HC Deb 25 November 1926 vol 200 cc668-72

Order for Second Leading read.


I beg to move. "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I apologise to the House for having to speak again, but this Bill concerns Scotland, and more particularly the city of Edinburgh. It is a Bill designed to amend the Prisons (Scotland) Act, 1877. The real reason why I bring this Bill before the House is that, as Scottish Members are aware, the jail we speak of in Edinburgh as the Old Calton Jail has been vacated, and a new prison has been built to the westward of the city. Under the present law, the prison would require to be put up to public auction. That would bring about possibilities which both the Government and the city of Edinburgh think undesirable in the case of a site which, in the view both of the City Council of Edinburgh and the Government, should be retained for Government purposes. The first Clause of this Bill therefore is to provide that not only this particular prison, but any other prison which, under the Act, may fall out of use, should not be put up for public auction to be competed for by outside bidders, but that it should be at the discretion of the Government in consultation with others, and with the consent of the Treasury, to dispose of as may seem fit.

The second Clause deals with a matter which particularly concerns Orkney and Shetland. The power which is asked does not impose any obligation upon Orkney and Shetland. It. does not take away from them the right of keeping the prison in Orkney and Shetland as long as they are prepared to do so, but, it will be possible, if at some time it is found not to lie suitable, to make use of a reconstructed portion of that building for cells, in order to obviate great expense to the Government in the transfer of prisoners. I do not think that in any measure this Bill can be called controversial, and, in view of the particular Clause dealing with the City of Edinburgh, I would venture to ask the House to agree to give me all the stages of the Bill at this time, in order that the matter may be proceeded with. I only ask for that because it is a matter of urgency to get those in consultation with the City of Edinburgh to dispose of the prison in Edinburgh, Of course, I am in the hands of the House in the matter, but I would make this appeal.


As the Secretary for Scotland has indicated, this Bill will probably be quite uncontroversial in character, but, as he has asked for all stages of the Measure to-night, it will be necessary for a representative of Edinburgh to say not more than a word or two on the subject. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, if a Bill of this kind be not passed, it is the duty of the Prison Commissioners, or whoever has charge of the prison, to dispose of it by public sale. It is no longer used as a prison, and, of course, the old Calton Jail in Edinburgh, on one of the most beautiful sites in Scotland, would in these circumstances be exposed to the risk of sale and of passing into the hands of some sort of enterprise, which might make use of this site in a way by no means consistent with the environment, and, probably, hostile to the views of a very large number of the citizens. So it would ill become any Labour Member or Socialist—if I may emphasise that word for a moment—to impede the Government for one second in the laudable step they are taking to preserve this property for public use.

On the principle of the Measure we are entirely with them, but as the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked us to give him all the stages of the Bill to-night I must raise one question of importance to the City of Edinburgh. One of the original proposals was that Calton Gaol should be specified in this Measure, but I understand the view of the Scottish Office was that if a particular gaol—and of course it is the case of Calton Gaol which has given rise to the Bill—were inserted, it would make it a hybrid Measure, and lead to difficulties in other directions. Accordingly, Calton Gaol is not specified, and the Measure is general in character, but a question arises as to what power the Corporation of Edinburgh are to have over the site on which the gaol now stands. My sole anxiety at the moment is to find out from the Government whether any agreement has been reached which will provide definitely that the Corporation of Edinburgh are to be consulted as to the future use of that site. If we can have an assurance on that point, the last trace of difficulty would disappear, and we should join in the effort to maintain intact for all time a most beautiful part of what many of us regard, with real affection, as the most beautiful city in the world.


With regard to the second portion of the Bill, which more particularly affects the County of Orkney, the right hon. Gentleman is aware that some apprehensions were expressed at one time with regard to the obligations and the expense which this Measure might. place on the County of Orkney, and I was very glad to hear him give the assurance that the status quo will be maintained unless and until the county itself makes application to the Minister. That, I believe, is quite clear.


indicated assent.


That being the case, the county has no objection to this Bill.


I do not rise because of any opposition to the main purpose of this Bill, which is to secure the retention of the Calton Gaol site in the hands of the Government. As the Secretary of State knows, I am strongly in favour of that course. I have a sentimental attachment to this particular building. From the external point of view, I think it is an architectural feature of the City of Edinburgh, one which all the people in Scotland are proud to look on—from the outside. The reason I intervene is to oppose the request for all the stages of the Bill to-night. First of all, that would be a breach of a practice to which we Scottish Members attach some considerable importance, namely, that a Bill dealing with a purely Scottish matter should go automatically to the Scottish Grand Committee, and what the right hon. Gentleman is asking is that this Measure should be considered in Committee of the Whole House. It may be only a very technical breach of our practice, but it is a breach such as I, Personally, would not like to see corn-mated without a protest being entered.

10.0 P.M.

Then there is another paragraph in the Bill which I want to say something about and to hear the argument of the Secretary of State upon it. He slid over it in his speech. It is Sub-section (1), Clause 2. There he is asking for powers to legalise the use of police cells as places of detention for 30 days—to extend the period of 14 days presently allowed to 30 days. I do not know whether the right hoc. Gentleman has ever been in an ordinary police cell. If he has been, even on a visit of inspection, he must know that, generally speaking, those places are not suited for detaining a human being for more than 24 hours, let alone for 30 days; and I would not be doing the fair thing by my constituents—a fair proportion of whom periodically get landed into those places. [Laughter.] It is nothing to laugh at. My constituents get run in for petty crimes of drunkenness that would be applauded in this House. Generally speaking, a police cell has for a bed a bit of the stone floor raised above the ordinary level, and the pillow is a bit of the stone raised yet a little bit higher. The blankets and rugs given to a prisoner are very often verminous, even in progressive cities and counties, and I think it is appalling to extend the time during which a man can be kept in one of those places. In the regular prisons to which persons sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment are sent there is at least the most perfect cleanliness, there is a bed upon which an ordinary individual can sleep, and precautions are taken to see that the cell is cleansed and disinfected between its occupation by one prisoner and another. Such steps are not generally taken in police cells used for lock-up purposes, and I for one would have to move the deletion of this Clause if it were proposed to take the whole Bill this evening, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should change his mind on that point. The Government have made very good progress with most of their Measures this Session. [Interruption.] If they have not, there must have been some slackness somewhere; and I think that on three days last week the Government programme for the day was exhausted before half time. Obviously, there is no serious pressure of time to justify us in going through the three stages of this Bill to-night.


As I said, I merely asked that, this Bill should be regarded by the House as non-contentious. The point the hon. Member is raising is a Committee point, and if hon. Members are going to discuss it it must go to Committee.


I would like to know whether arrangements are to be made to sustain the pre-emption allowed under the Act of 1877, so that cities such as that. I am representing, Dundee, will still have that pre-emption?


I think the hon. Member had better leave that point to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.,