Prisons (Security Problems)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1995.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston 12:00 am, 20th April 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on continuing security problems in prisons. [18359]

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

We have received a number of representations from a variety of sources.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston

The Minister will, of course, confirm that his Department has received representations from me regarding the escape of prisoner Roy Higginson and the subsequent shambles. The Minister will be aware that one of my concerns was the bizarre way that Mr. Higginson was able to carry on suing his neighbour, with the use of a legal aid certificate, while on the run. The series of events surrounding the case represent mistakes within the Prison Service, mistakes in the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service operated, mistakes in the guidance given to magistrates about remand and perhaps errors of judgment on the part of the police. In all areas, the responsibility rests fairly and squarely with the Home Secretary. When will he wake up to his responsibilities?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

That question implies that my right hon. Friend can take the credit for a 40 per cent. reduction in the number of escapes from our prisons.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton , Congleton

Bearing in mind the security problems and the amount of drugs that are reported to be circulating in prisons today, does my right hon. Friend believe that the time is right to reintroduce closed family visiting for a percentage of prisoners' sentences? Open visiting should be reintroduced only when a prisoner has shown that he means to go straight and can be relied upon.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree that, in cases where people are clearly involved in drug misuse in prisons, the introduction of closed visits might be appropriate. However, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to introduce closed visits as a general rule. People are sent to prison partly for rehabilitation and partly for punishment. It is offenders who should be punished, not their families. I believe that it would be quite wrong to prevent families from being able to visit prisoners.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

How long does it take to implement necessary security measures in prisons? I know of a case whereby a serious incident in December revealed the need to install a new fence in a prison, but three months later, in March, the absence of the fence facilitated a serious riot in which prisoners gained control of a substantial part of that prison. I was told afterwards that the prison authorities were still going through the bureaucratic procedures to authorise the necessary expenditure. That incident did not take place in a prison for which the Minister is responsible, but I wonder whether the same sorts of bureaucratic and financial delays that occur in Northern Ireland also happen in the English prison service.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Without knowing the details of the case, I am unable to comment upon it or to make a comparison. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is not a matter for me or for my right hon. Friend but it falls within the responsibilities of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether speedy and effective action is taken when breaches or weaknesses in prison security are found. I expect the answer to be yes on every occasion. As the hon. Gentleman will know, following the incidents at Whitemoor and Parkhurst, my right hon. Friend asked Sir John Learmont to examine security across the whole Prison Service. We intend to take every conceivable step to ensure that the highest standards of security apply.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

May I commend to my right hon. Friend the work of the governor and the staff of Belmarsh prison in Thamesmead and I urge him to pay them a visit soon. When will his proposals about the new regime of prison discipline be published?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend's comments about Belmarsh, which my right hon. Friend visited recently. As to the main substance of my hon. Friend's question, we hope to be able to publish the proposals shortly.