That is very good news. My right hon. Friend may know that I am a lawyer. Within the privacy of these four walls I should like to let him into a lawyer's secret. No lawyer, whether he is a judge, a magistrates court clerk, a solicitor or a barrister, does today what can conveniently be put off until tomorrow. If they say that they cannot get the job done now, we should not believe them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Does he agree that long periods of custody are undesirable not only because they cause uncertainty and difficulty for prisoners and their families, but because holding people on remand wastes prison service resources? There is also the cost of transferring prisoners between the prisons and the courts.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is a great deal happening in addition to what I have announced. For example, 100 new bail information schemes and 1,000 new bail hostel places will come into being in the next year or so. My hon. Friend is right to imply that we should examine the technology and the economic feasibility of creating direct links between magistrates courts and remand centres in order to speed up remand hearings.
Is the Minister aware that at the beginning of the week a prisoner from Frankland prison in my constituency, who is serving 14 years for armed robbery and for holding a prison officer hostage, was given a free pass for a private operation in a London hospital? He was allowed to go unescorted and has absconded. Will the Minister set up an inquiry to see what happened in that case and to ensure that it cannot happen again, because many of my constituents are deeply worried about it?
I understand and share the fears of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I am advised by the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who is responsible for prison issues, that we are aware of the case and that an investigation is under way. I shall make entirely sure by letter that the hon. Gentleman is kept up to date with the progress of that inquiry.