HC Deb 05 November 1987 vol 121 cc1055-6
6. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were in prison at the most recent count.

Mr. Hurd

On Friday 30 October, the last date for which figures are available, 47,815 prisoners were held in prison service establishments in England and Wales. That did not include 968 persons held on that date in police cells.

Mr. Knox

I welcome the fact that the figure is lower than it was, largely owing to the actions of my right hon. Friend. However, does he expect the figure to rise again, and is he at all concerned that the new prison building programme will merely provide additional places in prisons, rather than dealing with the overcrowding problem?

Mr. Hurd

The doubling of expenditure on prison building that we have accomplished since 1978–79 is clearly necessary after the years of neglect, and all the projections show that those places—and, indeed, more places—will be needed. We need not regret that spending decision in the least. It is not for the Home Secretary, the Government or the House to lay down to the courts how many people they send to prison. It is our job to provide places for them.

Mr. Steinberg

Why is the Home Secretary opening up ex-Army camps, when establishments such as Full Sutton, York and Parkhurst have vacant accommodation and the Isle of Wight has had two wings empty for over three years?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is a little out of date. Our problem now is not the shortage of physical space but the shortage of staff. That is why I have handed Rolleston back to the military. The prison service staff, who were entirely responsible for staffing Rolleston, can now be used more profitably in other parts of the prison system. As the hon. Gentleman knows, prisoners are categorised by security risk and we must ensure that those with a high security category are not placed in lower security category prisons.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that more than 2,300 juveniles are in prison institutions, of whom over one third are awaiting trial? Secure placement may be required, but surely it is inappropriate and ineffective for that to be provided by the prison service? Should we not bring penal custody for those under 18 to an end?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that the House or the country would accept that as a general proposition, but, as my hon. Friend will know, proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill will move some way in the direction in which she points us.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

To what extent has intolerable overcrowding led to the abolition or curtailment of association education and work opportunities for prisoners? Is it not a fact that the overcrowding and under-staffing that his Department has created mean that some prisoners are even being denied a weekly bath and change of clothes?

Mr. Hurd

That situation has been created largely by the failure of Labour Governments to provide for any expansion of the prison system at a time when crime was increasing. They did nothing about it. We have more than doubled expenditure on the prison building programme in an attempt to catch up, and that is overwhelmingly necessary and justified.

Mr. Burt

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to compliment Her Majesty's prison, Manchester, on its initiative this autumn in inviting hon. Members to see the workings of fresh start? Is he yet in a position to say how fresh start is achieving one of its objects, which is being able to manage the larger number of people in our prisons?

Mr. Hurd

One of the aims of fresh start is to meet the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—to which I did not respond—to improve the quality of regimes. In Strangeways and several other prisons that have moved on to fresh start—now over half the total — there are good prospects of that happening. The speed at which we can enhance regimes depends on the number of people whom the courts send to prison and on the speed with which we can increase the number of prison places.

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