HC Deb 03 December 1991 vol 200 cc167-222

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I have not selected the amendment on the Order Paper.

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

The Bill forms an important part of our response to the serious disturbances in our prisons in April 1990. Last year we witnessed violence and disorder in Manchester prison on a scale unprecedented in modern times. The disturbance lasted 25 days and the prison was very nearly destroyed. Almost 200 officers and prisoners were injured, and one prisoner received injuries which may have contributed to his death. In that month we witnessed sickening and disgraceful scenes. Those must not be allowed to recur.

The damage caused at Strangeways will cost about £60 million to repair. A series of other disturbances followed —in Glen Parva, Dartmoor, Cardiff, Bristol and Pucklechurch. The cost of the damage in the other prisons and the consequential cost of keeping prisoners in police cells will probably exceed £100 million this year.

Even now, 1,300 cell spaces at Manchester prison have not been brought back into use—I note that the amendment on the subject has not been selected—and the male remand centre at Pucklechurch, which provided 130 places for young offenders, is beyond economic repair. That, coupled with an unexpected rise of about 3,000 in the prison population, is the principal reason why we still have large numbers of prisoners detained in police cells who should be in prison. Today that number stands at more than 1,700.

We have taken a number of measures to address the problem in the short term. Those include, as I have told the House on other occasions, converting Hewell Grange young offenders institution into a prison for adult males, bringing forward the opening of the young offenders institution at Brinsford in the west midlands—that is now in hand—and keeping open the prison at Brockhill, which was due to be closed. In the slightly longer term, the prison building programme should provide an additional 2,700 places by the end of the financial year.

I accept that it is unsatisfactory for prisoners to be held in police cells, but part of the problem with police cells has been the result of industrial action by the Prison Officers Association at a number of establishments. I am glad to be able to report to the House that that action has been suspended, and I am grateful for the positive line and the co-operation shown by the POA. The places lost as a result of that action are gradually being brought back into use —for example, places at Birmingham, Pentonville and Cardiff.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Can the Home Secretary tell me why I and other hon. Members should believe him now, when he and his colleagues have been telling us for the past 18 months that the position in greater Manchester would improve, yet prisoners are still being held in places such as Denton police station? That is unsatisfactory for prisoners, for police officers carrying out their normal duties, and for probation officers, solicitors and others who wish to visit prisoners. When will it come to an end?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman's comments are correct and I agree with them. The conditions are unsatisfactory. The holding of prisoners in police cells has continued longer than anyone would want because there has been an unexpected and unprecedented rise of about 3,000 in the prison population. The latest forecast is that the increase is likely to abate, but that alone is not sufficient—it may not abate. I cannot tell the House what the prison population is likely to be in the immediate aftermath of Christmas. I have brought forward the opening of an institution and I have kept one prison open for longer than we intended. There will be 2,700 more places by Easter. I hope that that will largely deal with the problem. I mean that. It will depend crucially on what happens to the prison population.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is it not just as true that the Greater Manchester police authority is very concerned that it is inadequately compensated for the transfer of responsibilities in this way? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is strong feeling throughout Greater Manchester that the police authority is not being properly compensated?

Mr. Baker

I will look into that matter. I had not heard that complaint, because the payments to police authorities for keeping prisoners in police cells are higher per prisoner than for those kept in ordinary prisons.

Earlier this year, I received the report into the disturbances, to which I referred, prepared by Lord Justice Woolf and the recommendations for change which he and Judge Tumim made. I am grateful to them for their work. We have since published the White Paper "Custody, Care and Justice", which contains comprehensive proposals for improvements to both the regimes and the conditions in which prisoners are held, and in security and control. The two are linked. There is never any excuse for behaviour such as we witnessed last year, not even if conditions are not as good as they should be.

Making prisons more decent places to live in will tend to reduce tensions, and will help to prevent a climate in which mutinous behaviour could develop. Prisons that provide proper programmes and fair treatment for prisoners are, as the White Paper acknowledges, more likely to be stable and safe. Staff can work constructively with inmates when they do not have the fear of a breakdown of order.

I shall remind the House of the seven major steps that we are taking as part of our programme of prison reform. First, we are on target to end slopping out by December 1994. Already some 65 per cent. of places now have access to sanitation. I know that the whole House thinks that slopping out is an unnecessary, degrading and humiliating experience that should be no part of our prisons. As the House will know, I have brought forward the ending of that practice from the end of the century—the Woolf recommendation was 1996—to December 1994.

Secondly, we have secured an extra £66 million over the next three years for White Paper-related initiatives. There will be total resources for the prison service of about £1.4 billion next year. Thirdly, we have awarded a contract to Group 4 Remand Services to take on the management of the Wolds remand prison.

Fourthly, this year we are recruiting 2,500 prison officers. Next year, we plan to recruit 1,600 additional officers. Fifthly, regime activity hours for prisoners rose by 8 per cent. in 1989–90 and by a further 7 per cent. in 1990–91. As the House knows, I believe that the regime should be positive. Prisoners should be kept busy when they are in prison.

Sixthly, a total of 13 new prisons will be delivered between April 1991 and January 1994 at a cost of £900 million. Four are now open and three more will be open by next April. Seventhly, we are developing a code of standards for the prison service and reforming arrangements for dealing with complaints. We will appoint a complaints adjudicator next year.

We are also improving security and control in our prisons to make it harder for a mutiny to begin or develop. We have increased the number of staff trained in advanced techniques of control and restraint for handling disruptive prisoners. By November 1991, the prison service had trained about 5,000 officers in such techniques—an increase of more than 800 over the past year. Those officers have been successfully deployed on several occasions this year.

We plan to spend more than £16 million this year on improving physical security. That will include X-ray machines, perimeter fencing, secure staircases and strengthened ceilings to prevent access to roof spaces. We have just issued a new contingency planning manual and we will issue a new security manual very soon. Those will take account of many of the security proposals in the Woolf report.

In addition to those measures, we have decided to create a new offence of taking part in a prison mutiny, with a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. This short Bill fulfils that intention.

There are, of course, other ways in which to deal with prisoners who engage in calculated disorder such as we saw last year. Those disturbances have resulted in criminal proceedings against a number of prisoners who engage in calculated disorder such as we saw last year. Those disturbances have resulted in criminal proceedings against a number of prisoners. The House may like to know where we stand on that.

The trials resulting from the disturbances at Dartmoor, Cardiff, Bristol and Glen Parva have ended. Sixty-two prisoners were proceeded against for a range of public order offences and 37 either pleaded guilty or were convicted. The first trials arising from the disturbances at Manchester and Pucklechurch will begin next January. In all, 108 defendants will be involved. Some have been charged with murder.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Home Secretary accept that one of the points that causes considerable concern in Manchester is the amount of police time that has been taken up in preparing the charges for those involved in the Strangeways incident? It has meant that those police officers have not been able to be on the beat or to carry out other police activities. They have had to concentrate on bringing the charges arising out of Strangeways. That is one reason why many people in Greater Manchester feel that there is not sufficient money and that there are not sufficient police officers to carry out the duty of protecting the public in Greater Manchester. Will the Home Secretary look carefully at the cost that the police authority has had to bear in bringing forward the documentation for the charges? Will he ensure that Greater Manchester police are compensated in some way?

Mr. Baker

I will consider the hon. Gentleman's point because he follows these matters in a serious and concerned way. The preparation of the cases against the prisoners in Strangeways has taken a long time because it must be done with especially scrupulous fairness on such occasions. That is why it has taken so long to bring the cases to court. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said and I will look into those points.

It is not enough to have the machinery to mount a prosecution under the existing range of offences. Those do not prevent serious disturbances breaking out in the first place. The Bill does not simply deal with those who engage in serious distrubances in our prisons; it will also deter them. The new offence, which may be committed only in a prison and only by two or more prisoners acting in concert, will bring home to prisoners the severe consequences of mutinous behaviour.

At present, a prisoner may be vaguely aware of a range of public order or criminal damage offences—normally the latter—with which he may be charged if he chooses to lend his backing to a serious disturbance. However, the warning signals are not, in my view, clear enough.

All prisoners are given an information pack on their reception into prison. It contains a number of leaflets dealing with visits, complaints, discipline and other matters. The Prison Reform Trust has recently helped us to improve that pack. In future, prisoners will also receive a notice describing the offence of prison mutiny and the penalties available to the courts if a prisoner is convicted of it. This will be drawn specifically to the attention of prisoners. Prisoners must be aware that rioting is not a cost-free option. If prisoners want to make a point about the conditions in which they are held, there are proper procedures for them to follow.

Mr. Robert Mclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

As the measure was not adumbrated in earlier considerations by the right hon. Gentleman on the future of the prisons, will he tell us whether he consulted the Prison Governors Association about the Bill, and if so, whether it considered the Bill to be necessary? My understanding is that the association is opposed to it.

Mr. Baker

There are wide consultations on Bills whenever new offences are created. We and many people in the prison service believe that this extra weapon should be available.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)


Mr. Baker

Some governors to whom I have spoken have said that they would welcome the measure because they are also concerned. I know that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the Bill is not necessary. I believe that it is necessary because, as I have said, in future prisoners will receive a notice describing the offence of prison mutiny and the penalties available to the courts if a prisoner is convicted of that offence. It will be drawn specifically to the attention of prisoners. Prisoners must be aware that rioting is not a cost-free option. It would be helpful from the point of view of a deterrent for prisoners to appreciate the consequences if they engage in disturbance and riot.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify a point? He said that the cost of the damage at Strangeways alone was about £60 million. Has that money had to be found from the prison refurbishment programme or is it additional money? It seems to some Conservative Members in particular that when prisoners riot and cause damage such as occurred in Strangeways, they do not appreciate that it is not cost-free. It must mean that there will be a slowdown in improvements in the prison estate.

Mr. Baker

Money will have to be found from existing resources for existing refurbishment programmes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If, as a result of such disturbances, severe damage costs a great deal to repair, no indulgent Chief Secretary to the Treasury—that is almost a contradiction in terms —would ever say, "You may have some more money for that." The work must be done, and that usually means a postponement of refurbishment elsewhere and a postponement of the very improvements that many prisoners would welcome.

Mr. Greenway

Just by way of an interesting anecdote, the current Chief Secretary was the Minister with responsibility for prisons at the time of the Strangeways riot.

Mr. Baker

Because the present Chief Secretary understood the problems of the prisons, I was able to secure from him a favourable settlement for the prison service for next year.

I shall now refer to the specific clauses of the Bill. The new offence of prison mutiny is contained in clause 1. That makes it an offence for two or more prisoners to take part in a prison mutiny. If convicted, such prisoners face a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment over and above the sentence that they are serving. The case must be tried in the Crown court and only—this is important—with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A prison mutiny occurs when two or more prisoners engage in conduct intended to further a common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority in the prison. It also occurs when they collectively resist, impede or disobey any exercise of lawful authority in such a way as to make their conduct subversive of order. The test is intentionally quite strict.

As the House will appreciate, the provision is targeted on the most serious disturbances. For lesser offences within a prison, there is available a range of disciplinary measures. The governor may at present award up to 28 days loss of remission for offences such as denying access to any part of the establishment to any officer, disobeying any lawful order, and detaining any person against his will. The new offence is aimed at behaviour that goes some way beyond that. The test in clause I will also catch those who instigate a mutiny or co-ordinate the action behind the scenes, but play no active part in it themselves—in effect, those who pull the strings.

Clause 2 deals with the related security issue of assisting escapes. It does several things. First, it widens the scope of the offence in section 39 of the Prison Act 1952 of conveying anything into a prison with intent to facilitate an escape. The clause also increases the maximum penalty for that offence from five to 10 years imprisonment. Secondly, there is also an offence under section 22(2)(b) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 of harbouring an escaped prisoner. The maximum penalty will rise from two to 10 years. The purpose in increasing penalties in that way is to reinforce society's disapproval of such conduct and to correct an anomaly. The maximum penalty for the related offence under the Criminal Law Act 1967 of impeding the apprehension of a person known or believed to be guilty of an arrestable offence is 10 years imprisonment. We are taking this opportunity to align the penalties and to remove that anomaly. This is a short but important measure.

5.3 pm

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I fear that the Bill is exactly what we have come to expect from the present Home Office. It is concerned less with solving real problems than with catching headlines. It is intended to create the illusion of activity. By that attempt, it diverts attention from the Government's failure to remedy the crisis in our prisons.

Certainly, the Home Secretary briefly described the crisis in our prisons, but he did not even attempt to relate the Bill to a solution of the problems which he outlined. That may be because he does not quite understand the history of the problem or the nature of the Bill, for during his introductory paragraphs he referred to Lord Justice Woolf's report as comprehensive. Whatever else he thinks of that report, he cannot believe it to be comprehensive, as it did not include the present proposal. I shall refer to that point in a moment, but I want to make absolutely clear our attitude to the Bill and to its contents.

At the time of the debate on the Queen's Speech, we believed that the Bill would be no worse than irrelevant to the needs of the prison service. We said that we would not oppose it. Nor shall we, but, having now seen the text, I must make it clear that in one particular we regard its provisions as wholly unacceptable.

The definition of the new offence, which appears in clause 1, was described by the Home Secretary as "intentionally quite strict". In fact, it is so wide and so amorphous that it may encompass activities which in no way justify the penalties which are stipulated in that clause. The offence of prison mutiny carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, yet clause 1 defines prison mutiny as occurring when two or more prisoners…collectively resist, impede or disobey any exercise of lawful authority in the prison in such circumstances as to make their conduct subversive of order in the prison. We can hypothesise the behaviour that might come under that heading and might in consequence justify a prison sentence of 10 years. It is easy enough to imagine behaviour of the sort which would justify such a sentence. However, it is easy to imagine, too, conduct which, while being generally appropriate to the description in the Bill, would in no way justify so severe a sentence.

Previous proposals for a new offence of prison mutiny have all required the prosecution to prove intention or common purpose to overthrow legitimate authority or to demonstrate that prisoners have used threatening or violent behaviour. In this Bill, all that is required for conviction is proof that a lawful instruction was disobeyed in a way which undermined prison discipline. That definition, if words have any meaning, must include conduct such as ridicule and dumb insolence. A maximum sentence of 10 years for such conduct is out of all proportion to the nature of the offence.

Between March and June of this year, there were, in English prisons, 58 protests of one sort or another. Twenty-three protests concerned the quality of prison food. A prisoner who, as part of such a protest, refused to leave the dining hall would, technically at least, be guilty of an offence that carried a maximum sentence of 10 years. That is wholly unreasonable.

Clause 1(4) increases the risk of disproportionate punishment for a trival offence. It states: Where there is a prison mutiny, a prisoner who has or is given a reasonable opportunity of submitting to lawful authority and fails, without reasonable excuse, to do so shall be regarded for the purposes of this section as taking part in the mutiny. In short, if a group of prisoners refuse to leave the dining room in protest against the quality of their food, anyone who remains with them will be liable to a prison sentence of 10 years. Few people would believe that even the ringleaders in such a demonstration deserve a decade in prison. The idea that those who sit in mute support should also qualify for such punishment is patently ridiculous.

No doubt the Minister of State will tell us that long sentences will never be imposed in such cases, but some of the conduct encompassed by the clause should not be a criminal offence at all. A prisoner who, for a time, refused to return to his cell has not committed an offence which should be stigmatised as criminal. In any case, the crisis of prison overcrowding is in part caused by thoughtless optimism about sentencing policy. We create maximum sentences in the belief that they will be used only when appropriate. Regrettably, that is not always the case.

In Committee, we shall attempt to relate the maximum penalties of clause 1 more closely to the most serious offences stipulated in clause 1(2), (3) and (4) and to make it explicit that only appropriate offences are criminalised by the Bill. If the Government reject that necessary improvement, we shall vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

Of course, the Home Secretary has implied that the Bill is needed to deal with more serious offences —what I shall call genuine prison mutiny; mutiny of the sort that we saw at Strangeways prison in 1990. Perhaps that ludicrously broad definition, which encompasses sitting at a dining room table and threatening to burn down the prison, was simply a mistake. If so, no doubt the Home Secretary will soon tell us which civil servant is to blame. But, if he simply claims that the Bill is necessary to deter violent mutiny, that is patently absurd. Prisoners involved in violence, wilful damage, threatening behaviour, assault and real disorder can already be charged with a number of serious offences. If the severe penalties already available do not deter rioters, none of the penalties stipulated in this Bill will act as a deterrent. In short, this was so much window dressing.

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Richard made the point exactly in another place: the new offence is needed only in the case of a mutineer who is non-violent and does not threaten to be violent. There are plenty of crimes for which he can already be charged if he is violent or if he threatens violence. Furthermore, he must not occasion criminal damage…and must act alone, otherwise he can be charged with his co-mutineers with an offence of conspiracy. It is difficult to think of an example of a mutiny for which the offence is needed."—[Official Report of the House of Lords. 7 November 1991; Vol. 532, c. 230.] It is clearly not needed for the preservation of prison discipline. I do not ask the House to accept my judgment on the matter. That is clearly the judgment of Lord Justice Woolf. In his report, "Prison Disturbances", published in April 1990, he made 204 recommendations on the government of our prisons. A new offence of prison mutiny was not included among them. The Woolf report, commissioned by the Government to prescribe a remedy for the crisis in our prisons, never even mentioned the idea. It is bizarre to the point of perversity that the Government should have the Woolf report at their disposal, fail to implement many of its recommendations, but nevertheless introduce an idea which Lord Justice Woolf did not even think worthy of the Home Secretary's consideration.

We certainly believe that the Government are right to introduce a prison Bill in this their last Session, but it should have been devoted to something worth while. The Home Secretary shied away from Lord Justice Woolf's key recommendation —the proposal that no prison establishment should hold more than its certified normal level of prisoners and that Parliament should be informed whenever that number was exceeded.

Yet Lord Justice Woolf was explicit about the major cause of the crisis in our prisons, including the disturbances which erupt from time to time. His report quoted the director-general of the prison service as saying: The removal of overcrowding is, in my view, an indispensable pre-condition of sustained and universal improvement in prison conditions. Lord Justice Woolf "unreservedly" endorsed that assessment of the effect of overcrowding and of the importance of resolving the overcrowding problem in the future", yet today there are 47,443 prisoners in custody in England and Wales. Our prisons are so overcrowded that 1,667 remand prisoners are held in police cells.

If the Home Secretary took urgent action to reduce the prison population, he would reduce not only crime, which overcrowded prisons breed, but also the likelihood of prison riots. New cells will not solve the problem of overcrowding. The only way in which that problem will be solved is by a reduction in the prison population, but the Home Secretary will not face the consequences of encompassing that.

Mr. Baker

That is easier said than done. The hon. Gentleman says that we should reduce the prison population. Is he suggesting that I should exercise executive release or that, if he were Home Secretary, he would exercise executive release?

Mr. Hattersley

I will give three examples, all of which the right hon. Gentleman has rejected in the past. First, there should be a sentencing council, which would bring some consistency to sentencing and prevent people from being sent to prison for unreasonable periods. Secondly, there should be a real assault upon the incompetence and inefficiencies of our courts, which would result in a reduction of the time men and women are held on remand and reduce pressure in that way. Thirdly, some categories of offence should be removed from custodial sentencing. In my view, it is wholly absurd, for instance, that maintenance defaulters should end up in prison, making sure that, whatever else happens, maintenance is not paid. I could give many other examples, but those are three which the Home Secretary might work on straight away.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Two of my constituents were awarded by the courts compensation for damage that a burglar had done in their house. Instead of paying that compensation, the person concerned served an extra week in prison. Is it not an absolute absurdity that that person should spend an extra week in prison and my elderly pensioner couple should not get compensation for the damage that they suffered as a result of the burglary?

Mr. Hattersley

It is not only an absurdity but an absurdity that victims of crime resent. One of the great arguments for sentencing within the community is the opportunity that it ought to give the offender to make restitution in some way for the damage or hurt that he or she has caused. Whenever I talk about these things anywhere in the country, I find that people who have been burgled or mugged, or have had items stolen from their vehicles would much prefer the young man or woman who committed the crime to do something to compensate or repay them instead of spending a brief time in prison, with all the disadvantages that that involves.

It was the Strangeways riot that resulted in Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry. His report reveals that, at the time of the the disturbance, that prison had certified normal accommodation for 970 prisoners, but held 1,647 prisoners. That, the report concludes, would make it difficult to provide a constructive regime which would have helped to alleviate the dehumanising effects of the insanitary and unsatisfactory physical conditions within the prison. Even at Glen Parva, a modern prison, which rioted shortly after Strangeways, the CNA was 612 and the actual prison population was 778.

All the prisons which, having experienced riots, were examined by Lord Justice Woolf held more prisoners than the certified normal accommodation figure. Yet the Home Secretary does not legislate to deal with the cause of disturbances.

Mr. John Greenway

I am not entirely out of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying on this, but I would remind him that we have seen disturbances recently at the prison at Full Sutton, near York, which is not even full; there are still empty cells.

Mr. Hattersley

I am not saying that disturbances always have a single cause. I am saying that Lord Justice Woolf, who produced an authoritative report on prison riots and the improvement of prison conditions—admittedly, a report that does not recommend the one thing that the Home Secretary has chosen to do, but a report which the Home Secretary wrongly described as comprehensive—draws attention time after time to the simple fact that all prisons that rioted in 1990 and were the subject of the inquiry were so overcrowded that many of the proper duties that prisons should perform were not being and could not be performed.

By dealing with the crisis in prisons by a Bill of this sort rather than dealing first and fundamentally with the overcrowding situation, the Home Secretary is attacking the symptoms, not the causes. It is the sort of legislation that comes from a cosmetics salesman. It attempts to paint over the blemishes rather than remove them.

The conclusion that this Bill is a pointless publicity exercise is reinforced by an examination of the way in which previous Home Secretaries—Conservative Home Secretaries, I might say—have dealt with the issue of prison mutiny. In 1985, the Prior committee on prison disciplinary systems recommended that such an offence should be created. However, a year later, the Public Order Act 1986, which applies as much inside prisons as outside, became law. It created a statutory offence of riot—12 or more people using or threatening violence for an unlawful purpose. That offence carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, the same period as appears in this mutiny Bill. It created other offences —violent disorder, affray and threatening behaviour.

The White Paper, "The Prison Disciplinary System", published in the following year, 1986, concluded that, because of the new offence of riot, a prison mutiny Bill was no longer necessary. Indeed, it was explicit in its judgment that the Public Order Act had made a new offence of prison riot unnecessary. A previous Tory Home Secretary wrote in the White Paper: Since the Prior committee's report was published, the Government's Public Order Bill has been put before Parliament…Given the restructuring of public order offences in the Public Order Bill, the Government's view is that there is no need for a further public offence of prison mutiny. The Home Secretary has not even tried to explain why the Government have changed their mind or why he has rejected the published judgment of his predecessor. The only possible explanation is that the new Bill is needed as a diversion, an event to divert attention from the real needs of the prison system, needs which the Government do not and will not face.

Clause 2 amends the Prison Act 1952 so as to increase the penalty for sending anything into prison with the intent to facilitate an escape. That is presumably the product of what we now know about the Brixton prison escape. We still do not know the full story of Brixton; therefore, we do not know the truth. Since the Bill relates to that breakout, I take the opportunity to tell the Home Secretary once more that sooner or later he will have to be frank with the House and the country about what occurred at Brixton and about what he knew.

It is now established beyond doubt that special branch officers arranged for a prison officer to discuss escape plans with the two suspects who are still at large. It is also certain that the Home Secretary knew of the special branch involvement by the time he made his statement on Judge Tumim's inquiry. Yet he chose to keep it secret and blamed officers of the prison service for what happened. I understand that another television programme, dealing directly with what the Home Secretary chose not to reveal although it was known to him, is to be broadcast on Thursday. I warn him that the subject will not go away until he is frank with the House and the country.

Our confidence in the Home Secretary and in his ability to handle the crisis in our prisons might be slightly restored if, even at this late stage, he gave the House and the country the full facts about the Brixton breakout. I doubt if he will accept my advice. Instead, he will rely on Bills such as the one we are debating, at best irrelevant, at worst unreasonable —

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)


Mr. Hattersley

This is my final sentence; then I shall sit down so that other hon. Members may take part in the debate. [Interruption.] I think the Whip wants to say something to me.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hattersley

No, the Whip does not want to say something to me. I repeat that the Home Secretary will rely on Bills like this, which are at best irrelevant and at worst unreasonable. The main casualty will be his already damaged reputation.

5.22 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

We have come to expect that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will pour scorn on every idea which does not emanate from himself. Her Majesty's Opposition are expected to oppose—that is their constitutional position —but they are not expected to oppose everything whenever, whatever and however it is put forward. I should have thought that good sense would dictate that someone who opposes every measure begins to lose credibility. The right hon. Member, who opposes everything so vehemently, has very little credibility left on this subject.

The right hon. Gentleman said that a reduction in the prison population was the way to improve the position in prisons. I listened with great care to discover how his brilliant mind would explain how in a society so apparently lawless there was a brilliant way of reducing the prison population. All that the right hon. Gentleman could come up with were three proposals.

The first was that fine defaulters should not be sent to prison; but very few are. What sanction does the right hon. Gentleman suggest for those who persistently flout the view of the court that somebody is able to pay but refuses to do so? Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be a speedier process. We all want a speedier process and therefore fewer remand prisoners. The problem with recent miscarriages of justice has been that the police have not done a thorough enough job. To do a thorough job, the police need more time.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that in some miraculous way a sentencing council would relieve the pressure on prisons. If a court has sentenced somebody to prison for an excessive length of time, there is already a sentencing council—the Court of Appeal, which can reduce the sentence. If the right hon. Gentleman wants more and more bureaucratic institutions set up to do the work of existing institutions, he had better say so. I was totally unconvinced that he, any more than anyone else, has a solution to the amount of crime and the necessity to send people to prison.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Bill, which provides for tougher action against prisoners who wish to carry out their war against society after conviction and sentence from within—or worse, outside —the prison to which they have been sentenced. The public are thoroughly fed up with prisoners smashing up prisones, which then have to be repaired at vast expense to the taxpayer, and with attempted escapes which cause injury to dedicated prison officers. Still more are the public fed up with escapes which succeed, and they will be appalled to hear from my right hon. Friend that the cost of damage to our prisons last year exceeded £100 million.

The Bill is the latest in a long line of measures to protect society from criminals and to improve the penal system. A succession of Conservative Home Secretaries have ensured that we now have the largest prison building programme this century, with nine prisons built and 4,000 places provided, and 12 new prisons on the way. We appointed a superb chief inspector of prisons, Judge Tumim, and set up the Woolf commitee on prison reform, which has produced an excellent report. As a result, we shall end overcrowding by 1995 and slopping out by 1994. We are funding prison security much more excessively than in the past. We have ended some of the petty things like routine censorship of letters, and we have increased family visits.

More to the point, we have considerably improved, by increasing their numbers, the service provided by prison officers. There are 4,700 more prison officers, with 1,600 on the way, and 3,000 fewer prisoners, so the prison population has risen by 7 per cent. while the prison service has increased by 47 per cent. We have a better staff-inmate ratio than France or west Germany, and if we include prison auxiliaries and night patrols, we do not compare all that badly with the Scandinavian countries.

If it becomes obvious that the first private prison at Wolds, which is to be run by Group 4, is a success, I hope that the burden on the prison system will be further lightened by the extension of private prison building and private prison management, certainly for remand prisoners as there can be no sensible objection to treating unconvicted prisoners better than convicted prisoners. I think that we can all applaud my right hon. Friend for the other improvements in prison security about which he has told us.

In all these matters Government prison policy has been positive, constructive and beneficial. We have no need to take lectures from the Opposition, who presided over the slashing of prison building by 29 per cent. while the prison population rose by 14.5 per cent. The Liberal Democrats, starkly represented by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), seem to concentrate on reducing the use of prison rather than on anything else. Of course, there is still a considerable task ahead for Government in improving the penal system.

It is not much use improving the number and quality of the prison buildings if the prison management does not also improve. There is clearly much room for improvement in a number of management areas, such as the co-ordination of intelligence within prisons and the co-ordination of response. It is no secret that the governor of Brixton prison knew on 4 February 1991 that a breakout from the prison was being actively contemplated by IRA terrorists in the prison, yet they were not split up or moved. It seems that they were not closely watched—and the inevitable happened.

I warn the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook—I hope that he will accept that I do so in the best possible spirit—not to be carried along by media representations of what happened at Brixton. One of my constituents is the prison officer allegedly involved in those activities, and he strongly insists that the portrayal of what happened in Brixton in last week's Thames Television programme is totally wrong. When the inquiry has been completed, we shall all know what happened, but in the meantime I warn the right hon. Gentleman that all is not as portrayed on the media.

To give the House another example of a fault in the management of the prison service, I remember taking part in a case several years ago involving a prison breakout. Some convicted men went over the wall and the judge, who was born in that very prison, called for an improvement in security at the prison. It was Brixton prison. I do not know how many men have since gone over the same wall, but there have been several even recently. Yet not very much seems to have been done to make that wall unclimbable. That is not the fault of the prison governor; it is the fault of the prison service, for which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his predecessors have the unavoidable responsibility.

There is something wrong with the management of the prison service when the Prison Officers Association has 70 disputes in 41 prisons. Indeed, there is so much dissatisfaction with that union from within the prison service that another union, the Prison Service Union, is being set up and I understand that it has so far received 1,000 pledges from prospective members.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

It is not recognised.

Mr. Lawrence

Indeed, the question is when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will recognise it. I hope that the proposed union will receive more support not only from the Government but from the House, because not having a monopoly union in the prison service must be healthy, especially if the monopoly union brings about so many disputes.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

As the hon. and learned Gentleman is asking questions about the management of our prisons, what has he to say about the management of a prison service in which, 12 months after a learned judge advises the Home Secretary to move suspected and convicted terrorists from Brixton prison, they are still there?

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which is not very different from the point that lf was making about what the governor of Brixton prison knew several months before those IRA terrorists broke out. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond by telling the House what she knows when she replies to the debate.

There are other examples of management failures. Old Bailey barristers are being prevented from having conferences with their clients at Brixton prison by prison officers, the prison service, or both. If one wishes to interview a client, one has to give notice about a week in advance, and sometimes interviews are cancelled at the last minute on the diktat of whoever is running Brixton prison. That is outrageous, as judges at the Old Bailey have made clear, but judges have no power over the running of the Prison Service. That again is a management failure, and improvements must be made.

I am therefore pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recognised the importance of such management failures and that he has appointed Admiral Sir Raymond Lygo to improve management in the prison service. We can only hope that that review will be followed by sensible action. It is worth noting that the Woolf report also drew attention to those management problems, as has the director of the prison service, Mr. Joe Pilling. Management is at fault and we must clean it up. I know that my right hon. Friend takes this matter seriously.

With regard to the Bill, after 30 years at the criminal Bar and 35 years in politics, I have been driven reluctantly to the conclusion that fear is a more effective motivator of human behaviour than anything else, especially when dealing with people of ill will. I have seen too many offenders laughing at the courts for their weaknesses, too many malcontents exploiting the absence or inadequacy of the law, and too many criminals making the cool assessment that the risk of detection is well worth taking. As a result, I share the preponderant view that shorter sentences are often worse than longer sentences. It would be better for law and order if criminals were deterred by the possibility of receiving a longer sentence.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I entirely support my hon. and learned Friend's view that people should be afraid of the law and of being caught, but does he agree that boredom has played an important role in prison riots? I hope that our reforms will make it possible for prisoners to do some useful form of work in prison. That trend is growing in America. It enables prisoners to pay off their debts to society by working hard and banking the money.

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend is a charming relative newcomer to this place and we are delighted that she is here, but if she had been here as long as I have—getting on for 18 years now—she would have heard me banging on about exactly that point. I am pleased to have her support. It is necessary to turn our prisons into workplaces in which the inmates do not receive parole but can work their way out of prison by dedicated activity, which should be properly paid so that they can compensate those whom they have wronged and pay something back into the system. I am pleased that the idea that we should turn our prisons into workplaces is slowly beginning to take hold. The Woolf report gave some articulation to it. Apart from anything else, if prisons were places where criminals had to work, fewer of them would want to go to prison.

Harsher sentences are necessary to make fear a dominant element in deterrence. It might not be a wholly popular view among pundits, but I am sure that it will he wholly popular among the people that the Bill should provide the power to impose deterrent sentences. Of course, not every would-be escaper would be deterred by the fear of a harsher sentence, but even now some prisoners refuse to go along with escape or mutiny plans due to fear of the consequences. The Bill will ensure that many more prisoners will refuse to join or support others' plans to forgo the consequences of their offending. Only the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook could describe that as a pointless publicity exercise. I hope that the provisions will reach the statute book quickly.

5.38 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) persisted in talking about the new harsher penalties that would be available under the Bill. I believe that he was misleading the House and the country by those assertions, because the burden of the case of those of us who think that the Bill is completely irrelevant to the problems of our prisons which it purports to tackle is that the penalties already exist in the Public Order Act 1986, for which the Government can legitimately take credit.

The Bill does nothing to increase the powers of the courts if order should break down inside a prison, although it touches in a new way on some of the matters relating to aiding and abetting an escape outside a prison. But that was not the burden of the case made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton, any more than it was the Home Secretary's case when he spoke in commendation of the Bill. It was notable that, in his introductory speech, the Home Secretary devoted very little time to the content of the Bill and scarcely sought to justify it.

Mr. Lawrence

It is a short Bill.

Mr. Maclennan

That does not diminish the need to explain and justify the complete volte face by the Home Office.

Mr. Lawrence

It is not a volte face.

Mr. Maclennan

Yes, it is.

In 1986, the Home Office, under a previous Home Secretary, published a White Paper in which it explicitly rejected the proposal to introduce a new crime of prison mutiny. I cannot understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman says that it is not so. It is there in black and white. It was recommended initially by the Prior committee that an offence such as we are considering tonight should be created. The Government rejected it for precisely the reasons that I mentioned. The instruments for punishing prison rioters were already available and the offence was unnecessary.

Like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I thought hard and long about why the Government had reversed their decision. What change of circumstances had come about which made them take an entirely different view? One recoils from the obvious answer, which is that the Home Secretary wants yet again to produce a cheap headline in the popular press such as "Crackdown on crime", by producing, as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, a modest and short Bill. The Home Secretary is receiving a disproportionate amount of attention from the press for the action that he has taken. There might have been some other more rational explanation, but it was not furnished to the House by the Secretary of State. I will deal with what he said in a moment.

The Secretary of State did not tell us that there had been a change in circumstances since the Government rejected the Prior report. The change is in the procedures proposed for adjudication on offences in prisons by boards of visitors. It may be argued that, in 1986, the Government rejected the idea of abandoning the adjudicatory role of the prison visitors board, which was part of the Prior recommendations, so, as they had gone some way to changing the internal discipline regime, they might reasonably look again at Prior. But we had none of that from the Secretary of State tonight.

Instead, we had the bizarre suggestion that prison order was likely to be more easily maintained if, on entering a prison, prisoners were given a little package telling them the consequences of their actions if they stepped out of line. An Act of Parliament is not necessary to do that. I am not averse to packs of information on what happens when someone goes into prison. It seems to be part of the Woolf proposal for compacts and for making prisoners fully aware of what is happening in prisons and what the plans are. The provision of such packs of information is concomitant with that proposal. However, if prisoners are at risk of sentence under the Public Order Act 1986, the pack of information can explain that just as easily as it can explain the contents of this miserable and irrelevant little Bill.

Once again, the Home Secretary has recognised that there is a problem. He feels that he must do something about it. He must persuade the public that he is doing something quickly, never mind the effectiveness of what he is doing. When there were tragic cases of dangerous dogs assaulting young children, the Home Secretary had to produce a Bill overnight. It was then withdrawn and another Bill was introduced, just so that we could have a crackdown on dangerous dogs. So, when there are riots and problems in prisons, we have to have a speedy and instantaneous responses from the Home Secretary. which is presented as the solution to the problem. Candidly, that will not wash.

The Bill is scarcely worth opposing. I wholly agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that it would be inappropriate to oppose the Bill on Second Reading, but, like the right hon. Gentleman, I intend to look closely at what happens to it during its passage through the House. It will have damaging consequences which willl flow from it not being targeted tightly on violent offences, as the Home Secretary suggested that it was. Violent offences gave rise to the need in the Home Secretary's mind to introduce the Bill.

The word "violent" does not appear in the Bill. If a prisoner disobeys an instruction to place his laundry in a certain basket, he will be at some risk of being found guilty of mutiny under the Bill.

The Minister of State, Home Office(Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Maclennan

The Minister of State shakes her head. It may be that, if the matter went to the Director of Public Prosecutions, he would take the view that the matter was not sufficiently serious to prosecute, but that is not the point. The point is that the definition of the offence in clause 1(1)(b) is so wide that any stepping out of line could constitute prison mutiny. As Lord Richard said most eloquently and correctly in another place, the only new element of the offence is that it is non-violent and is almost certainly conducted without conspiracy or the involvement or others.

In an intervention during the Home Secretary's speech, I asked whether he had consulted or heard from the Prison Governors Association about the Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State will be kind enough to inform the House who was consulted before the Government introduced the Bill, and who approves of it. We had some anecdotal evidence from the Home Secretary that one or two prison governors whom he happened to run into in recent weeks said that the Bill might not be a bad thing.

The Prison Governors Association has told me clearly that it opposes the Bill on the grounds that the measures that it contains are "too draconian"—I use its exact words. No one is more anxious that the penalties should be apt for the crime than those most immediately affected by prison disorder. The prison governors have said that it is too draconian, and the Prison Officers Association has expressed the view that it is an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction to a deeply serious problem. However, I recognise that the Prison Officers Association does not carry much weight with the Government at present.

Notwithstanding the scope of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry, he did not recommend that the new crime of prison mutiny should be introduced. I have not at any point heard Judge Tumim suggest that such a crime is appropriate. I can only assume that, as the matter was extensively discussed earlier, they thought that the issue was dead and that there was no point in discussing it, because the arguments had been so effectively canvassed and dismissed that the Government would not contemplate introducing such an offence.

The extensive and widely approved report from Lord Justice Woolf said nothing about introducing an offence of prison mutiny. The Government appear to be flying in the face of that report.

If the Government have received no recommendations that an offence of prison mutiny is necessary or desirable from anyone involved in the management of prisons, from what other organisations have they had such recommendations? Have the Government considered the experience in Northern Ireland or Scotland? Both countries have suffered prison violence, disorder and breakouts. Indeed, in Scotland, the power of a governor to limit remission is about half the power of a governor in England.

Nevertheless, as far as I am aware, there is no pressure to align the law in Scotland with the Government's proposal. The Secretary of State for Scotland has not introduced a measure of this type. I wonder why. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was consulted about his experiences. The situation in the three separate parts of the United Kingdom is not so radically different that it is appropriate to establish different crimes as part of the panoply of the law for dealing with offences in prisons.

Mr. Lawrence

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of reducing the age of consent in homosexual offences to 16? If so, Scotland has a different approach to such matters from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maclennan

That has nothing to do with the matter under debate. I do not propose to get involved in what is clearly a diversionary tack. That is a Conservative tactic: when faced with a difficult question, they invariably try to divert attention by mentioning another issue.

In the Bill, the Home Secretary has sought to divert the public's attention from the powerful recommendations in the Woolf report. He has failed to give a timetable for the implementation of those proposals, to set out a schedule which would carry weight and to tackle the problems at base. Instead, he has produced a little Bill which has no friends and which the House will not find—

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

That is why no one is going to vote against it tonight.

Mr. Maclennan

As I explained to the normally silent Parliamentary Private Secretary, it is not appropriate to vote against a Bill of this sort at this stage.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Member seems to agree with it.

Mr. Maclennan

I think that my comments will be taken by a fair commentator as fairly hostile to the Bill. I certainly hope that is the message that got through.

Clause 1(2)(b) is the part of the Bill which runs the greatest risk of causing mischief. It is far too widely drafted. If the Home Secretary does not want the Bill to do serious damage to internal discipline in prisons, resulting in matters that should be dealt with by internal disciplinary procedures going to court and taking up the time of the criminal justice system—making it far more difficult for prison governors to run their prisons—he had better look again at that clause and amend it. He must tighten that clause and accept the argument that he claimed to be attempting to grasp, which is to target the offence on violent offenders.

The Bill will win few friends. We shall wait to see what happens in Committee before deciding what our attitude to it should be.

5.52 pm
Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I give a general welcome to the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary telescoped his remarks. I had hoped to intervene to ask him about the extent of the Bill, but he sat down very rapidly at the end of his speech.

An important issue in terms of the application of the Bill is contained in clause 3(3), which says: This Act extends to England and Wales only. Apart from the general belief of many constitutionalists that all Acts of Parliament should apply to the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, that is a real mistake. Some parts of the Bill are relevant to an attempted escape. A trainer containing a weapon was sent from Northern Ireland to assist an escape quite recently. The person receiving the parcel in prison could be prosecuted under the Bill, but the dispatcher could not be dealt with because the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland.

This is a fairly modest and harmless little Bill. We must get to the cause of the mutinies that have occurred, especially the mutiny at Strangeways, which was probably the most recent. and the savage mutiny at Gartree in my constituency not so long ago. AS the Home Secretary said, the Bill touches on one of the chief causes of the mutiny at Strangeways—shocking overcrowding. There were 1,647 inmates in a prison designed for 970. We must have more prisons, more staff, and better conditions for both staff and prisoners. It must be Government policy to give the lifer some dignity.

Hon. Members have already discussed the Bill briefly, but I must mention clause 1(2)(a) again. As has already been said, prisoners frequently

engage in conduct which is intended to further common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority in that prison". There is a sound reason for rewording that clause, because that is too frequent an occurrence in day-to-day life in prison.

Clause 1(2) states that there is a mutiny where two or more prisoners while on the premises of any prison engage in certain conduct. Two is the obvious number, but in certain circumstances a case could be made for one prisoner or three prisoners.

The Woolf report referred to overcrowding, the need for more staff and, above all, the need for meaningful, educational training and a constructive programme of jobs for prisoners. That is absolutely essential. The security of any prison hinges on the attitude and conduct of prisoners. If they are held in overcrowded conditions, unfit for a dog to live in, and have no meaningful occupation—I do not mean soulless, non-productive work—they have no alternative but to fall into mischief and cause trouble.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to the need to give prisoners some work. I agree, but it must be meaningful work. The trouble is that that is not easily obtained. It is all very well for us to say that we must ensure that prisoners are properly employed, but when the unemployment figures increase every month in the east midlands, there is resentment and resistance to prison inmates engaging in meaningful work as such work would probably take away jobs outside the prison. We must get around that conflict.

The work must be meaningful, and it must satisfy the prisoners. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said that the work should ideally enable prisoners to earn a remission on part of their sentence, or it could earn money to pay compensation to victims.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton also referred to the need to maintain what he described as the quality of managers in prisons, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has also spoken about that. I have in my constituency the prison at Gartree and the young offenders centre at Glen Parva. It has been noted at Gartree that the better the governor, the more quickly he goes. If, as I understand, that is Home Office policy, an explanation is needed. I speak from experience, having met many Gartree governors. Some have been brilliant, others not so brilliant, but the more successful they are, the more quickly they seem to go, often within a year.

The Home Office may think it necessary on security grounds to make regular changes, perhaps believing that it would be undesirable for the routines of governors to be known to the general public. Even so, the present policy seems to prevent our getting the best from some of the good male and female governors we have. Need they be rotated so rapidly?

In 1987 there was an escape from Gartree. Clause 2 recommends that the maximum penalty for assisting a prisoner to escape should be increased from five to 10 years' imprisonment. I share the doubt that has been expressed about that change. Some of those involved in the helicopter escape from Gartree would not have been deterred by life imprisonment. Adding another five years to any possible sentence seems pointless, especially as some of those involved may already be serving that length of time. The proposal seems no more than a window dressing exercise.

We learned some lessons from the escape at Gartree. At the time, there was much unease in my constituency because, although Gartree is reasonably isolated, it is only two or three miles from the centre of Market Harborough, with its population of more than 15,000 people. There was terror in the neighbourhood for a long time afterwards. That made me realise how much we depend on the prison officers and the fantastic security systems that have been built up. We depend on them and, by and large, they do their jobs brilliantly.

Even so, it seems that some of the lessons which should have been learnt from that escape have not been applied, at least not so fully as they should have been. A confidential report that I have —it is not public and I have no intention of revealing its contents—referred to an Exercise Rogue Elephant which should have been put into practice regularly by police and prison officers. It should have been carried out prior to the escape, to put into practice action needed in such an event.

Perhaps I can be told, either today or in correspondence, whether Exercise Rogue Elephant is still carried out in midlands prisons. Are practice escapes still carried out? The report, by the deputy director-general of the prison service following the escape on 10 December 1987, revealed in connection with lessons that should have been learnt from the escape that effective co-operation between the police and the prison service appeared to be slow to get into action.

Although the escape was, in part, aborted—because of fog and the fact that the escapers had to land their helicopter at a spot where they had not intended to land, after which they terrorised a number of local people—they still got clear away. One would have hoped that by now the procedure would have been polished and tightened up to prevent such a breakout recurring or to ensure that a more effective response would be forthcoming in the event of a breakout from such a top security prison.

Gartree is a category A prison. In 1988, after the escape, a review was instigated into category A prisons by the Home Office, with emphasis on what was called the dispersal system. I have a Home Office document of that date detailing the management of category A inmates, with a statement of the Department's intentions. How is that programme proceeding? A letter on the subject from the Home Office at the time said that it was envisaged that a number of changes would be made from category A to category B, including at Gartree, which should go from category A to category B by 1992. Is that changeover still on schedule?

Some of the points that I am raising may sound tedious to hon. Members, but they are important issues for my constituents. For example, what is being done about what are known as SSUs—special secure units—of which at that time there were Leicester, Parkhurst and Full Sutton? Are those three SSUs still operating? A report on the subject dated April 1989 said: The future of the SSUs at Leicester and Parkhurst will be reviewed when the new accommodation is available. Those issues are so tied up with prison security that I would have been at fault had I not raised them in the debate.

However heinous the crime, a prisoner is entitled to dignity and an aim and purpose in life. Conservative Members expect the Home Secretary continually to struggle to try to improve the lot of prison officers and prisoners. I have often been to Gartree prison and seen life prisoners who have committed the most fearful crimes, but they can all see the light at the end of the tunnel. That window of hope makes them better prisoners, more amenable to discipline although they have no prospect of leaving prison for many years.

I have written to my right hon. Friend about a particular prisoner whose name I shall not mention. After 25 years in prison, he is now due for remission. In this case, as in many others, I am unhappy because the remission programme seems to have fallen by the wayside. In fact, I am still awaiting a reply from my right hon. Friend about this prisoner. However guilty a prisoner may be, when he has done his term, he should come out as pure as the driven snow and be given an opportunity to start life again.

With those few words, I welcome the Bill.

6.11 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

When the Home Secretary introduced the Bill, he referred to the riots and disturbances that occurred recently in several prisons, and said that those scenes must not be allowed to recur. Those scenes led to the commission of several offences and to three people losing their lives. Obviously, one does not want that to recur. The Home Secretary said that the existing legislation was not enough and that consequently he was introducing a new offence of prison mutiny. Like other hon. Members, I am somewhat concerned about the terms of the new offence. Reference has already been made to its considerable width in that it will cover not only violent prison riots like those that occurred recently, but also minor protests, particularly in clause 1(2).

I am equally worried about the drafting of clause 1(3), which says that, for the purposes of defining the offence of prison mutiny, The intentions and…purpose of prisoners may be inferred from the form and circumstances of their conduct". The Home Secretary may have had that aspect in mind when he said that the test was intentionally strict, but I find the strictness alarming. However, the use of the word "may" will allow the courts to rescue people from falling within the net of that provision.

The offence is extremely wide. I come from Northern Ireland and must therefore bear in mind the situation in Her Majesty's Crumlin road prison in Belfast. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to prisoners carrying on their war against society while in prison, and that has certainly been happening in the Crumlin road prison. It is a war between both major terrorist factions there, partly directed by one faction against the other, but also partly by one faction for the purpose of obtaining what they call segregation within the prison.

I appreciate that this is neither the time not the place to go into detail about the extent of that war, but it has been going on for a considerable period. There have been serious disturbances involving the wrecking of part of the prison and attacks on prisoners, culminating only the other week in a bomb being smuggled into the prison and going off, resulting in the death of two prisoners.

If the Strangeways riots, which resulted in three deaths, justify the Bill, perhaps the continuing warfare within the Crumlin Road prison, which has resulted in two deaths so far, merits consideration. It is unlikely that the explosion in the prison will be the last disturbance, because the atmosphere seems to be deteriorating, and further violence and injury are expected. Indeed, the new visiting arrangements that have been introduced in the prison may backfire, because the warfare may extend among relatives and visitors. Visiting arrangements are now carried out in larger open plan areas, and the authorities seem to be mixing the relatives of the two factions. If that is happening it is extremely curious.

It is strange that the disturbances in England and Wales that led to the Bill have not so far led to the consideration of legislation to apply to other parts of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asked whether it was contemplated to introduce legislation for Scotland and the same could be asked with regard to Northern Ireland. I may be wrong, but I understand that there is at present no intention to extend the legislation to Northern Ireland. That may be partly because the Government think that other penalties under public order legislation are adequate, but it may also be because, unlike England and Wales, Northern Ireland already has an offence of prison mutiny.

It is not contained in primary legislation but in the prison rules under the Prison (Northern Ireland) Act 1953.

Rule 31, "Offences against discipline," states: A prisoner shall be guilty of an offence against discipline, —if he (1) mutinies or incites another prisoner to mutiny". The prison rules contain no definition of mutiny, thus avoiding the criticisms that we have made of the drafting of clause I.

Mr. Corbett

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that all hon. Members try to understand the special conditions that lead to some of the circumstances that he has described in prisons in Northern Ireland. I hope that we can take that for granted. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the ability to deal with events that could be labelled as "mutiny" as a disciplinary matter inhibits prison governors in Northern Ireland? I do not wish to hurry the hon. Gentleman, as he may be about to explain that to the House, but would it help us to deal with the special conditions in Northern Ireland if the Bill were extended to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Trimble

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention but, as he anticipated, I should be happier to deal with the point later.

As I was saying, one of the offences against discipline is the offence of mutiny. Hon. Members may be interested to know the current penalties for mutiny in Northern Ireland. Under the prison rules, a governor may—it is at his discretion—refer a charge to the Secretary of State, in which case, the Secretary of State may impose one or more of the following penalties:

  1. "(a) caution:
  2. (b) loss of remission for a period not exceeding 180 days;
  3. (c) stoppage of earnings for a period not exceeding 56 days;
  4. (d) stoppage of any or all privileges…
  5. (e) exclusion from associated work for a period not exceeding 56 days;
  6. (f) cellular confinement for a period not exceeding 56 days."
Those are the penalties for prison mutiny in Northern Ireland, where the continuing problems clearly fall within the definition of prison mutiny in the Bill. The Government consider that, in England and Wales, the maximum penalty for such an offence should be 10 years. They say that they have no intention of extending the legislation to Northern Ireland, where the present penalty is loss of remission for 180 days or confinement in a cell for 56 days. The penalties seem disproportionate.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) described the legislation as a publicity exercise. If we consider it as such, what sort of message will it send to those prisoners in Northern Ireland who are presently creating a disturbance? The might consider that their activities are not regarded as important and are minor offences. Is that the sort of message that the Government intend to send?

I cannot underline enough the fact that the present serious problems in Northern Ireland need to be adressed.

I know that there have been inquiries and that Lord Colville has been asked to assist the Government. One hopes that sense and control will be restored in Crumlin road prison, and that the prison authorities will exercise discipline in the interests of the prisoners' safety if no other reason. I wonder why the Government have engaged in this exercise when there are such grave prison problems in Northern Ireland.

The Home Secretary said that one reason for the legislation was that it should act as a deterrent. In its response to the legislation the Prison Officers Association has queried that motive, and suggested that in its experience the majority of prisoners who have been, or are likely to be, involved in serious disturbances in prisons are long-term prisoners who may not be deterred by the legislation. One curious factor about the disturbances in Northern Ireland is that they are taking place not among long-term prisoners, but primarily among remand prisoners. That makes me believe that there might be some validity in the deterrence argument.

If an additional offence were created, it might dissuade remand prisoners from continuing with their actions in the Crumlin road prison. Whatever weight one attaches to that argument—I am not sure how much to give it—I believe that detection, not deterrence is the important factor. We must detect those prisoners causing problems and there should be a proper system of management and control within the prison.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) asked if it would help if the legislation were extended to cover Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether it is best to take the matter out of the prison discipline system and put it into the courts. If that is to be done, I hope that it will be done in a much better way that in the Bill, which is too widely drafted. I entirely endorse the comments of other hon. Members on the Bill's width.

I agree with the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) that, if we take such action, we should do so on a United Kingdom not a Northern Ireland, basis. If the legislation is introduced in England and Wales to create a new offence that must be handled through the courts, while in Northern Ireland a similar offence will be left to internal prison discipline, with comparatively minor penalties, we shall have the worst of all worlds in Northern Ireland. It seems most likely that we shall be left in that position. I hope that that will not happen, and that the legislation will be significantly amended in Committee.

6.26 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I apologise to the House because, as soon as I sit down, I shall have to attend a committee and, as I am standing for office, I think that I should be there.

In my view, and I think that of virtually everyone in the House, the public were rightly appalled last year when they saw the unprecedented violence committed on the roof of Strangeways and heard of the threats, often of a sinister nature, to other inmates. They were even more concerned when they learned that all that was likely to happen to the perpetrators was that they would lose some remission.

I served as chairman of the board of visitors at Ranby prison before entering the House, so I know the restrictions on punishment that can be awarded in prison.

Therefore, I very much welcome the Bill, which would make it an offence to carry out some of the activities that occurred at Strangeways last year. I appreciate that the case may be sub judice, but the men who perpetrated the acts were clearly evil. They threatened and harmed other prison inmates who were serving their time as best they could. They also threatened the prison officers.

Great credit is due to the prison officers at Strangeways and other establishments where there have been similar occurrences for their courage and dedication to duty. I do not always agree with what the Prison Officers Association says or does, but I pay tribute to it for the job it does, particularly in prisons such as Strangeways.

We could not just pass over the events at Strangeways as if nothing had happened. The rioters clearly encouraged the copy-cat rioting at other prisons—one of the more sinister aspects of what happened at Strangeways. To some extent, prisons are governed by the consent of the inmates. If all the inmates of all the prisons throughout the country rose up as one at a particular time of the day, we could not contain the prison population. Let us consider what that would mean for the other inmates who would suffer the sharp end of the unpleasantness of some of their fellow prisoners. Let us imagine what would happen if some prisoners managed to escape and inflicted injuries on people outside, some of whom live in fear of the inmates coming out.

The consequences of a prison mutiny could be horrific, particularly for citizens outside. If we were to allow them to continue to get away with only what is in effect a slap on the wrist, it would be as though we were saying that prisoners should serve no more time in prison than the judge initially awarded them at their trial.

It follows that, as a result of the actions of those prisoners, taxpayers have to put their hands deep into their pockets. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to the £60 million spent at Strangeways. If I were an Opposition Member, I would probably query such expenditure on one prison, but as I support my right hon. Friend and am here to ease the Bill's passage, I shall refrain from commenting adversely on that figure. However, my right hon. Friend will be happy to have my support as I tell the House that our current prison building programme is more than £1,000 million, a rise of 78 per cent. in real terms, over and above inflation, since the Conservative party took office. A prison building programme does not usually hit the headlines, but it is appropriate to underline the Government's commitment to decent. humane prisons. I hope that that commitment is shared by the Opposition, and I make no political point about it at this stage.

Those who riot and destroy put back the prison building programme. That is the harsh reality of Strangeways. They harm not only their own prisons but the opportunity of more modern and humane conditions of incarceration for those who follow them into the prison system. They place enormous pressure on police cells.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) who will be seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. tabled an amendment which has not been selected but on which I have no doubt he will speak, stating that, until we do away with holding prisoners on remand in police cells, we should not introduce such a Bill. I understand that point—it is a fair constituency point —but it is a little self-defeating to say that, because the riots in Strangeways have placed enormous pressure on police cells, we should not provide for future punishment of prison mutiny until those strains have been removed. The Bill seeks to avoid future strains on police cells by deterring future riots.

It is entirely unsatisfactory that we should ever hold large numbers of prisoners in police cells, often at considerable distance from their homes and, even worse, at considerable distance from their remand courts. It is also unsatisfactory for the police, who have to look after and contain them and to transfer them, when—I am not being populist about this—they should be out and about detecting crime. Using police cells for remand purposes prevents them from doing that work. If necessary, if remand prisons are ever severely full or if for any reason they cannot be used, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to use temporary camps for the incarceration of remand prisoners. In any event, I hope that the current building programme will make that problem a thing of the past.

The Bill has the advantage of providing for such crimes to be punished by a court of law. Apart from the inadequacies of punishments available to boards of visitors, the present system of adjudication by boards of visitors leaves something to be desired. Proceedings are supposed to be informal, and to some extent they are. An inmate can from time to time have a friend to speak for him, but he cannot have a lawyer. I am not necessarily arguing that he should, because if the inmate has a lawyer, so must the prison officer who is giving evidence and prosecuting in the case, and if there are lawyers on both sides, the proceedings will be turned into a court of law and some of their informality will be removed.

However, I have always been deeply unhappy about adjudication proceedings in prisons. Unless one serves on a board of visitors, one has no experience of such proceedings, but the inmate is marched in—not quite at the double these days —to face three or more members of the board about three or four feet away in a small room. The inmate has an officer on either side of him, with their backs to the adjudication board, inches away from his face. I understand the need for security. No one wants the board of visitors, or the chairman, of whom I was one, being rushed at by an inmate who has been awarded a punishment with which he disagrees. But having two prison officers inches away from the prisoner's face, staring at him while he makes his case—such people are generally not trained advocates, although some are —is rather unfair.

Some of us did our time in the Army and will remember being on a charge. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were never in such a position, but I have to confess that I have been. To be run in at the double and shouted at feet away from the person who is putting the charge, without the opportunity of any relaxation, smacks of injustice and intimidation.

Before I came to the House, I chaired an adjudication board at Ranby prison. The inmate before us was charged with attempting to escape. He had acquired a long length of rope and a few grappling irons and it was clear that he intended to escape, but all that he had done was secrete the rope in another building, where he and the rope had been found. He had made no other attempt to escape, but the authorities expected us to find that chap guilty. We nearly always found inmates guilty, but I directed my fellow members of the board that merely acquiring kit for the purpose of an escape was riot an attempt to escape.

I do not tell that story in order to show what a good, sensible fellow I am; I tell it because, as soon as we found that man not guilty, there was outrage throughout the prison. I can tell the House this because it happened at least 10 years ago, and no one will be harmed by my doing so. The prison officers felt that the purpose of the adjudication was to nip the matter in the bud and to give the appropriate punishment. I hope that I do not misjudge the people with whom I was working, but there was outrage at the fact that we had let the chap off.

I make that point because the way in which we have punished prisoners who have committed offences in prison over the years has left something to be desired. Making serious cases triable before the courts will remove them from the adjudication procedures which are often conducted within days of the event, when passions are running high and when the inmate is in some jeopardy.

This is a reform that I warmly welcome, and I give it my full support.

6.38 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I was not surprised that Mr. Speaker did not select my amendment. I did not intend to seek to divide the House on it, but it served its purpose because the Home Secretary referred to the problems of Strangeways. I was pleased that he said that he would consider the problems and costs of Greater Manchester police in collecting all the evidence resulting from the incidents at Stangeways and the problems that will exist from January onwards while all those involved in the Strangeways incidents are brought before the court. That will involve many costs for Greater Manchester, and I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has agreed to consider that problem.

I was also glad to hear the Home Secretary acknowledge that the police cell situation in Greater Manchester is appalling. What do the Government intend to do about that? Ministers have admitted to that situation for 12 months. I received promises that next week, or the week after, the situation would improve, but it did not. The Government say that the Greater Manchester police will cope, and they will, but it is unfair to expect them to do so, rather than producing a solution.

There is a major question mark over the competence of the Home Secretary and the Home Office team. It seems that their only response to a crisis is to produce a Bill, have it enacted, and then assume that the problem has gone away. We saw that happen in respect of dangerous dogs, when the Government had to backtrack on several sections of that legislation—which has not, anyway, provided a solution. We are now confronted by the problem of joyriding and car stealing, and a measure is to be rushed through the House next Monday, but I doubt whether it will solve those problems.

The Prison Security Bill is supposed to deal with the crisis in our prisons—and in Greater Manchester in particular, because Strangeways is not available. The Government want newspaper headlines giving the impression that they are taking action, but in truth they are not achieving anything.

The Government should review the size of the prison population and devise a strategy to reduce it. We must tackle the avalanche of crime in this country by convincing people that if they commit a crime, they will be caught and punished. Sadly, too many crimes go undetected—or if they are detected, those who committed them escape punishment. There must be certainty that law breakers will be detected and properly punished.

The Government must consider also the climate created by modern attitudes. I regret the move more and more into a society of greed, in which the Government encourage the public to measure their worth in material terms. Sunday trading is another indication that the individual is measured by possessions rather than inner quality. I believe that it was William Morris who spoke of a person having an honest face. Society should emphasise that the individual should be honest unto himself and to others. Until that change of attitude occurs, those who fail at almost everything will turn to crime to gain material satisfaction.

Consideration must also be given to effective prison treatment. It is clear that people reoffend because their earlier imprisonment was a total waste of time. I repeat the point made in my earlier intervention, that we are still sending people to prison who do not need to go there. In one appalling case, one of my constituents was awarded restitution by the court, but some months later found that the individual had made no attempt to pay. The person was imprisoned, and that imprisonment crossed out any duty to pay restitution, but it was useless sending the individual to prison for just over a week—it would have been far better if the court had insisted that he paid restitution.

I ask almost facetiously of the Government whether the Bill will apply to those held in police cells. I suspect that it will. At present, more people are held in police cells in Greater Manchester and neighbouring forces, than in some of our prisons. Those on remand are being held in appalling conditions, and are not being cared for by people trained in that work. Although no senior officer in Greater Manchester will confirm that that situation affects the force's operational efficiency, the evidence points that way. Younger police officers no doubt like the overtime that goes with custodial work, but the extra hours must affect their efficiency when on conventional duties.

I am told that no one is allowed to go free in Greater Manchester because of the non-availability of a police cell, but people arrested in some parts of Greater Manchester cannot be taken to the nearest cells, because they are either full or occupied by people on remand who ought to be in prison. The newly arrested individual therefore has to be taken to a different police station, which also has an effect on police efficiency.

Custody officers at police stations are given some training in how to deal with a person who, having just been arrested and placed in a police cell, might attempt to commit suicide. The individual concerned may have been remanded two or three times, and at that stage might represent a potential suicide. I understand that such prisoners can be given paper suits to wear, but great skill—of the kind that prison warders are trained to develop—is required on the part of the police officer in dealing with someone who is suicidal. I understand that there have been 52 attempted suicides in police cells since the Strangeways incident. That is not a situation with which police officers should have to deal.

Escapes—there was one important escape in Greater Manchester—and even the risk of escapes place a great strain on police officers in their attempts to contain a large number of prisoners in police cells.

Greater Manchester solicitors are often required to travel some distance to receive instructions from prisoners on remand, which I understand adds to legal aid costs. The same problem faces probation officers. If someone is remanded in prison, at least he is likely to be found there —but those kept in police cells are often moved from place to place.

I have said before that many of the cells in which people are currently held in Greater Manchester were taken out of use 10 years ago. Those at Denton police station are an example of that. They were closed because they were thought unsuitable for holding people even overnight. I admit that some work has been done on those cells, but they are still very unsatisfactory.

I understand that the Minister of State is to visit Greater Manchester one day next week, when I am sure that she will see for herself the problems that I have described. However, I want the Minister not just to look, but to bring some solutions to Greater Manchester's problems, which are certainly growing worse.

At one point, only 269 prisoners were being held in Greater Manchester police cells, but that number is increasing. Ministers' promises have evaporated in recent months. Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and agree that an appalling situation exists, but nothing happens. As an act of despair, Greater Manchester police authority even considered suing the Home Office. I hope that it does not come to that, but I emphasise that a solution must be found. If necessary, I shall raise the subject again on Report or Third Reading, but I hope that by then the Government will have achieved a solution whereby police cells in Greater Manchester are not used for prisoners who should not be there.

Like so many other Home Office measures, the Bill is irrelevant to the problem. If we had properly run prisons with a reasonable number of prisoners, there would be little chance of mutiny. Overcrowding and all the other problems that Woolf referred to are causing the difficulties. The Government should address Woolf s recommendations rather than creating the irrelevant offence of prison mutiny, which will not solve the problem but is merely an attempt at window dressing.

6.50 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I have much sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on the use of police cells for prisoners. It should be of the gravest concern to the House that about 1,700 prisoners are still in police cells. Perhaps this is not the occasion to debate that in detail, except to say that I was heartened to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that the Prison Officers Association had decided to call off its industrial action, which to me and many others seemed to lie at the heart of many of the problems. That action is not the only reason why police cells have been used, but it has been a substantial reason. At any one time, about half of the 78 police cells in north Yorkshire are full of prisoners. That is a shocking way of trying to police north Yorkshire, where crime is increasing. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has done the House a service by raising that matter.

It used to be thought that the great train robbery was the crime of the century. It was certainly very daring, but if I remember correctly the train robbers stole about £2 million and one railway employee was seriously injured. Set against that serious and heinous crime, events at Strangeways last year better qualify for the title of crime of the century. A total of 147 members of prison staff were injured, some seriously, 47 prisoners were hurt and one died. The extent to which the riot contributed to that is conjecture, but as we heard again this afternoon, it will cost at least £60 million to put right the damage.

I was one of four members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs who had the unforgettable experience of visiting Strangeways a few days after the riot. I choose the words "unforgettable experience" very carefully. It was harrowing, daunting and deeply shocking. The sickening squalor that we saw and the stench of fire damage, urine, excrement and rotting food remained in my nostrils for days afterwards.

We saw the wanton destruction of so much of the prison building, including the newly installed toilets and washing facilities. Stairways, gangways, doors and windows were ripped out, areas of the roof were demolished and slates and scaffolding poles were strewn over a large area. Many slates were well outside the perimeter walls of the prison. The prison chapel, where the initial disturbance began, did not escape the sordid damage. We saw horrible grafitti and, perhaps the most horrible sight of all, bibles and hymn books rotting on the floor, having been damaged when the fire was put out.

Seeing all that damage left me in no doubt about two things —first, that the men who had had to face the violent scenes that we witnessed on television deserve the highest praise, and secondly, that such a riot should never happen again. It is the duty of the House and of the Government to ensure that all that needs to be done to prevent similar riots is given priority. Holding those responsible for what happened to account must be part of that process. That is why it is right to consider what can be done to improve discipline in prisons.

It was clear to us that individual prison officers had shown much courage and had performed their duties bravely and skilfully. They deserve the gratitude and admiration of the House and of the country. Sadly, we have not been able to debate this issue in detail previously, so perhaps there has not been an opportunity to pay that tribute.

Some Conservative Members have criticised some of the POA's policies, but when considering disturbances at Strangeway and at other prisons we should acknowledge the fortitude of prison staff in the face of extreme and savage violence. I recall talking to one prison officer—this graphically shows the difficulty that they faced—who, despite wearing a helmet and mask, virtually had the front of his face sliced open by a slate that was thrown from the roof. Although I did not see that, having seen the damage I could easily imagine that that had happened.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Hon. Members have praised prison officers, who were rightly paid a glowing tribute in the Woolf report and many of whom suffered psychological and physical trauma. I met officers who were terrified of returning to overcrowded prisons and who could not face that trauma again. It is unjust that some Conservative Members—perhaps not the hon.

Gentleman, but many of his colleagues, including some Ministers—have unfairly criticised prison officers, who suffered enormously after Strangeways.

Mr. Greenway

Again, I am not without sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments, but there is a difference between comparing the lot of the average prison officer —it is not an attractive job or one that I would like to do, and I make no secret of that—and criticising some of the policies pursued by the Prisoners Officers Association, especially as there are about 1,700 prisoners in police cells, many of them because of the POA's industrial action.

Mr. Sheerman


Mr. Greenway

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to finish my argument?

The prison officers on duty in Strangeways and in one or two other prisons have every right not only to the plaudits of the House, but to the opportunity to recover from their harrowing experiencce. I have no evidence that anything other than that is happening.

Many of the prison officers who have taken industrial action in other prisons were not on duty at Strangeways. As I said to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), there have been problems in the brand new prison at Full Sutton near York, although the accommodation is not full. However, perhaps we can move on.

There is a world of difference between paying a rightful tribute to the bravery of individual officers and, when we do not agree with the POA's policy, making a justifiable criticism of it. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon gave us the most important and encouraging news about the prison service for some time. He said—and I had not known this—that the POA is to call off its industrial action, and I sincerely hope that that is the case.

I do not believe that it is in the interests of anyone in the prison service to prolong the disputes. We know that they are about manning levels but, as I shall state later, I believe that the Government are making a genuine attempt to improve our prison regime, a greater attempt than any Government have made for a long time. I hope that the POA will recognise that.

Leaving Strangeways on that day in May last year, my thoughts were filled with direct questions about what needs to be done to ensure that such a disturbaance is prevented as far as is humanly possible. I make no secret of the fact that I do not believe that the Bill alone is the answer. No one in the Government is suggesting that we can solve all the problems and disturbances merely by creating the crime of prison mutiny. Listening to some of the speeches from the Opposition, one would think that that is precisely what they are accusing the Government of doing. Nothing could be further from the truth—the Bill is merely part of a package of necessary measures on which the Government have embarked.

However, before we even embark on that, we must consider the lessons to be learned from Strangeways. That is why the House should perhaps have had the opportunity to spend more time in the past few months debating the brilliant Woolf report. It was suggested earlier that we might need to make rather lengthy speeches this evening. One has only to pick up the Woolf report to know that it contains plenty of material to occupy the House for a long time.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Read it out.

Mr. Greenway

I shall not rise to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to read it out, but I shall refer to one or two relevant points.

The Woolf report cites three requirements for a stable prison—security, control and justice. Security is necessary to prevent escapes; control to prevent prisoners being disruptive; and justice to treat prisoners with humanity and fairness and to prepare them for their return to society in a way that will make reoffending less likely. That must be the fundamental aim of our prison service. The crime rate is rising and the number of prisoners—particularly young people—who come out, reoffend and go back to prison is also increasing. In view of that, we must do more with such people when they are in custody, and the improvement of the regime is crucial in that respect.

To answer the three aims of security, control and justice in turn demands substantial improvements in three key areas. We must improve the prison estate, the management and the prison regime. Strangeways could not have been better designed to facilitate a riot if that had been the intention. Again, my experience of going to the prison brought that home to me. The Government are doing much—more than any other Government in modern times —to improve our prison-building programme, but I shall deal with that issue in a moment.

Management failings at a number of levels is the crucial issue to be considered tonight. Management failings were identified by Woolf as being at the heart of the problem at Strangeways. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), I shall refer to one or two of the report's conclusions. Paragraph 432 of section 3 states: The reason why the disturbance developed so rapidly was in particular because of the lack of preparedness of the prison staff and management and the inept handling of the early stages of the disturbance. This was largely attributable to totally inadequate training of the prison management and staff as to how to handle an incident of this sort. Woolf went on to say: Headquarters and the North Regional Office bear a substantial responsibility for the extent to which the management and staff of the prison were unprepared for the disturbance. Security and contingency planning was given too low a priority by both bodies…The prison should also give higher priority to security and control. The way security records were kept was unsatisfactory. The report contains a third major criticism of management. It refers to the fact that relatively junior governors on duty, who had not received any training in the handling of a major disturbance, contributed to the riot spreading to the whole prison. It must be clear from that that the Government are right to try to give more priority to improving the management of the prison service.

The third issue which must be considered in improving the prison regime involves giving prisoners something worth while to do. It is undoubtedly true that there are too many prisoners who do not have enough to do and who suffer acute boredom. There is too much movement of prisoners because of the numbers on remand, and there are too many remand prisoners in prisons in which there are prisoners whom we want to reform.

It is a problem but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State knows, I have a high regard for a training prison in my area—Thorp Arch—which is to continue in its current role. I am grateful for that. I visited the prison last summer and saw the work being done with some long-stay prisoners—some of whom are serving sentences of 12 or 15 years—who are within two years of their release. The work is to help to prepare them for the world outside, and that is the key to what must be done in many of our prisons.

Leaving that prison, I was aware of the contrast between the squalor that I had seen in Strangeways and the constructive work that I had seen at Thorp Arch. Without a shadow of doubt, one could guarantee that there would not be the sort of disturbance at Thorp Arch that happened at Strangeways.

Mr. Sheerman

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman mention the good work at Thorp Arch. Sadly, it is not typical. He mentioned the preparation for release and for training and employment on release. We should like much more effort put into that, because the statistics show, as he is aware, that the chance of a prisoner reoffending if he has a job to go to and some back-up in the community is less.

One of the interesting facts about employment prospects for prisoners that came out of the Select Committee on Employment was how disastrous has been the Government's withdrawal over the past few years of the Department of Employment counselling for prisoners both before and after release. It is a sad comment on the Government that that counselling service has been abolished.

Mr. Greenway

That is another matter, which the hon. Gentleman may wish to take up later.

My argument is simple. A regime that is not disrupted by too many remand prisoners being moved backwards and forwards—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might do me the courtesy of listening to my reply to his question. There can be too many movements of prisoners and too many staff engaged in supervising them. That is why I strongly supported the measure in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to bring in the private sector to deal with escort duties. Prison officers could then get on with the job for which they are trained and at which they are best—trying to reform some of the prisoners.

Another problem is that most prisoners are in prison for a relatively short time—three months or six months, and then they are out again. The work at Thorp Arch is done with those who are serving long sentences, but we can learn lessons from it, in that where there is worthwhile activity in prisons I do not believe that riot and disturbance are likely.

Disciplinary arrangements have a crucial part to play in achieving the aim of an improved prison regime. That is what the Bill is about. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook tried to say that all that the Government were doing to prevent another Strangeways was to introduce the Bill. That does a grave disservice to the tremendous work of my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, to whom I pay tribute. Had the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook listened to the Home Secretary's speech and taken the notes that I did, he would have discovered that the Bill was only one of nine measures that the Government are introducing.

Slopping out will end by 1994. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been under the cosh in the past few days—at any rate, he has had one or two difficulties. However, I believe that his tenure as Home Secretary will be recalled—[Interruption.]—for the fact that he had the courage and secured the resources to end the degrading process of slopping out, which has besmirched the prison service for a long time. The hon. Member for Leicester, East is barracking.

Mr. Vaz

I am not.

Mr. Greenway

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Minister then responsible for prisons—now my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee after the Strangeways riot —

Mr. Vaz

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I object to being accused of barracking. I merely let out a very small laugh when the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said that the Home Secretary would be remembered for great things. I was not barracking.

Mr. Corbett


Mr. Greenway

May I continue? I have been speaking for rather a long time. I remind the hon. Member for Leicester, East that, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary was the Minister responsible for prisons, in May last year he told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Government were still on course to end slopping out by the end of 1998. A year later, as a response to the Woolf report, we are talking about advancing that target by four years. That is a considerable achievement.

Secondly, we are putting record resources into the prison service. Some £1.4 billion is the annual cost of running the prison regime and there is £66 million to be spent next year on matters related to improvements suggested in the White Paper. Those in turn were a response to the Woolf report.

The exciting project at Wolds remand prison is a factor to which we can look forward. It will bring about an overall long-term improvement in the prison regime. There will be extra staff, too. I note that we intend to recruit 4,100 more prison officers over the next two years—my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is nodding. That is a substantial commitment.

There will also be 13 new prisons. The decision to build them was taken a long time ago, and they will open over the next two and a half years. For the first time, a code of standards is being introduced in our prisons, and that is long overdue. There is also the welcome commitment on the complaints adjudicator.

More staff will have been trained in control and restraint procedures. Security in our prisons will be improved. I was especially interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that the strengthening of ceilings to prevent access to the roof space was being given priority.

The final measure is the Bill. As I said, it is part of the overall package. There has been an attempt to suggest that it will make no real difference, and to rubbish its provisions. It is justifiable to ask the question: will it work? Opinions are divided, but the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) made an interesting and helpful speech about the experience in Northern Ireland, From which the rest of the United Kingdom could learn a great deal. The hon. Gentleman put his finger on the truth when he said that the measure might discourage some shorter-stay prisoners from getting involved in riots and disturbances created by some of the longer-stay prisoners.

There is support for that idea in the first paragraph of Lord Justice Woolf s "Conclusions Specific to the Manchester Disturbance": The disturbance which took place in the Chapel had been planned. That is clear from the evidence given formally and informally to the Inquiry". Lord Justice Woolf says that the disturbance was "known beforehand" as likely to take place, and…there were some inmates at the Chapel with weapons and masks. However, the number of inmates who attended the service with the intention of creating a disturbance was probably no more than 12 and possibly a smaller number than that. The remainder of those involved took advantage of the situation which developed to give vent to their own frustration". I have no qualms in saying that the penal affairs brief from the Prison Officers Association, which I suspect has been sent to every hon. Member, is generally critical of the Bill. However, even that critical brief says: It is conceded, however, that prisoners on shorter sentences may be influenced by such provisions from joining a disturbance which is already underway". The Bill is not, in itself, the answer that will prevent a disturbance such as that at Strangeways from recurring. It is just one measure in a large package, but it is worth while.

Clause 2 rightly aims to strengthen the law on people outside assisting escapes. With the increase in the number of escapes from prison, that is an important point.

The Bill is a valuable addition to our law on prison discipline. I am pleased to note that, despite what it has said, the Labour party does not intend to divide the House.

7.19 pm
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make some brief comments on the Bill. As the Minister is aware, there are two prisons in my constituency, and I was pleased to welcome her on a visit to both of them recently. I have known New Hall women's prison for some time, and I used to visit it many years ago when it was a detention centre. It was the place where the Government undertook one of their most spectacular failures in penal experiments—the short, sharp shock regime, which involved marching youths up and down. It was a miserable failure, and further failures are likely with policies such as those in the Bill. They are half-hearted measures which do not address the issues that cause concern in the prison system.

I have been proud to see the change at New Hall. I mentioned to the Minister when she visited that the management of the prison service deserve credit for the smooth way in which they have engineered the change from an all-male establishment to an all-female establishment producing some progressive policies which have an impact, I hope, on the lives of the women who are unfortunate enough to spend time there. I commend the prison governor who initiated the change and the present governor for their work, as I commend the staff who have supported them.

I have had considerable involvement with Wakefield prison since I was elected as Member of Parliament for Wakefield in 1987. I receive many letters from prisoners, and I visit the prison regularly. The work load, as hon. Members who have prisons in their constituencies are aware, is heavy. I hear about grievances on various issues from prisoners almost daily.

What concerns me more than the many grievances of the inmates at Wakefield prison has been the almost constant grievances about which I have been told by members of staff. As the Minister is aware, since the last general election there has been a state of industrial dispute at Love lane because of "fresh start". The Prison Officers Association and individual staff at the prison have constantly expressed their concern about the way in which the management of the prison service have failed to honour their side of the agreement reached some years ago on the change under "fresh start".

Hon. Members will be aware of the national figures. Since 1987, the prison officers' hours have been cut from 56 to 41 per week, which is the equivalent of 6,300 fewer staff. There is a proposal for a further two-hour reduction to 39 hours next April, which will be the equivalent of about 1,000 fewer staff. That has a strong impact on prisons such as Wakefield. There has been a constant dialogue between the POA and the prison governor about the difficulties there.

Apart from meeting the POA several times, I have also met the prison governor, and I know that he has sometimes been frustrated. He has made comments which I have previously reported to the House about his concerns about possible future problems at Wakefield prison because of the inability of the prison service to deliver the staffing levels required in that establishment.

I am sorry to say that the Government are paranoid about the POA. The people I meet at both local and national level are eminently reasonable. I put on record the fact that I believe that the POA as an organisation has changed recently. I can recall being in a licensed establishment in Wakefield some years ago when people coming off duty at Wakefield prison came in. I talked to one or two of them, and when I got home that night, I found a number of British National party leaflets in my pocket. At that time, the chairman of the Labour party in Wakefield gave clear evidence at a party meeting that the core of the British National party in Wakefield was in the prison. I used to be concerned about the POA because some of its policies were akin to those of organisations of the extreme right.

However, the POA has recently transformed itself into a responsible and decent organisation. It is true that it stands up for the interests of its members but, from what I have seen in Wakefield, it also stands up for the prison service. It stands up for issues of concern to my constituents, such as the security of prisons and the staffing level in Wakefield prison.

The Government's resolution of the dispute at Wakefield has caused me grave concern. I recently met representatives of the POA at Wakefield. It seems to me that the dispute has been ended on the basis of the POA being bullied into submission by being told that, if it did not end industrial action, the full powers of the state, to quote the governor, would be brought in to deal with the situation. That is not a healthy way in which to resolve conflicts that could be resolved amicably, possibly by arbitration. Those issues should be studied and talked about, but they are not addressed in the Bill.

The central issue which must be addressed by the Government is that they are criminogenic. The nature of Government policy causes crime. The Government have set up a "look after number one" society. They encourage people to look after themselves and to ignore the plight of others. They are anti-collective and pro-individual. If one encourages such motives in society, one gets a society such as the Conservatives have achieved in the past decade, with the worst crime figures in history, and with prisons crammed with people who have offended.

I do not say that the people in Wakefield who are there for serious offences relate to that issue, but I believe that many people are forced into crime because of the way in which they have been treated as a result of Government policies. We must accept that the central theme of the Government since 1979 has been selfishness and personal greed. That actively encourages people at the bottom of the pile to commit crimes, and the Government must address that issue when working out why people end up in prison. The Government's policies have resulted in huge pressures on the prison system.

The question of "fresh start" is not addressed in the Bill. Many industrial disputes rumble on. We must be fair and say that there are reasonable grounds for the POA to have grievances about the prison system. People who work in prisons see that the agreements that they thought they had reached at the outset of "fresh start" have been breached by the Government. Until there is a resolution, prisoners will continue to have grievances.

I have talked to the prisoners at Wakefield. They recognise the reasonableness and legitimacy of the POA's position on "fresh start". The prisoners understand and sympathise with some of the actions that the association has been forced to take, although those actions have sometimes meant that they themselves have suffered.

The Bill does not address the root causes of the prison crisis. It is a half-hearted measure—

Mr. Vaz


Mr. Hinchliffe

As my hon. Friend says, the measure is half-baked. It scratches the surface of the symptoms, but it fails to address the root causes of the present prison crisis.

7.28 pm
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). I do not agree with his analysis about the Government looking after number one and therefore encouraging people to commit crime. I do not believe, first, that there was any less crime under a Labour Government—in fact crime increased under every Labour Government I can remember—or, secondly, that encouraging people to better themselves, to make decisions for their lives and to improve their economic position has anything whatever to do with dishonest methods of doing just that. Although such a view is typical of some Opposition attitudes, it will never be accepted by Conservative Members.

I wish to continue in that uncontroversial strain by referring to one or two opening comments by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who described the Bill as being produced merely to catch headlines and as an illusion of activity. If the previous Labour Government in which he served had only caught a few more headlines and been as active in prison improvements and new prison building as all Conservative Governments since 1979 have been, his comments could be taken more seriously. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, under Labour in the 1970s, the prison population grew by about 15 per cent., while capital spending was cut by 20 per cent., a fact to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred earlier.

Mr. John Greenway

Hear, hear.

Mr. Martin

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who makes encouraging noises, has also said—and it is worth repeating—spending on prison buildings has risen by leaps and bounds, with many new establishments being opened, providing extra places, while fewer prisoners now share cells, and slopping out is being phased out earlier than anyone thought possible. Those are facts, not just headlines or illusions.

Of course, the running of prisons and their security and good order rely crucially on the staff working in them. It is self-evident that, without manpower of sufficient quality and in sufficient numbers, it does not matter how many technological advances or improvements there are. The prison officer using his eyes and ears is the first security patrol. I have been most impressed by the strength of this basic common sense at Her Majesty's prison in Kingston, which is in my constituency. It is a category B prison. It holds 150 prisoners, all serving life sentences. It is a case of each to his own cell with no slopping out. That has been the case for lifers since 1970.

There are particular challenges in running a prison which has only those serving life sentences in it, yet it was not until earlier this year that any escape from that prison took place. It involved one prisoner who was recaptured soon afterwards. From the outset, that prison has been well governed. The first woman governor, Miss Muriel Allen, retired a little while ago and has been succeeded by Mr. Roy Merricks. That prison has been well governed by both governors while I have been Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, South.

It has also been a tenet of good security that prisoners should spend the maximum time outside their cells being kept busy working. Of course that makes sense, as hon. Members have said. Plotting, planning and troublemaking are far less likely to take place under such a regime.

Many people contribute positively to the right atmosphere at Kingston. Without their dedicated service, the prison would not be run so well as it is. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton referred to the 1,000 members of the Prison Service Union, which is seeking recognition from the Home Office. I understand that the figure is now nearer 1,500, with more than 30 members at Kingston. In the past two years, I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and her predecessors on the recognition point. I urge her to recognise that union without further delay.

It will not please members of the Prison Officers Association, who have kept me well informed over the years. I do not dissent from much of what the hon. Member for Wakefield said about members of the Prison Officers Association. Always on my visits to Kingston I am treated with courtesy and consideration. As a result, I have always reported concerns to the various Ministers ultimately responsible for the prison and have obtained responses. I refer not only to issues about manpower and conditions arising out of the implementation of "fresh start" but to the clear opposition to privatisation of prison services, prisons or remand centres, on which I do not agree. In my view, there is scope for such development. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale on that point.

Those policies will be pursued by a Government who have proved beyond doubt to those working in the prisons their commitment to prison expansion and improvement as well as necessary increases and efficient practices in manpower. That must be contrasted with what occurred under Labour, and no doubt will occur again should we ever be unfortunate enough to have another Labour Government. Labour Governments are always constrained by cost considerations and by the financial disasters brought on by all the spending commitments that they claim are priorities and then have to jettison one by one. Prisons would come well down the list of priorities should Labour ever be in government, and those working in the prisons would soon discover that, too.

Good industrial relations are in the interests of everybody working in prisons. Without them, as the White Paper "Custody, Care and Justice" says, there can be no assurance that resources"— which means money, and I wish that people would say money" rather than "resources"— devoted to the prison service will be used effectively and efficiently in a way which fulfils the obligations of the prison service. Finally, in the interests of security, I welcome the Government's action as set out in the Bill. Of course the Bill will not sort out all the problems—it does not pretend to do that—but I wish it well in its passage through the House.

7.35 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

I do not believe that the Government would have introduced the Bill had a Woolf not been at the door. Of course we welcome the Woolf report and its careful examination of what happened during the Strangeways riot. Like the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I am a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I was not able to join the hon. Gentleman on his visit to Strangeways, but the Committee decided to initiate an inquiry and report into precisely what happened at Strangeways. We were aware that, because of the Woolf inquiry, it was not possible to go into great detail into what happpened at Strangeways.

Like the hon. Gentleman, my impressions of what I saw are the recollections of a person who was shocked by the wanton destruction that occurred during the riot. I visited the chapel at Strangeways prison to see the great destruction that had occurred, and I wondered whether human beings could have been responsible for it.

I was escorted around the prison by members of the Prison Officers Association. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), I pay tribute to the work of the Prison Officers Association. I deplore the recent attacks by Ministers and others on the association and what it is doing. It is putting forward the best possible case for the prison service. Of course its members gain because they work in the service, but they put forward their views because they want to make sure that the service does not collapse under the strain and we do not have a repetition of the destruction that we saw at Strangeways.

I pay tribute also to the work of the newly appointed governor of Leicester's prison on Welford road, Gerry Ross. I visited the prison four weeks ago, and I met him and members of the association. I also spoke to prisoners.

Like many prisons in this country, Leicester prison is overcrowded. The message that I received from the governor and from the hard-working members of the association who work at Welford road is that there is a need for more resources to be put into the prison service.

I look forward to the Home Secretary telling the Home Affairs Select Committee what he proposes to do with the prison service. I put him on notice that we shall ask him what he has done to provide extra resources to the prison service. We will ask him to justify the fact that so many prisons remain overcrowded. We will want to know what he is doing to address the POA's concerns about the operation of "fresh start".

The right hon. Gentleman is smiling in anticipation of his forthcoming visit to the Committee. However, I give him notice that these are some of the questions that we shall be asking him, because they are very important indeed. Although the legislation before us will provide some elements and go some way towards meeting the criticisms of Government policy outlined in the Woolf report, it is important to realise that there is still a great deal that needs to be done.

I look forward to seeing the amendments that will be tabled by my right hon. Friend for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and others when they look in a measured way at the Bill and seek to amend it to provide the support for the prison service that is so desperately needed.

I want also and in particular to draw attention to the grave concern that I and others feel about the number of young people being held in prisons. If there is a need for legislation in areas of prison policy, surely this is one area that ought to be considered very quickly by the Government.

I refer the Home Secretary and the Minister to the article that appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday, 20 November, which gave the comments of the governor of the young offenders centre at Feltham in Middlesex. Reacting to the death of a young man in custody, he said: I personally wish to say how abhorrent it is to have to deal with children, because that is what Geoffrey was—a child in a penal setting—and under the conditions in which I have to run Feltham, for want of staff. That is what the governor of that offenders centre had to say, and I should be very interested to know what the Minister of State has done since she read that report in the newspaper. The governor referred to a system that was bankrupt of compassion. Why that is so extraordinary is that governors of institutions of that kind tend not to want to give interviews to the press; they keep their views very much to themselves. They may speak to Members of Parliament and Ministers on a confidential basis, but it is very unusual to come out in terms of that kind and say that sort of thing.

I hope that the Minister of State will provide information tonight that will assure the House that something positive will be done. I am sure that hon. Members need no convincing by me that teenagers must be removed from the penal system. The Home Secretary told me in an answer to a written question recently that he has no plans to remove young people from the penal system. I think we are entitled to be told why. What tragedies must occur before he and the Minister of State will change their minds?

I welcome the new Criminal Justice Act 1991, which provides for the ending of prison remand for 15 and 16-year-olds. However, it is clear that sufficient places in secure accommodation do not exist to meet the need created by that change in the law. In fact, there has been talk of it taking up to four years to give effect to this, during which time who knows how many young people will die, while the Home Office and the Home Secretary drag their feet? I should be glad if the Minister would comment on the suggestions that have been made that there is wrangling with other Government Departments over who has to pay for these places.

While accepting that this lethal practice of placing 15 and 16-year-olds in prison must end for those on remand, the Home Secretary refuses to consider removing those serving sentences from the prison system. Does the fact that they are serving sentences made their lives less valuable? Apparently, 15 and 16-year-olds have to remain in prison while the Home Office argues with the Department of Health over what is to happen to them. The Department of Health wants to place more of them in community care, while the Home Office wants to place more of them in secure accommodation.

Will the Minister of State confirm that young people will be placed in secure accommodation only when they represent a real danger to the public? Will she also confirm that secure accommodation will also be available where local authority homes are not able to provide such accommodation because of lack of funds? I hope that the Minister will address her comments to these important matters.

The Minister also told me in a written reply about the education and social opportunities that were available to young offenders. Is she aware that the Feltham visitors' report, which I am sure she has had a chance to read, said that there were only 24 workshop training places for 256 young people? Is she also aware that, for 500 unconvicted young people, there are no organised activities or education whatsoever?

These are very serious matters and I am glad to see that the civil servants are leaving the Box to find the answers. I would expect the right hon. Lady to give us the answers, because she still has time to absorb what her civil servants have to tell her.

Today I have had a reply to a parliamentary question to the Minister, which tells me the latest figures of young people currently in young offender institutions. Of 14 and 15-year-olds, there are 67 in such institutions; of 16 to 19-year-olds, there are 3,110; and of 14 to 19-year-olds, there are 3,177. These are figures that the House is not prepared to tolerate. We expect some firm proposals from the Minister tonight, or at least when we debate this matter in Committee, that will assure the House that something will he done about this very dangerous situation.

Finally, I pay tribute to the police service in Leicestershire. I refer to figures published by the Minister on 12 November, in which she sets out the number of prisoners currently held in police cells. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook gave a figure, but I wish to top it. The figures given to me show that there are 1,719 prisoners held in police cells. Of these, 227 are in Greater Manchester, 36 in Leicestershire, 17 in Lincolnshire and 42 in Nottinghamshire—all east midlands constabularies.

These figures cannot be tolerated or justified, either in cost terms or in terms of the most efficient use of police resources. The Minister will know that I and other Leicestershire Members from all parts of the House have continually asked for more officers to be allocated to Leicestershire. I pay tribute to Michael Hurst, the chief constable, and his senior and other officers for the work that they are doing.

However, the plea continually made to us by senior police officers and members of the Police Federation and other organisations representing the police is that they do not have sufficient people. It is no wonder, when so many police officers appear to be doing the duties which prison officers should be doing and so many prisoners are placed in police cells. This means that police person power is being used on an issue and in an area where it really is not necessary.

What does the Minister intend to do about the 1,719 prisoners who are being held in police cells? I do not want to know what she intends doing in a year's time or in 10 years' time, because she will not be in government then. What will she do now, when it is her responsibility as Minister of State and the responsibility of the Home Secretary to do something about it?

Mr. Corbett

My hon. Friend protested when he was accused of barracking by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I sought to interrupt to confess that I was responsible. There has been talk of a commitment to do away with slopping out by 1994. What I wanted to get at was that we have had such commitments before. Three successive Home Secretaries have stood at the Dispatch Box and pledged to do away with holding prisoners in police cells. That is why I objected to the assurance with which the hon. Member for Ryedale was arguing that this would happen. There is a wide difference between promise and performance.

Mr. Vaz

My hon. Friend is right. We have had commitments from Home Secretaries and Ministers of State at the Dispatch Box, in Committee and in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, when they have promised to do various things, but they still have not done them. They pick a year in the future when they know that there will have been a general election and that they will probably not be in the same job as when they gave the commitment. The Minister of State will be under no time constraint this evening, and she will have plenty of time to tell us precisely what she will do about this serious subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield wondered why we had so many people in prison and in police cells. The reason is that crime has increased dramatically under the Government. The Minister of State turns away, but she and the Home Secretary have presided over the worst crime figures that the country has ever known.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook was Home Secretary, he used to draft for us what he described as a crime clock. He divided the number of crimes by the number of minutes in an hour to show how many crimes were committed in a certain time. We do not have a crime clock any more; the clock broke because the figures were so devastating. It is impossible to get sensible statistics from it.

It is no use the Home Secretary saying that the high crime rate is due to other factors. The high level of crime and the resultant number of people in prison are due directly to the policies of the Government, which have created people who are greedy and selfish, a society where people are supposed to be on their own, a society which destroys the morale and the will of people who happen to be on benefits and on the poverty line. If the Minister of State wants to see what that is like, she should go into the City tonight and look at the number of people who are sleeping in the cold because there is no accommodation for them.

It is no wonder that there are so many young offenders. They have no future because of the policies of the Government. Therefore, although we welcome legislation that deals with the serious issues, and although we have promised to consider it carefully in Committee, we cannot do anything about the crime figures. Only the Minister of State and the Home Secretary can do something about them. The Minister of State needs to address some important points. She has probably written her speech already, but I hope that she will include these points in her reply.

First, the police must have additional resources to deal with the high level of crime; secondly, and more important, the Government have to change their policy, or there will be more people in prison. We are told that their slogan is the power to choose and the right to own; however, it has become the power to take and the right to steal. We want positive policies, and we want them now.

7.54 pm
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), I have a prison in my constituency; indeed, it almost had two. I am not as familiar with Walton prison as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields), but I have visited the prison and I have seen the conditions under which prisoners and staff have to labour.

I mentioned that we almost had two prisons in Walton. What happened is instructive about the attitude of the Government. They proposed to locate a second prison in Walton, barely a mile and a half from Walton prison. It was to be a category B prison and it would have been the length of a cricket pitch away from the neurosurgical unit in Fazackerley hospital. Hon. Members can imagine how inept the Government must be to believe that overlooking a prison yard, floodlit day and night, would he conducive to the recuperation of neurosurgical patients. Because of local opposition and the intervention of my predecessor, Eric Heifer, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the Home Office was persuaded that it would not be wise to go ahead with that prison.

I was dismayed when I heard the Home Secretary's statement. I had the pleasure of spending some years in Queensland, Australia. During that time I had the misfortune to visit the infamous Boggo road gaol; I stress that I was a visitor. I saw at first hand what a regressive prison regime does to prisoners. They were completely intimidated —but even under that very strict regime there was nothing to compare with the suggestion that if two or more people refused to get up from the dining table they might be liable to a 10-year prison sentence.

Like many hon. Members, I am receiving increasing amounts of mail from prisoners about simple matters —the right to exercise, the right to decent food and the implementation of the prison rules as they stand. We all know that, because of a lack of resources, a lack of foresight and a lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with the prison population, those matters are not being dealt with.

Reference has been made to commitments about ending slopping out. I recall a commitment not so long ago to reduce the number or prisoners, yet the Home Secretary told us that there was an unexpected increase of 3,000 in the prison population. What effect does that have on prisoners? They become disaffected. I am talking about prisoners who do not want problems in serving their sentence; they want to serve it in a civilised fashion, where that is possible in any prison regime.

Prison officers are equally prisoners of the system. The prison service does not have the staff or the resources to provide the rehabilitation that prisoners need and which many prison officers misguidedly joined the service to provide.

My constituents who are in prison —I hope not for too long—are becoming increasingly disaffected. Unless there is drastic action based on the Woolf report, rather than the sort of band-aid solution that we have heard about today, I fear that there will be an increase in disturbances, especially if there is yet another unexpected surge in the prison population.

Mr. Vaz

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, but does he agree that we require a firm commitment from the Government that more resources will be provided for the prison service? Instead of attacking the Prison Officers Association, the Government should spend more time ensuring that the money and resources are available that will enable the prison service to work; otherwise, the result will be the wanton destruction that occurred atStrangeways.

Mr. Kilfoyle

That is absolutely right. We need more resources, but they must be properly targeted. I do not believe simply in throwing money at the prison service for the sake of it. Building new prisons, for example, is not necessarily the answer. We must have properly trained staff and we must provide some incentive for the prisoners themselves.

I recently received a letter from a prisoner who was seeking my help. He was in Long Lartin prison when he wrote to me, but by the time that I was able to make contact with him, he had been transferred to Winson Green prison. I telephoned that prison only to learn that he had been transferred to Risley. When I telephoned Risley, I was told that the prisoner had been returned to Winson Green. My office rang that prison today and was told that the prisoner has now been transferred to Walton prison.

Is that a useful deployment of resources? The man has two months of his sentence left to serve. A properly organised Department would have ensured that that man could be transferred immediately to his home prison for release. Such tales are legion—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I had just taken over the Chair and I thought that he was making an intervention. I hope that I have not put him off.

Mr. Kilfoyle

You will have to forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have now lost my thread.

Another prisoner wrote to me recently, and I am now seeking to get him transferred to a prison nearer his home in Liverpool. That man was being transferred from Dartmoor to the Isle of Wight. The problem was that I could not get a response from anybody in the Department. I seemed to go round in circles, and I am sure that that has happened to many hon. Members.

Mr. Vaz

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the ability of prisoners relatives to travel around the country. Does he share my concern about some prisoners being put in prisons that are so far away from their families that it is a difficult and expensive business for the wives and chilldren—especially if there are young children—to travel half way round the country to see their fathers or relatives? It seems to be the families that are being punished for what has happened.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Prisoners are often transferred so far away from their homes that the social problems become immense and the difficulties are exacerbated rather than diminished. It is the local authorities that must pick up the bill for those problems.

Prisoner after prisoner has complained about the arbitrary way in which the prison regulations are enforced. It is not just a question of prison visits and of people being shifted far away from their homes, because telephone calls can also be a problem. A prisoner wrote to me stating that, although he was worried about his father's health, he was not allowed a telephone call. He was told that, if he behaved himself in the segregation block where he was being held, he would be allowed to make a call to his father who was seriously ill. Telephone calls are being held out as bait for good behaviour. That incident led to the man absconding from the prison just weeks before his sentence was due to end. That is no way to run a prison service.

On the subject of Walton prison and the conditions there, I must pay credit to all its staff who work extremely hard. However, two of my constituents entered the prison service with the idea of working eventually in Walton prison, but they have ended up working in London. The families are now split up. The prison officers cannot afford accommodation in both places—in fact, they cannot afford accommodation in either—and they are contemplating leaving the prison service for what will probably be a life on the dole. That is happening simply because the prison service has been so badly mismanaged that the staff are disaffected.

I regret that we hear continual attacks on members of the Prison Officers Association. As far as I am concerned, it is the only body that represents the prison officers, who work under great duress. We must recognise that they are getting a raw deal and are being victimised by the Government. The prison officers have been seen as one of the major reasons for, not one of the victims of, the mismanagement of the prison service.

I sincerely hope that we shall have a change of Government in the not-too-distant future, and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparbrook will be able to rectify the wrongs that have been so obviously perpetrated by the Government on the prison service during the past 12 years.

8.4 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

When I reply to debates, it is my custom to have heard all the speeches that have been made, so it is unfortunate that pressing circumstances outside the House have led me this evening to commit the grave discourtesy of not being in my place to hear as many speeches as I should have liked. I apologise to the House.

The Opposition have grave reservations about the Bill. Our concerns go far beyond those that we anticipated in our debates on the Gracious Speech, which took place before we had sight of the text of the Bill although even at that stage we had our fears about its final form. At that time, our views were expressed eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparbrook (Mr. Hattersley). At that point, we believed that the Bill would be an irrelevance and unnecessary given that prisoners can already be charged with a wide range of criminal offences, including offences under the Public Order Act 1986. We believed that the Bill would be totally inefectual in terms of deterring rioters.

That was our opinion before we had read the Bill. Now that we have seen the text, our suspicions and fears are confirmed. I shall turn later to my perception of what the Home Secretary said earlier, and what some of his hon. Friends have said in his defence and aid. Much of what has been said by Conservative Members today seems to be a rearguard attempt to protect the Home Secretary and his sinking reputation.

I will not call the Home Secretary any names, but I repeat the point made by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. When the right hon. Gentleman came to that office, he had the opportunity to grasp the nettle of prison reform. Indeed, he had a unique and historic opportunity because the Strangeways riot had already occurred, and the Woolf-Tumim inquiry was in progress. If he had had any foresight, when the Woolf-Tumim report was published, the right hon. Gentleman would have said to himself, "Here is a unique and historic opportunity for me to make my reputation as one of the great Home Secretaries of the 20th century." Those of us concerned with criminal justice matters are disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not seize that opportunity.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said earlier, we have seen only a few small and rather insignificant measures that do not add up to a large impact on our criminal justice system, which is crying out for fundamental change. As I shall seek to argue, the opportunity was there; and the Home Secretary's failure has been that he did not grasp it. He will carry disappointment with him for the rest of his political career and, indeed, to the end of his days. Instead of seizing the opportunity to become one of the great Home Secretaries of the 20th century, he remains a rather shaky party politician.

Our view of the Bill has been expressed most clearly by the Government themselves in their White Paper, "The Prison Disciplinary System of England and Wales", which was published in 1986 in response to the Prior committee report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook referred to that, and it does not harm us—

Mr. Kenneth Baker

There is no one else here.

Mr. Sheerman

The Home Secretary is worried about my declining audience. We shall see what audience his right hon. Friend the Minister of State has when it is her turn to speak.

I quote from the Government's 1985 report. It is a quotation to which the Home Secretary should listen to which his right hon. Friend the Minister of State should reply: Since the Prior Committee's report was published, the Government's Public Order Bill (now the Public Order Act) has been brought before Parliament. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 create new statutory offences of riot, violent disorder and affray, with maximum penalties of 10, 5 and 3 years respectively. Clause 4 creates an offence of threatening or insulting behaviour which replaces the offence in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936. All these offences can be committed inside a prison establishment. Accordingly the use or threat of violence in connection with a prison mutiny can be dealt with under the general criminal law. Given the restructuring of public order offences in the Public Order Bill, the Government's view is that there is no need for a further specific offence of prison mutiny. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why the Government's policy has changed since 1985.

I can perhaps anticipate what the Minister will say. She might say, and I would not blame her for saying, that the Strangeways riot and the riots associated with it have given cause for a total and radical rethink. In some ways, she might be justified in using that argument. However, Lord Justice Woolf was asked to inquire into Strangeways and the other riots. He produced a report which is highly regarded. I have heard no demur from the opinion that the Woolf report is the finc,t document for 100 years on what is wrong with our prisons and the penal system and how to put it right. Everyone agrees that it is the report, and that there is no point in having a royal commission after Woolf. It is a brilliant report. Everyone who has knowledge of the criminal justice system says that Woolf is where it is at, and that, if the Home Secretary implemented Woolf within a reasonable timetable and with reasonable resources, he would have done what was needed.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, in his wide range of recommendations Lord Justice Woolf rejected a special measure to deal with prison riots and disturbances. The many days spent not only taking oral and written evidence but taking part in the interesting innovation of seminars in which all the participants in the criminal justice system could come together and discuss the issues convinced him that there was no call and no advocate for the creation of a specific offence.

The Home Secretary said that he had found prison governors who were in favour of the Bill. I hope that his right hon. Friend the Minister will name some of them. Certainly, the Prison Governors Association is not in favour of it. It is the time of year and the period of political history when many of the great campaigning organisations in penal reform have their anniversaries. The Prison Reform Trust recently had its 10th anniversary party. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders recently had its 25th anniversary. They were pleasant occasions, at which the Home Secretary was present. He would not find anyone among the people celebrating those events who was in favour of the legislation except his own Parliamentary Private Secretary who was also present, but that is to be expected.

When the public think of prison mutiny, they have in mind events such as those at Strangeways, when prisoners attempted to overthrow legitimate authority in a violent manner. That is the very event envisaged in clause 1(2)(a). If the Bill had stopped there, we would have supported it as an unnecessary but reasonably harmless measure, but it goes far beyond the type of incident about which we are all deeply worried.

Clause 1(2)(b) defines a mutiny as where two or more prisoners collectively resist, impede or disobey any exercise of lawful authority in the prison in such circumstances as to make their conduct subversive of order in the prison. That is amazing. Who drafted it? I do not know who pays the salaries of the people who drafted it. It is an astonishingly broad remit. Presumably we shall have a good chew at the clause in Committee, but if it remains in that form we shall certainly be unable to support the Bill on Third Reading.

I said today to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that if the Oliver Twist story were translated from the workhouse to a prison, the person who drew the short straw and was sent to protest about the food would come within the net of the Bill. It would be necessary only to produce evidence of the drawing of straws and some sort of conspiracy to send Oliver Twist to ask for more. It is ridiculous. Many protests in our prisons are about food, which is extremely important to the prisoners. They protest when the food is not up to standard or of the quality that they have come to expect.

Clause 1(4) says: Where there is a prison mutiny, a prisoner who has or is given a reasonable opportunity of submitting to lawful authority and fails, without reasonable excuse, to do so shall be regarded for the purposes of this section as taking part in the mutiny. Again, the commission of this serious offence, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, need not involve any use or threat of violence. We find it amazing that men and women who take part in an action that does not use or threaten violence will have such a penalty thrown at them under the terms of the Bill.

No alarm, distress or breach of the peace need be caused. What is more, according to clause 1(3) there is no mens rea for the offence. Prisoners' intentions are inferred from their behaviour. Let us compare that with the offence of riot under the Public Order Act 1986, which also carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. It is an important comparison. Under the Act, a riot occurs Where 12 or more persons…use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them … is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety. The same safeguards occur for the offences of violent disorder and affray, where the maximum sentences are considerably lower—five and three years respectively.

Let us consider what behaviour would be caught by the wide definitions in clause 1. First, prisoners will have disobeyed lawful authority if two or more of them have been involved in a sit-down protest in the yard about food or have refused to work in the workshop. I was talking to a prison officer this morning. He said that the legislation was unworkable. It is the normal daily routine in the prison that prisoners refuse to obey when upset about some change in routine or something that has happened.

The Minister of State has visited many prison establishments since she took on her job, so she knows the mentality and psychology of prison inmates. She will be aware of the trigger points and catalysts that set off a disturbance. The Secretary of State made a short speech in which he said nothing about the main thrust of the argument and the criticisms that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and those who have lobbied him have made. I am making that criticism in detail, and I hope that the Minister of State will give us some answers.

We have to run our prisons on the basis of a law that works. Great damage can be done if we introduce an unworkable Bill. Legislation that no one understands and that no one can work with in any meaningful way will bring the law into contempt and may do more damage than good—it may backfire on those who drafted the Bill.

Sit-down protests in the yard about food or refusing to work in the workshop because the rota or the work has been changed without consultation are everyday occurrences. If two prisoners are involved in a rooftop protest to proclaim their innocence, they will be committing an offence. I do not like rooftop protests. I do not like people climbing up on to roofs and damaging them, but we must put that in perspective. Men who were later found to be innocent have used that means of protest to draw attention to the injustice of their sentence and conviction. There is a difference between mutiny and someone climbing on to a roof and saying that he is innocent but has had to go to that extreme. I do not condone it, but I understand it, and bringing it within the terms of the Bill is dangerous, because it would criminalise non-violent civil disobedience.

Mr. Timothy Kirkhope (Leeds, North-East)


Mr. Sheerman

The Whip, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), who is a great expert on such matters, says, "Rubbish." If it is rubbish, it is the rubbish that every informed person and knowledgeable pressure group involved with the penal system is coming out with. If the Whip—who does not usually say much, thank goodness —thinks that that is rubbish, I refer him to NACRO, the Prison Governors Association, the POA, the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison Reform Trust and New Bridge. We could meet some of them and he can tell them that it is rubbish. Perhaps we should go to one of his local prisons—there are several near his constituency. We could talk to the governor and see whether he says that it is rubbish.

The questions that I am asking are the questions that the informed and high quality lobby outside is asking. I have the opportunity to ask those questions at the Dispatch Box and I have the right to expect an answer, even in these late days of a regime which does not believe in parliamentary accountability any more.

Everyone accepts that prison authorities must have powers to discipline the non-violent prisoners I have described, but they have those powers under rule 47(19) of the prison rules, which make it a disciplinary offence for a prisoner to disobey any lawful order.

I was interested when one of the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland explained how the system works there. That shed some light, and I hope that the Minister learned from it. To charge prisoners with a serious criminal offence in those circumstances is draconian and totally inappropriate. The Bill was not designed to deal with that sort of non-violent activity, and we have to do something about it.

Official prison returns show the extent of non-violent protests. My hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook gave the figures earlier, hut they bear repeating. Between March and June 1991 there were 23 food protests, six rooftop demonstrations and 29 allegations of concerted indiscipline—a total of 58 protests.

A prison officer told me this morning that officers are paid to deal with that type of activity. He said that those were fairly normal occurrences. They are anticipated and are part of the job. All such incidents would fall within the scope of the Bill and would be criminalised. If the law were used in that way, it would undermine confidence in the process of prison reform. There are protests about conditions in many of our prisons.

I want to bring home to the Minister and to the Home Secretary that we are worried about the Bill because it seems like a sticking plaster job. It dwells on the surface of the problem and is peripheral to it. We keep invoking the Woolf report because it got beneath the surface. It got away from the periphery of the debate and went to the heart of the matter. Woolf drew our attention to the reason why the prison system in 1990–91 is a disgrace to a modern civilised nation. In every paragraph of that thick report, he pointed out that rotten, insanitary, and especially overcrowded prisons are the problem. The Strangeways riot and prison indiscipline resulted from packing men into inhumane conditions and treating them as less than human. That is the truth about our prisons.

I intervened on one hon. Member earlier who was being unusually nice about some of the things that happen in a few prisons. He was talking about work and assessing prisoners' potential for training. When I became interested in the penal system, I was horrified to find that that has not happened for years. There are about 47,000 prisoners, and the number is rising. Is it not possible to have a management structure which knows who the prisoners are, what they are doing, and their possibilities for education and training? Is it not possible to have a proper personnel file on each prisoner, to assess their potential for rehabilitation and their progress? Is it not possible to anticipate what stage one wants them to get to by the time they have served their sentence?

In the past few years. we have witnessed the Home Office's inability to tackle the fundamentals of the problem. We have also witnessed its ability to do great damage because it has been unable to stand up for the prison service with other Departments.

Yesterday morning, I was at a meeting called by the National Association of Probation Officers about employment opportunities for prisoners. It was not only dreary because very little was happening as regards employment opportunities for prisoners. A high percentage of prisoners—80 per cent.—cannot find employment when they come out of prison and stay unemployed. Consider the impetus to reoffend in those circumstances.

In the great drive towards privatisation and to make the Department of Employment more efficient, the Minister's colleagues got rid of the counselling service for prisoners before and on release. I wonder if they brag about that. I suppose that the Whip will say that that is rubbish, too, but it is true. That was a damaging blow to the prison service.

What a disgrace in 1991. Where was the Home Secretary when that decision was taken, a decision that damaged prisoners' opportunities? Probably it was not his fault but was the decision of a previous Home Secretary or one of his underlings. I do not know. There will no doubt be some excuse.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook was absolutely right. We must recognise why the Bill is thought to be so irritating by people outside: it is because it is a Missed opportunity. We have an opportunity to create a good Bill—one that we could be proud of. I have often told the Home Secretary, although he does not like it, that he should come to the centre ground of informed opinion on penal affairs. He should throw off his ideological blinkers and join those of us who believe that Woolf, with a timetable and resources—something which his recent White Paper studiously avoided—is the way ahead.

We have no real timetable, unless one believes in the time mentioned by the Home Secretary, who referred to what might happen in the next 20 to 25 years. As John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead. Nearly everybody now in the prison system will be out of it by the time the Home Secretary has finished reforming it. [Interruption.] All those now in prison will be out by then. Up to 25 years is too long for the radical reforms for which Woolf called. We want them much faster.

As I explained, if the law were used against non-violent disturbances in prison, it would undermine confidence in the process of prison reform. In many prisons, protests about conditions happen because the conditions are deplorable.

Lord Justice Woolf could not have made the case for reform more clearly. A key message to come out of his report is the need for justice in prison—the need for a mechanism to ensure that grievances can be aired. As he says, without justice, security and control inside prisons are compromised. The Bill flies in the face of justice. The use of the criminal law is no answer to legitimate protest.

Lord Justice Woolf, in his exhaustive report designed to prevent future prison riots, did not propose an offence of prison mutiny. Instead, in his 204 recommendations, he provided for a comprehensive list of reforms, including the need for accredited standards in prison, a new prison rule preventing overcrowding and the establishment of compacts with prisoners setting out their expectations and responsibilities. The idea of the compact went to the very heart of Woolf, but we have heard little about the concept. I know that Lord Justice Woolf himself believed that it went to the very essence of his report, but it was nicely sidestepped in the White Paper.

The Government's response to Woolf, in their White Paper, makes depressing reading. The White Paper rejects the proposal to end overcrowding and is notable for its avoidance of dates and timetables for implementing reform. Yet improving conditions and reducing overcrowding would have been a far more effective antidote to riotous behaviour than this measure. Parliamentary time should have been devoted to those parts of the Woolf report which require legislation and not wasted on this unnecessary measure.

Why are the Government so intent on pressing ahead with the Bill at this time? The answer lies in the Home Secretary's attempt to shore up his crumbling reputation.

Mr. Kirkhope

Oh dear!

Mr. Sheerman

I will willingly give way to the Whip if he wishes to intervene. [Intervention.] I think that the Home Secretary is making a comment, possibly about the length of my speech. If the time is up for anyone, it is up for him. The right hon. Gentleman is hoping that by sounding tough he can restore some of his credibility. The real problems facing the prison service deserve a considered response, not a political fix. To those who care about these issues, the right hon. Gentleman's reputation is less important than a proper path to constructive reform.

The Home Secretary cannot run away from the House forever. At some stage he will have to make a statement on the Brixton escapes. Clause 2 of the Bill is all about escapes. It increases the penalty for assisting an escape from five to 10 years and provides that the offence can be committed by sending something into a prison. How reassuring! But the real issue is making prisons sufficiently secure to ensure that prisoners cannot escape. It is no use increasing the penalty if prisoners can get over the wall —especially if, as is alleged, they received considerable help from special branch. If I had special branch helping me to get into or out of a prison, I would expect to succeed.

I suppose it is somewhat reassuring to know that members of special branch may be liable to longer sentences if they assisted the escape from Brixton. It would be far more helpful in preventing a repetition of that appalling bungle if the Home Secretary would tell the House what really happened, how those men could have been allowed to escape, and what action he proposes to prevent such an escape ever happening again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook dwelt, justifiably, at length on that issue.

We are engaged in the European debate just now and are expressing worries about parliamentary responsibility and accountability. On an issue of great public concern, two of the allegedly most dangerous terrorists that we had behind bars in this country were allowed to escape. There is a total scandal about how they escaped and about whether special branch was involved in the escape. The Home Secretary has cheated the House of its right to an account of what went on.

Whether we be politicians or pundits, we feel cheated over the fact that the Home Secretary has not told us what went on. It is amazing that the Home Secretary should have been able to refuse to do that. If he has nothing to hide, why did he not make a statement? Why would he not accept the duty of a Home Secretary and be prepared to be asked questions by Members of the Opposition and others? What does he have to hide? We ask him again to change his mind and to clear the air. Those two dangerous men are still out there. The British public want an inkling of what went on and how those men were allowed to escape. We shall continue to press for an explanation.

The Opposition had anticipated that the Bill would he an irrelevance to the issue of preventing riots in prison, but it has proved to be far worse than we had expected—undermining civil liberties, criminalising non-violent protest and ultimately precipitating the very kind of disruptive behaviour that it was ostensibly designed to prevent.

We shall be working in Committee for major changes to be made to the Bill. I am sure that, in that process, the Minister of State and I will be engaged for some time in trying to make it a more palatable and acceptable measure. I do not hold out high hopes for it at this stage, but we shall do our best, for considering measures of this type should not be a question of party political concern: we all want a better penal system. We have consistently offered to be co-operative on such measures if we believe tham to be progressive and in the spirit of the Woolf report, but if such changes are not forthcoming, we shall oppose the Bill on Third Reading.

8.37 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I wish at the outset to reiterate my belief that the scenes people saw on their television screens during April 1990 were genuinely acclaimed as an absolute disgrace. They were, unfortunately, a disgrace to the prison service. It was disgraceful that it was possible for prisoners to take that sort of action.

The Opposition misunderstand the reasons for the Bill. Despite the passage of the Public Order Act 1986, the previous Home Secretary—now Lord Waddington—at the time of the occurrences at Strangeways and other prisons in April was so shocked by them that he had a strong urge to reconsider the whole matter. He responded to the public outcry and said that further thought should be given to whether there should be a new offence of prison mutiny. When the present Home Secretary came to office, he considered that issue and agreed with his predecessor.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) have all said that there is a misunderstanding of the public's concern about what happens in our prisons and what is acceptable. The Opposition must accept that people are genuinely upset, worried and, to a certain extent, disgusted when they see riots and misbehaviour in prisons.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that, if people refuse to obey an instruction—for example, to leave a dining hall —that may be considered to be undermining discipline. The test is not whether an act undermines discipline, but whether a protest is subversive of order. That is the critical test. It will therefore be limited only to very serious events. Surely there can be no objection to introducing an offence for serious incidents. It is not for minor incidents, as Opposition Members have been at pains to imply. That is not the Bill's intention.

Mr. Hattersley

If the intention is to limit the Bill to serious matters, I take it for granted that suitable amendments will be accepted in Committee to make that clear. More important, will the Minister give an example of a serious matter that would be caught and punished under the Bill with a maximum sentence of 10 years, but would not be caught and punished under the Public Order Act 1986 with a maximum sentence of 10 years?

Mrs. Rumbold

The Bill will apply if a number of people within a prison refuse consistently to allow a prison officer to continue his duties and undermine the governor's lawful control of that prison. That is not exactly the same.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Lady must have misunderstood my question. I understand how the Bill could be applied. My question is which of the situations to which it could be applied would not be appropriate to the Public Order Act?

Mrs. Rumbold

Under the Bill, mutiny means any action or omission, which need not be violent, but which —this is the important point—destroys the lawful authority of the governor, with the result that he may lose complete control of the prison. The consequences or potential consequences are relevant, rather than the acts of disobedience. We must not lose sight of that fact, as it lies at the heart of the Bill.

Mr. Lawrence

May I try to assist my hon. Friend? If a judge considers what sentence should be imposed for that kind of misbehaviour, he will have regard to the fact that Parliament has deliberately decided to make an offence of prison mutiny, which he will consider will require a harsher sentence than he might otherwise impose under the Public Order Act.

Mrs. Rumbold

That is precisely what would happen. For minor offences, a prison officer will still be able to give the internal punishments to which he has had access in the past. Since Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations, the boards of visitors will no longer necessarily have that task.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) touched on a number of issues, including the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations. The White Paper "Custody, Care and Justice" eloquently covers all those recommendations and contains extensive responses to the whole of Lord Justice Woolf's report. It has been carefully thought through and our responses have been welcomed by Lord Justice Woolf, who said that he was satisfied with how the Home Secretary handled the matter after the report.

Mr. Sheerman

Just for the information of the House, when did Lord Justice Woolf give his approval?

Mrs. Rumbold

When the White Paper was published, Lord Justice Woolf was perfectly happy to intimate publicly that he thought that it was a good response to his report. If the hon. Gentleman missed that, that is his problem—it is certainly not ours.

Several Opposition Members said that we should deal with overcrowding if we wished to tackle the difficulties within our prisons. There is no doubt that we should be looking at prison regimes. No one will deny that what has happened in our prisons is not acceptable in this day and age. I would not dream of saying that our prisons were running ideally, but many of the difficulties that the Government and earlier Governments have found were caused by the disgraceful inheritance of poor prison buildings that required a substantial injection of public funds.

Mr. Vaz

What does the Minister intend to do about the 3,000 young people in prison and the 1,700 prisoners who are being held in police cells? Does she have solutions to those problems?

Mrs. Rumbold

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall endeavour to answer some of those questions. First, I want to tackle the accusations by Opposition Members about overcrowding.

My right hon. Friend has been tackling that problem—his predecessor also tackled it—by instigating a substantial new-build programme to replace old prisons and refurbish existing ones. There are now some 125 prisons in this country and there will be another 12 between 1992 and 1994, which will provide an additional 5,000 places within the prison system,

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook argued that the right way to tackle the problem was not simply to provide more space within the prison system. None the less, the right hon. Gentleman and a number of Conservative Members would agree that people who must be kept within the prison system, must be kept in decent and humane conditions. That is one of our most urgent priorities, and it was backed up the Home Secretary in his speedy response on slopping out. He has brought forward by two years the date recommended by Lord Justice Woolf to end the disgraceful measure of slopping out. We should all congratulate my right hon. Friend for that. The Government's efforts on tackling the problems of prison buildings and overcrowding are beginning to come together.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of people who enter the prison system. That, too, has been dealt with by the Government. The Criminal Justice Act 1991—the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) served on the Committee and well knows the arguments—contains many different systems. We shall endeavour to keep people who should not go to prison out of it by ensuring that courts have non-custodial sentences available to them. People will then be able to serve sentences within the community rather than in prisons.

I shall answer the question of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) later.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister should not mislead the House about what happened in Committee, when there was agreement on some matters in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. We told the Government time and again that, unless they grasped the nettle and introduced some sentencing reform and a sentencing council, they would never crack the problem of overcrowding in our prisons and the fact that more people are in prison in this country than in any other country in Europe. We said that, if they did not grasp the nettle, no matter how many prisons they built, they would surely fill them, as the Americans have found to their cost. In the past 15 years, the American prison population has risen from 600,000 to almost 1.3 million. Is that the course she predicts for this country?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman has a whimsical addiction to the notion that sentencing councils would prevent many people from entering prisons. I do not agree with that philosophy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) made sensible comments about long-term prisoners. I shall take up his offer to write to him on the issues he mentioned. I say to him and to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) that it is perfectly right to declare that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not wish the Bill to extend to Northern Ireland at present.

I am sad that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is not present, because I wanted to address some of the issues that he raised, including the necessity for good regimes—a point on which I agree with him. I shall reiterate the view of the Government on the matter of prison officers, which was raised by a number of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. No Conservative Member and certainly no Minister would ever do other than say that we recognise what a difficult task the people who work within our prisons have and how much we admire them for the work they do in prisons throughout the country. I want that placed on record. I pay tribute to their good work, especially that which is and was done at the time of the riots at Strangeways and other prisons.

We recognise the bravery that prison officers show and the difficulty and stress under which they work. It is important that when we tackle each of the issues raised by Lord Justice Woolf in his report, we take the prison officers with us because they are the ones who have to build up trust within the prisons. It is important to build up trust between prisoners and prison officers. If we achieve such a regime, it will prove the best way to prevent the sort of disturbances and riots that have occurred.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned the Prison Governors Association. The White Paper "Custody, Care and Justice" clearly stated that we intended to introduce the Bill. We gave prison governors and others the opportunity to comment on the White Paper. They have not yet done so, and no one to whom I have spoken has shown any intention of questioning us on that issue.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke of the board of visitors and its changing role within the prison system. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark made some interesting comments about his experiences as chairman of the board of visitors and the way in which prisoners had to go through the system. Lord Justice Woolf recommended that the board of visitors should act much more in the nature of watchdogs in prisons. I agree, and believe that that would be a much more satisfactory way for the board to discharge its duties, with prison officers given the task of adjudicating on small offences —events that happen as a matter of course, and which Opposition Members have claimed that the Bill is all about. That is not true; small matters will continue to be dealt with within prisons.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish made a number of points that were also reiterated by many of my hon. Friends. He mentioned Manchester and its police force. He will be glad to know that I shall be visiting Manchester next Monday to see the position for myself. I think that the message that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave earlier will have been well understood by the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the concern of the Greater Manchester policy authority and have been in correspondence with it. I shall listen to whatever worries it expresses when I visit the city on Monday. I am conscious that the Manchester police and neighbouring forces have had to accommodate more prisoners in police cells than forces in other parts of the country.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister bring a message to the Manchester police to ensure them that their present burden, at least, will be reduced, especially over the Christmas period? At that time, there are often people in police cells who have been arrested rather than remanded there by the courts.

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the issue of the additional number of prisoners has been overtaken by events. Earlier in 1991, we were looking at a reducing the prison population, but unfortunately, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the prison population has escalated by 3,000 more people than originally predicted. As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt know, that number will be traditionally reduced over the Christmas period. Whether that position will be sustained post-Christmas is an issue we shall have to address later, and I shall certainly tackle it. I want to see for myself at first hand exactly what the position is in Manchester. I shall look at and listen with interest to the suggestions that will no doubt be made to me when I make my visit.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East talked about youths in custody and asked me to comment on the death of a 15-year-old at a young offenders institute at Feltham. I think that I know the governor there as well as he does. We intend to phase out remand for 15 and 16-year-olds as soon as possible. We need to build more secure accommodation, which will take some time. There is no wrangle within Government over the money for that. We agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we certainly agree with Joe Whitty. I hope that that assists the hon. Gentleman. On a positive note, we are trying to ensure that juveniles on remand in local prisons are given as positive a regime as possible.

The introduction of the Bill, which is a small but significant and important measure, is in no way a Government response to an issue that has suddenly arisen. It is in response to a serious concern expressed by a number of people throughout the country. The general public expect Governments to act firmly when they see issues of great concern to themselves. They are genuinely worried about the sort of things that happened in our prisons last April. They are worried about the effect of escapes. They wish to be reassured and to know that people who commit such offences within our prisons, or coming out of our prisons, will be punished. This small Bill does exactly that, and I trust that it will command universal support outside the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).