HL Deb 08 May 1990 vol 518 cc1235-7

3.1 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the estimated cost so far of the Greater Manchester police force's involvement in the Strangeways prison riot.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, it is not yet possible to put a figure on the full additional cost to the police of the disturbances at Strangeways prison. However, it is estimated that up to £500,000 was expended in the first 10 days in containing the prison perimeter.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is it not a fact that if the cost of those 10 days were to be added to the total expenditure, it would amount to a significant sum of money? Will he also agree that if the expenses of the fire service were also included it would amount to a substantial sum of money which the ratepayers, or community charge payers, of Greater Manchester will have to pay next year? Bearing that fact in mind, will the Minister make an approach to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department suggesting that his department should carry the full cost for this particular exercise? In my opinion this should not be the responsibility of the ratepayers of Greater Manchester.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. If one carries out a simple mathematical calculation of the amount which was spent during the first 10 days together with the amount spent over the total number of days, one will arrive at a certain figure. However, it would not necessarily be an accurate one because the police commitment altered from day to day.

I am aware of the noble Lord's concern about the charge payers of Greater Manchester, but I should tell him that the criteria for special assistance is applicable only where the expenditure is exceptional and unforeseen and on such a scale as to threaten the efficiency of the force. He suggested that I make approaches to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State regarding the cost. I can tell him that the Greater Manchester Police Authority has asked for a meeting with Ministers. Of course we shall listen to what it has to say.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that the expenditure was indeed exceptional and unforeseen and that it was due in part to national conditions within the prison service? Will he also agree that it would be quite unjust for the charge payers of Greater Manchester to have to incur the whole burden?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree that what took place was exceptional and unforeseen. However, it was not necessarily on such a scale as to threaten the efficiency of the force. I should remind the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester that, although there may be national conditions, the Government pay a 51 per cent. grant towards the running of the police force. They also contribute considerably towards the local authority's expenditure on policing by way of the block grant.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, in deciding whether to intervene earlier, did the Government take into account, first, the enormous cost of repairing the prison; and, secondly, the fact that we might be, as we are effectively, without one prison when there is an extreme shortage of prison space?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, when the decisions were made as to whether to intervene they were taken on the basis of operational advice provided by the deputy director general of the prison service. Clearly, there was a case on the second day when 300 to 400 prison officers were present who could have been deployed against nearly 200 fresh and violent prisoners. It was considered inappropriate to intervene on that basis because of the risk of possible danger to life and fatalities.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the Minister agree that decisions in regard to this disaster which took place at Strangeways prison were taken at a national level? If such decisions are taken at that level and not at local level, is not the resulting expenditure a national matter? Does the noble Earl also recall that on April 26th his right honourable friend said in another place that he had in fact agreed to set up a meeting with the people of Manchester in order to hear their representations? Can he tell the House whether that meeting has been fixed and, if so, for what date?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, any outbreak such as the one we have witnessed is a national as well as a local matter. My right honourable friend takes advice and acts upon it. On this occasion he also took advice. As I explained, the Greater Manchester Police Authority has asked for a meeting with Ministers and we intend to listen to what it has to say. I should remind the noble Lord that, although it may be a national matter, central government provide a very great deal towards the costs of police authorities in order to take account of the national element of their policing responsibilities.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the local authorities selected for poll tax capping by Mr. Patten is situated in the Greater Manchester area; namely, Rochdale? Is he also aware that if the costs involved amount to a substantial amount of money and if that has to be met by local ratepayers, it may well result in some of the other nine authorities coming within the criteria for poll tax capping? If the Government or Mr. Patten were to do that next year, does he not consider that that would be grossly unfair?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the way in which authorities are charge-capped is a separate issue, although I agree that it may have a bearing on the matter. I can only repeat that the Government, through central funds, provide a very great deal towards the cost of policing. They pay additional sums only where there is exceptional and unforeseen expenditure on such a scale as to threaten the efficiency of the force. The only recent occasion on which that has happened was in relation to the Hillsborough disaster.