HC Deb 18 November 1954 vol 533 cc549-53
21. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what inquiries are being made into the recent jailbreak from Strangeways Prison; and what steps are being taken to prevent recurrences.

24. Mr. Erroll

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the public concern at the repeated escapes from Strangeways Prison, Manchester; and what steps he is taking to prevent a continuance of these incidents.

Major Lloyd-George

I fully appreciate and share the public concern in this matter. An inquiry into the circumstances of the recent escape of six prisoners has been held by an assistant commissioner of prisons, whose report and recommendations are being carefully studied. It is not desirable to give publicity to measures taken to prevent escapes, but I can assure the House that all necessary steps will be taken in connection with this incident, and that the Prison Commissioners will pay special attention to questions of security at this prison.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that once escaping prisoners cross their first half-mile from Strangeways, they are practically impossible to catch, because there are so many places where they can hide? Would it not be a good thing to institute some automatic alarm signal so that the public could assist and act as valuable spotters? Is it not also a mistake to keep hardened criminals for a long time in local prisons like Strange-ways, and would it not be a good thing to move them to penal settlements like Dartmoor, where, instead of getting on the nerves of the good people of Manchester, they could try their luck with the Dartmoor ponies?

Major Lloyd-George

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the suggestion made in the first part of his Question will be looked into. In regard to the second part, there is another Question later on the Order Paper dealing with that point.

22. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners have escaped from Strangeways Prison, Manchester, in each year since 1945 up to the present date; and what proportion of them were serving sentences of over three years imprisonment.

Major Lloyd-George

As the answer contains a number of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer:

The figures of escapes from within the prison are as follows:

1945 nil
1946 2
1947 7
1948 nil
1949 nil
1950 1
1951 3
1952 5
1953 11
1954 7
In addition, there were 14 escapes from working parties outside the prison. 25 of these escapes were by prisoners serving sentences of over 3 years.

27. Mr. L. M. Lever

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will hold an inquiry into the recent escapes from Her Majesty's prisons and take steps to prevent a recurrence by introducing necessary reforms.

Major Lloyd-George

Methods of escape vary so widely that I do not think any general inquiry into escapes would be useful. The Prison Commissioners hold an inquiry into any particular escape that appears from the prison governor's preliminary report to call for special investigation; effect would normally be given to any recommendations made by the officer holding the inquiry with a view to preventing a recurrence.

Mr. Lever

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that it is just because the methods of escape differ so widely that there is public anxiety about recent occurrences and their widespread character? Cannot something more be done and a full inquiry be made to see whether the escapes are symptomatic of something which is not in order? The Minister ought to deal with the matter by a full inquiry. Will he undertake it?

Major Lloyd-George

An inquiry is held on each occasion after an escape of this character. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that escapes cannot be prevented in penal establishments except by conditions which would be intolerable to public opinion in this country?

Mr. E. Johnson

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that the public as a whole have no idea of what prison uniform or overalls look like, and would it not be a good thing to make information on the subject more widely known, or to introduce a more distinctive uniform?

Major Lloyd-George

I can only say that I will look into the matter.

39. Mr. George Craddock

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what circumstances a prisoner recently escaped from Dartmoor; his record of previous escapes; and what steps he is prepared to take to prevent a similar occurrence in future.

Major Lloyd-George

This prisoner was employed, with others, in repairing the courtyard outside the prison gate, and made off in mist and failing light. He had previously escaped in 1945 and 1946, from Rochester and Portland Borstal Institutions respectively, and earlier from an approved school. It is not possible to ensure that prisoners employed outside the prison wall will never escape, but the rarity of escapes from this prison suggests that the standard of supervision is adequate.

Mr. Craddock

Having regard to the record which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given, does he not think that something further ought to be done? Surely, those who work outside of prison walls should, in particular, be more strongly guarded and have greater protection?

Major Lloyd-George

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is largely a matter of judgment. The Prison Commissioners will discuss the question with the governor.

40. Mr. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in view of the increased tendency of prisoners to escape and the number of disturbances which have occurred in a number of Her Majesty's prisons during the past year, if he will undertake to visit a representative selection of prisons, so that adequate steps can be taken to improve the present position.

Major Lloyd-George

I do not accept the implication of the first part of the Question. During 1953 and 1954 there have not been more than four incidents which could properly be described as disturbances. Although the number of escapes was high in 1953, the number in 1954 does not so far exceed the numbers in 1951 and 1952. I propose to visit prisons as opportunity may permit, and I shall bear in mind the need for continuous review of all measures necessary to preserve good discipline and control.

Mr. Yates

While I appreciate the answer given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, may I ask him to bear in mind that many who are associated with prisons feel that the time has come when the Minister responsible ought really to go to the prisons in order to find out exactly what is happening? May I urge the importance of that upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman? I trust that he will visit a representative selection of prisons.

Major Lloyd-George

As I have said, I am proposing to visit prisons as often as opportunity permits. I have not had a great deal of time up to date, but one of the first things I did on assuming my present office was to make arrangements to visit a prison very shortly.