HC Deb 13 March 1957 vol 566 cc1251-9

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £117,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for the salaries and expenses of the office of the Prison Commissioners and of prisons, Borstal institutions and detention centres in England and Wales.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Simon

I was in the middle of an eloquent peroration when seven o'clock struck, and I had quite inadvertently shut out the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I think she knows that I would not wish to shut her out on any subject, and particularly one on which she speaks with great knowledge and authority. I therefore propose to forgo the rest of my peroration so that we can have the benefit of the hon. Lady's contribution to the debate.

9.24 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool Exchange)

I thank the Joint Under-Secretary to the Home Office for what he has said and I should like to say that this House is the most unpredictable place that I know. Having sat here from half-past two waiting to speak, and finding out at twenty minutes to seven that I could not speak, and then saying what I had to say and walking out, and finding at five minutes to nine that I might be able to speak, I now find that at about twenty-five minutes past nine I have about four and a half minutes in which to say what I have to say.

I was very pleased to listen to the Home Secretary's statement about what the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners intend to do in reference to prison staff and prisoners, but there is one item which has been left out of the debate completely, and, in view of the time and the importance of the matter, I intend in these few minutes to concentrate upon it.

I want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary, in his comments to and conversations with the Home Secretary, to see whether it is possible to start at once making some alterations in our prisons in order to be able to accommodate the large number of epileptic prisoners who are coming into them. I went into Pentonville Prison not very long ago and found an acute epileptic in an ordinary cell. Some arrangements had been made, of course, to prevent him knocking himself about; but he happened to be a very tall man who, when he threw himself about in an epileptic fit, could not help but hit his head on the brick walls of the cell. Ordinary mattresses from the beds had been stood up, not held up at all but merely stood on their edges around the prison cell. The provision was totally inadequate.

When I was there, I asked what arrangements there were for keeping very violent epileptics under control. I was told that in that prison there was no accommodation at all, only the ordinary prison cell with these mattresses put round when necessary. On making inquiries, I found that very few prisons have any sort of specialised accommodation for epileptics. In October last, I asked some Questions of the Home Secretary and received what I considered to be a very disturbing reply. I was told that the number of epileptics was 192 annually, and on top of that a further 209 persons possibly having epilepsy were in the prisons. With the exception of two prisons, there was no accommodation at all. In two prisons there was either only one cell for such accommodation or between one and seven places.

Anybody who knows anything about epileptics knows that they can get into a terrible state, throwing themselves about violently, and there ought to be proper provision made. I am one who believes that in very many instances the crimes which epileptics commit are, to some extent, due to the illness from which they suffer. If we have to hold them in prisons, then we ought to have very special facilities to see that they in their illness and the fits from which they suffer do not knock themselves about more than can possibly be avoided. This would not cost a very great deal of money. There is plenty of labour in the prisons. The prisoners themselves can be given the task of making proper accommodation for the holding of epileptic prisoners. Sorbo is easily obtainable in these days. It is easily manageable and readily worked for such purposes as this. If it is possible to do anything at all in prisons in this respect, it would be a step in the right direction.

There were many other things I wanted to speak about, but, of course it is impossible. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary may be able to give us some information about the matter which I have been able to raise. I hope it will be looked into immediately in an effort to see whether something could be done in order to provide the accommodation which is not at present available in any of our prisons.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Simon

It seems likely that I shall be interrupted again, in my second speech in this Committee, but I should like to answer the point which the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) has made about the treatment of epileptics. Pentonville, the prison to which she referred, has, in fact, six fitted cells for epileptics. In the case to which she referred, the prisoner was not in one of those cells because he was in the hospital block for observation. There was, therefore, an improvised cell fitted with mattresses. As regards the generality of prisons, all except two have specially equipped cells.

Through our work together on the Royal Commission on Mental Health, I know that the hon. Lady has very much in mind that the epileptic should be treated preferably not by being restrained in the old-fashioned way in what is popularly known as a padded cell, but rather by sedative drugs.

It being half-past Nine o'clock, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply), to put the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £117,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for the salaries and expenses of the office of the Prison Commissioners and of prisons, Borstal institutions and detention centres in England and Wales.

The CHAIRMAN then proceeded forthwith to put severally the Questions, That the total amount of the Vote on Account for the Navy Services for the coming financial year, and the total amounts of all outstanding Estimates supplementary to those of the current financial year as have been presented seven clear days, and of all outstanding Excess Votes, be granted for the Services defined in that Vote on Account and those Supplementary Estimates and Statements of Excess:—

  1. NAVY ESTIMATES, 1957–58
    1. c1254
    2. VOTE ON ACCOUNT 45 words
    3. cc1254-7
    5. c1257
    7. cc1257-8
    8. NAVY SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE, 1956–57 302 words
    9. cc1258-9
    10. AIR SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE, 1956–57 115 words
    11. c1259
    12. >CIVIL (Excesses), 1955–56 244 words