HL Deb 18 December 1980 vol 415 cc1233-44

1.36 p.m.

Lord Belstead rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th December be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for not being present a few moments ago. This is the second occasion on which I have had the duty of asking the House to renew Part I of the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act and the third on which the House has had a chance to discuss the prison officers' action and its consequences. That action has now been continuing for 10 weeks, during which time we have made strenuous efforts to find a basis for a settlement which is not only fair to both sides but also looks to the future rather than to the past.

Your Lordships will recall that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has consistently emphasised that we have seen the solution to the dispute in the adoption of a new duty system for prison officers which will be common to all establishments and which will eliminate the anomalies which led to uneven rewards for staff in different establishments. The system devised by a joint group from the Prison Department and the Prison Officer's Association eliminates the built-in overtime inherent in the present system and is based on a change from a working week of 40 hours not including meal breaks to one of 42 hours including five hours for meal breaks. It may not sound like it, but this is an effective reduction of three hours.

If this new system proves acceptable, the change from net to gross hours' working will be introduced without abatement of basic pay. In recognition of this advantage, we have asked the Prison Officers' Association to return to normal working by no later than 20th December, not to pursue any claims for unscheduled meal breaks in respect of periods prior to 21st December 1980, and to agree in principle that the new duty system should be introduced by 1st April, 1981.

As part of the transitional arrangements to the new duty system, and wholly dependent on it having been introduced no later than 1st April, 1981, we have agreed, for those establishments which have not hitherto qualified for them, to make payments for meal breaks from 21st December, 1980 up to the introduction of the new scheme. We also propose, as part of a wider agreement with the Prison Officers' Association, to make other improvements, including a scheme for advances of pay for house purchase, a widening of the eligibility of staff entitled to quarters for relief of garage rental, and a simpler and more equitable basis for rent allowance. These proposals constitute a chance for prison officers to achieve a substantial improvement in their conditions of service. They also represent an opportunity to achieve one of the main improvements recommended by the May Committee: a new duty system, which will transform the management of prison establishments.

The House will know that the Prison Officers' Association has been discussing our proposals at its delegate conference, which took place the day before yesterday, yesterday and this morning. I am pleased that prison officers seem to have rejected escalation of their industrial action, but a decision remains to be made on whether there should be a suspension of the industrial action pending a final decision on the new duty system in January. I hope that this will now take place. However, there can be no guarantee that it will, or that all POA branches will comply. In these circumstances, we thought it best to ask the House for a renewal of the provisions of Part I of the Act. Moreover, it would be an unjustifiable risk to give up the emergency provisions before the industrial action is finally over. However, I shall indicate the action that we shall take in the event of its suspension.

If the prison officers decide not to call off their action, we shall be in contact with the Prison Officers' Association in the very near future to seek clarification of its position. Moreover, we shall have to consider very seriously what further steps may need to be taken to cope with what was at its outset, and remains, a campaign of disruption to the criminal justice system out of all proportion to the point at issue.

I wish, very briefly, to give your Lordships a situation report, as it were. Since the House last discussed the provisions of this order, the continuing refusal of the POA to receive large numbers of prisoners sentenced or remanded by the courts has resulted in a slow increase in the number of prisoners in police cells to about 3,700, and in Frankland Prison and Rollestone Camp to about 600 and 350 respectively. On behalf of the Government and, I am sure, the House I should like to thank both the police and the armed services personnel who have been assisting with the arrangements at Frankland and Rollestone for their considerable efforts since the dispute began.

The police have continued to cope extraordinarily well, but I must stress the difficulties which this additional duty causes them. It is not simply a question of numbers; it is also one of time. The longer the dispute continues, the greater the burden will be. The House will be aware that conditions in most police cells are unsatisfactory and that only limited facilities are available for prisoners. This is simply a result of the unsuitability of police cells for the prolonged detention of prisoners, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Arrangements for the care and custody of prisoners in police cells are a matter for individual chief officers of police and I know they are doing their best in difficult circumstances. In addition, liaison assistant governors in each police area—to whose work I wish to pay a particular tribute—have been assisting by visiting police stations where prisoners are held, dealing with inquiries and, where possible, arranging for essential equipment to be provided.

I fear it is unlikely that the transfer of prisoners from police cells, Frankland Prison and Rollestone camp to prisons could be completed before Christmas in all parts of the country, even if the POA action were suspended immediately. Once Frankland and Rollestone have been emptied they will hold no more prisoners, unless the prison officers' action were resumed. They will however be held in readiness until the action is finally ended. In the interim I am asking your Lordships' House to recognise the need for the continuation of Section 1 of the Act.

I should like specifically to refer to Section 2, after which I shall not refer specifically to any other sections; but this section has caused particular concern to your Lordships. Section 2 will also be needed while the prison officers' dispute continues. Should this action end while the continuance order is in force, it may be that remand prisoners can be produced for their remand hearing in the normal way, although, of course, Section 2 suspends the requirement to produce prisoners at the end of a period of remand in custody. In this event, we shall from the Home Office ask magistrates' courts to consider issuing directions under Section 2 for the production of all remand prisoners. We shall urge them to start doing this as soon as possible after the end of the dispute when the situation is back to normal. The situation may vary from one part of the country to another, but all those involved will be asked to keep in close touch on this matter so that remand hearings get back to normal at the earliest possible moment.

We have been in touch with a sample of some 50 courts to see how the operation of Section 2 of the Act has been working out in practice. I have written to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, about this matter, but perhaps I may refer to it if your Lordships wish to question me about it in a few moments' time.

I turn now to Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Act, which permit the Secretary of State to reduce the numbers in prison custody by authorising the release of unsentenced and unconvicted prisoners, by restricting the powers of the courts to imprison for the non-payment of money and by authorising the early release of prisoners up to six months from the date when they would otherwise have been released. My right honourable friend has made very clear his reluctance to use these powers and, so far, mainly owing to a fall in the prison population to about 41,000, it has not proved necessary. However, if the prison officers' action continues, there remains a possibility that we shall have to use these emergency powers, and I am therefore asking the House to renew them. However, I can undertake that, once the action has been comprehensively suspended or ended, we shall not use Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Act.

I hope that I have said enough to convince your Lordships that the Government are determined to bring this dispute to an end and that the offer that we have made is not only fair to the prison officers, but also a sound basis for the future of the whole prison service. However, we remain in a situation in which industrial action has not been suspended, and I am therefore asking your Lordships' House to approve the order. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th December be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

1.47 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I was not present at the beginning of the debate on this matter. The distinguished judges who took part in the earlier discussions, which clearly were expected to take much longer time, manifested the fact that lawyers do not really talk as much as they are alleged to do; though for us to say that speech is silver, but silence is golden, is not an obviously attractive proposition. I apologise for my absence at the beginning of the discussion, and in particular for the absence of my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who had undertaken the responsibility of dealing with this subject from this side of the House.

I was very glad to hear of the continuance of the negotiations, and of course the answer to the problems that we face today is a settlement of, and an end to, the industrial dispute. At all stages of the discussion of this matter we have emphasised that the proposed change in the duty system was the road ahead, and naturally we greatly hope that the efforts that are being made will result in an early conclusion. Concern about the ability of prisons to do their job undermines public confidence a great deal, and therefore we greatly trust that there will be an early settlement.

There are two main matters that are still of concern. The first relates to conditions in police cells. We recognise what was said in an issue of the Police Review: There is little doubt that police officers charged with the custody of prisoners for long periods go out of their way to make conditions as reasonable as possible". The Police Review has heard of many instances of prisoners being provided with radios, televisions, books, and papers on the sole initiative of police, and even of the wives of policemen volunteering to help with meals. These, of course, are splendid gestures on the part of the police, who have these added burdens and duties put upon them at a time when their principal wish and duty, indeed, should be directed to dealing with the continual increase in the volume of crime. I am sure they must find these additional burdens very frustrating.

However, the article went on to say: The conditions in many stations are appalling, and police do what they can to improve them, but tension inevitably increases when neither prisoners nor police can see an end to those conditions". If I may say so, it might not be unhelpful if the prison officers are reminded of what burdens are being put upon the police in this kind of situation by their industrial action; and, above all, of the additional pressures brought upon the prison population itself, which creates possibilities of very dangerous tensions.

On a matter of lesser importance, in our discussions on 27th November, when my noble friend Lord Donaldson raised the question of availability of books for prisoners, there was an indication from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that books and other activities are made available to prisoners where possible although the police are not able to provide them as a matter of course. I think my noble friend asked what the position was about the provision of amenities, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will deal with that in his reply. I am happy to see that my noble friend Lord Donaldson has now arrived, not unhappily in the nick of time—if "nick" is an appropriate word to use in the circumstances. But having fortunately secured the brief which was also delivered to him, I am not wholly helpless in this situation; only am I aware that the House will have missed so much his contribution, which he may well make a little later in the discussion.

On the more substantial question that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, raised—namely, Section 2 of the Act, dealing with remands in custody in the defendant's absence—of course I appreciated what he said, The moment this crisis is over there will be as quick a return to normality as possible. That, if I may say so, is the least that could be said, because the suspension of a defendant's right to appear in court during remand hearings is a very serious inroad into civil liberties, as we have said on more than one occasion.

In recognition of its importance, the Home Office circular of 31st October asked the courts to give serious consideration to the grant of legal aid at the first remand hearing, so that at subsequent hearings the court could consider representations on his behalf made by his legal representative. But concern has been expressed that in some cases access to prisoners is being denied to legal representatives, and that conditions for legal visits to police cells are unsatisfactory. There are also problems of access to prisoners by lawyers or probation officers when they have been moved to police stations or approved places some distance away. The National Association of Probation Officers has written to me, and no doubt to my noble friend as well, expressing concern that in such circumstances a defendant potentially suitable for a bail hostel may be unable to have an interview to establish his suitability.

We have been told that Home Office officials have made a number of inquiries of the courts to check how Section 2 is operating—I think the noble Lord referred to that—and that prisoners have "normally" been legally represented at remand hearings in their absence and the courts have "usually" made a direction for the production of a remand prisoner when requested to do so. About 50 courts have, as has been said, been asked to provide numerical data on the way Section 2 is working for the week from 6th to 12th December, and we shall be interested to know what the outcome of that may be. Perhaps the noble Lord dealt with that during the time I was not present.

Lord Belstead


Lord Elwyn-Jones

I am much obliged to the noble Lord. What we should really like to know is what the words "normally" and "usually" mean in the context that I am discussing. Do they mean that these arrangements are working in all but 1 per cent. of cases or, say, in a much larger percentage? And if they are not working in a substantial number of cases—and even 5 per cent. would be a large number in this field—perhaps the Government will take steps to reinforce circular instruction by asking courts to require defendants to be returned to court in all cases where a legal representative is requested or where the defendant is not legally represented. In cases where, at a lawyer's request, prisoners have been produced in court from penal establishments I should like to know whether the establishments normally take them back, or whether industrial action extends to refusing that. If the answer is "Yes", why, I ask, should the courts not be told to require any defendant who has been remanded in custody for four weeks to be brought back?

The conclusions that we on this side of the House have come to on the general question is that it is right that the House should approve of this further extension of the Act for a period of one month beginning with 29th December. We all greatly hope that this will be the last occasion when this power will be sought, and that we shall have a solution of this matter, if possible before Christmas.

1.57 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I think most of us would agree that in this dispute the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary has been faced with a very dangerous situation indeed, particularly, if I may say so, in the local prisons, where this problem has been felt most seriously. The Prison Officers' Association have raised the range of issues which are now the basis of the current dispute as a result of the fact that they did not succeed when they put precisely the same arguments to a committee of inquiry presided over by Mr. Justice May. I think that we have a rather unfortunate habit in this country now of rejecting the umpire's decision, and I think that if the umpire's decision had been accepted in this particular case this wretched business would never have been undertaken in the first instance. Nevertheless, they rejected it, which I think was particularly unfortunate.

The May Committee was, as the House will recall, a committee set up by a Labour Government, presided over by this particularly distinguished High Court judge and consisting of many eminent people in public life, including many with wide experience of the criminal justice system, and including, too, a senior trade unionist. However, the Prison Officers' Association did not succeed in their objective. In that situation they decided to use their industrial muscle to win their way by taking steps to refuse to admit unconvicted prisoners into Prison Department establishments, and to take a number of other steps which were deliberately designed to have the maximum effect in impeding the working of the criminal justice system in this country.

I am glad to say that their efforts have largely failed, though the pressures on an already overstretched system have of course been intensified, quite inevitably. They have failed because the courts have very sensibly remanded more defendants on bail and because the police themselves have given police bail to a number of people to whom, in normal circumstances, they would not have given it.

I am bound to say in passing, that I hope that, once the present crisis is over, these very satisfactory developments will continue, because anyone with experience of these matters knows that in recent years we have continued to remand in custody far too many people—often, in my judgment, quite unnecessarily. But there are other reasons why the actions of the Prison Officers' Association have not achieved their objectives. First, I think, because of the admirable contingency plans worked out by the police.

Once again, I think it is right to say in this House what an enormous debt of gratitude we owe to the police, who, in addition to all their other heavy and pressing responsibilities, have had to take on the altogether new task of holding hundreds of fairly long-term remand prisoners. I have had the opportunity in recent weeks of seeing something of their work and I can tell the House on the basis of what I have seen that the work that is being carried out by police officers who have volunteered for these duties is being carried out with efficiency but also with a great deal of kindness to those who have been placed in their charge—sometimes in conditions which are not otherwise particularly satisfactory. My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones pointed this out; and I agree with him. But my noble and learned friend will also agree with me that conditions in local prisons are not particularly satisfactory, either.

I move to the second point: why I do not believe that the present industrial action has met with the degree of success that some of those most enthusiastically for it believed would follow. That is because of the admirable work done by the governor grades of the Prison Service. Assistant governors, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has reminded the House, have been working in the closest co-operation with chief officers of police and have discharged their jobs magnificently. It is one of the many reasons why the problems of many prisoners in police custody have been handled with such speed and such compassion. It is necessary to emphasise this, because one point which is not altogether commonly understood is this: assistant governors are certainly not among the highest-paid public servants in this country. Many of them receive a great deal less at the end of a working week than do the members of the POA who are at the moment taking industrial action. Nevertheless, with their high sense of public duty, they have carried on their responsibilities extremely well in the public service and I think, again, that it is right on an occasion like this to express our gratitude, and that of the wider public for the work that they have done.

Thirdly, I think we should express our thanks to the Army. I do not expect that the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence expressed unqualified enthusiasm when he was approached by the Home Office (as, at some stage, no doubt, he was) and asked to supply servicemen at Frankland Prison and Rollestone Camp. He has many other responsibilities. He has a major responsibility in Northern Ireland and a major responsibility as far as the defence of Western Europe is concerned. A number of servicemen have had to be used in these two new establishments; but I think that the Army did their job well. I think, again, that the House would be anxious to express its warm thanks to the Royal Corps of Military Police and to the other service units which have been brought in to reinforce them at these establishments.

Lastly, I think that I should like to say this about the right honourable genetleman the Home Secretary. It is, from my experience as a junior Minister in that Department a lonely position, particularly at a time of crisis—and certainly one could not describe the present situation in the prisons in any terms less dramatic than that. A Home Secretary cannot share many of his anxieties with his colleagues. It is he who has to carry the principal responsibility for maintaining the Queen's peace. I believe that the right honourable gentlemen the Home Secretary has handled the present dispute with the combination of good humour, moderation and firmness that is his political style. No man could, in my judgment, have done more to bring this miserable dispute to an end. I believe that, on a day like this, it is appropriate for this House to express its firmest support for the stand taken by the Home Secretary.

My Lords, the present dispute is not of the present Government's making. It has been rumbling on, as I know from my own experience, for many years past. When I was Minister of State at the Home Office, we recognised that a dispute of the present character was highly likely. With a number of my colleagues, I began to make contingency plans involving the use of both the police and the Army and, if I may say so, the use of temporary prisons. Nothing, therefore, would be more hypocritical than to pretend that the present Home Secretary bears personally any measure of significant responsibility for the dimensions of the present crisis in the prisons. He does not. What he has done, and I think has done rightly, is to refuse to panic and he has insisted that he will not surrender to demands which in his judgment, are both unfair and wholly unreasonable.

Anybody who has had (as I had) responsibility for the prison service will know that it is right to say also on a day such as this that prison officers do a difficult job on behalf of the entire community. Many do it exceptionally well. Many have a very high sense of public duty too. Many of them, even if there had been a different consequence to the decision of the conference yesterday, would I think have been extremely reluctant to take strike action. Having said that, I very much hope that they will now accept the very reasonable proposals which have been put to them by the Home Office, proposals which would eliminate many of the anomalies created by the existing system. Under these new proposals—indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has reminded us today of what they were—the new working week would be of some 42 hours, including five hours' meal breaks, and this would, in effect, be a reduction in the working week of three hours. No one, I think, could possibly pretend that a proposal of that kind is other than generous. I hope that it will be accepted.

I hope also that prison officers will turn their faces against some of the disruptive actions which they have organised so regularly in recent years, when workshops have been closed, educational courses cancelled and for months civilian staff have been denied entry to individual Prison Department establishments. In one case members of a local review committee were denied entry to a prison department establishment. In one or two cases there has been a seeming indifference to the fact that life has been made intolerable for many inmates. There is no point in assuming that we can maintain tranquillity in our prisons if, in a number of them, steps are taken by some—I repeat "some"—members of staff to lower the already poor quality of life experienced by inmates, many of whom are living three to a cell. I hope also that, following the present dispute, a sustained attempt will be made to eliminate some of the pointless restrictive practices, to some of which was drawn attention in the report of the committee headed by Mr. Justice May.

Mr. Jenkins, when Home Secretary, succeeded in abolishing censorship of prisoners' correspondence in category D prisons: namely, open prisons. But it continues—wholly unnecessarily I may say—in category C prisons. I remember the meeting well as a Minister in a Labour Government when we were told by the Prison Officers' Association that if in fact we insisted on censorship of prisoners' mail not continuing there (which no one thought was even remotely necessary) there would inevitably be industrial action taken against us. I repeat that there is no serious security argument for censorship in category C prisons. It continues because the local branches of the Prison Officers' Association will not agree to its abolition, thus ensuring that this country is consistently hauled before the European Commission on Human Rights to defend policies for which they know perfectly well there is no justification whatsoever. That is the situation which was experienced by Ministers in a Labour Government, and I suspect that it continues in exactly the same way at the present time.

It may be that it is too much to hope that all these problems can be resolved by the time the present dispute is brought to an end. But I hope that when it does end that we shall be able to develop within the prison service a new mood of friendship and collaboration. We all know that it is going to face the most forbidding problems in the years ahead. If we are to overcome them, we shall need a new atmosphere of trust between the service and the Home Office.

I believe that, consequent upon the report of the committee of inquiry headed by Mr. Justice May, the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary has taken a number of important steps to strengthen the Prison Department. I believe that he has moved into the Prison Department some of the most able middle-ranking officials existing within the Home Office. That is excellent news for all concerned. I believe that there is a new mood of openness and frankness in its day-to-day operations I hope that the Prison Officers' Association will now seize this opportunity and to everything it can to establish more civilised relations with the department.

In the meantime, I think that all it is appropriate to add today is that I believe the Home Secretary has the overwhelming support of this House in the formidable problems he is now facing. There should I believe be no more pressure on the right honourable gentleman to make still further concessions. What he has offered the Prison Officers' Association is, in my view, both fair and reasonable. It is time for the Prison Officers' Association to behave with equal reasonableness and moderation. I believe that the case for renewal of this order is overwhelming.

2.7 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, may I have two minutes of your Lordships' time to apologise most humbly to the Minister that I missed his speech and to the House for my discourtesy in not being here. The reasons are obvious: the traffic blocks were incredible. I wish to say two things. The first is that I want to support my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich in his tribute to the Army and, particularly, to the police and the governor grades of the prison service. I discussed with the chief probation officer how things, including Frankland, the new prison, are going. They seem to be going extremely well, and there is very high praise for the police from all sides.

The only other thing I wanted to say is that my noble friend who so kindly bore the cross which I should have been bearing referred to the inquiry made by the noble Minister. The noble Minister has written to me with the answers, and I think that the House would very much like to hear them. With those few words, I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

2.14 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if I may just reply to the speeches which have been made on this order, may I thank noble Lords for the support which they have given at this difficult time for the continuation, reluctantly, of this order? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, was good enough to make this quite clear among his other remarks, and I shall try to reply to his other points quite briefly.

If I may say so, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made two very important points at the beginning of his remarks. The first was that the May Committee on the Future of the Prison Service had decided against what is known as "Claim 16", which is a claim for retrospective payment for meal breaks and which forms the basis of the dispute which we are now in. The second point made by the noble Lord was that the industrial action which has resulted from this has created very great disruption of the criminal justice system, taking that expression at its widest.

It is for those reasons the Government believed that clearly a solution must be found to this very difficult problem. But the way was to look forward and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has consistently said he felt that the thing to do was to work out a new duty system. The offer which we made was made some two weeks ago and I was most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for saying that he felt that this was the right way forward. I am also most grateful for the generous words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in respect of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and also in respect of the Director-General and members of the prison department of the Home Office.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, made the point that the heavy use of police cells in this dispute is laying very heavy burdens upon the police. If I may just add to those words, it is doing something else as well; it is diverting the police from their proper duty, which is the prevention and detection of crime.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether I could add to what I had sought to say before to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, about amenities in police cells. I am sorry; there is very little that I can add to the quite full reply I tried to give last time, except to say this. We are, of course, approaching Christmas and I know that as a result of the dispute there are almost certain now to be prisoners in police cells. Any special arrangements over this particular period are a matter for individual chief officers of police, but I know myself that chief officers both in the metropolis and also throughout the country will be doing their best, through their officers, to see that the Christmas period is at least marked in some way for those who are in their custody and care.

The noble and learned Lord asked about access to prisoners and, specifically, about access so far as lawyers are concerned. Prison rule No. 37 provides that a prisoner who is a party to legal proceedings may be intreviewed by his legal adviser in connection with those proceedings out of the hearing of the officer who is supervising his visit. We have always made it clear from the Home Office that prisoners detained during this time in police custody as a result of the present industrial action should be treated as far as is practicable in accordance with the prison regulations The police fully understand that the confidentiality of the solicitor-client relationship expressed in Rule 37 should be respected.

We have received only one complaint in this respect since the present dispute began and the firm of solicitors who made it has been advised to supply details of the complaint to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, to whose force it is related, so that they may be investigated.

The noble and learned Lord asked me also about the working of Section 2. The noble and learned Lord asked me whether prisoners, once they have been produced and taken to court, are taken back to prison establishments. It is a little difficult to give a direct answer, for this reason. As I think the whole House realises, this was one of the fundamental troubles at the beginning of this dispute. Prisoners were indeed being produced, but they were never being taken back into prison. There they were, as it were, in the community but in the custody of the court, and they had to be put somewhere. That is why the police cells had to be started to be used in the way they were, and that is why, first, Frankland Prison and then Rollestone camp were opened.

Since then—I must be absolutely straight about this—the Prison Officers' Association have been as good as their word, when they said that when the numbers fell in the establishments below the certified normal accommodation they would then begin taking prisoners in. They have, indeed, been doing this around the country. But the difficulty that I am in, in answering the noble and learned Lord's question, is that as soon as an establishment has come up to what we call the CNA, the gates have again, metaphorically, been shut. Therefore, it is not possible for me to answer whether a particular prisoner in a particular case produced to a particular court is at all able to get back into the establishment.

As regards the details for which the noble and learned Lord asked me about the working of Section 2, about which I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, from the Home Office we took a sample from 50 courts around the country to try to find out how Section 2 is working. The 50 courts involved in the study deal with approximately one-quarter of all criminal proceedings in England and Wales. In the week of the study, which was 6th to 12th December, 377 requests were made to the 50 courts for a direction under Section 2 for the appearance of the defendant. Of these, six were refused and I am told that the reason for the refusals was that the next hearing would again be a remand hearing, and that the court took the view in each case that the question of bail had already been fully considered.

The 50 courts also remanded in the same week 345 defendants in custody, in their absence. Twenty-three of these were unrepresented, and I am told this was either because the defendants did not wish to be represented, or because their legal representatives did not appear in court. A larger number of defendants, 394, appeared in person as a result of a direction under Section 2, after a period of remand in custody. I recognise that these figures are for a limited period only, but they confirm our earlier inquiries. I remember that I said to the House that we felt Section 2 was working reasonably well. I hope that, from the information I have given, your Lordships may feel that these statistics are reasonably reassuring about the way that Section 2 of the Act is operating in the courts.

I think that that is all I can do to answer the questions which your Lordships have asked me. Regrettably, I have advice that the Prison Officers' Association have rejected the offer which the Home Office has put to them. There is no doubt that we continue, therefore, to need the provisions of the Act and I ask your Lordships whether you will again agree to the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.