HC Deb 20 January 1997 vol 288 cc664-92

  1. '.—(1) After section 24(8) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    1. "(9) The court shall grant a bail application by a woman unless it is satisfied it is contrary to public safety or the interests of justice to do so.
    2. (10) The court shall specify its reasons for a refusal of any bail application made under (9) above."
  2. (2) After section 204(2) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 there shall be inserted the following subsection—

(2A) A court shall not pass a sentence of imprisonment on a woman of or over 21 years of age unless the court considers no other method of dealing with her is appropriate; and for the purpose of determining whether any other method of dealing with her is appropriate the court shall obtain (from an officer of the local authority or otherwise) such information as it can about the offender's circumstances; and it shall also take into account any information before it concerning the offender's character and physical and mental condition.".'.—[Mr. McFall.] Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. McFall

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

The Secretary of State for Scotland made a statement last week on 16 January on the subject of the suicides at Cornton Vale prison in Stirling. It was made only after more than a year of campaigning by myself and others on the subject of suicides in that prison. The Minister knows that, tragically, one of my constituents lost her life—she was one of the six young women who committed suicide; the last one to attempt to take her life also resided in my constituency. Therefore, as well as having a party interest in the subject, I also have a personal one.

In his statement last week, the Secretary of State mentioned a number of the measures that are included in the new clause; we welcomed his comments on them, as we have been appealing to him to take action. Our only regret is the length of time and the amount of pressure that it took before the Secretary of State finally decided to act. On the same day as he made the statement, he responded to the chief inspector's report on Edinburgh prison and said that both cases had nothing to do with him. The new clause will ensure that such cases have everything to do with the Secretary of State, because the prevention of suicides—particularly of young women—has everything to do with the Secretary of State and is his responsibility. He has accepted the proposition of a bail hostel in Glasgow and the appointment of individuals to carry out work on addictions and to hold psychiatric sessions in the prison.

Dr. Godman

The new clause is designed to keep women out of Cornton Vale. In the light of what my hon. Friend said about his constituents, is he satisfied that those with suicidal tendencies receive adequate care and attention when they are incarcerated in Cornton Vale? Is he satisfied with the Government's anti-suicide measures?

Mr. McFall

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. When I was in America last summer on home affairs business, I visited prisons on the east coast. In every prison I visited, I asked about its suicide policy and the number of suicides. Hardly any suicides had been recorded in any of those prisons over the past 10 or 15 years, because they had adopted appropriate suicide prevention policies. There is no doubt that appropriate measures were not in place at Cornton Vale—largely, believe, because the Scottish Prison Service regarded it as something of a backwater and left it to get on with the job on its own. As a result, the proper procedures and measures were not implemented.

I have visited that prison twice in the past six months, most recently on 29 November. The governor, Kate Donegan, showed me around and I was impressed by the remedial work being undertaken there. However, she mentioned that many of the young women there are vulnerable and that it is hard for the prison authorities to deal with such problems. In his report on the prison, Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons in Scotland, Mr. Clive Fairweather, said that suicides would not end at what he described as "the death-culture prison" until more appropriate measures were implemented. We have campaigned long and hard to make the Secretary of State understand and do something about the issue of women prisoners, especially those at Cornton Vale.

The new clause would strengthen bail provision in Scotland.

Dr. Godman

The chief inspector of prisons voiced similar concerns in his report on Greenock prison. The problem that we are debating is not confined to Cornton Vale; it affects prisons throughout Scotland. As Mr. Fairweather pointed out, the problem may be part of a rising tendency among young people in Scotland to commit suicide. Nevertheless, does my hon. Friend agree that much more needs to be done to protect vulnerable people?

Mr. McFall

I agree entirely. Only two years ago, a young constituent of mine, Gerry Deary, committed suicide in Greenock prison. The need to do something for young people is urgent. The chief inspector's reports on Cornton Vale, Greenock and Edinburgh prisons contain comments expressing professional discontent with the Government's handling of the situation in prisons. I accuse the Government of dereliction of duty in that respect.

Mr. Fairweather's report on Edinburgh prison, which came out on Friday, reveals an intolerable situation. He points out the current dangers within the prison and describes a flashpoint atmosphere which could erupt in the future. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State take a smug attitude; they sit on their hands and do nothing. The new clause would ensure that they address the problems at Cornton Vale and elsewhere and ensure that we have good order in our prisons.

Imposing good order is not some sort of do-gooding measure. Good order ensures that we do not have riots, that money is not needlessly spent clearing up behind them and that lives—whether those of prison officers or solicitors visiting prisons—are not put in danger. It is in the cause of good order that the new clause has been tabled.

Dr. Godman

This is an important issue and many people would benefit from the new clause if it were passed. Not long ago, in Greenock prison, two prisoners committed suicide within 25 hours of each other. Such tragedies have a distressing effect on prison officers, especially those directly involved—that is, those who discover the bodies. Suicides in prisons are terrible both for staff and for fellow prisoners.

Mr. McFall

Again, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Scotland, in whose constituency Cornton Vale is located, is not here to listen to the debate because he would learn from it. He sat in on earlier debates; yet he does not attend a debate which directly affects his own constituency. We should ask why that is. For the past year, we have been chasing the Secretary of State, asking him to address these issues and to acknowledge his responsibilities. We are debating a clause which relates specifically to his constituency, but he is not here to listen to our proposals. Opposition Members have visited prisons and spoken to members of the Scottish Prison Service because we have an interest in the issue. I want the Secretary of State to show the same degree of interest.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Gentleman emphasised the difficulties at Cornton Vale and referred to last week's report on Edinburgh prison. Under the Bill, prisoners will have to earn days of remission. Does he agree that that will be much harder in prisons where there is overcrowding and no opportunity for rehabilitative work and that that will add to the tensions and pressure in Scotland's prisons, including Cornton Vale?

Mr. McFall

The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. We all have long memories and we remember when the former Secretary of State, now Lord Younger of Prestwick, abolished parole. We remember the problems that that caused in Peterhead prison and elsewhere. We are dealing with a fragile situation.

Only this weekend, I received a communication from the Parole Board for Scotland telling me that the Government's intentions in respect of prison officers assessing prisoners for early release were a dangerous proposition. We want the Minister and the Secretary of State to understand that those with an interest, professional or otherwise, in the criminal justice system have the best interests of the prison service at heart, but they are not being heeded. I am putting forward the new clause with that in mind.

6.15 pm

The new clause would strengthen bail provision in Scotland to ensure that women are remanded in custody prior to trial or sentencing only when they pose a danger to public safety or where it is in the interests of justice to remand them. Those who are dangerous should be imprisoned, but those who pose no danger should not. That echoes the sentiments uttered by Mr. Clive Fairweather when he investigated Cornton Vale.

The new clause would also ensure that no woman was sentenced to detention or imprisonment until and unless the court had considered a full social inquiry report on her background and personal and domestic circumstances, including an assessment of any drugs dependency or mental health problem. It would also ensure that the court had considered all community-based disposals before making a decision to send a woman into custody.

I want to share with the Minister the feelings of my constituents, Jim and Anne Bollen, who tragically lost their daughter Angela in Cornton Vale. In the privacy and intimacy of their home, Mr. Bollen said to me, "Mr. McFall, she would not have committed suicide if there had been a proper community disposal available for her. She was no danger to society—she was a danger to herself and a problem to her family. If the courts had recognised that, they would have been assisting us. Instead"—here Mr. Bollen pointed to his three-year-old granddaughter—"my wife and I, at our age, have the responsibility for that child for the rest of our lives." In their eyes, the irresponsibility of the criminal justice system is answerable. The responsibility for that comes back solely, fairly and squarely on the Government. The Secretary of State cannot get out of that, despite his assertions to the contrary. Anyone who considers the macho approach to law and order displayed in the Secretary of State's article in The Sun today knows that the Government are responsible for conditions in prisons. We shall be unrelenting in our efforts to ensure that the Government take their responsibilities seriously. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is now taking his seat—that is a welcome sight.

The new clause has been introduced to open up the debate on how women offenders should be dealt with in Scotland—in the light of 12 suicides or attempted suicides within 18 months at Cornton Vale and incidents at other prisons. We must also remember that the chief inspector of prisons pointed to the tinder box environment in our prisons. The first four suicides at Cornton Vale involved young women remanded prior to trial. Clive Fairweather made it clear in his report that many of the women remanded to Cornton Vale should not have been there, and need not have been there had bail hostels been available.

As I said earlier, I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement last Thursday of funding for Glasgow city council's bail proposals. In partnership with the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, Glasgow will quickly bring 15 bail beds on stream. I also welcome the additional money being made available to develop a new 15-bed bail hostel in the west of Scotland. The reason for the pressure is that many of the young people remanded to Cornton Vale come from the west of Scotland. That issue may be worthy of further examination.

I note that the Secretary of State said last week that additional money is being provided to deal with the drug-related problems experienced by a very large proportion of the prison population. I know that an addiction worker is being provided at Cornton Vale, as well as drug workers in the prisons in Glasgow.

There is also the question why so many young women from the west of Scotland find themselves in Cornton Vale. Is there a difference in drugs policy between the west of Scotland and the east of Scotland? The research money available should be used to examine that issue.

Dr. Godman

In the scheme of things that my hon. Friend is outlining, he has emphasised the importance of social background reports. Does he agree that a competent social worker can produce a good report within a few days of being given the task?

Mr. McFall

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am making the point that the court has a responsibility. A number of courts needs to undergo an attitudinal change. Of course, there is also a responsibility on the social workers to produce good reports.

In the annual criminal justice planning statement submitted to the Secretary of State on 1 August 1996, Glasgow city council asked for an extension to the bail information and bail supervision service to cover the stipendiary court in Glasgow. In fact, a similar request had been made by the outgoing Strathclyde regional council in 1995. The Secretary of State's response last week, though welcome, was therefore most definitely belated. However, it is an acceptance of the request by Glasgow city council and, formerly, Strathclyde regional council.

The agreement to fund additional prison, court and community-based posts to assist and improve assessment of drug-misusing women offenders will provide an infrastructure of services for which I have long asked. However, that is not enough. The law needs to be strengthened. No woman—arguably, no person—should be remanded in custody other than where it is in the interests of justice to do so or where public safety requires it. If that is so, the law should state it.

Current bail law is to be found in part III of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Sections 23 to 33 of that Act outline the bail process, procedures and conditions and how bail applications are to be dealt with. However, the provisions covering whether or not to grant bail other than for certain very serious crimes are always at the discretion of the court. Three times in section 23 the law states that the sheriff "at his discretion" may grant or refuse a bail application. That includes cases on summary procedure as well as those on petition.

The new clause would retain full judicial discretion over whether to grant bail to women, but shifts the presumption to one of bail normally being granted unless an exception can be justified. The exceptions are public safety and the interests of justice. Where the exception is to be exercised, the new clause requires the court to specify its reasons. Thus, the new clause gives a clear lead.

What are the numbers involved? The 1995 prison statistics bulletin, issued by the Scottish Office in October 1996, reveals that in 1995 a total of 876 women were remanded in custody—739 prior to trial and 137 awaiting sentencing. Clive Fairweather, the chief inspector of prisons, says that many of those women should not have been so remanded. The new clause will help to reduce the numbers if women remanded in custody to those cases where it is necessary for public safety or in the interests of justice.

Parliament has already decided in the 1995 Act that certain categories of person cannot be sentenced to detention or prison without a court first having to consider a report prepared by local authority social workers. Those categories are, first, all persons under 21 years of age, murder alone excluded and, secondly, all persons of whatever age facing custody for the first time. The new clause would widen those categories to include all women offenders. No probation order and no community service order can be made unless the court has first considered a social inquiry report. That is what the 1995 Act requires. How can a court, when dealing with a woman over the age of 21, consider a community-based disposal instead of prison if it does not even ask for a social inquiry report?

The prison staff and social workers know that many of the women sent to Cornton Vale need not be there, and I am sure that the Secretary of State also realises that. They know that many of them have a drugs problem. The facts have been emphasised time and again. The new clause would ensure that no woman could be sentenced to imprisonment in Scotland without a court having to consider, first, whether there is no other way of dealing with the woman in the community, secondly, the personal, family and domestic circumstances and background of the woman and, thirdly, an assessment of the woman's drug dependency, where necessary. Only by being required to obtain a social inquiry report can a court honestly make such an informed decision.

I have investigated the numbers that might be involved. The 1995 prison statistics bulletin states that in 1995 some 1,293 women were sentenced to custody. Of those, 146 were under the age of 21. Of the adults, 634 were admitted for non-payment of a fine. We hope that the growth of supervised attendance orders as an alternative to prison for fine default will reduce that number. If I remember correctly, both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland have said that they will try to do something to reduce the number of individuals going to prison for fine default.

The Minister may recollect that, when we debated the issue previously, we said that a woman with two children could be sent to prison for not paying a fine of £80 when it would cost the state more than £2,000 to keep her and look after her children. Surely, as we approach the 21st century, we should be more civilised and look for a more appropriate way of dealing with the non-payment of fines.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we are doing everything in our power to extend supervised attendance orders throughout Scotland, specifically to deal with the point that he has made?

Mr. McFall

I agree. Confronted with those figures, however, the Minister may realise that not enough has been done and that the problem needs more urgent attention.

I can only hope that the growing use of supervised attendance orders as an alternative to prison for fine defaulters will reduce the numbers that I have given. We are still left with 513 other adult receptions, some of them repeat receptions—that is to say, of the same women. Others will be in custody for the first time and will be the subject of social inquiry reports. In some cases the courts, at their discretion, may have asked for such reports. The point is that the numbers involved are not great. As the Secretary of State conceded in his statement last week, it is therefore not a resource issue. Six hours spent on each social inquiry report represents fewer than 3,000 social work hours per year, so the total cost would be the equivalent of two full-time social workers.

6.30 pm

This is a simple, but practical, measure. I am aware that many of the issues that I have raised may apply equally to male offenders, but their numbers are much greater—8,217 custodial sentences in 1995—so there may be feasibility problems in terms of social work resources and court time for repeat appearances. Today's debate is designed to highlight the position of women offenders in Scotland, so if the Minister asks why we have not dealt with men, too, perhaps implying that the measure is discriminatory, I would reply that we have initiated the debate in the aftermath of the 12 attempted or successful suicides in Cornton Vale prison in an 18-month period.

I remind the Secretary of State that it was his own appointee—Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Clive Fairweather—who highlighted the problems of women in prison in Scotland and whose report to the Secretary of State called for alternatives to prison. Many of these women, he said, should and could have been dealt with in the community. His report cannot be ignored. No prison for men has as bad a problem as Cornton Vale, so special measures are needed to deal with a unique problem.

Of course, many of the issues discussed today apply just as much to male offenders, but just because we cannot deal with the entire problem at once does not mean that we should be prevented from solving part of it. I believe that the measures announced to Parliament by the Secretary of State last week will be helpful. Meanwhile, the cost of doing nothing hitherto has been the lives of six young women in the Secretary of State's own constituency, and attempted suicides by a further six. Surely that will move Ministers to implement in full the proposals in the new clause for a supervision order to be considered by the courts before any woman can be sentenced to prison in Scotland. That, surely, is not too much to ask for.

Dr. Godman

Is not suicide more prevalent among remand prisoners than among those serving sentences of imprisonment following conviction in the courts?

Mr. McFall

That is certainly true—hence the new clause. Last week the Secretary of State showed that he realises that bail hostels are not particularly costly. Indeed, a 15-bed hostel with 24-hour staff cover will cost less than £200,000 a year to run. I believe that the Scottish Office has promised Glasgow city council almost 100 per cent. funding. I am pleased about that, but there is a need to do more.

I offer the House the new clause in the hope that the Government will listen constructively. We must move forward in a non-partisan fashion to remove the blight of the past 18 months from the Scottish criminal justice system.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I fully support all that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has said. This weekend, while I was thinking about what to say in this evening's debate, by one of those strange coincidences, I was contacted at my surgery by the family of a young woman who is in Cornton Vale prison and whose case highlights a number of the reasons for new clause 9.

Hon. Members may have heard of the case of Louise Clarke; she and her family are constituents of mine. She is in prison because she was convicted of the culpable murder of her partner and sentenced to five years. I am not speaking in support of culpable murder, but my constituent's case shows just what can happen to people in Cornton Vale who are awaiting a court appearance or—as in Louise Clarke's case—who have been convicted and given a sentence.

Louise Clarke murdered her partner after years of domestic violence. She met him first when she was 14 years old. She had been referred to him because he, a community worker in a position of public trust and responsibility, was supposed to help her cope with the break-up of her parents' marriage. He then blatantly abused that position of trust and responsibility. Aged 38, he took full advantage of a 14-year-old girl. Eventually she moved in with him, whereupon she was subjected to several years of domestic violence—until she finally attacked and killed him.

I do not condone murder; I do emphasise that many of the young women in Cornton Vale prison are, like Louise Clarke, as much the victims of their circumstances as were those against whom they perpetrated their crimes. Like many other young women in that prison, Louise Clarke grew up being subjected to violence and abuse. She needs full support and rehabilitation to help her adjust to living a normal life and, hopefully, a happy and healthy life when she is eventually discharged.

Many of my constituents and others feel that Louise Clarke's sentence was most unfair, given the circumstances. Indeed, her family and friends handed into the Secretary of State for Scotland a petition with more than 2,000 signatures. Although the Secretary of State was not there to receive it himself, it was handed to representatives of his office some weeks ago but the family and friends concerned have yet to receive even an acknowledgement.

Mrs. Adams

Does my hon. Friend agree that sentences passed on women are often much harsher than those passed on men who have committed a similar offence?

Ms Squire

Yes. A man in circumstances similar to those of Louise Clarke would have been dealt with far more leniently.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I simply want to say that I am sorry if the hon. Lady's constituents did not receive an acknowledgement of their petition. It has been the policy in the Scottish Office, as a financial saving measure, not to acknowledge correspondence and representations when they are received, but to wait until there is a substantive response. However, we have just changed that policy, although it does involve additional cost, for the very reason that the hon. Lady gave—it causes concern to people who think that nothing is happening because they have received no acknowledgement. I shall look into the case that the hon. Lady raises.

Ms Squire

I thank the Secretary of State. I am sure that the family, friends and several hundred people who signed the petition will be glad to hear his statement.

Mrs. Fyfe

A little earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) said that a woman is likely to receive a harsher sentence than a man for a similar crime, including murder. That may come as a surprise to at least some of our colleagues but it is certainly the case. Women Members of Parliament probably follow those matters a bit more closely because we receive many letters about them. For example, I recall a case in an English court where a man got away with murdering his wife because she nagged him. Here is a case of a woman who suffered domestic violence for years and years before she finally snapped and committed murder. It is obvious that the woman is not a danger to society but that years of abuse drove her to those desperate straits. It was therefore completely unjustified to give her a harsh sentence.

6.45 pm
Ms Squire

I thank my hon. Friend for those sentiments. I am confident that my constituents and the woman's family will take great comfort from her comments, with which I fully agree.

Such cases show the importance of greater monitoring of people placed in a position of trust and responsibility, particularly for young people. I know that that matter has been raised in the House.

That case emphasises the importance of prison and other staff being available for rehabilitative work with the women at Comton Vale prison. My constituent's mother emphasised that the Cornton Vale staff were very understanding and supportive of her daughter, but she made it clear that the pressures and strains on staff meant that sufficient time and resources were not available.

Indeed, the staff must at times feel that they are as much prisoners of the regime in which they work as the prisoners themselves. They are imprisoned by overcrowding, insufficient staffing levels and too few resources. As was said earlier, they work in a tinderbox environment, which puts tremendous stress and strain on them. It does not allow them the job satisfaction that they would receive if they could offer the support and rehabilitative services necessary to ensure that women prisoners were discharged to lead full, happy and healthy lives.

Dr. Godman

Does my hon. Friend agree that one consequence of the new clause would be to lift some of that burden from the hard-working staff at Comton Vale?

Ms Squire

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The new clause would benefit all the women at Cornton Vale prison, both prisoners and staff.

Earlier in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), in response to something that the Minister said, mentioned the role of highly skilled and qualified social work staff in providing rehabilitation and support services, and their involvement in the rehabilitation of young women such as those at Cornton Vale. I am extremely concerned by press reports over the weekend, which show that the Government are determined to add to their privatisation list by privatising social work services and removing the highly trained and qualified group of staff available to work with young women in prisons and elsewhere. Doing so will benefit the private sector rather than provide the high-quality, professional support and rehabilitative services that are needed if we are to reduce our prison population and create a safer and more stable society for everyone.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Part of the debate so far has concentrated on the sentencing of women offenders. I do not wish to trespass on that aspect, but I urge caution in attempts to compare one case with another. There is no doubt that the circumstances of each criminal case are almost always unique. For example, while the family of the person convicted may consider a sentence to be unduly harsh, the family of the person who died may have a diametrically different view.

It is legitimate to argue that, so far as possible, there should be greater consistency in sentencing. The fact that the former Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Ross, is now to have responsibility for the continuing professional education of judges seems a substantial and worthwhile step in the right direction. Perhaps out of that and other such initiatives, greater consistency may emerge.

We must also be careful not to form our judgment on the basis of newspaper reports of various cases. Often an important factor, tending towards leniency or suggesting that a more severe sentence should be imposed, is omitted from the report.

I shall begin my substantive remarks by congratulating the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who I see has slipped out for a moment, not just on the way that he proposed the new clause, but on the remarkable determination he demonstrated in ensuring that his constituents, to whom he referred in his speech, were afforded legal aid for the purpose of representation at the conjoined fatal accident inquiry that is to be held into the deaths of three unfortunate young women at Cornton Vale.

It was extraordinary behaviour on the part of the Scottish Legal Aid Board—the legal aid authorities in Scotland—that legal aid was not immediately allowed when an application for that purpose was made to it. It is difficult to conceive of any issue in which an individual has a greater interest than in being represented at an inquiry whose purpose is to seek to determine the cause of death of that individual's daughter, in this case.

I was a member of the old Legal Aid Central Committee and for a year before entering the House was a member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. From time to time, I had to deal with such applications or appeals in relation to such applications. I find it extraordinary that the board should have taken the view that it took. I hope that we will see no repetition of that. The board operates under statute. If its conduct is unreasonable, it will be open to judicial review. We would all regard it as an unnecessary waste of public funds if applicants for legal aid were compelled to go the Court of Session seeking judicial review of what seemed patently unreasonable decisions. In that regard, we should all recognise the determination of the hon. Member for Dumbarton, and congratulate him.

Dr. Godman

I offer the hon. and learned Gentleman my compliments on his remarks about the Scottish Legal Aid Board. I hope that they are brought to the board's attention. In the near future, there is to be yet another fatal accident inquiry into yet another suicide at Greenock prison. I hope that the board will act much more sympathetically than in the case to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman contributes often to these debates and, on this occasion as on many others, he makes a perceptive and constructive contribution.

Cornton Vale prison was designed in the 1960s and built in the early 1970s. Its design and construction were a direct response to the physical inadequacy of Gateside prison in Greenock, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, where the physical conditions were generally regarded as wholly inappropriate for the proper treatment, care and imprisonment of female offenders.

It is now 30 years since the original conception of Cornton Vale. In the aftermath of the most recent suicide, I put forward the view, not as a panacea or an easy response, that it was now time to consider whether Cornton Vale is a suitable institution, in terms of its physical characteristics, for the care of those who are on remand or those who have been imprisoned.

I am not an expert in penology of this kind, but if the physical characteristics of Cornton Vale are inappropriate, we should not shrink from considering whether to close the facility and build somewhere else something that contains the physical characteristics appropriate to deal with the young women on which much of the debate has centred.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that Cornton Vale will not have been enhanced by the fact that the Secretary of State proposes to give over one of the wings to young offenders? That would reduce the complex, where I used to be a prison visitor, to two thirds of its previous size, and mix the prisoners, placing women prisoners and young offenders side by side.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman has an advantage over me if he has been a prison visitor at Cornton Vale; I have visited it only in a professional capacity, and therefore may not have seen all parts of it, as the hon. Gentleman has.

When a series of suicides has occurred, as has been the case, one must be willing to think the unthinkable. My argument is that we need a root-and-branch approach to the question of how we deal with women who are caught up in the criminal law system, whether on remand or after conviction. If, as a result of such a review, it became clear that the physical characteristics of Cornton Vale were inappropriate, as Gateside was in the 1960s, we should be prepared to take the step of closing the facility and building a more appropriate one.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I do not doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman's good faith, but has he considered how the staff of Cornton Vale would react to the statement, from a man of his standing, that the prison should be closed? Those who are constituents of mine were extremely upset about it. I do not know whether they speak for the Prison Officers Association, but the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement was a terrible blow to morale. On reflection, does he not think that he should have spoken privately to Ministers, rather than publicly?

Mr. Campbell

I stand by the judgment that I made. I do not say that we should close the prison. I say that, if the prison's physical characteristics are inappropriate to the proper treatment of women in the criminal law system, we should consider creating a prison in which there are such physical characteristics as enable us to deal with them.

There is little doubt that a prison where there have been the tragic circumstances and the number of suicides that have occurred at Cornton Vale is not fulfilling its responsibility, however sincere and competent the staff are. We should be willing to consider root-and-branch alternatives.

Dr. Godman

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make progress, as I know that others wish to speak.

We need a new regime for the treatment of women on remand and after conviction. We must acknowledge that the responses and requirements of women who find themselves in conflict with the criminal law, and the way in which they should be dealt with, are entirely different from those of men who find themselves in conflict with the criminal law. I make that judgment from my own professional experience, but it is supported by much of the recent evidence of the kind of people who have been driven to the terrible solution, if that is the right word to use in this context, of taking their own lives.

The matter is one of considerable importance. The fact that the new clause would discourage the placing of women in prison, either on remand or after conviction, in my judgment represents a proper approach which should commend itself to the House.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton pointed out that many women receive custodial sentences for fine default. We have seen anecdotal, front-page stories about women who were sent to prison because they did not have a television licence and could not afford to pay the fine levied upon them. Such people should not be in prison. If Ministers will not accept that argument, I am pretty sure that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who recently became president of the Prison Reform Trust, will sympathise with it.

The Minister is about to leap to his feet and say that the Government share my view. If that is so, why are so many women sent to prison for fine default? It is because our system is insensitive: it does not contain a sufficient range of means of dealing with people who find themselves in that position. For that reason, I hope that the new clause will commend itself to the House. It is a forerunner of our treating women in the criminal law system in a way that they unquestionably deserve in the manner of a truly civilised society.

7 pm

Mr. Canavan

I support new clause 9, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). Scotland has one of the highest prison populations per capita of any country in Europe. When I hear the Secretary of State speak, I sometimes get the impression that he wants to increase rather than decrease our prison population to such an extent that the construction of prisons may be the only growth industry in Scotland.

Cornton Vale has inevitably been mentioned. I do not have any up-to-date, detailed information about that prison, but many years ago it was in my constituency and I visited it occasionally. No prison is a nice place—I do not suppose that they are meant to be—but it is nonsense to believe the claptrap peddled by some elements of the media that prisoners are living in the lap of luxury. Loss of liberty is obviously the greatest deprivation experienced by anyone who serves a prison sentence.

Some 20 years ago, Cornton Vale was one of the most modern and most civilised prisons in Scotland. I have visited quite a few prisons since then, and some seem Victorian in their conditions. If the Government were serious about penal reform, they would try to make conditions in our prisons more humane, so that ex-prisoners would not harbour such anti-society and anti-establishment feelings.

Although Cornton Vale was, by Scottish standards, civilised and reasonably humane 20 years ago, I am alarmed by what has occurred in recent times. I think that the Secretary of State, as the Minister responsible for prisons in Scotland and as the constituency Member of Parliament, should take a more active interest in what is going on. It is unacceptable that six young women in Cornton Vale have committed suicide in the past 18 months—an average of one death every three months—and the situation warrants inquiry at the highest level.

Most of the young women imprisoned at Cornton Vale are very vulnerable—many are teenagers who were convicted of drug-related offences. For many, a custodial sentence at Cornton Vale was not the first option of the sheriff or the judge who sentenced them. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and others have said, many initially received non-custodial sentences, such as fines, because the judiciary deemed those penalties most appropriate in the circumstances. However, default in the payment of fines led to their imprisonment in Cornton Vale.

New clause 9 seems to present a reasonable alternative. It places an obligation on the court to grant a bail application by a woman unless it is satisfied it is contrary to public safety or the interests of justice to do so. It also places an obligation on the court not to pass a custodial sentence on a woman unless the court considers no other method of dealing with her is appropriate". It emphasises bail and non-custodial sentences rather than detention and prison sentences.

I admit that, for males and females, prison sentences are appropriate and inevitable in some cases. For example, a custodial sentence is appropriate if someone commits a terrible crime of violence and poses a danger to society. I am convinced that the majority of prisoners at Cornton Vale could receive non-custodial sentences that would be more appropriate to their crimes—particularly when they represent no great danger to public safety. I hope that the Government will consider the new clause seriously and construct bail hostels and alternative forms of accommodation as the new clause suggests. Too many young women have died in Cornton Vale, and it is time for the Secretary of State to act in the interests of justice.

Mrs. Fyfe

If the Minister rejects new clause 9, I imagine that he will do so on the ground that it relates only to women offenders. He may believe that it should be rejected on the ground of equal treatment. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said, statistics show that, over the years, far fewer women than men have committed serious crimes resulting in gaol sentences. The conduct of men in prison tends to be different from that of women: whereas women tend to turn violent feelings inwards and harm themselves, male prisoners may be more likely to act aggressively against other prisoners. For those reasons, we must look afresh at the treatment of women who are remanded in prison or who are serving prison sentences. That is why I support new clause 9.

Some hon. Members have said that by far the most common crime among women serving prison sentences is fine default. It may seem obvious, but women do not carry a gene for fine default; there is nothing in female DNA to make it more likely. It is a crime of poverty. Women are more likely to fall foul of the law in that way because they tend to have lower incomes than the male half of the human race. As other hon. Members have said, it is unreasonable that those women have to spend time in gaol when there are other ways of dealing with such crime. Taking those women out of the system would ensure that there were far fewer women serving sentences in Cornton Vale.

There is only one women's prison in Scotland, demonstrating how little need there is for prison places for women in Scotland. It is important, however, to consider the research carried out in the United Kingdom. I should be glad if research into the issue were conducted in Scotland. Research in England has shown that courts have taken a sterner view of women breaking the law than of men breaking the same law. I do not know whether that happens in Scottish courts, but we should find out. It certainly seems so, with so many women in prison simply for failing to pay a fine. That says something about the courts' attitude.

Other hon. Members have talked about the deaths of women on remand. That is a tragedy for the young women concerned and it is appalling for their families, who see them go to prison on remand for a relatively trivial offence—I believe that that was true of all the cases—with dreadful results that could not normally be foreseen.

Some of the deaths have been linked with drugs and suicidal tendencies. Rather than attempt to create a round-the-clock suicide watch in prison, we should ask whether people who are so prone to suicide should be in prison. Men or women, should they not be in the care of a mental hospital? Even in mental hospitals, it is difficult to ensure the safety of prisoners determined to commit suicide. If a mental hospital, with all its experience of such cases, finds it difficult, it is only to be expected that prison warders will find it even more difficult to tackle the situation.

I have already said that women are more likely to turn violence on themselves than on others. When I visited Cornton Vale some years ago with my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and others some years ago, one of the warders said that they had had cases of women prisoners slashing their wrists with broken teacups, but the women did not attack others. That was typical conduct of women who were severely upset by being in prison. The loss of liberty is bound to affect anybody—man or woman—and is very difficult to deal with. Knowing that women prisoners might turn violence on themselves, we must consider how many of them should be dealt with in other ways rather than imprisonment.

On my visit to Cornton Vale, I was amazed to discover that actions that could have improved circumstances were not being taken. I know that there have been some improvements, but I should like the Minister to address some of the issues. Even education and training opportunities were limited compared with those available to male prisoners. Little was being done to help those women to rehabilitate themselves into civil life and stay out of trouble.

Incredibly, the reason given was that there were so few women prisoners. The fact that women tend to be by far the more law-abiding sex is held against those who commit crimes. As there are so few of them, they get fewer opportunities to find activities that would help them to be useful members of society when they leave prison. I remember that there was a very limited curriculum. Work opportunities at that time did not extend far beyond sewing shrouds, which I would have thought would have depressed any young woman intolerably. The authorities could have exercised a bit more imagination than that.

7.15 pm

Complaints have been expressed over the years about attitudes to prisoners. I know that some feel that prison staff have come in for much unjust criticism. We also hear from prisoners and ex-prisoners that they felt the regime to be too harsh. We should consider that and look into the day-to-day conduct of prison life.

We have talked about public safety. It is important to remember that we are not saying that someone who is a danger to public safety should be freed, but a bail application should be granted for those who are safe to be let out. I find it fantastic that we even have to argue the case, because we have all heard of rapists and others who were a danger to society being let out on bail and allowed to roam about, yet a woman who has not paid a fine is considered too great a danger to society to be allowed out.

With so few women in Scotland having served a gaol sentence, it should not be difficult to research these questions and decide on the best approach. What offences should land people in gaol? In what circumstances should bail be granted? Are we certain that there is fair treatment between the sexes for offenders? The narrow research base should make it simple to carry out that work and ensure that the system is truly just to women offenders in Scotland.

Mrs. Adams

I support new clause 9 and hope that the Government will seriously consider what my hon. Friends have said. It is clear that not nearly as many women commit crimes as their male counterparts. Someone once said to me that if there were no men, the world would be a crime-free place full of fat, happy women. That might well be true. Women are certainly not as oriented towards committing crime, but statistics in England show that they appear to be treated more harshly than men for the same crimes. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider treating women differently in the prison and criminal justice systems.

The Minister may argue that treating women differently would be discrimination in their favour. I make no apology for asking him to do that, because women behave differently from men. When they break the law, it tends to be trivial, or at least non-violent, offences. They tend not to commit violent offences, and when they do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) said, it is often in circumstances in which there has been a great deal of domestic violence, resulting in the woman eventually breaking and retaliating for the first time, frequently after many years of abuse.

Women in prison tend to be there on minor charges, often, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and others have pointed out, for defaulting on fines on trivial issues such as television licences.

In such cases, not only the women concerned but their families are often affected. It is inhumane to punish women to such an extent, but it is also uneconomical. Women are being imprisoned, usually for some weeks, for minor crimes such as defaulting on a £100 fine for failing to pay for a television licence. We may have to keep such women in prison for two or three months, and, moreover, we may have to support their families. Children often have to be taken into care, and the need for support frequently does not end when a woman is released and the family are back together.

Ms Rachel Squire

I support what my hon. Friend says. Some years ago, I had to deal with a family in which the mother of three children had been given a prison sentence. Tremendous efforts were made to ensure that the children could continue to live in the community, with full support from the social services, while awaiting their mother's eventual release. Fortunately, one of the children was 16 years old at the time. As my hon. Friend has said, support was also needed after the mother's release. This important matter needs to be taken fully into account.

Mrs. Adams

I agree.

Families often enter a vicious circle that they cannot break. The children as well as the mother are in the system and cannot escape from it, and that frequently leads to their committing offences in future. Such a system is not economical. It does not do society any good, and it certainly does not do the women involved any good.

Women prisoners often come from difficult backgrounds, and what they have done may relate to their particular circumstances. Many more women with psychological problems are in prison than we would expect, and many are dependent on drugs—not only illegal but prescribed drugs to which they have become addicted. We are not helping such women; we are simply locking them up.

We know that women do not do well in prison. They often do less well than men. I wonder whether that is because the woman in a family is often the responsible person—the person who looks after the household accounts, and runs the domestic side. In locking up such women, we are not only shutting them away from their families but taking all their responsibilities from them. Women often find it difficult to cope with that.

The Minister must look carefully at new clause 9. He must obtain social background reports on women who enter the prison system, and note the number of women prisoners who have been imprisoned for trivial, minor offences such as fine default. I know that, in some instances, he has tried to address the issue, but I do not think that we are currently going far enough.

We should treat women prisoners differently from their male counterparts. They are usually in prison for very different reasons, and the circumstances that landed them there are usually very different. We should not be locking up non-violent women who have committed minor offences, sometimes creating the spiral that leads whole families into not just the social work system but the criminal justice system.

Mr. McAllion

No doubt the Minister will argue—as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) suggested—that one of the objections to the new clause is that it relates only to women prisoners. No doubt he will say that suicides occur in men's prisons as well, and of course he is right, but I agree with my hon. Friend that women are far more likely than men to turn violence against themselves.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I spent a number of years as a teacher in a list D school in Dundee, which looked after young male offenders. In fact, the boys were aged up to 16, so perhaps they were not as young as all that. I can recall no occasion on which any of the young inmates turned violence against himself rather than the other boys—or, indeed, the staff, including me on a number of occasions. On one famous occasion, a bowl of hot soup was thrown over me.

Towards the end of my time at that school, I was transferred for some of the week to work in a list D school for girls. It was obvious to me immediately that the girls at that school—Balgay in Dundee—were prone to trying to cut their wrists and push their wrists through windows in an attempt to communicate their problems to those around them. Anyone who works with young offenders, or in the Prison Service itself, could describe such behaviour to the Minister, and I am sure that for a long time he has been advised that women prisoners are much more likely to damage themselves and commit suicide. I hope that he will take that into consideration in his reply.

Back in February 1996—at least according to a Government White Paper—random mandatory testing for drugs was introduced in Cornton Vale. That was another of the great ideas that the Secretary of State for Scotland has from time to time to show that he is a tough guy when it comes to law and order. I am sure that he sees himself as a Jimmy Cagney figure, sorting out the bad guys throughout Scotland; but most people in Scotland see him as a Baldrick figure from "Blackadder Goes Forth". Not only is he small, and not only does he look like Baldrick, but he clearly has "cunning plans" which never come off.

This plan certainly did not come off. Nearly a year later, the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service tried to explain the spate of suicides that had taken place at Cornton Vale in the following terms: the cause, he said, was the higher rate of drug-taking by women prisoners, and the breakdown of their life style. There we have it—yet another Government initiative that has not worked. Once again, the Government are trying to respond to a crisis that was created because they had not the foresight to deal with the circumstances that were to lead to that crisis in the longer term.

When the Secretary of State for Scotland made a statement to the House on 16 January saying what he intended to do about the crisis at Cornton Vale, he made it in the form of a written answer—as is fairly usual among Scottish Office Ministers nowadays—rather than laying himself open to questions from Scottish Opposition Members. He opened that statement by saying: The care of prisoners and the prevention of suicide in prisoners are operational matters for the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service". There we have it again—the right hon. Gentleman trying to distance himself from any responsibility for what may be going on in Scottish prisons, and saying, "It is nothing to do with me, guy; it is down to the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service. If there is anything wrong, it is his fault, not mine." That is a despicable attitude for Ministers of the Crown to take, particularly given that the chief executive, unlike hon. Members, cannot answer back to the Minister concerned and hold him to account.

Most of us would have no problem with the actual measures set out in the written answer. The right hon. Gentleman refers to new arrangements for the induction of remand prisoners. That is a good idea. More time out of the cell for prisoners in Cornton Vale is another good idea. He also refers to increased access to education, physical training", and access to groups such as the Samaritans, Rape Crisis and Women's Aid. That is all good stuff. He says that extra staffing and more money—these days we do not hear about that from either side of the House—have been provided to address the drug-related problems experienced by a very large proportion of the prisoner population."—[Official Report, 16 January 1997; Vol. 288, c. 307.] He also mentions additional psychiatric sessions and five additional posts for drug reduction work.

7.30 pm

That is all fine: no one complains about that. That is the sort of initiative that we want for women in Cornton Vale. The new bail hostel in Glasgow, which provides 15 beds, is another good initiative. But what about those women who are in Cornton Vale but who should not be? The Secretary of State's written answer completely ducks that question. Many women are in prison who should not be. The great thing about the new clause is the principle that there should be fewer women in prison. We should do everything in our power to stop women being sent to prison. That goes against the Government's thinking.

The Secretary of State has already boasted that he wants more offenders banged up in more prisons for a much longer time. The Scottish Prison Service has had to face an outbreak of suicides, especially at Cornton Vale, and hostage taking in male prisons. The Secretary of State faces growing discontent in the Scottish Prison Service among staff and prisoners, but his solution of banging up more people in more prisons only makes the problem worse.

The White Paper spoke about a new accommodation block in Greenock prison, which will have 60 new cells in two galleries. We were promised a new private prison at Kilmarnock—provided by and staffed by the private sector—offering another 500 places. The White Paper says that, after the election, the Government will have to contract out the construction of more prisons to other private sector providers. With all those grand plans to turn Scotland into a great prison yard, does the Minister intend to build any more prisons for women, or is Cornton Vale considered to be sufficient to cope with the demand for places for women prisoners in the future? What is the Government's thinking? Do they share the Opposition's view that we should send fewer women to prison? If they think that more and more women should be sent to prison, there are likely to be more suicides in prison.

It is ironic that, at a time when the social fabric in Scotland is being dismantled by the Government, they want to build more prisons. The social fabric is essential to the health of local communities. As schools, community centres, leisure facilities and swimming pools are taken away from local people, their communities become less welcoming, darker and much more dangerous places. The social fabric of Scotland is being torn apart, and the Government's only response is to build more prisons and to bang up more people. That will lead to the problems that we are experiencing in Cornton Vale.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that the Government have introduced a series of measures to stop drug taking inside Scottish prisons—drug taking was one of the main reasons for the suicides. Mr. Frizzell, the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, has spoken on the record about drug taking. An article in the press says: Addressing the problem of drugs in Scottish prisons, Mr. Frizzell said prisons should not be fortresses. He added: 'It would be very difficult to keep drugs out. There is a whole culture of drug-taking that is very hard to deal with.' Mr. Frizzell is at the cutting edge, and has to deal with situations inside prisons. He says that it cannot be stopped, but the Minister says it can. He says that for purely political reasons, because of the general election, although he knows that drug taking will continue in prisons. If it does continue, more people will be in difficulty, and more women prisoners will take their own lives.

The extra 15 beds in the bail hostel in Glasgow are welcome, but Glasgow and Edinburgh already have bail hostels, whereas there is none anywhere else in Scotland. Ministers and other hon. Members must realise that Scotland is not just the central belt or the Glasgow-Edinburgh axis: there is a large part of Scotland outside that axis which should also be taken into consideration. People from Dundee, Aberdeen, Ayrshire and elsewhere will ask where the bail hostels are for their areas. We do not want everyone to have to troop down to Glasgow or Edinburgh because there is no provision elsewhere in Scotland.

Mr. Connarty

The title of this Bill was of interest. It became known as the Dostoevsky Bill, and I said that it could be Dostoevsky's masterpiece "The Possessed". Having taken it through Committee and seen how it has come out, I think that it should rather be compared with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", because it is just a confection to satisfy certain cravings on the right wing of people's thoughts. Incarceration—slamming people up and making it hard on them—satisfies people's deep longing to feel more safe and secure than they feel after 17 years of Conservative Government. The Secretary of State fits my idea of a political Willy Wonka turning out sweets and casting them to all sorts of people in society to try to win them over in his favour. The Bill contains mostly bitter sweeties—as we know them in Scotland.

I hope that the Minister will take a serious look at new clause 9, because it is positive and chimes with people's concerns about crime. People also have deeper concerns about how we should treat vulnerable people—who may also be offensive towards others—as well as try to protect society from their negative influences. That is what new clause 9 is about. It calls into question the appropriateness of prisons, including Cornton Vale. Scotland has only one prison for female, long-term prisoners.

Cornton Vale prison is not the worst female prison: I have visited Holloway. It is a pity that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who spoke about Cornton Vale continuing, is not present, because I can tell him that Holloway is one of the most frightening places where any human being can be incarcerated. It was designed as a hospital and has a wing which is full of women psychiatric patients. It was like visiting Bedlam. I am glad to say that we have nothing like that in Cornton. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. If the clause is accepted, it could later be included in the legislation covering the rest of the United Kingdom. If it is appropriate to prevent women from going to Cornton Vale, which was designed in the 1970s, it is all the more appropriate to prevent women from being sent to the hell of Holloway prison in London, especially if they are vulnerable or known to need psychiatric treatment.

I have publicly criticised the changes that have been made at Cornton. I do not accept the excuses given for using one of the blocks for young offenders. Mixing the two regimes, even if there is a big fence between them, will heighten the inappropriateness of sending vulnerable women to Cornton Vale. The physical nature and the regime of the prison was included in the excellent inspector's report in 1996—he visited the prison between 19 and 30 May 1996. Every page of the report gives more weight to new clause 9. Given the condition of Cornton Vale in 1996, it is not a place where we should put anyone if it were inappropriate and if another form of disposal could be found.

The report was in response to three suicides. Annex 6 shows that, by the time the report was produced, there had been four suicides and three other attempted suicides—mostly by hanging. There have now been six suicides. It is worth while looking at the different sections—page 9 deals with drugs and page 10 gives an analysis of drugs. Most people who go into Cornton have had some contact with drugs. In Cornton, as in other prisons, because cannabis can be traced in the bloodstream for up to 30 days, people are switching to harder drugs, such as heroin, which is out of the bloodstream in two days. The drug regime is getting harder, and some users are becoming more determined.

Page 14 clearly shows that there is concern among the staff as well as among the prisoners about suicides. When we put vulnerable people into such pressure situations, particularly those who are on remand, it seems that women, as hon. Members have said, tend to commit self-harm. New clause 9 has a great deal of merit, because we should not place people in such establishments.

I should like to comment on the staff and their responses. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) spoke about some of the sweeties that the Secretary of State gave people in a sudden rush. The Secretary of State, whose party has been in government for 17 years and who has represented Stirling since 1983, suddenly initiated a spate of amendments affecting the regime in that prison. The ratio of male to female staff has been increasing. The inspector found that inappropriate and something has been done about it. Bail hostels are being provided, as are regimes for dealing with drugs, and all this has been done in a rush before the election. It is all about casting sweeties to people in the hope that they will forget the massive failures in the treatment of women prisoners.

There is clearly a malaise among the staff, and it has been reported. Pages 103 and 104 of the inspector's report show that the staff complained about too little training and many staff members said that they felt extremely isolated in the prison and were undermined by the suicides. They found that the regime was inappropriate for them to create a caring atmosphere. All that strongly argues that the new clause is the most appropriate way to deal with women who do not require to be incarcerated. I hope that the Government will see the logic of that and will accept the new clause.

Dr. Godman

By way of preface to a couple of questions to the Minister and before my speech in support of the new clause, I should like to say that any soft or sentimental feelings that I had about crime or criminals were knocked out of me by my service in the Royal Military Police and as a member of the local committee of Edinburgh prison.

Is it right that recent suicides in Cornton Vale prison are far in excess of the suicide rate among women of a similar age in Scotland, whereas, however sad it may be, the incidence of suicide among male prisoners tragically reflects a growing tendency towards suicide among young, disturbed males in Scotland?

My second question relates to Cornton Vale and alternatives to it. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) reminded us that Cornton Vale was a replacement for Gateside prison in my constituency. A friend of my wife and myself was an officer at Gateside and Cornton Vale and said that the latter was a vast improvement on the former and that the best option would be a new prison for women. What is the Minister's view on the feasibility of a new prison for women? Perhaps he favours the dispersal of women prisoners to local male prisons. What is the attitude of the Scottish Prison Service on dispersal?

The new clause would benefit both prisoners and women prison officers. It would certainly relieve much of the strain felt by the latter in their attempts to look after the former in difficult conditions. Today a young woman whom I know and who lives in Inverclyde has been remanded on bail by a sheriff in the west of Scotland. Although the case is sub judice, I feel able to say that that sheriff made a sensible decision. On the whole, sheriffs make such decisions in bail applications by women. But we need more than the discretion of sheriffs and I support the new clause because, as I say, it will benefit women prisoners and prison officers.

As the Minister knows, there is to be yet another fatal accident inquiry into the suicide of a young person in Greenock prison. Our prison staff do a fine job in difficult conditions, but they require more resources and facilities.

7.45 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I pay tribute to Governor Kate Donegan. I have visited Cornton Vale, as has the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), whom I accompanied. I have visited the prison a number of times since then, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I offer my condolences to the families of those who have died, and I am concerned about the number of suicides at Cornton Vale.

Last year we announced our intention to use the empty spaces in Cornton Vale for male young offenders so as to reduce overcrowding elsewhere. That accommodation has been segregated from the rest of the establishment by a fence, but because of the current pressures on Cornton Vale, the transfer of male young offenders has been postponed for the present to allow the governor and staff to concentrate on improving the women's regime.

Mr. Connarty

Does the Minister accept that in the inspector's report the staff said that more women than they expected were under observation? They said that one of the reasons for having prisoners on the upper floors, although they would have preferred them on the lower floors, was overcrowding. At the same time, the prison wing that has been mentioned was left empty for the transfer of young offenders.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have no doubt that the governor and the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service will take into account the needs of women in Cornton Vale and the need to avoid overcrowding, especially among vulnerable young prisoners.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) spoke about suicidal prisoners being in mental hospitals. If a medical officer considers that a prisoner requires hospital treatment, that will be arranged. However, the problem is not that simple. Some suicidal prisoners do not exhibit symptoms which cause medical concern. The Scottish Prison Service suicide prevention strategy is being revised to help staff better identify prisoners who may be at risk and the service will draw on the recommendations of reports by Professor Gunn of the Institute of Psychiatry and Dr. Power of the university of Stirling.

Courts are currently required to obtain social inquiry reports in all cases where a custodial sentence has been imposed on offenders up to and including the age of 20. Those must also be obtained when persons of 21 or over are facing a sentence of imprisonment for the first time. Some 28,000 are requested each year by the courts, at an average cost of £211 per court.

The Government and the Scottish Prison Service have implemented a range of measures to tackle these issues. We have implemented or are implementing the vast majority of the recommendations in last year's report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons. That move has introduced new arrangements for the induction of remand prisoners, has resulted in extra time out of cells and has increased access to education, physical training and other opportunities. Some outside agencies are now working in prisons, and remand prisoners now share a cell to encourage mutual support.

All those measures are designed to alleviate the problems that prisoners, and especially those on remand, might experience. It is by that route that action should be taken rather than by requiring courts to limit their considerations on the basis of gender. New clause 9 would fetter unduly the discretion of the courts, which already take into account the factors identified in the new clause in reaching decisions on bail. In taking those decisions, the courts must have regard to public safety and the administration of justice, and the range of penalties available for the breaching of bail orders reflects that.

The courts also have responsibility for dealing with bail offenders. We have heard Opposition proposals for tough action on bail bandits. The courts at present have the discretion available to them to refuse bail where the accused has a record of bail abuse. By limiting that discretion to instances where public safety or the interests of justice apply, the courts may not have the same freedom to remand women in custody where they consider such action to be most appropriate.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) asked about the discretion of the courts. A court must grant bail unless, in the exercise of its discretionary right of refusal, it is of the opinion that, in looking to the public interest and securing the ends of justice, there is good reason why bail should not be granted. This approach applies to both men and women. I must tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East that bail beds are provided in Aberdeen and Dundee, and we expect a new hostel to open in July this year. [Interruption.] I can tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East that I do not doubt for one moment that the interests of Dundee are important.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last week, the Government have extended the bail information scheme to include the stipendiary magistrates courts in Glasgow. We have offered £50,000 to convert properties operated by the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders for use as bail accommodation. Officials are discussing with Glasgow city council financial support for the addition of 15 bail bed spaces. The availability of those spaces will assist the courts in releasing an accused person on bail where the only reason for refusing bail is that the accused does not have a normal place of domicile. The hon. Member for Dundee, East will be glad to hear that similar proposals are being discussed with Dundee city council.

Much has been written recently about the link between suicides and drugs. While those who may have been taking drugs or who have life style breakdowns are susceptible to suicide, there is a range of possible explanations for the recent suicides—including depression and a lack of hope for the future on the part of the inmates. I can tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East that mandatory drug testing is providing a clearer picture of drug taking and has provided a clearer message that drug taking will not be tolerated. It is helping staff to target support measures on those prisoners who need help in tackling their drug problems. Some women prisoners have said that being placed on a testing programme has helped them resist the pressures to take drugs.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East referred to some of the measures that were announced recently, and I will not go through them again. I can tell the hon. Member for Maryhill that an independent researcher is undertaking a six-month study to obtain detailed information on the extent and type of drug and alcohol misuse among women prisoners before and after conviction. This will help to provide information to assist the targeting of resources for the future.

More funding is being made available, in addition to the extra staffing provided last year, to address the drug-related problems experienced by a large proportion of the prison population at Cornton Vale. A further addictions worker post has been approved, together with additional psychiatric sessions. Proposals from the governor to increase access to drug reduction programmes in prison and to recruit additional registered mental nurses have been approved. All of those measures will expand the programme that is in operation. Tackling drugs in prison is not the only part of the equation and, to be effective, there must be adequate through care on release. We are discussing with local authority and voluntary agencies what steps may be taken to ensure that this is available, and such discussions are going on in Glasgow.

Any suicide is a tragedy, and although the intention behind the new clause is worthy of support, we do not believe that the proposed details are appropriate for the reason that I have given—that they involve a statutory discrimination in favour of women. That runs contrary to the principle that has informed Government policy for many years—that persons should not be discriminated against because of their sex.

Mr. McFall

This useful debate has done the House proud—particularly as the Secretary of State and the Government have been strangely silent on the issue for far too long. If the debate has assisted the process of doing something regarding the position of women prisoners in Scotland, that is all the better. I thank the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) for his remarks in what has been a good debate. We are unconvinced by the Government's position. There is a gaping hole in the criminal justice system regarding women which has to be rectified, and we shall press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 292.

Division No. 44] [7.54 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Adams, Mrs Irene Campbell-Savours, D N
Ainger, Nick Canavan, Dennis
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cann, Jamie
Allen, Graham Chisholm, Malcolm
Alton, David Church, Ms Judith
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clapham, Michael
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ashdown, Paddy Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Ashton, Joseph Clelland, David
Austin-Walker, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Coffey, Ms Ann
Barnes, Harry Cohen, Harry
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Battle, John Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bayley, Hugh Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Corbett, Robin
Bell, Stuart Corbyn, Jeremy
Benn, Tony Corston, Ms Jean
Bennett, Andrew F Cousins, Jim
Benton, Joe Cox, Tom
Bermingham, Gerald Cummings, John
Berry, Roger Cunliffe, Lawrence
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Blair, Tony Cunningham, Dr John
Blunkett, David Cunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)
Boateng, Paul Dafis, Cynog
Boyes, Roland Dalyell, Tam
Bradley, Keith Darling, Alistair
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davidson, Ian
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Burden, Richard Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Byers, Stephen Denham, John
Caborn, Richard Dewar, Donald
Callaghan, Jim Dixon, Don
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dobson, Frank
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Donohoe, Brian H
Dowd, Jim Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Khabra, Piara S
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kilfoyle, Peter
Eastham, Ken Kirkwood, Archy
Ennis, Jeff Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Etherington, Bill Lewis, Terry
Evans, John (St Helens N) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Litherland, Robert
Fatchett, Derek Livingstone, Ken
Faulds, Andrew Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Llwyd, Elfyn
Fisher, Mark Loyden, Eddie
Flynn, Paul Lynne, Ms Liz
Foster, Derek McAllion, John
Foulkes, George McAvoy, Thomas
Fraser, John McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Macdonald, Calum
Galloway, George McFall, John
Gapes, Mike Mackinlay, Andrew
Garrett, John McLeish, Henry
George, Bruce Maclennan, Robert
Gerrard, Neil McMaster, Gordon
Gilbert, Dr John McNamara, Kevin
Godman, Dr Norman A MacShane, Denis
Godsiff, Roger McWilliam, John
Golding, Mrs Llin Madden, Max
Gordon, Ms Mildred Maddock, Mrs Diana
Graham, Thomas Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Mandelson, Peter
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Marek, Dr John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Grocott, Bruce Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gunnell, John Martlew, Eric
Hain, Peter Maxton, John
Hall, Mike Meacher, Michael
Hanson, David Meale, Alan
Hardy, Peter Michael, Alun
Harman, Ms Harriet Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Harvey, Nick Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Hattersley, Roy Milburn, Alan
Henderson, Doug Miller, Andrew
Heppell, John Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Rhodri
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morley, Elliot
Hoey, Kate Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbemauld) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Home Robertson, John Morris, John (Aberavon)
Hood, Jimmy Mowlam, Ms Marjorie
Hoon, Geoffrey Mudie, George
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Mullin, Chris
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Murphy, Paul
Howells, Dr Kim Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Hoyle, Doug Oakes, Gordon
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hughes, Robert (Ab'dn N) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) O'Hara, Edward
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Olner, Bill
Hutton, John O'Neill, Martin
Illsley, Eric Orme, Stanley
Ingram, Adam Parry, Robert
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd) Pearson, Ian
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough) Pendry, Tom
Jamieson, David Pickthall, Colin
Janner, Greville Pike, Peter L
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs) Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side) Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Radice, Giles
Jowell, Ms Tessa Randall, Stuart
Kaufman, Gerald Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Alan Reid, Dr John
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S) Rendel, David
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Rogers, Allan Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Rooker, Jeff Thurnham, Peter
Rooney, Terry Timms, Stephen
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tipping, Paddy
Rowlands, Ted Touhig, Don
Ruddock, Ms Joan Trickett, Jon
Salmond, Alex Turner, Dennis
Sedgemore, Brian Tyler, Paul
Sheerman, Barry Walker, Sir Harold
Sheldon, Robert Wallace, James
Shore, Peter Walley, Ms Joan
Short, Clare Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Simpson, Alan Wareing, Robert N
Skinner, Dennis Watson, Mike
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Welsh, Andrew
Smith, Chris (Islington S) Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Snape, Peter Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Soley, Clive Wilson, Brian
Spearing, Nigel Winnick, David
Spellar, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W) Worthington, Tony
Steel, Sir David Wray, Jimmy
Steinberg, Gerry Wright, Dr Tony
Stevenson, George Young, David (Bolton SE)
Stott, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Strang, Dr Gavin Mr. Greg Pope and
Straw, Jack Ms Angela Eagle.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Carrington, Matthew
Aitken, Jonathan Carttiss, Michael
Alexander, Richard Cash, William
Alison, Michael (Selby) Channon, Paul
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Chapman, Sir Sydney
Amess, David Churchill, Mr
Arbuthnot, James Clappison, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)
Ashby, David Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Robert Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Colvin, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Congdon, David
Baker, Sir Nicholas (N Dorset) Conway, Derek
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Cope, Sir John
Bates, Michael Cormack, Sir Patrick
Batiste, Spencer Couchman, James
Bellingham, Henry Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bendall, Vivian Curry, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Biffen, John Day, Stephen
Body, Sir Richard Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Devlin, Tim
Booth, Hartley Dicks, Terry
Boswell, Tim Dorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter (Ettham) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bowis, John Dover, Den
Boyson, Sir Rhodes Duncan, Alan
Brandreth, Gyles Duncan Smith, Iain
Brazier, Julian Dunn, Bob
Bright, Sir Graham Durant, Sir Anthony
Brooke, Peter Dykes, Hugh
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes) Elletson, Harold
Browning, Mrs Angela Emery, Sir Peter
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Burns, Simon Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Burt, Alistair Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Butler, Peter Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Butterfill, John Evennett, David
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Faber, David
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n) Fabricant, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lilley, Peter
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)
Fishburn, Dudley Lord, Michael
Forman, Nigel Luff, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stilling) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Forth, Eric MacGregor, John
Fowler, Sir Norman MacKay, Andrew
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Maclean, David
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
French, Douglas Madel, Sir David
Fry, Sir Peter Maitland, Lady Olga
Gale, Roger Major, John
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Gare-Jones, Tristan Mans, Keith
Garnier, Edward Marland, Paul
Gill, Christopher Marlow, Tony
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mellor, David
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Merchant, Piers
Gummer, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hague, William Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hamilton, Sir Archibald Moate, Sir Roger
Hampson, Dr Keith Molyneaux, Sir James
Hanley, Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hannam, Sir John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Andrew Needham, Richard
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Hawkins, Nick Newton, Tony
Hawksley, Warren Nicholls, Patrick
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Heathcoat-Amory, David Onslow, Sir Cranley
Hendry, Charles Oppenheim, Phillip
Heseltine, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Hicks, Sir Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Sir Terence Paice, James
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test) Patnick, Sir Irvine
Horam, John Patten, John
Hordem, Sir Peter Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Howard, Michael Pawsey, James
Howell, David (Guilf'd) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Pickles, Eric
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Porter, David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Portillo, Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunter, Andrew Rathbone, Tim
Hurd, Douglas Redwood, John
Jack, Michael Renton, Tim
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Richards, Rod
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N) Rifkind, Malcolm
Jessel, Toby Robathan, Andrew
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roberts, Sir Wyn
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Robert B (W Herts) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jopling, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rumbold, Dame Angela
Key, Robert Ryder, Richard
King, Tom Sackville, Tom
Kirkhope, Timothy Sainsbury, Sir Timothy
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Scott, Sir Nicholas
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shephard, Mrs Gillian
Knox, Sir David Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lang, Ian Shersby, Sir Michael
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sims, Sir Roger
Legg, Barry Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lidington, David Soames, Nicholas
Speed, Sir Keith Trend, Michael
Spencer, Sir Derek Trotter, Neville
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset) Twinn, Dr Ian
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spink, Dr Robert Viggers, Peter
Spring, Richard Waldegrave, William
Sproat, Iain Walden, George
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Stanley, Sir John Waller, Gary
Steen, Anthony Ward, John
Stephen, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stern, Michael Waterson, Nigel
Stewart, Allan Watts, John
Streeter, Gary Wells, Bowen
Sumberg, David Wheeler, Sir John
Sweeney, Walter Whitney, Sir Raymond
Sykes, John Whittingdale, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wilkinson, John
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Willetts, David
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wilshire, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Thomason, Roy Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V) Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Yeo, Tim
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Young, Sir George
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Sir Cyril (Bexl'yh'th) Tellers for the Noes:
Tracey, Richard Mr. Roger Knapman and
Tredinnick, David Mr. Sebastian Coe.

Question accordingly negatived.

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