HC Deb 11 February 1937 vol 320 cc567-9
31. Mr. Montague

asked the Home Secretary what progress, if any, has been made in reorganising the prison industries since the appointment of a director of industries and other additional officials; whether he is aware that there is still a shortage of work in prisons; that costly machines are idle in the workshops; that these machines were purchased and supplied irrespective as to whether there was any work on which they may be used, and mail bags for the Post Office are being made by hand in order to make the work last longer; and whether he will state approximately how many men were employed at picking oakum during the last year ended 31st December or to the nearest convenient date?

Mr. Lloyd

Since the appointment of the director of industries in October, 1934, 20 workshops have been modernised and during the financial year 1935–36 the value of the work for Government Departments increased by 42 per cent. Compared with the previous year. At the present time, there is no shortage of work in prisons, and there is no foundation for the hon. Member's suggestion that costly machines are idle or that machines have been purchased irrespective of the work in prospect. On the contrary, it was only, by the purchase of a number of sewing machines that it was possible to deliver a large order for mail bags by the due date. The daily average number of prisoners employed on oakum picking during the year ended 31st March last was 44, out of a total prison population of over 11,000 and the average for the succeeding 12 months will be about the same.

35. Mr. George Griffiths

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that an order has been given at Leeds Prison by the new director of prison industries for prisoners at that prison to be employed on oakum picking; and will he instruct some other class of work to be imposed which may be economical to the State and helpful as experience to prisoners on discharge?

Mr. Lloyd

The daily average number of prisoners employed on oakum picking at all prisons is trivial, and at Leeds Prison was rather less than four during the last 10 months. While such employment is not unremunerative to the State, it is kept at a minimum and is generally allotted to prisoners who are incapable of undertaking more skilled work.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman consider the question of having the same kind of employment at Leeds prison as already operates at Wakefield, to the benefit of the prisoners?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not aware of the conditions at Wakefield in detail. There were a number of men working on mail bags at Leeds and, as the work was coming to an end, it was regarded as better to let them pick oakum than be idle.

Mr. Griffiths

If the hon. Gentleman will make himself acquainted with what is going on at Wakefield he will find that it is of great benefit to the prisoners and far better than picking oakum.

Mr. Holdsworth

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the conditions in the two prisons are entirely different? At Wakefield they are mainly young men employed on this task and at Leeds the men, whom I have seen in the last few weeks, are old and infirm.

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