HL Deb 24 June 1980 vol 410 cc1533-88

5.28 p.m.

Lord HUTCHINSON of LULLINGTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what immediate steps are being taken to meet the severe criticism in the May Report of the conditions under which persons on remand are kept and the length of time they remain untried in HM Prisons. The noble Lord said: My Lords, The Question I raise with the Government concerns that aspect of the administration of the prisons which covers the untried and unconvicted person kept in prison before trial, and I raise it in a wholly constructive and practical spirit as a problem demanding strong political action now against a background of grave crisis in the administration of Her Majesty's prisons. That gravity cannot be over-emphasised; the crisis that so many of us prophesied for so long is now here.

Ten years ago The Times—I have a copy of it with me—published a first leader of three columns on this question, the first sentence of which read: The overcrowding in British prisons has become both an affront to human dignity and a threat to the efficiency of the penal system".

Lord Mountbatten, in his report in 1966, referred to the prisons as being grossly overcrowded, and on 31st March of this year the prison governors, in an unprecedented public outburst, warned the Secretary of State that the current overcrowding of the prisons was threatening the collapse of the whole prison system".

The May Inquiry was set up because of industrial unrest in the prisons among, those admirable and hard-pressed staff the prison officers, caused, as the May Report found, by the conditions in which the staff and prisoners live and work.

The prison population must be reduced, as a matter or urgency, and the first question that I put to the Minister is: is it not now inescapably clear that it is in this area—men and women, presumed innocent, who are swelling the numbers locked up in prisons—that an immediate programme could be devised and implemented? That programme could be intended, first, to reduce the total prison population; secondly, to free the overwhelmingly hard-pressed prison officers employed on massive escort duties, so that they can do the essential work that they have to do in the prisons; and, thirdly, to end the shocking conditions in which such prisoners are kept.

It is gratifying to see how many of your Lordships have survived the series of late-night frustrations and are to participate in the debate. Many of your Lordships know more than I do about penology and about the corridors of power, but few perhaps have had a more intimate connection with prisoners on remand than I have had in 30 years of professional practice.

The May Report castigates as a scandal the conditions in which many remand prisoners are kept, and I know that this is true The report says, in relation to the locking up of remand prisoners for the greater part of every day: No prison routine is so sterile, degrading and harmful to the prisoner and barren to the staff".

and that I also know to be true.

When governors speak of the collapse of the system, and a distinguished High Court judge speaks of scandal and degradation, I ask whether this Government, like their predecessors, are to sit back yet again and wring their hands? These are the phrases which have caused me to put down this Question: why, I ask, after 10 years or more of incessant warnings, is the position today as bad as it ever was?

We are proud of our legal system, and I am proud to be part of it, but I am ashamed of, and in my submission the country is disgraced by, our treatment of unconvicted prisoners, for whom, after ail, that system partially exists. There is no doubt that, by the standards laid down in the European minimum rules, this country stands condemned before ever someone takes a case to the European Court.

What then are the facts of the unacceptable face of the remand in custody situation? First, out of the crisis prison population of 43,400 people, 6,500, or 14 per cent., are on remand, and, of women in custody, over 20 per cent. are on remand. Secondly, whereas the daily population of prisoners has increased two and a half times since 1948, the population of remand prisoners has increased four times—the highest rate of increase of all groups, save those who are sent to detention centres.

Thirdly, within those huge numbers, no fewer than 44 per cent. of those imprisoned on remand ultimately receive no custodial sentence, or are acquitted. Of course a proportion of these people might be treated leniently because they appear before a judge who takes into account the fact that they have already served a sentence of imprisonment while waiting for trial; but that statistic remains an inescapable indictment of the system which is being pursued.

Each person remanded in custody costs the taxpayer a minimum of £112 a week, plus in many cases the social security payments made to the family of a prisoner. The human cost is of course as great, if not as quantifiable: the disruption of families; the loss of jobs; the eviction from premises; the trauma of months of incarceration before coming to trial; the plain waste of money, and the injustice involved—the cost usually falling on the legal aid fund—in regard to lawyers travelling to prisons, booking scarce interview times, obtaining instructions from clients in impossible circumstances, seeking witnesses, and so on. The reforms that I shall suggest to the Minister in a few moments would entail a transfer of cost rather than new expenditure.

In Brixton prison in February of this year 1,050 men were held on remand in accommodation certified for 690. Seven hundred and fifty of those men were sharing accommodation, two or three to a cell which, as your Lordships well know, was built in the 19th century for only one prisoner. Apart from meal times, half an hour's exercise, and slopping out, these prisoners remain in their cells throughout the 24 hours, always from 5.30 in the evening to seven in the morning. Privileges cannot be granted to them as they should be, for one reason only: lack of staff.

The lack of integral sanitation in a Victorian local prison, such as most of these remand prisoners go to, is described in the May Report as "intolerable and unacceptable", and the report goes on to say that the prison officers, who are not responsible for these conditions, bear the brunt of the abuse and the aggression that result from this situation. Remand prisoners, says May, suffer the worst accommodation, when arguably they should have the best. "Arguably", my Lords! These people are the unconvicted and the untried, and all prison governors would agree—and do agree, when one talks to them—that the worst conditions are those which are suffered by remand prisoners. Why?—because one could not administer those conditions for prisoners who have actually been sentenced. Is it not really incredible that the untried should be faced with conditions which are unacceptable for the convicted?

I should like to say a few words about the prison officers. These men, and women, whom I have with admiration watched at work throughout my pro- fessional life, cannot continue much longer in the wholly unacceptable, degrading, and uncivilised conditions of the local prisons. In 1976—and these facts, amazing as they may seem, come from the May Report—2 million man-hours were spent on escort duties, manning docks, waiting around for automatic 8-day remands, sitting all day either in the dock with prisoners, or below the dock waiting for them to come down, travelling around the country in black marias and converted coaches, involving 806,000 hours of overtime.

Every day buses and black marias set off from Lewes Prison to London with prisoners who are to appear in London magistrates' courts. The prisoners are delivered to a central point at Lambeth. They are later collected and then trundled back to Lewes, where they live in the conditions that I have described. From Brixton they trundle to Chelmsford and Southend, making the circuit, setting off in the early hours of the morning, and trundling back in the evening. This merry-go-round goes round and round, with trained prison officers doing this pointless and unrewarding work.

The Home Office estimate to the May Committee was that the total costs of escorts this year would amount to no less than £11 million. It went on to say: If only one prison officer less per day at only 50 Crown Court centres could be saved, the financial saving could not be less than £320,000 in the year";

with the result, my Lords, that 1,000 prisoners on remand could be working, if they wished to, rather than sitting rotting in these cells. I would say to the noble Lord the Minister that if this Government mean what they say in relation to cutting out waste, if they believe in efficiency, then in my submission there are huge savings to be made in this area. It is entirely unnecessary to have officers sitting in docks in the great majority of cases; it is entirely unnecessary for so many prison officers to be involved in ferrying inadequates and petty criminals around the country. Much escort work surely could be done by security firms or by the police.

But the obstacle to efficiency and rationalisation in this area, so one understands, is that prison officers at present depend on those 800,000 hours of overtime to bump up their remuneration, and because of that one fact hundreds and hundreds of untried and unconvicted men and women in this country are locked up in their cells for 20 hours a day because there is an insufficient number of staff to allow them the perfectly acceptable condition of freedom of association. They are, to use the jargon, "banged up", not for any security reason, as any governor of a prison will tell you, but simply for reasons of organisation. In my submission to your Lordships, that is a scandal, and I would ask the Minister what the Government intend to do about it.

That, my Lords, is the first scandal. The second scandal is the law's delays. Your Lordships have often heard of the time spent by persons in custody awaiting trial before their cases are reached. The national average at the moment is something like 11 to 12 weeks. In London, it is 19 weeks. At the Central Criminal Court, 29 weeks is the average for a plea of guilty, 34 weeks is the average for a plea of not guilty; and, as the administrator at the Central Criminal Court assesses the situation, it will take at least nine months to clear the backlog of cases at that court at this time.

This is surely mainly an organisational question. With the greatest of respect to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, the building of extra courts with continually less efficient judges to man them is surely not the answer. The answer must be that it is a question of effort, of the use of judge-time, of the listing of cases and the exercise of professional skills by lawyers in an efficient and conscientious way. But the fundamental problem is the number of custody remands, which imposes a straitjacket of security across the board, when, as the May Report concedes, only a small proportion of defendants provide a security risk. I ask the Minister: has the time not come for some form of sanction to force the trial of those held in custody within a set number of days?

I now turn briefly to the remedies which I would suggest, and I start with the matter of bail. Are the Government satisfied that too much use is being made of the power to remand in custody and that too little attention, perhaps, is being paid to the provisions of the Bail Act? It is, is it not, my Lords, an awesome power to commit a fellow citizen to prison without trial and without any finding of guilt? This power entitles courts to send such people to institutions that cannot properly absorb them. Nowhere else in a civilised society is that power given. Doctors are not given the power to send people to hospitals where there are no beds. But that is the situation in relation to the power to remand in custody. I ask the Minister again: has the time not come, perhaps, when prisons and remand centres should notify courts of their available capacity, and when the courts should be rationed as to the number of custody remands?

Since the Bail Act, the daily population of remand prisoners, having first gone down, has risen annually, and now nearly 20 per cent. of all committals for trials are in custody. No effort, says May, should be spared to minimuse custodial remands. I ask the Minister: what efforts are not being spared at the moment? Have the Government got the Home Office figures showing the percentage of those granted bail who in fact abscond or commit further offences? These are vital figures which we have never had published, if they exist. If the percentage is small, then greater risks must surely be taken in a time of acute emergency.

Just recently, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has produced figures in relation to persons arrested for robbery in London. He says that 23 per cent. were on bail. For some mysterious reason, in his statistics robbery includes assaults, damage, being a suspected person and the theft of cars. But one wonders whether this is a helpful statistic, because, of course, there is all the difference in the world between arrests and convictions. My own experience, if I may say so, is that in magistrates' courts and before Crown Court judges far too much use of remand in custody is made: first, because of the lack of information as to the defendant's community ties; secondly, because of the lack of suitable bail hostels; thirdly, because of the absence of legal representation; and, fourthly, I regret to say that such remands are often made for punitive reasons. "It will not do him any harm to see the inside of a prison", is a phrase one has heard; and courts often use requests for medical and social reports which could perfectly well be obtained when on bail as an excuse for remanding persons in custody. Of course, a remand in custody can enable a judge to pass a non-custodial sentence, and so save a prison sentence appearing on a man's record. If genuine, this is acceptable, but if not it is an abuse, and I am afraid it is often perpetrated. In my submission, there is here an educative job to be done.

I would ask the Government to consider certain areas in the granting of bail: first, to make legal aid available for applications to a judge in chambers; secondly, to ensure in every major magistrates' court a duty solicitor system; thirdly, in Crown Courts, at every important complex, to ensure that a judge is available in chambers to deal with appeals from magistrates' refusals to grant bail after committal. Further, I ask the Government to consider perhaps setting up a bail court near local prisons such as Brixton or the Ashford Remand Centre, which could save hours of escort time and avoid the necessity, if there was a duty prosecuting solicitor, of police officers attending in every case. I would ask the Minister whether he would consider an amendment of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, Section 105, which requires that no remand before committal should be longer than eight days—a provision which had excellent historical justification but which now, with legal aid, could surely be relaxed unless the defence wish to make a bona fide application in the presence of a defendant. Lastly, would the Government consider giving Crown Court judges the power to grant bail pending an appeal?

So far as delays are concerned, I mentioned sanctions. In Scotland, of course, there is the 110-day rule, with acquittal following if the trial is not started in that period of time. I think that might be too draconian in England and Wales, having regard to the courts and judicial resources, but I would suggest a mandatory review of every case, say, after eight weeks, with a necessary grant of bail if not brought to trial during the period. In addition to that, there are a number of sanctions which could be applied over the whole prosecution process, both to prosecution and defence, at varying stages of the case coming on for trial: the service of documents, the drafting of the indictment, the pre-trial review. All these stages could have target dates set, with sanctions of pay- ment of costs or the granting of bail which would bring a sense of urgency and order into the whole process.

Finally, I would refer to the treatment of the untried prisoner in custody. Apart from the dangerous and the violent and those held for really serious crime, the great majority of those remanded in custody have no need of the major security of a local prison. Bail hostels have shown the way. There are only a pitiful 250 places in them at the present time. Why not a crash programme to increase them? Why not make lodgings available, with financial incentives? Why not take over large, empty premises, give them a reduced form of security and create remand centres as originally envisaged in the 1948 Act? Only one remand centre has been created for adults in 30 years. It is at Risley, where 950 persons share accommodation designed for 650. The building is falling down and the whole concept there is a disaster.

Why not staff these centres with prison officers in civilian clothes and so enable some of them to get out of the hell of the conditions in these Victorian prisons? Why not use some of the six open prisons which have recently been closed, or hutted camps, for this purpose? There is no need for a large percentage of these persons remanded in custody to have the security, the blanket security, the black marias, the procedures of going into prison and so on which have to be followed whether the accused is an inadequate or whether he is a bank robber.

That really is all I have to say on this subject in introducing this debate and asking this Question. There remains in this country, in my submission, one outstanding social scandal and that is the conditions in our local prisons. The worst conditions in those prisons are those to which the untried and the unconvicted are subjected. This scandal has gone on too long. Now the inevitable revolt is upon us. I ask the Minister, who, if I may say so, has shown much concern and much determination in his department, whether he will give the House now some promise of hard action rather than the soothing syrup of a departmental brief.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will want to express its gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, for raising in such a powerful way this sombre problem. It is a problem which has become more sombre as the years have gone by, because the increasing number of people in prison has itself added to the difficulties. The increasing congestion in our courts has added to the length of time those people have to remain in prison, and although your Lordships' House has debated this and associated problems on previous occasions I think it is right that it should be raised again now when the situation has become even worse. I will endeavour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, in making some, in my case, very small constructive suggestions as to how these problems can be ameliorated in some way.

The conditions in our remand prisons need, perhaps, very little further comment. The noble Lord has said it all: the squalor, the overcrowding, the confinement in cells, the lack of any form of privileges—all for people who have not been tried and who are assumed, by our law, to be innocent. Perhaps there is really no more to be said about the actual conditions. They are a disgrace, and anyone who has ever been to Brixton Prison or to one of the local prisons to see a remand prisoner is fully aware of the appalling conditions that they have to face.

That is easy to say. What is very much less easy to say, I find, is what is to be done about it. One can say that quite obviously it is time there were new prisons built to replace the mid-Victorian monstrosities that we have. One can say that there must be far more bail hostels than there are. There is scope for a very large number to be brought into existence. One can say that remand centres are needed, particularly for juveniles, so that they should not have to be sent to adult prisons. One can make all those suggestions without difficulty, but one has to be realistic and to face up to the fact that they cost money. Perhaps it is not very helpful, at a time when the Government have made it perfectly clear that they regard any increase in public expenditure as wholly unjustified, when they have had to take the measures that they have done, for example, in the recent Social Security Bills which were before your Lordships' House, to suggest that this Government, in the present economic climate, are likely to consider favourably large capital expenditures of the sort that everyone would recognise would form one of the ideal ways of solving the problems that face us. So I put that out of my mind.

Let me go on to see what can be done within existing resources. I have listened with the greatest interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said towards the end of his speech as to possible ways of converting existing accommodation inexpensively to provide some of these much-needed facilities. Can I go on from there to look at the question of whether it is possible to reduce the pressure inside our prisons in one way or another? I think it is, perhaps only to a small extent; but every little extent helps in dealing with this matter. First of all, we ought to look very seriously at whether there are not categories of convicted prisoners who ought not to be in the prisons at all. If we can get rid of some of those we can, at least to some extent, improve the lot of the remand prisoners and to some extent make prison staff available to give them the attention that they deserve.

There is, I think, scope for looking to see whether we really ought to send to prison all the drunks, all the prostitutes, all the mentally sick and all those who are in arrears for paying fines, and whether there is not scope there for reducing the pressure to some small extent. I say "to some small extent", because, again, one must recognise that it is easy to say that drunks should not be sent to prison; it is easy to say that detoxication centres should be built. But that costs money. It is easy to say that the mentally sick should not be sent to prison. Of course they should not, but in many cases there is a desperate shortage of secure places in mental hospitals and that, again, costs money. But I believe that some small improvement could perhaps be made in not sending to prison a certain number of people who might perhaps be dealt with outside prison, particularly those in the categories that I have indicated.

One can add, too, that persuasion should be continued upon the judiciary not to send people to prison if it is remotely possible to take another course. Having said that, I doubt whether there is very much scope in fact for substantial improve- ment in that respect. I know of very few courts these days that send anybody to prison if any other course is remotely practicable. There is therefore some opening, a little opening, for reducing the number of convicted persons who are sent to prison and therefore for making a little more accommodation available, and perhaps a little more civilised conditions available, to those remanded in custody.

The second approach is to see whether fewer people could be remanded in custody. This again is an issue where it is easy to say that far too many people at this moment are refused bail. But the problems are very real. At the time the Bail Act was introduced, I ventured to say that I thought that it would make no difference to the existing practice so far as good judges were concerned. I do not believe that it has made very much difference to the existing practice. Judges on the whole are still granting bail where they would have granted it before the Act came into force and are refusing it where they would have refused it hitherto. But there may have been a marginal shift in some courts towards granting bail a little more freely.

When it is suggested that bail could be granted very much more freely than it is at the moment, I sympathise with that as an emotion; but I think there are difficulties. There are two schools of thought at the moment. There are those who say that too few people are remanded in custody—and one saw the statement by the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police the other day. There is no doubt that this has been said for years; there was nothing original in his statement. A substantial number of people who are released on bail commit further offences. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, is right when he says that some of those arrested for committing further offences may be acquitted. But a substantial number of them, we know from experience, are not acquitted. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, is right when he says that perhaps the Commissioner did not entirely do himself justice by including in the definition of "robbery", offences that none of us in the ordinary way would regard in that light. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, must have come across many cases (as I have done) in the courts where people have been released on bail having had substantial criminal records, having had substantial opposition from the police to their release on bail and having subsequently committed serious criminal offences.

It is a desperately difficult problem, and it is made no easier by the fact that in refusing bail on the ground that there will be a repetition of the offence, it has always seemed to me that a court is subconsciously trying a person and finding him guilty of the offence for which they are refusing him bail. But there is a real difficulty about granting bail much more freely than is done at the moment. Of course, it is outrageous that there should be the instances that there have been of people being remanded in custody for long periods. There was the case in this morning's The Times of a man who had been in custody for 600 days and finally acquitted. He has no right of compensation from anybody for what is, in effect, two years' imprisonment. Of course, it is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, has said, that half of those who are convicted after being in custody do not receive custodial sentences; but I would go along with him in agreeing that those statistics must be looked at with a little care because, as he and I and many noble Lords will know, the reason why, over and over again, courts do not send people to prison is simply because they have been remanded in custody. I think it does not help very much to produce that figure in itself. I have come to the conclusion that not much can be done in the way of bailing far more people than are bailed at the moment. The balance may be wrong but it is not very wrong.

I have received, as noble Lords will have received, a document from NACRO, an organisation for which I have the highest possible regard. They invariably argue their case extremely well. They have set out at the end of this document 14 points which they suggest might help deal with this problem. One of those, the first, is the provision of bail hostels. I entirely accept that this is a way of dealing with the problem if the finance is available. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who will be speaking later, that, adding up all the other 13 points—which is the best that NACRO can think of—I doubt whether cumulatively they would materially affect the proportion of people who are granted bail at this moment. It seems to me to be a very real problem which cannot easily be dealt with.

My Lords, I come to the other half of the Unstarred Question—although the two halves are clearly associated with each other—the length of time that people spend in custody before trial. Some examples of that were given on 15th May this year in a Written Answer in the Hansard of another place. It is quite appalling that people should have spent often up to one year in custody awaiting trial. What can be done about this? I do not think that we ought to pretend that a trial can take place within a few days of a person being remanded in custody. Complicated trials require, for the defence as much as for the prosecution, many weeks of preparation. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is a serious backlog in our courts which somehow must he dealt with. Perhaps, to some extent, the provision of more courts, the provision of more judges and the provision of more trained court staff, will help. But, again, this is going to involve an increase in public expenditure.

What else can be done? I received, and the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson also received, a document from another extremely reputable organisation, the National Association of Probation Officers, suggesting that there should be the same 110 days rule as in Scotland. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, I sympathise with this as an ideal; but I must confess that I regard it as wholly unrealistic in our present circumstances.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, since he makes a point of this, why it is possible in Scotland and is not possible here?


My Lords, I think it is possible in Scotland for a reason that I was coming to in a moment; because it is really the one suggestion that I have to make as to how we might deal with the question of the length of remands in custody. That is, that we can best deal with this by, in some way or another, reducing the burden on our Crown Courts. How do we reduce the burden on our Crown Courts? First, we may, I think, pursue the suggestion that Justice, the organisation, is currently concerned with: that of splitting off the technical contraventions from the criminal offences so that we could get rid of the con- traventions. They could be dealt with by administrative means—and I refer to such things as people who have forgotten to renew their television licences and so on. We could remove some pressure from the magistrates' courts in that way. That would enable some of the work to be transferred from the Crown Courts to the magistrates' courts.

Secondly, and this is by far the most hopeful line of attack, we can shorten the length of our trials. In this country, unlike in Scotland, we are bogged down by a series of vast criminal trials that take month after month after month and occupy such courts as the Old Bailey for most of the time available to those courts. If we could halve the length of those long trials, we could release a vast amount of court time without any public expenditure of any sort. If we could release that vast amount of court time, we could ensure hat people are remanded in custody for far shorter periods than they are, and we could remove at least some of the outrageous ill-treatment which is very often meted out to people who are unconvicted prisoners awaiting trial on remand.

My Lords, how do we reduce the vast length of some of those cases? I think we must partly take another look—and I am coming now, perhaps, to an extent, to deal with matters more the concern of the Lord Chancellor's Department than of the Home Office—partly at the whole of the Section 1 committal procedure, which has become quite chaotic. In the old days one got a committal for trial on a charge of murder where a man had been arrested and said, "I'm terribly sorry, but I had too much to drink and I lost my temper". There would be three or four statements, a little bundle of depositions; they would be sent to the Crown Court for trial, and the trial would proceed. Now, as a result of the procedure, under which there is no committal in most cases except a formal passing on of the documents, the papers arrive at the Crown Court 100 or 200 pages long. There is an analysis by some pathologist of the deceased's stomach contents; there are pages of bloodstain analysis; there is a mass of evidence about the movements of everybody before, during and after the offence, when everybody knows the trial is going to be a perfectly simple issue: "Yes, I did it. I'm sorry, I lost my temper. I didn't mean to. It's manslaughter, but not murder." I take that simple example. The Crown Courts are being cluttered up, I believe, as a result of this procedure which was intended to relieve the work of the magistrates' courts, but instead has resulted in a vast burden on the Crown Courts.

One can approach the question of these lengthy cases also by the means suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson: more disclosure, both by the prosecution and by the defence, before trial and by interlocutory proceedings in criminal cases before trial so that the issues are clarified. Above all, I believe it can be approached by, I was going to say, a wholly new approach, but really a reversion by prosecuting counsel to the approach that used to exist in the days when the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and I began our careers at the Bar. The habit has grown up in this country by which the prosecution think it sensible to put into the dock every prisoner they can possibly find who has anything at all to do with the offence, however much on the fringe it may be. They then prefer every charge they can conceive of, after going through the textbooks, so that the indictment contains 20 or 30 counts. They then call every witness who might possibly be able to say anything at all about the subject in dispute, and in the result the cases go on for month after month after month.

I do respectfully agree—and I have said this many times in the past—with what Sir Michael Havers urged the other day, that really prosecuting counsel must learn to be selective; they must choose which are the important charges, which are the important defendants, which are the important witnesses, and get on with it. The vast length of these cases is, I believe, due far more to the way in which they are being presented by the Crown than to any action taken on behalf of the defence.


Would the noble Lord give way? I wonder whether he could tell us what the Bar is doing about this? This is a lesson I have been preaching time and time again. What is the Bar doing about it?


My Lords, I do not think the Bar is doing very much about it. So far as prosecuting counsel are concerned, they go their own way and they are to some extent, I think, out of any direct control in this matter. One can exhort, as the noble and learned Lord did exhort, and as the Attorney General exhorted the other day. I think that somehow a more dramatic way has to be found of bringing this evil to everyone's attention.


Would the noble Lord accept that the Bar has done a considerable amount? The difficulty usually lies with the prosecuting authority and with the police. The police are always very anxious to see everybody in the dock and the prosecuting authority is, too; and it is very difficult, the obligation on Crown counsel makes it very difficult for them to say, "No, we will not prosecute". They do on many occasions, but the pressures should not be overlooked.


My Lords, I entirely accept that. It comes from the depth of Lord Rawlinson's experience; I appreciate that. I might add that it is to some extent linked with the fact that the Section 1 procedure on committal for trial tends to go right through. Often prosecuting counsel do not get the papers until the trial is about to begin at the Central Criminal Court, instead of being called in to advise at a very much earlier stage.

I ventured to suggest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, when he was Lord Chancellor, that there was scope for setting up some form of powerful committee that could inquire into the ways in which our trials could be shortened without any need for legislation but simply by practical steps of the sort that Lord Hutchinson and I have ventured to put before your Lordships. I repeat that plea now. I believe that, of all the ways in which we can in practice approach the problems raised by this Unstarred Question, shortening the length of trials dramatically offers the most immediate hope for the future.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, has introduced his Motion so fully and so forcefully, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who followed him has joined Lord Hutchinson in making some valuable suggestions, that there seems to me very little that I can add to contribute to this debate. Some of the suggestions that have been made by Lord Hutchinson I warmly endorse, being a member of the all-party criminal affairs group which is producing a report to be published tomorrow, which I will not go over now. Other suggestions, which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, made, I would not be competent to make myself.

Perhaps the only value of my intervention is to rub in and force home the conditions in which remand prisoners are held, which is a subject about which I feel very deeply indeed. It is a matter which is crying out for action and, as Lord Hutchinson has said, that action is long overdue. It has been raised many times before the noble Lord's present Motion; it has been raised many times before Mr. Justice May's Report, on which he has based his Motion, and I think we are all aware of that.

My Lords, I would voice an opinion. It is my opinion that the number of remands in custody has continued to rise, and if the remarks of the Commissioner of Police in his report to the Home Office were a straw in the wind to influence the courts, it might rise even further. It has continued to rise not only because of the growing overload of cases awaiting trial in the courts, not only because of the increasingly long periods spent in custody on that account, and not only because of the capital cost of building hostel accommodation or converting suitable buildings to hostels to comply with the provisions of the Bail Act.

My view is that this classic vicious circle is due in some measure to public ignorance and public apathy, and, in one particular respect, to public opposition. I would say that the great majority of our people do not know, and I venture to suggest that quite a number do not want to know, what goes on inside our prisons. One might just give this instance. The acceptability of men and women on remand, whose guilt has not been established, of men and women who have completed their sentences and whose guilt has been expiated by a prison sentence, in local accommodation is won only after prolonged battles, lasting in some cases a matter of years. Perhaps the only value of my rubbing in this point is to expose, and hopefully to touch, the public conscience. I know that your Lordships would not be in this Chamber now if you did not have that conscience about the extent of the scandal, to use the word employed by Mr. Justice May. I shall limit my remarks to Brixton Prison. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, everything about the generality has already been said, I am going to venture to say more and in particular. I visited that prison some months ago with some colleagues on the Penal Affairs Group. The numbers detained there have been mentioned. They amount to an overcrowding statistic of more than 40 per cent. I wish that some of your Lordships could be personal witnesses to the conditions in that prison. I wish even more that our judges were to make themselves acquainted with it. I have had the privilege of attending sentencing conferences. It has struck me that part of the programme of those conferences ought to include visits to our local prisons.

Some of your Lordships will have heard a report on Radio 4 (I believe it was last Friday morning that I heard it) on conditions in Britain's largest and most overcrowded prison, Walton, in Liverpool. It is some years since I visited Walton, but I have seen so many of our prisons that I can say with some knowledge that conditions for men in Brixton—and I will refer to women in a moment—who have not yet been sentenced or in many cases tried are worse than is the case of many men serving substantial sentences elsewhere for very serious offences, having been convicted of those sentences.

The cramped squalor of three men in a cell which is supposed to hold one prisoner has to be seen—and I intend no reflection on the inmates who are forced to live in those conditions—and smelt to be believed. The one double cell which we were shown containing six prisoners simply compounded the horror. If one magnifies that state of affairs by a factor of 100 to produce more than 300 men so contained, and add to that 450 other inmates living two to a cell—a one-person cell—one has the dimensions of that scandal.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, has referred to a statement by the Prison and Borstal Governors Branch of the Society of Public and Civil Servants. I will quote from it again, because it makes the point just as well as the one he made. On 31st March they said this: Even if the numbers stop rising, governors doubt if prisoners and staff can be expected to tolerate the present record overcrowding throughout the summer; particularly if it is a hot summer". It is just as well perhaps at the moment that the "hot summer" is not yet hot.

Remand prisoners, as I am sure everyone is aware, may receive daily visits from friends and relatives. Owing to the distance involved, it is quite possible that prisoners in Brixton, as in other London prisons, get off rather better regarding visits than those held in some provincial gaols. But facilities for visits at Brixton are so cramped and lacking in privacy that the men sit shoulder to shoulder along a long table with their visitors, friends, girl friends, wives, mothers and so on, sitting in exactly the same serried conditions on the opposite side of the table. Before the interview, some visitors have to wait, because there is no room in the waiting room outside the prison. The day we went there it was bitterly cold and windy. On a day like this it would be raining on them before they could get in. I was reminded forcefully, watching that visit, of conditions in a pre-war troopship plying to and from India, which I experienced on a number of occasions before the war. All this, we were told, will be greatly improved when a new block for visitors had been completed. But the date of its completion is uncertain, and perhaps the Minister will let us know when he replies when that is likely to be.

To add insult to the injury to human dignity, there were at the time of that visit three women held in Brixton in addition to the 1,100-odd men. I went to see them with Mr. Kilroy-Silk. They were detained under conditions of maximum security on charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The only period of the day when they were allowed to be aware that there was a world outside their little landing was during a brief exercise period when they were conducted down an outside encaged stairway into a large top security cage in the prison yard. They were then—understandably, no doubt—the objects of the stares of hundreds of men in the surrounding prison blocks. Again, the analogy with a zoo was quite irresistible. I understand that these women have since been moved to establishments where there are other women, and I can only hope in conditions which are less unsatisfactory. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance that it is not the intention of the Home Office to detain any more women at Brixton. In saying that, I hope that the House will not accuse me of being soft on terrorists. I have on two unforgettable occasions in my life been involved in dealing with terrorism in various parts of the world. But these girls were not yet tried, let alone convicted. The condition in which, at the time of my visit, those three women had been held for four months awaiting trial was positively bizarre.

I come finally to the one good aspect of Brixton Prison, and it has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and I should like to add emphasis to it. I refer to the governor and his staff. I know the governor is here, because I ran into him in the Lobby. I will not spare his blushes. I will say that no praise is too high for the way in which the management copes with the demands made upon them, and the way in which they do their best to make life bearable for those remand prisoners. We were very impressed with the fact that, despite the unsatisfactory working conditions, morale among the prison officers is high. That was unmistakable. The personality of the governor has no small amount to do with that; and also to do with it is the degree to which officers involve themselves with welfare problems of the inmates on their landings.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, has spoken vividly about escort duties. Let me give one example to instance the point that he was making generally. We were told that on Maundy Thursday some officers were on duty for 16½ hours, from six in the morning until 10.30 at night. During that time, they had to cope with the task of escorting 256 prisoners to and from various courts—some of them at some distance—and of receiving 247 new inmates. As regards living conditions, we understood that the family quarters of staff along one of the prison walls are overlooked by a prison block and there is no privacy. The officers' club and mess are so cramped and uncongenial that very few officers make use of them. My third and last question to the Minister is to ask whether he will give us some information as to when the alternative family accommodation and the new mess and club, which I believe are planned and intended to be built, are likely to be available?

It really is time that steps were taken to remove this blemish on Britain's traditional reputation for justice and humanity. Speaking to the Gloucestershire branch of the Magistrate's Association in 1971, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who sits now on the Woolsack —I believe he did at that time—had this to say about remand in custody: It is the solitary exception to Magna Carta". We all know that that exception is inevitable. I am not so starry-eyed as to suggest that it would be entirely removed; but it is essential to keep the exceptions within minimum hounds under optimum conditions. It has now become an exception which has been magnified beyond the limits of toleration by any civilised society.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I shall intervene for only a short time, and first I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, on catching the Chief Whip's eye at long last. I think he has been on the list for some time but now he has caught the Chief Whip's eye. I should like also to congratulate very sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and to thank him for a most inspiring speech. Few people in this House know as much about the prison system and prison inmates as he does, and we have been privileged to hear of his own personal knowledge this evening. I should like also to congratulate Mr. Justice May. I happen to have the privilege of knowing him on the parole board and he is a very hard-working person. To produce such a very adequate report in what is a reasonable time took, I know, a great deal of very hard work on the part of he and his committee, and I should like to thank him.

We are talking about prisoners on remand and, from what we have heard tonight, they are the under-privileged people in our prisons today. One of the reasons, of course, is that nobody knows how long any prisoner is going to be on remand, because it is entirely up to the next authority as to when they will be sent for. Therefore they have no amenities for education, as have other convicted prisoners. Also, as one speaker has said, there are far too few officers to cope with anything other than the ordinary statutory requirements.

The number of remand prisoners has increased enormously, as we have been told, from 1947 to 1978—they have increased more than fourfold. I have written down the word "alarming", because this is a terrible indictment of many kinds of people. It is an indictment of the judges, an indictment certainly of the magistrates' courts and also perhaps of the Home Office and those who have to do with making prison places available for this large number of people. But to reduce the numbers on remand is a very different thing, because in order to make conditions better it would seem that three things will be needed. First, there will have to be an increase in the numbers of prisons and remand centres. Secondly, it will be necessary to increase the efficient working of the judicial system which, in turn, would mean inevitably more high courts, more judges and more court staff. That, in the course of time, would help with the backlog. Thirdly, perhaps we could make available more non-custodial places. Bail hostels are what, with my very limited experience, I favour. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, all this will take not only time but money.

The bail hostels could be of great help when a prisoner is charged with an offence which is serious enough to warrant sending him for trial from a magistrates' court, but is not of such a nature that if he were to be released into a non-custodial setting he would not immediately go out and re-offend. It is primarily the latter category who are on remand in custody awaiting trial. From my 24 years' experience, I would say that it is quite wrong to allow a defendant out on bail if he is a burglar, an armed robber, a mugger, a child assailant or if he has committed any crime of violence. It seems, however, that there are many people in the country today who have little or no idea of the viciousness and sheer ruthlessness of some of the criminal fraternity. When one is occasionally prematurely at large and described by the officials as "dangerous", that is true and if, having served their sentence, they re-offend, I think it is absolutely essential that the court should remand them in custody to await trial.

On the other hand, as the report exhorts us to do, we should rarely send to prison on remand or to serve a sentence those who have been charged and found guilty of defaulting on maintenance, if they are mentally disturbed offenders, alcoholics or petty persistent offenders or, as the noble Lord said, those who have been guilty of having no television licence. I have been checking up with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who has been a magistrate for as long as I have, and neither of us has even contemplated sending anybody to prison as a result of alcoholism and certainly not as a result of having no television licence.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment? I think I failed to make myself clear. I was suggesting that technical matters such as failing to renew one's television licence should not be dealt with at all by the magistrates' courts but by administrative means. I was not for one moment referring to the question of sending such people to prison.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord. I thought I was listening to every word he said but I did not realise that, and I am sorry. Such persons obviously add to the overcrowding and the difficult conditions in prisons if they are sent either on remand or to prison following conviction. I would make a plea for bail hostels to my noble friend the Minister. I have a feeling that this will come out loud and clear from the debate this evening. It is a half-way house; it is somewhere people could be sent without suffering the indignity of being in prison. In such a place, one hopes, they could be kept securely but not in prison surroundings, and one would hope that they would be there for only a short time while awaiting trial.

Finally, I should like to add my tribute to that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to the dedicated prison staff, to the probation staff inside and outside prisons, to the prison visitors, to the members of the local review committees and to the auxiliary volunteers. Without the hard work and interest shown by each and every one of them, our prisons and their inmates would be in an even more perilous state.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is quite a thought that since the first attempt to debate this Question some two months ago, something like 9,000 prisoners unconvicted or unsentenced must have been received into the prisons of England and Wales. It is an even more solemn thought to think that there must have been several hundred who, at that date in April, were awaiting their trial or their sentence and who are still in prison, still waiting. It is thoughts of this kind which underline, to my mind, the significance for the liberty of the subject of the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, is asking tonight. I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity of commenting on it. Perhaps I could begin by assuring him that officials, as well as Ministers, are gravely concerned, and have been gravely concerned for some time, about these problems.

I propose in my few remarks to follow the path laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and speak in the main about relieving the pressure on our prisons rather than dealing with the length of time which prisoners spend in custody and the conditions which they have to endure, although all aspects are inextricably mixed up with each other, and although, as a former prison commissioner of many years ago, I can well remember the problems which these issues were causing to us, even in those dim and distant days in the past.

I have spent most of my career, in one way and another, in dealing with the police and I should like to make just one preliminary point. I do not propose at this stage to comment on the anxieties which were recently expressed by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said, to deprive an unconvicted person of his liberty is, indeed, a grave matter—graver than some of the leader writers perhaps appreciate—nevertheless, the fact is that there are quite a lot of people who, once they have been arrested and charged, ought beyond dispute to be kept in custody until they are tried.

Perhaps there is just a faint echo here of the original purpose of our gaols, which, by and large, was to keep in custody accused persons until the assize judge came around to clear the gaols, imprisonment being rather a later invention as a penalty of itself, when such possibilities as transportation for various reasons fell into desuetude. I shall not pursue that point any further and will instead turn to my main theme.

In recent years, for obvious reasons, there has been a steady increase in the numbers brought before the courts. But without in the slightest degree minimising the problem, it is appropriate to point out that it would be wrong to conclude that there has been a remorseless increase in the actual numbers remanded in custody. For reasons I well understand, we have to cope with statistics which are, not quite up to date; and, indeed, the last authentic prison statistics go no later than 1978. But those figures show that in that year some 5,600 fewer people were received into custody on remand than in the previous year—a drop of over 10 per cent.—and that between 1975 and 1978 there was a fall of between one-fifth and one-quarter in the various categories of remand prisoners received into custody. There was a slight fall, too, in the proportion of those remanded in custody who, in the end, were not given a custodial sentence.

I realise that this proportion is still pretty high, but I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in suggesting that some caution should be applied in interpreting these figures; and I personally have never seen any close analysis of the number of cases in which the courts decided not to impose a custodial sentence, simply because they thought the individual had already spent long enough in prison. I suspect that those cases, if they could be identified, are not all that rare, and they seem to me to stem directly from the kind of issue which we are discussing this evening.

It is difficult these days to open the papers or one's morning post, or indeed, with respect to the noble Earl, to turn on the radio, without hearing some fresh comment on these problems, and probably coming across some fresh set of figures, and it is not all that easy always to reconcile all the figures which are quoted. But perhaps I could just mention one statistic which comes from the unimpeachable source of the Criminal Statistics for 1978.

This volume shows that, although the number of committals for trial from magistrates' courts more than doubled between 1968 and 1978, the number of committals in custody increased relatively little. In 1968, some 32 per cent. of those committed for trial were committed in custody. Ten years, later, the figure was not 32 per cent., but 19 per cent. The May Committee took alarm at the fact that this figure of 19 per cent. was two points higher than it had been in the two previous years, and did not seem very much impressed by the fall over the decade as a whole; at least I do not think they were. They did not actually include an index in the report, and it is not all that easy to be sure that one has spotted all the relevant comments—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I ask this, simply on a point of information? If that is so—and I know that any figures supplied by the noble Lord are 100 per cent. correct—how is it that remand prisoners, over a longer period than that we were told about earlier, have increased in number faster than any other group of prisoners, except those in detention centres?


My Lords, that is a point to which I hope to come a little later. But they are not my figures; I claim no credit for them. They are taken from an official publication. Although there has been a percentage fall, they are a percentage of an increasing total, and, certainly, there is not the slightest ground for complacency.

But I think it is clear that the circular which the Home Office issued in October 1975, suggesting guidelines as to the conditions for bail, and then the coming into force in April 1978 of the Bail Act itself, had quite an impact. Sometimes, no doubt, the magistrates, however conscientious, get it wrong, as the police frequently suggest. But it must be equally true that the Bail Act has, rightly, kept out of prison quite a number of people who ought not to have gone there, and who might have gone there had the Act not been passed. I think f go a little further than the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and suggest that the change has been a little more than marginal.

It is a very difficult course for the courts to steer, and it is particularly difficult when the courts know that a decision to remand in custody may mean that an unconvicted person has to spend a very long time in custody; on the one hand, because you have the "hawks", who think it absolutely terrible that anyone should be let out on bail and commit a further offence, and, on the other hand, because you have the "wets"—to use a fashionable word—who think it terrible that 40 per cent., or whatever the figure may be, of those awaiting trial or sentence in custody should end by not receiving a custodial sentence. On the whole, in this very difficult area it seems to me that the courts do pretty well.

But there is one other development, quite apart from the Bail Act, to which I should like to refer this evening. It is not so spectacular, but I think it is quite significant. For many years, one wrestled with the problem that defendants who had no settled address were at risk of being remanded in custody, simply because of the doubt about their answering to hail and about being available for the purpose of reports to the courts.

Reference has been made to bail hostels. My own calculation is that, with the probation hostels, they offer perhaps rather more places than the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, suggested. Although a great deal of credit for this development goes to the Government—to successive Governments, indeed—and to after-care committees, I should like to pay particular tribute to the fact that the experiment of providing bail for those of no fixed abode was started entirely by voluntary effort. It was the charitable trust set up by Mrs. Xenia Field which conceived the idea of trying this out in accommodation provided by the Salvation Army—in the face of a good deal of scepticism on the part of the experts.

It seems to me that one of the most valuable roles of voluntary effort in this country is to experiment, in the knowledge that if the experiment succeeds the Government may take it over and develop it, and in the process perhaps forget how it all started. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is on the list of speakers, I am sure that I need say no more about hostels.

There are just one or two other cutting down experiments about which I should like to ask, notably the experiment which was carried out at Camberwell two or three years ago. This is a busy city court. As in other busy courts, remands often followed police evidence only. The police might well have had no time to check a defendant's background and might well have felt bound to ask for a remand in custody. In the experiment, voluntary workers, under the supervision of ancillary probation staff, took emergency steps, in suitable cases, to verify a defendant's social ties so that on the morning of his first appearance the magistrate could be given relevant information about him upon which to consider bail. I thought that this was a most promising idea, and I cannot for the life of me understand why it has not been more widely taken up. If the Minister can throw any light on this, I, for one, will be very glad to hear about it.

I should also like to ask whether the bail and legal aid unit at Brixton is still functioning, and whether it has been able to set some individuals on the right course for obtaining bail. Without in any way trying to minimise the position, I think it is only right to say that there are some slight gleams of comfort to be had as regards the actual numbers of unconvicted and unsentenced persons committed in custody. It is very difficult at present, however, to see much encouragement as regards the length of time spent in prison by those who are committed in custody. I think that the daily average population in 1976 and 1977 fell a little compared with 1975, but the 1978 figure was back to the 1975 level and since then, as we have heard, it has gone up quite a lot. There must be more than one reason for the increase, but I am fairly sure that a principal cause is that those who now go to prison on remand spend even longer there than they used to. We know that the Government are very much concerned about the problem of justice delayed, and I hope that when he answers the debate the Minister will be able to give some encouragement about possible courses of action.

It seems to me that until more can be done—and a good deal more—it is unrealistic, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, to contemplate copying, South of the Border, the Scottish provision that the accused must be released if not brought to trial within 110 days, even though this seems to work in Glasgow, a city which I am given to understand is not entirely without crime. But it is tempting to reflect, as I sit down, that if it were possible tomorrow to introduce such a provision here, the release of those who had already served more than 110 days would at once achieve an immediate and noticeable drop in the prison population.

6.56 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who is always listened to with so much attention on these matters, tried hard to find some gleams of comfort. I do not think that many people will have shared even the limited measure of optimism that he permitted himself. He followed the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in saying that anybody who really understood these things would understand that we could not just copy the Scottish system. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, was going to explain later in his speech, when I raised that point, why it cannot be done here although it is done there. We have now been told again why it cannot be done, but I am still going to ask the Minister, in the absence of any other answer, why we cannot adopt the kind of limit to the time spent in custody which has been adopted in Scotland. If I may say so with enormous respect to those who have told me that it is childish, almost, to think that such a thing could be done here, this is not quite a sufficient answer, so no doubt the Minister will give us a better one.

I remember that a famous man who was once asked to speak after Edmund Burke, the greatest orator of his day, rose to his feet and contented himself with saying, "I say 'ditto' to Mr. Burke". The House might hope that I am going to content myself with saying "ditto" to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, and that then I shall sit down. I am going to say "ditto" to him, but I am going to add a few further thoughts. The noble Lord certainly delivered one of the most powerful speeches which we have heard in this House for many a day. I think all of us, even my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, agree that the number in custody is far too large. Some of us have very little hope of greatly improving that number, but the path pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, would lead to very big results quite quickly.

I strongly support any rational suggestion which would lead to many fewer prisoners being kept in custody awaiting trial, and I think that we have got to ask ourselves whether or not too many people are being denied bail. When I say "fewer" I do not mean one or two fewer. Are we, in fact, refusing bail to a much greater extent than it should be refused? I think it could be said that there have been differences of opinion on that matter. Certainly I follow the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, very strongly on that and on a number of other matters.

I shall try to avoid undue repetition and therefore will bring in a bit of my own experience. I, and others, were responsible, about 10 years ago, for starting in Soho a centre for young people with problems. It has grown quite large. In the course of a year we help, or try to help, perhaps 2,000 young people, although a much smaller number than that is using the centre at any one time. A high proportion of them have been in trouble with the law, though the centre is not confined to delinquents. A good many have experienced more than one period of awaiting trial in prison, possibly up to a year. In view of this debate, I have talked to some of them again about their experiences.

Those who are trying to help these young people, and other young people—and I see the noble Viscount. Lord Amory, and I cannot help reflecting that no one has done more for youth than the noble Lord, no one in this Houseanyway—but those who are trying to help young people are only too well aware of the damage done to their vulnerable personalities by the barbarities of the present situation. That I think is a matter of fact. What is arguable, if you like, but in my own opinion is beyond argument, is that a lot of this damage is unnecessary: we are damaging these young people unnecessarily.

At the present time, just to take our quite small centre, three of our young people are remanded in custody for minor offences, petty theft or kicking a car when drunk. It is almost certain that they will eventually receive fines; they will be in the 44 per cent. who are not sent to prison. I am bound to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, or anybody who doubts whether many more people could be given bail, why these people are not given bail. I would submit that it is unnecessarily cruel to deny bail to people of this kind. If I may take another example that came to my notice recently, there was a 17 year-old pregnant girl who was charged with theft and spent four months on remand in Holloway. The police case rested on identification and on her inability to produce a substantiated alibi. The girl maintained her innocence throughout, and when the case came on finally the judge threw it out. By this time the girl was eight months pregnant and there was a growing fear that her child would be born in prison. Who is going to say that it was right, that it was a wise decision for some magistrate or judge to retain that girl in prison? I am saying that bail is not given anything like freely enough. That is a matter of opinion or conviction or whatever, but I disagree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who has such confidence in the legal system that he considers that by and large we are granting bail about as often as it would be prudent to do so.


My Lords, would the noble Earl complete the story about this unfortunate girl by telling the House which of the criteria in the Bail Act were used by the magistrates in order to justify remanding her in custody?

The Earl of LONGFORD

Well, my Lords, of course I have not got that information, but as one used to say when one was a Minister, if the noble Lord is really interested, I will write to him about it. Of course I have not got all the details to that extent. I merely know the case. If the noble Lord really wants to know what lay behind it of course I can find it. I am just giving a few cases and I am saying that there are a very large number of these cases.

It is a matter of opinion or conviction, or whatever you like to call it, that we are not providing bail anything like freely enough. That, I would have thought, though I may be wrong, was the kind of attitude that the May Report came to; certainly it is the kind of attitude which we may hear from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who will be speaking later, and I would have thought it was the kind of attitude Lord Hunt adopts. But if we do not take that attitude we are not going to alter the situation very much; that is one thing that is quite certain. I recognise the value of more than one of the original suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in an area where of course he is far more proficient than I am. But we have got to persuade ourselves at the end of this debate, or on some other occasion, either that we are providing bail about frequently enough or that we are denying it much too frequently.

I shall not dwell on the details of life in a place like Brixton, though like other noble Lords I have visited Brixton. I have visited it many times over the years, and like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I visited it not so long ago. The conditions there were very eloquently described by the May Report and have been described at least as eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, earlier this evening. Certainly I join in tributes to the governor and the staff. I do not think the governor would be the kind of man who would want too many tributes. I think he might like about one, but he is the kind of man who would want to get on with the job and would do it, I am sure, whether we pay tributes or not. I would just join in this tribute.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and others have said, prisoners are spending roughly speaking 23 hours out of 24 in their cells, though I realise they are trying to make things a little better for them by allowing them to move from one cell to another. I am not quite sure whether even that is within the regulations. At any rate, they do what they can. But those are the conditions, which are quite appalling. Assuming for the moment that the number of prisoners on remand must be regarded as a given quantity, which I do not assume for reasons given earlier, the question arises, can we do anything to make life in Brixton, for example, and other places more tolerable?

I remember Victor Stonham, and no Home Office Minister—if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who is already so much respected—ever showed quite such enthusiasm for penal reform as Lord Stonham. I can remember Lord Stonham before he was a Minister denouncing Brixton as a hell-hole in a debate started in this House. I remember it very well because the late Lord Morrison was sitting beside him and he muttered "Don't go for the headlines, Victor", which perhaps was not the most generous of comments, but then Lord Morrison had been Home Secretary himself and he did not like that way of talking of one of his prisons. But the fact is that it was called a hell-hole perhaps 16 or 17 years before the Labour Government was formed. I think if we used the same expression now we would not be accused of plagiarism.

At any rate, what can be done, given this apalling number of prisoners? I think we could do something to redistribute the prisoners, move some of the prisoners out of Brixton into other prisons, where they would, of course, have to live alongside convicted prisoners. But I think something could be done there. By and large I would agree with what is in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, who has called my attention to the fact that the May Committee urged that there should be a concentration of resources; they said that as a priority there should be a concentration of resources on capital expenditure on accommodation for remand prisoners. So, if I may say so respectfully, even if one is going to say that there are not going to be a lot of new resources available, at any rate if there are going to be new resources—and we know the Government have a building programme—there should be a serious effort to concentrate them in this direction. I would submit that respectfully.

I asked someone well qualified to judge how the money could be spent in Brixton. I suppose no one could be better qualified than this gentleman to offer an opinion. What he actually said was that if we have only a limited sum the first priority should be a library so that prisoners can adequately prepare their case, there should be classrooms for educational purposes, particularly to help the large number of prisoners who are illiterate or who know little English; then there should be accommodation for association, which does not exist at the present time, and there should be a dining room and other facilities. His deeper belief was that if the right amount was available a new purpose-built remand prison should be built on a dockland site with easy access to the Old Bailey. But I would agree that that perhaps is not very likely at present.

In conclusion, I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and others who do not appear to give the impression that very much can be done in the way of offering bail more freely, would agree—at least I should hope they would agree—that the condition of remand prisoners is a scandal. That is the view of the May Report and I hope that the noble Lord would agree—


My Lords, I refrained from interrupting the noble Earl earlier when he talked about my speech as being optimistic. I was merely presenting a few historical facts to demonstrate that there were a few chinks of light in the general gloom. I certainly said nothing to dissent from the conclusion that it is a scandal which ought to he dealt with.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. At any rate there is a fairly widespread and almost unanimous opinion in the House today that it is a scandal. There are other noble Lords who are down to speak and who will give us their ideas. However, when the Minister comes to reply, I hope that he will tell us how he proposes to deal with this crying scandal.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, as the seventh speaker in the debate, it really lies to me to underline what has already been said. However, we all feel so strongly on this matter that I cannot say "ditto". I must, in order to satisfy perhaps my own deep feelings, make points made by other noble Lords.

We are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, for initiating this debate. We have had several debates on prisons in your Lordships' House. We have had the Butler Report and the Mountbatten Inquiry and we have had the May Report concerning our over-crowded prisons. We have even received a warning from the Home Secretary himself that we are at crisis point. Therefore, "the time has come", the walrus said, "for something to be done".

Perhaps the most notable and constructive action taken in the past years was taken under the Criminal Justice Act 1972 which brought the community service order, as recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. I must point out that since 1973 46,000 community service orders have been made, of which 75 per cent. were completed satisfactorily. Your Lordships will therefore see that I am rather widening the debate this evening—and I hope that I may ask for your Lordships' indulgence —to include not only prisoners on remand but the total prison population.

I should also like to ask the Minister about the 110-day rule in Scotland. Here, prisoners must be brought to trial within 110 days, or be released. I appreciate that this applies only to prisoners charged on indictment—that is, of course, charged with serious offences to be tried by jury. I know that the 110-day rule does not apply in summary cases for which there is no limit. The noble Earl asked why, if it applies in Scotland, which has Glasgow, which has the highest delinquency rate in the country, indeed in Europe, can it not be tried in this country? I made inquiries at the Scottish Home Department and I understand that in Scotland they do not keep complete statistics, but the average time on remand for a prisoner is 70 to 80 days.

It would be quite unnatural if we did not talk about our own prisons. In Oxford Prison there are today 24 inmates who have been in custody awaiting trial since 21st February this year; that is, 110 days from today. In addition, there are 17 in Reading Gaol who are there because of the overcrowding in Oxford Prison. Therefore, there are 41 in all on remand awaiting trial in Reading and Oxford Prisons. If the 24 who are awaiting trial in Oxford Prison had been dealt with in less than 110 days, there would have been a reduction of 70 per cent. of the prisoners who are now three to a cell. I feel that I must bring the point home from a domestic point of view as regards just one prison, although many noble Lords have spoken about other prisons.

In August 1979 two young men were charged with murder. They were not brought to trial until April 1980. They were in Winchester and Bristol Prisons respectively, because Oxford Prison is a local prison. They were, therefore, awaiting trial for approximately 200 days. They were finally found not guilty. The national average is worse, and I think that this has already been referred to by other noble Lords. The average daily population in our prisons and remand centres is 5,000, and over half of those do not receive custodial sentences.

I wish to come to what I might refer to—and to what has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Allen—as the "hostel strategy". This has already been mentioned most ably by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. I was privileged and was asked to speak only about a fortnight ago at the annual general meeting of the National Association of Voluntary Hostels. That meant that I had to look into the coverage of hostels throughout the country. I suggest that in this debate we should not be concentrating only on what should be done now and in the future as regards the prisoners or the inmates of prisons—those on remand—but we should also be looking at preventive measures.

When I looked into the whole situation with regard to what I call the hostel strategy, which I think commenced, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, said, with the remarkable woman who started the hostel concept, I found that administratively hostels in this country were very difficult to set up. There are two departments in the Department of Health and Social Security: one dealing with alcoholics and one dealing with supplementary benefits. Then there is the question of getting a grant from the Home Office, if you are concerned with another sort of hostel that is to help the prison population. Then it is usually recommended that you go through the housing corporation, which means the Department of the Environment; and then very often it gets down to housing associations.

Those of us who worked and knew about the old Poor Law remember the casual wards. This may sound strange coming from a social worker, but I think that one of the tragedies of our country is that we closed the casual wards. When they were in operation a tramp could walk from John O'Groats to Cornwall, knowing that every 20 miles there would be a casual ward where he could put up. When I was a very young student, I spent Christmas in a casual ward. Various people came to that particular casual ward for Christmas. We no longer have the casual wards, but I learned then what it meant to the homeless, the rootless, those who were on the edge of crime and those who perhaps would not commit a crime if they had a signpost to somewhere where they could ultimately go.

We do not have those casual wards, but I would suggest—and it may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, rightly said, minimal—that we ought to have a hostel strategy in this country for the alcoholics, the drug addicts, those who are homeless and those who at present go to prison. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has already said, they could well be in a hostel. I speak particularly of political deportees and foreign nationals awaiting trial. Should they be in prison? Could they not be in hostels? Could we not have a hostel strategy? I am sure that the National Association of Voluntary Hostels should hold a seminar for all those involved from all parts of the country so that we could set up a hostel strategy, not exactly on the lines of the casual wards, but covering the country and covering all those who could be prevented from going to prison.

I should like to mention with very real feeling and sorrow the young people who are going to prison—the young people who are remanded in prison—who cannot by law receive a custodial sentence. Can the Minister say what is being done to prevent many of these young people—difficult as they are; and I know how difficult they are—from being sent to remand centres, even prisons? I could make very many more points, but they have already been made by noble Lords.

There is, however, one point which I should like to make, and which must seem strange. I admired enormously the request of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that we do not ask for money. Let us look at this question of money overall. The trouble is that we always look in columns in one department; we do not look at the overall cost to the country. If we were to give more money to the small, voluntary organisations—and I emphasise "small"—which set up simple, small hostels, I would suggest that we would be saving the country an enormous amount of money. I shall not attempt to computerise it—I am no computer—but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that at this time it would be wrong to ask the Government to spend vast amounts of money, especially to build another prison. But, provided that there is an overall strategy, we could well give the small, devoted, voluntary organisations money to set up small, simple hostels that could be used by social workers, probation officers and the courts.

My last point is this. Many noble Lords have paid tribute to the staff of the prisons. It is a disgrace that we have cashed in on the skill and the devotion of prison staff. They have prevented troubles in our prisons; because they have prevented troubles, there have not been troubles; and because there have not been troubles, we have done nothing. I believe that the time has come when not only should we pay tribute to the prison staff, but we should actually help those staff in the ways which have been suggested throughout the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, asked me to raise a matter in my speech, but I believe that she could raise it so much better than I and, therefore, I wonder whether I could ask for the indulgence of your Lordships' House to allow her to speak after me.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank your Lordships very much indeed for allowing me to speak. I knew that I was going to be visiting Broadmoor today and, rather naturally, I was not sure whether I could get back in time for this debate, so I did not put my name down to speak. However, as this is a subject which is of very deep interest to me, I am very grateful to the House for allowing me to speak, and I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Faithfull for suggesting that I should.

First, I should like to put in a good word for magistrates. In my experience JPs do their utmost not to send people into custody on remand, but there are times when there is absolutely no alternative but to do so. Of course, there are categories of people for whom prison is quite the wrong place, but until adequate accommodation is provided for those people, from time to time one is left with no alternative. Therefore, I think that I would disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and say that it has been my experience right from the very first day when I became a magistrate that JPs show the utmost mercy.

As a JP, I find that our lists are very often overcrowded so that cases of people on remand have to be put back. In the courts in which I sit, every afternoon is spent on traffic cases. Why cannot failure to pay parking fines be dealt with through the post, so that we can deal with people? Very often we have to deal in one afternoon with 114 or more cases of failure to pay parking fines, and it seems to me that that is a waste of the court's time.

I should like to support some form of court situated near to prisons, if a hearing could not be held in prisons, so that men and prison officers do not have to spend hours once a week waiting for a one-minute appearance in court. This stretches the prison officer's time and is a thoroughly disruptive process. I wish that there was a more practical way of doing it. On the other hand, I have wasted a large amount of time. Having left a whole day free in order to sit in the Crown Court, I am sometimes sent home at mid-day or even earlier—particularly on Fridays—because the cases on the list have collapsed. Could there not be a better back-up so that other remanded prisoners' cases could take over when the cases on the list collapse?

In Pentonville Prison the board of visitors, of which I have the honour to be a member, is encouraged by the fact that the time being spent by persons on remand has decreased from a maximum of a year or over to some nine to six months. It is quite disgraceful that we should feel encouraged by such dismal figures. Of course, I would wish to join those who have commended the fine work done by people working in our prisons, and I am very proud indeed to be associated with all those who work in Pentonville. I fully agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Faithfull that we should be helping those who are working in prisons. Year after year the board of visitors at Pentonville has included in its annual report pleas that the time spent by people on remand be reduced. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, for helping us to bring this matter perhaps a little nearer to a more satisfactory state of affairs.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I thought that, to be perfectly frank, my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington made a devastating speech, and not a word that has been said since has relieved my mind in any way as regards the attack he made. I think that this nation has to decide whether we are prepared to let this situation go on more or less exactly as it is—because what is being suggested at this moment will not have any very great effect on it—or whether we are prepared to pay the price of improving it, which is to accept some diminution in security in the treatment of petty offenders. I must say at the beginning that I have every sympathy for the Metropolitan Commissioner. His job is to catch criminals and shut them up, but our job is to deal with them when they come out again. Most of these petty criminals have short sentences, and really might just as well be let out after 110 days.

By the end of two hours I get as bored as the rest of the public, and I want to go to my dinner, and I shall not take very long. I shall talk only about the two or three small but practical suggestions which seem to me to have emerged from this debate. Most of them come from my noble friend's speeches, but they have been repeated by other people. First of all, both he and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said that something ought to be done about procedure in the courts. My noble friend Lord Hutchinson said that there ought to be sanctions. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, talked about the necessity to shorten trials. Now I know nothing about this. I do not know any lawyers except as friends; none of them, I am glad to say, as professionals as yet, and I have absolutely no idea how this can be done. But do not tell me that it cannot be done. Of course it can be done with the faintest effort by a few people. If the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor get together and set up a powerful committee, of course it can be done, and please let it be.

The second thing concerns the 110 days. I will not accept from anybody that this is an impossibility. First, let me explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that if I understand the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act correctly, she is wrong. It is not only on indictment 110 days; it also says under Section 14(2) that a summary offender shall not be detailed for more than 40 days. Better still. I do not insist on doing that yet. I think that in our case it would be more difficult because of the crowd, but it is something we might have in mind. But we simply have to have this 110 days, and I will not accept "No" for an answer from Lord Wigoder, or Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and least of all from Lord Belstead, who has a rough job today because he is as worried about these things as we are, and so are his colleagues. This is a very difficult problem, and I know it. But unless you are prepared to accept some plan which is going to have some effect, then give the whole thing up and let them rot.

The difficulty about the 110 days is a simple one. The police would be desperately worried if you suggested letting some people out after 110 days, and so should we. Nobody wants to let serious criminals out at all. We want to have them sentenced and put away. It seems to me that if you accept this, one has to have a list from the police of those criminals whose crimes were so serious that they could not be considered for release after 110 days, and give them priority of hearing. You have to get them heard before 110 days. This in fact is what happens in Scotland today, but they are not under the same pressure as we are. There is a difficulty here, because such a system would be unfair on the less serious criminals. One has to remember that there are many who are not petty criminals but who are white collar offenders, and people of that sort, who are quite undangerous but who have committed a crime and have a longing not to be kept waiting. You would have to sacrifice that bit of fairness in order to achieve this.

I think this is something that I would be prepared to do. I would be prepared to say that between the clerk of the court and the police priority should be given to those people for being heard in court who cannot conceivably be regarded as sufficiently undangerous to be let out without trial and with a clear, not conscience, but a clear record, because the record is expunged in Scotland. I believe that this could be done, and there is a price. It is perfectly easy to see what the price is. I would accept that price, and I think that we all ought to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said, and so have other people, that there should be a high level committee, a working party, operating between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor deciding how this can best be done. Let me say that not only do I, as President of NACRO and on behalf of NACRO, recommend this, but so does the Howard League. Well, both of us are rather suspect do-gooders, I admit, but NAPRO—the National Association of Probation Officers—have adopted it as their specific policy. They are in an absolutely different world and are entirely professional, and are not to be ignored. The noble Lord suggested that if this is too much for people to swallow—and it should not be—then at least let me have mandatory bail after 110 days. This should be a small step forward.

The second thing I want to look at is the question that the noble Lord also raised, which is escort duties and the reasons for them. One of the reasons why conditions in remand prisons are so intolerable arises from escort duties. I went to Brixton with my noble friend Lord Hunt. I went to Lewes with my noble friend Lord Hutchinson. We found a dedicated staff in each case. The governor at Brixton, who has already received a compliment—I think he was out of the room when it was paid—impressed us all enormously as someone who was working really hard in more or less impossible conditions to do what was right, and who had his staff 100 per cent. with him.

I found exactly the same at Lewes, although there were two remand wings in Lewes, one of which was all right and the other was not owing to conditions and not because of the prison staff. I have seen all this. One of the main reasons why people are occasionally—and mind you, not always—"banged up" for 23 hours a day (more often they are allowed out in association in the corridors for a good many hours) is clearly through lack of staff, as has already been said. The staff are absent because they are performing these ridiculous escort duties.

This is something which, with determination between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor, could be dealt with, and at almost no expense. There are three causes for escort duties. The first is that the accused must be tried in the district in which he was charged. This means that if he is in the major remand prison in the South of England, which is Brixton, and he commits a crime on somebody, say, in Chelmsford, and he has a 10-day trial, every day he leaves at six o'clock in the morning, gets to Chelmsford with a prison officer, probably handcuffed, has his trial, and comes back that evening with the prison officer. The whole thing is simply ludicrous. It is not acceptable to a serious society, it seems to me, and in my opinion no effort has been made by anybody to deal with this, and it is high time it was dealt with.

There is a perfectly good answer, of course. The answer is simply, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Trumping-ton, suggested, that you either have a remand prison near every court or you have a court near every remand prison. It does not take tremendous brains to work this out. It is just a total apathy through lack of money in the whole combination of the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Office which allows these things to happen. I see absolutely no reason why, to the extent of about 75 per cent., that particular part of escort duties should not be got rid of. The prisoners would have to go across the road, and there would have to be an escort, but that would be the end of it.

The next reason is—and it is a salutary one—that a prisoner on remand should be exhibited once every eight days in the court whence he was remanded. This is to prevent his languishing forgotten in jail like Fidelio, and also for his demand for bail, if he wants it, to be reconsidered. Once again, if the court were near the place of remand or vice versa this would not be so bad. But the commonest journey, as somebody already announced here, from the remand wings at Lewes is to Pentonville or to another London court or prison.

Surely this sensible and necessary safeguard—and it is a sensible and necessary safeguard that men should not be buried in prison and nobody asks questions about them—could be met by a weekly letter from the governor of the remand prison to the court saying that X was in good health, waived his right to come himself to court and either did or did not apply for bail again. I can see no difficulty whatever about that. It is lack of will and determination that is causing these things not to be done.

In August and September 1972 the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and I discussed this matter in the deliberations on the Criminal Justice Bill. Lord Foot moved that it should be changed from eight to 20 days. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who was answering for the Government, put in a neutral clause—he was not necessarily backing the suggestion, but he had no objection to it; actually he put in for 21 days—and then my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, who is a stickler for liberty, frightened us so much that we were detracting from the liberties of the subject when in prison that I withdrew my support and the provision failed to get through. That was eight years ago. Matters have got a great deal worse, and if we could get an opportunity of making that alteration today I should support it wholeheartedly.

One other form of escort is very important. When I first went to Pentonville, I suppose 20 years ago, nobody moved round the prison except in groups with two prison officers. Today—the Minister will tell me if I am right or wrong—if you want to go from one wing to another, you get the proper permission and then go by yourself. That does not happen in all prisons, although it could, and that would help to get rid of the escort problem. So much for escorts. It seems to me that a great deal could be done here that is not being done through lack of will and not because of any other major reason.

The third detailed suggestion I wish to consider is that for less serious offenders for whom the police oppose bail there should be brought into use large London, suburban or even country houses, and perhaps one or two empty open prisons which, with a few double locks, could be made quite difficult to get out of but which could afford less crowded and more decent accommodation for the less serious petty offender and reasonable facilities for visits and legal advice. Clearly, this is not a solution—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve—for suspected hoodlums, rapists, muggers and people of that sort who must be kept securely in prison. But changes of that kind would go some way to seeing that the wait before trial of those people who must be kept in prison was reduced.

On this suggestion there would be four categories of remand. The first would be remand on bail with no conditions. The second would be remand to a bail hostel, and we all agree there must be more bail hostels; the total number at present is quite ridiculous in relation to the demand. The third would be remand to a semi-secure house of the type I have just described, and the fourth would be remand in prison, and those people who needed to go to prison would be the same sort of people who could not be let out after the 110 days; there are a number of professional and serious criminals, and none of us in the penal reform world wants to have them with us, but we want to have some of the petty offenders because we think they are fairly harmless.

The hour is late and I shall not go on, although I should love to talk for hours on this subject. This evening has produced a number of practical suggestions. At the very least I hope we shall get two committees formed, one of which will be the Home Office and Lord Chancellor's committee to look at the 110-day rule and the other of which will be a high-powered committee to look at the delays in trials and how to shorten them. I started talking like this 25 years ago and since then virtually no improvement has taken place in the penal reform world, but I hope that under the able leadership of the present Home Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, we shall make a little progress.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure it is right that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, should have asked this Question today, because many of the problems affecting remand prisoners in England and Wales—to which, because of the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I shall confine my remarks—which were highlighted by the May Report are a symptom of the problems which affect sentenced and unsentenced prisoners alike.

Your Lordships have concentrated on the problems of remand prisoners, and to some extent on unsentenced prisoners, and these difficulties are deep-rooted. They are, as all noble Lords have recognised, the long-accumulated effect of a steep rise in crime, old buildings and shortage of staff. It cannot be pretended therefore that there are easy answers. However, the criticisms contained in the May Report are matters which the Government intend to tackle, and my reply to the first question which the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, put to me is that we accept that the conditions of unconvicted prisoners have a particular claim on our vigilance.

It is, I suggest, the unconvicted and unsentenced who have, during the last 30 years, represented the biggest single cause for concern in the prison population. The length of time before trial is part of the problem—and forms part of the Question which the noble Lord has asked—despite the strenuous efforts of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and his predecessors. But the main problem has been the dramatic increase in convictions for crime since the war. The May Report acknowledged that convictions for indictable offences had more than trebled in the last 30 years and that the total average prison population had increased by more than two and a half times over the same period.

At this hour I shall not go into a great number of statistics, but I thought your Lordships might like to know that the latest figure I have for the end of May shows that the prison population stood at 43,438, and of those 6,511 were remanded awaiting trial or sentence. Mercifully, the first of those figures represents a very slight reduction over the very high level achieved in February and March, but of course it is a figure which must cause all of us, wherever we sit in this House, the very greatest concern because it represents nothing more or less than a considerable surge in the prison population, placing a great strain on the local prisons, which were built for comparatively small numbers awaiting trial and those serving short-term sentences. That really is the problem, and many of your Lordships have put it much better than I have this evening.

In asking his Question, the noble Lord asked for a firm promise instead of soothing syrup, and I will try to respond, especially as the words of the noble Lord were accompanied by some kind words about me. This is what we intend to do: because of the disproportionate increase in juvenile crime and the particular concern, which has been expressed by many of your Lordships today, for young people in custody, a limited amount of new accommodation specifically for unsentenced young prisoners will become available at two of our newest establishments, Glen Parva, which is a borstal, and Thorp Arch, which is a remand centre, later this year. Work is also due to start during the next three years on the building of two young male offender establishments. From projects already in progress, the prison building programme is expected to produce 4,200 new and refurbished places by the end of the financial year 1985. Lest your Lordships think that this is a case of Parkinson's law all over again, and that the more we build, the more we fill, I am most anxious to make the point that what I have just been saying must be set against the need to repair and modernise the existing accommodation.

Work is due to begin in 1981–82 and in 1982–83 on two new training prisons, and together with the two young offenders establishments which I have mentioned, they will provide a further 1,500 places. Projects for 1983–84 are still at the planning stage, but we hope to be able to continue the programme along these lines. I hope that your Lordships will take the view of the Government that in time a programme of this kind should in turn relieve pressure on the local prisons and therefore on unconvicted prisoners. We are also examining the categorisation procedures and arrange- ments for recategorisation of prisoners to a lower security category during the course of their sentence, with a view to trying to speed up procedures.

The strain upon prisons containing a substantial number of remands in its turn affects prison officers—and I am still attempting to lay before your Lordships what we are actually trying to do. A high proportion of staff in these establishments is required to be outside the prison during the day on court duties, a situation which the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, understandably described as a scandal. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, urged, the Government, in consultation with the Lord Chancellor's Department, are considering how best to give effect to the May Committee's recommendation that more economical use should be made of existing prison staff who currently provide this escort service. Both the Government and prison staff together must squarely face the problems arising from the demands of court duties.

The noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, and Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, mentioned the need to establish bail courts near remand prisons, and I think I am right in saying that power to transfer remand hearings to a nearby court already exists in Section 41 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. I realise that your Lordships are seeking something more definite than that from the Government, but at the moment I am not in a position to say any more on that particular point—


My Lords, I should be interested to know, not necessarily now, but perhaps in a letter, how often that transfer is demanded. It seems to me that if there is the power, this could take place quite often.


My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that point.


Of course.


My Lords, the problem of prison escorts is one that we must get right. It is a problem which highlights the need for increased recruit- ment to the prison service, and I am happy to say that there has been a marked improvement in recruitment since the autumn. In short, in the six-month period from 1st October until 31st March of this year there has been an increase of 67 per cent. over the same period of a year ago in applications to enter the prison service. I believe that that is an encouraging justification of the policy of exempting prison outstation staff from reduction in the size of the Civil Service. To the increasing numbers of men and women who are applying, it cannot be repeated often enough that the work of the prison service is vital to the criminal justice system and is very worth while.

Your Lordships will remember that the May Committee put forward the concept of "positive custody", and for an example of this I invite your Lordships to look to Brixton, which has been mentioned by so many speakers in the debate. Given the difficulties at Brixton, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke about, many features of the welfare facilities reflect credit on the skill and concern of the prison staff there; this is of course work that is reflected in so many other establishments throughout the country. For instance, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that prison officers at Brixton are still involved in assisting prisoners with their arrangements to apply for bail. In addition, prison officers on the wings share in the work of the welfare staff, and I understand that this proves particularly valuable for prisoners admitted to custody for the first time, in helping them to clear up as quickly as possible a number of practical problems in their lives.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me some detailed questions about Brixton. I should like to tell him that urgent consideration is being given to ways and means of reducing the pressure upon this prison. Meanwhile some relief will be afforded by Pentonville, which is taking more remand and trial prisoners from Brixton, as its own population of inmates held pending deportation is transferred to Ashford Remand Centre—


My Lords, in that event may I ask my noble friend what relief is to be given to Pentonville?


My Lords, the relief given to Pentonville lies in the fact that the deportees who were there have in turn gone to Ashford Remand Centre, which was not full, and I understand that the prison, at which my noble friend is a member of the board of governors, hopes ultimately to absorb 200 to 230 prisoners from Brixton.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me about the completion of the visiting centre at Brixton. Anyone who has seen it, and who realises the difficulties with which the staff and indeed visitors and prisoners have to deal, will regard that as a most understandable question. The answer is that we hope that the centre will be completed by the spring of 1981. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that, in view of the time factor, I should like to write to him on the other questions that he asked.

I should like to turn for a few moments to the working of the Bail Act, which was particularly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. I was interested in the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, on how he felt the Act has worked, and I listened carefully to the views of my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on what should be done in future. For the Government's part I should say that the first year of operation of the Act has been monitored, and the Government intend to ensure that the results of the analysis are published and are easily available once they are to hand.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, was critical of the number of bail hostels provided at the moment. Other Members of your Lordships' House have spoken on this subject; my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve made a plea for more hostels. The Government are at the moment completing a programme of building bail hostels, as recommended in the May Report as a means of avoiding cases where defendants are remanded in custody simply because they have no fixed address. We believe that when this programme is completed, bail hostel facilities will be available to most major areas of population. However, I give your Lordships an assurance that the programme will be reviewed further when the effects of the Bail Act have been analysed.

Several noble Lords have spoken of the need to reduce the number of those who are in prison, which must of course have a general effect on what we are debating today. My noble friend Lady Faithfull spoke of the necessity of hostel provision in order to prevent people from going into custody, and mentioned, too, the desirability of simple accommodation for this purpose. I hope that my noble friend will approve of the initiative that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has taken in making available a small pump-priming grant in order to encourage, so far as the Home Office is concerned, provision of short-term shelter for habitual offenders who have alcoholic troubles.

May I say on this general point that, like the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, the Government believe very strongly that the courts must have a range of options for sentencing, which I think was implicit in what the noble Lord said. We believe that each particular form of supervision has its part to play in diverting offenders from custody. I know that this is not the occasion on which to discuss the relative merits of these matters, except to say two things, if I may. The first is that the improvement in police recruitment makes it the more possible to expand the number of attendance centres; and one reply I would give to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, who asked me how we prevent young people going in increasing numbers into custody, is that this is one of the ways —by providing more attendance centres (we are doubling the number of junior attendance centres) instead of seeing youngsters going into custody in that way. The second thing I should like to say on this is that I am sure that the probation service can expand the scope of its work, and can assume responsibility for more offenders who are not a threat to other people but who would otherwise go to prison.

My Lords, may I quickly turn now to the second part of the noble Lord's Question. I agree that the second main contributory cause of the present peak in numbers of unconvicted prisoners is undoubtedly the increase in the length of time they are awaiting trial.


My Lords, before the Minister leaves the question of bail, is he in a position to reply to the question I put to him asking whether he is in possession of the statistics as to how many persons on bail commit other offences or abscond? One has always understood that these statistics were being kept in the Home Office, but have never seen the light of day.


My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in possession of those statistics. During the course of the debate I asked, in case I could reply to the noble Lord. If, after the debate, I find that I have the statistics at the department—they are certainly not here at the moment —and they can be provided to the noble Lord, then, of course, I will most certainly see that they are provided.


My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on from that, he tells us that there is a programme in the Home Office to provide more bail hostels. Could he give us an indication as to how many places will be available under this programme, and what the time-scale for the programme is?


My Lords, the existing programme is at the moment a provisional programme. This provisional programme extends over the next three or four years, and will provide more places; but, as they are not absolutely firm—in other words, the places are not absolutely firmly in a programme, but are provisional at the moment—I should not like to be drawn on the exact number. But I should like to repeat what I said to the noble Lord, that it is the intention of the department and of my right honourable friend that at the end of the programme the major centres of population will be served by bail hostels; and, as the noble Lord may remember, I gave an assurance at that moment in my speech about the reviewing of the programme in the light of the working of the Bail Act.

My Lords, in view of the time, may I omit that part of the speech I was going to make about problems with the courts, because, really, when at least two Queen's counsel (maybe more) have spoken in the debate, I think that perhaps it is better that your Lordships should have heard from Lord Hutchinson and Lord Wigoder than that your Lordships should hear from me, except that I think I must remind your Lordships of this in passing. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, not only as a legacy from his predecessor, also, is in the middle of pushing forward with a very considerable court-building programme which we hope will provide, by the end of 1982, 36 more permanent and emergency court rooms for London and the South-East. My noble and learned friend has also been approaching members of the judiciary to ask them whether they will sit in the London area, and indeed I understand that some 50 judges have been good enough to respond.

Perhaps I may go straight on to the Scotland point, which has been put to me by certain noble Lords. Incidentally, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to say that NACRO and the Howard League felt deeply about this point, and that perhaps he ought to lend his voice to this because they might be suspect organisations. As NACRO and the Howard League have very close connections with my right honourable friend's department, even though we in the department do not always necessarily agree with all the expressions of opinion which come from those two organisations, I cannot let the noble Lord in any way denigrate certainly one of the organisations, with which he is very closely connected. I should just like to say that in passing, though I know that that really was not the noble Lord's view. It is certainly not the view of the Home Office.

With regard to the Scottish point, my answer is that in most parts of the country prisoners in custody are in fact dealt with in 110 days or appreciably less—and I have statistics if your Lordships would want them. But, of course, in London, as your Lordships will know, because of the enormous burden of work, this is not possible. The long and the short of it is that if we simply introduced a 110-day rule for custodial remand cases, in some areas the courts would have to concentrate on such cases to the exclusion of others. I think what was said, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Allen—that it is absolutely necessary, before one takes the step of imposing a ceiling of a certain number of days, to look at how you are building your courts and whether you have both the judiciary and the administration to man those courts—is an absolutely necessary putting of the cart in the right place in relation to the horse. It is for that reason that I was anxious to say to your Lordships what it is that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is doing before I said just those few words on the Scottish point.

My Lords, there have been questions which have been asked of me, and, if I may do so very quickly, I shall answer just one or two of them. There was a point which the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, put to me about legal aid for bail applications, and, if I may, I shall write to the noble Lord. I may give the noble Lord satisfaction on that, and I think he will not object to the reply I shall give him. However, I must, if I may, give a reply to a point which has been raised, not only by the noble Lord but also by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, regarding the extension of the present eight-day period of remand in custody. I think I must say that this has of course been considered by Parliament three times in recent years, and has been rejected on each occasion, the main objection to the change being the possibility that in some cases an extension from the eight-day remand period to, say, 20 days would lead to delay in the preparation of the defence case, and would result in longer periods in custody, to the prejudice of the defendant. All I would say this evening is that I think that, in taking on board what noble Lords have said on this subject, the Government must also bear that point very much in mind.

My Lords, if I may limit myself to just three answers, the second relates to a question that the noble Lord, Lord Allen, asked me about the bail information schemes. Indeed, I think the Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court experiment was held, by people who knew about it, to be successful; and the Home office circular on bail procedures issued in 1975, the noble Lord will remember, suggested that courts might consider introducing bail information schemes. But, of course, responsibility for establishing these schemes rests with individual courts. The noble Lord may like to know, though, that inquiries are now in hand from my right honourable friend's department about the spread, cost and effectiveness of bail information schemes.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Trumpington made a point, which I think rang a bell with many of your Lordships, as to why magistrates' courts, which also in their turn are having troubles about waiting time, are dealing with certain matters—and my noble friend instanced road traffic matters—which could perhaps be dealt with in other ways. My noble friend may like to know that an inter-departmental review of traffic law has been set up by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and by the Home Secretary, and it is looking at the possible extension of the fixed penalty system and at the totting-up procedures.

My Lords, perhaps I may express my thanks simply to your Lordships for taking part in this debate: not thanks for asking me questions, because they have not really been very easy to answer, but thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and others, for raising a matter which is of great concern, I think, to us all.