HL Deb 04 March 1988 vol 494 cc402-18

2.15 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to institute an inquiry into the treatment while in custody of the late Mr. Michael Flynn and the remand prisoner whose case came before Mr. Justice Simon Brown on 26th February 1988; to which prisons and police stations they were moved and on which dates; whether they have replied to the Southwark coroner following his observations at the inquest on Mr. Flynn; and whether they propose to issue new instructions concerning remand prisoners with psychiatric problems.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a few moments ago the noble Earl told us that when he was briefed by officials before the last debate he came to the conclusion that the action of the Government was so inherently reasonable and satisfactory that no one could possibly oppose the proposed legislation. I think that it is probably true—and I suspect that on this matter at least I shall carry the noble Earl with me that when he was briefed by officials on the present matter the idea that he would secure unanimous support from all quarters of the House for the position of the Government would have been far-fetched indeed. In fact, we are discussing—

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but he baited me just a trifle. Of course I was only saying that that was my own first reaction; it was not my advice.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, on this occasion at least perhaps the noble Earl and I can agree that his first reaction to this matter would have been in accordance with what I have put before the House; because we are discussing now one of the most extraordinary series of events certainly that I have seen in dealing with prisoners who are in Home Office custody.

As my Question indicates, I propose to raise two particular cases—and, indeed, there is a third of which I have given the noble Earl's private office warning. Both the cases referred to on the Order Paper relate to remand prisoners with serious psychiatric problems, the first of whom—Mr. Flynn—eventually committed suicide in Brixton prison, having been shuttled round the country from prison to police stations and back again to prison. He was of course sent to police stations because of the current gross overcrowding in the prison system. The second prisoner, whose name I do not propose to give as he is still awaiting trial, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He experienced the same treatment as Mr. Flynn—indeed, arguably even worse treatment.

Perhaps I may mention just one or two matters by way of introduction. First, when the case of Mr. Flynn was raised in the House last week by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, replying for the Government, replied that the Government were, seeking to improve the unsatisfactory conditions in many local prisons and remand centres through the biggest building and refurbishment programme this century."—[Official Report, 24/2/88 col. 1200.] I accept that statement without any qualification whatever. The Government's programme of prison building and refurbishment is substantially bigger than the one which was under way when I was Home Office Minister. Indeed, it is larger than that of our Conservative predecessors.

The question of prison building has been debated in this House on a very large number of occasions, and I certainly do not propose to go again over all that ground this afternoon. However, I have made it clear that, speaking for myself, I think that the Government are entirely right to proceed with that programme, although I am well aware that a number of colleagues on both sides of the House take the contrary view. Unhappily, the truth, as we are all well aware, is that the increase in the number of prisoners, particularly remand prisoners, is far outstripping our capacity to provide new prison places. Indeed, as we read only a few days ago, given the present rate of increase, we would need a new prison the size of Wormwood Scrubs every three weeks. Also, I do not propose to discuss in any detail again the problem raised by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, at col. 1202 of the Official Report when he said: The situation is exacerbated by industrial action in some London prisons". As I have made clear on a number of occasions, I deplore the actions of a small number of branches of the Prison Officers' Association who consistently and irresponsibly take industrial action. I do not believe that any government can allow such a situation to be perpetuated year after year.

However, as we all know, we have had 700 or more prisoners being detained in small cells at police stations in London and many hundreds of miles from London, and in cells in magistrates' courts, even when there has been no industrial action taking place in London prisons. Industrial action in prisons intensifies an already intolerable situation. It is not its sole cause.

As my Question today makes clear, I am raising a far narrower issue; namely, the treatment of remand prisoners, men and women, who have been convicted of no criminal offence and who have at the same time severe psychiatric problems. I believe that the crisis in the prisons has been worsened by the policy of the DHSS in discharging large numbers of mentally ill patients into what it is pleased to describe as care in the community. I believe that the man who thought up that phrase deserves a rather good career in public relations although not perhaps as a health service administrator.

As a number of noble Lords said in this House earlier this week and on a number of other occasions, we know perfectly well that the services in the community responsible for the welfare of these mentally ill people have been grossly underfunded for many years. We know that the number of supporting social workers in the community is pitiably inadequate. It is a sad fact of life that if these mentally ill people are alleged to have committed criminal offences, they are liable to be remanded in custody by the courts, thus making an already alarming situation in our prisons even worse.

So much for the background of the problem. I come now to the circumstances of these two cases. The first is that of Mr. Michael Flynn. He was arrested on 7th October last year and charged with arson to a derelict building. There can be little doubt that he committed the offence. Indeed, he told his solicitors that he had done it because he wanted to be readmitted to hospital. Mr. Flynn had a background of committing such offences. On 22nd July 1983 at the Central Criminal Court, convicted of three offences of arson with four cases being taken into consideration, he was sentenced to a hospital order under the Mental Health Act and remained at Banstead Hospital thereafter until 24th May 1984 when he was discharged.

After being arrested last year, he first appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court on 8th October when he was remanded for pre-trial psychiatric and medical reports. When he appeared a week later, considerable concern was expressed about his welfare because the court was told that the night before he had attempted to commit suicide in the cells at Marylebone Magistrates' Court. The conditions in which he had been kept there in police custody were graphically described last Wednesday by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. He described the intolerably small cell in which Mr. Flynn was kept, the lack of exercise and the absence of a bed. All that for a mentally ill prisoner.

Mr. Breen, the stipendary magistrate, made it clear that he wished to remand Mr. Flynn to a mental hospital under Section 35 of the Mental Health Act 1983. However, despite the efforts of counsel, a psychiatrist was not available to come to court to examine Mr. Flynn. Thus, on that occasion no such order could be made. Once again he was remanded in custody—this time until 22nd October—in the hope that before that date the necessary reports could be made.

I am advised that, unfortunately, the report which was available on his next appearance in court had not been prepared in a satisfactory manner. I hope that the noble Earl will have already looked into that matter, or, if not, that he will do so. Although, on 22nd October, a report which had been prepared by the prison doctor was before the court, I am advised that it was not in a form that could have enabled the magistrate to remand Mr. Flynn to a hospital under Section 35 of the Mental Health Act. Once again, efforts were made to get a psychiatrist to attend the court. Once again, they were unsuccessful.

His lawyers then told Mr. Flynn that they were extremely sorry but that it was inevitable that he would be remanded yet again. However, the matter should be cleared up a week later after he had returned from Brixton Prison where he would be examined by a psychiatrist. That is what they told Mr. Flynn. But he was not sent back to Brixton Prison and he was not seen by a psychiatrist.

What happened to him? Due to the overcrowding in Brixton Prison, this depressed, sick man was sent to Walsall police station and kept there in the cells. Obviously no reports could be prepared while he was in police custody, a substantial distance away—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord is building up the tension most trenchantly. I should like to know who would make a decision of that kind. It seems to me to be beyond belief.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl, having identified that problem, will join me in expecting an answer from the Minister as to who made that decision.

On 29th October Mr. Flynn journeyed back from Walsall to the magistrates' court in London. Again, there was no report, as I have made clear, and again he was remanded in custody. It was assumed that, after complaints had been made in court as to what had happened, he would immediately be sent to Brixton Prison but he was not. He first went to Camberwell court cells. The following day he was taken to police cells in Croydon, as we know from the letter sent by the noble Earl and received last evening by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and myself. Then, on 4th November, this sad, sick, depressed man put a sheet around his neck and committed suicide.

It is a sad judgment on our system of criminal justice that this man, considered by a psychiatrist to be suffering from schizophrenia, could be treated in such an abominable fashion. Despite repeated indications by the magistrate that he required psychiatric reports in order to enable him to make a Section 35 order, how could it be that he was denied them? Why was it that this man, with a known record of mental illness which showed up on his pre-conviction sheets, was dispatched to a police station in the Midlands when it must have been known that that would make it impossible for the authorities to provide the court with the reports which it was so insistently demanding?

At the inquest on Mr. Flynn, the Southwark coroner said that the conditions in which Mr. Flynn had been held were barbaric. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in the Question of which he gave the Government advance notice, because it appeared on the Order Paper, asked the Government whether they accepted that view of the Southwark coroner. As we all recall, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, did not answer that point in the Question at all. We all know the present Home Secretary to be a decent and civilised man. I would find it extremely surprising if he did not privately agree with every word of the Southwark coroner.

I turn now to the second case adjudicated on by Mr. Justice Simon Brown only a week ago. As I have indicated, I do not propose to go into detail on this case because this man is still awaiting trial on serious charges. Counsel for this man told the judge that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. As far as I am aware there is no dispute about that. That being so, it is interesting to look at a surprising document which we were helpfully given by the Minister yesterday evening. This is what happened to a paranoid schizophrenic while in custody.

He was remanded for medical reports by Marylebone Magistrates' Court on 14th November last year. I omit the various calls in at Brixton Prison but I shall list the various police stations in which he was kept: Lambeth, Windsor, Lambeth again, Tottenham Court Road, Snow Hill, and police cells at Wimbledon, West End Central, West Hampstead and Wallington. This sick man was then despatched to police cells in Grimsby. There he was made to share a cell with two other remand prisoners. He was also not given the medication needed to keep him stable. In that situation he was clearly a danger to himself, a danger to the man occupying the cell with him, and a danger to the police officers responsible for their custody.

The judge expressed his deep concern about this case in the clearest manner, as the noble Earl will be aware. I should be grateful to know what action has been taken in this case to deal with the problems identified on that occasion and to prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

Another deeply disturbing case has been brought to my attention in the last 48 hours of a prisoner named Luis Garcia. This is a case of which I gave notice to the Minister's private office. Mr. Garcia is a Spanish citizen who speaks little or no English and, as far as I am aware, has no previous convictions. He was charged with the theft of two articles of below the value of £16 and with assault on the police. He appeared to those representing him to be mentally unstable. He was unable to communicate intelligibly with his solicitor, both because of his lack of English and because of what appeared to be significant mental problems.

In the many appearances he made before the Horseferry Road magistrates, the court asked for psychiatric reports. They were not made available. It eventually became clear that this was because he was not at Brixton. He had been sent to King's Lynn police station. After three months in custody—for two articles worth below £16—the stipendiary magistrate, Mr. Crowther, said this: People wonder why our prisons are so full. This is another case which demonstrates the frustrations which those who are trying to administer justice in the magistrates' courts encounter more and more nowadays". He then set Mr. Garcia free because he had no hope at all that he would have reports that would enable him to order the treatment that was necessary. Mr. Crowther concluded: It is an absolute scandal. I would find it astonishing, given the recitation of these particular events, if many people disagreed with that expression of view by Mr. Crowther. I very much hope that the noble Earl will ensure that this particular case is examined carefully and that he will write to me with the details as well as to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

In conclusion, may I ask the Government what action they now propose to take following these cases? First, what inquiries are they instituting into these cases? Are they asking the chief inspector of prisons to look into what happened at Brixton? Are they asking the chief inspector of constabulary what are the facilities in some of the police stations in which these remand prisoners are being held? What precisely do they propose to do about it?

Secondly, what new instructions do the Government propose to give regarding those remanded in custody for psychiatric reports? Thirdly, are the Government now prepared to assure the House that in no circumstances—I repeat, in no circumstances—where such reports are requested by a court will the prisoner be sent off to police cells in distant parts of Great Britain where clearly such reports cannot be made?

Finally, can the Government undertake that where such reports are requested, and particularly where a magistrate expresses his desire to make a Section 35 order, they will be submitted in a form that makes it possible for the magistrate to make the order if he considers the circumstances justify it?

I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to answer these questions this afternoon. I also hope that he will be able to offer some message of hope to the police service, which is becoming increasingly alarmed about the responsibilities which it is being asked to shoulder. Not only are hundreds of police officers now being taken off the streets to act as gaolers; they are now being asked to care for prisoners who belong either in a prison hospital or in a mental hospital.

Michael Flynn killed himself in prison only a few weeks ago. He died a friendless man, unmourned by anyone. Unhappily, there are scores of Michael Flynns in prison and in police cells as we speak. Let it be hoped that one consequence of today's debate will be that in future they will be treated in a more decent and humane fashion than was Mr. Flynn.

2.38 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who has spoken out with compassion and conviction. I am absolutely certain that what he wants to achieve is not to castigate anyone but to find solutions and ways in which the circumstances outlined will never happen again.

I pick up immediately almost the final words of the noble Lord's speech. He said so rightly from his experience that there are hundreds of people in our prison system—not merely remand prisoners but others—who are in urgent need of special treatment in a hospital or a mental institution. However, when those of us who go round our prisons—the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has visited far more than I shall ever do, but I visited a number this year—speak to the governors and staffs of the prisons, we are told factually and with a great deal of distress that there are many men and women in the system who ought not to be there. I do not mean that they ought not to be convicted, but that they should be in a place where they can receive special treatment.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has done a service to the Minister, to the Government, and of course to a great many other people in the penal system, by seizing this debate to provide the Government with the opportunity of a dialogue. There will be no answers. What we want is the satisfaction of knowing that the Minister appreciates the deep concern of many people both inside and outside this House.

I wish to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who fairly pointed out that the overwhelming reason why remand prisoners are kept in police cells is as a result of the overcrowding in prisons, and in some instances as a direct result of industrial action taken in certain prison establishments. That of course is absolutely right.

What we need to understand is that when we try to put in context what has happened to poor Mr. Flynn and other "Mr. Flynns", we have to look backwards a step or two down the train. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I have visited Pentonville; the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and I have visited Wormwood Scrubbs, Holloway, Wandsworth and other prisons. When visiting, we were constantly advised that the prisons were overcrowded. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, quite fairly, points to the major programme of building and refurbishment; but we cannot simply accept that that of itself is the solution.

Let me illustrate the points that I want to make by citing three prisons: Brixton, Bedford and Broadmoor. I have an interest to declare, in that I have a close association with the Prison Officers Association. The secretary of the POA at Brixton, Mr. Dubois, has written three times to the governor in the month of February. Incidentally, he has also written more than once to the Home Secretary and he tells me he has not had either an acknowledgement or a reply to the letters he has written to the Home Secretary. The Minister might care to have that matter looked into.

Brixton is one of our great remand prisons, and undoubtedly some of the circumstances in the case we are talking about could well flow back to the nexus of conditions there. Brixton Prison has a certified normal accommodation figure of 770. Last week the prison held 1,150 prisoners. Last Friday (a week ago today) the figure was 1,182, and another five prisoners were expected on the Sunday. That situation is quite appalling. At the same time, there were 20 prisoners having to sleep on mattresses in cells. They had no sheets, pillowcases or towels. There were 50 inmates who had to wear their own clothing. The reception staff had run out of prison clothing and towels. There were no bath or shower facilities. When my noble friend Lord Mishcon raised the issue last week I had to point out that in Brixton and other prisons there were times when prisoners were unable to have a shower or a change of clothing for a week.

When we are considering who may be responsible for that situation, I am unable to give an answer. But the prison officers at Brixton are quite clear. In the view of that branch, the situation arises because of gross negligence on the part of the staff of the south regional office and at the Home Office who are responsible for transferring inmates from Brixton Prison to other prisons. It is not the first time that the POA at Brixton has pleaded and begged the powers-that-be to realise that the "Michael Flynn incidents" of this world will flow from this situation.

The earlier debate we had today was about the balance between looking after the interests of those who are in this country and those who are outside it, wanting to get in. If the answer is given that no prisoner ought to be refused admission to any prison, then what we are saying, in conditions of the kind I have described, is that if the powers-that-be continue to send the prisoners, then there is nothing one can do. One simply accommodates not 20 prisoners on the floor, but 120. That is absolutely disgraceful.

I should like to draw attention to other situations in Brixton. That is one prison: admittedly, those who know the prison estate know that it is a very big and significant one in the context of remand prisoners. I have a letter of 8th February relating to staffing levels for social visits. It says: The authorised staffing level is 23 officers, at certain times during the day the level was down to five. The Property Room had been closed … The Branch Committee are going to be put into the position of informing relatives of staff who have been injured, or even killed. An earlier letter in February states: On Saturday last the food room had one auxiliary officer for the afternoon visiting session. The Brixton staff as usual pulled together and the food room was manned. On Sunday the SO in charge of reception had two staff to cover the following day's drafts and 11 receptions were due but they were still expected to cover Church service. Today the coach group was 60 short. These facts will come as no surprise to the Minister or his advisers. They know them. Those who know the prison estate know them well. They are part of the terrible story which we are debating. The Minister will need to take them into account.

Perhaps I may tell the House what the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, Mr. David Evans, told me late last night when he visited Bedford Gaol. As the Minister and his advisers will recall, Bedford has been described by a previous inspector of prisons as the most consistently overcrowded prison, not in Britain but in Europe. The CNA at Bedford is 155. This week the inmates numbered 363. Two, three and sometimes even four prisoners are locked up in cells built for one. An incident occurred this week which was given publicity. There was a riot by prisoners—there is no other word to describe it—and 37 prison officers had to be sent in to deal with it. The officers were booted, visored and had their sticks, and they put down that riot. It was a riot by remand prisoners. According to the papers the issue was the change in the rules and regulations in respect of food. We have this volatile situation at Bedford Prison.

What happened after the riot took place? The overcrowding was going on but overnight 76 prisoners were transferred from Bedford to other overcrowded prisons in the South-East region. When there is a scandal, a tragedy or a riot, decisions are taken. Why do not the Minister and his advisers look more carefully at the context of these situations?

My final point relates to the position at Broadmoor. I spoke this morning to the national vice-chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, Mr. George Elliot, who had been down to Broadmoor on Wednesday and on Thursday. Broadmoor is a special hospital and deals in the main with the criminally insane. The officers in this special place are angry. They are officers of a particular kind. Prison officers at Broadmoor are nurses. They are specially trained and are skilled people. In other contexts, prison officers may be substituted for by policemen or by the army but the officers at Broadmoor are unique.

There is a shortage of qualified staff at Broadmoor. I have been given figures which I do not want to bandy about, but the Minister should know the position. Let me say in passing that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, had discussed some of the problems with the prison officers because the Department of Health and Social Security has a deep interest in Broadmoor. The prison officers are grateful for those discussions. However, the Minister should understand that, in seeking answers to the questions that have been asked of him this afternoon, he has an even greater responsibility, which I very much hope he can discharge; that is, to take away from this House the deep concern not only of its Members but also of the prison officers on whose behalf I speak. Prison officers are not concerned only with their own interest, they are even more concerned with the interest of the prisoners and of the community in the state of the prisons. I hope that the Minister can say something that will give them some comfort and solace. For instance, they want to feel that they have the confidence of the Minister and the Government in doing a dirty and dangerous job on behalf of the community.

2.50 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I intervene briefly with the leave of the House. I did not put my name down to speak in the debate because I was not sure whether I would be able to attend due to previous arrangements this morning. I shall address my remarks to the clinical implications, although I was for four years the Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for courts, prisons and Carstairs—the equivalent of Broadmoor in Scotland. From what I have heard I should just like to add a few words to supplement what has been said.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, should be congratulated on raising this very important subject. Both the very worrying cases he cited were associated with schizophrenia. My wife and I were involved in the founding of the Schizophrenia Fellowship some 20 years ago. As many of your Lordships will know, I have been involved in both Houses for many years in issues concerning disability, including mental illness. Unfortunately, schizophrenia is still thought of as a type of split-personality illness, a Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon, which it rarely is. It is a serious mental illness, and one of the two which are most common among mental illnesses in this country.

When we heard that Mr. Flynn committed the arson offence—on which there is apparently no argument—in order to attract attention to his plight, that is the normal situation of a schizophrenic who finds himself incapable of coping with ordinary life. That situation arises either when he first develops the unfortunate illness or perhaps when he has been institutionalised and later comes out into the community but cannot get the care and help that he needs.

That brings me to the question of medication. I am glad to say that over the past 20 years or so advances in medical science, and in medicine generally, have meant that many people suffering from this illness are able to circulate in the community instead of being locked up in institutions as they would have been more than 20 years ago. However, that arrangement is only possible provided there is enough community care available to look after them. They usually have to be on a regime of tablets, injections or other medical disciplines, and they must have supervision. For example, they often have a telephone number to use if they suddenly feel like committing suicide. Those arrangements have meant that instead of being incarcerated, and becoming much worse, many of these people can circulate within the community.

There are some questions I should like to add to those that have already been asked of the Minister. I do of course realise that they are not so much the concern of the Home Office as the DHSS and the Scottish Office—which of course is responsible for health in Scotland. First, are we really happy with the present situation where community care is unable to look after a person like Mr. Flynn? Has such a person a way of making contact with those who can then take him in again, perhaps into an institution, or who can in some other way look after him even if it is only for a certain period of time?

Secondly, have we briefed the police and other authorities sufficiently about mental illness, especially schizophrenia? From what I heard of this particular case—and I only know what I heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich—if it meant that this medication or his normal regime of tablets or injections was disrupted and not carried on, that situation could be dangerous to everyone. I am worried today to think that the authorities do not know enough to realise that there must be a supervising medical authority to ensure that the district nurse, or someone else, gives the sufferer the right kind of medication. I should like to add these points to the others made about courts, remand, and so on in these worrying cases.

2.55 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, because of our respective duties, I think that I am right to say that the noble Earl and I are still fasting, and, therefore, as a matter of mutual consideration, I propose to be extremely brief. I can be brief, because the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has outlined the facts of three dreadful cases, the first of which I brought to the attention of the House last week, immediately I had heard of certain facts.

Those facts, which I believe horrified all sides of the House, have not been disputed. I then said—I do not apologise for the remark—that I thought that the state had committed a far greater crime against the late Mr. Flynn than Mr. Flynn ever committed against the state. If that be the position, the noble Earl, has now heard of two more cases, which are depressing to say the least, with regard to remand prisoners with psychiatric problems. I therefore call upon him to consider, as a matter of urgency, setting up a departmental inquiry into those three cases and the general problem of remand prisoners with psychiatric problems, and the way that they should be dealt with, including of course the useful comments, expressed with his experience, by the noble Lord who has just spoken.

I do not think that I can usefully add anything to those comments, except to say that it is the first time that I have ever heard anyone with judicial powers, in this case a coroner, describe activities carried out on behalf of the state as barbaric. I hope that it will be the last time your Lordships will hear that, and that that will be secured by the action that the Home Office will now take.

2.57 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, brevity is always a great virtue. I admire, respect and thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his example. I wish that I were able to emulate it but, were I to do so, your Lordships may think that I am treating the matter with truculence, and so I shall be marginally longer than the noble Lord. The noble Lord said that both he and I, because of our respective duties, were fasting. He is right. I fancy that it is doing me more good than him.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris—it may seem a curious thing to say—for tabling this Question. He raises a matter of intense importance. All noble Lords have spoken out of a feeling of great concern and were kind enough not to try to apportion blame; I do not think that blame is the right thing to apportion on this occasion. One has to try to acknowledge the problem to see how best to alleviate it.

The Earl of Longford

There is plenty of blame.

Earl Ferrers

Did the noble Earl wish to say something?

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am sorry if I said something that I should not have done. I could not help remarking that there was quite a lot of blame to be attributed. The question is where to place the blame.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in that case, there is a marginal difference between the noble Earl and myself. I shall come on to explain why. We should not get involved in a remark which was not as sotto voce as he intended.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred quite rightly and more generally to the position of Broadmoor, and the concern of the Prison Officers' Association. I understand their concern and the difficulty and, in a way, the loneliness of the job which they carry out. Of course, the noble Lord will realise that Broadmoor is not a prison as such; it is a special hospital and that is the reason why it is administered by the Department of Health and Social Security.

As far as the Prison Officers' Association is concerned, I can tell the noble Lord that I have the greatest respect for those peope who carry out the unenviable and very often quite dangerous task of looking after those people who are in their care. It is a task which society values and one which is not always appreciated in speeches quite as much as it might be. I shall see that the remarks of the noble Lord are drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend.

I well understand the concern which the noble Lord and others have expressed today and on other occasions about the circumstances of those prisoners who are presently held, not in prison where they should be, but in police and other cells. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was good enough to say that he did not necessarily expect answers to all the questions. What he wanted to do was to ensure that the problems were aired and then for us to take note of them. I can tell your Lordships that everything said today will be considered with great care because we all want to try and find the best possible solution to a very difficult problem. I do not seek at all to pretend to the House that there is no problem. Nobody would believe that, particularly after what we have heard this afternoon. Nor do I. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is quite right to raise this matter and quite justified in doing so. There is a problem.

However, before I come to the specific cases to which the noble Lord refers, perhaps I may start by putting the picture into perspective. We—by which I mean all of us who are involved in any way with the criminal justice process—are confronted with a major and underlying difficulty for which there are no easy solutions. That difficulty is that we are having to deal with a prison population which is increasing at a quite unprecedented rate. I do not propose to go into the various reasons for that, I just state it as a fact. In responding to the noble Lord I shall simply say that we are faced with the need to find accommodation for a prison population that is growing at the rate of 3,000 or 4,000 additional people a year. That is a frightening size. We intend to tackle this problem as best we can and we are doing so. The prison building programme, to which the noble Lord very fairly referred, is designed to provide 22,000 new places by 1995. More than 2,000 of those new places will be provided this year alone. I do not say this with any degree of complacency, no one can be complacent. I merely state it as a fact.

However, building prisons is not all that we are doing. We are encouraging the courts to use alternatives to custody and we have provided them with a wide range of non-custodial options. We have been tackling the delays in the courts. We have been looking at methods of improving the provision of information to magistrates in order to help them make bail decisions. We are increasing bail hostel places. Our proposal in the Criminal Justice Bill to extend the period of remand to 28 days will reduce the pressures on local prisons. We are introducing time limits in criminal proceedings, to limit the time which is spent on remand in custody and so reduce the remand population.

In the end—and I must make this quite clear—the Government accept responsibility for accommodating those who are sentenced to imprisonment by the courts. That is implicit as a duty of government and it is explicit as a duty which we have in our policy towards criminal justice. It therefore gives me no comfort to find that we are having to hold so many prisoners in police cells. That is not what they were designed for. The reason why prisoners are in police cells—and I must again make this clear—is that the prison system has been temporarily overwhelmed by the high levels of population growth in recent years.

Still on the difficulty of the overcrowding of prisons, perhaps I could explain how it is that many prisoners, who have been dealt with by the courts, and remanded in custody or sentenced to imprisonment, find themselves not in prison cells but in police cells. That is a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred.

In London, prisoners leave magistrates' courts in the custody of police officers. Until fairly recently, the police would deliver their prisoners to whichever of the London prisons catered for that type of inmate. For example, a prisoner who has been remanded in custody by the court for the purpose of obtaining medical reports on his condition, would be taken to Brixton Prison and held in the prison's medical wing.

At present, though, the London prisons are grossly overcrowded. Brixton Prison, for example, is operating at 60 per cent. above its designed capacity. For some time, therefore, the London prisons have been unable to cope with the daily outflow of some 250 prisoners from the courts.

In response to this situation, the Metropolitan Police have established a kind of "central clearing house" at Lambeth through which all prisoners pass on their way from the courts to their places of custody. This centre—which was previously known as B11 but is now known as TO11—is responsible for finding accommodation for the incoming prisoners and for transporting them there. The police team at the centre is assisted by a prison governor, and each day it receives details of what vacancies are available at the London prisons.

The demand for vacancies at prisons considerably exceeds the supply of places, and the team at Lambeth therefore has to decide which prisoners have the most pressing need for those prison places, and it arranges for their admission. The remainder have to be found places in police cells in London or—when numbers are as high as they are at present—further afield. Sometimes they have to go very much further afield. The problem is further exacerbated as prisoners who are on remand have to make a court appearance every eight days in order to have their remand renewed. That is something which we intend to change, as I have mentioned. The same procedure is invoked. After having been given a further remand, the prisoner returns again to Lambeth. A cell, possibly in a new location, is allocated to him. A prisoner, therefore, may find himself moved around the country. That is a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, quite reasonably objects. That is a situation which noble Lords all around the House—including myself—find both acutely unsatisfactory and distasteful. This is a disquieting picture, but I thought it important to describe it to your Lordships, as it is an essential part of the picture in which prisoners—and often their subsequent actions—become enfolded.

Perhaps I could now address my remarks to the first specific case to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, draws attention. That is the case of Mr. Michael Flynn. Mr. Flynn was arrested in the Kentish Town area on 7th October last year. On the following day he appeared before Highbury Corner Magistrates on charges of arson and of criminal damage. Mr. Flynn was remanded for medical reports. As I have explained, he would normally have been taken to Brixton Prison but the prison was full and it could not accept him. He was therefore transferred—via the allocation centre at Lambeth in the way in which I have described—to a police holding cell at Marylebone Magistrates' Court. He remained there from 8th to 15th October.

Mr. Flynn again appeared before the Highbury Corner Magistrates on 15th October. He was then further remanded in custody. He was held in the cells at the court complex until 19th October. He was then moved to Brixton Prison where he remained until his third court appearance on 22nd October. After that, he was transferred to the cells at Walsall Police Station.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked who was responsible for that. I have tried to explain how that came about.

On 27th October he returned to the holding cells at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court. He remained there until his fourth court appearance on 29th October. On that date he was moved to Camberwell Police Station. On the following day, 30th October, he was taken from Camberwell to Croydon Police Station. On 31st October Mr. Flynn returned to Brixton Prison where he remained until his death four days later. Those are the historical, chronological facts.

I, like all other noble Lords, deeply regret Mr. Flynn's death. Any death is a sad occasion; a suicide is a terrible occasion. Where a suicide occurs in a prison, that is an occurrence which at the same time both stuns and alerts those who bear the responsibility for the care of people in their charge. Great importance is placed on efforts to prevent suicide in prison.

The fact is that the police and prison officers who came into contact with Mr. Flynn during this period found no hint of his intended suicide. He was examined by four different doctors while he was in police custody in October. He was examined on 8th October, 9th October, 15th October and 23rd October. Those doctors detected signs of mental illness and depression. But not one recorded that he thought that Mr. Flynn was at risk of suicide. If such a diagnosis had been made, Mr. Flynn could have been transferred to Brixton as a priority case. The doctors requested no such transfer.

Having been seen by four doctors while in police custody, Mr. Flynn was also examined by medical officers at Brixton Prison and by a consultant psychiatrist, who interviewed him two days before his death. Neither of those doctors considered him to be at risk of suicide. That does not mean that he was not at risk. It is not always possible to tell whether a person is at risk of suicide. Sometimes the indication is there; sometimes it is not. In this case, there was no indication.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that the coroner referred to the conditions at Marylebone Magistrates' Court as "barbaric". We agree that the conditions there are less than satisfactory for anything other than a very temporary stay. However, the coroner made no criticism of the treatment which Mr. Flynn received in Brixton Prison. Indeed, he is reported as saying that there can be no criticism of the way in which the prison officers at Brixton exercised their supervision of and watch over Mr. Flynn.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Lord is being extremely helpful in going into detail. He referred to the statement made by the coroner that the conditions in which the late Mr. Flynn was kept at Marylebone were barbaric. Perhaps I may ask the Government whether, given the criticism of the coroner, they propose to continue to send prisoners in future to the police cells which were so described?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have tried to explain to the noble Lord the difficulty that is presented with the actual number of places to which prisoners can be sent. It would be wrong for me to tell him that on no occasion would those cells be used. What I have said is that we agree that they are unsatisfactory for any long-term use. It is clearly in the interests of those who are responsible for prisoners to put them in places which are most suitable for them. On occasion, those which are not suitable have to be used.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, which is obviously a poignant one and one which is central to the whole matter, perhaps I may say that the cell was described as being 4 feet by 8 feet; it did not allow the prisoner to stretch his arms; there was no room for a bed; and there was no bed. When the noble Earl, speaking on behalf of the Home Office, says "temporary", what does he mean? Does he mean that it is suitable for anyone in these conditions to remain there for more than a matter of a few hours?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is necessary, on occasion, to use places which are unsuitable. If we do not use such places, we overcrowd other places. The difficulty that presents itself to us is whether or not those cells should be used at all when not to use them may thereby overcrowd other places, and whether it is better to use such cells for short-term uses. I take the point which the noble Lord has made and I shall see that the matter is looked into.

The fact that someone takes his own life in prison custody is a matter of great concern to prison officers and indeed to Ministers. It is a tragic occurrence; it is one which we deeply regret. But I think that all reasonable steps were taken, such as might be expected for any prisoner who is in custody, under the circumstances which prevailed. That does not mean to say that those circumstances were satisfactory. However, they were the ones that prevailed.

My noble friend Lord Campbell mentioned schizophrenia. I shall see that the points which he has mentioned are drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. Last year we introduced new measures which were designed to identify those inmates who are most at risk of suicide and to give such inmates the support which they need in order to overcome their suicidal feelings. Those include improved arrangements for screening inmates on reception; clearer definition of responsibilities; and the introduction of new training programmes for staff.

In the case of the other remand prisoner to which the noble Lord. Lord Harris, referred, the prisoner was remanded by Marylebone Magistrates' Court for medical reports on 14th November last year. Because of overcrowding at Brixton he was placed in police cells at Lambeth until 16th November when he was moved to Brixton. I understand that he was subsequently held in police cells at some nine different locations between his remand hearings. He was held at Brixton Prison from 16th to 20th November, from 7th to 11th December, 14th December to 13th January (except for one night), and from 22nd January to 10th February (except for two nights). I shall not describe the list of his movements but I have supplied the noble Lord, Lord Harris, with a copy and I shall also provide the noble Lord, Lord Mischon, with a copy.

When the prisoner appeared in court on 10th February the prison had completed a medical report. The court then remanded him in custody again until his committal hearing on 17th February. During that period he was held in police cells at Wallington. Following his committal for trial he was held in police cells at Grimsby. Your Lordships will be aware that, when numbers are as high as they are now, the Metropolitan Police have to look as far afield as that and sometimes further for available accommodation. The prisoner is today being moved to Brixton Prison.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to Mr. Garcia. He gave me notice, quite fairly, only yesterday of his intention to raise this question. I have had some inquiries made but it has not yet been possible to obtain a full account from all of those involved. The account which I have received indicates that the issues in this case were somewhat complex. I shall continue those inquiries into the case and when I have come to some conclusions I shall write to the noble Lord.

I apologise for taking up your Lordships' time, but the noble Lord has asked some specific questions and I must try to deal fairly with them. He asked whether we proposed to institute an inquiry. I hope that your Lordships will agree that what I have said today indicates that Ministers—and when I say Ministers I mean several of us, not just me—have gone into these cases very thoroughly. I do not believe that there are circumstances which require a further inquiry at present.

The noble Lord asked whether we had replied to the Southwark coroner following his observations at the inquest. The coroner wrote to the Prison Department on 4th February recording two recommendations which he had announced to the court. He recommended that arrangements for obtaining medical reports on inmates of no fixed abode should be improved, and that remand prisoners who are taken to court should return after their appearance to the establishment where they were previously held. We are considering these proposals, and we shall reply to the coroner as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether we proposed to issue new instructions concerning remand prisoners with psychiatric problems.

We consider it a matter of prime importance that adequate facilities are provided for the psychiatric assessment, the observation and the treatment of prisoners who are diagnosed as requiring such facilities. All remand establishments have some facilities of this kind. About one-third of full-time prison medical officers have a psychiatric qualification. We make extensive use of visiting psychiatrists, many of whom are of consultant status. One in every 12 prison hospital officers has a psychiatric qualification.

Our current recruitment policies are directed at increasing the number of medical and nursing staff with psychiatric qualifications and experience. A working group was established by the Royal College of Physicians. It is looking into the training and qualifications for prison medical officers. A nursing advisory council has been set up in order to assist in developing the professional competence of hospital officers.

As my noble friend Lord Caithness announced to your Lordships last November, the Government have accepted all the recommendations which were made by a joint Home Office-DHSS working group on mentally disordered offenders in the prison system in England and Wales. We are considering how to take these recommendations forward.

I apologise for having taken up so much of your Lordships' time. I have tried to give a detailed description of the events which have occurred in both of those unfortunate cases. I have tried to tell your Lordships of the problems which beset the care of prisoners. I have tried to tell your Lordships what the Government propose to do to meet their obligations to the courts and to those who are sentenced or remanded in custody.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is right to draw attention to these cases. We must recognise that we can never discount the possibility of suicide, however remote it may be. We can never guarantee that it will not happen. All we can do to try to prevent it is to do our best to ensure that the likelihood of suicide is as small as possible by making the ability to detect it as large as possible. That we intend to do.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past three o'clock.