HC Deb 14 February 1947 vol 433 cc708-29

12.55 p.m.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)

In dealing with the condition of prisoners in Holloway Prison, I think it will be agreed nowadays by the public generally, and certainly by the present Government, that the desire in the treatment of prisoners is that it should be remedial and not purely punitive. We have come a long way from the old days when people were treated in prison in such a way that their lives were made a hell and it was hoped that the deterrent effect would be so great that they would be terrified into never committing another offence. Of course, it was soon found that did not work, and a good many years ago a different attitude was adopted, but, unfortunately, practice has not always kept up with theory and that is why I am bringing forward this question. I am dealing only with Holloway Prison because I have full facts about it, and that does not mean to say that some other prisons are not better in the matters with which I will deal and that some other prisons are not worse. Prisons vary a good deal, and I think most of them need the standard to be raised.

To go back to Holloway, one of the things that seems to me particularly serious is that no privileges are allowed in any circumstances for the first three months. This applies to prisoners serving any term. If the term is shorter than three months, then it is the whole period. If it is a sentence between that and a life sentence, it lasts for the first three months. The reason why this is such a serious thing is that it includes all the prisoners whom it would be most likely to be possible to rehabilitate—first offenders and prisoners who are in for short sentences and have not committed any grave offences. As has so many times been said so recently in this House, in a very difficult life—as it must be admitted life is today for many people, and many women—people slip up and find themselves landed in Holloway. It may be that a woman has stolen because she has a sick child at home and wants to get something she is unable to get from a medical certificate or in any other way. Possibly she has seen it and taken it from a shop. There are quite a lot of cases of people who cannot be described as criminal in any real way but who get landed in Holloway Gaol with many troubles on their shoulders.

I want to suggest what it must be like to them during the first three months. Many of them are working-class people who have, practically speaking, never in their lives been alone. We have great troubles with overcrowding but this is the other side to that picture and it applies to many of the people who go to prison. Never in the course of their lives have they been alone in a room for more than five minutes. They go to prison feeling very sorry, very humiliated and utterly miserable, and perhaps with grave home troubles. They do not know what is happening to their families, and whether their families are suffering severely because they are not there. These women, whatever their circumstances, are finally locked up at 4.30 p.m., and see no one between then and when they are called at 6 o'clock next morning. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] Can hon. Members imagine the feelings of these people, the brooding, the misery, the wretchedness, of sitting there hour after hour in these days in the cold, because cold is inevitable, and even people in good homes are cold? They are cold and miserable, with nothing to do but to brood over their miseries. It is perfectly true that they are able to get three books a week. But very often they are not the books they want to read, and often they are not the kind of people who do read. They sit and think. During the evening they go to bed, and they have had nothing to eat or drink—this applies to every person in Holloway Gaol—after 4 o'clock in the afternoon, until the next morning.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)


Mrs. Ayrton Gould

"Torture" is the right word. They have a reasonably good meal served at 4 o'clock. I do not complain, in these days of shortages, about the general diet in Holloway. But I complain most bitterly that the last meal, consisting of about three slices of bread, a very small pat of margarine, and sometimes a piece of cheese, or a tiny piece of spam, and a cup of quite good cocoa, should be the last meal served for 14 hours. Every prisoner should have tea at teatime. It is all wrong that tea should be only served once a day, at 6 a.m. That is the only time in the 24 hours that any prisoner in Holloway Prison has tea. They all have a pint of tea at 6 a.m., with their breakfast. There is precious little we women do not know about how far tea can be made to go in these days, and I cannot believe that the whole ration of tea is used up in the pint served in the early morning.

If we are to rehabilitate these prisoners, we must provide certain reasonable comforts. One of those comforts should be that tea should be given at 4'oclock, if that is the time when the meal is taken, and certainly later in the evening there should he another "unlock", as it is called, and the pint of cocoa, which is now provided at 4 o'clock, should be provided at 7.30, or 8 p.m., with something additional to eat. I would not mind so much if there was not anything additional to eat, if the prisoners could have that nourishing hot drink at 7.30 p.m. They would then be able to go to sleep. Ex-prisoners have said to me time and again, "Somehow or other one gets warm, and. goes to sleep ultimately."

In the first three months there arc no privileges of any sort. That means that, although the prisoners go to work—and I think the associated labour and the workshops are good—they cannot receive any payment. They cannot go to the shop, which is like what we used to call the "tuckshop" when we were at school. In no circumstances in the first three months is it possible for the prisoners to have their sweet ration. Our diet today is laid down pretty carefully by the Ministry of Food. Not only, is it decided: on what is obtainable, but also on a calorific and energy-making basis. The sweet ration is not provided for no particular reason; it is included because it is needed for the health of the people. People who are feeling very miserable and cold—cold largely because they are so miserable, as well as because the cells are not very warm—crave tremendously for sweet stuffs, because they are energizing. For that first bitter three months they cannot get the sweets, nor in any circumstances a cigarette, but are locked up at 4.30, after the last meal, for 14 hours of brooding and misery. That cannot be remedial, or rehabilitating. If we are to have moral rehabilitation, there must be physical rehabilitation. If there is one thing which has been proved by modern medicine, it is that physical rehabilitation is necessary for moral rehabilitation. I believe it to be true, although it is not provable, that there is not a free woman in this country who does not have a hot drink during the evening, certainly in the winter. I know the Minister wit] say—and I know it is accurate, because of the answers I have received to Questions—that shortage of staff is the reason the prisoners cannot get anything later than 4.30. But never in the history of Holloway Prison has a later meal been provided. It is not a wartime measure.

nor an emergency measure. Throughout the history of that prison there has never been a later meal. Although it may not be possible to do it tomorrow, I want the Home Office to put this as a first priority to be provided as soon as possible.

Every prisoner should be able to earn from the beginning. Rehabilitation should start as soon as the prisoner enters the prison. Those who are most capable of rehabilitation are likely to be the first offenders and those with short sentences, because they have committed very small offences. In actual practice, the system works out in what seems to be completely the wrong way. The long-term offenders, the old lags who come back over and over again, are the prisoners who get the most privileges. I am told that the reason is that the life is so unendurable that they could not continue in prison unless they got privileges. If this is true, it is all the more reason why the miserable people coming in for the first time, and obviously suffering much more, should get similar privileges.

I ask the Minister whether it is possible to turn things round the other way, and to start off all prisoners with regular privileges. After all, what are the privileges? They are not very wonderful. The privileges are the chance of going out to classes, or to some form of recreation, in the evening, and of being able to earn a very small sum of money so that they can buy their sweets ration and a few cigarettes. It is nothing very luxurious for which I am asking. I ask that these privileges should be granted from the first day. The whole attitude towards prisoners should be reversed. They should start their sentence with privileges—if they abuse them they could he taken away—instead of having to go through three months of sheer misery before they can get the simple things which we would not call privileges but just the fundamental needs of people. They should be able to earn a little money and to get out of their cells after half past four at night.

I do not know, but I believe that the scale of earnings is laid down by the Prison Commissioners. On unskilled work not more than 4d. a week, and on highly skilled work Is. a week can be earned. Those are the possible earnings. On what basis this is laid down I do not know: certainly, it is not a trade union basis. If earnings are not to be granted on any sort of trade union basis, then the prisoners should be paid for good behaviour and for work well done. There may be a highly skilled engineer who would be very good at making radio parts, as they do in Holloway, or a highly skilled tailoress who would do good work in the tailoring shop, but there may not be any place in either of those workshops. The consequence is that she has to scrub floors and, because she is doing much harder work which is unskilled, in no circumstances can she earn more than 4d. a week. If earnings are to be paid on a basis of good behaviour —it can only be called that because it is not really payment for work done—then it should be on a proper pocket money basis. It should be possible for every prisoner who works well, to whatever work she may be put, to earn at least 2s. 6d. a week. That would enable her to buy a full sweet ration, a few cigarettes or some other little thing. Because it must be remembered that if a prisoner wants a shampoo powder, or anything of that sort, she must buy it out of these ridiculously small earnings.

On the question of recreation, I want to place great stress on rehabilitation. That can only be obtained if, in addition to good working conditions, there are good recreational facilities. As a result of an answer given yesterday by the Home Secretary I learned that the average number of prisoners, able to get out of their cells after 4.30, for classes or any form of recreation, is 165 out of a total prisoner population fluctuating between about 460 and a little over 500. That means that on no night can more than about a quarter of the prisoners get out of their cells after the 4.30 "lock up." There they have to remain with nothing to do. They are not given anything entertaining except the books I have mentioned. They cannot do embroidery or needlework. They cannot occupy themselves in any sort of way. As I say, only 165, a little over a quarter, are able to get out of their cells after the 4.30 "lock up."

If recreational facilities are to be worth while, there must be a grant which will provide the necessary materials. In this connection I asked about the gardens. There are fairly extensive grounds and certain parts are cultivated. I find that they are maintained by gifts. I claim that the Government should not rely upon charit- able gifts for the cultivation of the gardens of our institutions.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

May I interrupt? The hon. Lady is making a very interesting speech. I should like to know what is the source of her information. I did not hear her opening remarks. She has said continually, throughout her speech, that she asked this and asked that. Has she recently visited the prison, or is she a prison visitor? Has she first-hand experience of the conditions which she has described?

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

I am very glad to have had that interruption. When I said that I had asked, I should explain that I had three Questions yesterday—

Mr. Peake

In Parliament?

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

Yes. They were not answered orally but in writing. The figures I quoted were from these answers. Recently I visited Holloway, where I spent a good many hours, and I got the information at first hand.

Mr. Peake

I am much obliged.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

I think it will be found that everything I have said is accurate. In the answer which I received yesterday from the Secretary of State, it was stated that £15 had been spent on garden tools. Since I asked about flowers and plants for the garden, and no answer was made, I take it that no money was spent on them. A sum of £13 was spent on materials for needlework and other classes, and £5 5s. od. on entertainment. Apart from that, the small sum of £4was spent on a radio licence fee and renewal of parts. The radios are not provided by the Government. Nothing else for the entertainment, recreation, or recreational occupation of the prisoners is provided.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

Is that the annual expenditure?

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

That is the expenditure for 1946. I did not get any information whether it varies from year to year. Including the radio licence fee, the expenditure for gardens, recreational facilities, classes and so on, was £37 for a fluctuating population of between 460 and over 500.

Dr. Stephen Taylor (Barnet)

When the hon. Lady says that was the expenditure, does she mean the Government grant?

Mrs. Ayrton Gould


Dr. Taylor

I think the expenditure was considerably higher.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

I said earlier that a good deal is done by charity from voluntary sources, but this Government should not stand for that. I apologise if I did not make it clear. I did not mean for one moment that not more than that was spent. I meant that £ 37 was spent by way of Government grant, and that is completely inadequate. It is essential that the Government should put into operation the provision of rehabilitation for prisoners. This should not be considered to be merely a theoretical matter.

I want to say one other word about the shortage of staff. From the answer to a Question which I asked yesterday, I understand that the prison officers are 21 short of a full complement, that 55 were appointed last year and 44 left. I do not think that that is by any means satisfactory, but it is much less satisfactory in the hospital, which I believe is efficient in many ways, but which is miserably bare. Ex-patients who came out of prison told me that they were terribly unhappy because of the rigid routine which was laid down in the hospital. In regard to the hospital staff, they are 10 short. Twenty new members were appointed last year, and 19 left. I do not know that they were 19 of the 20 appointed, but 19 left, so that they are only one nearer to their full complement, and I think that suggests that there is something wrong with the prison organisation, even in these days of shortage of nurses. When one remembers that a very considerable number of babies are born in prison—I think it is unfortunate, but they are—and that there is a special ward into which expectant mothers go at eight months, and that that ward is cold, bare and unfriendly, I think it will be agreed that such conditions are not very helpful to the attitude of mind of the expectant mother.

Finally, I want to emphasise again that we have not reached in Holloway Prison anything near the proper standard of the treatment of offenders, which should be remedial, and that we should go all out for rehabilitation. These things have got to be altered. We must have a -much more humane basis of treatment for the prisoners, we must give them a chance to feel that there is some sort of comfort, encouragement and hope, and, most immediately of all, we have to give them something to eat and drink much later in the evening so that they may go to sleep in a little comfort.

1.22 p.m.

Mrs. Florence Paton (Rushcliffe)

I am very glad to be able to make a contribution to this discussion today on the treatment of women prisoners in our prisons. Before the war, I myself visited Holloway Prison, and I think that anyone who wishes to express a point of view about this question should have had that experience. I think that, on going into Holloway Prison, the first thing that strikes one is the building itself. There we have a gloomy, Victorian building, a structure which was built in the days when ideas about the treatment of prisoners were very different. From the ideas of today, a building which impresses one with a sense of awe, and, more than that, with a sense of terrible fear. I think that anyone not going into that building as a prisoner would almost feel like one, because one feels so angry about the structure of the whole place and the terrible feeling of gloom and of being shut in once one is inside.

The cells have stone floors and windows with iron railings. Looking down into the prison from the upper floors is like looking down into an abyss into which one feels one might fall at any time. These are the old cells of the building built many years ago, and they are dull places into which the daylight can hardly penetrate. There is a small aperture near the ceiling of the cell out of which it is very difficult to see, and, if the prisoner does look out, the only view which she has is one of a blank wall. I do not know the condition of the cells at the moment, but I do not think they can have improved very much.

A hundred years ago, Elizabeth Fry had something to say about the question of solitary confinement, and what we have heard from the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) shows that the question of solitary confinement has not yet, after 100 years, been solved. The shutting of women in a cell at 4.30 p.m. until the next morning is one of those cruelties against which Elizabeth Fry cried out 100 years ago. She said then: I am certain that separate confinement produces an unhealthy state of mind and body and has, generally, a demoralising influence. I know that some of the recommendations that Elizabeth Fry made have long ago been brought into operation. She it was who asked for special treatment for women offenders, who asked for women Governors of prisons and that a whole prison should be managed by women. I think that only recently have we really achieved that condition in Holloway Prison, where we now have a woman Governor and women officers right throughout the prison, but it does seem to me extraordinary that, after all these Years, we have not yet achieved a solution of this problem—this cruel, wicked problem of the solitary confinement of people in cells for long hours together. I think I know one of the reasons why this, unfortunately, has become inevitable.

A year ago, I put a Question to the Home Secretary on the subject of Holloway Prison, the number of prisoners there and the number of people to look after them, and, in a letter to me, the Home Secretary said: In the year 1938, the staff was working on a two-shift system so as to cover an active day for the prisoners extending well into the evening. During the war this had to be abandoned, and only one shift is working. Clearly, the one-shift basis is the reason for the confinement of women in their cells so early in the evening. The reason for that is the shortage of staff, and it is on this question that I want to concentrate.

I asked the Home Secretary a year ago why it was not possible to secure university trained people, and particularly women who had had a course of social science and who had the incentive and the urge for this kind of work, and why such women were not given more encouragement to go into the prison service and help in this glorious work, which it really is if looked at from the proper point of view. The Home Secretary wrote to me: It is unlikely that young women with university qualifications will be attracted either by the nature of the work or the conditions of service in the basic grade in existing women's prisons and Borstal institutions. I tried to find out what were the reasons why university trained people were not prepared to go into this kind of service, and I think I have discovered some of the reasons, which I think should be noted. There has been, for some years, at the London School of Economics, a course in criminology which had a considerable number of women students who were keenly interested in the study and treatment of delinquency, adult and juvenile. Most of these people have come from the social science department and have been going occasionally to Holloway Prison for short periods for practical work.

One of the teachers of the London School of Economics tried to find out why these students, having had practical courses at Holloway and Aylesbury Prisons, rather tended to leave the service than to go into it as a career. He discovered that there was a too rigid system governing the whole of service in the prisons. There were certain things which he thought could be done to encourage these people with a sense of social purpose who would like to enter the prison service. In order to encourage people of the right kind to enter the service—because we believe that one of the chief needs is the right kind of staff from the Governor right down through the prison —he gave me some of the conditions which he thought should be improved.

First of all, there was the irregularity of hours of duty which made it impossible at the present time for members of the staff to maintain a social life outside, to see their friends or to participate in the social and cultural life of the community in the way they would like. I look upon that as a most important thing. I know that in no profession can one really do one's work properly unless one has contact with the outside world as well as with the inside of the profession in which one is. That applies particularly to the teaching profession. Teachers, who become too closely confined within the four walls of a school, taking no interest in the outside life, are not effective, successful teachers. They become stale, and I think the same applies to students who having gone into the prison service have few facilities for going outside to take part in the social and cultural life of the community.

Any new, fresh face or fresh idea is like a ray of sunshine coming inside the prison walls, and consequently those people, who are really willing to go into the prison service, feel that the rules are too rigid and it is not possible to get out- side enough to enjoy the life of the community which would make them fresh and renew them for service inside. I am also informed by this teacher at the London School of Economics that the principle of seniority makes it impossible for the younger ones to meet their colleagues on an equal footing. Generally speaking, this seems to be applied with excessive rigidity. I wonder if something could not be done there.

In order to see that students, once having entered this service, will not be inclined to leave it without having done any effective work, we should consider the question of the salaries of the officers of a better educational standard. They are not high enough to compensate to some extent for the unattractiveness—and we all realise how unattractive this kind of work is unless one has the urge to do it—but they could be made a little more attractive if the reward offered to those people, who have taken a proper training and have the right educational standard for the work, was higher. I understand there are many social workers who would be willing to volunteer as prison officers for a limited number of years, say five or ten years, if there could be a possibility of an interchange between prison service and other kindred branches. It is the sense of going into prison and doing only that particular type of work which frightens people. They think of the long vista of years in this very unattractive service. Surely, in any reform of our penal system there will be the possibility of providing those who take up this sort of service with an interchange between the various branches of service after a certain number of years

There are one or two other points on the question of staff which I wish to put. I want to refer to this question of solitary confinement again. There is a lack of provision of courses to make the prisoners' lives much more interesting inside the prison and much more effective when they come outside the prison. I understand that one of the big needs is suitable personal relationship between the better trained officers and the inmates. These should be encouraged to get together more, for it is only by so doing that full use can be made of the special qualifications of the officers trained in social work. One of the essential con- ditions for that is to give the officers unrestricted access to the records of the inmates. I think these are further points which could be considered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I know that later on we are going to have a complete new Criminal Justice Bill, and that the Home Secretary is exceedingly busy on this. We hope when he brings in this Bill that there will be very fine reforms in connection with all branches of the service, but I do think that the women's branch ought to be given special consideration because there are not so many women criminals as men. Women are less criminally minded than men, according to the statistics, and are easier to reform if reform is done in the right way. I feel that we ought to increase the right methods of dealing with wrongdoers who desire to rehabilitate themselves and make themselves useful servants of the community. We ought to do that rather than have the desire to punish. That, I think, is the big point. If our first thought is to punish for wrongdoing we are going wrong psychologically from the beginning. Our first thought should be to rehabilitate—to make a person who broke the law into one who is willing to obey the law, and who is desirous of settling into the community and living a peaceful useful life in the future.

We want to reform, to transform if we can, and make an unfortunately wrong character into a right one. We would like to see very soon quick and revolutionary reforms—more revolutionary than we have had before. We wish to see in the course of time different types of buildings and new experiments, like some of the experiments in America and Russia, where women are trained in colonies where they can have the chance of self-expression and self-fulfillment, as well as more opportunities of showing that they are not the type of character which people often think they are because they have been in prison for wrong-doing. I hope, therefore, that we shall have some very startling and very fine changes made in the criminal law, but I am hoping that we will see improvements made in the immediate conditions as a result of the Adjournment Debate.

I support the hon. Member for North Hendon in all that she has said about the treatment of girls and women at Holloway Prison. It is impossible almost for us to imagine if we have not experienced it just what solitary confinement is. It is the greatest torture that one human being can impose on another. I estimate that torture to be greater than going without food. We know that many of these prisoners have not any internal resources of their own and are not philosophically minded in the sense that they can concentrate on higher and better things to pass away the time. They are trapped in those prisons, and, if we have any sign of social conscience, we ought to be willing to do something immediately to prevent that torture being endured any moment longer than we can possibly help.

On the question, too, of the payment, it is nonsensical to pay a woman 4d. a week. It is an insult, a mockery. What can a woman buy with 4d? What on earth can she buy with 4d. in these days? We are told that even the children who are boarded out should have, at least, 8d. a week pocket money, and, if possible, a shilling a week. Yet here we are expecting women to work in prison and paying them 4d. for it. The idea is ridiculous. I would rather have nothing at all, and not feel insulted in that way. We hope something will be done about that. We hope that something will be done, also, about the three months period mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon. That is a cruel punishment for anyone who goes into prison for the first time. There are many things I could talk about, but I do not want to take up more time—such things as facilities for more soap, facilities for more towels, facilities for all those things which mean so much to women in keeping themselves trim and keeping their sense of respectability. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, we shall see some immediate improvements along the lines I have mentioned.

1.42 p.m.

Mr. William Wells (Walsall)

I have very little indeed to add to the admirable speeches which my hon. Friends have made. I am sure we are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Gould) for raising this matter. I myself had occasion, for less philanthropic motives, I fear, than those of my hon. Friends, to visit Holloway Prison little time before Christmas. I arrived there about 5 o'clock on a frosty, foggy evening early in December, to see an un- fortunate client of mine who was on remand there. The sheer gloom of those surroundings at that time no words of mine could adequately paint. I shall not attempt the task. I will merely say two things. First, the unfortunate woman whom I visited, who was, before she committed the offence for which she was there, in a highly wrought up and unstable frame of mind, was reduced to the state of imagining all kinds of persecution were being inflicted upon her by the prison officials—which, I am perfectly certain, was quite unfounded, and was merely the result of those terrible, long hours of brooding and loneliness. The other point—of which I must speak rather carefully, for obvious reasons—is the conversations I had with certain of the prison officials when I was there, who were quite as much depressed and worried about the general conditions in the prison as I was when I went there. They do explain, I think, to some extent, the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon, and suggest the difficulty of retaining prison staff there.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend who is to reply to the Debate one or two questions. Is he able to say how the figures of the prisoners are broken down? How many of the 460 to 500 prisoners, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon referred, are on remand? How many are first offenders, and how many second offenders? How many are old lags? I can well understand that, with our present housing difficulties and the difficulties about staff, and so forth, there may be some justification for keeping old lags under the general conditions which my hon. Friends have depicted. There may be occasions when it is absolutely necessary to put numbers of women who are on remand in a prison of this kind. Remand is 'always very difficult. We have to have people on remand near the courts where their cases are to be heard, and near doctors who are, perhaps, to examine them. But there can be no justification whatever in keeping first and second offenders in a prison of this kind. The conditions are wholly and absolutely unsuited for any kind of redemption. The conditions are prone, I should have thought, rather to degrade than to improve the mental condition of those who are there. I do urge my hon. Friend to take every step within his power to remove first or second offenders who are in Holloway to other prisons. On what principles are first or second offenders allocated to this prison? Is it a mere matter of chance that a girl who has stolen from a shop goes, for instance, to Holloway or to Aylesbury, where, I understand, the conditions are very much better? I can close only by imploring my hon. Friend to do everything in his power to remove these young women to other prisons; and by echoing everything my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon has said.

1.47 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)

Before my hon. Friend replies, there is just one simple suggestion I should like to put to him. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells), I think we are all grateful for the very full and human speeches that we have heard from my hon. Friends the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Gould) and the Member for Rushcliffe (Mrs. Paton). It is especially desirable at this particular time that we should concentrate attention upon the prison system of this country, and I think it is most desirable that the attention which is focused upon it should be focused upon it along the right lines. At present, unfortunately, there is a tendency for the public's attention to be attracted to our prisons only through the medium of the Press. I make no complaint of the Press. I think journalists and prison officers are, on the whole, very reasonable and responsible people; but, unfortunately, I do not think that the Home Office. or the Prison Commissioners do their best to help either the prison officers or the journalists who are interested in the conditions. At present, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, it is very difficult to recruit men and women into the prison service. It's made no easier to recruit them when there are what I think are exaggerated articles appearing in the newspapers.

My suggestion is that the Home Office would be well advised to appoint a public relations officer who would be responsible for contact between the prisons, the prison officers, and the public. Unfortunately, at the moment, journalists have to rely, to a very large extent, on hearsay about the conditions, and they do write exaggerated articles, which are very bad for the morale of the prison staffs. I hope very much that, if my hon. Friend cannot reply to this suggestion now, he will bear it in mind as a possible means to help the prison staffs very considerably.

1.49 p.m.

Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)

I have only one small point to make. It is mainly with regard to the outlook of the Prison Commissioners themselves. I have been in contact with them for a long time now, and I know they are a body of men struggling as best they can with very intractable problems—first, the problem of buildings, and, more recently, with the difficulties of the war. But I am more and more convinced that one of the weaknesses of the Prison Commissioners is a complete misreading of public opinion. I feel they are scared about it and that they might do a lot more if they had not at the back of their minds the bogy of some Press stunt. The reception given to the Criminal Justice Bill, in 1939, showed the enormous interest in the Press and elsewhere in this matter, and the complete absence of criticism of anything but the rather controversial subject relating to the abolition of corporal punishment. It showed that public opinion in this country was prepared for very large advances indeed in our methods of dealing with delinquents.

The Prison Commissioners are faced with an extraordinarily difficult problem, and within the limitations under which they have to work, they are certainly a humane body of men who are trying to do what they can. But I wish they would be a little bit braver and run a few more risks in connection with this bogy, 'because that would do more for the immediate problem than anything else. Practically all their problems arise from overcrowding. These prisons, built 60 and 80 years ago, were not designed for education or improvement, but for punishment in solitary confinement. The prisons are so appallingly congested that they are quite inadequate for modern lines of development for more than 25 per cent. of their present population. There is no immediate solution to nine-tenths of our present difficulties, other than getting people out of the prison. Vast numbers of people are sent to prison who never ought to be sent there. Those people who require sharp punishment, discipline and some form of control can, in a very large number of cases, receive it extra-murally. The establishment of small prison camps is certainly feasible in the case of men, which would enable more accommodation to be used for women. The development of the small prison camp has been proved during the war and at Wakefield for many years before. That is an immediate solution to meet these problems which arise through trying to run a modern system in buildings designed for entirely different purposes.


The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Oliver)

I regret, by reason of the very short notice we have had of this Debate, that it will not be possible to deal as fully as I should have liked with this matter, having regard to the great importance of the issues it raises. The question of prisoners, male and female, is of extreme importance, and it should receive the greatest possible attention. It has only been possible for me to look into the question of Holloway very late in the day, although I notice that the Debate has taken an extended course and has covered other prisons and other matters appertaining to Holloway. I agrees with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) that the Prison Commissioners are dealing with a most difficult subject. They have inherited obsolete buildings, and they have to do the best they can with the material at their disposal. I have no doubt that if the Prison Commissioners started de novo, there would be a great reform in this country not only in the prisons, but in the prison system. That, unfortunately, cannot be done, and much criticism accrues as a result. No one in particular can be responsible for these conditions until the opportunity presents itself to overhaul the whole question of the buildings and the system. The hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) said that we were looking forward to the Criminal justice Bill, and under that Bill many of these factors can be dealt with comprehensively. The question of the appointment of prison officers lies at the root of practically all the criticisms which have been made. Whether it be four o'clock "lock ups," or whether it be the other matters which have been raised, all these concern the question of staff, and it is not within the competence of the Home Office or the Prison Commissioners until the requisite number of people are appointed to administer the system we would wish to see. Until we can get back to the two-shift system, I regret to say that the Home Secretary and the Prison Commissioners cannot ameliorate some of the complaints which have been made. There may be criticisms in regard to the recruitment of prison officers, but that is a matter which is much too extensive to go into at this particular time, because, primarily, we are concerned with the conditions appertaining to Holloway.

The hon. Member for North Hendon raised three questions, which I have noted. Firstly, that for the first three months prisoners have no privileges, that they are unable to earn and consequently secure their sweet rations. Next, that the earnings are inadequate; and, lastly, the question of the 4.30 last meal and lock up, which, she says, cannot be put down to war conditions or postwar shortage of staff. With regard to her first point, the prison rules provide that there shall be three stages for convicted prisoners. The first stage is for 12 weeks, the second for 16 weeks, and the third stage is thereafter. For those prisoners who have not been previously convicted of any serious crime, they enter the second stage after the fourth week, and are thus in the position of a second-stager, which means the privilege attached to the second and third stages of earning some small amount. It must not be forgotten that the earnings system is not solely for the purpose of enabling the second and first stagers to earn money; it is for the purpose of giving them useful work, giving them an incentive to do something in industry.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

Is not the question here whether the women should have their sweet ration?

Mr. Oliver

It is not possible for prisoners to have their sweet ration, because no sweet allowance per head of population is made to prisons. Further, many prisoners have not got their ration cards, and in other cases, where they have, their rations are used. For the short-term prisoners, that is the particular difficulty. That applies also to the second and third stagers. They cannot have their ration, although they can acquire what would constitute their ration in private life.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

Why is that?

Mr. Oliver

As I have said, many have not got their ration books. I also understand that the prison authorities are not given a ration of sweets for individual prisoners.

Mrs. Paton

Why not ask that they should be given sweet rations? It is not impossible, I lake it, to get sweets into the prisons.

Mr. Oliver

All that has been said today will be carefully considered. I have had no chance to go into this matter thoroughly, because there has not been the time. I am told that it is not possible to provide a sweet ration where facilities do not exist, or the earning capacity of the second and third stager is inadequate to acquire what the person would be entitled to in civilian life.

Mr. Rees-Williams (Croydon, South)

Is not the reason that it would cause a little trouble to someone to get these sweets? Is not that the reason why prisoners have never had them?

Mr. Oliver

I have Pointed out that many of the difficulties are due to shortage of staff. All that has been said today will be carefully considered.

Mr. Paget

Could my hon. Friend go a little further, and tell us that he will do his best to get a sweet ration for these women?

Mr. Oliver

My hon. Friend may take it that we shall do our best, not only to deal with that question, but to deal with the other criticisms that have been made. We recognise that there is a lot to be done. We are not satisfied with the present state of affairs in many directions. With regard to the complaints, probably justifiable, about the solitary confinement, from 4.30 p.m., for short-term prisoners, that is, those who have been confined to prison for three months or less, that position can be reviewed. I doubt whether it is possible for all the people in prison to associate together in the evening, because that would require an enormous staff. I do not suggest that a person should he deprived of all rights and privileges by reason of inadequate staff, but we are now very circumscribed by the fact that we cannot get sufficient staff to carry out an immediate reform in that direction. My hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon said that the three months prisoner was not permitted to enjoy evening association. When concerts and cinema shows are held all prisoners are entitled to attend them, even first-stage prisoners.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

Is my hon. Friend saying that during the initial three months these prisoners are allowed out, on occasions, for recreation after 4.30? If so, how often does that happen?

Mr. Oliver

When concerts and cinema shows are held they are permitted to attend them, although I cannot say how frequently those shows take place. However, the position is not quite so bad as she has stated. I do not think that anyone would attempt to justify the earnings made by prisoners, and I am glad to assure the House that this matter is now receiving the attention of the Prison Commissioners

With regard to conditions at Holloway, the hon. Lady said that the prisoners there had always been locked up at 4.30 p.m. That is not quite the case. Up to November, 1939, they were not locked up until 5.50 p.m., and the final meal was served about 5.40 p.m. It was only during the war years that the time of 4.30 was introduced. That is not due to the fact that people want to treat the prisoners callously; it is because of staff shortage. I am glad to tell the House that there has been, and is at the present time, an effort being made to see that the prisoners get tea at teatime and a cup of cocoa later, at 6.30 p.m. It that system can continue, it will bring the conditions nearer to prewar standard, although I do not for one moment suggest that prewar conditions were the last word in prison administration. The 4.30 p.m. time had to be introduced because of the war, and we are now making an experiment which I hope we shall be able 10 continue. By reason of staff difficulties and the pressure under which the staff are working in the prisons, it is difficult for them to serve this later meal, because the service alone takes them up to close on 8 p.m. They have been giving up one weekend after another, and, therefore, it makes it most difficult for the prison officers to work this overtime.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

This is not happening in Holloway, is it?

Mr. Oliver

Yes; my observations are directed wholly to Holloway. Another matter that was raised had reference to prison clothing. Some time ago the Prison Commissioners set up a committee to study the whole question of prison clothing, and that Committee has made recommendations which have been accepted, and which involve the redesigning of the clothes of prisoners, both male and female. It is now merely a question of obtaining the necessary material, which is in short supply, and having the new designs made. A start has already been made with this, although it will take a long time before the changeover from the present prison clothing to the new pattern can be completed over all prison establishments. It will, therefore, be seen that this matter has not escaped the attention of the Commissioners.

I think I have covered substantially all the points that have been raised, although I apologise for not having been able to deal with the matters as thoroughly as I would have liked, because at the moment I have not all the information available, for reasons which I have given. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Hendon and the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mrs. Paton) on having raised the matter, because it is important that those of us who have our liberty should be interested in those who are temporarily deprived of it. If, as the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, the Prison Commissioners shun publicity, it is our duty, as Members of Parliament, to sec that publicity is given to matters affecting the unfortunate persons who find themselves incarcerated.