HC Deb 14 March 1991 vol 187 cc1299-309 5.53 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

By convention, I should say that I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the question of the use of police cells for remand prisoners in Greater Manchester. I am not pleased, because it should never have occurred. It is my duty to raise it, but I regret that I have to do so.

I put down my name for the debate on Tuesday and on Wednesday was told that I had won a place. Since then, the chief constable of Greater Manchester has announced his retirement. I assume that that is mere coincidence. Many people in Greater Manchester are disappointed that Sir James Anderton, who is a good publicist, has not made rather more fuss about remand prisoners being held in police cells for such a long time. One or two people feel that it is not just coincidence that he got his knighthood this year, and that that has encouraged him to say rather less about the scandal than he might otherwise have done. I wish him well in his retirement, but I hope that by the time he comes to hang up his truncheon and put his whistle away in June he will have sorted out this problem.

The issue has gone on for far too long. I have: tabled eight or nine parliamentary questions on the subject and on two occasions I have had private meetings with Ministers to get assurances that something was being done. I am disappointed that those assurances have not been fulfilled. It is a scandal and an outrage that people are being held in the appalling conditions of some of the police cells in Greater Manchester when they have not been convicted of any crime. A lot more should have been done to ensure that this situation did not continue. At least one of the police cells about which I know is no bigger than the Treasury table in the front of the Chamber, and sometimes as many as three prisoners are held in that space.

The whole situation developed out of the Strangeways riot last Easter. The media was concerned about that, but once the rioting stopped they took little trouble to follow up the continuing problems. No one could have complained about the fact that in May, about 1,000 prisoners had to be held either in police cells in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, and even one or two places further afield. We all accepted that there was a crisis and that something had to be done about it. What worries me, many people in Greater Manchester and many middle-ranking policemen, is why the Home Office did not take steps at that stage to make sure that the problem was solved within a short time.

If it were possible, with a stroke of the pen, for the Home Office to make arrangements for the internment of Iraqi citizens in an Army camp, why was it not able to take rapid action to assess the problems with the building at Strangeways and the problems that were likely to ensue, and to find temporary accommodation suitable for holding remand prisoners, rather than allowing the situation to continue for months without a satisfactory solution?

It must have been obvious to the Home Office—it certainly was when I spoke to the then Minister with responsibility for prisons, the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) in June—that the situation had to be resolved quickly. He was talking then in terms of about 500 prisoners each week in June being held in police cells. The answer that I got showed that on 1 June there were 505, on 8 June 551, on 15 June 574, on 22 June 569 and on 29 June 581.

So the Minister was aware of the extent to which prisoners were being held. It was perhaps a little disingenuous of him to claim that everything would be all right by September, when the remand wing of Strangeways would be back in operation and the problem of prisoners being held in police cells would disappear. The Minister must have known that at that stage the planned capacity for the remand wing, which was to be reopened, was not sufficient to take away the 500 from police cells. In addition to the 500 in Manchester, others were held in Cheshire, Lancashire and West Yorkshire. The Minister must have known that the police cells would have to be used for much longer.

Police cells are not suitable for remand prisoners. Indeed, some of the cells are appalling. Stockport police station, for example, is an unfortunate building. The old Stockport police force wanted a new police headquarters. It made an application to the Home Office and was told that it could have half a police station as a first phase. Half a new police station was built in Stockport in the 1960s. As the second half was not built, there remains only half a station. It is an extremely cramped building. The charge room and the cells off it are exceptionally small. On a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, the cells are overcrowded with those who have to be brought in, arrested, charged and held overnight before they can appear in court. In addition to the people brought to the station in those circumstances, it has been necessary to cater for six, seven and— sometimes— up to 10 remand prisoners.

There is a similar situation at Cheadle Hulme, which is the other police station at Stockport. Cheadle Hulme police station would make a good exhibit for a museum, but it is entirely unsuitable for present-day working. To hold prisoners in such cramped conditions is unacceptable.

The cells at Stockport police station are little more than cages. There are two rows of cells facing each other. There is a small square at the end of the rows— it is on the first floor— with a wall around it that is about seven or eight feet high. Over the top of the square there is a wire mesh. That is the exercise area. A prisoner has no opportunity to see the outside area. That provision is entirely unsatisfactory.

Apart from the cramped conditions that apply at Stockport, Cheadle Hulme and many of the other old police stations in Greater Manchester, there is an adverse effect on the police officers who have to work in such conditions. I admit, however, that one or two of the junior officers are rather pleased to get on what they call container duty. They work a 12-hour shift while looking after the prisoners and overtime rates are paid. That helps some of them out considerably with their financial problems. I notice how generous the Home Office is in paying overtime rates in these circumstances. It is a pity that it has been unable to spend the same sort of money on finding a permanent solution to the problem of accommodating remand prisoners.

Although container duty is rather popular with some of the younger officers—they are able to earn overtime rates without having to face a football crowd or to walk around during a cold night on the streets—it is not good for them. First, they get used to spending their overtime payments. Secondly, I suspect that some of them become rather tired and perhaps do not perform the rest of their normal police duties quite as well as they otherwise would.

Container duty in Manchester is taking up the time of senior police officers who are required to organise the activity. It is having a considerable effect on other police activities within Greater Manchester. It is difficult to obtain exact information, but I suspect that on occasions the police have not been able to execute warrants to make arrest with the same vigour that would have been their practice in the past because they know that if they bring someone in on a warrant they will not have the space to accommodate that person. That is disturbing.

During the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill I pressed Ministers for information about how quickly they were chasing up probation defaulters. Again, I suspect that in Greater Manchester there has been a failure to chase some of them up quickly because the police did not feel that they had the necessary prison cell accommodation for the people if they carried out that duty. No police will admit that that is happening, but if the Home Office were to look into it, I think that it would find that that is one unsatisfactory aspect of the overcrowding of cells.

Because of the conditions in the smaller, more cramped police stations, there has not been an opportunity in Greater Manchester to find ways to ease the burden for police officers of all the paperwork that resulted from the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I am enthusiastic about developments such as the tape recording of interviews, the accurate recording of the entry of prisoners into police stations and quick detailing of charges, but I am amazed that in this modern age police officers still have to type routine charges on old-fashioned typewriters when so much of the work could be done automatically by pressing one key on a good word processor, as would happen in any modern office. Because of the cramped conditions in which the police have to operate, I think that there has been reluctance in Greater Manchester to get on with sensible mechanisation of much of the paperwork.

There is also the problem of what I might describe as the roundabout. Because the police cells are not suitable for people to be kept in them for any length of time, prisoners are continually being moved from one set of cells to another. That is done partly to reduce the chances of their escaping and partly to prevent them from becoming too friendly with people in one police station. When they go to court, they are sent to different police cells, and so it goes on.

It is difficult for the prisoners to cope with being moved around. Probation officers and solicitors have also had trouble in tracking down prisoners in order to carry out visits. The problem has eased slightly as they have gradually learnt to cope with it. Prisoners have very little opportunity to think about the consequences of their actions and to decide whether they will plead guilty or will be able to defend themselves.

It is very difficult for the families and friends of prisoners to visit them. The visiting facilities in Stockport in particular are completely inadequate. Chief Superintendent Whittle, who is in charge at Stockport, does a very good job, but he has admitted to me that the only way that he can make conditions tolerable for the prisoners and their families is by trying to make visits as long as possible. He gives prisoners the advantage of longer visits than they would have in a remand prison to try to compensate them for the difficult conditions. Often the visits have to be interrupted if another prisoner has to be brought in or taken out, or if a solicitor or probation officer wants to see a prisoner.

The position is also unsatisfactory for probation officers and solicitors. Those conditions make it difficult for a solicitor to speak frankly to his client, to persuade him, for example, that it would not be worth while to present a defence, but better to enter a guilty plea. They also make it difficult for a probation officer to obtain all the personal details that he needs to prepare a report for the court.

The Minister will be aware of the escape that was made from one of those police cells. That incident has remained in the minds of the police officers ever since, which has also led to substantial difficulties. There have been other eye-openers, with police officers being surprised at the attempts that even remand prisoners make to get drugs smuggled into their cells.

There has also been a great deal of temporary work undertaken. I make no complaint about that. The installation of a shower at Stockport police station and of toilet screens at Denton was very worth while.

Problems also arise in the provision of meals. The Home Office seems to assume that hot meals are available in all the police stations in Greater Manchester, but even where there are canteens, they are only open during the week, so at weekends it is necessary to send out for meals for Stockport prisoners from one of the Cheadle hospitals— and the meals are anything but hot by the time they arrive.

If those conditions had existed only from May until September, one would be unhappy, but tolerant. The promise was made that as soon as Strangeways remand wing reopened in September, all the problems would go away. Delays in completing the building delayed the reopening, and in October and November there was a dispute between prison officers and the Home Office, causing further delay well into November.

I was pleased to hear eventually during Question Time that the differences between the officers and the Home Office had been resolved, and that the remand wing would soon reopen. Therefore, when I spoke to Chief Superintendent White of Tameside police, in the other half of my constituency, I was horrified to learn that the problem had been only partly solved. The number of prisoners in police cells had fallen from 500 to 200 or 300. I was told that 210 remand prisoners and 73 convicted prisoners were being held in Greater Manchester police cells.

Chief Superintendent White said that the problem was becoming so bad that consideration was being given to bringing back into use the cells at Denton police station, which is a late Victorian or early Edwardian building. Anyone looking for an old police station to feature in a cinema or TV film should given it serious consideration— but it is totally inadeqauate for the purpose of holding prisoners in this day and age. Money is being spent on bringing that station back into use, to hold anything up to 12 prisoners. I am appalled at the prospect that it may have to be deployed for another 12 or 18 months and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that its use will be ended quickly.

There is some good news from Stockport, because, as its police station is unsatisfactory in many respects, the Home Office agreed to a major refurbishment. I wish that it would agree to build the second phase or a completely new station. Nevertheless, I understand that from 22 April no remand prisoners will be held at Stockport or Cheadle Hulme because of that refurbishment programme. That simply means that more of those prisoners will have to be held in the rest of the out-of-date, inadequate police cell accommodation within Greater Manchester.

It is not merely a question of people being held for a few hours. They are being held there day and night, seven days a week, and soon they will have been held in those conditions for up to 12 months. We must remember that, sadly, some of those prisoners are on remand for long periods of time. We must also consider that there were more than 70 convicted prisoners. How on earth can anyone be trying to develop some form of plan for those prisoners, so that they serve their imprisonment usefully, if they are being shuttled from one police station to another?

I understand that some of the senior police officers have been trying to do the best by these prisoners. I heard of one prisoner who was skilled in painting and decorating and was allowed to do some painting within the police station. I believe that some of the senior police officers tried to get educational materials for the prisoners, but they are not trained to do that sort of thing. At this stage, we ought to be told that the Home Office will stop it. The overcrowding is unsatisfactory, it is stopping the police from doing their proper work and there is always a risk of escapes.

I am also told that there is still a dispute between the Home Office and the prison officers, who say that because of the state of Strangeways its remand wing is only suitable for what they term "nice" remand prisoners. The difficult remand prisoners, who behave in socially unacceptable ways, are not suitable to be put back in the remand wing at Strangeways and have to be contained in police cells. They are the sort of people who excrete on the floor, pick up the excrement and throw it around. That is totally unsuitable anywhere, but it is especially unsuitable in police cells and it presents major problems for other people who are brought into the cells, some of whom may be detained there not because they have committed any crime, but for their own protection. Visits are extremely difficult if there is an anti-social and disturbed prisoner in one of the cells.

All that is costing the Home Office a fantastic amount of money. I am grateful that the Home Office has agreed to reimburse Greater Manchester police for the extra work. I hope that they are getting the full costs. Why on earth is the Home Office paying out money? Could it not have paid it out for more satisfactory accommodation? There were many prison warders at Strangeways running the old prison and the police keep asking what are they doing now. Why was it not possible for those prison warders to be moved to some other building in Greater Manchester? They could look after a larger proportion of the remand prisoners so that they do not have to be kept in police cells.

One could say, cynically, that one of the good effects is that so far there have not been any suicides. The prisoners are in such cramped conditions that suicide would be virtually impossible. However, the long-term impact on many of those prisoners must be horrendous. There is little or no opportunity for peace and quiet to come to terms with their position.

I believe that one of the other implications is that the police have probably been offering bail to more people because they do not have room to keep them in the police station. If that encourages the issuing of police bail, and if it has encouraged the police not to oppose bail on occasions, perhaps we can reduce the number of people held in custody in police stations.

Will the Minister tell us how long this situation will go on and how much it has cost the public? Perhaps he could also tell us whether the Home Office did an estimate in May of the cost of finding some alternative accommodation then and using prison warders rather than police officers. I hope that the Minister will tell us that, when all this is finished, the Home Office will be able to pay Greater Manchester police enough to refurbish most of the police cells, which have taken quite a hammering. I hope that he will also tell us that he will examine the issues of mechanising, and that of the recording of information under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, so that many police officers can be relieved of the routine tasks of writing out statements and charge sheets at length and can use modern facilities. I hope that he will say that he is examining the question of breach of probation and that such breaches are being taken up vigorously. It discredits the whole probation service if no enforcement takes place when probation orders are breached. I also hope that the Minister can assure me that the serving of warrants in Greater Manchester is not being delayed because of a lack of cells.

The present position cannot continue. Greater Manchester needs a clear undertaking from the Home Office that by April—or May at the latest—all remand prisoners will be removed from police cells and that no convicted prisoners will be held there. They must be removed not only from police cells in Manchester but from cells belonging to the surrounding police forces. Although I do not know the details, I understand that major problems still exist there.

6.21 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

I well understand why the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has taken the trouble to raise this important subject, even at such an early hour.

There is no doubt that the continued use of police cells to hold prisoners who should be in prison service accommodation is a continuing source of grave concern. Like the hon. Gentleman, the Government regard the present state of affairs as unacceptable; nor do they rely on police cells as a routine source of extra accommodation. The Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 was passed by Parliament to cope with the lengthy prison officers' dispute of that year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Act allows the police to hold prisoners if, for any reason, it is not practicable to secure their admission to an establishment.

Prisoners have frequently had to be held in police cells in recent years, sometimes because of such periods of industrial action by prison officers and at other times because not enough prison spaces have been available. That applied especially in London and the south-east, where the prison estate simply could not cope with the numbers involved. Pressure was particularly great in local prisons and remand centres; but new accommodation began to come onstream as part of the Government's prison-building programme and there was a welcome fall in the number of people in custody. As a result, by the beginning of 1990 police cells were used only in very exceptional circumstances. However, following the disturbance at Manchester last April, more than 1,600 places were lost to the system. It was not possible to accommodate the inmates displaced by that loss of accommodation immediately in other prison service establishments. The situation was made more difficult by action by prison officers at other establishments, who were unwilling to take Manchester inmates because it would lead to overcrowding in their own prisons.

Although the long-term use of police cells now appears endemic, it is not. The Government's investment in new prison accommodation had begun to pay off and, had it not been for the Strangeways incident and the loss of accommodation in the north-west, we would not be in our present position.

It may be helpful if I explain one of the principal constraints. It is certainly one that was implied in the speech of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. It is true that during much of the period in question while we have had so many Manchester prison prisoners in police cells there have been spaces elsewwhere in the prison estate. The difficulty that we face is that the loss of accommodation in Manchester was loss of local prison accommodation. Local prisons hold a proportion of sentenced inmates, but their primary function is to service the courts by holding prisoners remanded in custody and those awaiting trial. In order for local prisons to perform this function they must be close to the courts that they serve. It is therefore not possible to use prison places in other parts of the country.

There is, of course, local accommodation available within reasonable travelling distance from the Manchester courts, and it was certainly our intention to use such accommodation, notwithstanding the logistical difficulties that it would pose. It is obviously far better for us to keep inmates in our own accommodation even if that means extensive escorting journeys to and from courts. It is here that the industrial action to which I have referred has obstructed us.

There is no doubt that other local prisons in the vicinity— for example, Liverpool— are overcrowded, but there have been spaces within the operational capacity— that is interpreted as the overcrowded capacity— of such establishments which we have wanted to use.

I do not underestimate in any way the concern to which the April disturbances gave rise and that anxiety is particularly acute in the north-west of England where both Risley and Manchester have seen major disturbances and acts of gross violence and vandalism. But however sympathetic one may be to the concerns of staff, the plain fact of the matter is that their unwillingness to accept Manchester prisoners from outside their court catchment areas has led directly to a large number of remand prisoners being held, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, in entirely unsatisfactory conditions and to the police being diverted from more productive work.

That inevitable places a considerably burden on police resources and especially manpower, and I quite agree with what the hon. Member said about that. We are determined that the police should not have to shoulder such a burden for longer than is absolutely necessary. I take this opportunity to place on record my sincere appreciation of the work of the police, and that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and of the prisons Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs Rumbold), who regrets that she cannot be here this morning to answer the debate as she is in Brussels on ministerial duty.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to meetings with the previous prisons Minister, and I say now, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, that she would be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss any points that may arise from this debate and which I am not in a position to answer.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I am grateful for that offer, but I would just like to tell the Minister that what I want now is some action. The trouble with the previous meetings was that I was promised that something would happen, yet it just keeps dragging on. I shall be very pleased to see the Minister next week, but I hope that the Minister here tonight will convey to her that what I want, either now or then, is an assurance that by the end of April this practice will stop.

Mr. Lloyd

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister wants to see a solution just as much as, if not more than, the hon. Gentleman. Having explained the background and having indicated that one of the major problems is the attitude of prison officers in establishments to which some of these remand prisoners might have been moved, I want to explain what we are doing to solve the problem in a measurable period of time.

We recognise the heavy load that has been placed on the police. We see this is a matter which needs to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. I will now deal with the remedy for the problem. As I have explained, 1,600 prison places were lost at Strangeways, but an extensive refurbishment programme has been undertaken to bring back quickly as much of that accommodation as we can. As a first step, about 200 refurbished places came on stream in December.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the prison was picking and choosing which "nice remand prisoners" it should take. There are no constraints on who goes into Strangeways. There were allegations that it was picking and choosing who should go there, but the police are now deciding whom to deliver to the prison. The prison authorities are not selecting; they will take whomever is brought to them.

The prison service took the opportunity of the additional 200 places and the short-term breathing space offered by the pre-Christmas fall in the overall prison population to secure a significant reduction in the numbers in police cells. The prison estate in the north-west was reorganised. Preston prison became a local prison receiving prisoners from all courts in Lancashire. Changes were made at Liverpool so that that prison could take inmates from all courts in Cheshire. As a result, the only prisoners now in police cells are those who have appeared in court in Manchester itself.

The prison service has sought to maximise the use of training prison places, ensuring that closed establishments are not unnecessarily retaining inmates who are appropriate for open conditions, and so freeing closed prison places for those who are being held in police cells.

The effect of all that activity was a significant reduction in police cell remands. At the beginning of November, the number in police cells was more than 1,000; by the end of December, it had fallen to below 500. However, since that time there has been a further difficulty. Although the prison population over the last year or so has been stable, in recent months there has been a surge in the overall level of the population. On 2 January the population stood at 43,458; on 1 March it had grown to 45,356.

Against that background, the prison service is adopting the following strategy. First, and most important, it continues to keep training prisons— that is, prisons holding sentenced prisoners, and which do not serve the courts— at higher levels of occupancy. The training estate is now running at about 97 per cent. occupancy which, given that that figure includes open prisons, is a very high level indeed. Priority is being given to two target groups of prisoners in police cells— sentenced adults and young offenders on remand.

A sizeable proportion of the inmate population in police cells is actually sentenced. In the normal course of events, when a prisoner is tried, found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, he or she returns to the local prison and is addressed by an observation, categorisation and allocation— OCA—unit. Those prison staff make the difficult decision of the security category that should apply to the inmate and the establishment to which he or she should be allocated to serve the sentence imposed by the court. It has, of course, been necessary for Manchester OCA staff to undertake that work not in one place in Manchester prison, but in numerous police stations across the north of England. That has led to a large backlog of work and some inmates have had to spend a long time in police cells even though they have been sentenced. A prison governor, assisted by two escort teams, is now working with the police to tackle that problem. As far as possible, sentenced inmates are now being concentrated in a few locations so that they can be more readily moved to training prisons.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Can the Minister confirm that currently there are 70 to 80 convicted prisoners in police cells in the Greater Manchester area? How soon will that practice stop?

Mr. Lloyd

I can confirm that there are convicted prisoners, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact number. As I have said, the problem is to interview, categorise, and then determine the prison to which the prisoners should be sent. That is difficult when they are spread between police cells, rather than concentrated in one remand prison where they would have been had the spaces been available. As a further measure in the light of the recent population surge, the prison service has brought back into use accommodation taken out for non-essential refurbishment.

In the south, we are changing the role of the Mount prison from a young offender institution to a category C adult training prison. I am glad to say that that activity is nearly complete and 484 cellular category C places should shortly be available. Coupled with this, a new local prison in London, Belmarsh, will shortly be coming on stream with 841 new prison places. That should bring considerable relief in the south and, indeed, can be used to have an indirect effect on the north-west. We should be able to achieve this by enabling midlands local prisons to allocate sentenced prisoners to training places in the south. That in turn should enable midlands training prisons to receive inmates from the north.

The top priority in the north of England is to get young men on remand out of police cells. The crucial structural obstacle to this is the lack of capacity in the north-west for young men under the age of 21 remanded in custody or committed for trial. Substantial numbers of these were held in Strangeways, but now it is necessary for us to rely on Hindley, which is simply too small for the task.

The position will be resolved completely when a new young offender institution and remand centre— Brinsford in Staffordshire— comes on stream in October. That will give 475 new places. The task between now and then is to make a temporary arrangement for remand and trial prisoners. Prison service management has explored urgently the possibility of converting other nearby establishments for this use. Both Werrington and Thorn Cross were considered, but it is clear that either of those options would require substantial building work. In any event, Werrington is required for juveniles. For the immediate purpose we have in mind, they are quite simply non-starters.

The only short-term option available, therefore, is to create more space in Hindley. In the time available that could not be achieved by building. Instead, action is in hand to transfer out of Hindley young men who are awaiting trial who do not require the frequent escorting to and from court that is necessary in respect of remand prisoners. We hope to release space by transferring these pre-trial prisoners to another establishment, in the first instance Stoke Heath. Stoke Heath is the establishment which takes from Hindley sentenced inmates and allocates them to the training young offender institutions around the country. In turn, young men in Stoke Heath who are serving sentences will require to be transferred even further afield.

The next priority is the clearing of sentenced adults. New arrangements being made with the police will enable larger numbers of sentenced adults in police cells than before to be available for transfer to training prisons. But the recent surge in population, coupled with the large number of places now out of use for essential refurbishment to provide integral sanitation, has meant that fewer training places are being offered for this purpose than we would wish. That leads to even more emphasis being placed on the need to get nearly 200 new places at Full Sutton on stream as soon as possible, and we are working to do that.

The number of adult prisoners on trial or remanded in custody will reduce considerably when the next phase of accommodation at Manchester comes on stream. Some 140 extra refurbished places will be handed over in May and we want to minimise the commissioning period for that accommodation. I am also pleased to say that following lengthy negotiations with the local branch of the Prison Officers Association, Liverpool prison has agreed to take from the beginning of next week 60 prisoners hitherto held in Manchester police cells. Those will comprise some sentenced prisoners and some prisoners on trial. We greatly welcome this important step.

The effect of these changes should be to achieve a further, very significant reduction in our use of police cells, provided, of course, there is not a further late surge in the overall prison population. The overall picture will in any event change radically later in the year as 2,500 places in new establishments come on stream between April and October. Of course, apart from Brinsford which I have already mentioned, the most significant will be 649 young offender and remand places at Moorland near Doncaster in July.

I hope that it is clear from this complex explanation of our policy that this is far from being a problem that is easy to resolve. I hope also that it is clear that vigorous and ingenious action has been and is being taken to deal with this problem. There is no lack of commitment by the Government and we shall shortly be seeing very significant improvements in the system as a result of the building programme. The problem at Manchester has been so severe because we lost local prison accommodation. Local prisons have for very many years borne the brunt of overcrowding. That situation should be behind us over the next few years when 10 local prisons and remand centres will come on stream, beginning next month with Belmarsh in London. While we wait for these new places to become available the prison service will continue to make the fullest use of the prison estate so as to minimise the use of police cells.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

How much will that cost? Will the Home Office be able to refurbish the police cells in Greater Manchester which have taken such a hammering in the past 12 months?

Mr. Lloyd

I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman on that question because I do not know what plans my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity to put on record the points that I have made. I agree that the problem demands attention, but I hope that he agrees that the permanent solution that he calls for is in train.