HC Deb 20 May 1982 vol 24 cc458-9
9. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many persons were held in prisons in England and Wales at the latest available date.

Mr. Mayhew

The total prison population was about 44,300 on 14 May.

Mr. Lyons

As the prisons are grossly overcrowded, against a background of a very low detection rate for crime, what plans has the Minister to deal with the total breakdown of the prison system in the event of an increase in the detection rate, particularly as the Criminal Justice Bill will, at best, make only a marginal improvement?

Mr. Mayhew

The question is hypothetical. We place much reliance on the trend established by the Court of Appeal and the judiciary, after judgment had been given in the Upton and Bibi cases, which led to a shortening of sentences of non-violent offenders. We believe that the Criminal Justice Bill will make substantial improvements in that direction.

Dr. Summerskill

How does the hon. and learned Gentleman explain the fact that during the few months of the prison officers' dispute the prison population was reduced by more than 4,000? What lessons has the hon. and learned Gentleman learnt from that that might lead to a permanent reduction in our prison population?

Mr. Mayhew

We do not want another prison officers' dispute. There were many reasons why the numbers went down during that period. High among them was the fact that there was a slowing down in committals and prosecutions in non-urgent cases.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Has the Minister seen the recent statement by the Lord Chief Justice, in which he said that the judiciary would not have opposed the introduction of an early supervised release scheme for short-term prisoners if it had been given discretion to exempt certain prisoners from early release? In the light of that statement, will the hon. and learned Gentleman now bring forward amendments in the other place to implement a scheme of automatic early release, with exemptions, in an attempt substantially to reduce the prison population?

Mr. Mayhew

No, Sir. These matters were fully discussed in Conunittee and on Report of the Criminal Justice Bill. Having consulted the judiciary, I do not believe that the original proposal put forward for consultation for an early release scheme was satisfactory. The present arrangements in the Criminal Justice Bill are an improvement.

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