§ Mrs. Renée Short
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department where the Metropolitan Police's emergency holding centre, capable of housing 250 people and built to replace the unit at Rochester Row, is situated; how much it cost; under what circumstances he expects it to be used; if lawyers will have access to those who are detained there before they are taken to court; if visitors will have access to those who are detained there; and how long people will be held there before and after they have been taken to court.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I take it that the hon. Lady is referring to the cell block interchange unit. I understand from the Commissioner that this unit has been in use since 1974. It is situated within Lambeth support headquarters, 109 Lambeth Road, and the cost of construction could not be identified separately from that of the headquarters without disproportionate effort.
The unit's primary function is to provide temporary accommodation for the substantial numbers of people in custody who are taken each day from prisons to courts and vice versa. The need for such accommodation arises because a single central unit enables the most efficient use to be made of transport.
In the normal course those in custody spend less than two hours at the unit awaiting transport to the appropriate court or prison. In exceptional circumstances, for example when there has been industrial action by prison officers, it has sometimes been necessary for those concerned to remain there for longer periods. On a few occasions, when facilities in local police stations have been insufficient to meet demand, I understand that the unit has been used either as a charging centre or to detain people briefly until 95W arrangements could be made for them to be charged elsewhere. Access by legal advisers and other visitors is allowed on the usual basis for anyone not held purely in transit.