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Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on prisons.

In July last year, I announced a package of measures designed to secure a better balance between the rapidly rising prison population and the prison accommodation available. Those measures eased the position, but only temporarily. The prison population has continued to grow apace. After falling to 47,500 in early September, it rose to 50,600 at the end of last week. That is some 1,200 more than at the same time last year. Taking into account the July measures, there has been an underlying increase over the same period of some 4,200. Projecting those trends forward, we could be faced with a prison population of some 52,000 by the summer of this year.

That sharper rise has not come about because of any acceleration in crime — indeed, the figures that I announced last week show a much smaller increase than the average rate of increases in recorded crime for the last 30 years.

There are four main causes of that growth in the prison population. First, there is a substantial increase in the number of criminals being brought before the Crown court, where the rate of custodial sentencing is higher. Secondly, there is a substantial lengthening in the sentences imposed by the Crown court for offences involving violence, including robbery and rape, and for offences of criminal damage and drug offences. Thirdly, as a result of a tighter policy on parole, the numbers are some 2,000 higher. Finally, there has been an unwelcome increase in the remand population, which has almost doubled since 1980, with some 700 added since the end of November last year alone.

So the uncrowded capacity of the prison system is some 7,000 below last week's population figure. Obviously, that means that there is severe overcrowding, particularly in remand prisons and, what is worse, 1,400 prisoners are being accommodated in police cells all over south-east England and beyond. Those cells are wholly unsuited for the long-term accommodation of prisoners. Their use is expensive and can be dangerous. It diverts police officers from their job of preventing and detecting crime and keeping the peace.

Part—almost half—of the police cells problem results from industrial action in some London prisons by members of the Prison Officers Association. Such action is irresponsible and places additional burdens upon the police and the rest of the system. Prison service management are working hard to try to resolve it, and I met the POA leaders earlier today and urged them to use their influence to bring the action to a speedy end.

It is not for me to decide who and how many convicted offenders should be sentenced to imprisonment: that is for the courts. It is my role to see that the courts have a satisfactory range of sentencing options open to them, and that when they send someone to prison there is suitable accommodation available for him or her. So this dual responsibility is reflected in the measures that I announce today.

First, on the demand side, work is in hand to make community service orders more demanding and more strictly administered — for example, through the introduction of national standards. Secondly, I have already announced a substantial expansion of the programme for providing bail hostels, involving an extra nine hostels at a cost of about £3·8 million. Thirdly, next month I intend to issue a circular designed to help the courts in taking their decisions on bail. Finally, and in the only slightly longer term, I am considering how to build up forms of punishment in the community which are seen by all to present a firm and fair way of dealing with offenders who do not merit a custodial sentence. That is on the demand side.

But the most serious crimes are rightly punished by imprisonment. Our existing prison building programme involves investment of almost £1 billion. That is the supply side. I am announcing today a number of measures, additional to those that I have already taken, to ensure that accommodation is available to hold prisoners in conditions of proper security.

First, Army camps will be opened at Rollestone and Camberley to house a total of about 700 prisoners. Because of the existing pressures on the police and prison services these will be manned by military police and other personnel acting under the direction of prison management grades. This will be a strictly temporary measure to bridge us through the summer until more permanent prison accommodation is available.

Secondly, through the building programme and other measures, just short of 3,000 additional permanent prison places will be created by this time next year. Of those, more than 1,300 will come on stream in the south-east from now into this summer because of the special need to relieve pressure on the remand system in and around London.

Thirdly, I am planning to reinstate Ashford remand centre in Middlesex, which would otherwise close in April for rebuilding, as a temporary remand holding centre for about 400 prisoners from the late autumn.

Fourthly, I have reviewed the existing prison estate for ways of creating additional places by using system-built accommodation and by other means. In that way, I plan to add about 800 extra places from the beginning of 1989. I shall be recruiting the prison staff needed to man those places.

Fifthly, by speeding up the existing building programme, I shall provide a further 1,000 places from the beginning of 1990. These will be created in purpose-built blocks on existing prison sites.

The combined effect of the measures that I have announced and those which I have already put in hand will be to provide just over 4,000 permanent extra places, with the necessary staff, by the end of the financial year 1988–89, with a further 1,000 starting to come on stream from the very end of 1989.

I believe that this is an energetic response to the massive growth in the prison population. I will not hesitate to take further measures should they seem desirable. We must be ready to think imaginatively to ensure that the prison service can meet its obligations. In that context, the possibility of involving the private sector more closely in aspects of the prison system should be urgently considered. I have already moved in this direction by establishing the Prison Building Board, which includes substantial private sector representation.

The board is inviting the private sector to make proposals for building remand or open facilities faster than has been done in the past. I propose, in addition, to publish a Green Paper on private sector involvement in all aspects of the remand system, and at the same time to engage consultants to help in working out the practical implications. I also propose to explore whether there might be room for developing privately managed bail hostels, providing more secure conditions than the current range of hostels provide.

I believe that, in contrast with the past, this Government's record of commitment to the prison service in unparalleled. The further measures that I have announced today underline that commitment and our determination to ensure that public safey and security, as well as decent conditions for prison service staff and prison inmates, are attained.

The Home Secretary has just told us that the Government's commitment to the prison system is unparalleled. That amounts to three things: first, record crime figures; secondly, record prison populations, despite deplorable clear-up rates; and thirdly, a prison system that is in chaos.

The Home Secretary has been less than candid with the House about the extent of that chaos. Will he now confirm that the Home Office, as late as today, has been making estimates about the extent of the crisis and has established that the prison population may well rise to more than 56,000 by next year. In the light of that, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that his response to that crisis is wholly inadequate and that it is based more on his desire to play politics with the problem than to solve it — [Laughter.] Hon. Members who laugh will recall that the Home Secretary categorically told us that the holding of remand prisoners in gaols was the result of the prison officers' dispute.

Well, I will read the words to him:

"action in some London prisons by members of the Prison Officers Association."
That is what the Home Secretary said, but it is not, however, what the Minister of State said in the Lords a fortnight ago. When asked the same question, the noble Lord said:
"The reason why prisoners are in police cells — and I must again make this clear — is that the prison system has been temporarily overwhelmed by the high levels of population growth in recent years." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 4 March 1988; Vol. 494, c. 413.]
If the Home Secretary now recalls what he said in his statement, will he tell us whether he sticks by it or whether the noble Lord in the other place was giving a more honest and less political analysis of why the problem has arisen?

Will the Home Secretary begin to accept some of the Government's responsibility for the crisis that he is now facing? In July, we told the Home Secretary that what he proposed to reduce the prison population was attacking the symptoms rather than the causes. Today he has confirmed our judgment by saying that the improvements that he then made were only temporary. He should know that those temporary improvements and the proposals that he has now described will not meet the crisis and nor will a programme of increased prison building.

The problem is the number of people who are sent to prison in this country. It is clear that custodial sentences are right and necessary for those who commit violent or serious crime, but we send too many people to prison and keep them there for far too long.

In particular, the Home Secretary is doing nothing about the remand prisoners, who are a major problem within the system. He has told the House today that the prison population has increased by 700 as a result of the increase in remand prisoners. That is exactly the number of new places that he is creating at Rollestone and Camberley. Had there not been an increase in remand prisoners, he would not have had to open those two Army camps. He is making the situation worse as a result of the Criminal Justice Bill, out of Committee yesterday, by changing the remand rules from seven to 28 days. What is more, he is failing totally to apply the 110-day rule throughout the United Kingdom. If it were universal, it would reduce the prison population by a substantial number.

The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor must also take responsibility for another increase. The right hon. Gentleman blandly tells us that the tighter parole policy has increased the prison population by 2,000. But that policy is the responsibility of this Government—as is the failure to provide an alternative to custodial sentencing.

Two Bills ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was merely the Minister of State at the Home Office—some six years ago—the Opposition told him that he ought to develop more non-custodial sentences. Today the Home Secretary has told us that that is what he is now proposing to do and what he is thinking of doing. The truth of the matter is that the Home Secretary is trapped between logic and the 1922 Committee. That is why, at the end of his statement, we heard all that irrelevant nonsense about privatising the prison system. Everyone knows that that will not make a scrap of difference, but it may see the Home Secretary through another difficult afternoon. Good luck to him.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman's political difficulties are crowding in on him, but he should keep some hold on reality in spite of the deputy leadership contest. He adverted to figures, but neglected to look at the latest ones, which show that police clear-up rates are rising again, which means that more criminals are being caught. There is a major problem at the violent end of crime, as we readily admit. The courts are responding to that by sending more people to prison for longer, and that is part of the problem.

I repeat what I said in my statement, to which the right hon. Gentleman did not listen because the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was making so much noise. I said:
"Part—almost half—of the police cells problem results from industrial action".
That is exact. About 600 of the prisoners who go to police cells each night do so as a result of industrial action by the POA. The easiest single contribution to solving that problem is that that industrial action should come to an end.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I was not doing anything about remand; of course we are. We are building nine new bail hostels. Contrary to anything that went before, we are imposing time limits on trials. Later this week, on 1 April, I am extending that to 14 new police areas and I hope that by the time it covers the whole of England and Wales it will provide a saving of the sort the right hon. Gentleman describes—600 remand prisoners. The proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill offer a balance on the issue of bail which is right.

The right hon. Gentleman prattled about non-custodial sentences. Of course, there has been a great increase in the use of community service orders. We need to move on from the position we inherited and developed and build up the notion that there can be punishment in the community as well as in prison. That is not easy to achieve, but it is what we are working on, and the House will have an opportunity to consider our proposal.

The right hon. Gentleman's approach is deeply hypocritical. My two predecessors and I have tried, starting from nothing, to build up a major investment of £1 billion in the prison building system. The Government to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged not only did nothing, but inherited from a Conservative Government a prison building plan that they cut by 35 per cent. in 1976. I cannot remember whether that was at the same time as they cut the hospital building programme or a little before or after, but it was part of the same process, and it completely disqualifies the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) from making these proposals.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that further development of alternatives to custody will be warmly welcomed and that the further use of time limits as envisaged in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 will also play a constructive part in the future? Does he also agree that, in the short run, faced with a crisis caused in substantial measure by industrial action, he is absolutely right to take urgent measures to make more places available for the prison system and to accelerate the prison building programme? That is essential, both in the short term and in the long term.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. He began the process of experimental time limits on the length of time a person could be kept on remand, and he knows that that is proving successful. He also knows that it is sensible to proceed step by step, which is what we are doing. I believe that this will make a substantial contribution to easing the problem.

How long does the Home Secretary expect the strictly temporary use of Army camps to be necessary? Does he accept that the remand prison population makes a disproportionate contribution to the problem about which he has just told us? Will his circular on bail draw to the attention of the courts the presumption of innocence which all persons on remand should enjoy; and will he explain why he is unwilling to institute an immediate extension of the 110-day rule throughout the whole of England and Wales? It has been operating in Scotland for over 100 years. Is it not time that England and Wales enjoyed the same benefit?

The answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first question is, the late autumn. The answer to his second question is that the Bail Act 1976, together with the amendments in the Criminal Justice Bill, gets the balance about right. There is purpose and point in a circular that will draw to the attention of the courts the possibilities that are now opening up about getting more precise information about the circumstances of an offender. Such information will enable the courts to decide more accurately whether bail should be granted. There is a great deal of point in building up bail hostels and possibly bail hostels in secure accommodation so that courts have the alternative of sending someone home on bail instead of locking him up in custody.

I think that I have already dealt with the hon. and learned Gentleman's third point. He knows that the Scottish system and processes of bringing people to trial are quite different and that therefore the 110-day rule cannot automatically be applied. We are building up step by step, area by area, and gradually tightening, a system of time limits suitable for England and Wales.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not only distinguished former holders of his office who think that today's package is no more than good sense? What are the comparative costs of holding prisoners in Army camps and in police cells, and which is the most favourable? Does he accept that the sooner the go-ahead is given for private contract remand prisons to be introduced to the system the sooner will the kind of problem that he addresses today be permanently removed?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. The costs are roughly as follows. It costs the huge sum of about £1,000 a week to keep a prisoner in a police cell. To keep a prisoner in an Army camp would cost about £400 a week and in a prison the cost is about £250. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is a strong supporter of the concept of private management of remand. There are more attractions in that than in holding convicted prisoners in privately managed conditions. The arguments of principle and practice need to be thrashed out in British terms as opposed to, or in addition to, American terms. That is why the Green Paper and the consultants' report are the right next steps.

What precisely will be the increase in number and availability of prison officers? Is the Home Secretary aware that such is the crisis at the moment that there is very great concern in the courts that there are frequently no dock officers to search defendants and no dock officers present when custodial sentences are to be imposed? There is also concern when there are no policemen present in magistrates courts. Must a tragedy occur before something is done? If a tragedy does occur, will the Home Secretary take personal responsibility for it?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows better than that. He knows, or should know, that for many years we have been recruiting prison officers substantially faster than the rise in the prison population. If he has studied the figures, he knows that I have already announced that 1,960 prison officers will be recruited in the course of next year. That is 1,360 more than the expected wastage rate. I quite agree that the provision of extra places that I have announced will need staffing, and I made that clear in my statement.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly correct to say that in some places there has been a problem about the absence of police and prison officers in courts where the magistrate or the judge expected them to be. I have discussed this with the Lord Chief Justice and steps are in hand to make sure that in each local situation those concerned—the chief constable, the prison governor and those responsible for the administration of the courts—get together to find a common-sense solution to that problem.

May I remind my right hon. Friend that many of the problems that he has pinpointed today were pinpointed in the report of a Select Committee that I chaired in the mid-1970s, and that at that time the then Labour Government singularly failed to grapple with any of them? May I further impress upon my right hon. Friend the need to look at alternative means of imprisonment, particularly at the day fine system as a means of keeping fine defaulters out of prison, and at the new suggestions for electronic surveillance of people who do not need to be in prison?

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful contribution. She is perfectly right. We shall certainly tackle the possibilities of electronic tagging when we put forward our ideas on punishment in the community. I am keen that it should not be regarded as something separate or as a gimmick, but that it should find its place, if there is a place for it, in our general approach to punishment in the community.

My hon. Friend is also right about fine defaulters. They form a small part of the prison population, about 500 at any given time, and they are sent to prison by the courts only as a last resort. It would be more sensible if, in the beginning, the courts could assess offenders' means more accurately when they fix a fine, and we propose to help them to do that.

On reflection, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the terminology of the free market about suppliers and consumers, where there is no consumer choice, shows too firm a determination to prime ministerial doctrine? As he has told the House that the Government's repressive policy on parole has contributed 2,000 prisoners to the crisis, why not discontinue that policy?

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The courts place the demand on the prison system. It is perfectly reasonable to describe it as a demand which has to be met with action on the supply of prison places. That phraseology is perfectly right.

It is perfectly true that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), my predecessor, imposed restrictions on parole, which I have continued and which I believe to be entirely justified. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Parole Board has gone considerably further than that. Most of the increase that I have mentioned does not relate to the policy of successive Home Secretaries, but to the spontaneous action of the Parole Board going wider than that. That matter will be discussed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the initiatives that he has announced this afternoon will be welcomed outside the House as well as within it, particularly by the police, who have been obliged to devote a disproportionate amount of their manpower to acting as temporary prison warders?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that additional prison accommodation can be made available far more quickly by the private sector than by the public sector? Is he aware that a number of companies and consortia would be able and willing to build prisons and then either lease them or sell them to the Government and that that would produce accommodation far more quickly? There are companies and consortia waiting to do that. Will he consider that possibility and implement it as soon as possible?

Absolutely. That is one of the proposals that I have announced. We have had approaches from a good many companies proposing to build and lease or build and sell. We are now saying, "Give us the precise ideas; let us discuss them with you." My hon. Friend is right: there is more scope than we have realised or used in the past for using the private sector to accelerate the provision of prison places. The matter becomes more difficult when we get into the problems of private management. I answered a question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about remand in connection with that point.

Does the Home Secretary agree that part of the problem—we all agree that there is a crisis in the prisons—could well be solved by taking two simple and effective measures tonight—first, to release those who are currently in prison for non-payment of fines and, secondly, to release those who are in prison for non-payment of maintenance? That would at least create approximately 1,000 places overnight and go a long way towards solving the police station problem.

Does the Home Secretary agree that there is a little irony in his statement this afternoon because his hon. Friend the Minister of State rejected out of hand the day fine system when it was considered in Committee as recently as a few weeks ago? Is not the truth of the matter that the Home Secretary is not prepared to take the bold and imaginative steps necessary to solve what is becoming a perennial crisis?

I certainly do not think that I would be justified in letting out of prison, by some form of executive release, people whom the courts have sent to prison as a last resort for non-payment of fine. That would be quite wrong. Many people have considered that problem and have started by saying that it must be wrong that fine defaulters are in prison and ended by acknowledging, as did the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), with his knowledge of the matter, that, in the last resort, the courts must have that right. The figure is about 500 at any one time. The answer is to make the level of fine realistic in the first place; that is what we are concentrating on.

May I assume, since I have written to my right hon. Friend on the subject, that he is well aware that ever since I came to this place, I have been promised by successive Home Secretaries that when the lease of Lancaster castle ran out, the prison would be removed? The city and county councils were hoping to make a superb tourist attraction on this site, and are very disappointed that my right hon. Friend will now hang on to it. Will he promise me here and now that if the prison population falls more rapidly than expected, he will relinquish the prison at the earliest possible moment, and enable us to use it for tourist purposes?

My hon. Friend and I have clambered over the roof of Lancaster castle together and I know how devoted she is to it, and how ambitious she and her constituents are for taking it out of prison use and making a tourist attraction of it. I have to disappoint her, and I hope that I warned her and the Duchy of Lancaster in good time that we need to hang on to it for prison purposes. I cannot give her a date when that will come to an end. Obviously, if her hopes were to be justified and there was a rapid fall in the prison population, we would look at the matter again, with the legitimate ambitions of the people of Lancaster for their castle very much in mind.

Is it not a fact that, under this Government, the prison population has increased by some 20 per cent. — an abnormal increase—and that there is something seriously wrong with the Government under whom this is occurring? Will the Secretary of State study the reports from the last three Select Committees on Education, Science and Arts about prison education? Although prisons are now pregnant with violence, education is made more and more difficult. There are not enough warders to look after those who wish to be educated and to take them from place to place, and nothing is being done to help prisoners, despite our reports.

The prison population was rising long before 1979. The difference is that we have done something to provide prison places, when the Labour Government did not. The hon. Member is on to a good point about prison education, and I know that he has followed this for many years. However, he paints too gloomy a picture. There have been major problems in the regimes, which have affected education, but that tide is beginning to turn. I was at Bristol prison on Friday and I was impressed by the educational facilities there, which have been improved.

Will my right hon. Friend comment further on the third of the measures that he announced — the re-use of Ashford remand centre, Middlesex, which is in my constituency, because this is an issue of major concern for those whom I represent? There are four points which they would like clarified. First, the announcement this afternoon referred to bringing Ashford remand centre back into use for 400 inmates, when 376 are being moved out this week. Can my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that overcrowding will not become a problem in this centre when it is brought back into use?

Secondly, how is the remand centre to be staffed, come the late autumn? Will it be by prision officers or by private contractors? Thirdly, will bringing this back into use result in the abandonment or delay of the proposals for redevelopment, because many people locally wish to see the proposals abandoned? Fourthly, will my right hon. Friend give the undertaking that has been given in the past to liaise closely both with me as the local Member of Parliament and with local councillors, so that the community is well aware of what is going on?

Those are reasonable questions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tone in which he put them. Four hundred is a round figure, and we have to work out in greater detail what is an acceptable level of occupation. The staffing will be by prison officers and not by soldiers. The redevelopment plan still exists, so it is delayed rather than abandoned. The answer to the last question is, yes, certainly, we shall keep in close touch with the local authorities, with the local people and with my hon. Friend.

Will the Home Secretary address himself to the central question which he has so far ignored, which is why it is that we send more of our citizens to prison per head of population than any other country in western Europe, yet neither our streets nor our citizens are safer as a result? Will he admit that prisons are overcrowded not as a result of people being in prison because they have committed violent crime — there would be no disagreement about that — but because they are cluttered with petty offenders, who are on short sentences in local prisons? Therefore, as a matter of urgency, will he address his attention to the evidence that is coming from the National Association of Probation Officers, so that we solve this problem not by building more prisons but by using other forms of treatment for people who are in prison but should not be?

The trouble is that one man's petty offender is another man's dangerous housebreaker. That is decided not by the hon. Member or by me but by the courts, case by case. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I want to build up for the courts a wider menu or set of alternatives to custody for the non-violent offenders. That is precisely what we are doing.

My right hon. Friend's statement will be warmly welcomed, and nowhere more than in Chelmsford, where the young offenders' prison has been greatly over-subscribed in the past few months. Is not a great deal of time wasted by prison officers who have to go between the prisons and the courts with prisoners and sit in the dock with them while their cases are being heard? Is he prepared to consider privatising that part of the service, so that prison officers can be released to get back to working in the prisons?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the amount of time spent by prison officers in escort duties of different kinds weighs heavily on the service. It is the other side of the coin about which the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) was talking when he was complaining that there were not enough of them. The Green Paper will go into this and all other aspects of possibly involving the private sector in the remand system.

Order. I believe that I have now called all those who are directly affected by this statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have no exact knowledge of which hon. Member has a prison in his constituency. I ask hon. Members, in view of the business before the House today, and there is a great deal of it, to ask brief questions so that we can have brief answers and get on.

In the light of the recent evidence given by the prison service to the Public Accounts Committee on the gross under-utilisation of prison workshops, is it not clear that the reason for their under-utilisation is the problem of warder power, and the fact that one cannot run industrial workshops in prison conditions if those in charge regard themselves as part of a penal institution? Is there not a sensible argument for bringing the private sector into the management of those workshops, to give some new objectives and to set a different scene, in which prisoners can enjoy rehabilitation?

That is exactly what we are doing. A good many workshops were closed because they were not properly organised and used. We are relying more and more on private sector advice in building up from that position. In most workshops there have to be discipline staff, or the instructors will feel insecure. The number of uniformed staff necessary in a workshop will differ from one prison to another, but within the limits of security, the fewer uniformed staff one needs in that place the better.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the successful experiment in Kent, which has kept a large number of people out of institutions altogether. Given the enormous cost of what he is proposing, will he look again at his Department's view that when an experiment in community care, or any other such scheme, is a success, the cost of it has to fall wholly on the local authority? Should he not look at using some of his central funds to expand and increase such experiments?

Of course we do that. As my hon. Friend knows, depending on the exact service involved, the costs are rightly shared between central and local responsibility. As we develop and publish our proposals for punishment in the community — for dealing with people outside prison—we shall tackle the question of financing.

Does the Minister accept that the remand problem would be diminished if more people were treated like Ernest Saunders, who seems to be able to flit round Europe with consummate ease? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a more fundamental question behind the massive explosion in the prison population that he described in his statement and that the philosophy of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, encapsulated in the so-called enterprise culture, in fact breeds crime? The Government seem very lacklustre in their efforts to chase city spivs who make millions of pounds but very keen on burdening our prisons with petty criminals. Does the Minister accept that we need a change in the Government's philosophy? In particular, they should set an example by stopping robbing the taxpayer as they did over Rover.

No Government have taken more initiatives more effectively than this Government to clamp down on fraud; the hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. No other Government in recent times have done more to emphasise the responsibilities of the citizen as well as the enterprise of the citizen, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we are encouraging.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) and I drew the attention of his Department to the deplorable state of affairs in Bedford remand prison, where prisoners are three to a cell, where there are top security prisoners and where slum conditions prevail? We had a helpful meeting with a junior Minister at the Department on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the measures that he announced today will make an early contribution to solving the extremely urgent problem in Bedford?

My first priority is to reduce the number of prisoners going into police cells night by night because the conditions there are just as bad—perhaps in some cases worse—than those in Bedford, and there is the danger of escape and the diversion of police from their proper duties. My hon. Friend is perfectly right that another aim must be to reduce overcrowding, which is unacceptable, particularly in local prisons such as Bedford, and especially among the remand population.

Does not the Minister's announcement today confirm the record increase in crime? The Minister said that there were four causes: an increase in detentions, longer sentences, reduced parole and an increase in the remand population. Should he not have mentioned a fifth cause, which is that people are being placed in prison when they should really be in mental hospitals? Because of the inadequacies of the Health Service, patients are now being dumped at the doors of prisons when they should he somewhere else. It is because of those inadequacies that the prison officers are having to cope with the problem. Is it not about time that there was consultation between the Home Secretary and the Department of Health and Social Security with a view to making some changes?

The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument is right, if the rhetoric is stripped away. There are still too many mentally disordered offenders in prison, although there are fewer than there used to be, and the right answer is to find the right institution, case by case and person by person. We constantly work both nationally and locally to do that.

All those concerned with law and order will welcome the Home Secretary's statement. However, why does the Home Office persist in locating prisons to the convenience of the courts and prison visitors? Why can we not locate prisons to the convenience of local residents? As my right hon. Friend knows, a prison is to be located on the outskirts of Rochdale and Oldham in my constituency. Why cannot prisons he built in remote areas or even on islands?

Because it is both risky and extremely expensive to locate prisons, particularly remand prisons, a long way from the courts that they serve. My hon. Friend will no doubt be glad to hear that in France people clamour for prisons to be built in their constituencies because of the employment that they provide.

I am sure that the Home Secretary will be aware that I have three prisons in my constituency. The Government have completely lost the confidence of the Prison Officers Association by reneging on the "fresh start" agreement with that association. That distrust has led to the prospect of industrial action at one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, Frankland prison. Instead of opening Army camps, which are not necessary given that there are empty prison wings all over the country, why does not the Home Secretary honour the "fresh start" agreement and recruit prison officers to get on and do the job properly?

We are recruiting prison officers as fast as we possibly can. I have given the House the figures, which show that next year we plan to recruit 1,960 against an expected wastage of 600. An enormous increase is taking place, and I entirely reject the assertion that we are reneging on "fresh start". "Fresh start" gives those of the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are prison officers a properly organised professional service for the first time. To take industrial action against it, in Frankland—or, even more damaging, in London—is a self-destructive act on the part of prison officers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement that 1,300 extra prison places will be provided in the south-east will be particularly welcome in the context of the remand problem? Is not one of the root difficulties the delay in the process of justice? is there not a case for his pressing upon the Lord Chancellor the recruitment of more circuit judges to speed up the process?

That has already happened. There is also the problem of the Crown prosecution service, and my hon. Friend will know of the steps that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is taking to put more resources into the CPS. Furthermore, there are the natural delays in the law. We have dealt with the question of time limits. We are anxious to use every pressure that we legitimately can to cut down delays.

Does the Home Secretary recall the plans announced by his Department two years ago, which were aimed at reducing overcrowding in several prisons, including Leeds prison? At that time the population of Leeds prison was 1,200 against a certified normal accommodation of 650. The population of Leeds prison is now 1,400, and the prison continues to exist only because of the good will and hard work of the staff. What hope does the Home Secretary's statement hold out for the prison staff and what will it do to reduce the massive overcrowding in Leeds prison? Will there be a substantial reduction?

The hon. Gentleman is right that Leeds prison has steadily become more overcrowded, and it survives—it does much more than that; it does very well — because of the high morale and the hard and constructive work of its staff. When I went there not long ago, I was very impressed to find that it was planned to make a success of "fresh start" and the new flexibility that that gave. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) our first aim must be to ease the numbers of prisoners in police cells night by night. Our second aim must certainly be to relieve the pressure on overcrowded large local prisons such as Leeds. As the medium and long-term measures that I have announced come into effect, that should happen.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he need not take lectures from Opposition Members, given the disgraceful cut in the prison building programme under the last Labour Government? On the subject of Army camps, can my right hon. Friend tell us what sort of prisoners he envisages being sent there and whether they will be secure? I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about private sector involvement, but how soon does he envisage the private sector providing substantial extra places?

My hon. Friend's first point is perfectly right. Not just the prisons but the police and the law and order service as a whole were grossly neglected by the Labour party, as they would be again if it ever had the chance of establishing priorities. The prisoners in Rollestone and Camberley will be category C convicted. I do not exclude the possibility of using the provision for suitable remand prisoners, as we did with Rollestone in the autumn.

My hon. Friend asked about private sector involvement. In building, there are no handicaps or difficulties; it is full steam head. There is much to be done over bail hostels. On the management of convicted prisoners, I am hesitant. On the management of remand prisoners, there is plenty of scope for ideas and discussion and eventually for an experiment; that is what the Green Paper will illustrate.

The statement is welcome for the relief that it will bring prisoners and prison staff, but the Home Secretary knows perfectly well that we will be here again next year with a similar emergency statement unless something is done about the supply side. Why is Britain so uniquely prone to sending people to prison? Is it because of the practice of the courts or because we create more crime — in which case, what will the Home Secretary do about it rather than pursue the irrelevancies of privatisation?

We do not create more crime. If we compare our crime figures with those of our European partners, we do not find that we are a more criminal nation. It is certainly true that our courts send more people to prison than is the case in most European countries, although the judges dispute the statistics and say that they are not comparable. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman's general proposition is right. Parliament fixes the maxima and it is for the courts to decide, case by case, within those maxima what sentences to apply.

I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's main point. I do not believe that we should, or could, limit the courts' ability to make their own decisions case by case. I want, however, to spread before them for the lesser offender—especially the non-violent offender—a wider range of disposals outside prison so that they no longer think that it is only by sending someone to prison that they can impose a worthwhile punishment.

Order. I shall call the five hon. Members who have been rising, but I ask for brief questions.

I think that my right hon. Friend said that 1,400 people are currently held on remand in police stations. Is he aware that two people who were held on remand in Chesterfield police station after allegedly committing an armed robbery escaped last Friday morning? Does he agree that, as long as people are held on remand in police stations, it will represent an extra burden on the police? Incidents such as occurred last week take up quite a lot of police time, so my right hon. Friend's statement is welcome—we hope that it will relieve some of the pressure on the police service.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I said that the use of police cells for prisoners was dangerous, and that is precisely what I meant. We had the escape from Battersea of seven prisoners and I have had today a first report of the escape from Chesterfield to which my hon. Friend referred. It underlines my point—the sooner we can reduce and then do away with the use of police cells for prisoners, the safer the system will be.

Will my right hon. Friend estimate the size of the recidivist prison population? Does he agree that that group turns prisons into what Lord Justice May called universities of crime? Will my right hon. Friend continue to try to find means of rehabilitating prisoners so that they do not return to prison? What is being done to increase education and the prison work programme which, tragically, has declined recently?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is no longer fashionable to suppose that prison is a place where everybody can get reformed, and my hon. Friend is not arguing that case. The prison service and prison governors are clear that there are cases when a great deal can be done to prevent reoffending, and workshops and education are means of achieving that. That is why one purpose of "fresh start" is to make possible an improvement in regimes.

My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear how unacceptable it is to hold 1,400 people on remand in police cells, quite often many hundreds of miles away from their homes and from the scene of their crimes. What he has announced today is entirely welcome. When he uses Rollestone and Camberley, what will be the status of any military personnel who are used to guard the camps? What status does he envisage for any prison officers who might be outside the POA but used in contract remand prisons in the future?

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, it is too early to say, but that is a matter which the Green Paper will have to study. Camberley and Rollestone will be prisons. They will be designated as such and I shall appoint prison governors. There will be administrative grades to look after them. The military personnel employed will be in the same relationship as they were in 1980 and 1981, which is the last time that military personnel were used to look after prisoners. The ones who are in contact with prisoners will be military police and provost personnel, not other soldiers. I believe that the system will work smoothly, as it did last time.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, but what accommodation does he propose for that small but significant number of offenders who fall between the various sections of the Mental Health Act 1983? They are quite unsuitable to be in prison but are either inadequate or unsafe to be at large?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has a responsibility there and the Home Office and his Department have to keep in close touch locally and nationally on certain cases to ensure that we keep the kind of people about whom my hon. Friend spoke out of prison.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the deplorable conditions that exist in remand centres such as Risley, which need urgent attention. May I urge my right hon. Friend to be less tentative than issuing a Green Paper and going through a possibly lengthy system of consultation, and get down to the immediate relief that the private sector could bring?

I do not think that the private sector could bring immediate relief. Even an experiment, if it was to be worth while, would need a change in the law, which would certainly be contested. I have to have regard to the industrial relations side. As my right hon. Friend knows, the planning side is also difficult. We would not solve any of the planning problems of new prisons or remand centres by privatising. We need to push ahead with our thinking on this matter. I hope relief action will be the result. It is a major step and it must be carefully weighed and worked out in British terms.

Can the Home Secretary clear up the confusion about day fines? He seemed in answer to a question to be very sympathetic towards their introduction, but his Minister of State explicitly ruled them out in Committee a few weeks ago. Could we be told whether the Government are in favour or against? Will he confirm that 56,200 is the Home Office estimate of the prison population, but that he decided not to give the figure to the House?

On the first point, what I said and what I repeat is that, as regards fines, we are considering ways of helping the courts to assess offenders' means more accurately when they fix a fine.[Interruption.] No, that has been our policy for a long time. The figure I mentioned in my statement was 52,000 this year. One cannot be precise about the figures for the future. That is why I did not give a figure for after the summer of this year. On present projections, the population will continue to rise quickly. That is why I have announced 4,200 extra places. If we can get the short term and the medium term right, that will join in with the results from our longer-term building programme and the problem will begin to be solved.