HC Deb 14 July 1960 vol 626 cc1579-81
15. Mr. V. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why, in addition to the imposition of five different forms of punishment awarded to Henry Richard Owen, prisoner at Her Majesty's Prison, Winson Green, Birmingham, in November last, including nine days' No. 1 diet, solitary confinement was also imposed upon this prisoner for 23 hours daily for over six months; and why, in view of his wife's illness, he was not transferred to Cardiff Prison earlier.

Mr. Vosper

This prisoner was kept apart from others under the stautory provision which enables this to be done in the interests of good order and discipline. His case was regularly reviewed but the visiting committee could not allow him to be returned to association with others because he threatened to attack other prisoners.

Owen first asked to be transferred to Cardiff last October, but inquiries disclosed no sufficient grounds for transfer. Towards the end of May, it was decided exceptionally, after further inquiries, to transfer him so that his wife could visit him more easily. The transfer was delayed when my right hon. Friend learned that the hon. Member wished to visit Owen during the Whitson Recess. He was transferred on 17th June.

Mr. Yates

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when I visited this man in prison he had been in solitary confinement for over 200 days—nearly seven months—and had not been called before the visiting magistrates after the first month? He was refused permission to attend Mass for six Sundays, although he is a practising Catholic. I think that it is no exaggeration to say that when I saw him he was approaching the condition of being almost mad. Is this really a sensible way of dealing with prisoners?

Mr. Vosper

This prisoner was the subject of a letter I sent to the hon. Member on 2nd June. I think that my right hon. Friend would not wish the segregation of prisoners to this extent to be frequent but, in this case, in the interests of other prisoners as well as of the staff, it was thought necessary, and the extension was endorsed each month by the visiting committee.

16. Mr. V. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why Gerald William Cawley, prisoner at Her Majesty's Prison, Winson Green, Birmingham, was in solitary confinement for 23 hours daily from 26th November, 1959, until 1st June, 1960 and whether he will consider the undesirability of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement far such long periods.

Mr. R. A. Butler

When the prisoner had completed his punishment for a serious disciplinary offence he was segregated from others, under the statutory provision which enables men to be kept apart in the interests of good order and discipline; when it was decided that he could safely be allowed to return to association with other prisoners, he refused to work with them.

I am not anxious that prisoners should be kept apart from others for long periods, but it is necessary with some men, and the remedy lies with them.

Mr. Yates

This is a similar case. Is the Home Secretary aware that this man was in a condition of nervous tension, and was being threatened with return to exactly the same conditions in which he had been before? He objected to that and those concerned refused to consider removing him. Is it not fair that, in those circumstances, a man should be removed to some other area rather than that he should be kept in solitary confinement? He is not allowed to speak, even on exercise in the morning, either to the prisoner before him or behind him. They are all in single file—a mediaeval practice.

Mr. Butler

Subject to the fact that this lies a good deal within the province of the visiting committee, I think that the hon. Gentleman will be relieved to hear that I have asked for this general practice to be reviewed by the Prison Commissioners. There was a reason why the prisoner was kept apart in this case, because he himself refused to work with others but, in general, this has caused me concern, and the matter is under review.

Mr. Driberg

In this case, why does the Home Secretary suppose that the man himself refused? Does he think that the man chose solitary confinement for fun? Has he examined, or will he examine, the background against which the man was originally put in solitary confinement? Is he aware that this prisoner stopped work in sympathy with a large number of prisoners who went on strike, in effect, against appalling food and unsatisfactory pay rates, and that he is, or claims to be, one of a few of those who were victimised?

Mr. Butler

The background in this case will not be forgotten in the review to be undertaken.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While we are glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has asked for this to be looked at again, would he not agree that it is disturbing that so barbarous a punishment as this of six months and more of solitary confinement for 23 hours in a day can go on in prisons? There must be something very wrong when what I can only describe as a barbarous punishment goes on. As I say, we are glad that the right hon. Gentleman is looking at this punishment. It really does need changing.

Mr. Butler

One of the advantages of our free system of Question and Answer is that these cases come to light. We must acknowledge that they do come to light and, when they come to light, they ought to he looked at. That is what I am doing.