HL Deb 15 May 1985 vol 463 cc1147-9

2.48 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many inmates of prisons in Greater London were not produced for remand hearings in April 1985 because of staff shortages.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

One hundred and twenty three, my Lords.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that remarkable Answer. Will he not agree that there is something most unusual about a situation in which the Government are incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities to produce remand prisoners at the appropriate time, as required by the law?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the problem, as I think the noble Lord will be aware, largely concerns Brixton and the difficulties with staff there. The fact is that we are exploring ways of improving the timetabling of production of cases, of encouraging remands in the absence of the accused and of transferring cases to reduce multiple court appearances, and all that should help.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, has not the prison population in this country risen to a record figure of 46,000; have not the latest figures of those on remand shown an increase of some 26 per cent.; and has not the Secretary of State announced that he needs to recruit 5,000 more prison officers? Does not all this, including the Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, show a most critical state in our prisons?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper is strictly related to the production of prisoners for remand hearings. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that the prison population generally is much higher than it has been, and is in excess of 46,000. But so far as the recruitment of prison officers is concerned, yes, there is a full recruitment programme under way. Priority has to be given to the staffing of new accommodation; and, of course, there is a large programme of building taking place as well.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the extent to which there are currently discussions going on concerning the manpower levels in prisons? Will he bear in mind that if he is in fact to eliminate the staff shortages which are indicated in the Question he really ought to prevail upon his right honourable friend to give higher priority to the promises he has already made about increasing the number of prison officers?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I note the points which the noble Lord makes, but they are, I think, quite wide of the immediate Question in front of us on the Order Paper.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the staff shortage is due entirely to the enormous number of prison officers who are being used on escort duties at the moment? Will he also agree that the reason why that enormous number is being so used is because the Government do absolutely nothing about the scandal of the remand prisoner situation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Lord may be right in part about the escorting side. Yes, there is some effect so far as that is concerned. I think that I indicated in answer to an earlier supplementary question that the Government were concerned about the remand situation and that they were taking steps to try to resolve it.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, have not the difficulties referred to in the Question been made far worse by the deplorable increase in the number of untried and unsentenced prisoners from 8,376 in February 1984 to 9,728 in February of this year? Is that not a deplorable development?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is the case that the figures have increased. With the rise in the number of those untried the number of prisoners required to be produced has increased dramatically over the past few years, which is the point the noble and learned Lord is trying to make. Brixton, for example, now faces about five requests for productions every day, and to fulfill this would require 10 staff. I think that that gives some indication of the sort of problems associated with escorting, which was part of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, may I just put to the noble Lord the question which I asked him a few moments ago, namely: what are the Government's statutory responsibilities in terms of producing remand prisoners? At a time when the Government rightly ask everyone else to observe the law, why are they not doing it themselves.?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as far as I am aware, we do fulfil what is perfectly legitimate practice. When we cannot provide people to escort remand prisoners we produce them at a later date. I acknowledge the noble Lord's concern about it, but it is not simply a question of redeploying staff, of providing more staff or of implementing various other suggestions to mollify the situation. But we do comply with the law.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, can my noble friend say what is the position with regard to the introduction here of the system in Scotland, where if a prisoner is not charged within 100 days then he is released?

Lord Glenarthur

Not without notice, my Lords.