HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc986-7
5. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the latest figure for the size of the prison population; and how many people are currently being held in police and court cells.

Mr. Brittan

On the night of 27 October the prison population was 43,898. plus 259 prisoners in police cells.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Home Secretary stand by previous Home Office commitments that prisoners in police and court cells should be removed as soon as possible? The figures that he has quoted show that he is a long way from achieving that aim. What urgent action does he have in mind to remove prisoners from such degrading conditions?

Mr. Brittan

I made the commitment and I stand by it. We are bringing new accommodation into use—for example, at Highpoint and Standford Hill, re-commissioning refurbished stock such as that at Blundeston and making better use of existing accommodation by receiving prisoners at training prisons more that once a week. I hope in that way, subject to unforeseen developments, to honour my commitment.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if he makes it too easy for those serving short sentences to apply for and obtain parole he will reduce the number of people in prisons but undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system?

Mr. Brittan

Were Ito do that, it would have the effect that my hon. Friend mentions. I have no intention of doing so. The proposal I shall be putting forward in due course to reduce the minimum qualifying period for parole will involve a case-by-case consideration of each prisoner by the authorities. The decision whether to grant a release will remain ultimately with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Given that parole is a way of reducing the prison population, why cannot the Home Secretary give reasons when he turns down parole board recommendations for parole? Is he aware that in many cases, including the well-known Richardson case — a gentleman who is a constituent of mine—people are never told the reasons for refusal?

Mr. Brittan

The granting of parole is an executive and not a judicial act. Different considerations therefore apply to whether reasons should be given compared, for example, with the determination by a court.

Ms. Clare Short

Is the Home Secretary aware that there are large numbers of 15-year-olds in our local prisons? Some hundreds of 15-year-olds are locked up in Winson Green, the local prison in my constituency. The prison staff are greatly upset by that and have told me more than once that they find it distressing to have to lock up young people who are not even old enough to smoke. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that we are using prison resources properly when we lock up such young people in degrading conditions?

Mr. Brittan

I agree with the hon. Lady that the imprisonment of people of that age should not occur except where there is no alternative. If the hon. Lady has any examples of cases where she thinks there is a practicable alternative, I hope that she will let me know.

Mr. Dickens

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the previous Conservative Government announced the biggest prison-building programme in the country's history?

Mr. Brittan

That is certainly the case, and, as I said recently, I propose to accelerate and extend the prison-building programme put in hand by my predecessors. I shall make an announcement to that effect shortly.

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