HC Deb 01 December 1955 vol 546 cc2503-4
43. Mr. F. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what instructions have been given to prison officers to restrict or censor prisoners' mail.

Major Lloyd-George

As the Answer to this Question is rather long, I will, with permission, circulate the reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Whilst appreciating the difficulties of the Home Secretary in this matter, may I ask if he is aware that some of us are really concerned at the way in which this censoring is being done and the fact that admittedly prisoners' mail to Members of Parliament is being interfered with?

Major Lloyd-George

It is not so much a question of my difficulties as one of courtesy to the House. If I read the whole Answer it would take a long time, as it deals in full detail with the circumstances in which prisoners may communicate by letter. They were laid down in Prison Rules in 1949. If, having perused the Answer, the hon. Member wishes to raise any point on the Prison Rules, I shall be glad to look into it.

Mr. de Freitas

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman read the report in HANSARD of last night's Adjournment debate, which concerned the exercise of discretion in Prison Rules, because the Joint Under-Secretary gave a reply which the whole House found totally unsatisfactory?

Major Lloyd-George

I find that extremely difficult to believe.

Following is the Answer: By Rule 75 (1) of the Prison Rules, 1949, the Commissioners may impose such restrictions on and supervision over letters as they consider necessary for securing discipline and good order, for the prevention of crime and criminal associations, and for the welfare of individuals. By Rule 75 (3) every letter to or from a prisoner shall (except in the case of certain communications to a legal adviser) be read by the governor or by a responsible officer deputed by him for the purpose, and it shall be within the discretion of the governor to stop any letter on the ground that its contents are objectionable or that it is of inordinate length. The following matters in letters are regarded as objectionable:
  1. (i) Discussion of methods of committing crime, instigation of criminal offences, attempts to defeat the ends of justice, by suborning witnesses or tampering with evidence, or attempts to facilitate escapes.
  2. (ii) Complaints about the courts and the police which are deliberately calculated to hold the authorities up to contempt.
  3. (iii) Threats of violence.
  4. (iv) Matter intended for insertion in the Press.
  5. (v) Grossly improper language.
  6. (vi) Attempts to stimulate public agitation about matters other than the prisoner's own conviction and sentence.
The rules governing the writing of letters by prisoners to Members of Parliament are as follows: Any prisoner may communicate with a Member of Parliament by using an ordinary letter. In addition at any time after completing his first two months in custody he may be allowed one special letter to a Member of Parliament. A prisoner who receives a letter from a Member of Parliament which calls for a reply may at any time be allowed a special letter for the purpose. The conditions governing the content of letters to Members of Parliament are as below:
  1. (a) The following matters may not be included
    1. (i) Anything objectionable as above defined.
    2. (ii) Enclosures sent to Members of Parliament for onward transmission to the Home Office.
    3. (iii) Requests to Members of Parliament to approach persons whom, under Standing Order 376 (1)*, the prisoner would not be allowed to approach direct.
  2. (b) Complaints about prison treatment in letters to Members of Parliament will not be allowed unless the prisoner has already exercised his right of making his complaint through the appointed channels, i.e., by seeing
* e.g. Judges, public Departments. a visiting magistrate (or Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner) and/or petitioning the Secretary of State. So long as a petition about prison treatment is outstanding he will not be allowed to write about the same matter in a letter to a Member of Parliament. (c) Allegations against prison officers, whether or not they also constitute complaints about prison treatment, will not he allowed unless the allegations have already been investigated. A letter containing an allegation which has not been investigated will be stopped and the prisoner will be told to submit a written statement if he wishes to pursue the allegations. He will be warned that if he submits a statement, his allegations will be investigated and he will render himself liable to be put on report if they are shown to be unfounded.