HC Deb 31 May 1956 vol 553 cc427-30
26. Mrs. Braddock

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that a prisoner named Beck, at present in Walton Prison, Liverpool, wrote a letter complaining of ill-treatment in the prison, to the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool; that this letter has not reached the hon. Member; what has happened to it; where it is now; and if he will take steps to have the letter delivered.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

There is no prisoner named Beck at Her Majesty's Prison, Liverpool. There is a prisoner Back, but he has not applied for a letter to write to a Member of Parliament.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Joint Under-Secretary aware that the man whose name is the nearest approach to the name in my Question on the Order Paper has had a pretty tough time arising from my Question'? Is he further aware that I have learned it is very wrong to put the name of the person on the Order Paper, particularly when he is confined in one of Her Majesty's prisons? Is the hon. Gentleman aware also that I do know that a letter was written to me by a prisoner in Walton Prison, which has never been delivered, and I want to know what has happened to it?

Mr. Deedes

The Back petition is under consideration; but it makes no mention of any attempt to stop him sending a letter to a Member of Parliament.

Mrs. Braddock

I did not make any accusation of that sort of all in my Question. Really, the authorities have no right to approach Back at all. Why did they approach Back when they found there was not a Beck in the place? Is it the situation that anybody whose name approaches anything like this man's name is to be interrogated in the way in which prisoners are interrogated at Walton Prison?

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Lady put down a Question giving a name which was not on the register of the prison. The only thing which could be done was to find a prisoner with the nearest name, to whom she was most likely to be referring.

27. Mrs. Braddock

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that on 25th April eight or ten prisoners at present in Walton Prison, Liverpool, all men of good prison record, desired to present a petition to him protesting against the ill-treatment of prisoners in H.1 Block at the prison; that each of the petitioners was interviewed separately and threatened with disciplinary action; whether the petition has reached his Department or where it now is; and if he will have an inquiry made immediately.

Mr. Deedes

On 30th April the Governor of Liverpool Prison sent to the Home Office nine petitions from prisoners who complained of shouts and noises in the punishment cells which were, they suggested, caused by prisoners being ill-treated by officers. In accordance with standing instructions, the Governor warned each prisoner who applied for a petition that any allegations made against prison officers would be fully investigated and if they were shown to be unfounded he might be reported to the Visiting Committee for the offence of making a false and malicious charge against an officer.

These petitions have now been considered, but my right hon. and gallant Friend has deferred a reply until he has had time to consider further material which the hon. Member has since sent to him.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Joint UnderSecretary aware that these petitions came to him following comments made with reference to allegations at the prison? Does he understand that I am very anxious indeed that there should be a complete inquiry into this matter, but that the position has been that prisoners have been unable to find any way of making representations about the terrible screams and noises which go on in the punishment block, not only on one day but on various days during the week? Is he aware also that I have sent to him, from prisoners who have been released from prison, letters saying that they are prepared to make public statements about what is going on in Walton Prison, and does he not consider that it is in the interests of the public, of the prisoners and of the warders that a complete and full public inquiry should be made into these allegations?

Mr. Deedes

In answer to the first allegations which the hon. Lady sent to my right hon. and gallant Friend, he sent her a very long letter, which she will have received. She then sent further evidence, and it is that evidence which my right hon. and gallant Friend is now examining. He does not wish to make a statement until it has been thoroughly investigated.

28. Mrs. Braddock

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that because no legitimate methods were available for complaints regarding ill-treatment of prisoners at Walton Prison, Liverpool, to be made, a letter was smuggled from the prison and delivered by hand to the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool; that the state of affairs at this prison indicates that an immediate inquiry is necessary; and if he will have an inquiry made at once.

Mr. Deedes

My right hon. and gallant Friend naturally accepts the word of the hon. Member that a letter was smuggled out to her, but he does not accept that this was done because there are no legitimate methods of complaint. All prisoners may make complaints to the Governor, to the Visiting Committee, or to a visiting commissioner or assistant commissioner. They may petition the Secretary of State, and, subject to conditions of which the House is aware, they may write to a Member of Parliament. My right hon. and gallant Friend has considered certain petitions from prisoners in Liverpool Prison, but he is deferring his reply until he has considered further material supplied to him since by the hon. Member.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Joint UnderSecretary aware that I offered the Home Office the opportunity of seeing the letter which was smuggled out, which I have in my hand, but that I have now withdrawn that offer in view of what happened to Beck? Is he aware that the prison authorities may be able to trace the handwriting, and that I am not prepared to take the responsibility for what might happen to a prisoner in Walton Prison if the handwriting of this letter given to me is able to be traced? Is he further aware that unless something is done about this matter, there will be some very grave happenings inside Walton Prison at Liverpool? Is he further aware that I am not the only Member of Parliament who has received these communications, and that the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) has had a letter from Walton Prison in similar terms? Will he see something is done about it immediately?

Mr Deedes

I hope that what I have already said has indicated to the hon. Lady, and to the House, that my right hon. and gallant Friend is as concerned as she is by the allegations, that he is taking note of the letters which she has sent, and that when he has completed the investigation, he will make a statement.

Mr. J. T. Price

On a point of order. May I put to you, Mr. Speaker, that on occasions like this, when serious allegations are put on the Order Paper in the form of Questions, it might be more appropriate if the Secretary of State himself appeared at the Despatch Box to answer those Questions, without disrespect—

Mr. Speaker

There is no point of order for me in that.

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