HC Deb 23 February 2004 vol 418 c11
9. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

How many prisoners are being held in police cells. [155752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department(Caroline Flint)

As at 22 February 2004, there are no prisoners held in police cells under Operation Safeguard and no prisoners held overnight as lock-outs.

Gregory Barker

Can the Minister ensure that when prisoners are held in police cells, as they have been in the past, they are in the care of police officers who have been properly trained in looking after prisoners, especially the vulnerable and those on suicide watch? We cannot rule out the possibility of prisoners being held in police cells again.

Caroline Flint

Operation Safeguard is an arrangement between the Prison Service and the police. Senior police officers and senior Prison Service representatives must ensure that, as far as possible, provision is adequate, and that includes training. Fortunately, Operation Safeguard has not been used since 20 December 2002.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

The Minister is being disingenuous. Because of the rapid rise in the jail population, the Prison Service is in crisis, and—according to the service—there are only 600 places left. The Minister says that Operation Safeguard was last used in 2002, but it cost the taxpayer more than £10 million. Each place cost £363 a night, which is more than three times the cost of a high-security prison place or a de luxe room at Claridge's. Will the Minister confirm that several police forces are now on standby to reintroduce Operation Safeguard to save the Home Office's bacon? Who will pay for this crisis? Will it be paid for by the Home Office or by hard-pressed police budgets?

Caroline Flint

We are dealing with the issue of capacity in the Prison Service by providing 3,000 more places and building two more prisons that will provide 1,290 places. We constantly review the management of prison places, but we must also think of the future. The national offender management system will offer a scheme providing more places for serious, violent and dangerous offenders, as well as using other forms of sentence, such as community sentences, to deal with short-term prisoners.

The hon. Lady talks about more resources. The shadow Chancellor's standstill Budget would mean a loss of £669 million to the Home Office. Just how would the Opposition pay for the Prison Service—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Dismore.