HL Deb 05 April 1990 vol 517 cc1519-26

11.40 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement about the serious events at Manchester prison over the past few days which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"Since I reported to the House last Monday prison staff have continued progressively to regain control of the buildings. During the same period a large number of prisoners have surrendered. But 12 prisoners can be seen inside the prison who have been identified by name. Pending a final check of our records I cannot say whether there might not be more.

"Negotiations are continuing in order to bring this appalling incident to a close and I know that the governor and his staff, who throughout have conducted themselves with great courage and professionalism, will continue to do so. I should also like to thank the police and the fire and ambulance services for the work they have done.

"I am very sorry to have to inform the House that a Manchester prison officer died in hospital this morning. He had been on duty on Sunday, 1st April, and although he suffered no injuries during the disturbance he was admitted to hospital later that day. I wish to express my deep sympathy to his family in their loss. The House will already be aware that a remand prisoner, Mr. Derek White, who suffered serious injuries in the course of the events of last Sunday and who was admitted to hospital on that day, died as a result of those injuries on 3rd April. Again I offer my sympathy to his relatives. During the past few days a number of prison officers have also been injured but all but one have now been discharged from hospital. The Greater Manchester police have opened a murder inquiry and other criminal investigations into the incident.

"A special telephone number for the use of relatives concerned as to the whereabouts of individual prisoners in Manchester prison at the start of the incident has been available since Sunday. It is 061–817–8178. All governors receiving prisoners from Manchester have also been asked to enable them to make a telephone call to a relative or friend without charge. Urgent consideration is also being given to the new arrangements which will need to be made to accommodate people committed from the courts in the Manchester area.

"I have already indicated my intention to set up an inquiry into this incident as soon as it has been resolved. It will be conducted by a Lord Justice of Appeal, Lord Justice Woolf. The terms of reference will be to inquire into the events leading up to the serious disturbance in Her Majesty's Prison Manchester and the action taken to bring it to a conclusion. I intend that the report, which will be separate from and will not conflict with the criminal investigation, should be published".

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

11.42 a.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the very first words that one wishes to utter from these Benches is to echo the sympathy that has been expressed to the family of the prison officer who has died and to the family of the remand prisoner who has also died as a result of his injuries. Our next thoughts automatically go to the governor and the prison officers who have endured a most unforgettable and dreadful occurrence and whose courage, coolness and calmness in the face of all this have merited the full approval of their fellow citizens.

Having said that, we have heard that there will be an inquiry and that it will be headed by Lord Justice Woolf. The terms of reference of that inquiry are not very clear from the Statement. I believe they were that the inquiry would consider the events leading up to these dreadful occurrences. To be of any use, the terms of reference must include the condition of the prison, the adequate or inadequate staffing at the prison and the whole flexibility of the arrangements that can be made in an emergency. I wonder whether the terms of reference will include those criteria.

Noble Lords who were present on the occasion when the first Statement was made will remember that I ventured to tell the Minister that there appeared to be evidence that in the dead letter box where anonymous messages are left, sometimes obviously of impending danger, there was some kind of warning about a disturbance. I asked him whether that was true. The Minister made his usual courteous reply to the effect that according to present information some warning had been given. However, he added that such warnings were not infrequent and they could not always be considered. I deal with this matter as regards the terms of reference of the inquiry because my present information is that an officer had reported on the Saturday at 2247 hours that, a riot situation may occur in the Chapel", the next day, which is the very thing that occurred. I am informed that only five prison officers were on duty to look after the 300 prisoners who were in the chapel that day.

I believe all your Lordships would wish the terms of reference to look into the question of flexibility and what happens as regards investigating warnings of this nature. This is a dreadful occurrence. It is possibly one that may remain unique. However, as I said from these Benches on the occasion of the previous Statement, my fear is that copycat episodes may occur in various prisons around the country. I hope that what I have ventured to say about flexibility and taking into account warnings and the possibility of copycat exercises, will result in adequate staffing arrangements being made to ensure that the dreadful events that have occurred recently do not occur elsewhere.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for repeating the Statement, I wish to pay tribute to the governor, Mr. O'Friel, and the prison officers at Manchester who have behaved with considerable heroism over the past few days. I also wish to associate myself and my noble friends with what the noble Earl said about the prison officer and the remand prisoner who have died.

Is the noble Earl aware that copycat episodes have occurred since Sunday at a number of other prisons, including a particularly menacing incident at Durham? It is right that the House should recognise that sensible action taken by members of the prison service has prevented those incidents from getting out of hand, as the situation at Manchester did.

I should like to ask the noble Earl whether one of the matters which Lord Justice Woolf will look at will be the position of Rule 43 prisoners. Is he aware that some of us remain deeply alarmed about the fact, first of all, that there was a concentrated attack upon Rule 43 prisoners by some of the other inmates, and that there is an ever present risk of that situation developing at other Prison Department establishments where there are Rule 43 prisoners? Pending the result of the inquiry by Lord Justice Woolf, is the Home Office taking action specifically to deal with the possible threat to Rule 43 prisoners at other establishments? I do not think we can simply wait for the report. Some interim action is clearly called for.

All of us who know Lord Justice Woolf will welcome his appointment. However, will he be assisted by an assessor who has specialist knowledge of some of the issues involved and will Lord Justice Woolf sit in public?

Finally, does not the noble Earl recognise that as long as we have appalling conditions in our prisons where in hundreds and hundreds of cells in Prison Department establishments there are still three men to a cell, and as long as we have slopping out and the situation where large numbers of men are locked up for 22 or 23 hours a day, there is an ever present risk of incidents of this kind taking place?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for their remarks about the Statement, which was not a very pleasant one to have to make. Both noble Lords were concerned about the terms of reference which will be given to Lord Justice Woolf. I can best answer those questions by repeating that he will be asked to inquire into the events leading up to the serious disturbance in Her Majesty's Prison, Manchester, and the action taken to bring it to a conclusion. It will be up to Lord Justice Woolf to interpret those terms of reference in the way that he thinks fit.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether the inquiry would include the condition of prisons, the adequacy of staffing and arrangements for dealing with emergencies. My guess is that the terms of reference which Lord Justice Woolf has been given will cover all of those aspects should he consider it appropriate.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will allow me to intervene. Does he really believe that we ought to leave the matter to a guess? That was the word that the Minister used. Ought it not to be made thoroughly clear what is within the terms of reference?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, uncharacteristically picks me up on a matter of interpretation and the use of a word. I have told him the terms of the inquiry which Lord Justice Woolf will undertake. Those terms are for the interpretation of Lord Justice Woolf. They are wide enough. I said that it will be up to Lord Justice Woolf to use such inquiries as he thinks fit within those terms of reference. I said that my guess was that his inquiries would cover those points. I did not say that it would be up to Lord Justice Woolf to cover them. It will be up to him to interpret the terms of reference. I do not believe that there is any need for hesitation by the noble Lord on that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether the inquiry would cover Rule 43 prisoners. Again, the terms of reference are wide enough to cover the point. It would not be for me to tell the judge how to interpret those terms of reference.

The noble Lord also referred to the fact that Rule 43 prisoners were subjected to a concentrated attack and were always at risk of such attacks. That is perfectly true. That is why they are Rule 43 prisoners. That is why they are given special housing in order to protect them as far as possible. This particular incident happened when 300 people were at chapel at the same time as a great many others were attending their dinner break. Therefore a large number of prisoners were out of their cells at one time.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred on a previous occasion to the dead letter box. I have made inquiries and have been unable to ascertain as yet that there was a note in the dead letter box. However, it is perfectly true that a conversation took place with a prison officer who from his home said that such a rumour abounded. As a result extra staff were posted near the chapel when people went in and when they came out. There were not five members of staff in the chapel. There was a senior prison officer plus nine other officers. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will realise that rumours of suspected outbreaks always abound in prisons. It is difficult to know when they are rumour and when they are fact. However, the noble Lord is correct. There was such a communication and action was taken as the governor thought appropriate.

11.54 a.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend convey to the prison officers concerned and to the Manchester police the gratitude of a great many of their fellow citizens for the fact that, despite those dreadful happenings inside the prison, it appears from my noble friend's Statement that none of those dangerous people escaped to become a menace to the public outside? Recognising that the events continued for some time and some very dangerous people were involved, that was obviously a very considerable achievement. I hope that my noble friend will feel that both the prison officers and the police are entitled to the warm gratitude and appreciation of their fellow citizens for protecting them from the risk of those people getting out.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for mentioning that point. In our concern about what happened inside the prison it is sometimes easy to forget what might have happened outside if adequate steps had not been taken. I shall certainly see that the remarks of my noble friend are passed on both to the police and to the prison officers. If they had not taken the action which they did conditions might have been even worse.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, following from the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is it not clear that our present penal system is producing conditions which are indefensible in an advanced society? Is it not further clear that those problems are fundamental and that the time has now arrived when there is a need, quite apart from this particular inquiry, for a fundamental review of penal policy in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we have just had a review of penal policy in this country. That is why it is the Government's intention and desire that a greater proportion of sentences should be served within the community as opposed to people going into prisons, for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, stated. It has also been part of the Government's policy to ensure, as my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow suggested, that there should be a re-arrangement of prison sentences to ensure that they more accurately reflect the time that is served in prison.

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the Government are immensely concerned about the state of the prisons. A very great deal of money has been spent and is being spent on them. It is not something that can be done overnight. The trouble with this kind of disturbance is that the very overcrowding which caused the troubles will now be exacerbated in the other prisons to which prisoners from Manchester now have to go.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the situation in Manchester appears to have arisen from dangerous people being kept in dangerous conditions? Would it not be a good idea if Lord Justice Woolf were asked to look at the matter in two segments: the immediacy of the cause of the problems in Manchester, and the broader question which has given rise to the prospect of such outbreaks also taking place in other prisons? That is a very much broader question. Is it not right that Lord Justice Woolf should look at both aspects, the immediate problem and the background to it?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is precisely what Lord Justice Woolf will look at. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to dangerous people and dangerous conditions. That may well be the case. However, it is up to Lord Justice Woolf to consider the background to what has happened. When he has done that in regard to Manchester it will be possible to see how such improvements or alterations as he may suggest may be applied throughout the system.

Lord Renton

My Lords, have all those prisoners known to have been in Strangeways now been accounted for or are any thought to be missing?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is not clear exactly what the position is. Twelve people have been identified as still being in the prison. The chances are that the number is greater. However, I cannot tell my noble friend the exact position because it is not known.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether in the long term the Government will look at employing prisoners who have to be in prison on productive and useful work such as providing a laundry service for hospitals, which would save the National Health Service money? The frustration of being locked up for 22 to 23 hours a day leads to smouldering conditions, especially when prisoners have only one shower a week.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that suggestion. A great deal is being done to encourage prisoners to work, to make things— not just mailbags— and to operate in workshops. I gave some figures the other day to indicate how very much greater, certainly in Manchester, is the time that prisoners now spend out of their cells. The noble Baroness is perfectly correct to say that if we can encourage people— and we can only encourage them; we cannot make them do it— to learn trades and to operate successfully, that will be a great help from the point of view of their morale.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Earl will recall that I asked him, first, whether Lord Justice Woolf would sit in public and, secondly, whether he would have an assessor. Can the noble Earl help me with answers to those questions?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will realise that the decision to set up an inquiry has only just been taken. I cannot as yet tell him whether it will sit in public because no such decision has been made, nor can I tell him whether he will have an assessor.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the noble Earl informed us that there was some doubt as to how many prisoners remained in the prison. That must mean that there is some doubt as to whether anyone escaped. Will the Minister assure us that, in spite of that fact, that is known not to have happened?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think that anyone has escaped. When the disturbances took place, a number of prisoners wanted to get out of the prison and to have no part in the disturbances. Over 1, 300 prisoners were removed during the night to other prisons. There are a number of other prisoners left and they have been coming out during the past few days. However, I am unable to tell the noble Lord how many are left inside.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I hope that I shall have the indulgence of the House in returning to a topic which I regard as extremely important. I hope that the noble Earl will also forgive me. It was not a question of semantics. I asked something which in my view was fundamental regarding the terms of reference of the inquiry. One cannot be satisfied by guesswork or by leaving it to the interpretation of Lord Justice Woolf. He can only interpret the terms of reference that he is given. We want to see recommendations which the chairman of the inquiry or the person holding the inquiry may have to make. They should not be limited to the words in the Statement; namely: events leading up to the [serious] disturbance … and the action taken to bring it to a conclusion". Those are terribly narrow confines in which Lord Justice Woolf is asked to conduct his inquiry and make his recommendations.

Will the noble Earl speak to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to ensure that the terms of reference specifically include the questions that I mentioned which dealt with staffing, warnings, flexibility and recommendations along the lines mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Marsh and Lord Harris, on the conditions in the prison leading up to such events, not just on this occasion, but, Heaven forfend, on other occasions?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I realise the seriousness with which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, takes that point. I discussed the question of the terms of reference with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary this morning. It was considered right for the Lord Justice to interpret those terms of reference as he thought appropriate. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is concerned. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend, but I reiterate what I said— I know that I cannot satisfy the noble Lord, however much I try to do so— namely, that if the Lord Justice felt that it was appropriate to inquire into those matters in order to seize himself of the position leading up to the disturbances, he would be entitled to do so. I realise that that does not satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, so I assure him that I shall ensure that my right honourable friend knows of his concern.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am sorry to speak once again, but I was not certain from what the noble Earl said whether all Rule 43 prisoners have been accounted for.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as far as I am able to tell the noble Lord, I think that they have all been accounted for.