asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current annual cost of keeping a person in prison.
The average annual cost of keeping a person in prison in England and Wales during 1978–79 was £5,894.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the cost of incarceration is rising to a point where there is a pressing need to remove classes of petty offender from imprisonment? What steps is his Department taking to bring that about?
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. We are considering ways in which that may be done, especially for those who find themselves imprisoned primarily as a result of drunkeness. Another aspect in dealing with the problem is the length of sentence. I stress again, as many have stressed in the past, that except for those who require a lengthy period of imprisonment because of the gravity of their crime, shorter terms of imprisonment are equally effective deterrents and punishments.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, despite the figure that he has produced, which seems high per person, conditions are extremely bad in some of our prisons—for example, Armley prison in my constituency, where because of the lack of resources many prisoners are being con- fined to their cells for almost 24 hours a day? That situation creates many tensions. When will resources be increased to get rid of such conditions which exist in many of our prisons?
I agree that conditions of that sort cannot, and should not, be defended. The extent to which it is possible to deal with them must depend on the present building programme, which is being considered in the light of the recommendations of the May committee, and on the success of the efforts that we are making to ensure that those who do not need to be in prison are not in prison.
Does the figure that my hon. and learned Friend has given include social security costs for the maintenance of the wives and families of prisoners? Is he giving attention to the possibilities of extending the work provision availability in prison and to paying prisoners a reasonable sum for the work that they do so that they may repay some of the cost of their incarceration?
The figure does not include social security costs. The more that we pay prisoners the greater the cost, in a way, per prisoner to the system. The improvement of the quality and extent of the work done by prisoners is something with which we are concerned and which we are considering.
Bearing in mind the complex nature of the subject, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is essential that the House has an opportunity to debate the May report and the excellent and valuable report of the Expenditure Committee dealing with the reduction of pressure on the prison system? Will his right hon. Friend make strong representations to the Leader of the House to the effect that we should have an early and urgent debate on the prison system?