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Remand Prisoners

Volume 174: debated on Thursday 14 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his Department has any further proposals to bring forward regarding the treatment of remand prisoners.

On 3 May, in answer to a previous question from the hon. Lady, I referred to proposed changes in visiting arrangements and to pilot schemes to reduce censorship and to provide card phones for unconvicted prisoners.

We are also seeking, through the prison building and refurbishment programmes, to reduce overcrowding and to improve the accommodation in which many such prisoners are at present held. In addition, guidance is shortly to be issued on the limited mixing of unconvicted and convicted prisoners, subject to close supervision, to allow participation by unconvicted prisoners in a wider range of activities.

Although I am interested to hear some of the measures proposed, is not it the case that many remand prisoners are forced to share cells with three or more others, are forced to share with convicted criminals and are sometimes kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day? As the principle of British justice is that someone is presumed innocent until proved guilty, is not this a disgrace?

I very much doubt whether many—if any—prisons run such impoverished regimes as the hon. Lady suggests. But it is clear that there is a problem which we steadily sought to address in the past decade and which we are within sight of resolving. Two thousand prison places have become available over the past two years, a further 1,600 will become available this year and there are 7,000 in the pipeline. Fourteen new prisons are being constructed, nine of which are local prisons or will take remand prisoners. Provided that there is no sudden surge in unconvicted prisoners, that puts us on course to resolve many of the problems. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that it was about time that a Government came to power who were willing to put resources into the prisons, and this Government are doing that.

My hon. and learned Friend's answers are most welcome. However, does he agree that, whatever the conditions under which remand prisoners are kept, the worst part of their existence is the length of time before their trial? Do he and his colleagues have any initiatives to reduce the time before trial for remand prisoners?

Yes, Sir. In various parts of the country, courts are now subjecting themselves to the discipline of fairly strict guidance about the time in which certain stages of a trial should proceed. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that there are twin problems. First, there is the number of people whom the courts—perfectly properly in most instances—decide to remand in custody and, secondly, there is the period for which those people are on remand. We want to ensure that there are no unavoidable delays in the administration of the justice system, and we are doing that.

The Minister is notorious for being able to slide off the point. He is aware that after the events at Risley in 1989 and after the prison disturbances in 1986 and 1988, strong recommendations were made for different treatment of remand prisoners. Why did not the Government react to those recommendations? Why did they do so little? Is the Minister conscious that Vivienne Stern, the director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said that if only the Government had acted, Strangeways might not have happened?

That is a superficial and unfair analysis. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the 14 prisons being constructed, nine of which will take remand prisoners, will make a massive contribution to solving the problem. If the hon. Gentleman wants to initiate a debate on these matters, we shall be only too happy to discuss them with him. If he promises me that he will spend the first 10 minutes explaining the dismal policies of the previous Labour Government, who cut prison building to the bone, I will listen to his second 10 minutes, when he will no doubt tell us how we should run the system now.