over the door that leads to the Members' Lobby.

Neither should we forget the Reverend Robert Bradford who died a short while ago. The British Ambassador in Dublin, Ross McWhirter, and many of our soldiers, some of whom are about the age of my son, have also been killed. The lives of hundreds of British soldiers and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been lost and they are as important as the distinguished victims of terrorism. All these people were killed not abroad but in our country. That shows the state of the United Kingdom. Yet tonight, because our prison service has broken down and the Government and their predecessors have not done their job, we are having a debate about what we can do about the prison service.

I cannot blame the Home Secretary. I congratulate him, as all of us should, because at last he has produced a building programme greater than any programme this century. He has announced two further starts. That is important. The Home Secretary is introducing other reforms. If I had his job I should find it difficult to know what to do. My right hon. Friend has brought forward some very good ideas and they are the only solution.

Politicians must decide that we must never get into this mess again. Let us not have to persuade judges and magistrates to give shorter sentences and even non-custodial sentences when appropriate. If we succeed, the public will start respecting politicians more because hitherto we have lacked a distinguished record on prison reform.

8.37 pm
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I shall not attempt to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens). When he has been in the House a little longer and looks at the annual reports from the prison department, he may find that even this building programme has been cut, as many building programmes in the past have been, because of the economic situation.

I apologise to the Home Secretary for not having been present to hear his speech. I wrote to Mr. Speaker to tell him that I was detained with a Select Committee from 4 o'clock and, regrettably, could not be here for the opening of the debate.

From time to time the House receives reports about the state of our prisons. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) made his contribution through the Select Committee. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) made hers as Chairman of an Expenditure Committee before the last election. About nine years before that I chaired an Estimates Committee in its previous incarnation as the Expenditure Committee when we examined the state of the prisons. Many of the recommendations that we made were the same as the recommendations of the hon. Lady's Committee. From what I heard, my hon. Friend's Committee's recommendations were also similar. Progress in the prison building programme and in the reform of the prison system is made very slowly,and the warehousing of prisoners continues.

All Governments are equally to blame. The Labour Government Home Secretaries have cut back on the prison building programme and resisted all our attempts to inject resources into the prison system. That has happened for various reasons. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West said, this is an unpopular cause on which to campaign. It does not win votes. But we should all be ashamed of the prison system.

In 1777, John Howard, whose name is probably well-known to hon. Members as a great penal reformer, said: I wish to have so many small rooms or cabins that each criminal may sleep alone—solitude and silence are favourable to reflection, privacy and hours of thoughtfulness are necessary". If that was true in 1777, when the prison population was considerably smaller than it is today because the country's population was so much smaller, how much more must it be true today? Over 200 years later we have not achieved the state which John Howard described as being essential for the reform of people who commit offences.

Many reforms in public life have been made in the last 30 years. We have expanded our health and social services. The nation's concern for the disadvantaged has led to better provision by Government Departments and voluntary organisations for the sick, the disabled, the elderly and unsupported mothers, but that concern has not reached prisons and their inmates. Some improvements have been made, but prison reform remains a difficult area.

I am surprised that successive Governments have not been prepared to deal with one of the major blocks in our prison system—the appalling overcrowding described by many hon. Members. The number of male prisoners who sleep three to a cell is growing. Conditions in men's prisons create many psychological and other problems with which prison medical staff and officers have to deal. The conditions brutalise both prisoners and staff.

The lack of constructive training in overcrowded men's prisons is a serious drawback to the ethos and reason for sending people to prison. The loss of liberty is the penalty. Prisoners are sent to prison not only for punishment, but to be reformed and to learn something useful that will help them when they are released. That has long since gone from the prison system in Britain. It is a serious matter which must concern us all.

The prison system is short of medical officers. The number of part-time and full-time prison medical officers increases only slowly. We rely upon the National Health Service to provide help. The increase in psychiatric disturbances in our prison system should be taken on board by the Home Secretary. He should examine whether the prison medical service can be improved.

The problems of overcrowding in our old prisons and of providing help and support to prisoners remain acute. I wish that the Home Secretary could be persuaded to examine some of the modern ideas which have been introduced into the prison systems in other parts of the world. Countries which we regard as backward often have more progressive systems than we have.

Why does the Home Secretary close his mind to the possibility of improving visiting conditions for families? Why do visits have to take place under the eye and ear of a prison officer? Why does he close his mind to the possibility of conjugal visits, especially for long-term prisoners? We are breaking up families. We are alienating husbands and wives; men and their partners. We are alienating children and parents by perpetuating the old prison system.

About 40 per cent. of long-term prisoners have a drink problem. Very little is being done to help them to get over their dependence on alcohol. What is the point of sending to prison those who are convicted of offences committed under the influence of drink? What is the point of sending drug addicts to prison? The pushers should be sent to prison. Those who are dependent on drugs need different treatment—medical and psychiatric treatment—not overcrowded prisons where such treatment is rarely available.

During this period of high inflation we need to spend more on building and on maintaining, let alone improving, the same level of service. The good buildings and equipment that we need are not available. The horrific problems of the present system are therefore compounded. There is no relief and no improvement. The prisons have to take all the men and women sent to them by the courts, however inadequate their facilities.

I agree that there are fewer women offenders than men. Women are more law-abiding than men. Mercifully we are not being pressed to build more women's prisons. Most of the offences that women commit are not crimes of violence. Generally they are petty crimes. Women should not be put in prison. They should be treated within the community, and the prisons now used for female offenders should be used for male offenders.

We need better facilities and more research into the causes of crime and into the background of delinquency and criminality. We need alternatives to custodial treatment. We need more socio-medical research. That would surely give some indication of how we can treat offenders. Long periods in prison damage the personality and create more problems for the future. They create social and family problems. Separation alienates the whole family—and I underline the effect that it has on children.

I hope that the building programme announced by the Home Secretary will go forward, because that is one of the major ways in which to alleviate the appalling conditions in our prisons.

8.47 pm
Mrs. Shelia Faith (Belper)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and I join her and other hon. Members in expressing concern about the squalid and appalling conditions of Her Majesty's prisons. We all bear in mind the words of the governor of Wormwood Scrubs and the warnings of the Prison Officers Association. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has taken on board the strong feeling that alternative arrangements to prison should be made for mentally subnormal people, alcoholics and other petty offenders.

We must, however, face up to the fact that crime has been growing constantly over the last 30 years. Although we hope that the courts will always make prison the last resort, all hon. Members must agree that in many cases imprisonment is inevitable to protect the public, particularly when crimes of violence are committed against the police and others in vulnerable occupations. Often public opinion would be outraged if the sentences were not of some length. Polls have shown that most people are deeply concerned about law and order, and we should be wrong to overlook those understandable feelings. When people hear about attacks on people and property they overlook the disgusting and disgraceful conditions in our prisons.

I do not think that anyone would quarrel with the decision taken yesterday to sentence 15-year-old boys to a total of 33 years' detention because they tortured old people. However, all hon. Members are aware that there is a crisis in our prisons and that shorter average sentences are not only desirable but an urgent necessity if we are to reduce the dangers of overcrowding. The senior judiciary and the Magistrates Association are united in agreement on that point. My right hon. Friend has also demonstrated his anxiety and has spoken today about the scale and urgency of the problem.

I congratulate the Government on finding the resources to begin such a large programme of prison building at a time of financial stringency. I welcome today's announcement. However, the programme will not solve the immediate problem. Judges and magistrates have demonstrated their understanding already and are giving shorter sentences. As the crime rate is growing, much of the effect of short sentences has been negated.

The Magistrates Association has responded by advocating shorter sentences. It has proposed a new day imprisonment scheme that would reduce overcrowding in prisons and enable men and women to maintain their employment. We all know that losing a job can be the most serious and long-lasting punishment of all. The day scheme should be examined closely with a view to possible early implementation alongside the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), who is proposing a weekend imprisonment scheme.

Many people would feel happier if they were given assurances that judges and magistrates visited prisons regularly. This issue was raised earlier in the debate by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). There are many who would like to think that judges and magistrates are in regular contact with prison governors. As a magistrate, I am well aware that all magistrates must visit a prison as part of their initial training. I remember my visit to Durham prison. The memory stayed with me with great vividness for several years. I hope that all magistrates courts committees organise regular visits to penal establishments.

It is important that prisons should be open to the public and I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that in future they will be. I hope that magistrates will avail themselves of every opportunity given them to visit prisons as soon as they feel that the memory of their previous visit is receding. I hope that they will be encouraged to do so. It must be advantageous to have the maximum possible number of channels of communication between prisons and the courts. Magistrates who are members of boards of prison visitors should be asked to address meetings to give their colleagues first-hand reports of conditions. Prison governors should attend similar meetings of magistrates frequently so that magistrates are fully aware of their problems.

Several weeks before prisoners are released they attend rehabilitation courses by the probation service. Perhaps magistrates should go to prisons and participate in the courses so that they may have the opportunity of explaining the work of the courts. That would have a two-way beneficial effect, for as well as enlightening prisoners it would give magistrates a further opportunity to visit prisons to see for themselves the squalid conditions.

Opposition Members who are up in arms about the present situation should bear in mind that the previous Labour Government cut the programme of prison building at a time of rising crime. That is why we are faced with such a enormous problem.

I do not believe that Parliament should legislate to reduce maximum sentences. Such sentences are rarely used and they have a deterrent effect. We must remember that judges and magistrates must hold a proper balance. They must interpret and apply the law without fear or favour. They must take heed of public opinion and the prevalence of certain crimes in their areas. As well as retribution, deterrence and protection of the public, the final decision on the sentence in each case must remain with the judiciary.

8.54 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I wish to deal with only one point, the education of the judiciary, which accords well with the last point made by the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith). All the discussion of that vexed problem was contained in the report of the Home Affairs Committee that was published in July. It was not mentioned in the debate until my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) made his speech. There were two Front Bench spokesmen who apparently had never read it. What is the point of having Select Committees if we do not take cognisance of what they are saying? It is significant that we reported in July and that the Home Office has not yet responded to our report, although everyone knows that that is a fundamental issue for the Home Office. Unless we press hard, the House will not receive the full benefit of Select Committees.

The only way in which we shall reduce the prison population is by cutting the sentences. The only way in which we shall cut sentences is by teaching the judiciary, not that the prisons are so full that it should not send the people there, but that there is a beneficial value in having shorter sentencing and that that will not lead to an increase in the crime rate. That is a misunderstanding which was evident in the speech by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens).

In 1973 the position in Holland was similar to that in this country. A decision was taken by the public prosecutors who appear in all criminal cases in Holland to advocate to the judiciary that it should consider halving the sentences that had been given on previous occasions. Over the years the judiciary acceded to that. In Holland there has been no significant increase in the crime rate other than the increase which is common to Western Europe. No increase has been caused by shorter sentencing. That reinforces the evidence from research in this country that the length of sentence has little effect on the incidence of crime. It does not deter and it does nothing to reform the criminal.

All that we need to do about sentencing is to try to identify the appropriate custodial sentence for cases where a custodial sentence is the only proper sentence. That seems to be less than the average tariff set up by judges over the years.

One has only to read the letter written by Lord Justice Lawton in The Times last week to see what is wrong with the judiciary's opinion. It is right to say that the prisons are overcrowded, but that is only in the remand centres and local prisons. It is right to say that in those establishments most of the prisoners are serving sentences of between 18 months and four years. On the whole they are serving those sentences for house-breaking, theft and burglary. Lord Justice Lawton claims that most of those people have had several previous convictions. That is borne out by the statistics.

Lord Justice Lawton goes on to say that there is therefore a necessity for the courts to go on increasing the sentence that they give in each successive conviction, and that that must be about the same as the present tariff, to protect the public. However, that is a fundamental flaw that the Dutch experiment exposed and that the Scottish experience also exposes. In this country we can also claim to expose the flaw by the experience following the prison officers' dispute.

During that dispute in a limited area there was a reduction in sentencing and no significant increase in the crime rate. In those circumstances the message that should go to the judiciary is not that the prison fabric is falling about us, that we do not have the space for any more prisoners, and that we do not have the money to build enough prisons quickly to cope with the prisoners, but that it is wrong to give prisoners sentences of the length that is being imposed today.

When we on the Select Committee carried out the study, we asked the Home Office to calculate the effect on the prison population of halving sentences of between 12 months and four years. The effect was dramatic. It reduced the prison population from 44,000 to about 35,000. In those circumstances the judiciary must accept that that is the proper way forward. How will it accept that? The general tool with which to bludgeon it is the suggestion of the advisory council on penal reform that the maximum should be reduced.

I remember what used to happen in cases of gross indecency. The judges were obliged to pass sentences of less than two years in cases of male gross indecency, because that was the maximum tariff. Increasingly, they came to the view that the maximum should be given in every case. They sometimes sent people convicted of four offences of gross indecency to prison for eight years. That attempt to reduce the tariff did not succeed.

Some hon. Members have criticised the Labour Government of 1974 to 1976. One of the reasons why I was not attracted to the advisory council's report was simply that merely to reduce the maxima would not necessarily reduce the tariff. The only way in which the tariff can be reduced is by teaching the judges that we do not need a tariff such as the one that Lord Justice Lawton has firmly fixed in his head after 46 years' experience in the courts.

I underwent training when I was appointed a deputy circuit judge. That meant that along with others I was invited to a conference in the Lord Chief Justice's court for one day—a Saturday—and we were given some test cases. Each group had to decide the appropriate sentences. Without exception, every sentence we suggested was more than doubled by the judge who gave us advice at the end. He came from the Court of Appeal. It was he who needed the education, not us. We were prepared to give a lighter sentence, and there was no justification for the kind of sentencing given by the judge. The Court of Appeal must change its policy. It needs educating.

When the Labour Government were in office, they set up a system under Lord Justice Bridge to educate the judiciary. There is now an institute for training the judiciary, although it is fair to say that it applies only to judges on appointment. I gather that the training involved lasts only two or three days. We need a period of six months so that the judiciary who have been trained in the courts as advocates, and have learnt the tariff there, can be taken to Holland and Sweden as well as around our prisons and shown that it is totally unnecessary. The only way in which that will be done is by insisting on it here and now. The one thing that the Home Secretary, in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor, can do is to begin a sensible system of judicial education here and now.

We cannot continue simply to depend upon the strictures of the Court of Appeal. The Home Secretary has done all that he could. He has done a good deal more than most Home Secretaries to try to persuade the Lord Chief Justice. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice has said that if the tariff were normally three years and 18 months, it would be appropriate to think in terms of about 18 months down to nine months. The effect of that in the first year has been to reduce the average Crown court sentence by only two months.

The Home Secretary takes great credit for that, but it is totally inadequate. We shall not meet the prison crisis by simply lopping a few weeks off the average sentence of 18 months to four years. There must be a significant cut, and the only way in which that will be done is to change the attitude of the judiciary. In that sense, the Home Secretary has some power. He can insist that judges should be trained for longer periods and that they should be brought into contact with the latest research upon the effects of sentencing.

I shall now resume my seat because the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) has been waiting nearly as long as I have to speak, but I hope that what I have said will be taken into account.

9.4 pm

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

At this late stage, I shall not reiterate all the problems associated with our prisons because they have already been well articulated. I am grateful to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) for giving me this opportunity to say a few words.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made an unobjectionable speech. Indeed, I told him in an intervention that I agreed with much of what he said. Whatever else may be said about the right hon. Gentleman, he has done the House a service in bringing this matter to its attention.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will know that in 1975, when Mr. Roy Jenkins was the Home Secretary, he said that the breaking point of the prison population was 42,000. It has been said before but, unfortunately, the previous Labour Government did little to try to overcome the problems.

I wish to debunk one myth: that prison has a rehabilitative effect. That is generally and increasingly accepted as a myth. A prison governor says that he has the dustbin of society, and when we consider the harm caused to prisoners' families by long periods of incarceration, that separation disrupts the basic human relationship, and that identification with the criminal community also means a rejection of the standards of normal society, we should do everything in our power to ensure that we not only have fewer people in prison for shorter periods, but also that the dehumanising aspects of prison are ameliorated in the best possible way.

It will mean trying to educate the prison population, not just to acquire skills for a job that they might find when released, but towards a complete change of attitude to life. I do not have time to say much about it but there is an experiment in Oregon in the United States of America which seeks to enrich prisoners' horizons, to stretch their minds and to teach them that they can learn to think for themselves. I commend the study of that scheme to the House.

I say nothing on the aspects raised by many hon. Members on each side of the House about the social inadequates now in prison, particularly the habitual drunken offenders. Hon. Members may have heard me speak on that aspect before and I hope that the Minister in reply will say something about the Leeds and Manchester experience. Many hon. Members consider that to be a bright light and an indicator in the direction of providing detoxification centres so that habitual drunken offenders need never find themselves in prison. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that sympathetic consideration will be given to an extension of that scheme.

In considering the financial—apart from the humanitarian—aspects of habitual drunken offenders, one recalls the May committee's report, which stated that the provision of a category B prison place costs about £40,000, whereas a converted hostel for an alcoholic costs merely £4,000. The figures show the advantage of going down that road. However, I stress that that is not the answer to the prison population crisis. It is generally accepted among hon. Members that the social inadequates and habitual drunken offenders represent only a small proportion of the total prison population.

There are two ways in which we can seek to reduce the current prison population. One is to seek further alternatives to prison sentences, which have already been mentioned. I commend to the consideration of the House community service which is a specific alternative to a custodial sentence, although that fact is not generally perceived by the general public. The other solution is the implementation of section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which I welcome and which I know my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will welcome, notwithstanding the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). It would ensure that the evidence indicating that the periods of greatest impact on a prisoner are the first few days or weeks is carried into effect. In 1977 the advisory council published an interim report about the length of prison sentences which said: We have come unanimously to the conclusion that a large number of sentences of imprisonment passed by the courts, especially in the short and medium term band of sentences, are longer than they need be in the interests either of society or of the offender. Similar comments were made by the May committee. The Home Office research study, No. 35, about the effectiveness of sentencing, stated: It can be concluded that there is no evidence that longer custodial sentences produce better results than shorter sentences. The Justices Clerks Society, in its 1976 memorandum entitled "Sentencing Principles", also followed the same path, so there is a general acceptance that that is what we should be doing.

In 1966, 72.5 per cent. of sentences were for six months or less, and only 1.8 per cent. were for more than four years. Ten years later, in 1976, 57.5 per cent. of sentences were for six months or less, and 2.9 per cent. were for more than four years. There has, therefore, been a significant change.

I agree to a certain extent that a massive programme of education is necessary to convince not only the judiciary and the magistrates but the general public that shorter sentences are the way to reduce the prison population. If the Government can convince the general public of that, they will have done a great service towards the civilisation of society.

9.11 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

If I may take just a minute, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make four quick points.

First, I do not think—

Mr. Speaker

Order. When I looked at the Opposition Front Bench, there was no sign of movement. However, if the hon. and learned Member will be literally one minute, that will be helpful.

Mr. Lawrence

I shall be brief. First, no one who believes that the judges should have flexibility in deciding what is an appropriate sentence in an appropriate case can support the motion.

Secondly, since I do not believe in early release, amnesties or the decriminalisation of offences, I am logically forced to accept that we should not send people to prison who are now being sent to prison, and/or we should have shorter prison sentences. To that extent I agree with much that has been said.

Thirdly, if we are to be more successful with our improved and larger police forces in tracking down the villains, and if we are to improve the system of criminal trial so that it convicts more of the guilty, we shall logically need more, not fewer, prisons. I am therefore driven to the conclusion that in the longer term we must build many more prisons than my right hon. Friend has in mind.

Fourthly, for the even longer term, we should start looking at the possibility that we may be wrong in saying that prison should be the place of last resort. If we were able to face offenders at an earlier stage of their offending with the inside of a prison, for however short a period, they would be far more likely to be deterred from ever wanting to return to it than they are today. An offender today can offend many times before he ever sees the inside of a prison, by which time it is too late for him to be deterred from crime.

Finally, I strongly welcome what my right hon. Friend is doing for the prison service. I only wish that he were able to do more in regard to the future building of the prison system.

9.14 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

I do not begrudge the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) his three minutes. I am not sure that I agree with everything that he said, but I am sure we all agree that his contribution was well worth the time allocated to it. [Laughter.] I did not say that it was not worth more. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows me well enough to know exactly what I meant.

When I read the Government's amendment to the motion I wondered what was in issue between us. If ever an amendment failed to make specific the way in which it differs from the motion, it is this one. When I listened to the Home Secretary I still did not believe that there was a wide gap between him and us—at least, as to the objectives of penal policy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not disagreeing with me.

Mr. Whitelaw


Mr. Archer

The right hon. Gentleman's diagnosis might have been taken directly from the Labour Party's evidence to the May committee. And we were pleased when he announced that the Government were proposing to take some action, for clearly the time for debate is over. Those who are concerned with the prison service were becoming desperate. They wished to see something done. They wished to see a sign that their voices were getting through.

So we believe that this debate, initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), has achieved a purpose. I am pleased that that thought was at least endorsed by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best). If what the Secretary of State announced fell short of what we believe to be necessary, I suspect that the fault may not lie with the right hon. Gentleman. He may have been more forthcoming about resources if he could have carried the Treasury with him and perhaps more forthcoming about reducing the prison population if he did not have to carry the weight of prejudice in his party. I absolve from that those who have taken part in the debate this evening, but I do not believe that they claim to speak for the main body of their party.

The new prison building programme does not greatly impress us. I do not believe that we are all so unimpressed as my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), for clearly present conditions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. We have some doubts about some of the specific proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) mentioned that the new wing of Wormwood Scrubs prison, as at present designed, does not provide for integral sanitation. And we share the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk that the proposals may only keep abreast of the increase. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South said, we would be happy if the proposals represented an improvement rather than an enlargement in accomodation.

The new prisons are not likely to house prisoners for about 10 years. Yet we could make a substantial difference to the atmosphere in some prisons with a fairly limited expenditure on some existing projects. Yesterday I saw a wing at one of our prisons reserved for rule 43 prisoners—those who must be kept apart from other prisoners either because they represent a danger to or fear violence from other prisoners. The problems faced by the staff in that wing were substantially greater than they needed to be, because they were working with no physical barrier between those prisoners and the others. Modest expenditure on a grille or a gate could make a great difference to their burden.

It has been said many times that the problems are not new. No one pretends that they crept up on us. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) mentioned some words of John Howard in 1777. I am indebted to Judge Stockdale's excellent book on Bedford prison for a quotation from a communication addressed by the justices of Bedford to the Government in 1783. They said: The keepers of the jails and bridewell of this County, having complained to the court that the said prisons are very much crowded by felons convicted at the different Assizes still remaining there, and the said complaint upon enquiry appearing to be well founded, it is ordered by this court that the Right Honourable Frederick Lord North one of His Majesty's principle Secretaries of State, be acquainted with the said complaint, in hopes that some method may be thought of for removing of the said convicts, which if not done, by more prisoners being from time to time committed to the said prisons … these will be rendered unhealthy and the consequences may be fatal not only to the persons confined in the said prisons, but also to the inhabitants of the Town of Bedford. The Home Secretary at the time had an answer. He said that he would send the prisoners to the hulks and that in due course they would be dispatched to America or to Botany Bay. That is an option which is no longer open to the prison authorities.

But the Bedford justices pinpointed a problem which has been with us ever since. The reason for the desperation being felt within the prison service is that the prison authorities do not control the number of people committed to their custody. Local prisons learn at the end of each day how many people have been dispatched there by the courts when the prisoners arrive at reception. No one inquires whether there is room. The prisoners are there and the authorities must find room. The training prisons do not have that problem. If they have no room they say so, and people are not sent there.

Yesterday I was privileged to visit Wandsworth prison, which is a dispersal prison for a substantial part of Britain. One of its main functions is to accommodate new prisoners until they have been assessed. They are then dispatched to the training prisons, open prisons or whatever. Because of the lack of accommodation in those prisons, Wandsworth has to accommodate the prisoners for substantially longer than necessary. Yet it cannot hold back the tide at the other end because, when the prison van arrives from the courts, it has to accommodate the prisoners. In fairness, the prison staff are not complaining bitterly. They are remarkably philosophical about the problem. But there was some feeling that, because they were coping with the problem, no one cared.

For many years the prison service was not in the news and no one was troubled. We shall not satisfy those who are most concerned with the problem by recriminations about which party was less receptive in the past. They do not want to hear such a debate. Between 1931, when there was a riot at Dartmoor, and 1969, when there was an explosion of frustration at Parkhurst, the prisons gave virtually no trouble, and were ignored. The prison officers asked for better pay and conditions. In 1958 the Wynn-Parry committee recommended that there should be little improvement in pay and conditions. There was some attempt to deal with prisoners in a positive manner, but the Mountbatten inquiry was appointed specifically to deal with the problems of custody, and quite properly recommended that those problems should have priority. Any attempt to deal with prisoners in a positive manner was again submerged in the concern for security. And that was probably right. If there were not sufficient resources, something had to be sacrificed and it should not be security.

But the pressure began to build up. Prison conditions were becoming increasingly unacceptable and tensions were becoming worse. For the prison service, the outlook was becoming increasingly bleak. Of course, there were no easy answers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) sensibly appointed the May committee to inquire into the problem. That committee reported in October 1979. The Home Secretary has had two years to consider the recommendations.

Mr. Whitelaw

We have implemented much of the report.

Mr. Archer

But it is not unreasonable to ask him tonight, two years later, to respond to the recommendations about the crisis. The matter did not simply go to sleep. In October 1980 the Prison Officers Association instituted a work-to-rule. In July 1981, the Home Affairs Committee published a report. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) that the Opposition were not oblivious to what the Committee said. If he wishes, he can examine my copy of the report. It is pretty well thumbed. A number of suggestions put forward in the debate tonight originated from the report.

There was a succession of articles in the press. There was a television programme about Strangeways prison. The recriminations about which of us failed in the past have been submerged. Until today, those who actually had to contend with the difficulty were becoming increasingly desperate. They had seen no sign of their voice being heard. Happily, all those who have taken part in the debate can now reassure them that their views are taken seriously.

Again and again during the debate we have heard complaints about conditions in prisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever) described conditions in Winson Green. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) described conditions in Manchester. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East spoke about visiting regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South expressed anxieties about the prison medical service.

One thing that has emerged from both sides of the House is that the test of a civilisation is how it treats its offenders. Judged by that test, this country falls short of civilised standards. It stands condemned on two counts. First, what we have done is inhumane. Of course, those serving prison sentences have not deserved well of the community. They cannot complain if they undergo punishment. But, as The Times pointed out in its leader on Tuesday, their punishment is deprivation of liberty. That was echoed eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South. We would not suggest that while they are suffering that deprivation they should be more comfortably housed and fed and have more amenities than the rest of the community, but it is no part of the calculation that, in addition to the deprivation of liberty, they should suffer degrading conditions and loss of all human dignity.

Of course, they are not the most attractive of people, but human rights are not about the most attractive of people. It is easy to be in favour of human rights for those who appeal to us. One can always get support for a press campaign in favour of a pretty girl, an appealing child or a charismatic hero. The test of our commitment to human rights is what we do about those who do not attract us, those whose company we would not normally seek. The test of a civilisation is how it treats its outcasts, wrongdoers and non-conformists. It is not suggested that they should be rewarded for their wrongdoing, but that they should not be deprived beyond what is a proper measure of punishment. That is what is meant by saying that they, too, have rights.

Secondly, as The Times leader pointed out, it is a shortsighted course. Of course, some people must be incarcerated for the protection of the community. Of course, it is sometimes necessary to impose a heavy penalty on wrongdoers in order to deter other wrongdoers. But the best way of protecting potential victims, if we can achieve that, is to reform the wrongdoer—to enlist him on the side of the community. If we do not achieve that—and we shall not always achieve it—we have a problem, because, unless we hold the wrongdoer in a secure institution for the whole of his life, one day he will be released. No one will be better off if he is released degraded, embittered and brutalised, particularly if he has also employed the last few years learning from his fellow prisoners new techniques for crime, new contacts among the underworld, new ways of harassing the community. If our penal institutions are just academies of crime, we have the worst of all worlds.

Even in the best of conditions, our prisons are not likely to have a high success rate of reform. That has been said repeatedly in the debate, and we all recognise it. Many of those who go to them are people who cannot be accommodated smoothly within any community; they are aggressive, selfish and mean. An enclosed, artificial community, consisting by definition of a high proportion of anti-social characters, will have its problems.

Those whose lives are devoted to working with them are at risk in a number of ways. They are at risk, day in and day out, of physical violence. We would be lacking in humanity if in any equation we did not give credit for that. They are at risk of malicious complaints by people who will not shrink, sometimes, from telling lies. If a complaint is made, it is not always easy for them to refute it. Where they try to form a constructive relationship with prisoners, they are at risk from allegations of corruption. So it is understandable that they are constantly afraid that they and their difficulties are in danger of being overlooked, particularly where their pay and conditions of service do not reflect a high degree of recognition from the community. I do not believe that that is now their major complaint, but I think that the focus of what they really want is an assurance that someone cares.

We must keep in mind the need for justice for three groups: the community at large, the offenders, and those who spend their lives dealing with the offenders.

A great deal of this debate is about how we can reduce the prison population. I do not propose to rehearse all the arguments that we have heard this evening, but basically there are three groups of people whom we ought to have in mind. First, there are the unconvicted remand prisoners—those awaiting trial who have not been granted bail. They probably represent the heaviest burden on the prison staff. In terms of time and trouble, a prisoner is probably at his most demanding at times of admission, transfer and release, when he or she must be escorted to and from the court.

I recently visited Holloway prison, which, in addition to all the other purposes that it serves, is the remand prison for a very wide area. It is obvious that conveying prisoners to the courts—sometimes miles away—demands the attention of many prison officers each day, who could otherwise be doing more positive jobs. On a day when a large number of escorts were required, classes, therapy units and all the other activities that we have discussed so glibly had to be cancelled.

Some 50,000 people a year on remand pass through prisons. On one day, 30 June 1980, more than 4,500 people were on remand untried out of a total custodial population of just under 44,000. Of those, about 1,600 were subsequently found not guilty or received non-custodial sentences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk pointed out, such people often suffer the worst degradation because they are in the worst accommodation.

During the Committee stage of the Supreme Court Bill, I ventured to initiate a debate on the ways in which such people might be kept out of prison and on how their cases might be put more articulately to the judges in chambers who have to decide such cases. What we said on that occasion did not commend itself to the Government, but it is a matter to which we shall return. It may not make a vast impact on the numbers in custody, but it will make a substantial impact on the burden falling on prison officers.

The second category is those who should not be in prison because they are mentally ill, drunks or inadequates. That has been mentioned during the debate many times. I should have liked to discuss that problem, but time does not permit me to do so. However, I endorse what many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said about that.

The May committee recognised the difficulties and reached two conclusions. First, it said: As in so many other cases, therefore, prisons pay the penalty for being the resources that are available as opposed to the one that is appropriate in the particular case. And it said that we should look at the whole category of persistent petty offenders and encourage all the experiments that we can by the probation service, the local authorities, the Department of Health and Social Security and the voluntary agencies, to see how that part of the prison population can be reduced.

The third category of persons in our prisons which could be reduced is that which sparked off the recent debate. I refer to those for whom other forms of punishment must be more appropriate. The May committee pointed out that, while the population of England and Wales is about four times that of the Netherlands, the prison population is more than 12 times that of the Netherlands. The Netherlands does not seem to be experiencing a breakdown in law and order.

I was recently privileged to hear an account by Mr. Clive Morgan of the Gwent scheme for community service. Obviously the candidates have to be chosen with care and much depends on the quality and patience of the supervisors. Much depends on the co-operation of the local community in terms of finding the candidates jobs, but it has turned out to be a constructive alternative for those who would otherwise be adding to the prison population.

We were pleased to hear the Home Secretary announce an increase of about 150 in the probation service. If such experiments are to mean anything at all, they will be demanding in terms of the time of probation officers. Perhaps the Home Secretary, together with the Treasury, will consider whether these modest resources will be sufficient, because there has already been great concern among probation officers that those who have completed their training find difficulty in obtaining employment. It may be that the 150 are less than the number that we require for the running we must do to stay in the same place.

The other area of debate related to reducing the length of sentences. Virtually everyone agreed that there is no merit in long rather than short sentences. We have heard that again and again. We heard it from the May committee, the advisory council on the penal system and the Select Committee on Home Affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for York made that case articulately this evening, so it would be superfluous to repeat it. I am not suggesting that simply by reducing maximum sentences we can automatically reduce the length of sentences which the courts pass, but I do not believe that the courts would not loyally follow a reduction by Parliament of maximum sentences. I believe that they would follow it when considering not only the maximum end of the scale, but throughout the scale. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for York that the training for deputy judges is a little more sophisticated now than when he underwent such training. It still may not be sufficient, but it is improving all the time. And, in fairness, one should say that the higher judiciary has recognised the need for shorter sentences. The present Lord Chief Justice has shown that he is acutely aware of the problem. For the first time in history a Lord Chief Justice has given a lead towards shorter sentences simply on the ground that prisons cannot accommodate any more prisoners.

I had wanted to say something about the Home Secretary's proposals and the way in which he has been persuaded out of his first thoughts, which I still believe were the best. My hon. Friends have made that case again and again, and I should not be performing any service to the House by taking up more time analysing it. I accept, of course, that if the House came to a decision the judiciary would not seek to frustrate it. But the judiciary's reasoning leaves me a little puzzled. If it is true that all those who are now serving short sentences will inevitably re-offend the moment that they are released, it does not matter much which scheme we choose. In any event, we shall not reduce the prison population. But if some prisoners are not likely to re-offend and if there is a prospect that they will become rehabilitated, giving them that opportunity will not only have a beneficial effect on the community, but will reduce the burden on the prison service.

So we are not satisfied with the Home Secretary's announcement. We believe that he is a humane man who is as horrified by the existing conditions as any hon. Member who has spoken. That is also true of the Minister of State. But the prison governors, the prison officers and prisoners serving their sentences—who are not always heard speaking with one voice—all say the same thing on this issue. It is clear that all three goups have virtually reached the limits of their endurance. In the name of humanity, they are looking for a sign that the House has grasped the situation.

In that context, we welcome what the Home Secretary said, as far as it went, but we still believe that it is too little, too late. That is why we shall divide the House.

9.36 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I am sorry that the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) should have ended on a note of such disappointment and scepticism. I thought it a little hard that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should have been upbraided by him for tardiness in implementing the May committee's recommendations and that the prison officers' dispute should have been held up as an illustration of that. The prison officers' dispute took place because my right hon. Friend sought to implement those recommendations.

I shall refer later to the building programme that my right hon. Friend announced, but I take it a little hard that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West should say that the prison programme announced today did not greatly impress hon. Members. It can fairly be described as the largest prison building programme—both in terms of new construction and of major reconstruction—so far this century. It ill becomes a representative of the Labour Party, which did so very little in its last term of office, to say that the programme does not greatly impress him.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned remand prisoners. Of course, we are deeply concerned about the length of time that they have to spend awaiting trial. In the eye of the law they are innocent, but they constitute about one-sixth of the prison population. However, unless we legislate for bail to be more readily available—which would not be wise or justifiable—we can only shorten the length of time they spend in prison by shortening the delay in coming to trial.

The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have been paying close attention to the problem. Considerable progress has been made in the South-East, which is the worst area for delays in coming to trial. I assure the House that we regard this matter as serious and that considerable progress has been made. This is the second debate within a week in which hon. Members have had the opportunity to debate a motion that includes the crisis in our prisons. I welcome it. The more that is known about the subject the better.

As several hon. Members have remarked, no one has done more than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the last two-and-a-half years to draw attention to the crisis. All hon. Members who have spoken have at least been united in their condemnation of conditions in many of our prisons and in the recognition of the compelling need for change. I am not referring to all prisons. Some stand comparison with the best in the world. In far too many, however, the conditions, as the Government amendment recognises, are an affront to a civilised society and equally a continued threat to law and order. Those conditions bear not only upon the inmates but also, heavily, upon the prison service for whom I express, on behalf of the Government, the warmest admiration.

It is not true—this is greatly to the credit of the prison service—that those who work in prisons are at the end of their tether, although they earnestly wish to see better prison conditions to do the constructive part, as distinct from the straight containing part, of their job. I went to Brixton prison early this morning. I should like to express my deep appreciation of the wise, humane and discreet way in which prison officers there are carrying out their duties in difficult circumstances.

Of those conditions, overcrowding is certainly the worst and has to be reduced. The causes of the overcrowding are complex. It does no justice to the problem to contend that the number of offenders sentenced to prison and the length of custodial sentences should be reduced by the Home Secretary, as the motion seeks. We have to remind ourselves, for reasons far more important than mere linguistics, that, within the framework laid down by Parliament, it is for the judiciary and not for the Executive to determine sentences in such a way as to meet the justice of each particular case—justice between the offender and the State, in which respect I take note of the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, justice between the offender and his victim and justice between one offender and another. This is central but it is not reflected in the Opposition motion. The scale of the demands on the prison system must always remain doubly uncertain. The rate of crime is unpredictable and the judicial response to it must always vary according to the circumstances.

Governments have a responsibility that is partly expressed in two propositions. The first is that long prison sentences must always be available for those convicted of violent offences so that, for the duration of those sentences at least, they shall not be in a position to injure the public further. The second is that sufficient and humane prison accommodation must always be available as a front line of defence for the public. These propositions are reflected in the Government amendment. No less important, the amendment describes the means by which they can properly be fulfilled, including a reduction of the prison population through the encouragement of non-custodial sentences and a sustained prison building programme.

Hon. Members have raised questions such as the choice between supervised release or partially suspended sentences and the prison building programme. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I postpone my response on those topics until later in my speech. The other topics to attract most attention have been the problems of fine defaulters and maintenance defaulters in prison, the mentally disordered, drunks, remand prisoners, lower maximum sentences and the position and the attitudes of the judiciary.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) congratulated my right hon. Friend on having done more than his two predecessors. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He can say it again and, to do him justice, he has said it previously. The hon. Gentleman, like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who opened the debate, called for an amnesty.

In my view, more injustice than justice is associated with an amnesty. We should think, for example, of those who are excluded from an amnesty by being one week too late. That is a defeat for everyone who believes in the judicial determination of these matters. Moreover, one amnesty is expected to beget another. I noted with pleasure that the right hon. Gentleman felt that there was a place for deterrence in prison sentences, but the deterrent feature of a prison sentence is greatly undermined by the expectation of an amnesty. So amnesties are completely unacceptable.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk and others spoke of the desirability of reducing maximum sentences. That will not meet the position. Maximum sentences are seldom imposed and, when they are, it is to meet exceptionally bad crime. We need to seek to encourage a reduction of the normal or the average length. It would not be right to cut down maximum sentences in the way suggested, for example, by the advisory council on the penal system. If we did that, we should not allow sufficient scope for the courts to deal with really serious offences. The hon. Gentleman also said that the Magistrates' Association is against partially suspended sentences. That is not so, as can be seen from the letter written to The Times a few days ago by the chairman of that association, Lady Ralphs, when she said that she had one major reservation but that it had now been dealt with.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) made a speech which was an ornament to this debate. He condemned the implication in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the courts are manned only by judges waiting for the opportunity to send people to prison. He said that, had no steps been taken by the judiciary as well as by anyone else, to change the pattern that was apparent by 1970 and 1971, the Home Office forecasts were that there would be not 45,000, not 55,000, but as many as 65,000 people in prison by the end of this decade, or shortly afterwards. The point that he justifiably made was that the judiciary has recognised the need for shorter sentences and has implemented them in its policy.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that in 1974–79 a Government were in power who took no action. I shall come back to that matter in the context of the prison building programme, or the absence of such, during those years. He said that prison must be a traumatic event, and that a short prison sentence can meet the need for deterrence. I believe that that is more widely understood. If we were to increase remission, he feared that the sentence would be increased. I think that there is justification for that belief, in the light of the consultations that we have had.

When my right hon. and learned Friend said that he was a cynic about section 47, and founded that cynicism upon what happened in cases of suspended sentences, he was not comparing like with like. Fully suspended sentences have to be all or nothing. They were mandatory in the case of a six-months' sentence, or less for several years after they were introduced. That was very unpopular with the courts, as mandatory sentences always are, and that distorted the consequences. He asked about the parole rate failure. It is under 10 per cent.—or so it is believed. I think that I have dealt with my hon. and learned Friend's principal questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), who is so well-versed in these matters, asked a number of questions. I am grateful for his congratulations on what my right hon. Friend announced today. He asked about weekend prisons. I can do no better than to refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) said about them. He pointed to the difficult practical considerations that arise, not only for resources but for the prison service. He said that if someone has to lose his liberty, let him do so, and, if not, let him stay at large in the community. He said that there should be no halfway house. We shall re-examine that question, but there is much to be said in favour of what my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) said about that. We shall continue to encourage the use of senior attendance centres. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not take further time to deal with the other important points that he made.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) who said that the judiciary has let the Home Secretary down. There are many reasons why the number of committals fell during the prison officer's dispute. There is no ground whatsoever for the slur that the hon. Gentleman put upon the judiciary. He said that the prison service contained many people who displayed racial prejudice. He feared that that was so. I reject that slur. I can draw upon personal experience, although mine is only an impression. At Brixton prison at 7.30 this morning I heard a report in the warmest terms by a white prison officer about a black prison officer who was said to be a very fine prison officer indeed. That is typical of the general view in the prison service, and I am not in the least surprised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington will forgive me if I do not go as deeply as I should like into his speech. He said that he supported persuading the judiciary to give shorter sentences. He said that he was in favour of supervised release and of the principle that the court itself should decide. I agree. My hon. Friend also made an important point about crime prevention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said that she was in favour of partially suspended sentences. She supported them as Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee as far back as 1978. I am glad that we are able to meet her request. We shall certainly keep under careful review whether offences should remain imprisonable, and, if so, what the maximum sentence should be. My hon. Friend asked about that.

I hope that other hon. Members will forgive me if I do not deal specifically with their remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) insisted that the final decision on early release should remain with the judiciary. That weighed heavily in the decision that my right hon. Friend has taken.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) referred to the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal. They are giving a clear lead on the need for shorter sentences where they are consistent with the protection of the public. Sentencing is a matter of the greatest concern. The hon. Gentleman should know of the great care that is taken to instruct new arrivals on the judicial bench in modern sentencing theories. It is wrong to imply that the judiciary has fixed ideas in that regard.

We should be wrong to place all our faith in attempts to improve prison conditions and shorten sentences. We must encourage non-custodial sentences and widen the range available to the courts. That is the effect of the Bill introduced today. But we cannot ignore, as does the Opposition's motion, the building of more prisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said in an intervention that the motion was silent on that point. That is an extraordinary omission, as many hon. Members have noticed.

It is instructive to examine the decisions by the last Labour Government from which our overcrowding problems today in part derive. In 1974 that Government inherited a prison department that envisaged a continuing programme of new prison building, coupled with increasing emphasis on redevelopment of the Victorian cell blocks. Those words are from one of the annual reports of the prison department. The then Government inherited a prison department that was looking forward to a continuing programme. That takes up the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn, who was more responsible, under the then Home Secretary, than anyone for laying the foundations for that expectation.

I quote from the annual reports on the work of the prison department. The 1974 report stated that as part of the review of the present building programme it became necessary to abandon plans for two more category C prisons at Gartree in Leicestershire and Wrabness in Essex, which would have provided some 1,600 places for inmates in the lower security categories and to defer other schemes. The 1975 report stated: As a result of the 1975 public expenditure survey, the estimated expenditure for the present building programme for the years 1975–76 to 1978–79 was reduced by over £40 million. This has meant the indefinite deferment of three major schemes that were to produce 1,600 places by 1979–80. Five other schemes were also deferred. Together, these five schemes would have produced just over 1,700 new places in the years after 1979–80. The 1976 report stated: At a time when the prison population (and the proportion of prisoners requiring higher degrees of security) is continuing to increase and essential services, as well as actual accommodation in older establishments are a continuing cause for concern, a reduced prison building programme presents the Prison Department with the difficult issue of conflicting priorities. It becomes more a question of allocating resources so as to ensure minimum dislocation than of ensuring steady progress. In 1977, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn has already reminded us, the report stated: The essential redevelopment of the Victorian estate seemed in 1977 more remote than at any time in the last 30 years. Therefore, the inheritance to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary succeeded in May 1979 was not a happy one. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), twitting me about section 47 and the partially suspended sentences, said that I was a civil lawyer. The Roman lawyers would have called my right hon. Friend's inheritance a hereditas damnosa, one that called immediately for extremely large expenditure, and not one to be welcomed. Much of the harm had been done by the cancellations and deferments of the previous Labour Government. They were the less excusable because they coincided with an annual rise in the prison population of ominous proportions. The extent of their effect on planned new prison places can be gauged from the extracts that I have quoted from the annual reports of the prison department.

It is true that we inherited from that Government a belated programme of prison starts, as distinct from building, in 1981–82 and 1982–83 and of thoughts for starts in the following year. We have developed and greatly expanded that programme into what my hon. Friend has described as the largest prison building programme for a century.

It is rubbish to talk of capitulation when my right hon. Friend has steered away from what he at first put forward as "something to be discussed" in the foreword of the Red Book, "The Review of Parole", a document available as a basis for informed discussion of these matters. This is not a newspaper proprietor, for example, who has been defeated on what he has described as his last offer. Not in the least. This is the Home Secretary who has heeded the consultations that he specifically invited. It is not enough to deplore the conditions that exist in so many of our prisons, deplorable though they are. It is not enough to call on the Home Secretary to make the prisoners fewer or their sentences shorter. The House must go deeper than that and, just as tenaciously, it must hold to the concept of an independent judiciary. The strategy by which we can do that is to be found in our amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided:Ayes 231, Noes 287.

Division No. 14] [10 pm
Abse, Leo Anderson, Donald
Adams, Allen Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Allaun, Frank Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Alton, David Ashton, Joe
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Hamilton, James(Bothwell)
Bagier, GordonA.T. Hamilton, W. W. (C'tralFife)
Barnett, Guy(Greenwich) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel(H'wd) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Beith,A.J. Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Heffer, EricS.
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp'tN) Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)
Bidwell, Sydney Holland, S.(L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Boothroyd, MissBetty HomeRobertson, John
Bradley, Tom Homewood, William
Bray, DrJeremy Hooley, Frank
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Horamjohn
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Howells, Geraint
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Hoyle, Douglas
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS) Huckfield, Les
Brown, Ron(E'burgh, Leith) Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Mark(Durham)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Callaghan, Jim(Midd't'n&P Janner, HonGreville
Campbell, Ian Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Campbell-Savours, Dale John, Brynmor
Cant, R. B. Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Carmichael, Neil Johnston, Russell(Inverness)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Cartwright, John Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cohen, Stanley Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Lambie, David
Conlan, Bernard Lamborn, Harry
Cowans, Harry Lamond, James
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Leadbitter, Ted
Crawshaw, Richard Lestor, Miss Joan
Crowther, Stan Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Cryer, Bob Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Litherland, Robert
Cunningham, G. (IslingtonS) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunningham, DrJ. (W'h'n) Lyon, Alexander(York
Dalyell, Tam Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Davidson, Arthur McDonald, DrOonagh
Davies, RtHonDenzil (L 'lli) McKay, Allen(Penistone)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McKelvey, William
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) MacKenzie, RtHon Gregor
Deakins, Eric McMahon, Andrew
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McNally, Thomas
Dempsey, James McNamara, Kevin
Dewar, Donald McTaggart, Robert
Dixon, Donald McWilliam, John
Dobson, Frank Magee, Bryan
Dormand, Jack Marks, Kenneth
Douglas, Dick Marshall, D(G'gowS'ton)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Marshall, DrEdmund (Goole)
Dubs, Alfred Martin, M(G'gowS'burn)
Duffy, A. E. P. Maxton, John
Dunnett, Jack Maynard, MissJoan
Dunwoody, Hon MrsG. Meacher, Michael
Eadie, Alex Mellish, RtHonRobert
Ellis, R. (NED'bysh're) Mikardo, Ian
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Millan, RtHonBruce
English, Michael Mitchell, Austin(Grimsby)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Evans, John (Newton) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ewing, Harry Morton, George
Faulds, Andrew Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Fitch, Alan Newens, Stanley
Flannery, Martin Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) O'Halloran, Michael
Forrester, John O'Neill, Martin
Foster, Derek Palmer, Arthur
Foulkes, George Park, George
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Parker, John
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Pendry, Tom
Garrett, John (NorwichS) Penhaligon, David
George, Bruce Pitt, WilliamHenry
Gilbert, Rt Hon DrJohn Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Ginsburg, David Prescott, John
Golding, John Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Graham, Ted Race, Reg
Grant, John (IslingtonC) Radice, Giles
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Roberts, Alan (Bootle) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Thomas, Mike (NewcastleE)
Robertson, George Thomas, DrR. (Carmarthen)
Robinson, G. (CoventryNW) Thorne, Stan (PrestonSouth)
Rodgers, Rt Hon William Tilley, John
Rooker, J. W. Torney, Tom
Roper, John Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wainwright, E.(DearneV)
Rowlands, Ted Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Sever, John Watkins, David
Sheerman, Barry Weetch, Ken
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Welsh, Michael
Shore, Rt Hon Peter White, FrankR.
Short, Mrs Renée White, J. (G'gowPollok)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Whitehead, Phillip
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Whitlock, William
Silverman, Julius Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Skinner, Dennis Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark) Wilson, Gordon (DundeeE)
Snape, Peter Wilson, RtHonSirH. (H'ton)
Soley, Clive Wilson, William (C'trySE)
Spearing, Nigel Winnick, David
Spriggs, Leslie Woodall, Alec
Stallard, A.W. Woolmer, Kenneth
Steel, Rt Hon David Wrigglesworth, Ian
Stoddart, David Wright, Sheila
Stott, Roger
Strang, Gavin Tellers for the Ayes:
Straw, Jack Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. James Tinn.
Summerskill, HonDrShirley
Adley, Robert Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)
Aitken, Jonathan Chalker, Mrs.Lynda
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Chapman, Sydney
Ancram, Michael Churchill, W.S.
Arnold, Tom Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Aspinwall, Jack Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Robert(PrestonN) Clegg, SirWalter
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Cockeram, Eric
Baker, Nicholas (NDorset) Colvin, Michael
Banks, Robert Cope, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cormack, Patrick
Bell, SirRonald Corrie, John
Bendall, Vivian Costain, SirAlbert
Benyon, Thomas(A'don) Cranborne, Viscount
Berry, HonAnthony Critchley, Julian
Best, Keith Crouch, David
Bevan, DavidGilroy Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dickens, Geoffrey
Blackburn, John Dorrell, Stephen
Blaker, Peter Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.
Body, Richard Dover, Denshore
Bonsor, SirNicholas du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Dunn, Robert(Dartford)
Bowden, Andrew Dykes, Hugh
Braine, SirBernard Eden, RtHonSirJohn
Bright, Graham Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Brinton, Tim Eggar, Tim
Brittan, Rt.Hon.Leon Elliott, SirWilliam
Brooke, HonPeter Emery, Peter
Brotherton, Michael Fairgrieve, SirRussell
Brown, Michael (Brigg&SC'n) Faith, MrsSheila
Browne, John(Winchester) Farr, John
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fell, Anthony
Bryan, SirPaul Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt.Hon.A. Fisher, SirNigel
Buck, Antony Fletcher, A.(Ed'nb'ghN)
Budgen, Nick Fletcher-Cooke, SirCharles
Bulmer, Esmond Fookes, Miss Janet
Burden, SirFrederick Forman, Nigel
Butcher, John Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Cadbury, Jocelyn Fox, Marcus
Carlisle, John (LutonWest) Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fraser, Peter (SouthAngus)
Fry, Peter Meyer, SirAnthony
Gardiner, George(Reigate) Miller, Hal(B'grove)
Gardner, Edward (SFylde) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mills,Peter (West Devon)
Gilmour, Rt Hon SirIan Miscampbell, Norman
Glyn, DrAlan Moate, Roger
Goodhart, SirPhilip Monro, SirHector
Goodhew, Victor Montgomery, Fergus
Goodlad, Alastair Moore, John
Gorst, John Morgan, Geraint
Gow, Ian Morris, M. (N'hamptonS)
Gower, SirRaymond Morrison, HonC. (Devizes)
Gray, Hamish Morrison, HonP. (Chester)
Greenway, Harry Mudd, David
Griffiths, E.(B'ySt.Edm'ds) Murphy, Christopher
Griffiths, PeterPortsm'thN) Myles, David
Grist, Ian Neale, Gerrard
Grylls, Michael Needham, Richard
Gummer, JohnSelwyn Nelson, Anthony
Hamilton, HonA. Neubert, Michael
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Newton, Tony
Hampson, DrKeith Normanton, Tom
Hannam, John Nott, RtHonJohn
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Cranley
Hastings, Stephen Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Page, Richard (SWHerts)
Hawksley, Warren Parkinson, RtHonCecil
Hayhoe, Barney Parris, Matthew
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Patten, Christopher(Bath)
Heddle, John Patten, John(Oxford)
Henderson, Barry Pattie, Geoffrey
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Percival, SirIan
Hicks, Robert Peyton, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Pink, R.Bonner
Hogg, HonDouglas(Gr'th'm) Pollock, Alexander
Holland, Philip(Carlton) Porter, Barry
Hooson, Tom Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hordern, Peter Price, SirDavid (Eastleigh)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Prior, Rt Hon James
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'Idf'd) Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hunt, John(Ravensbourne) Raison, Timothy
Irving. Charles (Cheltenham) Rathbone, Tim
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
JohnsonSmith, Geoffrey Rees-Davies, W. R.
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Renton, Tim
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rhodes James, Robert
Kaberry, SirDonald RhysWilliams, SirBrandon
Kellett-Bowman, MrsElaine Ridley, HonNicholas
Kitson, SirTimothy Ridsdale, SirJulian
Knox, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Lang, Ian Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Latham, Michael Roberts, M. (CardiffNW)
Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rossi, Hugh
Lee, John Rost, Peter
LeMarchant, Spencer Royle, SirAnthony
Lennox-Boyd, HonMark Sainsbury, HonTimothy
Lester, Jim (Beeston) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Sandelson, Neville
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Scott, Nicholas
Luce, Richard Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Lyell, Nicholas Shelton, William(Streatham)
McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)
Macfarlane, Neil Shepherd, Richard
MacGregorJohn Shersby, Michael
MacKay, John (Argyll) Silvester, Fred
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Sims, Roger
McNair-Wilson, M (N'bury) Skeet, T. H. H.
McNair-Wilson, P. (NewF'st) Speller, Tony
Madel, David Spence, John
Major, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Marland, Paul Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marshall, Michael(Arundel) Sproat, Iain
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Squire, Robin
Maude, Rt Hon SirAngus Stanbrook, Ivor
Mawby, Ray Stanley, John
Mawhinney, DrBrian Steen, Anthony
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stevens, Martin
Mayhew, Patrick Stewart, Rt Hon D(W Isles)
Stewart, A. (ERenfrewshire) Waller, Gary
Stokes, John Walters, Dennis
Tapsell, Peter Ward, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'endE) Warren, Kenneth
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Watson, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wellbeloved, James
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M. Wells, John (Maidstone)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Donald Wheeler, John
Thorne, Neil(IlfordSouth) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Thornton, Malcolm Whitney, Raymond
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wickenden, Keith
Townsend, Cyril D,(B'heath) Winterton, Nicholas
vanStraubenzee, SirW. Wolfson, Mark
Vaughan, DrGerard Young, SirGeorge(Acton)
Viggers, Peter Younger, Rt Hon George
Waddington, David
Wakeham, John Tellers for the Noes:
Waldegrave, HonWilliam Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Walker, B. (Perth)
Wall, SirPatrick

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, recognising that, as a result of increasing crime and decades of neglect, conditions in many of Her Majesty's Prisons are now both an affront to a civilised society and a continued threat to law and order, endorses the Government's strategy of providing new and improved prison accommodation through a sustained building programme, and of seeking the reduction in the prison population by encouraging the use by the courts of non-custodial sentences and shorter sentences of imprisonment, consistent with the need to protect the public.

Back to