HC Deb 24 June 1982 vol 26 cc420-1
8. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the longest period of time a person currently in prison has been on remand in custody; and what steps he proposes to take to reduce the number of persons held on remand in custody.

Mr. Mayhew

The first part of the question could be answered only at disproportionate cost. The size of the remand population of prisons depends on the volume of prosecutions where remand in custody may be justified and on the time that cases take to come to trial. Several initiatives to reduce waiting times have been taken.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Why could the first part of the question be answered only at disproportionate cost when the hon. and learned Gentleman has told me that two people in prison have been on remand for more than two years? Surely one needs only to know which of the two has been waiting the longest. Does he agree that that appallingly inadequate answer disguises the fact that 117 prisoners have been in custody on remand in the most appalling conditions for between 18 months and two years? Does he agree that that is a serious and indefensible blot on our criminal justice system?

Mr. Mayhew

It is regrettable when people must wait in custody for anything like the time that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The question that was answered on 27 May was more specific and capable of being answered without disproportionate cost. That is not so with this question.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that I spent the morning in Wormwood Scrubs and that examining the provision of education there was a salutory experience? I found the provision of education for prisoners on remand to be low—indeed, almost non-existent.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting observation, but he must ask a question.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. and learned Friend examine the question of education for prisoners on remand, especially those who are on remand for a long time?

Mr. Mayhew

I welcome my hon. Friend back. I acknowledge that education is one of the services that are impeded by the present overcrowding in remand prisons. My right hon. Friend's firm intention is to do everything in his power to reduce overcrowding.

Mr. Hattersley

What is the objection to adopting the Scottish system and specifying the period within which a person on remand must be brought to trial?

Mr. Mayhew

The objections were set out fully when the matter was debated in Committee and on Report of the Criminal Justice Bill. That system would make little difference here. When the delay is not shown to be the fault of the prosecution, the 110-day rule is waived.

Mr. John Wells

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the entire prison population seems to want to come and live in Maidstone? Day by day and week by week I receive letters from prisoners who want to be moved to Maidstone, because Kent is a nice area. Is that plethora of letters exceptional, or do others want to go to other prisons?

Mr. Mayhew

My right hon. Friend cannot be responsible for the consequences of my hon. Friend's popularity as Member of Parliament for Maidstone. I am sorry that he is to retire. Maidstone is a training prison. The regime of a training prison is in many respects much more attractive to inmates than that of other prisons.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the Minister take steps to require prison authorities to ensure that administrative convenience is not placed above the interests of justice? Will he also ensure that, when a judge recommends that a prisoner should not be transferred prior to his trial so that he can be properly represented in the week before his trial, that recommendation will be adhered to?

Mr. Mayhew

I am sure that it is the desire of all who are concerned with these difficult matters to do all that is practicable to ensure that the interests of justice are served.