HC Deb 07 May 1987 vol 115 cc843-5
3. Mr. Speller

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners Exeter prison is designed to accommodate; how many were there on the last day of January, February and March; how many cells have more than the intended number of occupants; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)

Since Exeter comprises three separate units, a local prison, a remand centre and a long-term youth custody centre, each with its own certified normal accommodation and population, I will, with permission circulate in the Official Report the information requested.

Mr. Speller

I cannot anticipate the information that my hon. and learned Friend will provide, but may I ask whether he knows, for example, how many hours per day the average prisoner is locked up in Exeter prison? How many of the cells have even the most fundamental forms of running water and sanitation? Is he satisfied that, when so much money is being spent by the Government on improving and rebuilding prisons, Exeter, which serves the few criminals in north Devon, is not being left behind in the race?

Mr. Mellor

Work is going on at Exeter. One wing is out of commission for work at the moment. As my hon. Friend has rightly said, we have embarked on the biggest programme of any Government this century to improve the condition in the old prisons. I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend said about Exeter. We are aware that it is currently overcrowded. We are aware also that on some days prisoners are locked up for 23 hours, but sometimes it is as little as nine hours. Plainly, the situation is not satisfactory, and it is entirely in accordance with my hon. Friend's concern for his area that he should raise the matter with me.

Mr. Hannam

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the stresses and strains suffered by prison officers as a result of overcrowding at Exeter prison, which, as he said, is a remand prison? When does he envisage a proper complement of prison officers being reached at that prison?

Mr. Mellor

Perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend about the details. As he knows, we have recruited a large number of additional prison officers over the years. Indeed, the ratio of prison officers to inmates is running well ahead of any increase in the prison population. I shall certainly ensure that the needs of Exeter are not overlooked.

Mrs. Renee Short

To my knowledge — which goes back to 1964—the question of overcrowding in our old prisons and the appalling conditions in which we keep prisoners has been raised again and again, and we have received exactly the same replies. That is scandalous. Is the Minister aware that the conditions in which we keep men in prison, three to a cell and with no sanitary provision except for a chamber pot, is not conducive to good remedial prison practice? When will the Minister change that?

Mr. Mellor

Of course, what the hon. Lady says is right——

Mrs. Renee Short

Not excuses again?

Mr. Mellor

No, it is not excuses. It is a sign of the impotence of the hon. Lady and others who, like her, felt that they were utterly incapable of persuading the Government that they supported slavishly over the years to spend any money on prisons. Since 1979 we have embarked on the largest prison building and improvements programme, but we cannot overturn the neglect of decades in just a few years. Matters are a great deal better now than they were when the hon. Lady was on the Government Benches.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the real and main cause of prison overcrowding is that the Labour party, when it came to power in 1974, cancelled, as a deliberate policy decision, the prison building programme that it had inherited from the previous Conservative Government?

Mr. Mellor

Yes. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. If anyone could be bothered to consult the record, I dare say that it would be found that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) voted in favour of that decision.

Mr. Soley

The implication of the Minister's remarks is completely unacceptable. We all know that the crime rate, the number in prison and the number of young people

The Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) and population figures are as follows:
CNA Population
31 January 1987 28 February 1987 31 March 1987
Remand Centre 53 56 70 68
Local Prison 209 336 363 343
Youth Custody Centre 41 39 39 39

The number of prisoners sharing cells is only recorded centrally once a month. Recent figures are:

Remand Centre Local Prison YC Centre
8 February 1987
Number of inmates held two to a cell 26 162 No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell 9 129 No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded 13 124 No sharing
8 March 1987
Number of inmates held two to a cell 36 176 No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell 3 105 No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded 19 123 No sharing
12 April 1987
Number of inmates held two to a cell 30 186 No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell 15 102 No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded 20 127 No sharing
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