HC Deb 25 February 1991 vol 186 cc659-73 4.23 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the report of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry into the disturbances last April at Strangeways prison, Manchester, and other prisons. I am grateful to Lord Justice Woolf and to Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Judge Tumim, who joined in part II of the inquiry, for such a wide-ranging and constructive report, which includes 12 recommendations and 204 proposals.

The events of last April were unprecedented and unacceptable. Control of one of our largest prisons was lost for 25 days. Significant violence erupted at eight more prisons and at others control was maintained with great difficulty. The country was shocked by the defiance and destruction that we saw nightly on our television screens. I utterly condemn the behaviour of the small minority of the prisoners who joined in that orgy of destruction. As the House will be well aware, 183 persons have been convicted or are now awaiting trial on charges including murder and riot.

The report concludes that some decisions might have been taken differently. Nevertheless, Lord Justice Woolf stresses, and I wish to stress to the House today, that the disturbances were handled with great skill and courage by the prison staff at all levels.

Although Lord Justice Woolf makes some critical comments about the prison service, he also emphasises that the public have every reason to be extremely grateful to the members of the service who over a number of years have shown immense dedication, courage and professionalism. I endorse that judgment.

Immediately after the end of the riot, my predecessor put in hand urgent action. Incidents of this sort must be dealt with firmly and quickly. We have therefore set up a new incident control centre, overhauled contingency plans and clarified the lines of responsibility for dealing with riots.

More staff have been trained in the new and improved techniques of control and restraint that are necessary to handle dangerous incidents. The stock of riot control equipment has been increased. We have completed a review of the physical security of prisons, in particular access to roofs, and substantial improvements have been made.

The country will not tolerate the kind of disgraceful behaviour witnessed last April. We must make clear our utter condemnation of it by introducing a new deterrent. We shall, therefore, as we have already made clear, bring before the House proposals to create a new offence of prison mutiny, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 extra years in prison. However, Lord Justice Woolf emphasises that we need to balance security and control with justice and humanity and I wholly endorse that view. Guilty criminals have to be punished by the loss of their liberty. Dangerous criminals have to be detained to protect the public.

It is not the purpose of the prison system to provide holiday camps for prisoners, but it is not the purpose of the prison system to provide physical conditions that degrade and humiliate prisoners and strip away their self-respect.

Prisons should be places that are austere but decent, and provide a busy and positive regime which prepares criminals for their ultimate release.

Many reforms are already in hand, started by a major programme inaugurated by one of my predecessors, Lord Whitelaw, in 1979. Since 1979, eight new prisons have been built and 13 more are under construction. Over the next two years, 12 new prisons will be opened. The prison population is now some 4,000 below what it was in September 1989. That means that we are in sight of the end of overcrowding. We can now take those reforms a major step further.

I consider that the practice of prisoners having to slop out is degrading and intolerable. It makes it very difficult to run a sensible prison regime and should be brought to an end. The present target is to do that in 1997. Lord Justice Woolf recommends that it should be not later than February 1996. In my view, we can and should do even better. I am now launching a programme to provide all prisoners with access to sanitation day and night by the end of 1994. That programme will cost an extra £36 million over the next four years. I will find half that from existing provision, but I am glad to say that an additional £18 million will be provided.

I also consider that it is wrong for juveniles awaiting trial to be held in prison and I intend to bring that practice to an end.

The report also makes many helpful recommendations about the regimes that we provide for prisoners. We must not forget that while imprisonment punishes the criminal and protects the public, its other purposes are rehabilitation and preparation for a return to the community. Since 1988, there has been a substantial increase in the hours spent on education, from, 5.5 million to 7.7 million. I want to see more prisoners taking up educational courses and training in skills, so that they will have a better chance of leading a life free from crime when they are released. Prisoners must be kept constructively occupied in workshops and other activity, and Lord Justice Woolf makes important recommendations in that area.

Lord Justice Woolf also emphasises how important it is for prisoners to retain their family ties. In my view, it is vital that prisoners maintain that link so that they can assume their family responsibilities on release. It is also the thrust of Government thinking that everything should be done to avoid the break-up of families which can contribute to delinquency and crime. I therefore propose to increase the level of visits to prisoners and extend the arrangements for financially assisted visits for visitors who are on low incomes. I have also decided to increase the opportunities for home leave in open prisons from three times a year to six times a year. I am placing details in the Library of the House.

Lord Justice Woolf points out the value of cardphones. which allow prisoners to retain contact with their families. I am therefore announcing, subject to some limitation for security reasons, that cardphones paid for by prisoners will be provided in all prisons that do not already have them.

Despite the availability of cardphones, letters remain very important to most prisoners. Like Lord Justice Woolf, I believe that the present levels of censorship are unnecessary. I have therefore decided to abolish routine censorship in all establishments except dispersal prisons. Governors will retain, for security reasons, the right to censor.

Those measures represent a major series of reforms, but cover only some of Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations. He makes many other proposals, including the place of the prison service in the wider criminal justice system and the higher management of the service, and I shall give them careful consideration. I propose to issue a White Paper later in the year to take account of those recommendations and chart the direction of the prison service for the rest of the century and beyond.

The changes will transform the living and working conditions of both prisoners and prison officers, but they depend crucially on the managers and staff of the prison service. I have already visited many prisons and have been very impressed with the dedication and concern of the governors and staff whom I have met.

Industrial relations in the prison service have, from time to time, been troubled. The future well-being of the service requires a new spirit of co-operation on all the issues that we face. With that in mind, I saw the trade unions representing all prison service staff earlier today. I very much hope that they will respond in the spirit of Lord Justice Woolis proposals.

The events of last April marked a watershed in the history of prison service. We cannot, and will not, tolerate the savagery and vandalism in our prisons that we saw then. We have already taken urgent action to remedy deficiencies. Lord Justice Woolf's report recognises that, while prisoners must be held in secure conditions, a decent regime enhances security by making incidents such as those of last April less likely. The Woolf report recommends constructive changes to our prison system which build on the substantial modernisation of the last decade. I have announced today further reforms and more will follow. I commend the report to the House.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

; I begin by offering my whole-hearted congratulations to Lord Justice Woolf on producing a report which can lead to the radical reform of the prison system that this country has needed for so long. The theme that runs through his report is that, although our prison service is generally excellent, it is, all too often, a disgrace to a civilised community.

Like the Home Secretary, I condemn those responsible for the Strangeways riot. Like him, I note that Lord Justice Woolf believes that the prison service dealt with that disturbance, in general, with skill and courage. The important task now is to build on what we have learnt from that unhappy experience. I assure the Home Secretary that we welcome and will support his decision to end by 1994 the degrading process of slopping out. We also support his proposals for improved family visits, better access to families by telephone and letter, and juvenile custody.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the proposal that each prisoner should receive a contract setting out expectations and responsibilities could lead to a penal system that reduces the likelihood of further offences, rather than, as now, making them more likely? That requires the implementation of the whole report, I wish to press the Home Secretary on that, because he has not commented on Lord Justice Woolf's more fundamental recommendations.

I remind the Home Secretary that the majority of the report's proposals were urged on the Government a year ago by the Labour party and submitted in the Labour party's evidence to Lord Justice Woolis inquiry. In addition to preserving family ties, we recommended a national system of accredited standards; so does Lord Justice Woolf. We recommended a revision of disciplinary procedures, including final aappeal to an independent authority; so does Lord Justice Woolf. We recommended access to education, recreation and employment as a right; and so does Lord Justice Woolf. Those proposals were dismissed and derided by the Home Secretary's predecessor. We now look forward to and expect their speedy implementation.

Is it really necessary to wait so long for real progress to be made on those fundamental parts of Lord Justice Woolf's report? We appreciate that some of the structural reforms may take time, but could not the Criminal Justice Bill, which is passing through Parliament and has yet to go to the other place, have its long title amended to allow speedy implementation of at least some of the Woolf proposals? Were the Home Secretary to table new clauses, we would ensure their speedy passage.

How does the Home Secretary propose to implement the proposal that no establishment should hold more than a certified normal level of prisoners? He will recall that recent industrial disputes in the prisons happened because prison officers insisted that exactly that rule should be applied. I therefore ask him directly: is it possible to meet the Woolf requirements on accommodation without reducing prison populations to a far greater extent than the Government now intend? The Home Secretary will recall that we still have a prison population that is, pro rata, far greater than that of any other western democracy and, in the opinion of almost every commentator, far greater than it needs to be or should be.

Finally, I refer the Home Secretary to a paragraph in the report which described the prison service as succeeding against heavy odds … to contain an almost impossible situation by showing immense dedication, courage and professionalism. The impossible situation to which the report refers is not the Strangeways riot in particular but prisons in general. Since the prison service has acted in general with dedication, professionalism and courage, does the Home Secretary agree that the successful implementation of the Woolf report proposals depends on maintaining the good will of those who are employed in the service? Would not it be absurd to jeopardise that good will by implementing proposals for privatised prisons which are based on nothing more than ideological prejudice?

The Woolf report offers the chance for major reforms of our squalid and socially damaging prisons—reforms that will change them out of all recognition. I urge the Home Secretary to take that chance and to take it at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Baker

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the report on the work that Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim have done and for his support for my announcements today.

The right hon. Gentleman raised several matters, the first of which was contracts. It is an interesting idea, but it bears on another recommendation of Lord Justice Woolf—sentence planning. The right hon. Gentleman will know that prisoners in young offenders' institutions and life sentence prisoners now have their sentences planned for them. That may be the most positive way in which to proceed.

The right hon. Gentleman urged me to introduce other changes very quickly. The points that have been made to me by the staff side and by the prison officers whom I met this morning were for a measured programme of reform. They made that point repeatedly. Much is happening in the prison service. Already major reforms are in hand, and I have added some more today. Those people stressed to me the importance of absorbing them and making sure that they work effectively.

As for the certificated level of prisoners in an establishment, we are moving to a situation—we are not yet there—in which overcrowding will come to an end. Over the next two or three years, the increase in places will be 6,000 or 7,000, and that will increase the availability of places to more than 50,000. The prison population this day is just below 45,000. So we are moving towards circumstances in which the supply of prison places will exceed the likely prison population. Of course, that does not mean that overcrowding will be eliminated in all prisons; some local prisons will still have problems. We shall have to work on that, which is why we want the rolling programme in order to end overcrowding.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about good will. I accept entirely that the good will of the staff is needed, and I pay tribute to those I met when visiting prisons. They are dedicated people who are conscious that their job is not only to run secure establishments but to help the prisoners in those establishments. I do not believe that that good will will be sacrificed as a result of the proposal to privatise some types of prisons, because privatised prisons operate satisfactorily in other parts of the world. I do not believe that privatisation will bear on that aspect.

The right hon. Gentleman repeated a point that has been made before—that we have a tendency to lock up more people in this country and that, by some measurements, we have a higher prison population. I asked the statisticians in the Home Office to prepare some papers on those figures.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

To change them.

Mr. Baker

It is of no particular advantage to me to have them changed. As always, I am searching for truth. The chief statistician at the Home Office has done some work on the measurement of the prison population, not only in relation to the 100,000 figure of population, but in relation to the level of crime. On that basis, we do not emerge as the country that has a tendency to lock up rnore people.

The Woolf report points the way to a better and more positive system of prison regimes in which we can look forward to the possibility of more prisoners leaving prison in a better condition—or at least in no worse a condition—than when they entered.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no possible justification for the savage violence and wanton destruction witnessed at Strangeways last April? Will he confirm that the ring-leaders will be prosecuted with the full vigour of the law? Does he also agree that, far from the Government's doing nothing, their prison building programme and the measures already contained in the Criminal Justice Bill provide the platform from which Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations for the future of our prison regime can be realised?

Mr. Baker

I echo exactly what my hon. Friend said. The actions that we saw at Strangeways—the defiance, the vandalism and the orgy of destruction—are quite unacceptable. As I said, about 183 prisoners are awaiting charges or have been convicted. Some of them face charges in connection with the most serious offences, including murder and riot. I cannot comment further, because those cases are sub judice, but the action put in hand by my predecessor will ensure that such incidents will not happen again.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Let me express my appreciation of the enormously authoritative and extensive work of Lord Justice Woolf and gratitude that the Home Secretary has seen fit to move rapidly on the specific matters on which he could move rapidly. Why has not the Home Secretary commented on what may be thought to be the central thesis of Lord Justice Woolfs report, which is that there has been a damaging failure of communication among all the agencies in the criminal justice system and that that underlay the appalling episodes that gave rise to the inquiry? I accept that we need time to consider the structural recommendations made by Lord Justice Woolf, but does the Home Secretary recognise that those recommendations are undoubtedly the most important for the future of prison reform?

Mr. Baker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the Woolf report. There is already considerable co-ordination between the various component parts of the criminal justice system, and conferences are constantly under way to bring the various parts together. Of course, in preparing the White Paper, I shall look carefully at that point, which is the first in the recommendations.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a wide and warm welcome for the recommendations that he has decided to accept, and for his announcement today? Does he agree that it will be necessary to consider with immense care the details of a report which contains 600 pages? There will be a great welcome for his proposal to publish a White Paper, but does he agree that it should consider both the structure of the prison service and the purpose of imprisonment?

Mr. Baker

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The wide-ranging nature of the report, which contains more than 200 proposals and 12 recommendations, goes to the very heart of the structure of the prison service and the penal system. I agree entirely that the White Paper must address the structure of the prison service and its management as well as the regimes within prisons. It provides a major opportunity to set out and chart the course of developments for the rest of this century and, indeed, beyond.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The appreciation of the House is clearly due to Lord Justice Woolf and to Stephen Tumim. What assessment has the Home Secretary himself made, in terms of what happened at Strangeways, of the effect of the wholly inappropriate accommodation there on people who are mentally ill and certifiably so? How many such people were there last April and how many are now accommodated in other prisons due to the lack of other more suitable accommodation? Will the right hon. Gentleman also now urgently reconsider the Government's refusal to recompense the Greater Manchester police force for the full costs of its involvement in the Strangeways disaster?

Mr. Baker

On overcrowding, the report makes it clear that Strangeways prison was seriously overcrowded at the time of the riot; I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to part I, which deals with that. He asked where prisoners who were not held in prisons were being held.

Mr. Morris

The mentally ill?

Mr. Baker

On the mentally ill, I shall have to write to the right hon. Gentleman.

On the question of overcrowding generally, as a result of the riot, Strangeways will not be able to receive any more prisoners for some time, but K wing has been reopened and was re-occupied in December. That now holds about 190 prisoners and, in mid-May, it is planned to reopen G, H and I wings with integral sanitation. That will bring the certificated normal accommodation up to about 325 places. That will considerably relieve overcrowding, although I am disappointed to tell the House that some prisoners are still being held in police cells. I look upon that as unsatisfactory, even though the figure is well down.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about resources for the Greater Manchester police authority. Payments have been made in respect of some of the special costs involved, including the use of helicopters and the casualty information service that the authority maintained, but the main cost that the authority bore was that of keeping people in police cells. Payments have been made to Manchester police authority in respect of that.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone concerned with the penal system will think this an excellent report and will welcome his commitment not to leave it on the shelf, and especially his realisation that all who work for containment and rehabilitation in the prison service will be able to achieve their tasks only if their work is undertaken in a humane and civilised environment?

Mr. Baker

I accept entirely what my hon. and learned Friend says. The punishment for a prisoner is the deprivation of his liberty. One does not have to add to that circumstances that may lead to degradation or humiliation, which may have the reverse effect of what is required. The philosophy behind the report and behind the thrust of the Government's reforms of prison management is to provide a positive regime for prisoners and ensure that they are involved in education and training. That must be done against the background described by my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

The Home Secretary referred to "dedicated" prison staff. Does he agree that it would be outrageous to discipline any member of the Strangeways prison staff who was thrown into a situation last April that was not of his own making, when the real culprits of the piece were the Home Office in general and Mr. Emes especially, who was then the director-general of the prison service, and who overruled the governor's decision when the prison could have been taken the second day, thus saving a lot of misery and a lot of money?

Mr. Baker

When he reads the report, the hon. Gentleman will see that the incident is described in considerable detail, including the events leading up to the riot on 1 April, and the events of I and 2 April and the subsequent days. Although it is clear that the governor thought that there should be an intervention when the deputy director-general thought that there should not, Lord Justice Woolf considers that the plan to intervene should have been allowed to proceed. However, his report states specifically that there would have been a serious risk of injury, if not of death, to the members of staff involved, and he explains the reasons why the deputy director-general came to the view that he did.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's first point about disciplinary action, I must advise him that there is no recommendation in the report for disciplinary action against individuals. There may have been errors in what was said or not said or in what was not done, but there is no case for taking disciplinary action.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House welcomes his statement that slopping out is to end by the end of 1994, which is two years earlier than was recommended by Lord Justice Woolf, and carries into effect the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee? I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased with that. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to improve the command centre in London, and what additional training will be given in riot and restraint procedures?

Mr. Baker

The immediate reaction to the report was to improve procedures in the prison service to ensure that, if such an incident or anything similar were to happen again, the management procedures would work more effectively. The incident room in London has been improved and enhanced. The line of command and responsibility has been clearly laid down. In any similar incidents in the future, the governor will clearly be in charge, and his decision could be overridden only by resort to Ministers.

On my hon. Friend's question about control and restraint procedures, such procedures have been developed for about three years now by the prison servive and have been extended. As a result of recent changes, more riot control equipment has been made available. I want more prison officers trained in such techniques.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

Is the Home Secretary aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) and I visited Strangeways prison in January during the Christmas recess? We pay tribute to the staff for coping with all the rebuilding work while trying to run a prison. The right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the valour of the prison staff during the riot meets with great approval from the general public. I hope that in due course the Home Secretary will be able to mark their courage in some way, as we do when members of the police and fire services carry out acts of courage.

Will the Home Secretary apply himself to the issue of media coverage and the occasional sensationalism of the television and newspapers? Some of us feel that, as a result of such coverage, some of the prisoners were wallowing in the media spotlight. Will the Home Secretary take a fresh look at that in due course?

Mr. Baker

I do not want to be tempted down the road of censorship, because it would be exceptionally difficult to control the media in such a situation—and, where an event is so visual and obvious, it would not be appropriate. On reflection, I believe that the very fact that it was such a dramatic riot and that it was seen in other prisons encouraged some of the disturbances a week later.

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman said about the staff whom he met at Christmas. They will read his comments in Hansard when it is published, but I pay tribute to them, too. Prison officers are very proud of their work and the more recognition that is paid to them for it, the better—and that is what the hon. Gentleman has done today.

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in his forthcoming White Paper the fact that drug misuse in prisons can make the control of prisons difficult? He might even consider introducing the regular screening of prisoners, as happens in other countries.

Mr. Baker

The Woolf report deals with the management of drug abusers in prison, covering those who are drug-dependent when they enter prison and the way in which they should be handled, and the accusations that have been made about the illicit use of drugs in prisons. I agree with my hon. Friend that the recommendations of the Woolf report on that matter are important. However, it is a question not only of drug abuse, but of alcohol abuse. The therapy that is now available for dealing with both should be made available to prisoners who are dependent on those narcotics.

Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

In his quest for truth and honesty, does the Secretary of State agree that the society that has been created by this Government—of poverty, unemployment, despair and homelessness—contributed greatly to the crime figures in this country?

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

That did not cause prisoners to climb on the roof.

Mr. Fields

Is the hon. Gentleman seeking to intervene—[Interruption.] I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for the mutterings from Conservative Members.

Does the Home Secretary further agree that overcrowding dehumanises prisoners and demoralises the prison officers? The Home Secretary used to be the Secretary of State for the Environment, so on another point, has he cast his mind to what he will do with the 14 million poll tax non-payers when they are fined? Will he find places for them?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That question is wide of the statement.

Mr. Baker

In replying to a rambling diatribe, I advise the hon. Gentleman simply that, since 1979, this Government have devoted more resources to the prison service than any Government in the history of the British penal system.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) just said, may I advise my right hon. Friend that my experience as a lawyer is that many people end up in prison because they are neither equipped for nor wish to work? In the present circumstances, my right hon. Friend's proposal that prisoners should train and work while in gaol is a first-class proposal. Does he agree that the devil soon finds a use for idle hands?

Mr. Baker

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Prison regimes should be positive. I have already said that the number of educational hours and the hours spent in training and in workshops should be increased so that prisoners can acquire skills that they can use so that they do not resume their life of crime, but can find a positive job when they leave prison.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

While welcoming Lord Justice Woolf's report, what evidence does the Home Secretary have about health and hygiene and especially about the spread of HIV and hepatitis in prisons? Does he agree that we need an intensive health care programme in prisons? Where immunisation is available, as it is for hepatitis, does he agree that it should be extended immediately to all prisoners who wish it?

Mr. Baker

There is a section in chapter 12 of the Woolf report on the management of HIV, and of AIDS where HIV has developed into AIDS. Certain recommendations are made in paragraph 12.372, to which I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May I join the tributes to the prison staff who faced a dangerous situation with great courage? Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that, despite all the problems, not a single prisoner escaped from Strangeways during the riots, which was a matter of some concern to my constituents who live nearby? While on the subject of public safety, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that prisoners are removed from police cells as quickly as possible? There is public concern in the north-west on that issue.

Mr. Baker

I agree entirely. No one wants to see in prison cells people who are on remand. It is a totally unsatisfactory practice, and we are doing all we can to reduce its incidence. The highest number of remand prisoners was just over 1,100. This morning there were about 650, mainly in the north-west. Some of the pressure will be relieved when the new Strangeways wings come into operation in mid-May.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

As my right hon. Friend knows, my constituency of Littleborough and Saddleworth, on the outskirts of Oldham and Rochdale, is within the Manchester police area. Does my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents never, never want to see a spectacle such as we witnessed for 25 days at Strangeways prison? The mobility of local businesses and residents was disrupted, and parts of Manchester were turned into no-go areas.

My constituents will be pleased with the Woolf report's recommendations concerning the relaxation of conditions in prisons, and most of them will be delighted at the creation of the new criminal offence of prison mutiny, for which the maximum sentence will be 10 years'

imprisonment. I understand that every prisoner, on being taken into gaol, will be informed of that offence and that sentence.

Mr. Baker

I am sure that the new offence will be well known throughout the prison system, and we shall make sure that prisoners know about it. I understand entirely the strong revulsion expressed by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents at the events that we witnessed last April. As I said in my statement, such events are unacceptable, and we must ensure that they will not occur again.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I, too, congratulate the Home Secretary on the speed with which he has adopted some of the recommendations of the Woolf report—especially those concerning changes with regard to slopping out. Will the White Paper refer to after-care for prisoners? Is any consideration being given to the granting of some money to the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and to the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders? The Scottish association tells me that, at present, it has a very large overdraft. After-care for prisoners is extremely important if we are to stop recidivism.

Mr. Baker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about my statement. I shall certainly consider the point that he has made.

Sir William Shelton (Streatham)

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on his report and on his tribute to prison officers? The officers at Brixton prison, which is in my constituency, certainly merit that tribute. Does my right hon. Friend know that a number of juveniles who are in Brixton on remand—I am thinking especially of those in L wing, perhaps remanded for medical reports—find themselves in the most forbidding circumstances? As my right hon. Friend is aware, such circumstances have resulted in suicides. When will he be able to stop this practice?

Mr. Baker

As I said, I regard the practice as unacceptable. I have issued a Green Paper—a consultation document—on the steps that are needed, and I hope to receive representations shortly. Extra resources will have to be provided for secure lock-up accommodation—accommodation not in prisons—for juveniles. I agree entirely that people under 17 awaiting trial on very serious charges—youngsters who are not released on bail—should not be held in prison.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Why does it take a riot to produce reforms of this sort with this degree of urgency? The Home Office must have been out of touch for a considerable time not to have produced the programme that the Home Secretary has now announced. That programme is clearly a consequence of the serious riot.

Does the Home Secretary agree that pettifogging bureaucratic limitations are still being imposed on prisoners? For example, a family who had travelled a long way were turned away because they did not have the right visiting card. The attitude adopted was that the family were at fault. That cannot be helpful. Then there is the case of the prisoner who was forbidden to write a letter in braille to a blind relative. If the new regime that the Home Secretary has announced is to mean anything, such frustrations must be eradicated.

Mr. Baker

If the hon. Gentleman will pass me details of the second case to which he referred, I shall have it looked into. It is not the function of prison governors to introduce pettifogging restrictions. I have emphasised today the importance of prison visits.

The hon. Gentleman says that we are merely responding to the riots. In fact, for a number of years the Government have had in hand measures of fundamental prison reform. When we came to office, the date for the ending of slopping out that we inherited was well into the 21st century. We have provided substantial resources for the prison service, including funds for the largest building programme in prison history. I have been able to anounce today the provision of £36 million of extra money—£18 million of new money—and the ending of slopping out in September 1994.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Will my right hon. Friend accept again the congratulations of Conservative Members on these measures, which are extremely welcome? A number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the problem of overcrowding. As a Birmingham Member, I am particularly anxious about Winson Green. Will my right hon. Friend undertake, in the White Paper, to address this problem once again?

Mr. Baker

I certainly give that undertaking. It is a very important matter. One point that the report brings out concerns the problem of overcrowding in Strangeways in the early part of last year. It was a very overcrowded prison. It is now very unusual, as I go round prisons, to find a cell with three prisoners. Some still have three prisoners, but not many. There are cells with two prisoners. Some prisoners prefer to share, and ask for double accommodation. However, we should provide the possibility for all those wishing to have single cells to have them. That is our objective.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why does not the Home Secretary inject a little honesty into his statement? Everybody outside this place knows that he is making these concessions because of the Strangeways riot last year and one or two other goal riots. The truth is that, when the Tory party was elected, there were three prisoners in every cell. Now, there are three on nearly every roof each summer. The Tory party was elected to set the people free, but the prisoners got out.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman has not often turned his capacious mind to the question of penal reform. If he had—[HON. MEMBERS:"He has been to prison.") Really? That is most interesting.

Mr. Skinner

I was innocent.

Mr. Baker

Innocent? Well, I am sure. that the process did the hon. Gentleman a great deal of good. If the hon. Gentleman follows these matters, he will know that we have introduced a series of prison reforms over the past four or five years. If he would like copies of all the documents that have been produced by myself and my predecessors, I shall be happy to send them to him. Then he will be able to recognise the true reforming nature of this Government when it comes to prisons.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that hardly anyone who has visited a prison does not welcome his positive reaction to this report? Even with the placement of long-term prisoners outside local prisons, and even with the improvements being made by the Criminal Justice Bill, there must still be some qualms about the ability to meet the requirements regarding certificated normal accommodation in a prison such as Lewes, where there will still be many remand prisoners because the courts send them there. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will liaise most carefully with the Law Officers, with a view to seeing that the law, as administered by the courts, matches his reforming zeal?

Mr. Baker

I accept entirely what my hon. Friend said. Much depends on the sentencing policy followed by judges and magistrates. The Criminal Justice Bill, which we shall be considering in a few minutes, makes major changes in sentencing policy. The main purpose is to ensure that people who are in prison for serious offences are likely to stay there longer. By the same token, those convicted of less serious charges should not go to gaol at all. That is the whole purpose of the bill, and it will have particular relevance for the populations in local gaols like Lewes.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, whenever there is a problem in prisons, one of the first things to disappear is the opportunity to work or to take advantage of education? When I last visited Durham prison, where one still sees dehumanising conditions, virtually no education or work was being undertaken by the male prisoners. However, I was impressed by the new work regime in which female prisoners were involved. They wanted a commitment that that could be extended to other prisons. Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that, in moving to the elimination, by 1994, of the appalling practice of slopping out, the Government will not jeopardise the other aim of enabling prisoners to have a fruitful work regime and other educational opportunities?

Mr. Baker

The practice of slopping out is one of the biggest disruptions to the prison day. It takes half an hour per time, and if prisoners slop out four times a day, it completely destroys the planning of a sensible prison day to include visits to workshops and education facilities. Ending slopping out is important for a whole series of reasons. As to education, I remind the hon. Lady that we have extended considerably the amount of time available for education from some 5 million to nearly 8 million hours a year.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Prisoners get only three hours a day.

Mr. Baker

It depends on which prison one goes to. A fortnight ago, I was in a prison that had completely new facilities in the education wing. We are investing heavily in education—[Interruption.] The Opposition are in a dilemma. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If they are not, I shall make sure that they find themselves in one. We are engaged on a major programme of reform, and we are providing the resources for it.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's positive response. Did the report say anything about more sentence planning for adults as well as young offenders? Is there not greater scope, in the judicial system, for judges who send people to prison to ensure that the regime to which they send them is appropriate to their needs?

Mr. Baker

I am very sympathetic to the recommendations of Woolf on sentence planning. This already operates in institutions that deal with young offenders up to the age of 21 or 22 and for those who have life sentences. Sentence planning is a sensible idea, because a prisoner can be given a map of what is available to him and what can be offered to him while he is in prison. That is an attractive idea.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

The humane measures that my right hon. Friend has announced will be greatly welcomed the other side of the balance to the toughening up of the parole system that was announced earlier. They are also essentially an extension of the prison building programme that he and his predecessors have undertaken. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when reforms are introduced, prisoners are so organised that they will respect them, rather than, as happened in Strangeways, destroying some of the better measures that had been introduced there before the riots? In the category C prison in my constituency, Send, these reforms will be welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to bring forward the White Paper quickly so that we can have the benefits of what is proposed this afternoon as soon as possible?

Mr. Baker

I shall try to do it before the end of the year. I am glad that my hon. Friend presses me in that way. I visited the prison in his constituency, Send, which has a positive regime, set in place by the prison officers and the governors. It is a small but effective prison. I accept my hon. Friend's point about the importance of a positive regime. That lies at the heart of any reform of the penal system.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

May we be quite clear on one point? The Opposition are congratulating everyone associated with the Woolf report, not the Home Secretary. Is he aware that these proposals are the most comprehensive for penal reform this century? It is not clear from his remarks that he is aware of that. Does he not understand that the report is a clear and damning condemnation of the direction of Government policy over the past 12 years? It is no good throwing money at the prison building programme and introduced privatisation in prisons, when the Government's philosophy on penal policy is so wrong. If the Home Secretary does not realise that, he has not been honest with the House.

Can we push the right hon. Gentleman on this? Is the Home Secretary clearly accepting the philosophy of Woolf? We demand to know that. The more we push the Home Secretary, the more we find no categorical commitment to that philosophy. There have been opportunities—as there were when we debated the Criminal Justice Bill last Wednesday—for the Government to accept measures to reduce the number of people in prison. The Government rejected moves to take fine defaulters and the mentally ill out of prison. Is it not about time that the Home Secretary realised that this is his opportunity to make or break his reputation as a Home Secretary?

Mr. Baker

What the hon. Gentleman said about fine defaulting is wrong. Woolf makes positive recommendations on that. One consequence of the Criminal Justice Bill—the unit fine system, which is the method of collection through attachment either of earnings or income support—is that it will ensure that in future there will be much less fine defaulting. The hon. Gentleman should screw up a little generosity, as some of his hon. Friends have, and recognise what we have done. They are kind-hearted people, and I hope that he can be as kind-hearted.

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