HC Deb 03 December 1987 vol 123 cc1086-8
2. Mr. Sackville

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many of those currently held in Her Majesty's prisons are on remand.

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

On 31 October about 10,570 untried or convicted unsentenced prisoners were held in prison department establishments in England and Wales.

Mr. Sackville

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the delay in bringing accused people to trial is not only a major aggravation of overcrowding problems in prison but, by our own high standards, a serious infringement of human rights?

Mr. Hurd

I agree that having more than one fifth of the prison population unsentenced or unconvicted is wrong and is too high. That is why we are doing everything that we can to speed up the process of business in magistrates' courts, and that is why, in three police areas, I am using the power given me under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to introduce time limits on remand before the case is brought to trial.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the few things that mitigate the rigours of remand is the entitlement of remand prisoners to food, drink and other comforts being brought into the remand prison by relatives? Will he tell the House that he has no plans whatever to reduce the privileges of remand prisoners, which are already few enough?

Mr. Hurd

We have, in our reply to the Select Committee's report, which we have published today— there is another question on the Order Paper — announced our intention to remove the special food privileges for remand prisoners. Clearly, whatever its justification at a time when food was scanty and bad, there is no justification for it today. It involves a danger of smuggling in drugs and other materials. It wastes a lot of prison officer time and its benefit to the remand population does not justify its continuance.

Mr. Butler

Will my right hon. Friend look closely at the whole concept of remand, as prisoners have an interest in spinning out their period on remand if they know that ultimately they will be convicted, because their privileges on remand are rather better than those on full imprisonment?

Mr. Hurd

It is certainly true that not all the delays to which the question refers are the result of the prosecution. There are occasions when delay is caused by the defence.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Home Secretary accept that removing the rights of people held on remand is no answer to the problems of and pressure on the prison service? When does he expect that prisoners on remand will cease to be kept in police stations in London and the Home Counties?

Mr. Hurd

The decision that we have taken about food privileges for remand prisoners follows a recommendation to that effect from the Select Committee.

Mrs. Taylor

That is not an answer to all the problems.

Mr. Hurd

It is not an answer to all the problems. No single measure is ever an answer to all problems, but it certainly means that prison officers will be able to use their time to the greater benefit of the regime than when they are searching food brought in for remand prisoners. The hon. Lady is perfectly correct to focus again on the mischief of remand prisoners, or indeed of any prisoners, being held in police cells. The measures now being taken in the north-west will certainly help to relieve the situation there—

Mrs. Taylor


Mr. Hurd

Shortly. But I am still concerned about the position in the south-east.