Brixton Prison (Remanded Persons)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1972.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hitchin 12:00 am, 9th May 1972

Mrs. Shirley Williams (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action is being taken to relieve overcrowding among men on remand at Brixton prison, making possible a reduction in the 22/23 hours a day these men currently spend in their cells; and to make a statement on the recent demonstrations at the prison.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

Since 3rd May there have been four demonstrations at Brixton by prisoners who sat down during exercise and refused to return to their cells. The number of prisoners involved ranged from 50 to just over 200. The demonstrations, which have been peaceful, lasted for periods ranging from 40 minutes on the first occasion to some 8½ hours last night, and were designed as a protest against the conditions for unconvicted prisoners in the prison.

I accept that conditions at Brixton are not satisfactory. Some relief is given by diverting prisoners to other London prisons, but these prisons are themselves overcrowded; no complete solution is possible until more accommodation becomes available under the accelerated prison building programme, details of which I gave to the House on 27th April. In the meantime I have asked the Regional Director to make a visit to Brixton to consider what improvements might be made, for example, in the arrangements for open visits or by allowing the use of personal radios.

I am also pressing on with the review of conditions for unconvicted prisoners generally, which I authorised recently, and I hope to announce my conclusions shortly.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hitchin

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. I pay tribute to the restraint which has been shown by the Governor and the prison officers at Brixton in handling this difficult situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) six weeks ago drew to the attention of the Home Secretary the conditions in Brixton prison which were likely to lead to trouble, as these are men who have been convicted of nothing, who are spending 23 hours a day in their cells, some of whom have been there not just for weeks but for several months awaiting trial. Will the Home Secretary consider drawing the attention of the courts to the conditions prevailing for remand prisoners in Brixton so that the courts may take them into account in deciding whether or not to grant bail? Will he also consider emergency action to provide extra accommodation, because for a man to have to wait four or six months for trial in these conditions makes a mockery of British justice?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

This is certainly a problem, but it is not a new one. The Government have greatly increased the programme for providing prison places. It takes some time to complete the building of new prisons, but we have done a great deal. As the hon. Lady knows, we are also pursuing new ways of lessening the problems of remand prisoners. The right way to tackle the problem is to provide more accommodation and to ensure that the remand system is adjusted to lessen the problem.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Whatever my right hon. Friend does in the short term, is not the only solution in the long term the demolition of Brixton Prison, which is one of the worst in the country, and its replacement by modern buildings?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

In the long term perhaps, yes, but, after all, the Government face a situation where there is great overcrowding in the prisons. When there is already great overcrowding we cannot demolish existing accommodation.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

Six weeks ago I wrote to the Home Secretary drawing attention to the unsatisfactory conditions affecting prisoners on remand in Brixton. I drew attention to prisoners being on remand month after month before trial and being kept in their cells for 23 hours out of 24 because of the shortage of prison staff. Why has the Home Secretary taken no action but allowed the situation to develop until the present demonstrations have taken place?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

I cannot accept that at all. I do not accept that prisoners spend 23 hours in their cells, although I agree that the period that is spent in cells is far too long. A few months ago I authorised a review of the problem of prisoners on remand, and I hope to announce my conclusions shortly. This is something which the previous Government did not do.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

When my right hon. Friend builds new prisons, will he bear in mind the necessity for building new accommodation for prison staff to go with the prison? Is he aware that there are difficulties about the accommodation of prison staff in Portland, Dorset, and in other prisons, too?

Mr. Maudiing:

Yes. I should have thanked the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) for her tribute to the prison staff, who throughout the country work extremely well in difficult conditions. One reason for the accelerated building programme is to meet the difficulties of the prison staff.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer that part of the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) in which she mentioned bail and the prevalence of the refusal to give bail by courts, sometimes automatically without inquiring why the police oppose it. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circularising the courts?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

As I have told the House, a study is being made of the question of bail. There is the question of reducing the number of people who are remanded in prison. We have to bear in mind also the belief held by many that sometimes people are released on bail who should be remanded in custody.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Since prisoners on remand are by definition innocent unless and until they are proved guilty, is the Home Secretary satisfied that remand prisoners are occupying the best prison buildings available rather than, as in this case, some of the worst?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

Rightly, the conditions of remand prisoners are different from those of convicted prisoners. It is precisely because of the difference between remand prisoners and convicted prisoners that the Government have given priority to a study of the problem.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris , Aberavon

Will the Home Secretary give an indication of the length of time people have to stay in Brixton on remand? Does it not tend to be much longer there than it is in the rest of the country?

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

I cannot give the figures without notice. The length of time on remand is one of the problems we are studying.