Eight new prisons have been opened since 1985, seven are under construction and one, which has been converted from existing buildings at Banstead in Surrey, will open shortly. Five more are planned to start on site this year, and eight are at various stages of planning and design. The building programme also covers the expansion and improvement of existing establishments. By the end of this year nearly 2,000 new places will have been added to existing establishments in a period of less then two years. By the mid-1990s we will have added about 25,000 places to the system. The prison department directorate of works has also begun a five-year programme to provide over 6,500 cells with access to sanitation in addition to its ongoing programme of maintenance, improvement and renovation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I recently received representations, which I forwarded to him, from some of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller)? They included one from a former prison chaplain who preaches at my local parish church and they concerned the serious problem of overcrowding in prisons. Does my hon. Friend recognise that such overcrowding is not tolerable in a civilised country such as we consider ours to be? The figures that he has given in his answer are most welcome. Will he continue these operations and consider alternatives to imprisonment for those convicted, and particularly for those on remand?
There are two important points here. Yes, there is overcrowding in the prison system, but it is very confined. There are about 50,000 people in the prison system, and 20,000 of them in the local and remand centres are overcrowded. The balance of 30,000 are not in any sense overcrowded in the circumstances in which they are living. The overcrowding of the 20,000 is a serious matter, but we have a whole range of policies designed to address that problem. Most specifically, we are building new places —25,000 between 1979 and the mid-1990s. I hope that we will have substantially eradicated the problem by the mid-1990s.
While congratulating my hon. Friend on the substantial number of new places in prisons, may I ask him if he will do all that he can to expand prison education, especially for people on remand, some of whom spend three years on remand and are then not convicted of anything? Secondly, is he not concerned about the large number of people in prison dormitories? Is not that a threat to security?
My hon. Friend raises a number of matters. I agree that some people have been on remand for far too long and we are taking urgent measures to reduce the number. My hon. Friend is right about dormitories. Broadly speaking, they are not a secure way of keeping prisoners and we are in the process of eliminating them. We are seeking to improve the provision of education in the prisons, and I am glad to say that the fresh start procedures that we put in place have greatly enhanced the provision of education in the prison system.