HC Deb 03 March 1983 vol 38 cc362-3
10. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he intends taking to improve morale in the prison service.

Mr. Mellor

We are significantly increasing staffing and expenditure levels to enable the service to carry out its tasks. In order to improve conditions for staff and inmates, we are implementing the largest prison building programme this century.

Mr. Ross

Does the Minister agree that the sheer pressure of numbers and the lack of adequate facilities adds to the problem, particularly for those working in the prison service? Evidence of that can be found at Portsmouth, Wormwood Scrubs and Strangeways, among others. Will the Minister take positive action by ensuring in general terms that we commit to prison only those who constitute a real danger to society?

Mr. Mellor

Who goes to prison and who does not must be a matter for the courts.

We are committed to building approximately two prisons a year over the next few years, against a background of only three prisons having been built during the 1970s. We are spending twice as much in real terms on repairs and maintenance as was spent by the Labour Government. It is impossible to reverse overnight the neglect of previous Administrations.

Dr. Summerskill

As the Government's new Criminal Justice Act does not contain any measure which would lead to a significant and permanent reduction in the prison population, when will the Home Secretary use one of the two powers that he does have—one for the early release of prisoners, and the other to reduce the time spent in prison before becoming eligible for parole?

Mr. Mellor

It has been made clear by the Lord Chief Justice that prison sentences should be awarded only when unavoidable. With regard to the other matters, the hon. Lady knows that no decisions have yet been taken.

Mr. John Browne

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a most important prison at Winchester which is grossly overcrowded? Does he further accept that while many people in Winchester wish to see tough treatment meted out and believe that prison should not be an easy ride, boredom and overcrowding can reach the point of inhumane treatment?

Will he urge his right hon. Friend not only to consider spending larger amounts on construction, thereby reducing overcrowding, but to institute measures to alleviate boredom in a constructive way? With the falling price of integrated circuits in microcomputers, should not the use of microcomputers in prisons for prisoner education be looked at? That would not only alleviate boredom but equip the prisoners for rehabilitation.

Mr. Mellor

The matter has been looked at. We are concerned about providing education and employment within prisons. The prison service has a good record of providing useful work for about 12,000 inmates a day in our prisons.