HC Deb 18 February 1988 vol 127 cc1132-3
1. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners are currently on remand; what proportion this represents of the total prison population; and what steps he has recently taken to advise magistrates on remand policy.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

On 31 December 1987 the unsentenced prison population was about 10,480, not counting 474 mostly unsentenced prisoners held in police cells. That was just over 22 per cent. of the total prison population. My right hon. Friend cannot advise magistrates on their decisions on bail, which they take under the Bail Act 1976. He has called attention to the desirability of reducing the remand population and of providing information to magistrates in making decisions on bail.

Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend will be aware of the seriousness of the position, given the figures released yesterday showing the number of people held on remand in police cells. Is he aware that, on a visit to Wormwood Scrubs prison two weeks ago by the all-party penal affairs group, we were told by an officer that one person has been remanded in custody on the charge of not possessing a bus ticket? What plans has my hon. Friend for a feasibility study within his Department to discuss tagging as an alternative to remanding in custody for non-convicted prisoners?

Mr. Patten

It is not for me to comment on an individual case. The interpretation of the 1976 Act is a matter for the bench or the judges involved. However, my hon. Friend has made a very interesting suggestion, which my right hon. Friend and I will consider.

Mr. Steinberg

Does the Minister agree that it is appalling that many prisoners held on remand who will eventually be found not guilty and released from prison are living in the most horrific conditions, with three in a cell, and having to slop out? Would it not be possible for the Home Secretary to examine the Scottish experience? In Scotland a prisoner must be brought to court within 110 days, or be released.

Mr. Patten

That is exactly what we are doing. My right hon. Friend has initiated some important experiments over the past year or so. We hope that by 1 April 1988 there will be limits on the length of time for which a prisoner cart be remanded, which will apply in the whole of Wales and in most of England. We also hope that within the next two years we shall have covered the whole of England.

Mr. Gale

In the light of the figures that my hon. Friend has given us, what consideration is the Department giving to the private building and management of remand prisons?

Mr. Patten

We are greatly constrained by the law in this respect, but we are very interested in the suggestion pur forward by my hon. Friend, and we are considering it.

Mr. Pike

What does the Minister think will happen when the poll tax legislation is introduced? Those who are found guilty will be able to obtain a refund for the time they were on remand, while those found innocent will have to pay the poll tax for the period during which they were in custody awaiting trial.

Mr. Patten

That question would probably be better addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.