HC Deb 06 May 1986 vol 97 cc40-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Mr. Speaker

Before we move on to this important debate on the situation in Her Majesty's prisons, I remind the House that the debate must finish at 7 o'clock. We have had a later start than I hoped, because of an important statement. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

4.37 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The occasion for this debate is the recent outbreak of riot and destruction in our prisons. Before I sit down I shall bring the House briefly up to date with our assessment of those events and their consequences. What was missing from the question and answer sessions last week, and what I want to give the House today—succinctly, I hope—is an account of how the Government see the future of our prisons and the conditions for those who live and work in them. I hope to cover the size of the prison population, the condition of the prison estate, the resources, in men and money, that are at the disposal of the service, and the systems of management, work organisation and training that serve the prisons. I shall try to slice pieces out of my speech, but inevitably it will have to contain a good deal of matter, and I fear that that will limit the extent to which I shall be able to give way.

I refer, first, to the size of the prison population. As everyone in the House this afternoon knows, the trend has been upwards under recent Governments of both parties. When I became Home Secretary last September, the prison service was grappling with the effects of a sudden and most disturbing surge in numbers. From just over 43,000 at the beginning of November 1984, the prison population had risen by over 5,000 in nine months to a record 48,200 at the beginning of August last year. The Government, at short notice, provided over 2,000 additional places and recruited additional staff to help relieve the hard-pressed local prisons. Lindholme was bought, converted and brought into use in 16 weeks — a remarkable achievement, which went almost unnoticed.

I am glad to say that so far, although things could change, there is little evidence that this year we shall have to face a comparable surge in the population. In recent months, in contrast to the rapid increase during the early part of 1985, the total population has been relatively stable. On 25 April it stood at 47,250, 1,000 lower than the peak reached in early August last year, but I emphasise that we cannot afford to relax or be in the least complacent about the underlying situation.

The House will note that last year's surge was handled without massive recourse to police cells. That was because, between 1984 and 1985, we saw the first fruits of the accelerated programme of prison building. Three new establishments, providing 1,000 places, were opened at Wayland, Thorn Cross and Stocken, and 500 newly built places were brought in last year at existing prisons. The aim of that programme is not just to keep pace with the prison population, but to reduce and then eliminate the grotesque overcrowding in some of our prisons that we found when taking office. Sins of omission often go undetected for a time. I believe that it is one of the unremarked scandals of the period 1974 to 1979 that, while the prisons filled, the Government of the day attempted no serious remedy. They sat tight and hoped that no one would notice, and the prison service is paying the penalty for that today.

That is why we had to set in hand the largest prison-building programme this century. It took time, since we inherited a tiny programme and no preparation for a large-scale programme. Nevertheless, we have made a remarkable start. From 1979–80 to January 1986, total expenditure was £322 million. The building programme includes a total of 18 new prisons. These new prisons will produce more than 8,000 places by the early 1990s, together with a further 5,500 produced by 25 major capital schemes in existing establishments, as well as the opening of Lindholme and of a former open borstal establishment for prison purposes. In addition, schemes either in the prison-building programmes or planned will provide about 10,000 existing places with integral sanitation.

These developments do not only mean improved conditions for prisoners. They also mean better working conditions for staff. Integral sanitation, for example, means that staff no longer have to supervise what by modern standards is the fearful practice of slopping out. Improvements in staff facilities—staff social centres, showers and lockers—are also included in the building programme.

I should now like to consider the scope for reducing the growth in the prison population or, indeed, reducing the population absolutely. I realise that there are many Opposition Members who have placed almost all their emphasis on reducing the prison population. Without going into the whole of the argument, that arguments ignores that we have a judiciary that is independent of the Executive. Parliament sets the framework of the law within which judges make their decisions. My job is not to dictate to the judges, but to ensure that places are available for those whom the courts consider it necessary to commit to custody. Indeed, the public are entitled to know that those whom the courts consider must be committed to custody can be safely and securely contained.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd

I should like to finish my point and then I shall give way, although I do not intend to give way often.

I cannot allow a situation to arise where I say to the courts, "Here is an offender whom you, having heard the evidence, believe to be guilty and whom you propose to send to prison, but you must not send him to prison because the prisons are too full." A Government who took that line would be rightly and severely condemned.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. No Opposition Member has ever made that point. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to my previous interventions on this subject, has given the impression that the sole argument for reducing the prison population rests in some way on channelling the discretion of the judiciary. That is not the case. Those of us who have made the case for a substantial and permanent reduction in the prison population over the past decade have put forward several viable means of reducing the population. Those proposals have come from the Conservative Benches as well as from the Opposition. The judiciary could at least help to create a climate more conducive to shorter prison sentences, as the Home Secretary's predecessor and his predecessor's predecessor were successful in doing.

Mr. Hurd

I shall deal with some of the hon. Gentleman's suggestions later in my speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's first point is now common ground on both sides of the House. However, I constantly read suggestions that we should impose a limit on the number of people whom the courts should send to prison.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The Home Secretary has said that it is unthinkable that the courts should be influenced not to imprison people. Why, therefore, did he authorise a circular to the courts on 30 April in which he advised the courts: Where persons on bail are due to appear for summary trial in respect of matters for which they are likely to receive a custodial sentence, it may be desirable to adjourn the proceedings. Courts might also give very careful attention to the matter before imposing periods of immediate or suspended imprisonment in default of payment of such matters as maintenance, fines and rates. The Secretary of State was telling the courts that, regardless of what they think, they should not send people to prison.

Mr. Hurd

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the circular he will see that it does not deal with disposals. it deals with bail and with the timings of hearings. Specifically, it does not attempt to tell the courts that they must not send people to prison because the prisons are too full.

In relation to the point raised by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), the Government should have a view about the role of prisons and about sentencing as part of their policy for law and order. I have made my views plain. They coincide with those of my predecessor and of the Court of Appeal. Those who commit the worst offences—such as offences of serious violence or drugs trafficking—must expect to spend very long periods in custody. The public expect, and deserve, to be protected from such offenders and to see them receive a just measure of punishment.

For those convicted of less serious offences, however, custody should be used sparingly. I inherited, and intend to continue, a policy of emphasising credible and tough alternatives to imprisonment. We cannot direct the courts to use them, but they must have a full range of non-custodial options available to them; options which are not "soft", but which are practical and effective, and seen to be so. For example, we have had striking success in the expansion of probation and community service orders. The Criminal Justice Act 1982 strengthened the courts' powers to attach specific requirements to the probation order and there has been a significant revival in its use. Community service has grown rapidly from over 13,000 orders in 1979 to nearly 34,000 in 1984. Community service has now been extended throughout England and Wales and is available for all offenders aged 16 or over.

We intend to build on that success and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State may develop that point. The recently published White Paper includes a proposal to strengthen supervision orders on juveniles involving intermediate treatment programmes by backing them with custodial sanctions for breach if they were used as an alternative to custody. We plan also to expand the attendance centre network. We are seeking to reverse the decline in the use of the fine, and we are taking steps to improve the administration of the criminal justice system, which will help, I hope, to keep people out of custody on remand. As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North knows, we are trying to cut delay in the courts and to improve the flow of court business. I hope that the introduction of statutory limits on the time that it takes to bring court proceedings will be a big step forward.

By these and other means—I have mentioned some of the points which the hon. Member for Knowsley, North has advocated—the Government are seeking to take the public and the courts with us in ensuring that those who need to go to prison do so, and that a range of effective alternatives are available for those who do not.

I should like to discuss the question of total resources, not just the resources for the building programme. Since coming to office the Government have substantially and consistently increased spending on the prison service. Between the financial years 1979–80 and 1985–86, expenditure on the prison service rose by 25 per cent. in real terms. Within that total, planned expenditure on the building programme and on redevelopment of the prison estate rose by 173 per cent. in real terms, whereas, under Labour, expenditure on the prison estate went down by 20 per cent. Nor has the additional expenditure on buildings been at the expense of expenditure on staff. Between the financial years 1979–80 and 1985–86 the number of prison officers rose by some 18 per cent.—it now stands at a record level of almost 19,000—while the cost of employing them rose by some 43 per cent. in real terms.

These figures compare, as we established at Question Time last week, with an increase over the same period in the prison population of about 12 per cent.—that is, a rise of 18 per cent. for prison officers, and a 12 per cent. rise in prison population. That is a striking improvement in the ratio between staff and prisoners and it shows the emptiness of the charge that we have been starving the prisons of staff.

Looking to the future, the Government have expressed their commitment in the public expenditure White Paper to give priority continuously to the prison service. The financial provision for 1986–87 at £639 million, represents an increase of about £48 million—that is 8 per cent.—over planned expenditure for 1985–86 and the figures continue upwards for succeeding years.

I am sorry to weary the House with figures. I have gone through some of them quickly to illustrate the scale of the investment that we are making in the prison service, as part of the law and order budget, in both buildings and staff. We have turned round the previous neglect of our penal system and have provided a firm base on which the prison service can build for the future. These increased resources carry with them the responsibility to ensure that the resources are used in such a way as to achieve the best value for the taxpayer's money. We are not satisfied—we cannot be—that this is being achieved at present, particularly in the use of prison staff.

In what I have to say about this I want to make it clear that I am not in any way attacking prison officers or governors. Their job of running prisons can often be difficult and sometimes dangerous. It is a job that is often too little understood by the public at large. Nevertheless, those who follow prison matters closely—that is everyone in the Chamber—knows that the working practices and arrangements in our prisons are far from satisfactory. The pattern of rapidly rising expenditure on prisons which I have described has not been matched to anything like the degree that it should be by improvement in the regimes for inmates. Among the reasons for this are undoubtedly inefficiencies in working practices within prisons.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)


Mr. Hurd

No, I have already given way twice and I need to make progress.

Let us consider for example, overtime. The cost of overtime working by prison officers has risen dramatically in recent years. In 1979–80 the cost of overtime was £34.3 million, and in 1985–86 the cash limit for overtime stood at £81.6 million—an increase of 137 per cent. in cash terms. Overtime has now reached the point where it constitutes on average 30 per cent. of prison officers' earnings, and, because overtime is voluntary, some officers are working in excess of 20 to 30 hours overtime per week. That is not good for them or for management. It is not a situation that we can prolong indefinitely.

Efforts to contain and control levels of overtime working are not new. In April 1976, when overtime was averaging 12 hours a week per prison officer, a system was introduced which allocated a budget of hours to each establishment. That system, introduced by the then Labour Government, failed in the face of opposition from the Prison Officers Association. Last year, to exert better control over overtime spending, responsibility for the overtime budget was devolved to the four regional offices of the prison service. This year we are both continuing those arrangements and extending them to cover all pay and pay-related costs of prison staff. This change does not mean that overtime expenditure is being cut. In fact, the cash limit for overtime in the current year—at £87.4 million—represents an increase of about 5 million on last year's limit. The notion that we have been seeking some sort of confrontation by cutting the total of overtime without consultation cannot survive a look at the figures. We need to reassert proper control over spending in our prisons, particularly on overtime, and this lies at the root of the dispute between the Prison Officers Association and the Prison Department.

The Government have never claimed that overtime is unnecessary in the prison service. Conditioned hours are inadequate to cover all tasks, not least because existing shift systems depend on overtime to provide staff cover, particularly at weekends. It is the present levels of overtime that we have to question. Existing systems of attendance and complementing prevent us from using staff in the best way. The shift systems are too rigid, resulting in too many staff attending at some times and too few at others.

It was for this reason that, following extensive discussion with the national executive committee of the Prison Officers Association, we commissioned last year, and announced, a study by a joint team of prison service personnel and outside management consultants to see whether better systems of complementing and attendance for prison officers could be found. The report of that study has just been received. I have not yet had an opportunity to consider it in detail with colleagues. I shall obviously do this urgently, and when I have worked out proposals I intend, given a successful resolution of the present dispute, that they should be the subject of discussion with the Prison Officers Association, as well as with other interested parties. The report justifies the stance of the Government over the inefficiency of existing systems and confirms that an opportunity exists, if new practices can be adopted, for improving dramatically the lot of both inmates and staff. It suggests that there may be a waste of resources, amounting to 15 or 20 per cent. We shall publish the report with our comment on it.

I understand how hard it is to change, and changing working practices is always a difficult process for those involved, particularly when, as in this case, there is such a close relationship between those practices and take-home pay. Like my predecessor, I have made it clear that we are ready to discuss with the Prison Officers Association new systems and procedures, including new pay arrangements, which will continue to provide a fair level of take-home pay, while allowing both prison officers and management to escape from the shackles of dependence on overtime. This is not being done simply out of a desire to get the accounting right, to satisfy the Public Accounts Committee, or to enforce the cash limit. The point goes wider than that.

We are spending, as I have illustrated, record sums on the prisons and employing a record number of staff, but only if that money and those staff are used sensibly will the lot of both prisoners and staff be improved.

Against the background of the record levels of expenditure on the staff and buildings of the prison service which I have described, I think that many hon. Members have found, and perhaps still will find, the current dispute between the Prison Officers Associaton and the Prison Department difficult to understand. The association says that it is concerned about the maintenance of safe manning levels and regimes and seeks the right to determine in negotiation what those manning levels should be. I am as concerned as the POA about the safety of prison officers and their professional standards. I have repeatedly made it clear that management is ready to consult the POA about manning levels. Obviously I cannot concede — no Government could—that the union has a right to determine those levels.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

It is not asking for that.

Mr. Hurd

I am coming to that point. In effect that would give the union, not the Government or Parliament, the right to set the budget for the prison service.

In my discussions with them before last Wednesday's events, POA leaders said that they were prepared to accept management's right to manage and that they did not seek to challenge my view that if, at the end of the day, agreement could not be reached on manning levels, management would have to decide them. In the light of those undertakings, and the clear edging towards agreement, it is difficult to understand where lay the POA's continuing problem in accepting my formula for considering these matters. Nevertheless, I welcomed its recognition of management's rights, and in return I set out in my letter of 22 April to the POA's general secretary, Mr. Evans, an agenda for the future. The House will recall that that agenda included a rapid settlement of this year's pay claim, including the outstanding question of a reduction in the working week for prison officers, and the immediate payment of tax compensation on housing allowance for 1985–86, which had been a vexed point. Thirdly, it included bringing forward as fast as possible the work on new shift systems and pay arrangements, which I have already mentioned, for detailed discussion with the POA, with a view to the new arrangements being in place by April next year.

Unfortunately, as the House will also recall, the national executive of the POA felt unable to respond by lifting its industrial action; indeed, even as I spoke with it on Monday last, that action continued in a particularly unacceptable and dangerous form at Gloucester. For my part, I was not, nor am I now, prepared to talk in substance about issues of crucial importance to the future of the prison service under the continuing threat of further industrial action. The national executive of the POA then introduced its overtime ban, with tragic consequences on Wednesday night, about which we all know.

We are still assessing the events of last Wednesday and their consequences, but it is clear that the situation deteriorated rapidly after midday last Wednesday and the issue of the POA's instructions to its members to withdraw co-operation with management and to institute an overtime ban. I reported twice to the House last week on the major disturbances that took place at Lewes, Wymott, Bristol, and Northeye prisons and at Erlestoke youth custody centre. There were lesser incidents at some 12 other prison establishments. Further disruption took place in a number of establishments on Thursday and Friday, but on nothing like the scale of Wednesday night. The number and severity of incidents decreased and by the weekend all was quiet.

By a miracle, no one was seriously injured during the disturbances of last week. Of the 50 or so inmates who made bids to escape, 13 are still unlawfully at large. The worst effects were undoubtedly on the prison estate. Prison buildings were damaged in a large number of establishments. Although most of the damage was fairly minor, there was serious damage at Bristol, Erlestoke, Wymott and Gloucester, and at Northeye the prison has temporarily had to be vacated. In all about 800 prison places were put out of action. I cannot yet give the House an assessment of the total cost of putting things right, but it will certainly run into some millions of pounds.

Since Friday prison staff and contractors have been working as quickly as possible, and by the end of this week all buildings, apart from those at Northeye, will be weatherproof. Where necessary, locks have been changed, doors are being replaced—in some places on a temporary basis—and windows repaired, and I hope that at Northeye we shall have some 50 inmates back in the prison within the next two weeks.

As the House knows, I acknowledge these are extremely serious events, and from the outset I have believed that they should be the subject of an inquiry. The form and scope of this must be compatible with any police investigation into alleged offences. I have invited Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir James Hennessy, to conduct an inquiry into the recent disturbances and the handling of them in order to see whether any general lessons need to be learnt. Sir James has agreed to do this. I also take the opportunity to repeat the thanks that I expressed last week on behalf of the whole House to the members of the prison governor grades, those prison staff who remained at their posts and the members of the police and fire services who helped to restore the situation.

Following the decision of the POA last Thursday to suspend its industrial action and my own procedural proposal made in the House on Thursday, which it accepted, I am glad to say that useful talks took place at the Home Office last Friday. It was agreed that the suspension of industrial action meant the restoration of normal working. This allowed for the return to duty of those officers who had been suspended.

It was also agreed in the discussions last Friday that a series of further meetings would take place on the lines I had outlined, designed to achieve the simultaneous calling off of industrial action and the discussion of the agenda which I had set out for the future. The next meeting in that series will take place tomorrow. I am sure that the whole House will hope for good progress on the basis set out in my statement last Thursday.

To conclude, we are inevitably and rightly moving into a new phase in the history of the prison service. The service faces many problems and difficulties, which we have not sought to disguise, but it has two relatively new assets of which we have to make the best possible use. The first is the willingness of the Government to invest substantial resources in the service. The second is the realisation, to which I hope we have all come or will come shortly, that by changing to more sensible ways of running prisons further resources can be released.

The question in our minds is not whether change should happen, but of what form it should take and how the benefit should be distributed between prison staff, prison regimes—that is, the way in which prisoners are treated—and the taxpayer. We want to achieve the necessary changes by discussion and co-operation. That is the purpose of our present discussions with the POA. An early end to the threat of industrial action will put the process on a sound footing.

I hope that out of the damage and disaster of Wednesday night will come a fresh understanding, fresh energy and fresh good will. I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House who take a personal interest in our prisons; I wish there were more of them. In view of the situation which I have described, sombre though it is in many ways, and in view of the two new assets which I have also described, there are opportunities here as well as problems. I hope that we can work together to turn those opportunities to good account.

5.4 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Six nights ago the Home Secretary came to the House to announce that arson and anarchy had broken out in 18 prisons and other penal establishments. In making that announcement he was admitting the breakdown of the Government's prisons policy, the absence of a Government penal policy, the consequences of the Government's obdurate and incompetent industrial relations policy and the failure of the Government's much-trumpeted law and order policy. For all of those the Home Secretary himself stands responsible to the House of Commons.

It cannot be doubted that the prison system is inadequate to cope with the burdens placed upon it. The most recent report, issued six months ago, of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons stated: Overcrowding remained a major problem and The position in local prisons was grim. It also stated that overcrowding seemed, at least in the short term, more likely to get worse than better. On 11 April of this year, there were 46,687 people held in prison in England and Wales in a system normally capable of accommodating 40,832. That was 2,000 more than at the end of 1985. Because of the overcrowding, over 13,000 prisoners are being held two to a cell and over 4,000 three to a cell, most of them with no access to night sanitation. One fifth of the prison population consists of remand prisoners, some 8,000 persons innocent in law and being held for trial. Nearly 1,500 have been held in that way for six months or more.

Of course, the problems of overcrowded prisons have been with us for many years, under Governments of both parties, but it is clear that the overcrowding is getting worse. Last year, the prison population exceeded that forecast in Home Office projections for 1991. Those projections are being revised upwards all the time.

The present dispute has woken the Government up to the difficulties that loom. They have responded by making absurd mis-statements, of which we heard more this afternoon, about the position which they inherited. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister spoke wildly about what she called the Labour Government's neglect of prison buildings". That same day, against the background of the previous night's debris and disturbances, the Home Secretary flailed about him even more nonsensically, talking about the time when no money was being spent either on staff or on prisoners."—[Official Report, 1 May 1986; Vol. 96, c. 1097, 1114.] I should like to know when that was. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman's grasp of fact is tenuous, but that was extraordinary even by his standards.

When Labour left office, building schemes were in progress to provide 4,100 prison places over a four-year period, with three new prisons to be started. I readily acknowledge that Lord Whitelaw boosted that programme considerably. The problem is that, although, because of him and him alone, the Government launched a major prison building programme, they did not accompany that with implementing a policy for prisons, let alone a penal policy.

Lord Whitelaw outlined the contents of a prisons policy in a debate in the House in 1980 when he said: First, we shall increase the capacity and efficiency of the prison service through new building, through improvements in organisation, management and industrial relations"— yes, improvements in industrial relations— and through better use of manpower. Secondly,"— this is a response to the Home Secretary's implication that this was never meant by his Government— we shall take measures designed to reduce the size of the prison population." [Official Report, 1 August 1980; Vol. 989, 1900–1.] That was what a thoughtful Home Secretary said on these matters. Apart from new building, little if any of what Lord Whitelaw spoke about six years ago has come about. Far from being improved, as he wished, industrial relations are as bad as they could be.

Insofar as the Government now have a policy, it is the policy stated in the 1983 Conservative party manifesto, which said that there must be enough prison places to cope with sentences imposed by the courts.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)


Mr. Kaufman

At the present rate, even Lord Whitelaw's building programme will not achieve that. Indeed, as the Financial Times pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the monetary cuts entailed by what the Government call their financial management initiative will, unless the Home Secretary learns sense as a result of last week's events, turn the new prisons into "little more than human warehouses". People are being crammed into Britain's prisons in a random and unplanned way.



Mr. Kaufman

I will not give way at the moment. I must move on a little.

The number of remand prisoners between 1973 and 1983 increased from 4.613 to 8,651, and they now spend an average of 47 days in custody awaiting trial, compared with 23 days in 1970. As Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons points out, facilities and services for them are "generally the poorest". Her Majesty's chief inspector said that a reduction of prisoners in this category would do much to relieve the problems facing the prison service". but the Government have ignored his recommendation.

Far more of those actually tried and found guilty of offences are being sent to prison. Of males, 15 per cent. were sentenced to immediate imprisonment in 1974. By 1984, this proportion had risen to 20 per cent. In 1983, Britain proportionately imprisoned nearly twice as many as West Germany and Italy, and more than twice as many as Holland and France. Fewer than one in five of those in prison here had committed the really serious crimes involving violence, sex and robbery. In fact, in this country we imprison more people for defaulting on fines then we do for these grave offences.

What is more, as a deterrent, prison is a proven failure. The latest figures show that 58 per cent. of male offenders and 39 per cent. of female offenders were reconvicted within two years of release. For young prisoners aged 17 to 20, the figure was 69 per cent. For detention centre trainees aged 14 to 16, it was 72 per cent. for borstal trainees aged 15 to 16, it was a terrifying 80 per cent. Over 50 per cent. of all prisoners and over 70 per cent. of all young offenders have been imprisoned before. Far from deterring offenders from further crimes, custody is often preparing them to commit further crimes. To put it another way. prison is not working.

The May committee set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), which reported to the present Government, said categorically: every effort should be made to reduce the inmate populations It suggested a re-examination of sentencing policy. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, in his latest report calls for action to reduce, first, the time people spend in custody awaiting trial and, second, the average length of sentence for non-violent offenders The report goes on to say: it seems likely that these measures would make little difference to the deterrent value of sentences generally". It is fair to say that the more sensible members of this Government, in their more sensible moments, have echoed his view. Lord Whitelaw, drawing on the experience of the previous prison dispute when he was Home Secretary, said: One of the things the dispute demonstrated was that it is possible for us to survive with a much lower custodial population than before. The present Home Secretary, before the rush of blood to his head last month, said much the same kind of thing. The problem is that they have to contend with their more atavistic colleagues, such as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who last month chose the church pulpit as his platform to say: I believe that sentencing has gone too far in the direction of leniency to deter crime. The result is that there is no lead from the Government. Courts go on cramming the prisons with inmates and those who have to carry the burden of those overcrowded prisons are the prison officers.

The Home Secretary—he did it again this afternoon—offering the only set of statistics that he knows, with the Prime Minister echoing him, implied that it is all all right because, under their Government, the number of inmates has increased by 12 per cent. while the number of officers has increased by 18 per cent. But that glib juxtaposition ignores the fact that the prison officers carry a much greater burden because so many more thousands of the inmates are on remand, and remand prisoners require extra time and attention.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons explains it very well in his latest report, when he says: All these problems were exacerbated by the drain on resources caused by court escort commitments Her Majesty's chief inspector goes on to state bleakly: Failure to take action will make it increasingly difficult to resist demands for more and ever costlier prison places with the inevitable concomitant of more staff". It is the cost of the staff, however, that is the real problem, for the Prime Minister slipped up when trying out another statistic last Thursday. At Question Time she claimed that this Government have increased spending on the prison service by 85 per cent. in real terms".—[Official Report.1 May 1986; Vol. 96, c. 1097.] But she got it completely wrong. The fact is that this increase is not in real terms, it is in cash terms. The increase in real terms, as the Home Secretary admitted this afternoon, is much less than half what the Prime Minister claimed it to be. And, of course, the true figure is at the heart of the crisis that led to last Wednesday's disturbances.

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary can bandy about all the rigged statistics they like, but they still cannot explain why the prison officers voted by 81 per cent. last month to take industrial action, a massive majority in a group of public servants whom, in any other circumstances, the Prime Minister would be the first to applaud to the skies.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the prison officers that he knows, and certainly those in my constituency, are absolutely incensed by the articles in The Sun last Friday, which painted a totally wrong picture of prison officers and their wives?

Mr. Kaufman

Unfortunately, I do not read The Sun so I cannot share the ugly experience which the hon. Gentleman's correspondents have undergone. What I can say is that I have received in the post since this controversy began a considerable number of letters from prison officers which show the facts, some of which I shall try to give to the House. about the problems that they face in doing their work.

Of course, the prison officers know very well that the new type of budgetary regime for their service means that the Government seek to claim every possible credit for the prison building programme while, at the same time, cutting the prison officers' overall earnings in order to help pay for that programme. That is why the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have launched their discreditable smear campaign against the prison officers, accusing them of swindling the taxpayers through corrupt practices, in order artificially to boost their overtime.

Mr. Hurd

Neither in what I have said today nor in what I have said previously on the matter have I used the word "corrupt" or the word "swindle". I do not believe that either word is in the least relevant to the point that I am making, which is that the prison service is handicapped and hamstrung by a whole lot of practices which prevent us from making proper use of the staff employed.

Mr. Kaufman

I will come to that, but it is a fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister have taken every possible opportunity to talk about the high earnings of prison officers and that the press have been carefully and consistently briefed about the Spanish practices which, it is alleged, are rife among prison officers. If the Home Secretary is saying that he no longer believes that, if he repudiates those unpleasant stories about prison officers, that will help a great deal to clear the air.

But I shall say this much. It may be that a minority of prison officers do exploit the opportunities for overtime, but the fact is that the prison system would break down instantly if sufficient prison officers did not work overtime. That was incontrovertibly proved last Wednesday.

Mr. Corbett

My right hon. Friend talked about Spanish customs. Has he heard allegations that a governor of one prison is involved in the running of his wife's antique business and that a governor of another prison was absent from the prison during a visit by Her Majesty's chief inspector because he was putting a roof on somebody's house for payment?

Mr. Kaufman

I had not heard of that either and I would be unwilling to think anything but the best of prison governors, but if my hon. Friend provides evidence, we shall have to accept it.

The reliance of the prisons on overtime working by prison staffs would have been demonstrated with incalculable consequences for public order if the prison officers had continued their overtime ban over the May bank holiday weekend. That is not because the officers have distorted the system to squeeze overtime out of it, although it is true that on a maximum basic rate of £135.34 a week after 15 years' service a prison officer taking home only basic pay could have difficulty in making ends meet.

The predicament was stated less hysterically and more accurately than by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in the annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. He said: All the establishments we inspected in 1984 were short of their authorised complement of staff. This in part explains the high levels of overtime that were still being worked…and since overtime is now voluntary, governors are, to this extent at least, dependent on the goodwill of their staff for the functioning of the establishment. It was the Home Secretary's orders to governors which led to the trampling on that good will and which in its turn nurtured the ill-feeling that led to last week's disturbances. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have, in connection with this dispute, been mouthing the slogan that management must have the right to manage. But Her Majesty's chief inspector's chapter on prison staff, which I recommend hon. Members to read, makes it clear that it is management that has been misusing the power to manage. That there is too much overtime among prison officers is indisputable, but the Home Secretary's steps to deal with the problem have made the situation worse.

The signatories of the May report said flatly: We consider that it is in the long run undesirable for efficient working to be dependent on the excessive amounts of overtime. But its solution was certainly not the Government's solution—to stretch the prison officers on the bed of Procrustes and hack away. The report said: Ultimate manpower levels should be such that overtime is substantially reduced and, ideally, removed altogether. It warned: We fully recognise the sensitivity of staff to some of the possible effects (for example on their earnings) of changes in these areas. Management should therefore display real tact and understanding as well as determination in dealing with them. That was the May report, whose recommendations the Prime Minister claimed the Government had fulfilled in full.

The management certainly showed determination, but their version of tact and understanding would have brought discredit on a flat-footed elephant. The Government failed to recognise the sensitivity to which the May report referred. They showed little or no understanding of the strain on prison officers of their difficult and dangerous job.

That strain was described best in a letter to the Home Secretary, a copy of which was sent to me on the other day. It was written by Mrs. P. A. Kelly of Market Harborough, the widow of a prison officer. She said: Dear Mr. Hurd, Ref: Prison officers. Two weeks ago my husband died, he was 51 years old. A heart attack and various other medical terms all leading from the heart attack was the cause. He was a conscientious prison officer for 30 years. Only three more years and we could look forward to doing all the things couples plan to do when they retire—but not any more. I blame the long hours and the tension—a life of 80 per cent. prison, and 20 per cent. home life. When I hear on the media the rates of pay, the rates of overtime, I think of the husband I loved and have lost—I think of other officers who have died—what price your pay and your overtime. For once in my Tory life I agree with the Labour M.P. Gerald Kaufman"—— [Interruption.]—— who said, 'Avoid turning our jails into tinderboxes'. Think of the men who run our prisons every day—they are the ones that know—for Gods sake—PLEASE LISTEN. That is a letter from the widow of a prison officer. It was men among whom there existed that kind of experience—[Interruption.] I am interested in the way that Conservative Members deride and jeer at that—and background who, three weeks ago, came to the end of their tether and voted 81 per cent. for industrial action, not over pay but over those very manning levels about which Her Majesty's chief inspector and the May committee had warned. In voting under their own rules as well as the Government's legislation, they were, if they will forgive me for saying so, behaving like perfect Thatcherites, because it was the Prime Minister who two years ago on 12 April—about another dispute, of course—said: it is important to have a ballot as quickly as possible, especially when that facility is in the union's constitution."—[Official Report, 12 April 1984: Vol. 58, c. 523.] The prison officers held their ballot and it was in their constitution. They did what the Prime Minister said they should do. Seventy-eight per cent. of their total voted, and they voted 81 per cent. for action. The only problem with the Government is that they were in favour of a ballot but against the members acting on what they had voted for. Yet instead of seeking to reach a sensible solution, the Home Secretary issued an ultimatum to the prison officers. He called on them to abandon their industrial action and insisted that, unless they did so, there would be no more talks. This self-proclaimed arbiter of the rule of law ignored—although he claims that he knew about it—a crucial obstacle. The Prison Officers Association was and is required by a High Court ruling to ballot its members before it can abandon this industrial action. It needs a package to put before its members in such a ballot. What the Home Secretary demanded was not a settlement but a surrender.

The Home Secretary sent a letter to all staff and governors saying that no further talks could take place against a background of industrial action. Lord Glenarthur, the junior Minister in charge of prisons, voiced that intransigence with damning precision when he proclaimed: All the Home Secretary asked was that the Prison Officers Association call off industrial action so that these discussions could go ahead. They have refused to do this, offering only to instruct their members to take no further action while talks are going on …we cannot talk under threat. The Home Secretary, exactly a week ago from the Dispatch Box, said: The Government cannot conduct talks under the continuing threat of further industrial action in this vital public service…I am sure that discussions can only fruitfully take place if the POA calls off industrial action."—[Official Report, 29 April 1986; Vol. 96, c. 797–9.] Two days before that, I had called on the Home Secretary to take action to end the dispute. I had warned that the prisons were a potential tinderbox, waiting for the spark that could set them alight. A week ago, with the situation more critical than ever, I used similar words, this time in the House. I said: I warn the Home Secretary that with his intransigent bungling in this exceptionally delicate area he is recklessly playing with fire. The Home Secretary's only response was a weary sigh of aloof disdain, yet the very next day the fires broke out.

When the fires broke out, they were soon almost out of control. One prison was almost completely destroyed. Prisoners escaped, and the Home Secretary announced this afternoon that some of them are still at large. The Home Office could not cope, yet last week, when I asked the Home Secretary about the contingency plans prepared for this eventuality many months ago by the Association of Chief Police Officers, he said sniffily: Of course there are contingency plans."—[Official Report,29 April 1986; Vol. 96, c. 798–9.] Three weeks ago, when the Prison Officers Association ballot result was announced, the right hon. Gentleman said—reassuringly, so it seemed, but complacently in the light of later events— The Government are prepared and will respond vigorously as necessary. In doing so, we shall have the safety of the public and the security of prisons as our first concerns."—[Official Report,17 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 1009.] Yet he was not prepared. The prisons burned. Some prisoners rioted; others escaped. Public safety was not secure.

In the light of his firm promises and failure to honour them, the Home Secretary should carefully consider whether he should remain in office.

The question of the Home Secretary's fitness to continue arises most sharply in his handling of the dispute. The evidence lies in the right hon. Gentleman's statements. Last Thursday, the afternoon after the night before, the Home Secretary said: Although some of the violent action by prisoners may have been imitative, there is little doubt that the occasion for it was the overtime ban instituted by the national executive committee of the Prison Officers Association as part of its dispute about manning levels with the Prison Department. The Home Secretary was sure that the overtime ban was to blame for the riots—but who was to blame for the overtime ban?

Throughout the dispute, the Prison Officers Association declared that it was ready to suspend industrial action in exchange for talks. Throughout, the Home Secretary rejected that offer and demanded the complete abandonment of industrial action before he would talk, even though he now admits that he knew that abandonment was not possible for the POA, since he acknowledges that the POA must ballot to abandon its industrial action and that such a ballot takes 12 days. The POA asked for an end to selective dismissal of its members as a sign of good will on the part of the Home Office. The Home Office flatly refused, and as recently as last Thursday, after the riots, all that the Home Secretary could bleakly say was that the suspended staff can lift their own suspension by agreeing to work normally. That empty offer meant that the staff had to sign a declaration promising to work normally.

Mr. Hurd

indicated dissent.

Mr. Kaufman

That is what the Prison Officers Association tells me. If the right hon. Gentleman contradicts it, all that I can say is that, up to a couple of hours ago, it was certainly the belief of the POA.

The POA promised to instruct its members to take no further action while talks were continuing and it asked for an end to suspension of its members. The Home Secretary said no to both. As recently as last Thursday, he was insisting We cannot start substantive negotiations until the threat of industrial action has been removed."—[Official Report, 1 May 1986; Vol. 96, c. 1110–1.] Since then, the POA, as it had always offered to do, suspended industrial action, but it did not, as it could not—even though the Home Secretary had demanded it—remove the threat of industrial action without the prolonged process of a ballot. It could have complied with the Home Secretary's demands only by breaking its rules and defying the High Court. I cannot believe that that is what the Home Secretary wanted, but that was his demand.

Last Friday, the Home Secretary reinstated the 100 prison officers who had been suspended—an action for which the POA had asked and which he had previously refused. He agreed to table fresh proposals on manning levels—an action which he had previously refused to contemplate while industrial action was still in prospect. Tomorrow, he—either he personally or his officials—will get round his ultimatum by holding talks which the Home Office declined to call negotiations.

That they will be negotiations is made clear by a statement from Mr. Colin Steel, the chairman of the POA. After Friday's talks, he said: We have got to go back to the members. One would hope that by the time we get to that position, it will be a formality. We hope we will have a package that will be suitable.

Mr. Hurd

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the procedural talks now continuing are taking place exactly on the basis of the suggestion I made in the House on Thursday afternoon. I dealt with suspension and with how discussions would be resumed. I am glad that, despite the right hon. Gentleman's efforts at obfuscation, those procedural suggestions were accepted and what has happened since then to improve the position has happened on that basis.

Mr. Kaufman

Last Thursday afternoon, the Home Secretary said—he can check his words—that the suspended prison officers could unsuspend themselves. What has happened is that he has formally removed suspension from them, which is very different. The Home Secretary said repeatedly in the House and elsewhere that he would not enter into talks with the Prison Officers Association on substantive matters until it abandoned—not suspended—it industrial action. It has not abandoned that industrial action. It cannot do so without a ballot. It has done what it always said it would do—suspended its industrial action. Nevertheless, substantive talks are taking place and will take place tomorrow, despite the Home Secretary's statement that talks could not take place without the action being abandoned.

The fact that the action has not been abandoned is confirmed by what Mr. Steel said: We have got to go back to the members. One would hope that by the time we get to that position, it will be a formality. We hope we will have a package that will be suitable. Such a package is impossible to achieve without genuine negotiations, whatever the Home Secretary chooses to call them to save his face. As the Daily Telegraph generously put it, discussing the suspensions and negotiations: There appears to have been a compromise on both these points. The Home Secretary has rightly climbed down. But why did there have to be riots before he could see sense? If he had only behaved in this way last Tuesday instead of last Friday, there would have been no overtime ban and, on the Secretary of State's analysis, there would have been no riots. The riots were the consequences of the Home Secretary's intransigent bungling. He has drawn back from the edge of the abyss, but that we ever reached the edge of the abyss is his doing. I very much hope that tomorrow's talks will result in a sensible end to the dispute, but after those talks the Home Secretary would do well to consider not only what he has done but what he should do.

The reason for the overcrowding of our prisons and for the grim scenes that we witnessed last week can be found in the record crime wave from which the country is suffering under this Government. The pressure of the crime wave on overstretched police forces has meant that the crime clear-up rate has fallen to only 35 per cent. Even so, the increase in crime and criminals means extra pressure on the prison service, especially since there have been disturbing increases in the worst crimes, involving violence, sex and robbery. The prisons are buckling under the weight of the crime wave.

In a stern leading article, the Financial Times was clear about where the responsibility lies. It stated: There could be few more pointed indictments of a Tory administration that came to office seven years ago determined to do something about law and order. Not only has crime continued to rise; the prisons are overflowing and now even the prison officers are rebelling against their terms of service. Those ugly and financially expensive prison riots will have served one constructive purpose, if, from now on, we are spared the Government's sloganising on law and order.

No Government have ever come to office with more lavish and extavagant promises about upholding law and order; no Government have ever presided over such a disturbing decline in law and order. From dangerous streets to dangerous prisons, that is the grim legacy that this failed Government will leave to their successors.

5.40 pm
Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

No Government have ever come into office and not only promised. but fulfilled. a prison-building programme that is without comparison this century. No Government have ever come into office with a Home Secretary who has shown, as my right hon. Friend has shown, such sensitivity and understanding and an ability to deal with the appalling problems now being presented in our prisons.

There are two hard nuts which my right hon. Friend must crack. The difficulties that he faces are formidable, and no one could envy him his task. The first difficulty is the current dispute between management and the Prison Officers Association. I can at least agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in hoping that tomorrow will see the conclusion of the dispute.

The central issue has been the question of who has the right to manage—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall express it in more neutral terms if Opposition Members would find that more acceptable. One of the main issues has been the question of who should have the right to manage. The other issue that attends upon that is whether we can afford the inefficiencies currently to be found in the prison service.

My right hon. Friend referred to a management consultant's report. I have not seen the report, and I doubt whether other hon. Members have seen it. However, over the weekend it was reported that £60 million a year, out of a total and record budget of £639 million, is being wasted through inefficiency. Clearly we cannot afford to allow such a loss to continue. We hope to find a way of dealing with each of the sources of loss, whether it be bad management, restrictive practices or overlapping shifts. Whatever the cause, we must deal with it.

I hope that some good will come out of what happened last week. I hope that the discussions between the Government and the POA will range wider than these narrow but important issues. I, like many other hon. Members, have spoken to prison officers over the years, and they have consistently told us of their dissatisfaction with the unappreciative attitude of the public and the Government of the day towards their duties. There is no doubt that prison officers do a most unattractive and difficult job, looking after some of the most dangerous criminals in conditions that are a positive invitation to violence.

I do not want to make a party political point in putting forward a suggestion which I hope will be considered by both the Government and the POA. It is my personal view that it would be of benefit to the POA, the Government, the prison service and the country as a whole if, during the forthcoming talks, consideration was given to the possibility of a no-strike agreement. Such an agreement would, I believe, enhance and increase the status of prison officers. It could be arranged on terms beneficial to them.

I realise that time is short and will deal briefly with the second problem that my right hon. Friend faces, which is overcrowding in our prisons. Unhappily, there is no prospect of that problem being solved merely by the solving of the current dispute. Overcrowding in our prisons is gross and creates intolerable conditions. The sad fact is that, because of what happened last Wednesday night, more than 800 invaluable prison places have been destroyed. We must therefore consider what remedies are available to deal with overcrowding.

The first and obvious remedy is one which the Government have pursued with great vigour, and backed with a great deal of capital—the building of new prisons and the modernisation of old prisons. However, that is not sufficient to deal with the problem. There is no doubt that thousands of people in prison today should not be there. I want to discuss one specific group only, which is prisoners on remand awaiting trial, and of whom there are about 7,000 at present. If we could remove them from our prisons, that would go a long way towards solving the overcrowding. However, I accept that that might be too ambitious. Perhaps we could aim to halve their number.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs has recommended a way to achieve such a reduction, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on adopting it. It is that an immediate experiment be carried out in our courts along the lines of the system in Scottish law, where people awaiting trial are detained in prison for a statutory period only. In Scotland the period is 110 days, but it may have to be either longer or shorter in England and Wales for administrative reasons. The sooner we can reach a conclusion on adopting that proposal, the better.

When we consider the problem of our prisons and the overcrowding, the questions which must be uppermost in our minds are what is the purpose of our prisons? What is the value of our prisons? Why do we put people in them? We used to answer confidently that we punish by imprisonment and deter others from committing the same type of crime. We could say that we reformed people in prison. We cannot say that any longer. What possible hope have we of reforming prisoners considering the present conditions in which they are kept? It is unrealistic.

The real purpose and value of our prisons is to protect the public from criminals who have committed crimes involving violence and who are therefore a danger to society. That is the paramount aim of imprisonment. The Select Committee on Home Affairs is about to start a major inquiry into our prisons. We shall take into account the valuable papers which have been produced by the all party penal affairs committee. We intend to go to America to study, though not necessarily to follow, the way in which the penal system operates there. I hope that when the committee has finished its report—I hope by Christmas—we shall be able to present to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recommendations which may be valuable to him and of value to the prison service.

5.51 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

I commend the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) on his approach. In my latter months as Home Secretary, in the run-up to the general election, we should have had such sensible discussions, but in those days it was all about law and order and locking people up.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, this debate arises out of what happened last week. Nobody could have been amused or got any political pleasure out of what was seen on television last week. The increasing crime rate is no respecter of general elections, of political rhetoric, of over-simplification, such as short, sharp shocks—I wonder what happened to that—or of oversimplification in the press. The press, at its very best, is good, but most of it is not the slightest bit interested in discussions on the matter. It prefers simplification.

I especially regret yesterday'sSunday Express leader, which castigated prison officers as third rate. I wish whoever wrote that had been in a prison. I wish that person had visited the wives of prison officers in Northern Ireland, prison officers who risk their lives. Last night, we saw on television that those who work in the prisons in Northern Ireland are being affected in their homes — presumably by those who are normally in favour of law and order. Over-simplification gets us nowhere.

The problems of the prisons go back a long time, and they are no respectors of general election dates. The problems will exist after the next general election. The argument is about what will be done.

One of the problems is the size of the prison population. I commend community service, which was started in the days of the Heath Government and has been expanded. I commend intermediate treatment and the changes in parole, although marginal, made by the previous Home Secretary. I commend the work done by voluntary workers. The work carried out by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) in this respect is commendable. I shall not touch on the question of remand, which is a major issue. The only way to proceed is radically to cut the size of the prison population.

In Northern Ireland, because there was no public disagreement, we were able to introduce 50 per cent. remission. There is no parole in Northern Ireland. We decided to end detention because we had no prison accommodation. The Army built the H blocks and we had to get people into them and other prison accommodation.

There had to be a radical cut in the size of the prison population. That was easier to implement in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. The judges in Northern Ireland know what is going on. There is no establishment—with a small "e" — to say, "Oh, no, this will upset people." Therefore, the Labour Government introduced the 50 per cent. remission system. Prisoners had to have a record of good behaviour, or else they were not brought into the scheme. Those who offended again went before a judge, and, if the judge so willed, they had to serve the unexpired part of their sentence.

Why did I not do that here? The rest of the United Kingdom is a different place. My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) put it to me firmly that it would look daft. Others also put it firmly that, in the run-up to the general election, we would he crucified on law and order. The Conservatives had said that law and order would be the policy of a Conservative Government. It was made clear to me that the judiciary would not support what I was doing. If I had introduced the scheme, the tariff would have gone up to match the 50 per cent.

Something of that nature must be done. I recomend to hon. Members the findings of the May report. I am sure that the Home Secretary and the Minister have read it. I set up the committee in December 1978 and it reported to Lord Whitelaw. I do not have the time to run through the recommendations, but they deal with the imprisonment of the mentally disordered, suggest that prison should be avoided for fine and maintenance defaulters and drinkers, and deal with persistent petty offenders. My wife is chairman of a bench and we discuss what should happen to persistent petty offenders. It is no good saying that they should be left alone. In most cases, after the first time they have been put inside, prison is a waste of time. They are filling prison space and it costs money. Because of time, I will not consider the May report further, but it tends to be ignored as time goes on.

The problems in the prisons have already been mentioned. I have a book entitled "The Prison Crisis" by Peter Evans of The Times with a foreword by Sir Robert Mark. That book, which was written in 1980, was sparked off by the May committee report.

The problems in the prisons are not new, but they are worse. As Home Secretary, I was careful not to stand up in the House of Commons and say that the situation could not explode in my face. It may well have done.

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

The right hon. Gentleman is discussing the problems in the prisons. Why was the annual capital building programme for prisons 20 per cent. less in real terms when he left office than when he took office?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman should have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton. It was not cut in my time. I went to the Treasury and told the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the civil servants that they could run the prison service themselves. It would be a good idea if the Treasury tried to run the prisons. The junior Minister is wrong, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton showed him to be wrong. He should not be so clever——



Mr. Rees

No; I shall not give way again.

When the May committee reported, I commended Lord Whitelaw for approving a 20 per cent. pay increase for prison officers in 1979 and a further 20 per cent. later. I commend the new prisons, as long as they are intended to replace old ones and are not used to deal with those who commit the list of offences that I have just mentioned.

What has happened to May's recommendations concerning the role of prison officers? The report said that the desire expressed by prison officers to extend their role and to undertake a wider range of duties should be encouraged. I am a member of the Butler Trust, which was set up in memory of "Rab" Butler. Only a few months ago, the work done by people in the prison service was recognised.

The role of prison officers has changed, but if we treat prison officers as turnkeys they will act like turnkeys. One of the problems of prison officers is to increase and professionalise their role. As for recruitment and training, is it still true that training is neither as effective nor as comprehensive as it should be and that, at all levels, it is not given sufficient priority?

There were complicated recommendations concerning pay and allowances, which only those involved in the Prison Department or the prison service understand. What has happened to them? The dependence on overtime has increased.

The May report says that prison officers should have access to the central arbitration tribunal. Has that been done? Is it a possibility now? What has happened?

I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Fylde say that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is to examine prisons and their organisation. I am all in favour of examining prison reform, but not enough thought has been given, outside the Prison Department, which is a very good Department, to running prisons. That was the purpose of the May report. We drew up the committee's terms of reference with that in mind. I hope that its report will again be discussed publicly.

I wish the Home Secretary and the Prison Officers Association well in their meeting next Wednesday. That ought to be the beginning. There will be prison crises as long as prison officers, prison governors, the Prison Department and whoever is Home Secretary have to pretend that we can keep the cork in the bottle. They will not be able to do that. Perhaps we shall have a sensible discussion of the matter in the next general election campaign. But that may be too much to hope for.

6.3 pm

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

It amazes me that there is any surprise that the events of the past week or so have happened. Those of us who have been closely associated with the prison service, the after-care service and other off-shoots have been aware for years that this was brewing. There is nothing new about it—we had prison disruptions in 1974 and 1979.

I am sure that my right hon. friend the Home Secretary has realised that there can be no delay, and that action must be taken to correct critical problems. The cost of the damage done in the disruptions would have contributed substantially to enabling prison officers to carry out their work.

The events of the past week have shown how dangerously close our prison system is to collapse. The dispute takes place against a background of a record number of people—48,000—in prison, gross overcrowding of cells and restrictions on work education and association. In that respect, our prisons are an international as well as a national scandal. No other civilised country has such an appalling record.

The Government have chosen to try to end overcrowding by a large prison building programme involving 16 new prisons at a cost of £350 million. So far, however, new prison places have provided no real relief for overcrowded local prisons and the disgraceful circumstances in remand centres. As fast as new prisons have opened, the courts have filled them with more prisoners.

I remember making a speech on this very subject in 1979, when I urged the then Home Secretary to ensure that one old prison shut as one new prisons opened. Precisely what many of us feared has come about. Even before the dispute, the Home Secretary acknowledged that last year's especially sharp rise in the prison population had jeopardised the Government's hopes of eliminating overcrowding when the current building programme was complete. During the difficulties of the past week, more than 800 places have been lost, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) said.

Everybody agrees that serious and violent offenders must be imprisoned to protect the public, but we should bear in mind the fact that eight out of 10 of those who we imprison are non-violent offenders. Although some might have committed serious non-violent offences, many have committed relatively minor offences and could perfectly well be dealt with by the many non-custodial measures which are becoming available and which could be substantially increased if the funding was made available.

With an overall reconviction rate of about 60 per cent.—it is even higher for young offenders—our over-use of prisons makes no sense from a penological point of view. All of this is at a cost of more than £256 a week to keep an offender in prison. It makes sense neither from a humanitarian point of view nor from an economic one.

It is ironic that the Home Office is castigating prison officers for wasting relatively limited amounts on unnecessary overtime and ignoring the much larger amounts of taxpayers' money that is being spent on providing new prisons to accommodate ever more prisoners who have been given unnecessary custodial sentences. Last week the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group published a report entitled "The Rising Prison Population", which contains a ten-point programme of proposals to reduce the use of prison. We are sick to death of producing reports, we are tired of hearing learned papers being discussed, while nothing is done. This is how strongly we are beginning to feel. Many of the proposals in the report, which I am sure the Home Secretary will find an opportunity to read, would go a long way to reduce the likelihood that last week's harrowing events will ever be repeated.

This unhappy dispute centres partly on the right to set manning levels within individual prisons. Nobody disputes the right of management to manage, but when the exercise of that right brings anarchy, destruction and danger to life and property, the nature of the management's decision must and should be questioned.

Let us think generally of the situation with regard to pay. Prison officers' pay—let us face it and be honest about it—is far too low for the difficult, isolated and dangerous work that they do. They are not, as we used to term them, warders; they are professional prison officers. The earnings of prison officers are made up to a reasonable level only by overtime—excessive, in my view—that they would prefer not to do if they received a decent rate of pay.

To refresh our memories, officers start at £5,300—hardly a king's ransom—and rise after 15 years to £7,000 or just over. However, for decades Home Office and prison authorities fostered this excessive overtime as a means of keeping the prison system running and keeping staff numbers under control. Given the gross overcrowding of our current prison system and the grave warnings of impending disaster made clear by prison inspectors, governors and independent bodies, it seems a most inopportune time to go into a sudden reversal on the issue of overtime.

It would be a gross injustice to prison officers and prisoners alike if the effects of this management decision were drastically to reduce prison officers' earnings. Indeed, it would cause a great deal more trouble. As any competent manager knows, every change or reorganisation requires a substantial investment. The prison system is no different.

To bring our prison system back from the brink of anarchy and to establish it as a reasonably humane system, we need action, and swift action, on the following fronts: a substantial increase in prison officers' basic pay, elimination of restrictive practices, less concentration on the purely security role of prison officers—they are no longer simply turnkeys—safe manning levels and a large reduction in the population of non-violent offenders.

I am grateful to have had this chance to make a short contribution to this important debate. I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak. It is unfortunate to have this short debate on a matter of such importance. I hope that the House and the public at large will give overwhelming support to some of the points that have been raised on both sides of the House.

6.14 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I agree with almost every word uttered by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving). I hope that the Home Secretary was listening and that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in replying to the debate will answer the points that were made, because in the opening speech there was singularly little recognition of the long-term problem that confronts the prisons in this country today. We heard of the occasion of the dispute, and very little of the causes of the dispute.

The Home Secretary has sometimes paid lip service to the pressures under which the prison service is operating. In a speech to the prison governors on 5 November last he said: You have kept the system going while it was being stretched to the outer limits of its capacity in physical and human terms". The right hon. Gentleman shows little recognition today—or, indeed showed in his utterances last week when he sought to explain his position—of the strain in human terms faced by prison officers.

Having said that, I want to look mostly at the longer-term issues, which I believe the Government have not addressed. Indeed, the Home Secretary again today ducked the whole question of the frequency and duration of custodial sentences. In dealing with this issue, he said that he felt it was not appropriate—I paraphrase for brevity—to interfere with the role of the judiciary and sought, I believe, to misrepresent the position of those who feel that we in this country are badly out of line on sentencing policy and, as a result, have far too many people in prison for too long.

Let us look at the results. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the neglect of the prison buildings in the previous decade. The fact is that the prison population in the early 1970s was rising at a much slower rate than it is now. In the 1970s, the prison population was rising annually at the rate of 0.8 per cent. Since his Government took office, it has been rising by 1.4 per cent. per annum. His own Department's projections are that this trend will continue, and in the next decade it is anticipated that the prison population will rise by 2.7 per cent. per annum.

The consequences are appalling not only for prison officers but for prison inmates, many of whom in this country must be regarded as subject to conditions that are degrading and inhuman within the terms of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Three particular categories at least are suffering unacceptably. The first category is those on remand. In England the Home Secretary has shown himself, I believe, to be dilatory in dealing with this problem. The experimentation has been going on for too long. Action is needed to get these people before the courts. It may be that the Lord Chancellor's Department is partially responsible for the deployment of our judicial resources, and it falls to him particularly to deal with the Crown courts. The need to take a lesson from the Scottish system is imperative.

There is also the question of fine defaulters. It is absurd and ineffective to imprison so many fine defaulters as are being imprisoned today. There is the question of imprisonment for petty offences, of which the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) and the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) spoke. I think that the time has come for Parliament to grasp the nettle, to recognise that we must legislate out of existence the custodial response to certain offences; to remove that option.

In practice, some Departments have decriminalised certain offences—notably the Inland Revenue, which tends to pursue its claims in the civil courts rather than to prosecute. It has at least as good a rate of recovery by so doing than by prosecuting.

Responsibility does not lie only with Parliament and the Government. It must be recognised that something is going seriously wrong in our courts. In 1980, the Court of Appeal expressed its view forcefully and clearly when it stated: It is no secret that our prisons at the moment are dangerously overcrowded, so much so that sentencing courts must be particularly careful to examine each case to ensure that if a minimum custodial sentence is necessary, sentences are as short as possible and consistent only with the duties to protect the interests of the public and to punish and deter the criminal. Many offenders can be dealt with equally justly and effectively by a sentence of six months' or nine months' imprisonment as by one of eighteen months or three years. What the court can and should do is ask itself whether there is any compelling reason why a short sentence should not be passed. Notwithstanding the guidance from the Court of Appeal, the Home Office has reported that the recent increase in the prison population has been mainly due to a larger number of offenders being dealt with by the Crown court and a large proportion of them being given a custodial sentence. There is also some evidence towards the end of 1984 of an increase in the length of custodial sentences being imposed by the Crown court for some types of offences, which may be a contributory factor. The Home Secretary took the opportunity today to remind the House of the need for custodial sentences in cases of violence and those of drug trafficking; no one in the House would dissent from that. However, the right hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to talk about the decriminalisation, which has been recommended by Justice, the British branch of the International Commission of Jurists, of many of the 7,000 offences that are called criminal. He has not taken the opportunity to recognise that Parliament and Government set the framework within which judges have to pass sentences and that the judiciary has to take the lead from those who are elected to set the sentencing framework.

The Home Secretary is looking puzzled. either because he is hoping that I shall say something that interferes with what he calls the discretion of the judiciary or because he is not prepared to respond to these matters. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to realise that the problems which exploded last week will recur if he does not tackle the underlying difficulties. He may shuffle off his responsibilities to a successor but the problems will not be dealt with merely by the prison building programme. That programme is necessary to replace existing antiquated and unacceptable prisons, apart from meeting the growing prison population. What the right hon. Gentleman should be examining, and what he said nothing about, are the alternatives to custodial treatment.

Mr. Hurd


Mr. Maclennan

No, I shall not give way.

Mr. Hurd

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my speech.

Mr. Maclennan

I listened to it with great care and I made careful notes.

I am extremely disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not touch on the shortage of day care centres. He did not touch upon the possibilities of expanding intermediate treatment. He did not touch on bail verification schemes and other desirable replacements for custodial treatment. He did not deal with these matters with the seriousness that they deserve. He and the Home Office have shown less than sufficient enthusiasm for the options to custody for too long: the consequence is the appalling breakdown of law and order in the prisons, which was brought home to us last week.

It is right that manning levels must be determined by the prison service, by the prison management. That means that decisions cannot be taken by anyone else. However, if prison officers are to be regarded as part of a professional body—that must be the objective—it is only right that they should be closely involved in consultation. It is right that their status should be enhanced, that their basic pay should be increased and that the appalling industrial relations example which the Home Secretary gave last week, should not be repeated.

I hope that the talks that will take place tomorrow will be fruitful and that, as a result of recent bitter experience, there will be a more professional attitude among the wilder elements of the prisoner officers. I hope that the proper aspirations of the members of the Prison Officers Association will be met and that they will continue to provide a service under less trying conditions than they have had to endure for some time.

6.26 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

The events of last week caused a great deal of hardship and anxiety to prisoners, who saw a deterioration in the already poor prison regime; to those who were refused access to prisons and had to endure the appalling conditions of police and court cells; to those prisoners who were intimidated, threatened or beaten by other prisoners because of the prison officers' lack of or abdication of control over the prisons; to prisoners' relatives, who were refused visits; and to local residents, who were concerned about the reports of riots and breakouts and were naturally apprehensive about their own safety. In those circumstances, the decision of the Prison Officers Association to suspend industrial action is to be commended, whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue.

The Home Secretary said again this afternoon that the trigger that set off the industrial action was the prison officers' claim to be able to negotiate safe manning levels and the right hon. Gentleman's insistence that while he would consult he reserved the right for management to manage and to determine appropriate staffing levels. That attitude is proper and acceptable, and with good will, sensitivity and patience on both sides the dispute could have been resolved. The response of David Evans, the general secretary of the POA, to the Home Secretary's letter of 27 April seemed to suggest that agreement on that issue had been arrived at, or at least was near. Local action seemed to undermine that.

That is not the real issue, however, and it is not the issue that we are debating. The real issue, as the Home Secretary has made clear, and as the Prime Minister reiterated in her letter to the prison governors, is the Government's determination to eradicate what they see as excessive overtime and waste in the prison service.

No one, including the POA, prison officers, the prison service and the Labour movement, will do anyone any favours by pretending that there are not abuses of the overtime system and that there are not restrictive practices which should be eliminated. There are several abuses of working practices and the overtime system, and these relate to escort duties, the shift system, weekend workings at overtime rates and the insistence of prison officers that they escort prisoners to education classes and workshops. There are abuses, and they need to be dealt with effectively, but that is not to say that they can be dealt with by the method adopted by the Home Secretary.

The present practices have existed and have been tolerated by successive Governments, and the present Government have tolerated them for the past seven years. Weak management has allowed prison officers to veto several proposals for penal reform, whether it be the abolition of censorship or the installation of pay telephones in category C prisons. Weak management and ineffective Home Office control have not only tolerated, but have encouraged many of the practices that the Home Secretary now wishes to eradicate.

Such practices cannot be eradicated by suddenly holding a pistol to the POA's head. Those practices must be removed over a long period of time through patient negotiation. They must be part of a package that is concerned with improving the pay, working conditions and esteem of prison officers, as well as with increasing their numbers. They must also be attached to a package that includes a substantial reduction in the prison population.

It would be remiss of us to talk about the dispute or the issues surrounding it without placing it within that context. That is the context in which the dispute has arisen. The Home Secretary affects that the problem is new. His naive, simplistic approach that all those who propose solutions to the excessive increase in the prison population wish merely to inhibit the discretion enjoyed by the judiciary is a deliberate misreading of the situation.

Today, the prison population is at a record level. There are 47,000 prisoners in certified normal accommodation for 40,000. More than one third of our prisoners are required to live two or three to a cell that was built for one in Victorian times. They are locked up for 23 hours out of every 24, and are denied proper access to work, education and recreation facilities and, moreover, are denied access to decent sanitation. They live in conditions that make a mockery of the prison service's stated aim to help prisoners to lead a good and useful life. Their conditions deny any notion of minimal standards of human decency and contravene minimum internationally agreed standards for the treatment of prisoners. The dispute, and the tensions and difficulties encountered by prison officers, must be seen in that context.

The problem is not new. The Home Secretary came to the House today, with all his good intent, after seven long years of a Conservative Government who have been warned time and again, by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and by organisations both inside and outside the House, about the spiralling increase in the prison population and the dangers that that poses for standards and for the safety of prisoners and staff. Those dangers were outlined in the expenditure report, published in 1978. They were reiterated in the May committee's report in 1979. They were also repeated in the report of the Home Affairs Committee in 1981 and in the report of our parliamentary penal affairs group which was published in 1980, entitled, "Too Many Prisoners".

Those reports and many others have drawn the attention of successive Home Secretaries to the need for a substantial and permanent reduction in the prison population and for action to be taken quickly if we are to avoid a crisis in our prisons that could endanger the life, health, safety and welfare of prisoners and staff. Successive Conservative Home Secretaries have ignored those warnings and failed to take the sort of measures that have been reiterated today, and which would lead to a reduction in the prison population.

The Home Secretary said that the dispute provided him with an opportunity. So it does, and let us hope that he will take it, not just to ensure that there are decent working conditions for prison officers, to insist that they work in accordance with proper procedures, or to increase their numbers or pay, but to provide a more positive and constructive prison regime. We need a regime that makes some attempt at rehabilitation or reform, but that can be achieved only if the Home Secretary takes immediate and effective action to reduce the prison population.

There is no time to go through the numerous ways in which the prison population could be reduced. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) has played an important role in all of our debates, and in seeking penal reform. He mentioned the 10-point programme which was published last week by the penal affairs group. Ten clear, well-argued, well-articulated and well-researched proposals were set out which would lead to a substantial reduction in the prison population. The Home Secretary could activate one of them today. He could activate section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, which the parliamentary group wrote into the legislation. It would enable him to release short-term, non-violent offenders in the last six months of their sentences, and would thus immediately release about 5,000 prisoners without endangering the public.

That would give the Home Secretary that necessary and essential breathing space in which to renegotiate the terms and conditions of prison officers and to embark upon the creation of that more positive and constructive prison regime. Whichever option the Home Secretary goes for, prison officers, prisons and all those who care about such matters will not forgive him if he does not take with both hands the opportunity to reform our penal system so that we can have safe, decent and civilised conditions for both staff and prisoners.

6.35 pm
Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I apologise for not being in the Chamber throughout the debate, but I had an unavoidable appointment to keep.

I rise to pay tribute to the prison staff in my constituency, which has a very unusual prison. It is in the old castle, and physical conditions could hardly be worse. Despite that, over the years every effort has been made to bring a civilised attitude to bear on the running of that gaol. The governor and the prison officers have an excellent relationship, and I have had the good fortune to be a prison visitor there for some years. In a report published only a few months ago Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons revealed that morale in our prison is exceptionally high.

It is important that people should realise that some prisons are exceptionally well run. Indeed, tribute should be paid to them. Nevertheless, prison officers feel that they have been ill-served over the question of overtime. It is crucial that they should be given higher basic salaries, so that perhaps we could remove some of the overtime. We must alleviate that sense of grievance if happy prisons, like that in Lancaster, are to remain well run.

6.37 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

This all too short debate takes place in the context of the total and abject failure of the Government's law and order policy. That failure is matched only by their failure to create employment. They are the two most disastrous areas of this Government's policies.

I agree with the POA which, in "A Service in Crisis", says: the conditions of work for prison officers and the role they are asked to carry out on behalf of society is fettered not only by the physical conditions, but by the total absence of a cohesive strategy on penal affairs. If my opening comments are wrong, they are wrong only in as much as the Government do not have a policy to collapse. That is the problem for them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) pointed out, the Government were given a positive opportunity with the May report. That report gave the Government an opportunity that no previous Government had. But again they either ducked it or missed it, depending on whether they knew that it existed. Since then, we have had a statement from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, in which he says: Our overriding concern during 1984 was, perhaps, that regime opportunities continued to diminish and that overcrowding—a fundamental cause of this and many other evils—seemed, at least in the short term, more likely to get worse than better. Of course, the crisis exploded last week.

Incidentally, certain hon. Members on both sides of the House belong to the all-party group, which has done very good work on this issue. But the inspector had the following to say about night sanitary arrangements: The problem is exacerbated by overcrowding, which results in most of these inmates having to use their pots in the presence of one or two other inmates in the confines of a small cell. When the time for slopping out comes the prisoners queue up with their pots for the few toilets on the landing. The stench of urine and excrement pervades the prison. So awful is this procedure that many prisoners become constipated—others prefer to use their pants, hurling them and their contents out of the window when morning comes. It is important to use the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons to drive that point home. Some people do not realise the seriousness of the crisis.

The British penal system is one of the worst penal systems in the Western world. The hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) intends to visit the United States. I warn him that the United States copied its penal system from Britain. Britain and the United States imposed their system on West Germany, after Germany's defeat in 1945. The three worst penal systems in the Western world are those of West Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. I would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman to go to Holland and Sweden, where he would see what can be done with a sensible prison policy. Holland has similar crime and inner-city problems to Britain.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

The right hon. Gentleman has just been there.

Mr. Soley

My hon. Friend has just said that the hon. and learned Member for Fylde has been there.

The Home Secretary said that he does not want to tell the courts what to do. He said that it was only Labour Members who wanted to tell the courts what to do. He had better send a note to the House of Lords and tell Lord Whitelaw that he must have crossed the Floor of the House, because Lord Whitelaw does not appear to know that he crossed the Floor of the House. Lord Whitelaw "threatened"—I use the word of Government Members—the courts that if they did not do something about long sentences, he would. On 1 August 1980, he said: I believe that a strong consensus is developing that shorter prison sentences are both appropriate and desirable. We now know that a longer sentence is most unlikely to aid a prisoner's rehabilitation in any sense, while the initial impact of imprisonment is quite sufficient to make a lasting impression in the minds of most offenders. The then Home Secretary went on to talk about the importance of recognising the right of the courts to pass the sentences that they desired. My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) intervened and asked how long it would be before the Home Secretary—who is now Lord Whitelaw—would intervene. In response, Lord Whitelaw said: I shall not be trapped into saying how long I shall give the judiciary…I want to see how this develops."—[Official Report, 1 August 1980; Vol. 989, c. 1907–8.] If that is not a clear and definite sign that he would intervene if the courts did not respond, the Government had better ask Lord Whitelaw what he did mean. The House is responsible for deciding the length of sentences. The Home Secretary sent out an advice notice to 26,000 judges, recorders, magistrates and clerks of the court telling them to impose fewer sentences at the same time—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out—as the chairman of the Tory party and the Prime Minister were saying, "Give longer sentences." The Government had better decide whose side they are on. They do not seem to know what they want.

Has the Home Secretary ever spoken to the chairman of the Tory party about his statements on law and order? If people such as the chairman of the Tory party and the Prime Minister keep saying, "Give longer sentences," would anybody be surprised if the courts ignored the advice from the Home Secretary, simply because the Government were speaking with two voices? If the Government want to reduce the length of prison sentences, they can. The House of Commons recently considered the Public Order Bill which sought to impose a prison sentence for disobeying a police officer's instructions on the roads along which a person could go to attend a demonstration. It is nonsense to get ourselves into such a state. No civilised country would dream of doing anything so stupid. As I said in Committee, and as the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) accepted, the Bill sought to impose a life sentence on a person taking part in a riot. That is way above anything that any other country has done. As I understand it. the Government are awaiting the outcome of a particular case before they decide to proceed with that measure. The Government must put their house in order.

What do the Government intend to do about Executive release? The provision of Executive release was introduced by the Government to reduce overcrowding in the prisons in a crisis. The present Home Secretary and the previous Home Secretary told us that we have a crisis in our prisons, but they have not used the Executive release provision. Perhaps the Minister will address himself to what the Government intend to use Executive release for and when they intend to use it. If last week's event was not a crisis which justified the use of Executive release, what is?

All I can suggest—the Prison Officers Association knows this—is that it is designed to be used in the context of industrial action. It will be used to try to break the POA, in the same way as the Government tried to break the teachers, the miners and everyone else with whom they disagree. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton indicated, the Government passed legislation insisting on a ballot. That was followed fully by the POA. Therefore, to turn round and accuse the POA of bucking the system is unacceptable.

The House should be reminded of what happened last Wednesday. The complement of staff on duty was that required by the manning instructions of the Government. Overtime was stopped. If the ordinary system had been suitable, it would have worked, but it did not. The Government's failure on the POA claim is that they tried to force the POA to drop all hint of industrial action, despite the ballot. The Government's climb-down—which is welcome—is a recognition that they should have accepted the offer of the POA to withdraw industrial action while negotiations took place.

I conclude with perhaps the most important point of all. Overtime is not desirable as a way of operating our prisons. When I said that the Government had thrown away an opportunity regarding the May report, I meant it. The May report stated that there was a desperate need to restructure prison officersn salaries, working conditions, and so on. The Government, especially the previous Home Secretary, should have created a proper, professional status for the job of prison officer. Prison officers do not want to be just turnkeys. The vast majority of prison officers do not want to rely on overtime. They are prepared to negotiate and discuss a proper, professional salary for the job.

If that happened, we could introduce a proper training scheme for prison officers. A prison officer gets 12 weeks basic training, of which the first three are spent working in a prison. An officer is on probation for a year. We must remember that prison officers deal with men and women who, at best, have many emotional and social problems, and, at worst, are sophisticated offenders. In the Northern Ireland conflict people have gone on hunger strikes to the point of killing themselves.

This crisis has given the Government another opportunity. If they duck or miss it again, as they did with the May committee, that will be a criminal mistake for which we shall hold the Government accountable.

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

I cannot say that I agreed with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, despite the fine eloquence of his contribution, because he seemed to sacrifice real depth for surface glitter—more like Richard Strauss than Bruckner. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was Brucknerian only in its length.

I agreed with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Gorton that the problems have been present for many years, under Governments of both parties. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) recognised that. In 1979 the prison population, which numbered 42,500, represented 111 per cent. of certified normal accommodation. Today, at just under 47,000, it represents 113.5 per cent. of certified normal accommodation.

There has been a problem of overcrowding for a long time. It is wrong to suggest that the crisis in the prisons is of recent provenance, due to the over-use of imprisonment by the courts. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) has often put his finger on the real point, which is that the growth in the prison population has been predominantly a growth in remand prisoners. In June 1979 the figure was 6,100, and in March 1986 it was 9,500. That has to do with the confidence that the courts have in the intentions of certain people appearing before them to turn up for trial when called and not to commit further offences when on bail—matters that are, rightly, decisions for courts and not Governments.

Governments can help, as we have sought to do, in a number of material ways; for example, by experimenting with time limits, which bring cases on more quickly and cut out unwarranted delays, especially for those on remand in custody, and by increasing the number of bail hostels and expenditure on the probation service. Since the Conservative party took office that expenditure has increased by 35 per cent. in real terms. The increase in the number of sentenced prisoners has been relatively modest, from 35,700 in the system in June 1979, to 37,100 at the end of March 1986 —an increase of 1,400, which is very much at the margin.

Contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), the average prison population increased more in the 1970s than it did in the 1980s. It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. I am giving him the facts. If I am wrong, no doubt he will correct me, but I suspect that he will not need to do so. The average prison population increased between 1974 and 1979 14 per cent., and between 1979 and 1985 by 9.5 per cent. Much of the hon. Gentleman's case was a house built on sand.

Between 1979 and 1984 there was a significant increase in the number of sentenced prisoners, which reflected an increase in the number of indictable offences cleared up—250,000 last year with an increase of about 50 per cent. in the business of the Crown court. It is an admission not of failure but of success if more criminals are caught and sentenced. If it is appropriate that they should go to prison, it is a Government's duty to provide prison places so that the courts may so sentence. That is the public's view. In so far as it is not the Labour party's view, it shows that, despite all its efforts to regain the ground on the law and order issue which it has lost over the years, it is still very much at variance with the outlook of the ordinary man on the street.

In 1984, 74,000 people were sentenced to prison, compared with 60,000 in 1979. That was certainly an increase, but, in view of the proper calls for non-custodial sentences, in which we believe when such sentences are appropriate, that is worth setting in its proper context. Taking one non-custodial sentence alone, between 1979 and 1984 the number of sentences to community service passed by the courts increased from 13,000 to 34.000—an increase of 21,000, or 50 per cent. more than the increase in the number of people sent to prison. I should have thought that that showed the Government's success in devising penalties in which the courts had confidence and in providing the resources through the probation service and the probation ancilliaries to implement those sentences.

The Opposition's attacks were well wide of the mark on a number of counts. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) commend the penal system in the Netherlands as one that we should follow. I wonder whether that could be sustained by a visit to Amsterdam to see the law and order position there, or by the observation, which is often made, that in the Netherlands if there is no room in prison for a person sentenced to prison, he goes home and waits for the call to come. Is that the criminal justice system that the Opposition advise?

I cannot help but think that the Opposition's commendation of the completely outmoded approach on which even the Netherlands authorities are turning their backs is, once again, a sign of how out of touch they are. The comparisons made with other European countries fall down on the one country which is perhaps comparable to the United Kingdom—West Germany. The special pleading that somehow the West Germans inherited our penal system does not seem to be anywhere near the mark.

Much of the Opposition's attack was based on the assertion that it is this Government and this Home Secretary who have created a crisis in the prisons. However, in 1979 the Conservative party inherited a rundown prison estate because the last Government, although they knew the problems, failed to do anything about them. Because there has been some dispute about the figures, and because, for the bulk of the debate, the former Home Secretary—the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South—challenged one of my figures, I shall cite the figures so that we can end the argument once and for all. On staff costs, between 1974–75 and 1978–79 there was an increase in cash terms from £75 million to £158 million. Because that was the notorious period during which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland was Under-Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, such as the impact of inflation that an increase of——

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-Upon-Tweed)

So what?

Mr. Mellor

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman. There was an increase of 111 per cent. in cash terms. which amounted to an increase of only 9 per cent. in real terms at the end of that period. However, between 1979–80 and 1985–86, under this Government, there was an increase in cash terms from £194 million to £386 million, which is an increase of 99 per cent. in cash terms and 43 per cent. in real terms. That is a fivefold increase in real terms compared with the so-called achievements of the Labour Government.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mellor

Let me finish the indictment and then the right hon. Gentleman can plead to it.

I come now to the points on new buildings, because the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds. South commented on that. During the lifetime of the Labour Government there was a decrease of 20 per cent. in real terms in capital expenditure on prison building. The right hon. Gentleman's defence of that period appeared to be confined to his tenure of office, when he denied that there were any cuts. I shall, therefore, cite the figures. Capital expenditure in 1974–75 was £20 million; in 1975–76, £29 million; and—we come to the point where the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South came on the scene—in 1976–77——

Mr. Merlyn Rees

When was that?

Mr. Mellor

In September. In 1976–77, expenditure was £25 million.

Mr. Rees

That was not me.

Mr. Mellor

We are coming to the bit that implicates the right hon. Gentleman. In 1977–78 it was £25 million, and in 1978–79—the right hon. Gentleman cannot say that he was not there——

Mr. Rees

I was there.

Mr. Mellor

—it was £23 million.

Mr. Kaufman


Mr. Mellor

Wait a minute. I am dealing with the master and I shall come later to the apprentice.

The grandiloquent account by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South of his battles with the Treasury does not match the reality that there was a decrease—I shall give way to him if my figures are wrong—in capital spending, leaving us with a disgraceful prison estate to pick up. During the Labour Government only £122 million was spent on the prisons. We have spent £322 million.

Mr. Kaufman

Now that the hon. Gentleman is dealing with cash terms and real terms, will he repudiate the Prime Minister's false statement last Thursday that We have increased spending on the prison service by 85 per cent. in real terms."—[Official Report, 1 May 1986; Vol. 96, c. 1097.] when the Government have done nothing of the kind, and when the Home Secretary has admitted this afternoon that the expenditure was less than one third of the amount cited by the Prime Minister? Will the hon. Gentleman now be brave and courageous enough to say that last Thursday the Prime Minister misinformed and misled the House?

Mr. Mellor

I am not accountable for what my right hon. Friend says about that. I am giving the House the figures. If, by a slip of the tongue, my right hon. friend the Prime Minister gave the wrong figure, that cannot possibly be the excuse for the fact that, under the Labour Government, there was a decrease just at the time when there should have been an increase, in the prison building programme, while under this Government there has been an increase of 173 per cent. in the amount spent this year compared with 1979–80. For the Labour party to think that a slip of the tongue made during Question Time is an answer to a charge of neglect of the prison estate during the five years in which the Labour party were in government is a sign of the shallowness of its approach to a deeply serious and difficult issue.

Our prison building programme has brought on stream nearly 3,000 new places in the past three years, with the promise of more than 11,000 places to come. That enables us to deal seriously with the real problems of providing a prison system that is appropriate for the present situation. All that increased expenditure needs to be based on a proper and efficient system in the prisons so that those who work in the prisons do so according to modern and not outdated industrial relations practices. That is what the Government are tackling.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 260.

Divison No. 169] [7.00 pm
Alton, David Dalyell, Tam
Anderson, Donald Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Ashdown, Paddy Dixon, Donald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dobson, Frank
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Dormand, Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Douglas, Dick
Barnett, Guy Dubs, Alfred
Barron, Kevin Duffy, A. E. P.
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Beith, A. J. Eadie, Alex
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Eastham, Ken
Bermingham, Gerald Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Bidwell, Sydney Faulds, Andrew
Blair, Anthony Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fisher, Mark
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Foster, Derek
Buchan, Norman Foulkes, George
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Campbell, Ian Freud, Clement
Campbell-Savours, Dale George, Bruce
Carter-Jones, Lewis Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Golding, John
Clarke, Thomas Gould, Bryan
Clay, Robert Gourlay, Harry
Clelland, David Gordon Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Conlan, Bernard Hancock, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Hardy, Peter
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Corbett, Robin Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Corbyn, Jeremy Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Heffer, Eric S.
Craigen, J. M. Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Crowther, Stan Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Home Robertson, John
Cunningham, Dr John Hoyle, Douglas
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Randall, Stuart
Janner, Hon Greville Raynsford, Nick
John, Brynmor Redmond, Martin
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Richardson, Ms Jo
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Robertson, George
Lamond, James Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Leadbitter, Ted Rogers, Allan
Leighton, Ronald Rooker, J. W.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rowlands, Ted
McCartney, Hugh Ryman, John
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Sheerman, Barry
McGuire, Michael Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McKelvey, William Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Maclennan, Robert Silkin, Rt Hon J.
McTaggart, Robert Skinner, Dennis
McWilliam, John Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Madden, Max Soley, Clive
Marek, Dr John Spearing, Nigel
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Martin, Michael Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Meacher, Michael Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Mikardo, Ian Tinn, James
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Torney, Tom
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wainwright, R.
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wareing, Robert
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Weetch, Ken
O'Brien, William White, James
O'Neill, Martin Wigley, Dafydd
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Rt Hon A.
Park, George Winnick, David
Parry, Robert Woodall, Alec
Patchett, Terry Wrigglesworth, Ian
Pavitt, Laurie Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pendry, Tom
Penhaligon, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Pike, Peter Mr. Sean Hughes and
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Mr. Ron Davies.
Prescott, John
Aitken, Jonathan Corrie, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cranborne, Viscount
Ancram, Michael Critchley, Julian
Ashby, David Dickens, Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Dorrell, Stephen
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dover, Den
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Durant, Tony
Best, Keith Eyre, Sir Reginald
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fairbairn, Nicholas
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fallon, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Favell, Anthony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Brooke, Hon Peter Forman, Nigel
Buck, Sir Antony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Butcher, John Freeman, Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fry, Peter
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Gale, Roger
Cash, William Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Garel-Jones, Tristan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Chapman, Sydney Glyn, Dr Alan
Chope, Christopher Goodlad, Alastair
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Gow, Ian
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Gower, Sir Raymond
Clegg, Sir Walter Grant, Sir Anthony
Cockeram, Eric Gregory, Conal
Colvin, Michael Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Coombs, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Cope, John Grist, Ian
Ground, Patrick Marlow, Antony
Grylls, Michael Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mather, Carol
Hanley, Jeremy Maude, Hon Francis
Hannam, John Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hargreaves, Kenneth Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Harris, David Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Harvey, Robert Mellor, David
Haselhurst, Alan Merchant, Piers
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hayes, J. Miscampbell, Norman
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Monro, Sir Hector
Hayward, Robert Moore, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Henderson, Barry Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hickmet, Richard Moynihan, Hon C.
Hicks, Robert Mudd, David
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Murphy, Christopher
Hirst, Michael Needham, Richard
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Nelson, Anthony
Hordern, Sir Peter Newton, Tony
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Nicholls, Patrick
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Normanton, Tom
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Norris, Steven
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Onslow, Cranley
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Osborn, Sir John
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Hunter, Andrew Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Irving, Charles Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Jackson, Robert Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Pattie, Geoffrey
Jessel, Toby Pawsey, James
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Portillo, Michael
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Powell, William (Corby)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Powley, John
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Price, Sir David
Key, Robert Proctor, K. Harvey
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Raffan, Keith
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Knox, David Rathbone, Tim
Lang, Ian Renton, Tim
Latham, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Lawler, Geoffrey Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Rost, Peter
Lightbown, David Rowe, Andrew
Lilley, Peter Ryder, Richard
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lord, Michael St, John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Sayeed, Jonathan
Lyell, Nicholas Shelton, William (Streatham)
McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Macfarlane, Neil Shersby, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Silvester, Fred
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Sims, Roger
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Soames, Hon Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Speed, Keith
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Speller, Tony
McQuarrie, Albert Spencer, Derek
Madel, David Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Major, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Malins, Humfrey Squire, Robin
Malone, Gerald Stanbrook, Ivor
Maples, John Stanley, Rt Hon John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Stern, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Walden, George
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Stokes, John Waller, Gary
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Walters, Dennis
Sumberg, David Ward, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Taylor, John (Solihull) Warren, Kenneth
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Watts, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Terlezki, Stefan Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wheeler, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Whitney, Raymond
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Wilkinson, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thornton, Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wolfson, Mark
Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath) Wood, Timothy
Trippier, David Woodcock, Michael
Twinn, Dr Ian Yeo, Tim
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Young, Sir George (Acton)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Waddington, David Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Mr. Michael Neubert.

Question accordingly negatived.

7.12 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can advise me and my colleague Members from the London borough of Newham. An election centrepiece going around in the Inner London education authority area, distributed by the Conservative Party, says: In Labour-controlled Newham the Council have voted to stop police entering schools to build contacts with young people. This is wrong. It is not only wrong, but a downright lie. Newham borough council has applied to the courts——

Mr. Speaker

What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Banks

The point of order is this. Newham borough council has applied to the courts and has been granted an injunction against Conservative Central Office distributing that scurrilous piece of propaganda. Conservative Central Office has ignored the injunction. I should like to ask whether it is possible for the Law Officers to come to the House and explain why an injunction granted by the courts is not being enforced by Conservative Central Office——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is certainly not a matter for me. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am responsible for what goes on inside the House. I cannot be held responsible for what goes on outside.

Mr. Banks

I understand, but further to that point of order, this is to save you embarrassment, Mr. Speaker, because Newham borough council has applied to the courts for the committal of the chairman of the Conservative party. Obviously, it would be embarrassing if he was arrested——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for me either.