HC Deb 05 March 1981 vol 1000 cc400-1
1. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will list the proposed capital improvements to Her Majesty's prisons programme for the current financial year.

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

It would not be practicable to list these. Details of the major projects in the building programme are published each year in the prison department annual report and I shall gladly supply my hon Friend with information about specific projects if he wishes.

Mr. Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware, as he may be, that there are rumours—as is usual at this time of the year—that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find extra money in the Budget for public works? Since the prison service has been deprived for too long, will my right hon. Friend submit a special claim to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and point out that money spent on capital works in the prison service can not only have an improving effect on prisoners' rehabilitation and so on, but can prove to be a cost saving, because expenditure on capital works can save revenue expenditure?

Mr. Whitelaw

In the present financial circumstances, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has treated me very reasonably as regards, prison maintenance, money and new prisons for the future. Therefore, I am doing more than has been done for a long time. However, I agree that a great deal more needs to be done and that much of what has to be done to prevent old prisons from falling down would be extremely cost effective in the long run.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall the May committee's estimate that about £720 million would be required solely to maintain an adequate standard for the present prison population? Since such public expenditure is unlikely, will he not agree that a commitment to a radical reduction in the prison population is essential if conditions for both staff and prisoners are not to deteriorate further?

Mr. Whitelaw

The need to deal with severe overcrowding in the prisons is well known to the House. But the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that even with measures to reduce overcrowding, if we were to manage that by voluntary means—which I should prefer to see—it would still be necessary to spend large sums of money to maintain existing prisons and to build new prisons for the future. They are complementary features, not opposites.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the building of prisons, because of the time taken in planning and building, is no short-term answer and no short-term solution to the problem of overcrowding in our prisons? Will he consider introducing custody and control orders of the sort recommended by the Younger committee, but extended to adult prisoners so that the Home Secretary could decide how much of a sentence would be spent in custody and how much under the control of the Home Secretary on licence? Does—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is unreasonable to ask such a long supplementary question. This is not a debate.

Mr. Gardner

I apologise for speaking too long. I merely wanted to say that I want the courts to make the decision about how long a sentence should be served and the Home Secretary to have the decision about the way in which a sentence should be served.

Mr. Whitelaw

What my hon. and learned Friend has proposed will be considered in the debate, which is bound to continue in the House and outside, about penal reform as it affects the courts and the prisons. I am grateful for what the Lord Chief Justice has said and for the lead that he is giving on voluntary measures aimed at reaching shorter sentences for non-violent offenders. I hope that will continue. Any measures that the House might take in the future should be complementary to the voluntary effort of the Lord Chief Justice, and 1 am anxious to see that we work to that end.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to be entirely fair, I must point out that every one of the supplementary questions so far has been long. I hope that we can have shorter supplementary questions.