HC Deb 18 February 1988 vol 127 cc1139-40
8. Mr. John Townend

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the total cost to Her Majesty's Government, including staff overtime and damage to buildings, of riots in Her Majesty's prisons over the last three years.

Mr. Hurd

The total estimated cost of the damage that occurred during the riots in April and May 1986 was about £5.5 million. Other serious disturbances by inmates in 1986 and 1987—at Risley, Wymott and Dartmoor—resulted in damage of about £45,400. Information on staff overtime costs arising as a result of serious disturbances is not readily available.

Mr. Townend

I think that it is regrettable that the Government do not know the total cost of the prison riots. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the known cost is a significant sum and is a waste of taxpayers' money that could be better spent on the Health Service? In future, will my right hon. Friend get tougher at an earlier stage with rioters, in order to limit damage? Is he aware that when prison rioters got on the roof of the prison at Hull — they did more than £1 million worth of damage—the water hoses were not used because, in the words of the governor, they were frightened about injuring the prisoners. Surely prisoners who take such action should be aware that if they do not come down when instructed they face injury.

Mr. Hurd

I believe that my hon. Friend is a hit hard in criticising me for not giving him the figure that I have just given. Of course, my hon. Friend is right that prisoners who escape, attempt to escape or riot should be subject to disciplinary action. As regards the money, I believe that my hon. Friend would agree that prisons should be kept secure and that prison staff need to work in decent conditions. Any idea that, in general, prisoners are kept in a cossetted or comfortable state is well astray.

Mr. Barry Field

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is nothing short of a national scandal that A and I) wings of Parkhurst prison are still unoccupied since the riot of 1979?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend and I discussed this matter when I visited the prison and, as he keeps in close touch with this matter, he will know that plans are going ahead to bring that area back into occupation, and he will know why it has taken so long.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Home Secretary take seriously the letter that was sent to him from the Prison Officers Association warning that Brixton will burn to the ground and that prison officers will be seriously injured or even killed unless he takes urgent action to improve the staffing levels? What does he intend to do about that unprecedented situation?

Mr. Hurd

I take seriously the representations from Brixton and we are in close touch with the local branches of the POA in several London prisons and nationally on that matter. The short answer to the hon. Lady's question is that I propose to recruit 1,360 additional prison officers in 1988–89.