HC Deb 26 April 1990 vol 171 cc498-512 4.15 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement to the House about the serious disturbance at Manchester prison.

As the House will be aware, at about 6.20 pm yesterday, prison staff regained control of the prison. One of the six inmates who remained in the prison was taken back into custody earlier in the day, and the remaining five surrendered later. All prisoners in Strangeways on 1 April have been accounted for, and certainly nothing has been found to substantiate the wild stories that appeared in the press in the early stages of the incident. That yesterday's operation to recover the prison was concluded without further injury to staff or prisoners, in very difficult and dangerous circumstances, is a great tribute to the skill and discipline of the prison officers.

The House will, I am sure, wish to pay tribute to the considerable courage and professionalism displayed by the officers who did the job yesterday and all those in the prison service involved in bringing this incident, and the recent disturbances in other prisons, to a successful conclusion. In particular, I wish to express our gratitude to the governor of Manchester prison, Mr. Brendan O'Friel and his colleagues, who have worked tirelessly to bring the disturbance there to an end with minimal danger to life. I also wish to thank the police, fire and ambulance services for their invaluable and unstinting help here and elsewhere. Among the many whom I was able to thank at Strangeways last night was a representative of the board of visitors who had been there all day; indeed, someone from the board of visitors was present throughout the disturbance. I thank them all most warmly.

Events at Dartmoor, Bristol and Pucklechurch show that the prison service is not loth to bring to a swift end disturbances of this sort. But circumstances obviously vary a great deal and different tactics have to be adopted in different situations. Our strategy throughout each of these incidents has been to regain complete control at the earliest moment consistent with incurring as few casualties as possible among both prison staff and prisoners. I believe that that was the right strategy here and that events have vindicated it.

I greatly regret the sad loss of a prison officer who died after serving loyally during the disturbance, and also the loss of life of one of the remand prisoners. I wish to offer, once again, my deepest sympathy to the families concerned.

The Greater Manchester police have already embarked upon a major criminal investigation and I want to make it absolutely plain that those who commit criminal offences in this sort of incident must expect to face the full rigours of the law. There are already a number of very serious criminal offences, such as riot, violent disorder and affray—let alone murder and grievous bodily harm—which are available in the sort of circumstances that we have seen at Manchester. But I want to make absolutely sure that the courts have all the powers necessary and I am reconsidering the possibility of creating a new criminal offence of prison mutiny.

The House would not expect me to say that all we need do now is wait for the outcome of Lord Justice Woolfs inquiry. Much has been done already, but there are other things that we must do urgently. The incident has led directly to the loss of more than 1,500 prison places at Manchester, at a time when we were making significant inroads into solving the problem of prison overcrowding, and will inevitably lead to difficulties in other prison establishments until the places are regained. We are taking urgent steps to make available as many secure places as are needed.

I have already made it clear that we are bringing forward the recruitment of 200 more prison officers to help establishments that are under particular pressure caused by these appalling incidents. We shall consider urgently whether there is any need for additional training of staff to deal with incidents of this sort. More than 3,000 officers have been specially trained in the past 12 months, and more are being trained. We have already placed orders for an extra £750,000 worth of equipment and clothing for the personal protection of officers.

New prisons are designed so as to minimise the risk of events developing as they did in Manchester, but we need to consider what physical improvements can quickly be made to existing establishments. Officials are conducting an urgent review of structural and other means of preventing prisoners getting on to roofs in old Victorian prisons. We will also examine how to make it easier for prison staff to get on to roof areas and the higher landings. Officials will also examine methods of locking doors and the issue and carrying of keys, the storage of flammable items in kitchens and how we can improve protection to kitchens, pharmacies and medical treatment rooms. There is then the physical protection of vulnerable prisoners. We must study whether that can be strengthened.

We must also recognise that large numbers of prisoners in the same place at the same time can give rise to considerable risk. There is a difficult balance to be struck between restricting the numbers allowed to congregate, which can itself lead to trouble, and creating a constructive regime, which can make a contribution to the maintenance of control in prisons, but I am certain that that is something we must look at.

The results of this work will be reported to me during the coming weeks and none of it pre-empts the outcome of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry. The House will accept that vigorous action is now necessary to try to prevent further disturbances.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The conclusion of the riot and occupation of Strangeways prison will come as a relief to the nation. It was an embarrassing as well as a depressing episode from which we all have much to learn. The House will wish to express its admiration of and gratitude for the way in which the governor, prison officers and police, fire brigades and other public services carried out their difficult tasks. To that we add our condolences to the relatives of Mr. Derek White and Mr. Walter Scott and our sympathy to those members of the public services who were injured.

It would be wrong, I believe, to come to any firm conclusions about the causes or consequences of the Strangeways riot before Lord Justice Woolf reports. However, may I begin by telling the Home Secretary that I remain a supporter of a policy designed to minimise the risk of death and injury to prison officers, to the fire services and to the inmates? I also believe that it was right for the prison officers and authorities on the spot to take their own decisions without instructions from Whitehall. May I therefore ask the Home Secretary to confirm or deny the frequently repeated allegation that in the early days of the riot the governor wished to pursue a different and more aggressive policy but was refused permission to do so?

No one who witnessed the siege on television will doubt that some of the men were not susceptible to rational treatment and are certainly not likely to be impressed by changes in the titles of the offences that they may have committed. Of course we condemn their behaviour as we condemn the behaviour of other rioters and they must face the full rigours of the law. However, clearly some were caught up in the early days of the riot because of the despair that they felt at the conditions in the prison: three men in one cell; only 11 hours a week outside those cells, slopping out, one shower and one change of clothes a week if they were lucky. May I therefore ask the Home Secretary to take immediate steps to reduce the present population—steps that are even now within his power——

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

They are happening.

Mr. Hattersley

—possible improvements about which the Home Secretary made no mention this morning and which I presume the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) never heard.

Will the Home Secretary reduce the number of remand prisoners by applying the 110-day trial deadline throughout England and Wales immediately and by ending the 28-day custodial demand, which was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act four years ago? Will he consult the Lord Chancellor on immediate steps to improve the efficiency of the courts so as to ensure that trials that begin swiftly can also be completed in a minimum time? Will he speed up the introduction of non-custodial sentences described in his own White Paper, if necessary by introducing legislation in this Session of Parliament?

In the light of that, may I ask him specifically about management in the prison service? We are constantly told of the additional prison officers whom the Government have recruited. Will the Home Secretary confirm that that recruitment has been accompanied by such reductions in overtime that the likelihood on any one day is that fewer prison officers will be on duty than was the case before the introduction of fresh start? Will he confirm specifically, by answering the question that I asked him three weeks ago and which he did not answer, that there were 30 fewer officers on duty at Strangeways at the time of the riot than there would have been had fresh start not been introduced? In the light of his statement, will he tell us whether the 200 more—his word—prison officers are additional to his existing proposals, or is he simply speaking of the targets that he had announced to the House before the Strangeways riot?

Equally, we are constantly told of the new building programme. However, it is not producing anything like a sufficiently swift reduction in the number of prisoners in unacceptable conditions. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accelerate the renovation of our Victorian prisons at least to put an end date to the debasing practice of slopping out?

The Home Secretary said in his statement that 1,500 prison places have been lost at Strangeways during the past three weeks. How many places have been lost in the whole prison system during the same period? I understand that it is about twice the number that he quoted in the House this afternoon.

On the subject of the action that may be taken before or after Lord Justice Woolf's report, may we be assured that Lord Justice Woolf will examine the effect on the riot of constant television coverage? Many of us believe that, as in the case of the Balcombe street siege, television should have been prevented from encouraging prolonged defiance.

May I ask the Home Secretary a question about the cost of the Manchester operation? Clearly the Strangeways riot was a national crisis. It would be intolerable if the people of Manchester were required to pay an even higher poll tax to meet the bills for police and fire brigade. May we be promised that the Government will provide appropriate financial assistance? I repeat that it is a national crisis that should be financed from national funds.

The Home Secretary will recall—it is undeniable—that previous reports on prison disturbances have met with little or no positive response from Governments. Will he promise that, when Lord Justice Woolf reports his findings, they will be subject to a full debate in the House during which he, the Home Secretary, will give a clear indication of the action that he proposes to take and the time scale that he offers for that action to be put into operation?

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his expression of admiration for all those who have been involved in this operation. I am also grateful to him for his expressions of sympathy for the relatives of the dead and for the injured. Of course he is right to say that, generally speaking, we must wait for the conclusions of Lord Justice Woolf, but I think that I made it plain in my statement that there are things that we can do now and things that we should do now. Certainly we should not take the view that we should be frozen into inaction because a committee has been set up to look into the matter. That would not be the right approach.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for expressing support for the policy that was adopted to minimise the risk of death and injury. It has been said that a more aggressive policy was wanted. The media have said that the governor wanted a more aggressive policy at the beginning and was overruled. I should make the position clear straight away. The public should know that governors, when situations such as this arise, are not left without support. They receive support from the region and from the prison department.

I wish also to make it abundantly plain that, when I talk about support from the prison department, I am not talking about people who are ignorant of the management of prisons putting their spoke in the wheel. The deputy director general of prisons, who has been criticised by some in the media today, is himself a former prison governor.

On occasions such as this a great deal of advice is taken and a conclusion reached. Ministers accepted advice from those responsible for the operations—for example, from the deputy director general of the prison service, as I say, himself a former governor—after consultation with the governor.

I am not for a moment saying that if there had been the offence of mutiny, that would have made any difference in these circumstances. But we must not—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not—assume that if there is more trouble, it will follow exactly the same pattern as the trouble in Strangeways. I am suggesting for discussion that whereas, for instance, in the case of riot, 12 must be involved and there must be action such as would put a reasonable person in fear of injury, the ingredients of the old offence of mutiny, which was an offence under prison regulations, were that two or more people were acting in combination to overthrow or resist the lawful authority of the governor or his staff. So it might be thought that in certain circumstances that would fill a gap not filled by other offences on the statute book.

As I said in my first statement, it is wrong to suggest that no action has been taken recently to deal with having three prisoners to a cell. Indeed, rapid progress has been made in Manchester. I believe that before the riot broke out there were only 133 examples of three prisoners to a cell. That was a great improvement on 459 the year before. The matter is put in perspective when one compares that with the total population in Strangeways of 1,649.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook calls on us to reduce the prison population. I am happy to say that I have been lucky since arriving at the Home Office to have witnessed a rapid fall in the prison population. There has been a fall of over 2,000 in the past year. Indeed, had there not been that fall in the prison population, it would have been much more difficult to have accommodated those who must now be placed in other accommodation because of what happened at Strangeways.

The right hon. Gentleman says, and persists in saying, that we should, as it were, begin to take action to do something about punishment in the community. I pointed out then that one of the reasons why there has been a fall in the prison population is that the courts are already sending fewer people—especially young people—to prison. It is not a case of our producing a White Paper that marks a fresh start; it is a case of our producing a White Paper that builds on all the achievements of the past few years, and on the changes to legislation made in the Criminal Justice Acts 1982 and 1988.

I can give the right hon. Gentleman good cheer on tirne limits. I think I am right in saying—my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who is sitting next to me, may confirm it—that they should be in force throughout the country by the end of the year. They are already in force in a substantial part of the country. and, incidentally, were in force at the time of the outbreak of the Manchester disturbances.

I have been asked about a reduction in overtime. I must make it plain to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and others that fresh start was a negotiated package agreed with the unions and supported by prison staff. There was a ballot, in which more than 90 per cent. of those who participated voted in favour of fresh start.

Fresh start was introduced because of excessive dependence on overtime. It was agreed that there would be a measured reduction, and that half the hours lost would be made up through the recruitment of new staff. As I have said before, it was not a case of there being no additional recruitment of staff, there are now more than 3,000 more prison staff than there were three years ago, and more than 1,100 more are being recruited this year. The 200 were already in our programme for this year. I do not know why the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is grinning. I have already said that we are talking not about 1,100 staff for this year, but about an additional 1,100. The 200 to whom I referred have been recruited and brought forward for training earlier, so that they will be in service by about September rather than later in the year.

The present position must be seen in perspective. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase of no less than 46 per cent. in the number of prison staff; during the same period, there has been an 11 per cent. increase in prisoners. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must make swift progress towards ending the practice of slopping out, and in Manchester progress had been made towards that end. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we announced at the time of the autumn statement last year that we were able to divert resources from new prison building towards refurbishing existing prisons, because our policies were bearing fruit and the prison population was falling.

I agree largely with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the constant television coverage, which has not been helpful. It was not just a question of excessive coverage; at times the coverage was irresponsible. I clearly remember sitting in front of the television and hearing, as the first item on Independent Television News, that there were three confirmed deaths. That was after the Home Office had been consulted and had said that it was not possible to confirm any deaths. That was a most disgraceful event. I hope that it will never happen again.

Appalling costs will be incurred. There is no point in any of us shrinking from that fact. There is no point, either, in trying to avoid the fact that considerable costs have been incurred as a result of policing the incident.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook knows perfectly well that the general rule that is applied by the Home Office is that from time to time all police forces have to deal with exceptional circumstances. Some have to deal with party conferences; some have to deal with royal residences; some have to deal with terrorist incidents. The general rule is that police forces have to take that on board. However, I have agreed to set up a meeting with the people from Manchester at which all these matters will be discussed.

When Lord Justice Woolf reports, there will have to be a debate, and I hope that the business managers will quickly find time for a debate so that these matters can be taken further.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In relation to what the Home Secretary has just said, may I ask for single questions, please? This is an important statement which covers other constituencies, apart from Manchester. We have a heavy day ahead of us and we must move on to the next business by 5.15 at the very latest.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

If it was safe to take action yesterday, why could nothing be done a week ago when the circumstances were more or less the same? Can my right hon. and learned Friend give a categorical assurance that top priority will be given to getting rid of three men being kept in a cell for 20 hours a day and sloping out, which is obviously a breeding ground for trouble?

Mr. Waddington

I have already answered my hon. Friend's question about slopping out. I agree entirely with him that it ought to be given priority. I am also glad that my hon. Friend put his question in the way that he did. It highlights the fact that some people said that the prison officers should have gone in after 24 hours, that some people said that they should have gone in after 48 hours, and that others said that they ought to have gone in a week ago. The chairman of the Prison Officers Association complained to me this morning that we did not take action after 24 hours, but yesterday he said that the lives of prison officers were being placed at risk in order to bring the incident to an end: so as many people as there are, as many opinions there are.

The sensible approach is to obtain good advice. Unless there are good reasons for rejecting it, that advice should be taken. It is so easy to be wise after the event. However, the commonly held view for very many days—even weeks—and the view held also by the national media was that the incident would not last long and that it was not worth risking lives.

When these Ramboesque people talk about bringing in the Army and the SAS and sending in thousands of prison officers, they always forget that, after the first 24 hours, nobody in Strangeways was at risk either of losing his life or of injury, except in the sense that the prisoners were at risk and might have suffered accidents. The time was not wasted. Careful planning over a considerable period resulted in yesterday's events. With the prisoners on the roof, the most difficult problem to overcome was how to get large numbers of prison officers up to that level. Eventually, a new way into the roof space was found.

It is nonsense to talk about the use of tear gas. One has to ask whether there would have been any grounds for police intervention. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) would agree with me that one would not commit the police unless there was a serious risk to life or a hostage situation. The Army could not go in unless it was asked to do so by the chief officer of police if he felt that the demands made on him could not be carried out by him alone.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

It is, of course, right to await the Woolf report, but does the Home Secretary agree with me that it is right to leave ultimate operational control to the governor? Nevertheless, did the Home Secretary, or his Department, at any time during the later stages of the masquerade on the roof by a few people offer to send in the SAS to deal with the incident?

Mr. Waddington

I am almost sure that I am right when I say that it would be for the chief constable to judge whether the risk to life was such that, because he could not take the action required, it was necessary to seek military assistance. That point did not arise because at no stage did the police take the view that they could not master the incident themselves. That stage was not reached because the matter was in the hands of the prison officers. As events worked out, how right it was that the prison officers regained control of the prison. What sort of criticism would be coming from the media now if the Army had been sent in and 10 people had been killed? What sort of copycat riots would there have been if five of the prisoners on the roof had been killed?

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, however serious the incident was and however long it took to bring it to an end, the fact is that it began with a prison population of 1,500, that it resulted, when the disturbance occurred, in 100 being in rebellion, that the prison governor brought the incident to a conclusion with his staff without involving outside forces of any kind, that no prisoner escaped, that no prison officer was killed or injured at the conclusion of the event and that throughout the incident the governor, ably supported by ex-senior governors in the prison management, had control of the prison?

Mr. Waddington

That is absolutely right. However, may I correct my hon. Friend in one small regard? Those who talked about storming the prison after the first 24 hours ought to be reminded that 133 prisoners were still on the loose then. When I went to Strangeways last Sunday, I discovered that there have always been some prisoners in Strangeways; at no time have there been no prisoners in captivity in Strangeways. There were no escapes. Again I compliment all those involved in the operation on the work that they did. In the first 24 hours, they managed to move 1,500 people out of the prison. They probably saved the lives of some of the rule 43 prisoners. Altogether, they carried out a magnificent exercise. Their skill and the common-sense way in which the operation was carried out can be judged by the supreme criterion that no one was injured or killed—apart, unfortunately, from the deaths right at the beginning of the trouble.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Does not the Home Secretary accept that his comments to the media about the dangers of bringing in the Army and the SAS will be seen merely as a red herring? Is he aware that the prison officers at Strangeways presented a plan to be executed by the prison officers with the minimum force? If he is not aware of that fact, I suggest that there was a marked lack of liaison between the prison department and the Home Office.

Does not the Home Secretary feel a sense of shame about his own appalling complacency? It was 22 days before he visited the biggest prison fiasco in history, during which this so-called Government of law and order were held up to world ridicule. The only point on which I join the Home Secretary is to say that the governor is first class and has a magnificent staff. We are watching carefully to ensure that he is not made a scapegoat.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman has a cheek. I read his article in the Sunday Express last Sunday—

Mr. Litherland

Many days ago.

Mr. Waddington

—in which he supported the action taken by our staff.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Greater Manchester police will be grateful for his tribute to them today for the way in which they contained the perimeter? How long is the criminal investigation that those police are carrying out likely to last? Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that severe punishment will be meted out to anyone who is found guilty as a result of charges brought against him?

Mr. Waddington

That is, of course, not a matter for me but for the courts, and who is charged is not a matter for me. I spoke to the chief constable of Greater Manchester last night, and I do not have the slightest doubt that the criminal investigation is being pressed ahead with all speed.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Will the Home Secretary accept the thankfulness and admiration with which we greet his statement and the attitude that has been shown throughout these appalling events by the police, by the prison officers in particular, and by other public servants? Will he also accept that it would be quite wrong to seek to draw conclusions on the 25 days of mayhem only 24 hours after the events have been concluded?

Will the inquiry under Lord Justice Woolf be sufficiently widely drawn to take into consideration the impact that the events have had on other prisons and on the prison system generally? There was the greatest disquiet that what was happening in Manchester would simply spark off other ugly events, both in other antediluvian prisons and in modern prisons.

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his introductory remarks. I do not have the slightest doubt that Lord Justice Woolf will be able to investigate the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, although the interpretation of his terms of reference is a matter for Lord Justice Woolf himself.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend ageee that it is easy for the armchair expert to make suggestions at a distance on how the riot could have been brought to an end, but that the events have shown that those on the ground who control the situation are the best judges of what should be done? Can he confirm that the ending of this siege and riot was related to the fact that the prison authorities were able to get above the prisoners and that it was only then that action to move into the gaol could be contemplated?

Mr. Waddington

That is absolutely true. At one stage, a scaffold was put up on the side of the remand wing and an exercise was carried out which involved punching a hole through the gable end at roof height and seeing whether a number of men could be put through there on to the wire inside. The most appalling problems were attendant on that experiment. One had to judge how many men the wire could carry and one had to work out whether one could get the first man through the hole before he was murdered by a person inside holding a scaffold pole. Another way of getting into the roof space had to be found. I gather that an ingenious way was eventually found to get into the roof space through the walls of the chapel.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is the Home Secretary aware of my many exchanges with his Department, after discussion with the prison's doctor long before this predicted disaster, about the number of people who, being seriously ill mentally, were wrongly accommodated at overcrowded Strangeways? Where are they now? Are they still inappropriately accommodated in overcrowded prisons? What extra manpower has gone to the prisons that are now trying to cope with those who have been evacuated from Strangeways?

May we have a clearer reply to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkhrook (Mr. Hattersley) about the potential cost of all this to the people of Manchester?

Mr. Waddington

There are far fewer mentally disordered people in the prison system than there used to be. It is, of course, up to the courts to use the powers they have to deal with people other than by sending them to prison when they are mentally disturbed. That point is met. However, I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to feel that I do not take his point seriously, and it is one of the many points into which we should inquire. We should ensure that there is correct accommodation for those who are mentally disordered and yet still have to be kept in custody.

I cannot yet give the right hon. Gentleman any estimate of the cost of all this, but obviously there will be an opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions here and I shall obtain all the information I can as soon as possible.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May I commend my right hon. and learned Friend for his clear indication this afternoon that he will take immediate, positive and constructive action on the lessons that have already been learnt about this deplorable incident? Does he agree that, if the prison officers had gone in too early in the well-defended position that he has described and serious injuries and deaths had resulted, the copycat results would have been nothing short of horrific?

Mr. Waddington

My hon. and learned Friend is so obviously right; I made that point earlier. I have no doubt that, if anybody had been seriously injured or even killed, I should not be standing here today being criticised for not taking tough enough action. I should be standing here accused of having imperilled people's lives without any justification.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I join the Home Secretary in giving due praise and credit to the governor and his staff at Strangeways. However, I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman about his own role and that of senior management in the prison service. Can he deny that there were requests for specialist equipment or for specialist personnel which were not made available to the governor of Strangeways and which could have resulted in the siege being ended more quickly without any loss of life or serious injury to those involved? I should like the Home Secretary to be very precise in his answer.

Mr. Waddington

I know that new equipment was obtained and that there were allegations that there was not enough equipment. I know that a further order for more equipment was placed to the tune of £750,000, to which I have already referred. I went to Strangeways last night and I saw some of the control and restraint teams. I questioned them on whether they had been properly equipped to carry out their operation. They said that they were properly equipped, although there was a case for smaller shields for working in confined spaces.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we are grateful for his extensive statement, which must be closely studied, and that the House must recognise the need of Ministers to support local governors and local control? Will he also accept that there is a strong view among many people that one cannot treat prisoners in mutiny with kid gloves and that the message must be clearly understood that the maximum force will be used as soon as possible to overcome riot and mutiny, even if it carries the risk of physical harm to prisoners? Unless it is understood that people who riot and mutiny stand physical risk to themselves, there is a great chance of copycat mutinies and riots to attract the media, including television. A strong stance is urged by many.

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend will recall that, as I said in my statement, what happened at Pucklechurch, Bristol and Dartmoor makes it plain that the prison department is perfectly prepared to take tough action when tough action is appropriate. Yesterday I heard a prison governor being quoted as saying that the difficulty in these situations is that unless control of the prison is regained in—I think he said—the first few minutes or the first hour or two, almost insuperable difficulties are involved.

As I said earlier, what happened has been frustrating beyond measure for those of us who have had to carry the responsibility, and it has been infuriating for the public. Indeed, some members of the public have found it humiliating and I do not blame them for that. However, the public's attitude would have been very different if substantial loss of life had been entailed, and if the place had been stormed on the first day, I believe that the prison could have been retaken only with the risk of substantial injury and substantial loss of life.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

The Home Secretary and other hon. Members have made it clear that we owe a debt to the prison officers. However, from all that we have heard during the events at Strangeways, it is also clear that the morale of prison officers is low, with a number of criticisms of the prison service. Does the Home Secretary intend to meet the Prison Officers Association to discuss the possibility of renegotiating fresh start and the additional manning implications that follow from what happened at Strangeways? From the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier comments, it is clear that the number of jobs that he has promised were already in the pipeline for this financial year and that all that he is promising is to bring those jobs forward.

Is it not clear that in a prison such as Leeds, which is already overcrowded and has the worst conditions of any prison in this country, the Home Secretary is asking the prison staff to face yet more days of intolerable strain and bad working conditions?

Mr. Waddington

I do not detect the low morale of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken. Indeed, the prison officers to whom I spoke last night were proud to have taken part in a successful operation.

It is not true to say that prison officers are poorly paid. The average remuneration of a prison officer is now £16,000 per year, and £18,000 per year in London. The difference today as compared with a few years ago is that then prison officers had to work 56 hours a week to earn their remuneration, whereas they now work little more than an ordinary working week. Therefore, there has been a vast improvement in their position.

Obviously there will be opportunities for fresh start to be discussed and perhaps staffing levels will be thought a matter of importance by Lord Justice Woolf. However, I repeat what I said a short time ago. Fresh start came about as a result of an agreement with the POA and as a result of the general recognition that we could not continue with prison officers having to work absurd overtime hours to receive a decent remuneration.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that curbing the large concentrations of prisoners could have a major effect on prisoners' cell time and on staffing levels? If he adopts such curbs, will he please ensure that they are properly financed?

Mr. Waddington

I put the matter in the way that I did because it needs careful study. On the one hand, if one cuts the size of large assemblies, one reduces the immediate risk, but, on the other hand, the more restrictive the regime, the more pressures there are to build up. We must examine that matter logically and sensibly and come to a conclusion about the best way to proceed. I am sure that no hon. Member would say that that is not something that we should study carefully; after all, this all began because there were 300 such people all together in the chapel.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Although I welcome many of the things that the Home Secretary has said, may I offer one or two observations arising from the experiences at Shotts prison in my constituency which is, as he knows, one of the most modern prisons in Britain? First, good design and a full complement of officers are no guarantee that there will not be trouble. Secondly, that is especially true when the prisoners can watch every night on television a long-running siege at another outdated prison. Thirdly, while minimising the risk of danger to prisoners and/or officers, we should also weigh in the balance the fact that such a long-running siege might encourage activity at other prisons and put officers' lives at risk, as was the case at Shotts. Finally——

Mr. Speaker

That is the fourth point.

Dr. Reid

I said "one or two", Mr. Speaker, but that is a generic Scottish legal term for "four".

Finally, as the effect that a small number of disruptive prisoners can have must now have been brought to the attention of the Home Secretary, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bring that point to the attention of Ministers at the Scottish Office and ask them to abandon their crazy plans to centralise all Scotland's disruptive prisoners at Shotts prison in my constituency, as that could only lead to further heartache and problems?

Mr. Waddington

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Scottish Office. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, which show the simplistic nature of some of the propositions that have been advanced over the past three or four weeks. Shotts is a new prison which is not overcrowded and where nobody suggests that there are not enough prison staff. We should bear that in mind when we hear all the stories to the effect that none of this would have happened if only fresh start had never come into existence and there is more prison officers. What has happened is a classic example of the way in which trouble can brew up other great trouble for no apparent reason.

On the point about copycat action—I am sorry that I did not reply to the point made about this by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), but I had mentioned it earlier—if people had been killed, I believe that there would have been far worse copycat action. The choice that had to be made was between taking a more cautious approach and ensuring that there would not be an unacceptable loss of life, in which case there was time for copycat action, and going in hard, risking life and probably causing loss of life, in which case there would certainly have been copycat action.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Is not one of the most distasteful features of the whole business the attitude of some of the tabloid press, with some suggesting that 12 prisoners had been killed and that people had been castrated during the riot? Without making this a party political matter, to coin a phrase, is it not pertinent to ask, which side do they cheer for?

Mr. Waddington

It is certainly not a party political matter, but I was disgusted by the headlines in some of the press. The Sun stated: 12 dead in jail drug riot". Other headlines included that in the Daily Star which stated: 10 die in jail riot horror". The Daily Express reported: 12 murdered in jail riot"; Today had the headline: Prison mob hanged cop". The Daily Telegraph wrote: Prisoners die as rioters burn jail"; and the Daily Mail referred to Twelve dead in jail riot", with The Sun stating: Bodies cut up and dumped in sewer". As I have already said, even ITN stated incorrectly and without any justification that three people had been killed.

That will not do. I do not want to incur even more bad publicity than I have had in the national press by being so critical, but the general public would feel that I would be failing in my duty if I did not emphasise how disgraceful such reporting has been. It has not helped a solution to be arrived at in any way.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Home Secretary aware that the episode lasted nearly as long as the Falklands war? Why should the British taxpayer have to fork out £200 million to finance the shambles just because we have a lousy Home Secretary who cannot handle the job? If anybody should be paying the bill, it should be the Home Secretary and other members of the Government. If a local authority had been in charge, it would have been surcharged.

Mr. Waddington

This was not a war. A war always costs lives. Those who decide to engage in war make up their minds before doing so that there will be what is called acceptable loss of life. It is ridiculous for the hon. Gentleman to draw an analogy between the events at Strangeways and a war. All reasonable people would say that in conducting such an operation one should start with the proposition that no one should be put at unacceptable risk, let alone danger, to his life.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that late last year, before the Strangeways riot, there was a similiar riot at Kirklevingt on prison in my constituency? It seems clear from what has happened during the past two weeks that, whatever public opinion might have been—that has given rise to great pleasure this afternoon—the public would approve of an immediate and, if necessary, violent reaction to this sort of activity in our prisons and the demolition of our Victorian prisons. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend immediately set up a centrally directed riot squad, armed if necessary, to deal with such events, and will he take advantage of the situation at Strangeways to demolish the prison and build a new one on the rubble?

Mr. Waddington

As I have pointed out, there was a pretty violent reaction at Bristol, Dartmoor and Pucklechurch, so the prison department is clearly not afraid to take violent action. The question is, what is it sensible to do when 135 people are still at loose in the prison and up in the rafters? How many prison officers could one allow to be killed in order to put them through the doors downstairs, making them climb on to gangways which had been rendered unsafe by the removal of bannisters and through an area which we already know had been booby-trapped? I should like to see some of our Victorian prisons demolished, but one must take a common-sense view.

We must accommodate those whom it is proper to send to prison. As I have already pointed out, we have done a great deal to introduce the possibility of more punishment in the community and there has been a reduction in the prison population, but it will be a long while before we can get rid of all our Victorian prisons.

I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that during the past year more than 3,000 prison officers have been specially trained in the control and restraint technique to deal with the sort of situation which has occurred recently in our prisons. It is now proposed to train even more, but it is a good thing that over a year ago that special training programme was embarked upon.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

What guarantees are there that the Woolf report will not join other riot and disaster reports gathering dust on the shelf while the Government proceed in their own ideological and dogmatic way? Which of the lessons learned from the riots at Saughton and Peterhead in Scotland were applied to the riot at Strangeways?

Mr. Waddington

The lessons of Peterhead were not thought relevant. That is a classic example of how unrealistic it is to talk of bringing in the Army. If someone is a hostage in a prison in imminent danger of death, there may be a case for putting in the Army; there is certainly no case for putting in the Army when seven scruffy layabouts are holed up in a prison and there is a way of getting them out without the loss of a single life. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall look swiftly at the conclusions reached by Lord Justice Woolf. I thought that we had done rather well with reports recently. We certainly acted quickly when Lord Justice Taylor produced his report.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

What is the present estimate of the damage caused to Strangeways prison? Was not most of the damage caused after the first couple of days?

Mr. Waddington

I do not know. We shall have to make an estimate, and when that has been done the House will be told. I do not know how much damage was done in the first two days and how much was done thereafter, but I do know that a lot was done in the first day or two. There is no doubt that a great deal of damage was done then, including the burning of an old chapel. A whole building was destroyed.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

How would my right hon. and learned Friend advise me to reply to those of my constituents who write saying that the goings on in Strangeways during the past three and a half weeks have brought shame on the governor, derision on the Home Office and ridicule on the country?

Mr. Waddington

I would say that it is easy to see why people became so thoroughly frustrated and why, seeing the scenes on their televisions, they were upset for Britain's reputation. But at the end of the day those responsible have to make rational plans and execute them. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear to any constituents who talks nonsense about bringing in the SAS and taking the place by storm that in such a situation a Home Secretary who wilfully imperils the lives of prison officers, let alone the lives of prisoners, would be severely criticised, and rightly so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall give precedence to the three hon. Members whom I have been unable to call on today's statement the next time that we return to the matter.