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Remand Prisoners

Volume 174: debated on Thursday 14 June 1990

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9.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current number of remand prisoners held in police cells; and what the figure was one year ago.

On Wednesday 13 June there were 887 prisoners held in police cells in England and Wales, compared with 218 people on 13 June 1989; 825 of them are being held in the north-west of England and are in police cells as a result of industrial action by the Prison Officers Association at some establishments in the north. I am most grateful to the police for their assistance in this matter.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure that we are all grateful to the police, although hon. Members who have fewer policing hours available for policing their constituencies must be concerned about the situation. Will the Minister get together with the POA as soon as possible to find a solution to the problem?

A meeting took place between Home Office officials and representatives of the POA in the north-west today. I have yet to receive a full report of the outcome. Obviously, at a time when the prison service is striving to cope with the aftermath of Strangeways and when we have announced a major refurbishment of that prison, as well as seeking to honour our commitments to upgrade other prisons, it is dreadful that as a result of industrial action we are having to pay the police service £180 per night to accommodate prisoners when there is plenty of room in the prisons in the north to accommodate prisoners there, where they should be.

I thank the Minister for his contratulations to the police and I join him in congratulating the Greater Manchester police on the tremendous job that they have been doing in looking after remand prisoners since Strangeways. Is he aware that it is totally unacceptable for the police at police stations such as those in Stockport to have to go on looking after remand prisoners? It is also totally unacceptable to the prisoners and to their families. Will the Minister make it clear that this state of affairs cannot continue and that we must achieve a situation in which those remand prisoners can go back to prison and the police stations can get back to their normal functions?

I am in the happy position of agreeing with absolutely every word that the hon. Gentleman said. That is why we have sought to persuade the POA to accept a common-sense solution. For example, Preston prison—one of the major prisons in the north—has a certified normal accommodation of 428, but there are barely more than 300 prisoners there at present. Industrial action is preventing the spaces being filled. The public and the House will not understand if it takes much longer to resolve these problems.