HC Deb 21 July 1988 vol 137 cc1274-6
5. Mr. Baldry

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the change in the number of prisoners held in police cells since his statement of 30 March, Official Report, column 1083.

Mr. Hurd

The number of prisoners held in police cells has fallen from 1,374 on 30 March to 690 yesterday. make that a reduction of 684.

Mr. Baldry

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Monday's Green Paper "Punishment, Custody and the Community" will help to reduce our prison population by providing more tough but non-custodial sentences?

Mr. Hurd

I hope so, but that will be up to the magistrates and judges who pass sentence. If these ideas bear fruit, they will have a wider range of disposals, including tough punishing disposals, outside prison.

Mr. Lofthouse

Is the Home Secretary aware that many of the people held in police cells are youngsters of 18 and under, who are held there because there are not places in many of the prisons? Some of them are held in prisons such as Armley in Leeds. The Minister told me in a written answer last Friday that two youngsters aged 18 and 17 had committed suicide there. I have been informed by the probation service that there have been three suicides during a period of a few weeks. Will the Home Secretary set up an investigation and let us know what is going on in Leeds?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is ranging wide, but it is true that police cells are not the right places for prisoners, whatever their age, and that is why we are working, with increasing success, to reduce numbers. They have already been halved and I expect, without making any rash promises, that we shall make further progress as new prisons open—we have two new prisons opening in the latter part of this year—and as Ashford remand centre is reopened. As we develop the prison building programme and it comes into effect that will also relieve overcrowding in places such as Armley.

Mr. Wheeler

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with over 69,000 persons received into prison last year, his Green Paper has been received exceptionally well as one of the most thoughtful and far-reaching contributions for many decades on the complicated problem of keeping non-violent offenders out of prison and finding alternatives for those persons who might otherwise be remanded in custody? Will not ideas such as tracking, curfew orders and even experiments with electronic monitoring do much to contain the prison population and reduce the problem created by the number of people on remand?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, with his experience of these matters, for that commendation. I hope that the Green Paper will be studied by right hon. and hon. Members and, more important, by those whose responsibility it is to judge, case by case, how they should sentence those who have been convicted.

Mr. Cox

Is the Home Secretary aware that the continuation of this policy is an utter disgrace, that people who are held in police cells on remand are denied the rights that people held in prison have, and that magistrates, police consultative committees and the police themselves condemn that policy? When will the Home Secretary stop it?

Mr. Hurd

The policy is to reduce and eventually do away with the use of police cells for prisoners. We have halved the number of people so held since the beginning of March, so we are half way to achieving that. Part of that policy consists of the prison building programme, which Opposition Members have consistently opposed and criticised. That has brought 6,000 prison places into being since June 1983 and aims to produce 22,000 new places in all by the mid-1990s.