HC Deb 11 February 1987 vol 110 cc293-5
1. Mr. Hugh Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total cell accommodation in Scottish prisons; how many are currently out of use; for what reasons; and when he expects additional cells to come into use.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The total design capacity of accommodation in Scottish penal establishments is 5,398 places. Of these, 395 cells are currently out of use as a result of damage in recent incidents. Four hundred and sixty eight additional places will become available when phase 2 of Shotts prison is brought into use this year.

Mr. Brown

During the recent disturbance in Barlinnie the Secretary of State repeatedly stated that overcrowding was not a problem. When is the inspector's report on Peterhead expected? Will the Secretary of State comment on the leaked report by the prison working group? Everybody in Scotland seems to know about that report except us. What proposals does he have in mind to reduce the prison population rather than to reshuffle places and prisoners?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman has raised many points. My comments on overcrowding related to B hall of Barlinnie, where the incident took place, and indeed to Peterhead. In neither case has there been overcrowding. I have said that I shall consider publishing the working party's report when its draft report is finally determined. It might be a useful contribution to public debate on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the most important aspects of the prison population concerns those in prison for non-payment of fines. He will be aware of the appointment of fine enforcement officers. Early signs are that those appointments are at least helping to reduce the number of people admitted to prison for that reason. Clearly, we shall be willing to give further consideration to ideas that might produce further progress.

Mr. Henderson

How much have the Government expended in capital expenditure in Scottish prisons in recent years? How does it compare with the record of the previous Government to improve accommodation in Scottish prisons?

Mr. Rifkind

The standard figure is approximately £40 million since 1979. Indeed, the opening of the new phase of Shotts prison will provide a substantial improvement in the quality of the infrastructure for those incarcerated within prisons. We attach importance to a proper prison programme to ensure that the standard of facilities in Scottish prisons is commensurate with what modern circumstances suggest is appropriate.

Mr. O'Neill

Although the, Secretary of State and the Opposition may disagree on what is meant by overcrowding, he will surely accept that too many people are in Scottish prisons and that not all of them are in prison because they have not paid fines. Is it not depressing that the best that the Scottish prisons group can come up with is some reshuffling of numbers? It should look at finding better ways of treating prisoners by means of halfway houses and more imaginative sentencing policies, and that is the Secretary of State's responsibility.

Mr. Rifkind

I ask the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that the question of who gets sent to prison is a matter not for the working group or, indeed, for the Government, but for the courts to determine when convicted individuals are sentenced. Therefore, penal policy relates to other issues.

The working party is looking at alternative systems for certain kinds of prisoners. I am anxious, beyond that aspect, to look at other ways of ensuring that, at the end of the day, prisons are used only for those for whom there is no appropriate alternative form of punishment. There is common ground on that matter. Translating that into specific policy decisions is inevitably more difficult, but we are open to proposals that might be forthcoming on this matter. At the end of the day, what is done with any individual convicted person is a matter for the courts and not for anyone else.

Mr. Hirst

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the recent disruption in prisons and the consequent damage to prison buildings have merely compounded the overcrowding problem in certain prisons? At the same time, will he place on record his admiraton for the work of officer John Kearney, one of my constituents, who was held hostage for over 100 hours? Finally, with a view to dealing with any possible future disruption, will my right hon. and learned Friend invite the media to ensure that, in future, demonstrations are not covered by television, newspaper and radio people, because that has the unfortunate habit of encouraging demonstrations to continue for longer.

Mr. Rifkind

When the new phase 2 of Shotts prison is open, the total capacity of the Scottish prison system will be slightly greater than the total number of individual prisoners. However, there may still be a mismatch in individual establishments. We are considering ways of ensuring that the establishments that are available are properly utilised so that there is not under-utilisation of capacity in one establishment and overcrowding in another. As for the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I do indeed pay tribute to the courage of all prison officers, who are constantly required to undertake very difficult and serious responsibilities that are often not perceived by the general public. The role that the media might play in covering incidents in prisons is a separate issue, but I know that all who are interested in the public interest will wish to ensure that nothing is done to inflame or aggravate any delicate situation, particularly when the physical safety of individual prison officers may be affected.

Mr. Clarke

Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman ignore the fact that under this Government the crime rate has risen by 80 per cent. in Scotland since 1979? Why has he failed to address himself today to the problem of prisoners on remand? Is he not worried about untried prisoners? Is he not worried that those who have been found guilty of nothing are being put into overcrowded cells? Does he accept that since Scotland sends to prison four times as many people as do most other European countries, the problem calls for resources? Above all, will he respond to the low morale among the personnel in Scottish prisons by holding an urgent public inquiry?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's question illustrates a certain degree of confusion. Those who have been found not guilty are not incarcerated in prison. The remand prisoners to whom the hon. Gentleman referred are those who have been charged with crimes and who are awaiting trial, but to whom the courts have concluded that it would not be appropriate to grant bail. I accept that those who have not yet been convicted of an offence but who are detained in prison awaiting trial are in a different category and that we must ensure that they are given proper care and consideration. I should also emphasise that under the Scottish system those who are awaiting trial do not have to suffer a period of detention before trial of the kind that one finds in many other countries.

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