§ Mr. Hurd
I have now received the report of the inquiry conducted by Mr. Dunbar, the director of the south west region of the prison department. A summary of the report, including the list of recommendations resulting from the inquiry, has been placed in the Library. I informed the House on 4 May at columns 374–5 of the nature and effects of the disturbances on male wings at Risley.
The disturbance was one of the most serious and complex suffered by the prison service in recent years. Throughout there were violent attacks by prisoners upon the fabric of the centre and on the staff endeavouring to contain them. I pay tribute to the Governor and staff for their bravery and determination in resisting the extreme violence they faced and for bringing the disturbance to a conclusion as quickly as they did without serious injury to staff or prisoners. In doing so they prevented the rioters from totally destroying the establishment, which was their clear intention.
Mr. Dunbar's inquiry led him to conclude that Risley should be closed at the earliest possible moment. I accept that recommendation so far as male remand prisoners are concerned. They amounted to 468 inmates out of a total of 541 males at the time of the disturbance, and the disturbance was confined to them. After careful thought, and despite the practical difficulties of making a change, I do not believe it would be sensible to hold male remand prisoners at Risley for longer than we must. I have accordingly decided to work towards the end of Risley's remand function for males by the summer of next year, when refurbished accommodation will be available. Risley will then take only sentenced prisoners on the male side. In addition, the women's wing, which has not been the subject of criticism—indeed, it was commented upon favourably by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons—and which has a valuable contribution to make in the female prison estate, will remain.
Work had already begun before the disturbance on the phased demolition and replacement of the prison. This will take some years and in the interim, B and C wings are being completely refurbished and strengthened to make them secure against this sort of attack. The male population of Risley will be limited to about 320 until new living blocks become available.
All the other recommendations have wider application in the prison service and I welcome them. Some—for example, the strengthening of cell doors—are statements of policy on which work is already in hand. Mr. Dunbar's recommendations on contingency planning will be taken fully into account in a major review which has been under way for some time and which is nearing completion. Other 608W recommendations on physical resources, on protective clothing and equipment and on intervention plans are also accepted and will be taken on board. I also accept in principle the recommendations that Mr. Dunbar makes on personnel and regime matters.
The findings of the report concerning medical matters are most disturbing. The director designate of prison medical services and her staff have been to Risley and immediate steps have been taken to clean thoroughly the areas concerned and to remove the health hazards to which Mr. Dunbar has drawn attention. I accept all the particular recommendations in his report and have asked the director of prison medical services to explore further how these serious shortcomings came about and to take steps to ensure that they do not happen again, either at Risley or elsewhere in the prison system.
Mr. Dunbar makes a number of recommendations concerning the treatment of, and facilities for, remand prisoners. I accept most of them as desirable but they will have to compete for resources with other equally desirable aims in the prison service. I am not convinced that it is necessary for separate rules to be drawn up for remand prisoners, since distinctions between the unconvicted and the convicted can be satisfactorily reflected within a unified set of rules but I am willing to look at this again. I do not rule out reduction of censorship and the provision of telephones for remand prisoners but the security implications in respect of certain prisoners require, and will receive, careful consideration. Research on categorising all remand prisoners is already under way.
Of the remaining recommendations, those which are matters for the police will be drawn to their attention and I accept the others.
I have indicated the action being taken on all the recommendations which are of more general application. In addition, an action plan has been drawn up specifically for the purpose of rectifying the failings at Risley identified in Mr. Dunbar's report and making the necessary preparations for Risley's change of function. This will be the direct responsibility of the deputy director general of the prison service, who will be assisted by a small working group and will report regularly to me on progress.
The disturbance at Risley arose out of a long history of difficulties caused principally by the inadequacy of the buildings and the nature of the prisoners housed in them. It interrupted the considerable progress towards improving the regime for prisoners which the governor and staff had made following the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons. I am sure that with all the changes I have outlined and, in particular, with confidence established in the renovated buildings, the governor and his staff will be able to resume their positive work to remedy the grave deficiencies identified in the report.