HC Deb 24 January 1956 vol 548 cc6-7
4. Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will state the circumstances in which the prisoners Burnside and Weir were recaptured when they broke away recently from a Peterhead Prison working party.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Henderson Stewart)

Two prisoners escaped from an outside working party at Peterhead Prison on 21st October last, one armed with a long steel bolt and the other with a chisel. The men were followed by two prison officers who called on them to surrender. The men threatened the officers and continued their escape, but were later cornered with the assistance of a police constable and taken into custody.

Mr. MacPherson

Is it not the case that the two prison officers concerned were commended for their action by the hon. Gentleman's Department? Is it not also the case that, knowing the terrain, they were able, instead of going straight after the prisoners, to take a circuitous route and so to cut them off and to enable a party to come to their assistance? Is it not also the case that when the two prisoners were tried for the attempt to escape, the Procurator Fiscal said that the two prison officers were afraid? Will the hon. Gentleman assure the public that there is not a vestige of foundation for such a statement?

Mr. Stewart

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter. The two prison officers did a very good job, and they were commended for their work, but we have to recognise that the police officer, who was off duty, also played a valiant part.

9. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of discontent among certain prisoners in Peterhead Prison on grounds of bad administration and discipline, preferential treatment of certain prisoners, abuses concerning books sent for the prisoners use, deterioration in food, trafficking in tobacco and intimidation by certain officials; and if he will set up an independent public inquiry by persons other than officials to take evidence and report.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I am not aware of any general discontent among prisoners at Peterhead, or of any justification for the grounds of complaint referred to in the Question. Complaints by a few prisoners have been fully investigated by the Visiting Committee, and I see no reason for a public inquiry.

Mr. Hughes

In view of the disputes that we all know about and of the discontent in the prison, would it not be obviously right and proper, for the sake of the distinguished Governor as well as in the interests of justice, that these disputes should be investigated by an impartial tribunal? Will the hon. Gentleman set one up?

Mr. Stewart

It is an impartial tribunal, in effect, which looks into these matters. The Visiting Committee, as was explained to the hon. and learned Member by my right hon. Friend in a letter, is in a sense an independent body, which operates separately from us, and may interview prisoners quite privately, apart from the prison staff, and its view and its recommendation to us is that there is no need for such an inquiry.

Mr. McGovern

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I myself have at the present time six or seven letters of complaint from prisoners, which letters I am sending on to the Secretary of State in addition to others which I have sent on, and that there is general discontent? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that ex-prisoners have come to see me at my home in Glasgow, after their release, to voice the discontent which evidently exists in this prison? Is it not the case that an independent inquiry would fill the bill and that, even though prisoners are punished, they should have justice while serving their sentences?

Mr. Stewart

Any representations which the hon. Member cares to make will of course be examined carefully, but it is simply not true to say that there is any general discontent. There are a few discontented men there, but that is another proposition.

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