Strangeways Prison

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 26th April 1990.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 4:15 pm, 26th April 1990

—possible improvements about which the Home Secretary made no mention this morning and which I presume the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) never heard.

Will the Home Secretary reduce the number of remand prisoners by applying the 110-day trial deadline throughout England and Wales immediately and by ending the 28-day custodial demand, which was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act four years ago? Will he consult the Lord Chancellor on immediate steps to improve the efficiency of the courts so as to ensure that trials that begin swiftly can also be completed in a minimum time? Will he speed up the introduction of non-custodial sentences described in his own White Paper, if necessary by introducing legislation in this Session of Parliament?

In the light of that, may I ask him specifically about management in the prison service? We are constantly told of the additional prison officers whom the Government have recruited. Will the Home Secretary confirm that that recruitment has been accompanied by such reductions in overtime that the likelihood on any one day is that fewer prison officers will be on duty than was the case before the introduction of fresh start? Will he confirm specifically, by answering the question that I asked him three weeks ago and which he did not answer, that there were 30 fewer officers on duty at Strangeways at the time of the riot than there would have been had fresh start not been introduced? In the light of his statement, will he tell us whether the 200 more—his word—prison officers are additional to his existing proposals, or is he simply speaking of the targets that he had announced to the House before the Strangeways riot?

Equally, we are constantly told of the new building programme. However, it is not producing anything like a sufficiently swift reduction in the number of prisoners in unacceptable conditions. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accelerate the renovation of our Victorian prisons at least to put an end date to the debasing practice of slopping out?

The Home Secretary said in his statement that 1,500 prison places have been lost at Strangeways during the past three weeks. How many places have been lost in the whole prison system during the same period? I understand that it is about twice the number that he quoted in the House this afternoon.

On the subject of the action that may be taken before or after Lord Justice Woolf's report, may we be assured that Lord Justice Woolf will examine the effect on the riot of constant television coverage? Many of us believe that, as in the case of the Balcombe street siege, television should have been prevented from encouraging prolonged defiance.

May I ask the Home Secretary a question about the cost of the Manchester operation? Clearly the Strangeways riot was a national crisis. It would be intolerable if the people of Manchester were required to pay an even higher poll tax to meet the bills for police and fire brigade. May we be promised that the Government will provide appropriate financial assistance? I repeat that it is a national crisis that should be financed from national funds.

The Home Secretary will recall—it is undeniable—that previous reports on prison disturbances have met with little or no positive response from Governments. Will he promise that, when Lord Justice Woolf reports his findings, they will be subject to a full debate in the House during which he, the Home Secretary, will give a clear indication of the action that he proposes to take and the time scale that he offers for that action to be put into operation?