§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Lord Mishcon asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What they propose to do in the light of the Chief Inspector of Prisons' report that Birmingham Prison is overcrowded, insanitary and overrun with vermin and that the Prison Service is not "fulfilling its duty to look after prisoners with humanity and to help them lead useful lives".
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made public on 22nd June his response to the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in which he indicated the action that he has taken on the recommendations for improving the conditions of the establishment, on staffing and on the regime for prisoners. Those are detailed. Copies have been placed in the Library.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, in view of the seriousness of the position, perhaps your Lordships will permit me for one moment to mention some of the findings in the report. A large majority, both convicted and unconvicted, are held three to a cell. In such cells there was insufficient space for each inmate to have a chair, locker and table. The inmates do not have integral sanitation. They slop out. The prison was infested by cockroaches, rats, feral cats and pigeons. Is the Minister aware that, were it not for Crown immunity, the Home office would be prosecuted in regard to those conditions? Having regard to the conditions, can he tell the House why during recent months young unsentenced offenders have been transferred from Brockhill Youth Remand Centre to Birmingham?
My Lords, I accept that the conditions to which the report referred were most unsavoury. But the noble Lord will also recall that the report said that a great deal of work had been done and the Chief Inspector of Prisons paid tribute to that work. The report also admitted that a long timescale is unavoidable. Those conditions are of course unacceptable. A great deal of work is being done. A new three-year contract for pest control is being entered into which will be for work to avoid infestation as opposed to dealing with it when it is present.
The noble Lord asked why unsentenced youth offenders had been sent to Birmingham in recent months. The answer is that we had to make maximum use of the prison estate during a period of unease in the prison system.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, will my noble friend tell us a little more about what is being done to meet that admittedly unsatisfactory position in a prison which becomes particularly unpleasant in hot weather?
My Lords, a programme of improvements is being carried out at Birmingham at a cost of £16 million. A new alarm system and new exercise yard have already been put in. There is a new entry complex building, providing new accommodation for administration and facilities for 1818 prison visits and reception and discharge of inmates which cost about £3.75 million. The water services have been upgraded at a cost of £4 million. A new accommodation block for 172 inmates is due for completion in May 1991 at a cost of £5.9 million. Electrical services are being upgraded. Those works are being carried out.
On top of that work is planned for a new kitchen, the demolition of the old gatehouse, the conversion of the workshop to a new laundry and the refurbishment of G wing. When the new accommodation block has been completed the inmates will be transferred to enable G wing to be refurbished and in the longer term for integral sanitation to be installed in all the remaining wings.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, is it not absolutely clear that as long as Crown immunity continues so will degrading conditions at Birmingham and other prisons?
My Lords, the noble Lord has come to an astonishingly incorrect view. Because there is Crown immunity he is suggesting that the Home Office and the Government will not take steps to prevent these bad situations. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that a great deal is being done within the prison system. It is our intention to make it as good as possible. In that respect a very great deal of money is being spent.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, there is nothing particularly astonishing about the point I made concerning Crown immunity. It has been made consistently in this House. Every time we have attempted to write into a Criminal Justice Bill a provision concerning Crown immunity it has been opposed by the noble Earl's friends.
My Lords, that is not because of the Criminal Justice Bill; it is because the principle is that the Crown is immune. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that Crown immunity does not mean that the Crown does not try to keep up correct standards.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, in the light of these uncivilised conditions, is it not surprising that the report also says that in the year 1988–89, £0.8 million of the budget was underspent for this prison?
My Lords, the £0.8 million underspent related entirely to administrative support and had nothing to do with buildings.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, Crown immunity appears to be part of the cause of the problem within Birmingham Prison. Will the noble Earl make clear to the House that the responsibility rests with the Government and not with the Crown?