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Prison Service (May Report)

Volume 979: debated on Thursday 28 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response he has had so far from organisations representing people affected by the May report; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations from such organisations, and I recently met the Prison Officers' Association to discuss issues arising from the May report.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Is he aware of the serious concern that has been expressed by prison officers at Armley prison, Leeds, which is in my constituency, over the serious overcrowding there, which is resulting in the incarceration of prisoners for almost 24 hours a day? That has resulted in a potentially dangerous situation between the staff and the inmates. When can we expect some relief in overcrowded prisons such as that?

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in what he says. It is a serious matter, and one which has existed for a considerable time. When the May report was published I promised the House that the Home Office would undertake a substantial reorganisation of the prison service. That we are doing, and I hope to announce the results of that as soon as possible—I trust very soon after Easter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the urgency of the problem? Prisons throughout the country are grossly overcrowded—Wandsworth prison in my constituency is just one example—and there is a crisis in our prison system. It is urgent that action is taken quickly to consider the May report and to act on its conclusions.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. This is a problem which has plagued successive Home Secretaries. I do not put any blame on them or on anyone else. It is something which the community as a whole must face. I intend to put forward proposals soon after Easter, when I believe that we must make a substantial change in many of our prison arrangements. Indeed, some of the people who are in prison should not be there.

When the right hon. Gentleman puts forward his proposals, will he do so either in a debate on the May report, as we have repeatedly requested, or in a White Paper, so that all the many recommendations in that extremely valuable report can be fully discussed by the House and we can be made aware of the Government's proposals on each of those recommendations?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The question of a debate is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I should greatly welcome it. I should be prepared to discuss, both through the usual channels and with the House as a whole, whether it would be more suitable for me to make a statement first, to be followed by the debate, or for me to make a statement in the debate. I should be open to doing either—whichever suited the House best.

When my right hon. Friend investigates the May report, will he bear in mind the necessity to decant the families of prison officers who are at present compelled to live within the prison grounds and integrate them within towns, such as Peterhead in my constituency, where a prison is situated? The families would be far happier living among ordinary citizens of that town instead of being restricted to the area of the prison grounds.

My hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate that I must not trespass on Scottish ground, but I realise that this is a major problem. At the same time, major expenditure problems are involved in carrying out such a suggestion.