HC Deb 05 February 1954 vol 523 cc707-71

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

I beg to move, That this House expresses its concern at the continuing overcrowding of many prisons, welcomes the measures planned and being undertaken by Her Majesty's Government to improve the position and urges that in the interests of good discipline, correct training and the comfort and convenience of the staffs no effort should be spared to provide additional suitable accommodation. I am very pleased to have the opportunity this morning of introducing a discussion on the prison service. We in this House all recognise the important part that the prison service plays in a civilised community such as ours. It is a vital part of the administration of any system of society dependent upon the rule of law and the administration of justice. It is probably because the system has worked so well and efficiently over the years in this country that this House has been called upon so seldom to direct its attention to the problems of the service as a whole. I am quite surprised to find how seldom the House of Commons has had to set aside part of its time to consider the problems of the prison service.

When we bring to mind the fact that the number of prisoners in the care of the Prison Commissioners at present is so high, so very much higher than at any time in recent years before the war, it seems that the House can very well afford to give its mind to the problem for a time this morning. The present high figures are both puzzling and disappointing to those who look for some evidence of the reformative effects of a prison service. The figures today are more than twice the pre-war average figures. Whether this is evidence that there is more crime or less reformation I really do not know, and I think the House will be interested to have expressions of opinion on that point.

I do not want to introduce any note of acerbity into the discussion, but it may possibly be that we are beginning to feel some of the ill effects of the principles of the redistribution of wealth which we have discussed so often.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

What about two wars?

Mr. Thompson

I think we ought to discuss the problems resulting from these extraordinarily high figures. I hope to make some modest suggestions to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department, to make some urgent representations and to address one or two questions to him in the course of what I have to say. I am sure the whole House will join with me in saying that in the hands of my hon. Friend and those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State this matter is in very good hands indeed.

Examining the position as we see it today, it seems that the prison service has been faced with three major problems since the end of the war, problems which in themselves have contributed to that position. First, since the end of the war the prison service has had to devote itself to the problems of rehabilitation following the enforced neglect of the war years, to problems of bringing the premises up to an appropriate standard of maintenance and efficiency, problems of rearranging the work programmes which the prisons undertook following the cessation of war-time contracts on which the prisoners were engaged and direction of their efforts to the more usual peacetime occupations, and problems of recruiting and training the additional staffs that were necessary after the period of the war. All these were the problems of the rehabilitation of the prison service after the consequences of the period of the war years. We in this House should pay tribute to the high sense of duty and the professional skill of the officers in the prison service for the way in which they faced these immediate post-war problems.

The second major problem which the prison service had to face was the problem of applying the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948. That beneficial, progressive and far-sighted Measure imposed on the prison service the responsibility of making very considerable changes in the handling of the prisoners who came within its care. There had to be a more or less complete recasting of the system itself and the methods applied in it. It was necessary to organise and operate the prisons into a new chain of local prisons, regional prisons and specialist prisons, and provision had to be made for preventive detention and corrective training in place of hard labour and penal servitude. The methods of our prison treatment shifted more towards saving where salvation was possible and removal where there was less hope.

The third problem which the prison service had to face was the problem of the extraordinarily large numbers that the service was called upon to handle. Before the war the average prison population was about 11,000. At one time after the war that figure had risen to 26,000. I am sure that the House will be pleased to learn that quite recently, by the turn of the last year, the figure had fallen to rather less than 23,000, a very considerable reduction. I am advised that there is a seasonal decline always to be expected in the prison population at that time. Whether that is because the spirit of good will or kindliness is more widespread then, I do not know.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Will the hon. Member tell us where he obtained that figure of 26,000? The Report of the Prison Commissioners gives the figure as over 24,000 in May, 1952, and states that it was the highest since 1877.

Mr. Thompson

I think that the hon. Member is reading the Report for 1952.

Mr. Hale

Yes, the Report for 1952 which was presented to the House in 1953.

Mr. Thompson

Perhaps the hon. Member will avail himself of an early opportunity to bring his figures up to date.

Mr. Hale

I am asking the hon. Member to do that. He is making the statement to the House. The hon. Member says that the figure rose to 26,000 and then fell to 23,000. I understood him to say that that was a year or two ago. The most recent figures published by the Prison Commissioners show that in May, 1952, the total passed 24,000, remained approximately at that level for a considerable time, and recently fell by 200 or 300.

Mr. Thompson

I do not know that we want to quarrel about the precise accuracy of the hon. Member's figures or mine. I am quite willing to accept his figure of 24,000 if it is more accurate. I invite his attention to the last debate which we had on this subject, on 2nd March, 1953.

The figure, however, had fallen by the turn of last year to rather less than 23,000 and I am told that since the turn of the year, with the coming into normal operation of the courts, the figure has risen to slightly more than 23,000. The House will recognise the strain that these very largely inflated figures impose on the prison service, on the accommodation available to the Prison Commissioners, and on the staff called upon to deal with the prisoners, the altogether intolerable strain on any system of training which the prison staff seek to operate within the prisons and the strain on resources for finding useful work for the prisoners to perform during their period of confinement. I have great admiration for the way in which this strain has been taken up by the officers who have had to operate in these conditions.

It would be misleading to the House and performing no service at all to the prison service to pretend that this increased number of prisoners is crowded into the same accommodation as was sufficient for 11,000 or so before the war. There have been provided a number of additional cellular prisons, prison camps and additional Borstals to meet some of this strain. Nevertheless, there remains a condition of severe overcrowding in the local prisons. It is there that the worst of the strain is felt. Elsewhere, in the prison camps, in the Borstals and in the establishments for preventive detention and corrective training, there is at present adequate room.

But I hope that the Prison Commission and my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State for the Home Department are giving their minds to the possibility—I put it no higher—that the prison "bulge," as we say in another connection, in the local prisons may pass on, if our processes of reform and training are un- successful, to the establishments for corrective training and prevention. We would like to know what plans have been made to meet that situation if the need should unhappily arise.

It is in the local prisons that the main problems of overcrowding exist. We are informed that until very recently there were 5,680 men living and sleeping three in a cell provided for one man only, with ventilation, air space and accommodation intended for one prisoner. This evil, for evil it undoubtedly is, is to some extent mitigated today, because I am informed that the most recent figure of men living under these conditions is 4,500. But that in itself represents a considerable evil in the service.

There are conflicting reports about the effect of confinement under these conditions in local prisons. The medical officers, not unnaturally, condemn the effects of this kind of confinement because of the danger to the health of the men concerned and to others in the same prison. The prison officers express a fierce dislike of the system because of the imposition of additional strain on the systems of discipline.

As far as I can discover from the reports that are available, there appears to be no evidence that the health of prisoners has suffered as a result, very probably due to the efforts and skill of the medical officers who recognise the dangers and have set out to avoid them. Similarly, there is no evidence of any falling off in the high standards of discipline in the prisons, in spite of these conditions, very probably due to the tolerance and understanding of governors, deputies, assistants and officers. But I have seen these conditions and what I have seen I roundly condemn. I am certain that the House will join me in that condemnation. The morning smells are quite intolerable. The inadequate sanitary and washing facilities are unbelievably bad, and it is intolerable that men should be thrust willy-nilly three in a cell for a very prolonged period, with themselves having little or no choice in the selection of their enforced companions.

This House should ask my right hon. and learned Friend for an assurance that these conditions will be remedied at once and I hope that we shall use this debate in order to give expression to an urgent condemnation of them. It does not matter what the men themselves say. I am given to understand that quite possibly they are not so fiercely opposed to them as one might think. The men are sent to the prison as a punishment, but not for punishment of this kind.

The worst effect of all brought about by these conditions is upon the training systems in the prisons. How can we expect good results from our training system under such conditions? We are getting the worst of all worlds if, largely because of these conditions, the training systems are unsuccessful and men come in again. The cycle of constant numbers coming forward for confinement goes on, and represents very little more than normal cause and effect.

What can we do? What ought we to do to deal with this problem? I hope I may be allowed a little tolerance from the Chair to step slightly outside the strict terms of the debate, and to suggest that the best way of keeping the prison population to the smallest number is to make it clear to everyone that any transgression of the law will be found out and will attract the appropriate punishment. We must make it clear that men of this kind must be good because they cannot risk being bad.

The first thing to impress upon the Home Office is that it must do all it can to increase the recruiting of police in our great cities, where there is considerable shortage of police, and certainly in my own city of Liverpool. We all welcome the new salary scales and hope that they will encourage the recruitment of sufficient men into the police forces to bring them up to their proper establishment. I should also like to see something done for the pre-1948 widows. If we can bring our forces up to strength, we shall make it quite clear that anyone who transgresses the law will be punished accordingly.

The second thing is that we should be more ready to send men from local prisons to prison camps. I know there is a problem about the short-term men, who are in care for a few months only. It is desirable that they should be within reach of their families. I recognise the importance of the family's interest in the men while they are in custody. Nevertheless, many men at present detained in local prisons could be sent out to prison camps. These men, having only a short time to serve, are not particularly interested in making their escape. The same remarks apply to the older men in local prisons. They could well be sent out to prison camps.

I was surprised to learn of the delay in sending men for preventive detention or corrective training from local prisons to the prisons appropriate to them. Such men must inevitably be a very bad influence upon the population of a local prison. There they are, removed from the generality of the population, and placed in the position of a don among a lot of people who are anxious to take advantage of their expert advice and experience. We might be more imaginative and venturesome in sending men into the prison camps. I hold no brief for the view that we need not worry ourselves about the danger of escapers. We ought to concern ourselves with it very much, but there is a middle course, which I hope will appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend.

We ought also to be more imaginative and venturesome about the work schemes that the prison camps undertake. We ought to be looking about for more imaginative things for these prisoners to do. I hope the House will remember the very good work which is in many cases done by the men in prison camps. I am thinking of the land in the hills of North Wales, in Scotland and the Pennines, of drainage schemes and land reclamation schemes, as well as sea defence works, which can well be done by this kind of labour, in the absence of any other. Idle, potential agricultural land could also be brought into use.

We might further reduce the numbers in our local prisons by a rebuilding programme. I remember the programme announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when we discussed this matter in the House in March, 1953. We do not want too much prison building. We do not want to litter the country with prisons, and it may well be that we have passed the peak of the prison population. I would still impress upon my right hon. and learned Friend the importance of carrying out the building programme announced to the House on 2nd March, 1953. My right hon. and learned Friend said that the programme consisted of two secure training prisons which will hold about 300 men, two secure boys' Borstal institutions for 150, two small Borstals which will hold about 75 girls, and a special psychiatric establishment for mentally abnormal prisoners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 131.] The House might like to be informed of the progress of that building programme. In that connection I welcome the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works in his place this morning, since this is one of his responsibilities. I hope it will never be my task to admonish him for failing to carry out that building programme. We were informed that a site had been obtained for the first of the secure prisons. Can we know whether work has begun? It is almost 12 months since my right hon. and learned Friend spoke, and if there is in the Home Office and the Ministry of Works a proper sense of urgency in this matter the work will already have been begun and we may look forward to having a report before us during this morning's discussion.

If there is any difficulty in obtaining the necessary financial approval, I hope that the Minister will not hesitate to come to the House and ask for his hand to be strengthened. We can always find room for one special customer, in spite of overcrowding. What about the psychiatric prison that we were promised in that programme? It is small comfort to us to know that other countries are ahead of us in this kind of work. Here is a comparatively new instrument in the hands of those who fight against criminality. I should like to know how we stand in this country in regard to its use.

I must say a word about staffs. In the local prison, where the problem of overcrowding is at its most acute point, the prison staff, which is very often comparatively recently recruited, are doing an extremely good job, exercising effort and patience to make the confinement of the prisoners both a punishment and an opportunity. I hope that the House will join with me in placing on record our appreciation of the great work the staffs are doing in extremely difficult conditions.

I have detained the House for far too long, but I have done no more than put before the House the problems and the present situation in the prison service, as I see them. I hope that hon. Members who follow me will offer suggestions and opinions to help to alleviate these problems.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), not only upon his good luck in the Ballot, but upon being able to choose a subject which is not only of great interest to the House, but is of great constituency interest as far as he is concerned, because Walton Gaol comes within the boundaries of his constituency.

When a matter comes before this House, it is usually safe to say that on both sides there is a pretty good cross-section of the population who are able, from their personal experience, to give the House the benefit of that experience. It is generally experience of some industrial problem or something of that character. But when it comes to the question of Her Majesty's Prisons, there are some, but not many, who can speak from personal experience. I do not profess to be an expert on prisons, never having been an inmate and only once a guest.

Mr. Hale

Do not give up hope.

Mr. McAdden

I am grateful for the solicitude of the hon. Gentleman opposite.

The only time I entered a prison was a few months ago when I delivered a lecture to the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think it an unfair punishment to inflict upon prisoners that not only should they be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, but have to listen to me as well. But in these days, when we hear so much about the difficulty of certain audiences, it is exhilarating to go to a prison and to find an audience waiting for one, unable to go away until the lecture finishes, and always exhibiting a keen and lively interest in what is said.

Mr. Hale

An intelligent audience.

Mr. McAdden

They certainly exhibited a lively interest in what was said, which they would not have done unless they had been a very intelligent audience.

In the absence of any detailed knowledge of prison work, one inevitably has to fall back on the Report of the Commissioners of Prisons, and I am afraid that the very limited observations which I have to make upon this Motion will be mainly of an interrogatory nature in order to gain further information, because, as I have said, I am not in the position of being able to speak from any actual knowledge of the difficulties.

I am sure that we have all been impressed by the figures quoted by my hon. Friend regarding the state of overcrowding in prisons, and on this subject the Report states: At the end of 1952, 5,638 men in local prisons were sleeping three in a cell, and large numbers were sleeping in dormitory conditions in larger cells, rooms and huts, thus depriving the prisons of space badly needed for other purposes. Although I do not know much about prisons, it seems to me most unsatisfactory that we should have three people sleeping in one cell, especially, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend, these cells were designed to accommodate only one person. The statistics given on page 15 of the Report show that the number of prisoners found guilty of and sentenced for homosexual offences is far larger now than before the war. I should like to know whether the practice of accommodating three prisoners in one cell has had any adverse effect on the reformative treatment which it is our desire to bring about in the case of such prisoners. I do not know whether the problem is being tackled and whether it is recognised and appreciated, but I should have thought that these conditions might have some bearing on the problem.

On page 2 of the Report it says: Local prisons…will still be limited, in general, to a working week which rarely exceeds 22 hours. That does not seem to me to be a very satisfactory position. I should have thought that where people have to suffer the rigours of imprisonment, it would be in their interests and ours to see that they are kept usefully employed for longer than 22 hours a week. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be able to tell me what steps the Government propose to take to remedy that situation?

On page 45 of the Report, where it deals with "The State of Discipline," the Commissioners say: We have noted with regret that public comment on the state of discipline in prisons has sometimes tended to give the impression that, on account of overcrowding or otherwise, there had been a deterioration giving ground for anxiety. This is not the case. On the contrary, not withstanding the adverse conditions, in the local prisons, we consider that the state of discipline and control has been such as to reflect high credit on their Governors and staffs. I am sure we are all delighted to hear that the state of discipline has not deteriorated, although one might very well be excused for imaging that it had. However, the fact that the state of discipline has been maintained does not absolve us from the responsibility of trying to remedy conditions which, although they may not have led to a deterioration of discipline, must have made the enforcement of discipline more difficult than would otherwise have been the case. Therefore, in the interests of the staffs, I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will give particular attention to this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton has done the House a service in using his luck in the Ballot to bring this matter before the House. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have devoted a great deal more time and study to the question of our prisoners than I have been able to do, and in order that the House may have the benefit of their views, I am delighted to second the Motion so that it may be more adequately discussed.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell the House of the measures which he is proposing to take with a view to relieving the anxiety that exists in the public mind as a result of discussions in the Press about overcrowding in prisons. If it is possible for him in any way to allay public anxiety about this problem and to put forward some constructive proposals for dealing with it, the House and the country will, I am sure, be very grateful to him.

11.39 a.m.

Mr. George Benson (Chesterfield)

I am very pleased that the House is being given this opportunity of discussing our prison system because, apart from the two or three hours' debate which we had on the subject last March, this is the first time for 20 years that we have discussed the matter.

It strikes me as being most logical to start at the beginning, and, therefore, I propose, first, to look at the people sent into our prisons. Before I call the attention of the House to three particular categories, I would remind it of the effect of Section 17 of the Criminal Justice Act. Hon. Members will remember that under that Section it is made incumbent upon the lower courts, if they send an adolescent to prison, to state in writing that they have considered alternative methods and that in their opinion no other method is suitable.

Section 17 was passed as a result of long complaint by the Prison Commissioners about the number of adolescents sent to prison. Long before the war, I can remember Prison Commissioners drawing attention to this fact and suggesting that in many cases Borstal would be a better sentence. I must say that the results of Section 17 disturb me very much indeed. The immediate result was that the number of adolescents sent to prison annually dropped by two-thirds; when Section 17 came into operation the number immediately dropped from a regular 3,000, to 1,000, per annum.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that, prior to the passing of Section 17, the irresponsible sending of youngsters to prison was quite indefensible. If that was the result merely because the courts were compelled to think twice, sentencing seems to have been done in a slap-happy, completely iresponsible way. One would have thought that there was a natural reluctance to send adolescents to prison.

If adolescents were sent to prison in this irresponsible way, we are entitled to ask what is happening in regard to the sentencing of adults. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? With Section 17 in mind, I want to draw the attention of the House to three categories of persons who go to prison. They involve 20,000 receptions, which is approximately 40 per cent. of all the persons sent to prison in a year.

The first category consists of those sent to prison in default of payment of a fine. Five thousand are sent in that way but, despite the Criminal Courts Administration Act, 1914, and the Money Payments Act, 1936, 3,000 had not been given time to pay. This is quite disgraceful, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will note it.

There is another and much larger category. Ten thousand persons remanded in prison every year receive, when they come up for trial, neither a prison nor a Borstal sentence, but are dealt with either by fine, probation, binding over or dismissal. There are a few who are quite rightly remanded for observation. The only conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that the police are a great deal too ready to oppose bail and magistrates' courts a great deal too ready to agree with the police.

How the Home Secretary is going to deal with the first two categories, I do not know—one must, I know, preserve the independence of the judiciary—but there is nothing to prevent the Home Secretary from trying to educate the judiciary. One of the best methods would be for the Home Secretary to put all magistrates on the free list for receiving the Prison Commissioners' Reports. I do not think one magistrate in 50 ever reads, or even sees, those Reports, but if they did, and if they noticed the continual comments on these matters made by the Prison Commissioners—who have forgotten more about handling prisoners than the courts will ever learn—some good might be done.

The third category comprises first offenders, and there the remedy is perfectly simple. Seven thousand of those are sent to prison annually. I am here using the term "First offenders" in the strict sense—persons who have never committed a previous offence; I do not mean star prisoners. There is an overwhelming case for applying Section 17 of the Criminal Justice Act not only to adolescents but to first offenders. We have applied it to adolescents, who are a thoroughly bad risk; approximately 60 per cent. of them will come back.

With first offenders we have an entirely different picture. They are an absolutely first-class risk, as the following figures will show. Of adult offenders between 21 and 30 years of age, 85 per cent. will not come back; between the 30 and 40, 90 per cent. will not come back and for those over 40 years of age the percentage is 95. Those figures, which are all contained in Appendix 10 of the Prison Commissioners' Report, have not varied for practically 25 years. We have the figures of first offenders sent to prison since 1930, and, year by year, those percentages are confirmed.

If the effect of Clause 17 is to cut down the imprisonment of adolescents, who are a bad risk, by two-thirds, I am sure that if it were applied to first offenders, who are a good risk, we should get an even greater diminution. Section 17 does not limit the power of the courts, but merely tells the magistrates' courts, "If you want to send an adolescent to prison, you must state in writing that you have considered other methods of dealing with him." The Home Secretary should introduce a one-Clause Bill applying Section 17 to this third category, because the case is, as I say, quite overwhelming.

A very interesting piece of research was carried out by the Metropolitan Police in 1932. They took some 20,000 first offenders and kept their records for five years. They found that approximately 80 per cent. never offended again—but this is the extraordinary thing. It did not matter whether the sentence was imprisonment, fine, probation, or binding over—each of those sentences gave an identical result. They further divided those 20,000 first offenders into age groups and found that each sentence gave exactly the same result for each group.

It was not the sentence that decided the rate of return, but the age at which the offenders were convicted. In other words, when dealing with the first offender, it is not the sentence that matters. The result has been achieved, before the sentence is imposed, by bringing the person into court and giving him the shock of being found guilty—because that is the only common factor. There is no need to send any but a very small proportion of first offenders to prison, and I am quite certain that Section 17 would enormously reduce the numbers.

Those three categories comprise 40 per cent. of the persons sent to prison; according to the latest figures 48,000 go to prison each year, and, of those, 20,000 are in those three categories. Those three categories do not very materially increase overcrowding, but if we can cut them down we shall reduce the enormous strain upon the understaffed local prisons. There is an overwhelming case for doing something about those three categories.

The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) dealt with the overcrowding of prison cells. The problem is not quite as simple as that. Not merely the cells but industries are overcrowded, and we might almost say that the staffs are overcrowded. In dealing with these prison problems, we find that we cannot solve problem A until we solve problem B, and we cannot solve problem B until we solve problem C. Looking at problem C, we find that its solution depends upon the solution of problem A, so that we go round the mulberry bush. It is no use solving the cell problem until the staff and industrial problems are solved.

Of these three problems, the overcrowding of cells is perhaps the least important. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) said, we are working prisoners 22 hours per week. Prisoners are kept in their cells for anything up to 17 and 18 hours a day. We are two-thirds of the way back to solitary confinement. There are many prisoners to whom this prolonged solitude is a tremendous strain. Very many prisoners can stand what we call overcrowding more than they can stand enforced solitude. We must not forget that the majority of prisoners are slum dwellers from birth and are accustomed to overcrowding. A prison is not much more than a disciplined slum, anyhow. To these prisoners, overcrowding is far less of a penalty than prolonged isolation in a cell.

Overcrowding to the extent of three in a cell certainly produces its problems, but so does isolation. As far as possible, prisoners ought to be able to opt for a solitary cell or a communal cell. The Joint Under-Secretary of State may smile, but I suspect that this is what prison governors try to do. They are an extremely good body of men, and they have the welfare of their prisoners at heart. As far as they can, they try to put a man into a solitary cell if he objects to company, and into a communal cell if he cannot stand solitude.

I admit that this problem of allocation is a very sticky one, and, unfortunately, mistakes do occur, with the best will in the world. A very nasty case which was brought to my notice concerned a Jehovah's Witness, who was put into a cell with two young thugs. It was a silly thing to mix a Jehovah's Witness with two thugs, in any case. The two other men bullied and almost physically tortured this man. He did not complain, but took it as part of his martyrdom, and the facts did not come out until afterwards.

That is what may sometimes happen, and it is one of the things which we must guard against; but we must not be too ready to say that the major problem is the shortage of cells. Until we have solved our staff and labour problems, we cannot solve our cell problem and have prisoners out of their cells, as they ought to be out, for 18 hours a day, if there is nothing for them to do. We must tackle our staff and industrial problems along with the cell problems.

These two problems are comparatively simple ones, and much less intransigent than the problem of accommodation. It takes a long time to provide cells. Let us consider the staff problem. What is the cause of the shortage? It is the result of a Treasury decision. The Treasury has put a ceiling upon the recruitment of staff and is compelling the Prison Commissioners to run local prisons with their present staffs.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

My hon. Friend is stating the facts as they were up till a short time ago. An order—common to the whole Civil Service—was made by the Treasury in 1951, stating that all Departments must reduce their establishments and keep them below a certain figure, but there is a paragraph in the Prison Commissioners' Report which says that, after the debate which took place in this House last year, further consideration was given to that aspect of the problem. My hon. Friend may care to add that as a reservation to his original statement.

Mr. Benson

I suggest that my hon. Friend reads that paragraph rather more carefully than he has done.

Mr. Hale

Which paragraph?

Mr. Benson

I do not know the page. The Report contains many paragraphs, but I know the one to which my hon. Friend is referring. The Prison Commissioners have been allowed to introduce the three-shift system into Dartmoor and similar prisons, but they are not allowed to recruit adequate staffs for local prisons. The whole attitude of the Treasury towards Civil Service and Government staffs is quite ludicrous. It has been laid down before the Public Accounts Committee that it is important to reduce staff even if its costs the Government money.

If hon. Members will turn to Annexe V of the Report of the Estimates Committee, which we debated last March, they will find there a statement by the Prison Commissioners with regard to staffing. They are 500 men short. The net cost of increasing the present staff by 500 would be £100,000, but that 500 additional staff would enable a full working hour to be introduced into the prisons, and the result would be an increase in revenue of £450,000. In other words, the additional net cost would be £100,000 and the additional revenue would be £450,000, so the Treasury are keeping the Commissioners short of 500 staff and it is costing us £350,000. That is the economics of Colney Hatch, or, since we are discussing prisons, possibly I should say of Broadmoor. But that is the situation. There is no difficulty in getting staff, if the Commissioners were allowed to get it.

Let us turn to the question of industry. A very large amount of the Estimates Committee's Report dealt with industry. If I read it aright, one can sum up the position fairly shortly. Everybody knows that, for the bulk of prison industry, the Commissioners are dependent on Government orders. They cannot go into the open market. They are dependent upon the purchasing Departments. The impression I got from reading the evidence given by the purchasing Departments before the Committee was that they could not care less. They got a jolt as a result of the Committee's Report, and I gather from the White Paper 91, and a reply given by the Commissioners, that things have improved.

However, the Commissioners have not yet got that which is absolutely vital to them if they are to solve their prison industry problem, and that is the right to long-term contracts. Until the Prison Commissioners can tackle their industrial problem upon a rational basis and rely upon long-term contracts, we are not going to solve our industrial problem in prisons. Why cannot they get long-term contracts? I do not know. I have tried to find out, and I gather that there is some problem about accounting and estimating in the ordering Departments. That is pure nonsense.

The Ministry of Supply has had long-term contracts all over the world for years; the Ministry of Food has had long-term contracts all over the world for years; and if the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Food can enter into long-term contracts with foreigners, then the purchasing Departments can enter into long-term contracts with the Prison Commissioners. The Prison Commissioners have made dozens of articles year after year for the Departments. It is absolute nonsense to say that the whole of the prison industry system shall be kept in chaos because the ordering Departments are not prepared to enter into long-term contracts even for those things they regularly order.

I want now to consider accommodation. Our accommodation at the present time consists of maximum security prisons and then open camps. We have nothing in between, with the exception of one prison which is called a medium security prison, Verne. We are preparing another medium security prison at Dover. At the moment, I think, it is occupied by first offenders. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a very large number of our prisoners who do not require maximum security but who at the present moment are in maximum security prisons.

I do not want to go into this in very great detail, because I spoke on it at length when we were discussing the Estimates Committee's Report, but what we require is what one may term 25 per cent. security prisons, something not quite as free and easy as an open camp, something not quite so secure as Verne is and as Dover is going to be, but some kind of prison which will put some check on the rather irresponsible impulse to bolt, which is at the back of the majority of the breaks from open prisons. I am not talking about the professional escapists who are artists at getting out of closed prisons and closed cells. I am talking of the average man who bolts from an open prison on a momentary impulse. If there were something to check that, something not so easy to walk out of as an open prison is, I am quite sure we should be able to accommodate a very large number of our prisoners who at the present moment are cluttering up our local prisons and occupying valuable cell space.

I should like to congratulate the Commissioners on their most recent experiment. To the normal prisoner who has not been in open conditions hitherto, an open prison is almost a passport to heaven. The Commissioners have provided open conditions at Bristol for the selected P.Ds. It is an act of faith, an act of faith that, I think, will be justified. They are putting into a hostel some of the toughest class of prisoners to serve the remainder of their sentences.

In speaking of the lack of co-operation the Commissioners are getting from the ordering Departments and the difficulty that that is causing them in their industrial problems, I do not want to suggest for a moment that in this matter of industry the Commissioners are a lot of lily-white hens. They are not. There is a lot the Commissioners could have done to provide work that they have not done. The first thing that they could do is to start trying to improve the disgusting prisons that are in their charge.

For years now they have been having vocational training groups in their prisons, and, judging from the work I have seen turned out, they are extremely efficient. There are classes for bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, engineering fitters.

The last time I was at Wormwood Scrubs the instructor told me with great pride that every fitter he had turned out from Wormwood Scrubs was in a job. One has only to go round the prisons to see the work that these trainees are doing, and one cannot but admire the quality of it. Why cannot they be turned on to improving our prisons?

The first step I suggest they should take is to start improving the windows. The cell windows in an English prison are a disgrace. I wish the Joint Under-secretary of State would go up to Scotland and see what they have done at Saughton Prison. It is almost incredible the difference that a decent window makes. It changes a cell into a small room. He might go to Perth and see what they have done there. After that I suggest he should go to Reading. He has read the "Ballad of Reading Gaol"? No doubt he remembers those two lines: It is always twilight in one's heart And twilight in one's cell. I suppose millions of people who have read that regard it as merely a poetic parallel. It is not. It is nasty truth. The windows in Reading Prison are the worst windows in England, absolutely disgraceful. The cells have two tiny, narrow slits with a great thick pillar in between.

What about our recesses? I am very glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned the disgusting sanitary conditions. They have tackled that problem in Scotland. Why cannot we tackle it here? We are training builders and training bricklayers. It is not a very difficult job to increase the size of a prison window. It presents no structural difficulties. We have the moulders' shop in Wakefield and can cast the iron frames. Why cannot it be done? Of course, we should have to put one or two cells in each prison out of commission at a time. If the Commissioners want to employ their prisoners, they have ample scope in making their prisons something like habitable.

In the last debate I asked one or two questions about what has happened to Manchester croft. At Manchester we have one of the most congested prisons in England, congested not merely because of overcrowding of prisoners but also because of overcrowding of buildings inside the prison walls. There are seven acres of land adjoining the prison which are in the possession of the Commissioners. The last time I was there a certain amount of the land had been utilised in order to put up a first-class weaving shed, but why has not the rest been levelled by prison labour? Has any decision been taken as to its use? Has it been decided to put a women's prison there? Or is it to be used for workshops? Except for this one corner, it has been lying idle in the hands of the Prison Commissioners since before the war.

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend has asked this question before, and in detail. He has given suggestions in detail. Would he be prepared to give way for a moment to allow the Joint Under-Secretary of State to tell the House at this stage whether a decision has been taken about that, because those concerned with Manchester might want to comment on the absence of a decision, if there is no decision.

Mr. Benson

I am quite ready to give way, if the Minister wishes to intervene.

I want now to turn to Dartmoor. What has happened to C Hall? It was pulled down some time ago for the purpose of making workshops and classrooms. Has it been rebuilt for that purpose and has prison labour been used on it? I think it ought to have been.

Having mentioned Dartmoor, there are one or two things I want to say about it. I am rather a heretic on the subject of Dartmoor. Dartmoor is a prison of extremes. It is a prison with many disadvantages; it is isolated, it is loathed by the staff, the weather is absolutely foul. But it has one supreme advantage—no matter how dangerous, no matter how liable or willing to escape, a prisoner can be put outside the prison walls. It will be remembered that just after the war there was a good deal of investigation into the effects of confinement on war prisoners and it was found that practically no man could stand more than two years' confinement without deterioration. Some of the men in our prisons are facing five or 10 or 15 years' imprisonment, and some of them are facing life terms of imprisonment. It is quite wicked that men should be confined for these long periods inside prison walk—inside what the Chairman of the Prison Commissioners has described as the brutally limited space within the prison walls. Here, in Dartmoor, we have a prison where we can put any man outside the walls, because the security of Dartmoor lies in the Moor. The trouble with Dartmoor is that it has a tradition. The tradition of Dartmoor is bad, and the atmosphere is bad. Yet I regard it as a prison of the utmost value.

There are reasons for that. To begin with, there is the tradition of Dartmoor, which goes back to the time when it was a hell-hole where the prisoners of war of the Napoleonic Wars were kept, and it never recovered from that. Then it was one of the two great convict prisons of the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately, Dartmoor has been taken up by the Press; anything that happens in Dartmoor is news. The whole place is invested with a kind of melodramatic atmosphere. Once again, the Prison Commissioners are not helping, because in the one prison in England where we want to get rid of the melodramatic atmosphere, they keep the prisoners under armed guard. We can go to any other prison in England and we shall not find a lethal weapon, not even locked up, but, with the exception of a handful convicted of misdemeanours, every prisoner who goes outside the walls of Dartmoor is under a man armed with a carbine.

What is the effect on a prisoner who goes to Dartmoor for the first time, who finds this atmosphere and finds the guard with a carbine? He comes to the conclusion that, after all, he is a dangerous fellow. That is the wrong kind of flattery for many of these people. The idea that the Dartmoor prisoner is a dangerous prisoner, more dangerous than any other prisoner, is nonsense. It is an absolute toss of a penny as to whether a man gets into Parkhurst or Dartmoor. If he gets five years' P.D. he goes to Parkhurst; if he get five years' imprisonment he goes to Dartmoor. They are identical types.

If we compare the discipline in Parkhurst with the discipline in Manchester prison or Wormwood Scrubs, or any other maximum security prison, we find that the discipline in Parkhurst is lighter and more relaxed. If we go to Dartmoor, with exactly the same kind of prisoner, we find that the discipline is rigid and all-pervading. I am not suggesting that it is harsh. It is not, but it is rigid and all-pervading. There is nothing like too much discipline for causing tension in a prison.

It will be a long and difficult job to get rid of this atmosphere of Dartmoor. The first step, undoubtedly, is to get rid of unnecessary carbines. The second step—and here is a difficulty—is to try to carry the staff with us, because the atmosphere of Dartmoor affects the staff as well as the prisoners. They have been, as it were, brought up with the idea that the Dartmoor man is a dangerous man. If we are to get the co-operation of the staff we shall have to overstaff Dartmoor for a considerable time, but it will be worth it. Dartmoor is a vital part of our prison system, because we can put a long-term man outside the walls, outside the brutally limited space within the prison walls, and he is still safe; he cannot escape because of the Moor.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Would my hon. Friend deal with one point about Dartmoor which he has not mentioned—the impossibility of keeping the inside of the building dry? I am rather surprised at the line he has taken over Dartmoor, but, on the point which I have mentioned, it seemed to me that the only thing to do with the present Dartmoor prison was to pull it down, and, if we wanted to have a building on that site, to see whether we could get a building there in which we could ensure reasonably dry quarters for inmates and staff.

Mr. Benson

It depends on what time of the year one goes to Dartmoor. I went there in January. I chose that time because I wanted to see what Dartmoor weather was like. In the three days I was there we had snow, hail, rain, a blizzard and sunshine. The weather is indescribably foul. I forget the number of days in which the men cannot go out of the prison, but I think that it is something like 120 to 150 days a year. The prison walls were absolutely dry.

Mr. Ede indicated dissent.

Mr. Benson

Has my right hon. Friend been there?

Mr. Ede

I have been there in the winter and in the summer, and I have never known the walls to be dry, in fact, I think that they are damper in the summer with condensation than they are in the winter.

Mr. Benson

Exactly. That is what I was going to point out. One of the things I did at the prison was to examine the walls of the cells. Even the walls of the unoccupied cells in winter were dry. There is condensation there during the summer; that is true. It is unpleasant, but I think that I am correct in saying that Dartmoor is one of the healthiest prisons in England, despite that. I know that the prison staff loathe it, and I do not think they make the best of it; but I have not found a single prisoner or prison officer who did not admit that the Dartmoor children thrived remarkably.

Mr. Ede

They are not in the prison.

Mr. Benson

I am not sure that the prison is not drier than some of the prison officers' houses. In winter Dartmoor prison is dry; the trouble is condensation in the summer.

12.22 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)

I am sure that the House will agree that we have listened to an extremely interesting and thorough survey of our prison system, given by an acknowledged expert on penal matters. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him in any detail into what he has told us. I want to confine myself primarily to the question of accommodation and overcrowding.

We have heard some very distressing things this morning. We have heard that there are still, although there has been an improvement in the last two years, no fewer than 4,500 men sleeping three in a cell. Of course the cells in which they are sleeping were originally constructed for one man in each cell, but the cell was designed to be a place where that man worked as well as slept. Today as I understand it, no work is actually done in a cell; it is done outside, and from that point of view the congestion may not be quite so serious as it seems. But it is bad enough when prisoners are locked in their cells for the night at 5.30 in the afternoon until 7 o'clock the next morning. They are there for 14 hours, and when a man is ill or suffers from diarrhoea—not an uncommon complaint in prison—the results are very unfortunate and very objectionable.

My purpose in intervening on this question this morning is to make one very brief suggestion, and that is to put forward the idea whether in Northern Ireland, where there is considerable prison accommodation, the authorities there could not help in this very difficult matter of overcrowding. The situation in the prisons in Northern Ireland is very different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Far from being overcrowded, the Northern Ireland prisons are by no means full.

In Northern Ireland there are three prisons—one in the capital city of Belfast, one in Armagh, and the third in Londonderry, which was closed down last year. The total accommodation in the Belfast prison is over 540 cells. At present there is an average of only 250 prisoners in the Belfast prison. In Armagh, a women's prison only, there are 110 cells and the daily average is only 23 women. In Londonderry gaol, which was closed last year, there was cell accommodation for 84, but the average daily intake was only 17. If we look at these figures together, we see that there is free accommodation of something like 500 cells.

I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend would consider making arrangements with the authorities in Northern Ireland to use this available space to relieve the congestion and overcrowding in the prisons in Britain. I put forward that suggestion in all seriousness. I think that it might help, and I would suggest that my hon. Friend, when he replies, should tell the House whether there is any possibility of that being done.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I think that the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), who raised this subject this morning, has done a service to the country in bringing this dreadful problem of overcrowding in prisons to the attention of the House and the country once again.

If I may briefly refer to the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde), I have found extreme difficulty with prisoners and families when the prisoners are removed so far away. I know that there is this difficulty even in the case of the Isle of Wight, and if we are to solve the problem of accommodation by removing prisoners still further from their homes and parents, it will, I think, add enormously to the difficulties.

I was somewhat surprised at the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) in regard both to accommodation and to the types of prisons. When the Select Committee on Estimates reported on the question of overcrowding, amongst other matters, it was generally felt that this was a matter of extreme urgency. We hoped, especially as a result of the debate which followed, that the Home Secretary's announcement of a programme to meet the problems which the Select Committee had raised was one that could be carried out speedily, and that we would be able to see at least some sign of an end to the problem which had arisen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield did not regard overcrowding as most important; in fact, I understood he regarded it as least important. I do not agree with this underrating of the gravity of the situation. In fact, the case he referred to of a Jehovah Witness being placed among thugs would not, I think, have arisen had it not been for this overcrowding. I am appalled at the continuance of this overcrowding.

I had the opportunity of visiting the United States of America in the autumn, and had interesting conversations with the Director of Federal Prisons in Washington. He gave me the opportunity of visiting any Federal prison in the U.S.A. and I took advantage of his kind offer and visited some of them. The overwhelming anxieties of the prison authorities in the United States are accommodation, overcrowding and idleness, and there is not the slightest doubt that the difficulties in America in the way of riots have arisen as a result of these three deficiencies. The Director of Federal Prisons and other authorities have made that perfectly clear.

In regard to overcrowding, I am disappointed that the situation, although it has improved, shows no fundamental change and improvement. In my own city of Birmingham, there is the Winson Green Prison, where, I understand, 420 prisoners are sleeping three in a cell. This is one of the old prisons and is a blot on the landscape of Birmingham. It is in the centre of an overcrowded area, and, apart from this, the prisoners are committed to conditions which are quite intolerable. Magistrates and judges comment from time to time on their anxiety in sending people to prison in such circumstances.

In Wandsworth Prison, 1,600 prisoners are being locked up, but there are only 1,100 cells. When I went into Wandsworth Prison—I shall not be alone in my views—I had a feeling of revolt that prison officers should have to tolerate the conditions of overcrowding in this way. I cannot think it is right that we should continue for another year this condition of overcrowding. I ask the Minister whether he can give any real guarantee that there are plans which will be speeded up urgently so that we may see the end of this grave problem of overcrowding.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has, rightly, made suggestions for fewer people being sent to prison. This would certainly help, but it would not solve the problem of the type of building. I am convinced, from all the prisons I have visited, that the local prison shows no tendency to improve the criminal. As I said in a previous debate, the local prison is the fertile soil in which, because of the conditions, crime is almost produced. My hon. Friend described the prison as a slum dwelling. We ought never to have prisons that are slum dwellings. We ought to have a model for the future that will change the whole conception. Even if it is necessary to put people in prison, we should put them into circumstances which at least do not make them worse. That is the problem with which I am concerned.

I am very concerned about the remarks of the Prison Commissioners, who say in paragraph 4 of their Report: Prisoners of the Ordinary class (i.e., those unsuitable for the Star class) with sentences of imprisonment of over 3 years should properly be removed to a central prison. At present, since Parkhurst is now required wholly for prisoners sentenced to preventive detention, the only central prison available for men of the Ordinary class is Dartmoor. In consequence, it is only prisoners with sentences of over 4 years who can now go to a central prison, and even so during 1952 they were waiting on average over 12 months in the local prisons before they could be removed. The effect of that type of prisoner upon prisoners in the local prisons is very serious and can cause great damage. What is almost worse is that there is a waiting list of 12 months for prisoners to be taken to the only prison that, we are told, is available for such prisoners.

And what is this prison? I am amazed at my hon. Friend, who puts forward the idea that Dartmoor is of the utmost value. I should like to call the attention of the House to a speech which was reported a long time ago in "The Times," on 14th May, 1946. Sir Harold Scott, who was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and was, I believe, the previous Chairman of the Prison Commissioners, said at the annual meeting of the Holloway Discharged Prisoners Aid Society: Britain's prisons are a disgrace. There is only one thing to be done with them and that is to dynamite them. This is a big responsibility which faces Parliament and the public in the years to come. Their job ought to be tackled, not piecemeal, but on a national scale. That was in 1946.

I noticed that in 1947, in the "Spectator" of 17th January, there was an article by Sir Alexander Paterson, entitled "Doomed to Dartmoor." I ask my hon. Friend, who has mentioned Dartmoor this morning, to note what Sir Alexander Paterson said: Dartmoor continued to be a great English prison for recidivist convicts. Mr. Churchill had appointed me to a post which made it necessary for me to visit this and all other convict prisons in the country at least once a month throughout every year. I grew to hate the place and deplore its continued existence. There were at least three reasons why it was unsuitable as a building for convicts with a long sentence to serve. In the first place, there was an evil tradition that hung like a fog about its walls and cells. It was a curious malicious sort of miasma that seeped like a Dartmoor mist through the bodies of men, and like a Dartmoor bog sucked their souls down to the lowest depths, rusting and staining and weakening all it touched. This, I think, is much more vital: I have know hundreds and thousands who have passed in and out of its gates, and can think of no one who was the better man for his stay there, and scarcely anyone who was not the worse. I have never known such an indictment as that by Sir Alexander Paterson, who himself was a Prison Commissioner.

Mr. Benson

If my hon. Friend were serving a 10 years' sentence, would he prefer to be in Dartmoor, with the opportunity of getting on to the moor in some semblance of freedom, or would he rather be in Manchester Prison, behind Manchester Prison walls?

Mr. Yates

That is rather putting me into a position in which I should not like to be put. I have been in a number of prisons as a guest. I have not been inside Dartmoor Prison but have seen it from the outside on more than one occasion. I believe that this is one of the blackest blemishes on the landscape of England, and I want to see Dartmoor Prison pulled down. I want that blot removed.

Mr. Benson

My hon. Friend has not answered my question.

Mr. Yates

I do not know what my hon. Friend wants to know. Quite frankly, I am not anxious to serve a term of imprisonment either in Dartmoor or in Manchester. All I can say is that when a man of the experience of Sir Alexander Paterson makes a statement of this kind, it deserves attention, because he has known not hundreds but thousands of people who have gone there. We as a House should see to it that we do not place prisoners in any kind of building that could be detrimental to them.

Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

Could the hon. Gentleman give us the date of Sir Alexander Paterson's statement?

Mr. Yates

It is from the "Spectator" of 17th January, 1947.

What I was saying was that I regard the question of the kind of buildings which comprise prisons as of the utmost importance. At a meeting of the Estimates Committee when we were considering the structure of the buildings, we were told that Dartmoor was certainly the worst structurally. I understand that recently 40 officers' quarters have been built, and that another 36 are under construction, and that leads me to ask the Minister how long it is anticipated that this kind of building will continue to be used. It is a mediaeval dump, and in my opinion should be removed from this beautiful spot.

Secondly, I think it is most vital and necessary that adequate staff should be recruited. I cannot understand why there is a tendency to restrict the numbers of staff wanting to enter the prison service. We as a Select Committee called attention to the systematic overtime that was being worked in all the prisons. It represents an enormous expense to the nation. The three-shift system has not been introduced into any local prison. Will the Minister tell us what prospect there is of introducing such a system into local prisons?

I think I called attention to the fact that the expense of overtime last year was £350,000, and the prison officers are still working it. That has continued from the time that the "Morrison hour" was introduced, and there seems to be no chance or hope of its being changed in the near future. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), was Home Secretary, he committed the prisons to working an additional hour, which was known as the "Morrison hour" and it has not been changed. The officers are still working it.

I mentioned that I have seen some prisons in America. I believe that our Prison Commissioners are to be congratulated upon the job that they are doing within the limits imposed upon them; however, in the United States there are some developments which I think would be of interest to us, and which we might consider introducing. When I spoke to the Director of Federal Prisons, Mr. James B. Bennett, he called my attention to some of the things he had said in the United States. He mentioned in one speech: Prisons are expected to discipline rigorously at the same time that they teach self-reliance. They are built to be operated like vast impersonal machines, yet they are expected to fit men to live normal community lives. They are built in accordance with a fixed autocratic routine, yet they are expected to develop individual initiative. They force men to be idle"— we are doing the same thing— despite the fact that one of their primary objectives is to teach men how to earn an honest living. They refuse the prisoner a voice in self-government but they expect him to become a thinking citizen in a democratic state. In mentioning these difficulties which are similar to ours, he said: Judging by the niggardly amounts we spend on constructing new prisons, we deserve also to see them overcrowded to the point where every effort at constructive rehabilitation is thwarted and frustrated. There is hardly a prison in the United States where two men are not housed where only one should be. Is not that a sad commentary on both our countries? The United States also are faced with this problem of overcrowding, of lack of staff, of being unable to provide the men with work so that they are in idleness, merely because they have not sufficient foresight to arrange in their budget for proper provision for spending on new institutions. We, too, are faced with a like problem.

It is also a sad commentary upon our proceedings that at the beginning of this week we were discussing how important it is to become rifle-minded, and at the end of the week, with a very sparse attendance we are discussing some of the problems that arise because people become too much gun-minded. Our sense of values is out of proportion.

I feel strongly about this because I believe that the corrective treatment which is being undertaken in our prisons is of immense value. I have had the experience of hearing a prison medical officer questioning a prisoner in my presence about how far his own experience in life had contributed to the cause of his crime. This man had committed a crime of violence with a woman. The extraordinary thing was that at a moment when he wanted to exercise his sexual passion to the full he had at the same time to do something violent. The medical officer told me that this was the way they diagnosed, and then told me that one man had not only been diagnosed but had been cured, and that 91 out of every 100 in that prison never returned. This shows that corrective training is of the utmost value.

I fear that if we permit overcrowding, lack of sanitary arrangements and unsatisfactory accommodation to continue, we shall help to send back to prison people who have had that unfortunate experience once. However, I think we are much more advanced in this country in the way we deal with our prisoners than they are in the United States of America, although there are some developments there which I think might help us in our corrective treatment.

In San Francisco I saw probably the worst prison in the United States. Alcatraz, which is on an island in the Bay of San Francisco. The prisoners there are under armed guard. Although I was a visitor with a special permit and a British Member of Parliament, I had to go through the usual procedure. Although I removed my keys and fountain pen and said that I had no steel in my pocket, I had to pass through a magnet to show that I had not lied. When I got inside the prison I saw a woman interviewing her husband through bullet-proof glass through which she could just see his eyes and nose and she was speaking to him by telephone. I also saw the arrangements for tear gas.

On the other side of the bay, I saw what is probably the second largest penal institution in the United States, catering for about 4,600 persons. I learned of the problems facing the governor and was assured that the present arrangements were not the solution to the problem of crime. However, a most interesting development there was the institution of a council of the prisoners. I have in my hand the constitution of an inmate council for those prisoners, to which one from each department is elected by secret ballot. The council meets the governor to discuss grievances and difficulties. There is an executive committee, to which I had the pleasure of listening, where matters of common interest to all the prisoners are discussed, not only in regard to food but other difficulties as well.

I was amazed to find that two items on the agenda were matters in which the world would be interested. They had actually decided to keep 11 homeless children from Korea out of the total funds amassed by the prisoners. Also, they had decided to provide equipment for those suffering from infantile paralysis. There I was reminded of how often the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is quoted in the United States because I heard the following statement which, although I do not know where or when it was made, sounds so much like the right hon. Gentleman: The mood and temper of the public with regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm, dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal against the state—a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment—a desire and an eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry those who have paid their due in the hard coinage of punishment; tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerative processes; unfailing faith that there is treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man. I thought it remarkable that in the United States of America I should be reminded of a statement made by our own Prime Minister, which continued: These are the symbols which, in the treatment of crime and criminal, mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation and are a sign and proof of the living virtue in it. I could not help but feel that there, in the heart of that prison, I had found a great deal of good in the hearts and minds of those in prison, and that much of a curative nature was being done there and in this country, but that we could improve on it. However, we shall never do that unless we have a programme of new buildings designed on entirely different lines for the treatment of criminals. Do not let us think that we can solve this grave problem merely by improving, say, the windows. In a number of instances we need entirely new buildings because the present ones are unworthy of our country. The sooner the Government can announce a date on which some of the old buildings will be demolished, the sooner we shall be on the way to a new conception of the treatment of crime.

1.1 p.m.

Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

We have listened to a most interesting debate covering a subject which deserves to stir the consciences of the people of this nation, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, or English. I wish only to follow one point, not made by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), but by one of his predecessors, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), in relation to the comparison of conditions in Scotland and other parts of Britain. I wish to underline the point the hon. Member was making when he asked whether or not consultations and comparisons are made by those responsible for the maintenance of prisons in the two parts of Britain.

In connection with consultation, reference was made to the prison of Perth and also to Saughton, outside Edinburgh. Only yesterday I had the pleasure and interest of meeting a number of distinguished members of that well-known institution, the homicide squad of Scotland Yard, and learning about their branch of investigation into crime. I hope that the hon. Member for Ladywood will not be affronted if I say that I met the man in charge of the fingerprint department as well.

Investigation into the methods of apprehension of crime does take place between Scotland and England. These officers have recently been in consultation in Edinburgh with the chief constable of Edinburgh, the chief constables of Peeblesshire and Midlothian and the other Border counties. As such conferences take place for the apprehension of the prisoner, I hope that consultation will take place between those responsible for the maintenance and care of the prisons and, more important, for those who have to reside in them because of misconduct. If they do not take place now, I hope something will be done forthwith.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I had not intended to speak in this debate; I had come to listen and learn rather than to contribute, because it is 30 years since I was familiar with the problem we are discussing. I suppose I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) the record of having served longer terms in prison than any other Member of Parliament. I have done one month, three months, one year and two years as a prisoner.

I want to contribute to the debate something from the prisoner's point of view. I was in prison for those continuous periods during the First World War. When I came out of prison I could not take my mind from the men who were still inside. That experience made it impossible for me to give my thought to, or indeed to live in, the outside world until I had attempted to do something to change the conditions inside the prisons. For two years I was able to serve as the secretary of the prison system inquiry Commission. As a result of the Report of that Commission, I am glad that many reforms were introduced. But I have to acknowledge that my first interests have been elsewhere since then, and I came to this debate today to learn; and I have learned.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) was illuminating. It was not merely effective in its constructive criticism, it not only put to the Minister points which he must answer, but it made immediate proposals which any Home Secretary must implement. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) made reference to a speech of the Prime Minister. He may be unaware that from the prisoner's point of view—I am speaking from the prisoner's point of view today—when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary he did more for the prisoners than any Home Secretary we have had in the last 50 years. The speech to which my hon. Friend referred was made when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary in the Liberal Government before the First World War. Anyone who has experienced prison conditions knows that the reforms—which the right hon. Gentleman introduced in that period, and which he commended to the House in the speech from which my hon. Friend has quoted—made more difference to the conditions in prisons than any reforms which have been introduced by other Home Secretaries.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield was not only important from the point of view of its constructive criticisms, but was illuminating to myself, because it indicated that the fundamental wrongs which existed in the prison system 30 years ago still exist today. What was one's case against the general prison system? It was that it took human beings, whatever their offence might be—the thief, the man who was guilty of physical assault, the man who was guilty of forgery, the man who was guilty of some sexual offence, the man who was a drunkard, the prostitute—and treated them all alike.

It did not seek to build up character but to de-humanise. It humiliated a man by dressing him in a uniform which was an insult to human dignity, and by putting him in a cell 7 feet by 13 feet for 17 and 18 hours out of the 24. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that those cells still exist. I restrain myself when I speak about this, because I experienced eight months solitary confinement in English prisons where I was kept in a cell of that size for 23 hours of the 24 and was taken out to exercise absolutely alone in the yard for only 40 minutes a day. I had a year's term in Walton Gaol. I would say to the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), who rightly condemns the fact that three men are now confined in one cell, that worse even than that is to be confined alone for those long hours.

Not only did this take place 30 years ago, but prisoners today are shut in those cells at 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Those cell doors are not opened until breakfast time next morning. One would be sitting quiet in the cell and suddenly a prisoner would "knock up". He would be throwing his cans and his furniture about the cell and banging on the walls. One man would begin it and it would go right through the hall. I have stood with my clenched hands held an inch from the door, struggling to prevent myself from joining in the general clamour that was running round the hall. That is the effect of solitary cellular confinement for 18 hours out of 24, which still normally every prisoner has to undergo. Whilst having three men in a cell 10 feet by 3 feet is bad, I would rather be in the company of men even in that confined space than have a long solitary, cellular confinement which destroys the character and which destroys the mind of so many prisoners.

I want to emphasise to the Joint Under-Secretary of State this matter of uniform treatment of all types of men and women who go to prison, whatever their characters and whatever their offences may be, this de-humanising process and the giving of work which is useless. I had to sew 72 feet of canvas mailbags a day. That is still the task of prisoners, a task which could be done in half an hour by any modern machine. At first one thought that one could never do the task, but before a year had gone I could do those 72 feet in three hours. The fact that over the greater part of prison labour there is a monotony, a drudge, a useless task which can be done so much more easily in other ways is itself a humiliation.

I am aware that there have been many changes. The hon. Member for Walton is now in his place and I should like to tell him that I not only have the record of having served one year in the prison in his constituency but that I also had the very gracious acknowledgment of being invited back to the prison 10 years later by the Governor to speak to the prisoners as an old boy. I recognise the changes which have been made, the classes, the correctional treatment, the camps and many other things, but fundamentally the prison system remains as it was. Fundamentally we have these old buildings, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood has properly denounced, which are so appalling that one cannot have in them any reformative or corrective system. Fundamentally, whatever the crime, there is no attempt to make a distinction in treatment. I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary and his Department to approach this whole problem now in a new way.

When a man goes to hospital he receives treatment for the cause of his ill-health. Similarly when a man goes to prison the cause of his going there should be treated as a matter of mental and moral ill-health. An attempt should be made to discover what has brought him there and an attempt then made to give him treatment so that he can be cured, just as takes place within the hospital system. I ask the Joint Under-secretary not to be satisfied with just making certain changes and certain corrections in the system.

I should like to see gathered together by the Home Office men and women, doctors, and social workers with a knowledge of working-class conditions, men and women of broad understanding who could be brought round the table and allowed to think afresh about the whole problem of the treatment of those who are prisoners. It is only when the problem is approached in that way that we may hope that the overcrowding of prisons will cease and the population of the prisons will fall.

1.17 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

All the hon. Members who have had the good fortune to be here will say that they have listened to an exceedingly interesting and useful debate and that we owe a great debt to the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) for his initiative in bringing this subject before us for debate. We are grateful also to other hon. Members who put different points of view including, exceptionally, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), who made what I thought was the best speech that I had ever heard him make on the subject. He, of course, always speaks well on it and is a recognised authority.

We have covered a wide ground, so wide indeed that one has to bring in many matters that could not be put in a short Motion before the House but which are obviously material. We have had many suggestions made, which I hope will be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) referred to a most interesting journey which he made. I envy him the journey, and congratulate him upon resisting the magnet of Alcatraz and also that other magnet which prevents so many of us visting the United States at all. Since hon. Members have been told that they are not eligible for a visa, some of us have thought that we would not expose ourselves to the humiliation of the McCarran Act.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend about prisons in America, although he has seen them and I have not. The curious thing about America is that it has the best and the worst prisons. The report of the warden of Sing-Sing in his book "Twenty Years in Sing-Sing" is still a very moving document. It is interesting to recall that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as Governor of New York, was one of the first to introduce psychiatric treatment in prisons on any substantial scale. It has now developed greatly and those who read the book, "My Six Prisoners" will find almost fantastic things happening under the present régime. Alcatraz, I suspect, was designed by D. W. Griffiths in the mood in which he filmed "Intolerance," so much drama and exaggeration is there in it. It is true that if one wants to find the worst prisons in the world one should go to the Southern States of America, and especially to Alabama. Those who have read the literature and made allowance for exaggeration in stories like "Scottsboro Boy," or those who have read the story of Eugene Debs interviewing Clarence Darrow during his period of confinement, when both sat on the table to avoid the huge rats on the floor, will say that prisons can also be very bad things in America.

Mr. Yates

I do not want to give the impression that all of the United States prisons that I visited were dreadful. I visited in California most up-to-date prisons. They were more up-to-date than any in this country. But on the whole, and considering the 25 riots that have taken place in the last two or three years, there is not the slightest doubt that prisons generally are very much worse there and that the authorities are not able to treat prisoners as well as we do in England.

Mr. Hale

I am not sure. We are dealing with a different population with different characteristics, and I am not sure that I can accept what my hon. Friend said as a generalisation. We have made tremendous progress in penal reform in this country, under the influence of people like John Howard and Elizabeth Fry. We have a different situation from that which we had in those days, when there were 200,000 persons in prison, despite our very much smaller population. We have made tremendous progress over the centuries.

The material point we have to consider now and to seek information upon is whether anything has gone wrong, and if so, what? There has been a substantial increase in the prison population. This fact is used for propaganda purposes in the Press from time to time. Tremendous campaigns are directed against the alleged increase in cruelty to children or in the crimes of adolescents and juveniles. We remember the suggestion that the entire population of certain areas of London is afraid to emerge from its homes after six o'clock in the evening. We should try to consider these matters dispassionately.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that the real trouble about the overcrowding of prisons is the way we go on bunging people there who should not be sent to prison at all. We send to prison people who are serving a civil sentence for such things as non-payment of fines or for non-compliance with civil orders. I have not the figures handy, but I think that the number of people who were sent to prison in 1951 for not complying with civil orders, in other words, without any conviction at all for crime, was just over 5,000. I think that will be found on the very last page of the Report.

There were also something like 3,400 men in prison for non-compliance with matrimonial orders. It is sometimes a very difficult proposition when it is a question of imposing a fine and sending a defendant to prison without giving time to pay. We all know the problem that confronts the magistrate. He may have several hundred prosecutions a year which are dealt with by the imposition of fines. The experience of the police and of the magistrate tells them that if the magistrate does not give time to pay the defendant pulls the money out of his pocket and pays, while if the magistrate does give him time to pay the police may have to spend long hours trying to find the man again. Therefore, when people cannot pay, they go to prison. The whole of this system is a hangover from the very curious Victorian morals of punishments for offences arising out of the system which they were quite prepared to permit.

The system of fining is really a periodic levy imposed through a process of law which is wholly antagonistic to the spirit of the law, in the same way as we make a periodic levy upon the street bookmaker, for the benefit of the national Exchequer. It would be better if we looked at some of these things and stopped them. There is the matrimonial case of the woman who has been deserted by a man and has children to maintain, and of the poor frustrated man who says he is not going to pay maintenance because it was his wife's fault. He will not pay because he is convinced of that. Years before the war when I lived in one of the coalfields—I am not suggesting that miners are particularly guilty in this respect—men of this kind would go from the Nottingham coalfield to the Leicestershire coalfield, and so on, until finally we had to give up the chase. At least 3,400 of this type of offender went to prison in 1951.

It is a tragic blunder that we should use the process of imprisonment for this sort of thing. In an intelligent and decently-ordered country there would be a system of child allowances which would completely wipe out the necessity for separation orders at all. I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) raises his eyebrows. [Interruption.] I do not know whether they were going north, south, east or west, but they made a movement implying dissent from what I said.

Mr. Ede

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. Does he seriously suggest that there should be no separation orders at all? What about the man and wife who have no children, and who quarrel?

Mr. Hale

I did not mean that there should be no separation orders at all. A man and wife should have equality of income and provision should be made for sharing incomes on an equal basis. For children there should be allowances from the State. I am quite prepared to admit that all this will take some time to achieve. It is a relief to me, as a man with expensive habits and a thrifty wife, that it will not come in my time. That it ought to come I have no doubt. That is point no. 1.

Furthermore, there are several thousand people who have been sent to prison almost illegally. That is not putting it too highly. The whole spirit of the law has made it abundantly plain to magistrates that they are not to impose fines without giving defendants time to pay, unless the circumstances are exceptional. Those are the instructions, yet that rule is constantly by-passed, and fines are frequently imposed without time being given to pay, for reasons which are conceived to be proper. There is a whole series of people serving first sentences of a week, a fortnight, three weeks or a month. Thousands are serving sentences of less than two months.

It is a silly business to send people to prison for a short time. It was always bad, and Chief Justice after Chief Justice has denounced it and said that the short sentence is neither one thing nor the other. It exposes men to the miseries of prison, breaks up their family life, probably deprives them of their jobs and gives them no opportunity of reformative treatment. The man comes out with the stigma and the misery, and there is nothing to compensate him. The Prison Commissioners have pointed out in Report after Report that there is nothing they can do with such men. Harm has been done and no possible good could have been done. There is therefore, no necessity for overcrowding in our prisons, which is very largely caused by giving sentences that ought never to have been imposed. We have never applied our minds to a few fundamental, basic principles about such things as first sentences.

I suppose that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield knows prison statistics better than almost any living man. He is able to derive as much information from them as anyone. I was interested in the detailed experiences of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). In prison statistics he will appear as a confirmed recidivist. He has not merely failed to profit by his treatment, but he has failed four times. He will be classified as utterly hopeless, and beyond reform, cure or alteration, as indeed he certainly is in the best sense of the word. I do not think my hon. Friend will alter his views with regard to war, Communism or prison. I even doubt whether if he had had the proper reformative treatment at the right age it would have effected a cure.

That is one part of the problem. On the next part of it, the hon. Member who moved the Motion was a little coy, because he had, as in duty bound, expressed in the terms of the Motion approval of the steps being taken, or about to be undertaken, or being planned, by the Home Secretary. I hope he will forgive me saying so, but he did not give those in detail. He expressed something of a pious hope that the sort of thing that had been said in the past and more recently, and indeed, last year, was about to be undertaken, or was being contemplated, or that steps would be taken, or that an avenue was going to be explored.

What is being done? May I give one single example quoted by my hon. Friend in the debate last March, when he called attention in specific terms to Manchester Prison, which is one of the worst overcrowded prisons and which has a large area of ground available? I have searched the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department made in reply. My hon. Friend has raised the same matter again today, and we have had no answer from the Minister.

It would have been simple, courteous and certainly helpful if the Joint Undersecretary of State had indicated whether those observations of my hon. Friend had received any consideration at all in the months that have since passed or whether they are still being considered, or, indeed, whether anything is going to be done. In talking of prisons like Manchester and Wandsworth, which suffer from overcrowding, there are a few things we must remember.

The Prison Commissioners say that all this overcrowding does not affect the places where the real reform is being done, that this overcrowding does not affect the corrective and preventive training prisons. The inference is that the worst places are not overcrowded and that we can carry on with our schemes for reformative and protective treatment for a long time.

But overcrowding does affect those prisons into which, as my hon. Friend said, we are driving the whole vast series of persons who have committed petty crimes, some who have committed no crime at all, and others who owe money, perhaps for rates. A prisoner likes company and a cell or cubicle. He likes a tiny spot that is his home or location on the plot. He does not like being locked up in it very much; he likes company.

That is true, and one finds it mentioned time after time in the narratives of the prisoners who suffered the hardships of the Katorga or the horrors of Siberia under Alexander II and then found themselves in those days in the eighteenth Century in France or Britain. They said that, on the whole, they preferred Siberia. Of course, in Siberia they were isolated as political prisoners so that they were able to share their common faith, talk, argue and plan. The things they did are still inspiring to us here today, because out in the Katorga and Siberia the Socialist revolutionaries of Russia formed their own communes and classes which they ran with the permission of a progressive Governor, when there was one, which was not often. They discussed subjects ranging from Indian philosophy to modern languages, mathematics, science, and so on, and, not unnaturally, to the somewhat disputed theories of a gentleman called Marx.

All this arose out of the spirit of the people imprisoned there. Of course, one can generate the same spirit in any little gathering of people, in the Forces and in the club. Esprit de corps is one of the normal human possessions, and I would say, at the risk of disappointing some of my hon. Friends, that I personally have never met a really bad man and I do not think I have met a really good one. Indeed, I think it is very unlikely that I ever shall. Things are so mixed in us. There is not very much difference between those whom we go to see in Parkhurst and those whom we see outside. We are a long way from defining the real causes of crime and even from classifying crimes. We always generalise about a matter inherent in the individual, and in that generalisation always commit some injustice.

But the local prisons are another problem. They are places where executions are carried out and where people who are locked up, three, two or one in a cell, are exposed to all the emotional hysteria incumbent in prison life. Wallace Blake, a Governor of Pentonville, once described his own views on that matter, and indeed came into conflict with the law for having too fully described them. He said that in his view one of the worst things in prison was this emotional hysteria.

The death sentence, of course, is perhaps the worst thing. In Manchester Prison we have men waiting 12 months to undergo preventive detention together with men classified as incurable prisoners who have to be written off as almost a dead loss. Such men in Manchester, Wandsworth and Pentonville are herded together with the man who owes money for rates, and so on.

As I have mentioned rates, I will refer to one matter apparent from the criminal statistics, and that is the fantastic difference in sentences of imprisonment for the non-payment of varying sums of money. We see sentences of two months imprisonment for £2, six months for £100, and so on.

I now come to one of the difficult subjects which has been a matter of some considerable discussion recently, the question of homosexuality and the allied offences which usually appear in the criminal statistics under the heading "No. 17."For 20 years now I have heard judges and magistrates say to a prisoner, "You are going to be sent somewhere where you will receive appropriate attention." I have heard judges say, perhaps, to a young schoolmaster of 19, "In your own interest and in order that you may have time to be cured, I am going to send you to prison for five, six or seven years so that you may have the chance of curative treatment."

I have never found evidence of that treatment, and I do not think it exists. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to say quite frankly today where such treatment is given to people suffering from homosexuality. We read of psychiatry units and mobile units, and so on, which are doing useful work in dealing with maniacal depression, or depression itself, who are, in a sense, acting partly as medical officers and partly as probation officers in trying to sort out the difficulties of prisoners.

This is a fair question and it should be answered, because it is becoming a grave social problem. I remember 25 years ago the sort of horror which judges expressed when referring to homosexuality; we have today swung almost to the other extreme of accepting it as a thing which one writes off as inevitable. Is there any treatment, and if there is, has any account been published of any effective treatment? What is being done, why are judges allowed to go on saying that if it is not true, and why should not they be told that it is untrue?

I think nobody doubts that much sexual crime is due to physical and mental disease, something we would call an ailment, against which people are sometimes pretty helpless to battle, and I do not doubt that people can be born as homosexuals, or homosexually inclined. Having said that, I would add the warning that figures show conclusively that it can be acquired and, if nothing is done about it, it can spread—and has spread in the last few months.

We do not, and cannot, know whether that rise in the figures may represent a tightening up of the investigations of the authorities—whether it has always been there or has extended—butI do suggest that there is an overwhelming case, firstly, that a very large number of people are now committing this sort of offence and suffering either from this sort of disease or tendency to vice—however it may be put—and, secondly, that, so far as we are told, nothing is being done in any special way to cure the trouble. There is surely a case for a Royal Commission—as the President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference has advocated—composed of experts to look into the matter honestly, frankly and sincerely to see what can be done.

I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough to say—and I am afraid it is true, although it is another generalisation—that not very much has been done in 30 years to alter our outlook towards the prisoner. There has been a natural advance; there is education, perhaps a more tolerant outlook, the introduction of training on a considerable scale, the provision of classes in corrective training prisons—even the wiping out of the old dinner tray and its substitution by the cafeteria tray—all of which have profound social importance and value, and which I do not underestimate.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Walton in his view that the first object of imprisonment is punishment. That idea is as dead as the dodo. No man has any right to punish another man, in any circumstances whatever; but he can say "The needs of the State or society make it inevitable; I must do something with reluctance and because it is the only thing to do." No man has the right to judge another, and any man who assumes that right, except in accepting an inevitable public duty which society requests him to do, is assuming a great impertinence.

Though the treatment of juveniles is outside our terms of reference, one of the things done in the years of Labour rule in which we can take pride, without a political note at all, was in relation to the treatment of what are called special children—special schools for children, some defective, some mental, some deprived. Here I am not talking about group schools at all, but of the thing where it starts. I recently had an opportunity of seeing what is being done in Oldham, where, incidentally, the police force is up to full strength, and where we have one of the new attendance centres to which children are sent on a Saturday afternoon for some small disciplinary treatment. That, by the way, has not been used as much as it ought to be. In the selection and treatment of special children, I believe we may have made a major contribution to a social problem and that we are evolving a system in which the lads who are to take their part in life receive the sort of training that they should have.

Governor Lawes said "I have escorted 150 men and one woman to the execution shed and they had only one thing in common—they were poor; and one thing more, they were friendless." I know it is not true today, and would not be true, but poverty and friendlessness have always been a major cause of crime. Poverty causes the little physical weaknesses and major defects also, from which so many lads and lasses are still to be found suffering. The effects of under-nourishment, and the suffering it causes, shows there is still a great job for the State to do. I hope that the Joint Under-secretary of State will say that something will be done about it. If he does, he can rely upon the help of everyone who is interested. If he would give a little more money to investigate causes, a little more money to investigate the figures of recidivism, and a little more money to the societies which are at present working without sufficient funds to keep research going, he would be getting a first class service at very low cost. There is much to be done, and I hope that it will be done.

1.46 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I hope that I may be excused if I do not follow some hon. Members in some of the wider aspects of this matter into which they have managed to venture inside the rules of order. I wish to deal with the continuing overcrowding in prisons raised by the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson). I should like to congratulate the hon. Member both for his selection of the subject and the way in which he introduced it. The House and the country must be indebted to him for having brought the matter before us in so objective a way, and for opening it out in a manner that has enabled a very useful discussion to take place.

With regard to the structure of our closed prisons, I do not believe that there is one that ought to be allowed to exist a single moment longer than is necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), when Home Secretary, said he thought that if those prisons could only be emptied they would make very good bombing targets for the Germans. It is regrettable that they exist. They hamper every Home Secretary in trying to carry out any humanised system of prison treatment, and I sincerely hope that, as soon as it is possible, a scheme of steady replacement will take place. Nothing short of that will enable the Criminal Justice Act, of 1948, or any other remedial Measure, to have its full effect.

The hon. Member for Walton detailed certain proposals which were mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary when we had the debate in March. Apparently they relate to the phrase in his Motion: …welcomes the measures planned and being undertaken by Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government did not plan them; they were planned by His late Majesty's Government. While I do not want to claim any credit for castles which are still in the air, we ought to have some account from the Joint Under-Secretary of the new and independent measures which his Government have planned, for not a single one was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walton that was not included in the programme to which I secured the acquiescence of my right hon. Friends in the Labour Cabinet.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that one of these measures—that concerning the manner in which psychiatric treatment can be given—is urgently needed. I hope I may be excused from saying any more on that question than that I support the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West. On this matter I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield with the utmost respect and admiration, for his knowledge is encyclopaedic, and he has a very enlightened view. It was therefore rather a shock to me to hear him develop that astounding eulogy of Dartmoor.

If he put the same question to me as he put to my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), I should plump for Manchester every time. One can get quite as wet on Dartmoor as in Manchester. I do not know on how many days in the year one has to have an umbrella in Manchester, but I should not think that the statistics of the two places vary very much. Dartmoor is the one building in this country which made me feel that the saying: All hope abandon, ye who enter here ought to be written over its portals.

I was determined to see it without it being faked up, and when I arrived there in my car I am not sure that the gatekeeper did not think that it was a very cheeky effort to arrange for a mass escape. I can think of no place more appalling and less fitted for its purpose. If it were pulled down I do not think that it would be possible to reconstruct it without still having to continue many of the physical discomforts that are inevitably attached to a building in that position. When the time for destruction comes, I hope that Dartmoor will be at the very top of the list of priorities. I had hoped that if I could have built the two secure prisons that were at the head of the list the first effect would have been that I could dispense with Dartmoor.

It is true that Dartmoor has proved a very difficult place from which to make a permanent escape, although the ingenuity of man in recent years has been such that one or two people have been away from it for a very long time. If that is what we want, why not reopen Dolgelly Gaol? It was said of that gaol that many men escaped from it, but such was the tortuous nature of the streets in Dolgelly that no one ever escaped from the town. People have certainly got well away from Dartmoor in their time.

Among the most substantial of the improvements which we have managed to make in the prison system in recent years has been the inauguration of educational classes conducted not by the Prison Commissioners but by local education authorities. One of the most helpful in that respect has been the local education authority for Devonshire. They had a series of classes in artistic painting which was very successful. The Governor suggested to some of the men who had shown particular promise that they should execute some murals on the walls, and they did so. Some of the efforts were surprisingly good, but within a fortnight they were ruined by the uncontrollable dampness on the walls. I give that as an example of the reason for trying to get this place discarded and to build a better prison in its place.

I do not dissent from anything else that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said, but it would be quite wrong of me to let it appear that his remarks with regard to the idyllic beauties of Dartmoor and the possible reformative effect that they might have could be accepted without challenge.

Mr. Benson

I did not mention the reformative effect of Dartmoor, but has my right hon. Friend any idea of the result of imprisonment in Dartmoor and Parkhurst? Has he any figures to show what happens to the habitual criminal? I have.

Mr. Ede

No matter what figures my hon. Friend has, they will not be other than dissolved in the appalling dampness on the walls of Dartmoor. We have no right to subject a man to the prolonged physical torture which Dartmoor entails.

Mr. Benson


Mr. Ede

It is all very well for my hon. Friend to say "Nonsense," but if he asks anybody who has been for a long time in Dartmoor, whether as a prison officer, a prison officer's wife or an inmate, he will find that my views are borne out.

Mr. Benson

My right hon. Friend has challenged me. He said, "Ask the people who have been in Dartmoor." While I was in Dartmoor I had a discussion with a group of prisoners, and the question arose whether Wandsworth or Dartmoor was the better prison. The group split 50–50.

Mr. Ede

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, prisoners do delight in discussion. A short time ago a book was published which was written by a woman who had been a prisoner in both Holloway and the new open prison at Askham Grange. I would not say that all her criticisms of Holloway were justified. She was obviously a woman of some culture. I should imagine it must be a great deal worse for a woman of culture to undergo a sentence of imprisonment in a prison like Holloway than it is for a man of similar upbringing to undergo a sentence of imprisonment in any of the prisons that we have. I can well understand some of her reactions to Holloway.

Mr. W. R. Williams

Could my right hon. Friend say how long that lady was in Holloway, because I thought she was there for only a few days?

Mr. Ede

No, she was there for some months. She wound up in the hospital in Holloway.

Mr. Benson

Three days in the prison

Mr. Ede

If she was only three days in the prison—

Mr. Benson

The rest of the time in hospital.

Mr. Ede

Yes, but she was in Holloway for some months, and purported to write in some detail about her experiences. I was very careful to say I did not accept her criticisms of Holloway, but I do agree with the views she expressed with regard to Askham Grange.

What we have to face is that nearly everyone in prison, except for criminal offences—I am excluding now the class to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West alluded, who manage to get into prison through non-payment of matrimonial orders—is there because of action taken in the wrong use of leisure. A man burgles, amongst other offences, in his spare time. One of the appalling things about our existing system in the closed prisons is that it compels us to provide him with long stretches of leisure with no use for it at all. The locking up of men in prison cells, whether there be a single inmate of the cell or three inmates of the cell, without anything to do is, I think, one of the chief defects of the system we now have.

I sincerely hope that wherever possible we shall make use of the open type of prison for men who can be reasonably trusted there. I do not think I should take quite as many risks as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield would with regard to the type of man I would put there, because it is a terrible responsibility for a Home Secretary to have to face when one of these men gets out and commits a violent assault on some unoffending person. In my time there was only one case at Leighhill where that occurred. However, existence of such a prison does, of course, create a very considerable feeling of terror among the ordinary unoffending people living in the neighbourhood, and I do not think we have the right to run undue risks in the kind of people we put there.

I hope it will be possible to arrange for these places to be associated with some reasonably useful work that can be done, out of which the prisoner can get some sense of achievement. I am quite sure that in these days no man gets much sense of achievement out of making eight stitches to the inch in a mailbag. Mailbags are necessary, but I should have thought that in this age they could have been made better by machine than by hand. There must be some public works that we could do with the aid of prison labour if we could only develop these small open prisons.

I would again bring before the House the case of the work that was done near Burton-on-Trent in the neighbourhood of Stafford Gaol by a group of about 14 prisoners who were taken out to an anti-aircraft site on which there were three Army huts, one of which was used for the staff, another used as a recreation hut, while the third housed the men on this job. The House will recollect that towards the end of the war there was a very great explosion in an underground arsenal that had been constructed near Burton-on-Trent, with the result that the most appalling devastation took place over a fairly wide area of land. Those men were taken there to put that right. They had to level the ground; then they had to arrange for some fertile soil to be placed on top, because the explosion had thrown up infertile soil previously buried at some depth; and then they had to plant it.

The majority of men in prison are men whose education is very limited, and who, if they are to get a sense of achievement, must find it in something from which it follows pretty quickly on their effort. That may be why burglary is such a favourite pastime amongst them. They break into a house, they collect what, I understand, they call the "swag," and manage to get away with it. The sense of achievement follows pretty quickly on the particular escapade. The kind of job I have just mentioned is one at which a man can see at the end of the day some return for his effort. At the end of a week or fortnight that achievement is quite substantial, and over a period of three or four months he can point to a substantial piece of useful work done.

On that site, open as it was, where the whole 14 could have walked off any evening, there was only one effort at escape, and that took place in the first fortnight. Similar camps in the neighbourhood of great slag heaps, calling to be levelled for the beautifying of the countryside, the removing of eyesores, and, on occasion, for prisoners to assist with land drainage, would seem the kind of accommodation that ought to be provided, and in which a great deal of very useful work could be done.

I am well aware—no one can be more aware than I am—of the great difficulty of pleading for prison building in the present state of the country owing to the devastation of the war, but I do hope that successive Home Secretaries will continue to urge on their colleagues in the Government the necessity of doing something to remove unsatisfactory prisons inside which, even if they were fully staffed, there would still be considerable difficulties in inaugurating a really humane reformatory spirit, because they were not built with that idea in the back of the minds of the people who were responsible for establishing them. If the efforts of the hon. Member for Walton today result in some substantial steps being taken in the immediate future I think the time of the House will have been very well spent.

I sincerely hope that the Joint Under-secretary will be able to give us some information today. He has listened throughout the debate without once leaving the Chamber. I left for a short time in order to get some refreshment, but he has remained here the whole time, and I am sure we ought to thank him for having done so. It must have meant some physical strain. I hope he will be able to tell us that the Government intend to do something in the near future to build some of the buildings which the hon. Member for Walton mentioned and which would at any rate help in the solution of the difficulties which we have been discussing today.

2.11 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

May I thank the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for what he said about myself? I want to join with him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) first of all for raising this subject and, secondly, upon the way in which he raised it.

The right hon. Member for South Shields referred to the terms of the Motion. I certainly read the words "Her Majesty's Government" in that Motion as referring not particularly to Her Majesty's present advisers but as embracing the late Government, who, as the right hon. Gentleman said, were responsible for the present plans.

The question of prisons was last debated in the House last March. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary then made a full statement on the whole subject. The Motion on the Order Paper today relates chiefly to overcrowding, and I will seek to deal with the subject from that aspect. If I do not follow hon. Members into some of the wider aspects, I can assure them that their remarks will be noted and considered. Of course, I hope to touch on the wider aspects as I go along.

In 1939, the daily average population in prisons and Borstals in England and Wales was slightly over 10,000. By1950 that daily average had increased to just over 20,000—very nearly double. After 1950 there was a further continuous increase, and during the first part of 1952 it reached the record rate of nearly 1,000 in three months. The increase then surprisingly stopped, and the total number remained fairly stable for a year at about the 24,000 level. Since the middle of 1953 there has been a slight fall, and the figure now stands at slightly over 23,000.

The increase in the prison population is not primarily due to an increase in the number of convicted criminals. In 1945 there were about 32,000 receptions into prisons, a figure which was very much the same as that of 1939. By 1950 there had been an increase to 37,000—that is to say, an increase of some 14 per cent. over the pre-war figure. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton asked about the figures of reconvictions, and I can assure him that those figures are increasingly favourable; in other words, there is a higher proportion of new convictions. There has been a general increase in crime, but it has been nothing like sufficient in itself to account for the great increase in the prison population.

Much the greater factor has been the increase in the average length of sentence. Some of the causes for that are fairly clear. The passing of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, which introduced corrective training and preventive detention in its new form, obviously accounts to some extent for the increase in the length of sentence. But the cause of the variation both in the number of convictions and in the length of sentence are manifold and extremely obscure. I think all hon. Members who have considered this question will agree that that is so. It is impossible to explain the variation on any logical grounds that can be discerned at the present time.

I can only tell the House that a prophecy about the future movements of the prison population is extremely difficult and hazardous; indeed, I think it can be said to be almost impossible. It is rather like a long range prophesy about the weather. The most I can say is that on certain assumptions of fact—and they are pure assumptions of fact and in no sense prophecies; they assume that the position will not change very much—the prison population might be expected to fluctuate around the 23,000 figure. If there should be any substantial decrease in crime, it could greatly reduce the figure. On the other hand, we should be extremely rash if we were to suppose that because there was a peak a few years ago and because the figure has since fallen, we shall necessarily go back to the pre-war position. That is as much as I can say on that point.

Hon. Members who have taken part in the debate are well acquainted with the problems of imprisonment, but unfortunately that is not generally so among the public or among many hon. Members who have not had an opportunity to study them. Leaving aside the question of punishment, a prison may have three purposes—deterrence, reform—in which I include rehabilitation—and detention; and of course something of each of these ingredients must be present in every penal establishment. But different kinds of offenders require a very different mixture of these ingredients, as has been shown fairly clearly during the debate today.

The modern penal system, therefore, has a number of quite different types of establishment. I am not sure that that fact is as generally recognised as it should be. The population pressure on the different kinds of penal establishment has by no means been uniform. The incidence of overcrowding is strangely arbitrary in many respects. For example, in spite of the astonishing increase in the prison population in England, there has been no increase in Scotland whatsoever. Again, there has been no rise in the number of women prisoners. There is no population pressure in the women's prisons on that account. It is true that there was an increase in the case of the Borstals, but it was what has been described as a transient bulge, in the second half of 1952, and there has not been an overall increase over the period which we are considering.

The whole of the sensational increase in the prison and Borstal population of this island—and I am not considering juveniles for the moment—has been concentrated among adult males in England and Wales. I do not know why that should be so, and it is impossible for me to offer any explanation. Unfortunately, however, this increase reached what may have been a peak, just at the time of the drastic changes required by the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, and, as I have said, that Act provided for two new kinds of sentence, in themselves involving longer sentences.

It has been the deliberate policy of the Prison Commissioners not to allow the increase in the prison population to impair the development of the specialised forms of training in the regional and central prisons, the new methods of dealing with persistent offenders and the training of young persons. The result of that policy has been to throw the real burden of the increase on to the 23 local prisons, where there are some 8,000 cells catering for the present daily average of some 13,000 prisoners. It means that at present 4,575 men are confined three in a cell. That figure shows some slight reduction; it was recently as high as 5,680.

The question of homosexuality in prisons has been raised, and perhaps I may say a few words about it. It is likely that the proportion of true homosexuals in prisons is considerably higher than in the population generally. It is also true that male segregation may provoke a tendency that way, but neither of those considerations in itself is connected with overcrowding. Undeniably, overcrowding might provide opportunities, but when more than one man has to be put in a cell, there are always three men, and the very greatest care is always taken to ensure that any man who is known or suspected to have a tendency to homosexuality is not put into a cell with other people. The policy of the Prison Commissioners has met with a high degree of success having regard to the circumstances with which they have to contend.

I need not say much about the bad effects of overcrowding generally; they have been clearly brought out in the debate. My hon. Friend in moving the Motion described it as a great evil, and that, I think, would be the view of everybody. The hygienic dangers of overcrowding are, of course, known but, oddly enough, overcrowding does not in itself appear to have had any deleterious effect on health. It might do so, but so far there is no evidence that it has.

The great mischief arises from the resulting difficulties and delays, which make discipline more difficult and reduce the hours of work. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) raised the question of prison discipline. I assure the House that the general standard of discipline has been maintained, in spite of the great difficulties. But in present circumstances there is inevitably less effective control in minor matters. That is a matter which is to be deplored, and we would all like to stop it.

On the question of a reduction of hours of work, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) rather suggested that the average prisoner now had to spend 18 hours of the day in his cell. That is a considerable exaggeration. The best thing for prisoners, as the right hon. Member for South Shields has said, is plenty of good, hard work—there is no question of that. In the years 1950–52 there was a serious shortage of work for prisoners to do, and this led to distressing under-employment. The position is improving, but in so far as we manage to reduce overcrowding, we shall be able to get longer hours of work, and this in itself will create a greater demand for work, which will produce its own difficulties.

The key to the position is to find more suitable work for prisoners to do. Following the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates and last year's debate, there have been inter-Departmental discussions on this matter and there is a very marked improvement.

Mr. Benson

Are there long-term contracts yet?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I think that is outside the terms of the Motion, although I have attempted to deal with the provision of work.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield raised the question of staff. The present limiting factor on recruiting is the number of suitable candidates coming forward. I am certain the right hon. Member would agree that the essential thing is to preserve the quality of the staff and on no account to sacrifice it for quantity.

Mr. Ede

And improve it.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

And improve it. But it is the quality that has to be maintained. In 1953, there was a net gain of 200.

Mr. Yates

Do I understand from that that the Prison Commissioners may recruit all the suitable staff they can obtain, and that no limitation whatever is imposed upon them?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I did not say that. What I do say is that we were able to recruit all the suitable staff we could get from those coming forward last year. The other question is hypothetical.

Mr. Yates

No, it is not.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

In my constituency there is the most overcrowded gaol in the country. Is it not so much a shortage of people coming forward, but the high percentage who are rejected during the probationary period of three months, that has caused the greatest degree of complaint. That certainly is my experience.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

What I said was that we were maintaining and intended to maintain and, if possible, to improve the quality. I think that is saying the same thing as the hon. Member.

Mr. Yates

Can we be clear on this point, because I think it is rather important? I understand from the Prison Officers' Association that however much they may do to encourage recruitment, the Treasury has definitely fixed a limitation upon the numbers that can be recruited. May we know whether that is true, or whether in fact the Prison Commissioners are free at any time to recruit all the suitable candidates that they can take?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am saying that at the present time we can take as many good men as come forward.

Mr. Ede

May I put this question to clear the matter up? What is the size of the prison establishment up to which the prison officers can be recruited?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The right hon. Gentleman has put a very fair question, but, as he will appreciate, it goes a long way outside anything raised in the Motion today. I cannot give him an answer straight away, but I can say that the establishment is certainly larger than the number we have got at the present time.

My right hon. and learned Friend gave a full account last March of the remedial measures which we are taking. What I will try to do today is to bring the position up to date. The necessary action falls into two parts. First, the long-range programme of new permanent building and, secondly, the temporary measures designed to meet the difficulties which have been referred to on all sides. As regard new building, the programme which was laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields and which was referred to last year still exists—two new secure training prisons for 300 each, a special psychiatric establishment for the mentally abnormal, two secure Borstals each for 150 boys, two small Borstals, each for 75 girls. The building of the Borstals will, of course, have a double advantage. They will provide suitable Borstal establishments and at the same time release prison accommodation, which is, if not ideal, better than a good deal of that now occupied.

As regards the progress of that programme, a site near Hull for one secure prison has been purchased. The plans for the prison are with the Ministry of Works and we expect work to start on it at any time now. The search for the site for the second secure prison continues. It is not an easy matter and perhaps I may throw the ball back by saying that I should welcome help from any hon. Member of this House who can suggest a suitable site in his constituency. A suitable site for the East-Hubert Institution—the psychiatric establishment—has been found in North Buckinghamshire.

However great the urgency for building of this sort, it must take a very considerable time. The plans must obviously take some years to fulfil and, therefore, we are thrown back on to the provisional arrangements. Ever since the war, the Prison Commissioners have been driven to find temporary accommodation. The only accommodation available for that purpose has been places like hutted camps and large country houses. Such places, of course, cannot, in the nature of things, provide full security. It was impossible, whatever one did with them, to make them as secure as a prison built for the purpose.

The Prison Commissioners were, therefore, driven to develop the open prison system, and they did so with audacity. The process started under the right hon. Gentleman, and I gladly acknowledge the good work which he began then and which is, I think, being continued on exactly the same lines now. Since 1946, in addition to the reconditioning and reopening of seven old prisons, nine prisons and seven Borstals in open camps and country houses have been acquired and opened. There have also been two new prisons created in former War Department forts. Of these establishments, three camps and one of the forts were opened last year. That is the development since the last debate which we had on this matter. Besides those developments, two satellite camps have been set up in connection with closed prisons, and, in addition, hutted accommodation for a further 700 prisoners has been put up within actual prison walls.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield asked me about the Manchester Prison. I think that he was concerned about the work being done in order to add an adjacent area to the prison; he was particularly concerned from the point of view of getting the work done by the prisoners.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the suggestion which he made in the debate last year was carefully considered, but adequate security arrangements were found to be impossible. It is not possible to arrange for this work to be done by prisoners because of the security difficulties and resulting considerations of the kind which have been mentioned this afternoon. On the other hand, the work is necessary and it will be started this year by contract and will probably be completed within the financial year 1954–55.

Mr. Hale

What will?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The work on this area adjacent to Manchester Prison.

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend was referring to two completely different schemes. One was the taking in of one of the seven acres of land and the other was the proposal to take in the whole seven acres and use and adapt it for the purpose of the prison.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I did not appreciate that, if that is the case.

Mr. Benson

Of the seven acres about one acre has already been enclosed with an unclimbable fence. I am extremely disappointed that the work cannot be done by prisoners, and I am not prepared to accept that it cannot be done with adequate security.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's disappointment—I am disappointed myself—but I am advised that it has been found impossible. Obviously every possible effort has been made to see whether this could not be done. I am advised that it is the whole seven acres which is included in the area to which I have just referred.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) suggested that it might be possible to make use of space in prisons in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately that would involve legislation, and it would also raise other difficulties, because prisoners cannot be taken miles away from their families; the questions of visits and so on would arise, and I think there are insurmountable difficulties.

Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

In Northern Ireland we have no means of keeping our criminal lunatics and they are sent across to institutions here. I thought that some reciprocal arrangement could be made.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will certainly consider the suggestion. But it is fair to say that there are the practical difficulties which I have mentioned.

The principle of open prisons was, of course, a daring experiment. On the other hand, as is clear from this debate, it has proved a considerable success. The number of escapes has been negligible, and it has proved a most effective instrument for dealing with certain types of prisoner. For that, we have the unanimous testimony of the Governors and the staff of the prisons themselves, and there could be no better testimony.

The success of the open prison depends on the care with which the inmates are selected. That is the essence of the matter, and I think I should say that it is a deliberate policy not to send to open prisons those who are convicted of offences involving violence, offences against women, and offences of that kind. There is a lack of understanding of this matter in the country. Many people think they are going to have a lot of terrible criminals set down at their door. The fact of the matter is that those who are sent to open prisons are not those likely to do the sort of thing of which people are afraid.

On the other hand, it has been found possible to send a surprisingly wide range of prisoners to these prisons. There are now signs, I am advised, that we cannot go very much further than we have already gone. This is a matter which is under the most constant and careful consideration, but I understand that it is unlikely that the open prison system will be capable of very much greater extension.

I should also say that the Prison Commissioners have acquired two more camps and these are of a rather more permanent nature. It may be that they will be the sort of establishments contemplated by the hon. Member for Chesterfield in the course of his speech. We shall get possession of one, near Oakham, soon and it should not be very long before it is in operation.

I have tried to describe the position and the steps which the Government are taking in order to deal with it.

Mr. Yates

What about Dartmoor?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I should hesitate to intervene in the argument between hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the position of Dartmoor. We all agree that Dartmoor is not a very desirable place. On the other hand, as things are now it is unlikely that we shall be able to dispense with it for some little time. I will not put it higher than that. If the House thinks fit to pass this Motion—

Mr. Hale

I did ask the hon. Gentleman a question which I believe to be of great importance and of great interest to many people, and I think we should have an answer to it. My question was: Is there treatment available for people guilty of homosexual crimes and people suffering from sexual troubles? When they are sent for long terms of imprisonment by judges, they are told they will be sent to places where they will be given treatment. What is the treatment, what are the effects, where is it reported on, and where can we get particulars about it?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The question asked by the hon. Member was very wide indeed of this Motion. I can tell him, however, that psychiatric treatment is available—

Mr. Hale


Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

—for those who desire it and who are willing to co-operate. It has to be conceded that the number for whom it is effective is not very great.

Mr. Hale

Perhaps we can understand that.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

Can the hon. Gentleman give us any idea of the results of such treatment?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Let me say quite frankly that I did not come prepared to discuss the subject. It is very wide indeed of the Motion.

Mr. Hale

I must really raise this matter because this is something which has been discussed during the morning, and then the Under-Secretary says that it is very wide of the subject and, therefore, he cannot reply. We have been discussing prisons and there is evidence now before us that homosexual criminals on short-term sentences are put in these old prisons. We have been given no information as to how they are separated, or whether they are put with people who are there for non-payment of rates. No one wanted to open the subject, but if the Under-Secretary says now that it is irrelevant to the discussion, let us say at once that it is relevant and that it is a matter of great public disquiet and anxiety. Could we, therefore, have the information?

Mr. Benson

The Under-Secretary used one phrase to which I should like to refer. He said that psychiatric treatment was available for those who will require it and who will co-operate. That will give another opportunity to the judges to say, "We are going to send you down for five years in order that you will get treatment." The hon. Gentleman knows that psychiatric treatment in prisons is in a very experimental stage. There is some given in Wormwood Scrubs, a small amount in Wakefield Prison and a little in Holloway for women. To say that it is available for those who desire it and will co-operate is, in my opinion, a wild exaggeration.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

With great respect, I do not think that what I said was a wild exaggeration. I said that treatment was available for those who desired it and would co-operate.

Mr. Benson

It is not.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

This goes very wide indeed of the question of the overcrowding of prisons. In so far as the matter relates to overcrowding, I think I gave the hon. Member for Oldham, West a fairly full answer. If he wishes to raise other aspects of the subject, I will, of course, go into them carefully and let him know what information is available.

Mr. Ede

The hon. Gentleman did say that a site had been acquired in North Buckinghamshire.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Perhaps I could explain here and now that I did not say a site had been acquired. I said that it had been found. I was very careful to say that in one case, near the City of Hull, a site had been purchased and, in the case of North Buckinghamshire, a site has been found. It remains, of course, to acquire the site. I do not want to say anything more about that because the site has not yet been acquired.

If the House thinks fit to pass this Motion, I can assure it that the Government will not regard the matter with complacency. We are very well aware of the difficulties. We shall look upon the passing of the Motion as an indication of the interest taken by Members and as a spur to further efforts.

Question put, and agreed to.


That this House expresses its concern at the continuing overcrowding of many prisons, welcomes the measures planned and being undertaken by Her Majesty's Government to improve the position and urges that in the interests of good discipline, correct training and the comfort and convenience of the staffs no effort should be spared to provide additional suitable accommodation.

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