HC Deb 31 May 1954 vol 528 cc897-9
49. Mr. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the cause of the disturbance in Wandsworth Gaol on Wednesday, 26th May, in which a number of prison officers and prisoners were injured and removed to hospital; and what steps he proposes to take to reduce the overcrowded conditions in this gaol, and to establish such arrangements as are necessary to prevent a recurrence of these disturbances.

54. Mr. Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the disturbance at Wandsworth Prison on Wednesday, 26th May; and what immediate steps he proposes to take to prevent further outbreaks of disorder.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

The disturbance at Wandsworth prison began at about 2.45 p.m. on Wednesday, 26th May, and was confined to the mailbag shop. Two prisoners, each armed with a hammer from a work bench, attacked a discipline officer. When a second officer came to help, three other prisoners joined in the attack, which seems to have been planned as a reprisal for disciplinary action taken against two prisoners on the previous day.

There was some commotion in the rest of the shop. The alarm bell was rung for assistance. The five prisoners involved in the original attack ran to a store at the end of the shop, and barricaded themselves in, but the remaining 255 prisoners in the shop quietened down as soon as the Governor arrived, and within 10 minutes of the outbreak had quietly marched out. Attempts to persuade the remaining five prisoners to surrender peacefully were not successful, and it took an hour and a half to overpower them.

Five prisoners have been charged with mutiny and one with incitement to mutiny and will be brought before the visiting committee. As a precautionary measure, a number of possible troublemakers have been moved to other prisons. Although there is no indication that any further disturbance is likely, I have made arrangements, as a further precaution, for police assistance to be made available to the prison Governor at short notice if the need should arise.

Five prisoners were injured in this disturbance. Five prison officers were injured and had to go to hospital for treatment, and 16 other officers received minor injuries. It is clear from the reports submitted to me that the Governor dealt firmly with the situation and that he and the staff acted with courage and resource.

Mr. Yates

I appreciate the answer given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he has not answered the second part of my Question, about overcrowding. I ask him to consider two points. Will he seriously undertake an inquiry into methods by means of which the serious overcrowding in this prison and other prisons may be reduced? The Select Committee reported two years ago that the number sleeping three in a cell was very great. Secondly—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] This is a rather important question. After all, a Report was made to this House two years ago and the Select Committee recommended the abolition of mailbag work, which was considered to be demoralising. It was in the mailbag shop that the disturbance occurred. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider this matter?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Like my predecessor, I am very much alive to the question of the overcrowding of prisons, but it would be unreal if one were to pretend that there is any immediate answer to the problem. I have explained to the House, when I have dealt with the matter in detail, all the steps that we are taking to try to cope with it. I would remind the House that I said that the first part of the contract for the first new security prison to be built since the war has been let, though the prison will not be built for some time. I can only assure the House that I am doing everything that I can to ease the situation, but it is a most intractable problem.

Mr. Adams

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement, but can he say whether this was an isolated outbreak or whether it formed part of other outbreaks at the prison? Will he say what the position is about compensation for the prison officers who have been severely injured?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I should like notice of the second part of that supplementary question. I will look into the matter, and, if necessary, communicate with the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the first part of his supplementary question, I will anticipate the answer to another Question of his which will probably not be reached today. There has been only one other outbreak in any prison during the last 12 months, and no other outbreak in this prison.

Mr. Shurmer

Is it correct that after the prisoners heard of the Adjournment debate last Thursday night, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) complained about the conditions of prisoners, they screamed through the barrier, "Open the gates. We want Yates?"