HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc414-5
5. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the highest number of persons held in police and court cells on one night so far in 1985; and what was the number of (a) men, (b) women and (c) juveniles held in police and court cells at the latest available date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

The highest number of prisoners held in police and court cells so far in 1985 was 260, on the night of 18–19 February. That was a direct result of short-lived industrial action at Wormwood Scrubs about the handling of prisoners suffering from AIDS. On the night of 4–5 December there were 137 prisoners in police cells, many of whom were there because of industrial action at HM prison Pentonville.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is it not disgraceful, wrong and immoral for a so-called civilised society to hold unconvicted and unsentenced people below ground in dungeon-like conditions, with no access to washing, education and recreation facilities or visitors, and, in the process, to turn police officers into turnkeys? When will the Home Secretary live up to the promise of his predecessor to abolish the routine use of court and police cells to hold innocent people by the end of 1983?

Mr. Mellor

The ending of the routine use of police cells has already occurred. In the seven weeks from the beginning of October—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a question, and he might at least have the courtesy to listen to the answer. We appreciate that he is a bit highly strung at the moment, but I hope that he will listen to the answer. From the beginning of October this year, until the third week in November, never more than 40 people were held in police cells. We are going through an exceptional few days. In 1983, 280 prisoners, on average, were held each night in police cells. By the end of the 1984–85 financial year that figure was down to fewer than 20. That is a formidable step in the right direction, which no amount of jeering from the hon. Gentleman can overcome.

Mr. Robert Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of those one-night imprisonments are for drunkenness? Does he agree also that it would be as well to try to find other arrangements to relieve the police service of these cases and to give proper counselling and advice to the people who fall into that trap?

Mr. Mellor

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend, whose interest in those problems is well known, that the number of people prosecuted for alcohol-related offences is falling dramatically as a result of the diversionary policies that we have been pursuing.