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Orders of the Day — Prisons

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th December 1976.

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9.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

We are coming to the end of a fairly long night. I do not intend to keep the House for very long on the subject of prisons, although I happen to think that the subject is too little discussed in the House, and, when points are raised, it seems that it is discussed with some reluctance.

As a Member representing a constituency with no fewer than three prison establishments within it, and at one time threatened with a fourth, I should like to air a few points this morning. I did not realise that I would have as much ammunition when I decided to seek this debate. I have with me a series of articles by Mr. Peter Evans which appeared in The Times only last week. Peter Evans is that newspaper's home affairs correspondent.

I should like to start by quoting from his first article, published on Monday 13th December, because it sums up very succinctly—much better than I could possibly do—the crisis that is now hitting our prison system. The prison system is having to contain increasing numbers of highly dangerous men for longer periods in a population that will remain at crisis level into the 1980s. Yet the resources essential for reducing unprecedented pressures that the prisons were never designed to handle are being so drastically cut that there is now no prospect of real relief.The prison service is being reduced to living on its wits from day to day with less and less room for manoeuvre and margin of safety. During the earlier debate on Spandau, it was going through my mind that here was a place with goodness knows how many people looking after one poor 82-year-old incarcerated within. If only we could have Spandau moved in some way or if we could make use of the facilities there, it might be of great relief to our prison system. That could not possibly happen. However, there was the great luxury of this thing in Berlin. It is a terrible thing, and I believe that it is wrong that the man is still there, but there is this enormous attention being given to one man when we are at our wits' end in having to deal with our own rising prison population.

Most of the headings in Class IX vote 7 in the Supply Estimates show various increases of costs, presumably mainly due to inflation and wage rises, but on page 183, Section A, on prisons, we see a decrease in provision of £5,800,000. So, my first question is: Why such a sharp cutback, and what does this mean in practice? With our prison population at a record level of over 42,000, and unfortunately increasing, what is the Government's policy to be for the future?

I suggest that those in the service and those living in close proximity to maximum security prisons—and we have two—are entitled to know, and to know rather more than is released to them at present.

What, for instance, is the shortfall in the establishment of the prison service? How is security now affected by that? We hear rumours of cutbacks, for instance, in dog patrols around the perimeters of prisons. We hear of fewer staff on duty during recreational periods keeping an eye on the prisoners, and of prisoners themselves having to spend longer in their cells than is normal or is good for them.

I accept that in regard to Albany Prison and Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight substantial sums have been expended and are being further expended on security. Following the break-out last summer, a new security fence is being erected around Parkhurst. A great deal of money has been spent on the interior at Albany, which is one of our modern prisons, built within the last 15 years. Why was it chosen to be upgraded from a Category C prison, the original intention for that establishment, to a Category B prison in the first place? That has caused great problems.

Is the supervision within that establishment now sufficiently improved following the structural alterations? That was one of the problems following the recent IRA disturbances within that prison.

In his series of penetrating articles in The Times last week, Peter Evans highlighted many more of the present problems, in particular, doubts about treat- ment that now abound. Is Parkhurst still considered to be a prison, or is it a psychiatric hospital? What consultations are taking place between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security about greater provision of midway secure establishments where first offenders with convictions for serious crimes can receive the right sort of attention without having to be committed to Broadmoor? This is important, because there is dire shortage of such establishments. They just do not seem to exist, and one suspects that there are many inmates of Broadmoor—I have experience of this, having had two cases of this type—who probably should never have been there at all and who could give way to those now in penal institutions who ought possibly to be at Broad-moor.

What is to be the future policy about long-term IRA prisoners in our prisons who are claiming political status? They are causing problems wherever they go, and we could well do without those who are on the Isle of Wight.

There seems to be overcrowing in all our prisons, as was vividly described by Mr. Evans when writing about Leeds gaol. He said: Room is so scarce that prisoners have to take turns to stand up and shave. The most squalid part is slopping out the night's dirty water, urine, and faeces.Prisoners then emerge, drowsy and subdued, after having been confined from 8.15 p.m. to 7.45 a.m., to carry the slops to a recess on a landing after prison officers bang on doors to wake them. As the number of their wing and landing is shouted by an officer, they queue for breakfast … They eat it sitting on beds in their cells because there is not room for all three at the one small table. That is reminiscent of Dickens and does not read very nicely, particularly when we consider that this is 1976.

Bearing in mind the need for equality of the sexes, Mr. Evans also describes the situation at Holloway. He says: Many of the people sentenced to prison would be better off elsewhere. Some ought not to be there at all. At Holloway prison, for example, the population includes up to 100 unconvicted on remand (on average 10 per cent. are found not guilty); up to 60 convicted on remand, 80 per cent. of whom get noncustodial sentences; about 30 drug addicts and alcoholics; a further 15 prisoners with an alcohol difficulty; and 12 psychotics, a class of prisoner which it is difficult to find hospitals to take. That is a total of 217 out of Holloway's average population of 380.There is a queue of patients in prison waiting to go to Broadmoor or one of the other special hospitals run by the Department of Health and Social Security. One experienced medical officer told me that transfers were made more easily when the special hospitals, of which Broadmoor is one, were run by the Home Office. It appears that many people who are remanded to Holloway ought not to be remanded to that establishment in the first place.

The picture is a disturbing one, and unless some positive decisions are taken soon the morale of the Prison Service, which I suggest is not as high as it should be, to put it mildly, will deteriorate. It is time for new initiatives about the type and length of sentence and consideration whether other forms of punishment which do not involve complete detention should be introduced. We hear about weekend or even overnight stays. I am sure that these things must be brought forward, otherwise we shall have a crisis of almost insoluble problems.

At the third prison in my constituency, Camp Hill, a Category C prison, £315,000 is being spent on a new sports complex. Very little information was given to my constituents about this matter and it caused something of an uproar when it was realised that although there are 110,000 residents on the island they do not have such facilities as are proposed at the prison. There is no indoor heated swimming pool for the local population, nor is there even an indoor sports complex, yet money is being spent at Camp Hill on such facilities. I am not saying that the prison will have a heated swimming pool, but it will have a pretty elaborate sports complex. I do not doubt that it may be highly desirable and that there are good reasons why it is being built.

I have exchanged correspondence with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, who knows my constituency. Why cannot these facilities be widened to provide dual provision for the benefit of all concerned? Surely, with a first or second offenders' prison like Camp Hill, such a course would give a movement between the outside world and the inmates, to the benefit of all concerned. Such ideas should be encouraged. If we are to spend that amount of money—and, as I say, no doubt there is a good case for it—on sport and recreational facilities for those whom we are trying to restore as good citizens to public life, can we not have these things discussed more openly, with the plans made public, so that the people concerned know what is going on?

How are the cuts to affect the civilians within the prison staff? I hear rumours of possible redundancies among maintenance men and, in some cases, instructors. The Prison Service seems to be going against Government policy by doing away with direct labour and bringing in outside contractors to do maintenance. The people concerned some of whom have worked in the prisons for many years, are entitled to know. In his concluding article last Thursday Mr. Evans says: The prison system is suffering from a crisis of faith. People are not so sure as they once were what prisons are for. It surely it time we tackled the whole problem comprehensively and had the determination to provide sufficient funds to structure a service of which we can be proud, rather than fail to face up to the problem fairly and squarely and risk the backlash that is inevitable unless action is taken.

In the 10 minutes or so that I have spoken I realise that I have only skimmed the surface of the problem, and I realise that it is a complex matter, but I hope that we shall have time in the House for a full-scale debate on the whole Prison Service early in the New Year.

9.43 a.m.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

I congratulate the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) on raising this important subject. Anyone who takes the least interest in our prisons policy knows that with the ever-increasing number of incidents taking place, there is a major cause for concern.

Hull Prison had the most serious riot in this country this century, with the exception of the Dartmoor riot. I want to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who gave me every co-operation in that serious situation, giving me all the information available to him, and also making available the governor and others involved in containing the situation. I want to express the appreciation of all my constituents for the way the matter was handled.

The situation was made worse by events which followed the riot. It was decided, rightly, to contain the riot and allow it to follow its own course and not tackle it head-on. That approach led to an agreement between the prisoners and the authorities, whereby the prisoners came down off the roof. What has the Hull incident to teach us? To me it says that there is something seriously wrong in our prisons policy.

At the time, complaints were made by prisoners to me that they had no confidence in the system of expressing their grievances through the Home Office administration. The complaints may or may not be justified. I promised that if they had any evidence I would make my own investigation and interview any prisoner who wished to talk to me, and that I would make my own analysis and report and submit it to the Fowler inquiry set up by the Home Office to look into the causes of the riot.

After much hard work, I have produced a 20,000-word report which I am giving the Home Secretary today. It contains my observations on the incident and follows interviews with a number of people involved in it, including prisoners who took part in the riot, people associated with the prison who are not Home Office employees, and others with genuine views arising from their experiences of prison and prison life.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight made an important point when he said that insufficient information was given about prison policy. The Official Secrets Act plays a large part in determining people's co-operation in giving information to someone who is trying to make an appraisal of what happens in prisons.

I recommend in my report that, as the Act is being reviewed, the Home Office should also allow people associated with prisons to take part in the public debate which is necessary in order to bring changes to the prison system.

The excellent articles in The Times by Mr. Evans are a step in the public debate which is necessary. I hope that my report, which I shall release in three or four weeks, will be another step, and I appeal to the Home Secretary to consider making public the findings of the Fowler inquiry into the Hull riots. That would be an important step towards a proper analysis of what happened at Hull and how to bring about the changes which I am sure will be recommended.

The Gale inquiry into the Parkhurst riots of 1969 was not made available to the public or to hon. Members. Indeed, I understand that it was not sent to governors of other dispersal prisons. That surprised me, and seems to indicate that there is even an "in" crowd in policy making in the Home Office.

Since the decision to establish maximum security prisons, of which Hull is one, we have spent considerable sums to ensure that no one escapes from them. The record shows that we have been successful. High walls, television cameras, and lights have been built and installed to show category A and B prisoners, who are to spend a major part of their lives in prison, that they will not get out.

The committees of inquiry which recommended the establishment of these prisons also recommended that they should have liberal regimes. I am bound to say that from the conclusions in my report it seemed that the opposite was happening. We had a more reactionary approach. We say an increase in the number of incidents in our prisons, culminating in the riots in Hull Prison.

I do not intend to say any more on the subject of my report. I hope that the report on the policy inquiry will be made public, so that this House can begin to take part in the essential debate about a change in prison policy, which is desperately needed, because if people believe that at a stage when more and more people are going to prison we shall reduce the problem by cutting back on the provision of places, they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

There will be problems. The problems are increasing. Do we get tougher? Do we put people in gaol, put them in cells, lock them up, feed food through the door and then forget about them? I presume that we have not reached that stage. The Prison Rules talk about the rehabilitation of prisoners. That is right. Our policy is based not on retribution but on rehabilitation.

I suggest that we have to consider two different policies for prisons—one for dispersal prisons and one for local prisons. The fact is that the essence of the problem lies in the chemistry of the prison—all the things that go to make up the character of a prison, such as the attitudes, the rôle of discipline, the type of prisoner, whether people who need psychiatric care are being kept in prisons instead of hospitals, and the cutting back in equipment, which lead to reduced free social time. All these things affect the situation in our prisons.

I hope that we shall review the whole of our prison policy at this stage. If we do not, we can only look forward to further incidents, with men—as at Hull—creating riots which cost us more money in terms of repairing the damage done than we save in overtime. I hope that the situation will bring about a change in policy.

9.53 a.m.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

There were three strands in the contribution made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), but I know that he will forgive me if I turn first to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about the report. I assure him that I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what my hon. Friend said about publication. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider it most carefully. My hon. Friend put very eloquently the point in favour of the publication of the policy report, and I shall see that my right hon. Friend has that information and considers it.

Secondly—this is a general point concerning both hon. Members who have spoken—there is the lament: how little opportunity there is for the House of Commons to debate the subject of prisons. When I see some hon. Members sticking rigidly to the concept of the House of Commons as it was and refusing to consider ways of lightening the load upon the House I reflect that it is a very salutary lesson to have debates like this one, when we see how many subjects we leave from month to month and year to year without adequate debate. The subject of prison policy is an extremely interesting one, which is left untapped and undebated for far too long.

I take issue with both the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East for the way in which they expressed themselves. This is not merely a debate about prison policy, because, in isolation, prison policy is but a reflection of our larger penal policy, on sentencing and deterrents generally.

As a country we are in a profound dilemma. We are torn between those who want us to look at alternatives to prison and those who say that we should deal with prisoners in a tougher way. Many people urge us to be more severe, but the public good dictates that a much cooler and closer look at the subject is necessary.

I can assure both hon. Members that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a close interest in this subject and is examining all possible ways of alleviating the problem of the high prison population. He will do whatever is necessary and whatever is possible to cope with what is admittedly a great problem.

The three strands of the problem are staff, security, and recreational facilities at Camp Hill. This debate, although it has touched on general policy, is about expenditure. Prisons make highly intensive use of manpower, and prison officers' pay accounts for 60 per cent. of all prison expenditure, or, if we take net current expenditure, it accounts for about 75 per cent. This compares with capital expenditure of about 25 per cent. and operating costs of 15 per cent. of all expenditure.

Whatever the public expenditure position, no cuts in staff are envisaged. The White Paper on public expenditure shows that by the end of the decade the present staff is scheduled to increase by about 3,000. The ratio of staff to prisoners will not worsen in any way, staff salaries will increase, and the number of staff quarters will be increased.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a shortfall in the establishment. At 30th November there was a shortfall against the establishment for 31st March 1977 of 324, but by 31st March that is expected to be made good, so that there will be no overall shortfall.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned civilian staffs. As far as can be foreseen, no cuts in civilian staff will be necessary. He mentioned a sum that has been expressed as a cut in the Supplementary Estimates. One of these is a diminution in the amount of overtime working.

I take the point made by both hon. Gentlemen that this leads inevitably to some restriction of facilities and lack of provision which, in the long run, is undesirable. I can only say that in a very difficult situation we are trying to do all that we can to make the situation tolerable. The diminution of overtime has meant greater staff availability. The existing staff is not stretched as tightly as it was. That is one helpful point.

The second point the hon. Gentleman raised was the question of security. This is not affected by the cuts. Half the £6·6 million allocated for improvements to existing establishments is for security measures and essential services. In the next three years the proportion will increase.

The hon. Gentleman wondered about the status of Parkhurst. The sum of £1·2million is being spent there on perimeter security and greater security of the special security block. At Albany, a Category B dispersal prison, £1·6 million is being spent on security, making the outside perimeter wall concrete, providing anti-climbing devices, strengthening cell walls and installing closed-circuit television. At that prison there is a system whereby the cell doors and doors between buildings are locked electrically. I understand that a scheme to improve that system, at a cost of £180,000, is starting.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

I was amused by the Minister's last comment, having talked four days ago to a gentleman who knows all about this. I advise the hon. Gentleman to look at that sort of installation again. I gather that it creates great problems within the prison. It is gadgetry gone mad, and there are terrible problems with it.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's intervention to the attention of those who advise me. I always have problems with gadgets, but I have always attributed that to my own inadequacies rather than those of the system.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

The problems cause more overtime.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

That is probably true.

Extra places are being created in prison establishments, both by the building of new establishments and by the updating of two existing establishments. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Holloway, which is one of these being updated. In the renovation process the problem of space becomes a little more acute. When anything is being renovated the living standards are temporarily affected. By the end of 1980–81 some 4,700 extra places in prisons will be provided.

The hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question whether prisoners at Holloway and Parkhurst should be in special hospitals. Both at the trial and thereafter, there is a careful process for vetting those who should be in special hospitals. It is my task to consider applications by people in special hospitals for transfer to outside hospitals, to mental hospitals, and subsequently for conditional discharge. It is a matter which exercises me considerably. We must have the twin aims of the welfare of the patient and the security of the public. It is no good saying that one can automatically ignore either factor, because one is blamed if something goes wrong.

I carefully consider any transfer between the special hospitals and other hospitals. It is not my intention to overload Broadmoor, which I have visited recently, or deny facilities to those who are worse off. The staff at Broadmoor, who are a most dedicated and expert body of men and women, consider each case carefully, on its merits, and effect transfers. Every week I effect the transfer of varying numbers of patients from one of the special hospitals to other hospitals or from other hospitals back into the community. I believe that that is the right way to approach the matter, in terms of expenditure as well as in terms of humanity.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

Is my hon. Friend saying that there are sufficient places available for all those who are considered to require medical treatment and should be transferred from prisons to special hospital facilities—for example, the psyschiatric patients? The Butler Committee makes it clear that there are insufficient places, and that as a matter of urgency 2,000 should be provided.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I am not saying that. I think that my hon. Friend is being most unfair when he makes that suggestion. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight talked about a queue for the special hospitals. We are ensuring that the queue continues to move. The Park Lane project will provide some extra places, although I concede what the Butler Committee reported.

The hon. Gentleman raised the problem whether those who are remanded to Holloway are rightly remanded and whether there is any need for a remand in custody, especially when we bear in mind that 10 per cent. of those who are remanded are acquitted. I must make it clear that it is a matter for the courts to decide. In my view, the courts are rightly independent of ministerial directive as to what decisions they make in individual cases. The legislative framework that the House has provided by the recent Bail Act should mean that the number of remands in custody will diminish. That is because the criteria for remanding in custody are tightened and turn chiefly on the person on remand re-offending while awaiting trial.

The last matter raised by the hon. Gentleman was the sports complex at Camp Hill. He is right in saying that many of our institutions are Victorian in a very real sense of the word. Conditions are undesirable. We would wish to see them improved if we could do so. Part of the dichotomy lies in the public's attitude.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman must have experienced a certain reaction from some of his constituents. When a sports complex is built, such as the one at Camp Hill, for use by prisoners, a similar attitude is expressed to that which is heard about unemployment or social security—namely, "If I were unemployed, I should be getting money from the State" or "If I were not working, I should get social security payments." The same reaction is heard when attention is turned to prison facilities. It is said, "If we were prisoners we should get sports facilities, but as we are not we do not get them." The country has to face that profound dichotomy.

The fact is that if the public want prisoners to be in a fit state to re-enter life in the community, the facilities that we have been discussing are necessary. But more important than that is that if people want good relationships inside the prisons between staff and prisoners, such facilities are necessary both for the welfare of the prisoner and for the good running of penal institutions. All these matters are considered, and I have dealt with the amount of money that we are spending on capital projects and the emphasis that is placed on security and general basic maintenance.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. It is something that should be said more often and more publicly, especially in a constituency such as mine. I am glad that the words have been said. I am sure that they will be printed, and I am sure that the Minister's remarks will be received in the right spirit.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

It is consolidation for staying up through the night if I can contribute to that debate. Although the overwhelming preponderance of improvement to existing institutions is confined to security and general basic amenities, clearly in any humane règime we have to spend a proportion on education and vocational and physical training. These are carefully weighted on a national system of priorities, and they constitute in total between 1 and 2 per cent. of the building programme. We believe that at Camp Hill, with its high preponderance of young prisoners in what is a training establishment, they will benefit very greatly from the provision of those facilities.

I think that the hon. Member was unduly gloomy when he said that the matter was rejected. He will know that the Home Secretary is reconsidering the matter after the initial indication of refusal. I cannot minimise the difficulties which we see in this matter but I assure him that we shall give the most careful consideration to the point he makes about the public sharing in the facilities. In particular, he has mentioned the high number of his constituents who are employed in the prison service. They would be part of that.

The hon. Member mentioned the IRA causing problems and claiming political status. The people who are in prison are in prison because they have been convicted of criminal offences. It is no part of the British Government's policy to imprison upon political grounds. This is imprisonment for criminal offences. Certainly while that happens we can have no dual standards. The people concerned were properly convicted under due process of law and are, therefore, prisoners as are any other prisoners. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the friction which it has caused, but thought it right to emphasise that.

The debate has been interesting and, I believe, valuable. I hope that those who have heard it—hon. Members have not flocked in in large numbers to hear it—will at least read the report of the debate in Hansard, and that this will spark off interest.

We are, as the hon. Member will know very willing to answer questions on the subject. Time for debate is rather more difficult. There is no wish on the part of the Home Office to stifle debate on what is, after all, a public matter of the highest importance.

I am tempted to quote Shakespeare and say that our revels now are ended". I am grateful to the hon. Member for having raised this important problem and for the opportunity I have had of putting on the record certain views held by my Department.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House; immediately considered in Committee pursuant to the Order of the House this day; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 93 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.