§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Private Notice Question, of which I have 319 given the Government notice; namely, to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on the disturbances at Her Majesty's prison at Pucklechurch.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, at about seven o'clock yesterday evening an officer in the male part of the Pucklechurch Remand Centre, which housed some 125 male young offender remand prisoners, was overpowered and his keys taken. He was quickly rescued by other staff but inmates meanwhile used the keys to unlock other accommodation. Control of the male wings was temporarily lost.
Contingency plans were activated and staff were drafted in from other establishments in the South West. Police were deployed outside the perimeter and there have been no escapes. Fire and ambulance services were also in attendance.
At the same time the 44 female inmates who were held in a separate part of the remand centre were moved out for their own safety. They are being moved to Holloway after being held initially in Crown Court and police cells locally.
Prison officers regained control of parts of the centre during the course of the night and morning and within the past couple of hours control of the whole of the remand centre has been re-established and all prisoners are now back in detention.
My right honourable friend has called for a report on the scale of the injuries which were incurred. I understand that there was no particular information suggesting that such an incident was being planned, nor is there any information at present to indicate why it took place. The disturbance will fall within the ambit of Lord Justice Woolf s terms of reference.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. Does he agree that this appears to be yet another copycat incident following the disturbances at Strangeways Prison, Manchester? Perhaps I may ask him a number of specific questions. I realise that the governor and his staff have only just recovered possession. How much accommodation at Pucklechurch appears to have been lost and therefore necessitates the removal of a significant number of the prison's population to other establishments?
Secondly, is he aware that the transfer of over 40 women prisoners from this establishment to Holloway will further worsen the very unsatisfactory conditions that exist at Holloway? Perhaps I may say that we are all greatly relieved that possession of the prison has quickly been regained by the staff and that not many members of staff appear to have been injured. Nevertheless, will he ensure that those who have been injured receive—I am sure from all Members of the House —a message to wish them a speedy recovery?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that on the face of it it looks as though this is a copycat incident. He aked me how much accommodation has been lost but I cannot tell him 320 that at the moment. He will understand that we have only recently regained control of the premises.
It is perfectly true that if you transfer 44 women to another prison, it is bound to have an effect on the prison population of that establishment. Our hope is that it will be as short-lived as possible.
I cannot tell the noble Lord how many people have been injured. I think it is fairly certain that some people have been injured, probably both prison officers and prisoners. However, I cannot give him the information that he requires because I am afraid I do not have it. I shall certainly ensure that the prison officers who have been injured receive the message which the noble Lord wished me to convey.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will take it as understood that we on these Benches decry rioting and behaviour of that kind at any prison. We certainly join in with the sympathy that has been expressed for prison officers who have to undergo that kind of treatment yet again. Does the Minister agree that since the Strangeways incident rioting has taken place in the following prisons—I regret having to read out the list but the House ought to be aware of it: Brixton, Bristol, Cardiff, Castington, Dartmoor, Hull, Kirkham, Lindholme, Long Lartin, Manchester, Pentonville, Swansea, Stoke Heath and Verne? Without claiming that my observations were anything other than common sense, perhaps I may remind the Minister of the words that I ventured to use on 5th April on the matter of Strangeways Prison. As I said from these Benches on the occasion of the last Statement:My fear is that copycat episodes may occur in various prisons around the country. I hope that what I have ventured to say about flexibility and taking into account warnings and the possibility of copycat exercises, will result in adequate staffing arrangements being made to ensure that the dreadful events that have occurred recently do not occur elsewhere". [Official Report, 5/4/90; col. 1521.]Is the Minister aware that in an interview on Radio 4 at one o'clock today a member of the prison visitors at Pucklechurch, a Mrs. Cooper, said that there was understaffing at Pucklechurch? Will the Government please realise that it is a crisis situation and that the one thing that they can do about it is to ensure that there is adequate staffing at prisons in order to deal with our huge prison population? On any basis it is the largest in Europe. Turkey has even beaten us now. Will the Government realise that we have reached a state of crisis and that they must have a policy with regard to it?
My Lords, of course I accept from the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that he decries rioting as much as anyone else. I wholly understand that. He repeated his fear, which he expressed some time ago, that "copycats" may occur elsewhere. That is one of the dangers that we all have to recognise. Once something happens it is always possible that there will be something else. The noble Lord referred to the staffing level. I did not hear Radio 4 at one o'clock because I was preparing myself for the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, might ask me. I did not suppose that that would be one.
There has been a very considerable increase in staffing. The total number of prison officers has been 321 increased by over 3,000 in the past three years. The complement at Pucklechurch should have been 122; there were 113. Clearly all these matters will have to be taken into considerable account. It would be irresponsible of me to go into them in great detail now. However, the terms of reference of Lord Justice Woolf are to inquire into the events leading up to the serious disturbances in Her Majesty's Prison at Manchester and thereafter in other prison establishments in England and Wales. Clearly this outbreak, like the others, will fall within the terms of reference of Lord Justice Woolf He will obviously wish to take into account whether or not there have been "copycats", and, if so, why; and he may make such suggestions as he thinks fit. However, it is clearly a very serious matter.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, with regard to policy, should we not remember that several years ago the Government started on the largest prison building programme of this century? Indeed, it was even larger than the one under Mr. R. A. Butler 30 years ago. Successive Conservative Governments, with the aid of legislation by Parliament, have introduced a policy of non-custodial sentences. Is it not right to bear in mind in favour of the Government that their policies have been on the right lines and that this is just an unfortunate series of events which has overtaken them?
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right. It is an unfortunate set of circumstances but none the more serious for that. However, he is right to draw attention to what the Government have done. Out of a total of 28 new prisons in the programme upon which we are embarking—which is the largest prison building programme this century—eight new prisons are already opened, 14 are at various stages of design and construction and two are planned for building to begin in 1991 and 1993. That leaves a balance of four prisons whose locations and commencement date for construction have yet to be decided.
The building programme has produced 2,000 places over the past two years and is set to add a further 1,660 places in the current year, 1990-91; 7,000 places are currently under construction at new establishments.
The expenditure on the prison service rose by 58 per cent. in real terms between 1978 and 1988. The current financial provision for 1989-90 is for £ 1,140 million, which represents a 20 per cent. increase in real terms over the 1988-89 outturn of £902 million. A very great deal is therefore being done.
I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining and reminding the House that, even though such expenditure is made, it cannot necessarily deny the possibility of such outbreaks taking place.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I understand that these are all remand prisoners. That means that none has been sentenced and some have not been tried. Will the noble Earl tell us how many bail hostel places are available in the area? I am sure that the noble 322 Lord will agree that the less one concentrates such people in one place the better it is for the maintenance of order. If some of those people could have been distributed in bail hostels, we might have avoided the outbreak.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right. I cannot tell her how many bail hostel places there are in that area. However, over the next three years 500 new bail hostel places are being provided which ought to help to allay the situation.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, following my noble friend's constructive remarks about the series of disquieting outbreaks that has taken place in a large number of prisons, is it not also significant that the policy of a number of governors in relation to the outbreaks has been different, and that that is a matter which is causing some concern—it may be unnecessarily—among members of the public? Will the policies of the governors towards outbreaks of various kinds—and inevitably the response can be different for various reasons—be a matter of which Lord Justice Woolf will take account in his inquiry?
My Lords, that will certainly fall within the terms of Lord Justice Woolfs remit. It will be up to him to determine how to translate those terms of reference. The noble Lord is right in saying that different positions and different places require different treatment. But Lord Justice Woolfs remit is to consider the cause of all these outbreaks, what could have been done and what should be done in the future to prevent them. Obviously such consideration will fall within his terms of reference.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, in view of the figures that the noble Earl has given us about the extra number of places in our prisons, is he satisfied that the prison service is taking on and encouraging a sufficient number of prison officers to staff the prisons?
My Lords, perhaps I may suggest that we do not enter into a general debate on prisons. However, I can assure my noble friend that a great many more prison officers have been taken on recently and it is intended that more be taken on in the near future.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, the noble Earl may have mentioned this point but I should like to be certain about it. Will representatives of the Prison Officers' Association give evidence to the inquiry?
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the answer. I assume that if the association wishes to make any representations it will contact Lord Justice Woolf and indicate that fact.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I must repeat the comment which has been made a thousand times by everyone interested in the subject. We believe that the Government are spending far too much money on building new prisons and far too little money in putting right the appalling conditions in existing prisons.
My Lords, that is the conundrum in which we perpetually find ourselves. Not long ago the noble Lord was giving the Government stick for having an insufficient number of prisons. The noble Lord will not ask me to quote Hansard; if I have misquoted him I apologise. However, many noble Lords have previously said that we have not spent enough money on providing new prisons. We have spent a great deal of money doing so. I agree with the noble Lord that, as the prison population is falling, the time may have come to deflect some of the anticipated expenditure on new buildings towards refurbishing the old buildings.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, is the Minister aware that among the public there is a general feeling that the prisons are now in a state of sheer anarchy; that we are a laughing stock abroad; and that the situation has been brought about by the timorous incompetence of the present Government? They appear to be afraid to act in the face of rioting prisoners. Can the Minister tell the House how many more riots we must have and in which prisons before the Government will take proper action to bring them and the situation at Strangeways to an end?
My Lords, I am surprised by the noble Lord's response. He said that the Government have been timorous and incompetent.
The noble Lord has now repeated his view for the second time. I do not accept it in the slightest. He knows full well that the best way of dealing with the matter is to improve the prison situation and the prisons and to increase the number of prison officers. That we have done.
I believe that the noble Lord wishes to see a right battle royal in the prisons. That is not the course which the Government have thought it appropriate to take. There are those who believe that such a course should have been taken. The Government took the view that in order to avoid bloodshed and damage which may otherwise occur it is right to try to bring the disruptions to an end as peacefully as possible.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Stoddart will forgive me if I dissociate myself from the remarks that he made with great sincerity but not with great wisdom.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I read to the House details of the copycat incidents which have taken place. Are the Government saying that before we have a policy for dealing with the critical situation we must wait for Lord Justice Woolf's report? Do not the Government have every annual report of all chief inspectors of prisons detailing the terrible 324 situations there? If we must wait for the report before a policy is founded upon known facts and experience will the Minister say that it is expected before the next list I read is double the length?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has made a serious point; he read out an impressive but disagreeable list. Until the incidents at Strangeways the situation was improving. There was increased capacity in the prisons; a reduction in overcrowding; and the re-establishment of punishment within the community. The number of prisoners in a cell was being reduced and during the past 10 years we spent £1,000 million on capital expenditure. All that was producing results, but now we have experienced the recent fearful events.
In the short term I have the greatest confidence in the professionalism of members of the prison service. All prison governors are now alert to the possibility that other incidents may occur. In the long term we look to the report of Lord Justice Woolf. However, I should be wrong in giving the noble Lord or the House the impression that we shall wait for the report before taking any measures. It is up to each governor to assess the situation in his prison and to take any necessary action. I cannot tell the noble Lord whether that will result in more outbreaks.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, in view of the critical situation, I asked the Minister when the report is expected to be published.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, is the Minister aware that a substantial number of prisoners are still being locked up for 23 hours a day, including those in brand new prisons? In the circumstances is it surprising that the frustration that builds up among prisoners—in particular among young men on remand who should never be in prison in the first place—leads to riots? When will the Government do something to improve prison regimes and to reduce the number of people who should never be in prison in the first place?
My Lords, we are in danger of the Statement on Pucklechurch Remand Centre turning into a debate on the prison system as a whole. I have tried to explain what has been done and the fact that the Government are seized of the real problems. We have done a great deal but now is not the time to debate the genuine concerns of a general nature about the prison service.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, can the Government make a protest to the media which is making heroes of such prisoners and causing copycat outbreaks in other prisons? There must be some way in which we can stop the nonsense which we see on our screens and read in our newspapers.
My Lords, simple questions are always the most difficult to answer. I am sure that 325 the noble Baroness knows it would be improper for the Government to request any form of censorship in the media. The noble Baroness shakes her head but that is what she is asking for. The Government cannot ask the media not to report what they believe to be of national interest. However, many people would be highly gratified if the media would stop reporting such incidents for the reasons which the noble Baroness has in mind. Others may consider it to be a restriction of the flow of information and against the national interest.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who for many years had the responsibility of dealing with the prisons regret the long nature of these exchanges and the tone which appears to suggest that anyone in any particular party can be in a position to throw stones at anyone else about the conduct of the prison system? I feel intensely humble about what I tried to do; I believe that my predecessors and successors as Home Secretary feel the same. I hope that we can conduct our affairs as regards the prisons and these dangerous situations in the knowledge that we are all guilty. What is happening today is a result of this country's failure as regards prisons not for 10 or 20 years, but over 30, 50 or 60 years. It would be better if we acknowledged that and tried to deal with the situation together on that basis.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw who was a most distinguished Home Secretary. He is right in saying that everyone connected with the prison service feels humble about what they can do to correct the situation. Members of all parties will realise that it is difficult and that we can only do our best. It is too easy to say what should have been done and what is left to be done. One docs not always realise what has been done to improve the situation. I agree with my noble friend in saying that none of us can be proud of the position now or in the past.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl's last two sentences. Although understanding the reasons for the question by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, some of us would be very concerned indeed were any form of urgent timetable to be applied to Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry. Clearly he has a number of major issues at which to look and I believe it would be a profound mistake were he to be pressed for even the most admirable of reasons into delivering an early report.
Secondly, although the noble Earl has rightly related most of his replies to the situation at Pucklechurch, in the light of some things which have been said both here and outside the House, is he aware that many of us have great admiration for Mr. O'Friel, the governor of Strangeways, who has had to deal with an immensely difficult situation and has handled himself admirably despite some exceptionally unfair attacks by the media?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that it would be a 326 pity if Lord Justice Woolf were to find himself under any specific pressure to come up with a quick answer. It is important to get the right answer when it comes.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks about the governor of Strangeways. The governor has been in a particularly difficult and uncomfortable position. He has been under the spotlight of the media and has conducted himself with great dignity. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support.