HC Deb 25 February 1991 vol 186 cc704-6
Mr. Randall

I beg to move amendment No. 84, in page 42, line 34, after 'wellbeing', insert to protect them as far as possible from public scrutiny and insult, and in any such conveyances as are used to transport them to provide them with adequate ventilation, light and standards of physical comfort.'. The amendment will bring the regulations governing the custody and transportation of prisoners outside prison into line with the European prison rules. Rule 50 states: When prisoners are being removed to or from an institution, they shall be exposed to the public view as little as possible, and proper safeguards shall be adopted to protect them from insult, curiosity and publicity in any form. The second part of rule 50 states: The transport of prisoners in conveyances with inadequate ventilation or light, or in any way which would subject them to unnecessary physical hardship or indignity, shall be prohibited. The European rules are not binding in law but the Council of Europe recommends that governments of member states be guided in their internal legislation and practice by the principles set out in the text of the European Prison Rules … with a view to their progressive implementation. The Committee of Ministers included that recommendation in the preamble to the rules, adopted by it on 12 February 1987.

In addition to requiring the adoption of the European prison rules, the amendment would extend to the prisoner custody officers the requirement of domestic rule 38, which states: A person being taken to and from a prison in custody shall be exposed as little as possible to public observation, and proper care shall be taken to protect him from curiosity and insult. The need for regulations governing the physical conditions in vehicles used to transport prisoners was graphically illustrated by the death from heat stroke in 1989 of Terence O'Shea. He was being transported from court to prison in a prison van with inadequate ventilation. The pathologist who carried out the investigation into the death said that, even five hours after his death, Mr. O'Shea's body temperature was still 2 deg Centigrade above normal. Perhaps the Minister of State will remember from physics that one can almost double the temperature to convert it into degrees Fahrenheit. That means that Mr. O'Shea's body temperature would have been about 4 deg Fahrenheit above normal. I do not know whether the Minister remembers the formula—I do: it is F minus 32 divided by nine equals C divided by 5. I am sure that the Minister will find that, by inserting 2 deg Centigrade into the formula. Mr. O'Shea's body temperature was 4 deg Fahrenheit above normal which is serious.

If the transportation of prisoners is contracted out to private companies which, by definition, are bound to have different motives from public organisations, there may be a temptation for them to cut costs and not provide adequate care and attention for the prisoners, which may result in inadequate ventilation and space. Our amendment seeks to make such unnecessary and wrong cost-cutting impossible.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to private companies. He should bear in mind the fact that, if a private company has a contract, it will have an incentive to keep standards high so that it does not lose the contract when it is renewed. I appreciate that there is an ideological divide, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that what we have found in Southend-on-Sea when we have privatised some services is that private contractors want to maintain standards so that they can keep the job next time round?

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman makes a good argument, and I agree that that is the case, but the other side of it is that, to keep the business, a contractor would have to compete with the public sector, and to do so, he would undercut it on cost. The question is, where do the priorities lie in terms of cost-cutting? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that, where hospital services, such as catering, have been privatised in his constituency of Southend, East, there are numerous examples of things going wrong if there is too much cost-cutting. We are simply saying that there is a threat of such things happening. The Terence O'Shea case shows that we are talking about a real problem.

I am sure that the Minister of State will remember discussing this matter in Committee, when she said: although I cannot accept the amendment with its current-wording, it would be churlish of me indeed not to take it away and consider bringing back at a later stage a suitable amendment which covers the hon. Gentleman's points, particularly about adequate lighting and ventilation, which I believe is already covered."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 29 January 1991: c. 564.] Opposition Members came to this debate expecting the Government to table an amendment on this subject. Sadly, however, we have been disappointed. I do not believe that the right hon. Lady is being churlish, because that is not her nature, so other mechanisms within the Home Office must be causing this important matter not to be amended in legislation. The consequence is that the recommendations of the European Economic Community and the other rules to which I have referred, which exist purely to ensure good practice, are being omitted from our legislation. We regret that, and will listen carefully to see why the Minister has failed to table the amendment that we expected.

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) has given me a little to think about. He reminded me of my physics lessons. Although physics was not one of my best subjects at school. I was not so bad at it that I could not recognise the intensity of heat to which Mr. O'Shea was subjected when he was being escorted.

We take extremely seriously the importance of protecting from curiosity and insult those who are being escorted and of ensuring adequate heat, ventilation and lighting. Although I have failed significantly in the eyes of the hon. Gentleman—kind though he has been towards me this evening and sorry though I am to have been unable to table the amendment to which he was looking forward—we shall table an amendment in another place in the form, we believe, of an order-making power so that, in relation to contracted-out prison escorts, the Secretary of State can make rules to protect prisoners from public scrutiny and insult.

The rules will be similar to the present rule 38(1) to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) alluded in relation to private, contracted-out escort services. It is, however, important to remember that the O'Shea case occurred when the public sector was responsible for escorting. The rules need to be changed to ensure that, while prisoners are being escorted in the private sector, they have protection similar to that which they enjoyed before.

In the light of that, I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West will feel reassured. Although I have been unable to table such an amendment this evening, it will be tabled in another place.

Mr. Randall

Opposition Members welcome what the Minister has said. It appears that she recognises the seriousness of the problem but was prevented from tabling an amendment today because of the lack of time to consider it fully. I note that she has said that the Government will introduce a measure in another place in the form of an order-making power. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the Minister's attitude and look forward to an amendment being inserted in the Bill in another place.

Accordingly, on behalf of the Opposition, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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