HC Deb 26 July 1960 vol 627 cc1473-88

12.24 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I was hoping to expose the callous indifference of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to housing despite the housing needs of many thousands of London citizens who regard him, quite rightly, as Public Enemy No. 1. A number of my London colleagues, I hope, will have a few words to say later about the misery and heartaches suffered by so many people in London, including my own constituents, as a result of the present Government's attitude towards the housing problem in the Metropolis.

However, this will be my only opportunity for a very long time to spotlight the appalling iniquities of the present system of solitary confinement in Her Majesty's prisons. I begin by reading a letter that I had from a prisoner in Wandsworth, William Eugene Gallagher. This is the letter, the publication of which the prisoner was not permitted by the Home Office to authorise. It seems to have been written in the early part of March this year.

"Dear Sir,

As a member of your constituency I am writing to you in the hope that you will be able to help me in this unfair and unjust position in which I find myself.

I am serving 4 years imprisonment here, Sir, and feel that although I am a prisoner I am, or rather should be, still entitled to justice and to a hearing before being punished for an entirely imaginary crime. I firmly believe Sir that the Governor of this prison is far exceeding his powers and venting his personal dislike towards me.

This is the predicament I am in, Sir, On 24th Dec., 1959, I was taken from the prison workshop and put into solitary confinement. The following day, 25th Dec., I was seen by the Governor and told I was on Rule 36 and that I was a bad influence an the rest of the 1,500 inmates. I do not complain of this, sir, although it is a lot of rot, and I am still serving my time whether it is in the main prison or in segregation. What my grievance is lies in the interpretation of this Rule 36. Allow me to quote it to you in part:—

'If at any time for the good order of the prison the governor deems it necessary that a prisoner shall not work in association with others, he may arrange for that prisoner to work temporarily in a cell.'

Let me point out sir that in no part whatsoever does in state that the prisoner shall forfeit his privileges as I have had to do, such as follows—Being refused to converse with anyone under the threat of being put on report, all my film shows and stage shows have been stopped, in fact, all my privileges. That is, sir, the reason for asking your help. I have petitioned the Home Secretary, but the answer I got was that he saw no reason to intervene, which, of course I didn't ask him to do, so the reply was quite irrevelant to my question, which was for interpretation of Rule 36.

Hoping you will be able to give this question your attention in the very near future,

Yours respectfully,

W. E. Gallagher."

I sent that letter to the Home Office, and in order to ensure accuracy of the record I will read the letter I received on 30th March from the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who has been good enough to come here tonight to deal with this matter. You sent me on 14th March the enclosed letter from William Eugene Gallagher, a prisoner in Wandsworth prison. Gallagher has been made subject to the provisions of Rule 36 of the Prison Rules, which enables a prisoner to be removed from work in association with others if this seems to be in the interests of good order and discipline, or in the interests of the prisoner himself. Gallagher complains he has also been removed from the privilege of associating with other prisoners in other ways, for example, at concerts or film shows; and that as Rule 36 says nothing about these privileges it is illegal for him to be denied them. This is mistaken. Privileges such as attendance at film shows or concerts or classes in association with other prisoners are discretionary privileges which the governor of a prison may grant or withhold according to the facilities available at that prison and the suitability of the individual prisoner for them. The Prison Rules provide that in the normal course every prisoner shall be required to work, and that as far as practicable his work shall be spent in associated labour outside his cell. Rule 36 permits an exception to be made to this rule. Gallagher was placed under the provisions of Rule 36 because of his subversive activities in prison; and the Governor has found it necessary as well to prevent him from associating with other prisoners on such occasions as concerts or film shows, so as to prevent him from continuing his undesirable actions. This is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the Governor and in respect of which the Home Secretary would not be justified in issuing any special directions.

Those are the two letters which I wanted to have published so that the public generally could know the kind of thing which is going on.

Gallagher was not given permission to authorise the publication of his letter to me, although he made it quite clear when I saw him in Wandsworth Prison that he had no objection to the full facts being disclosed.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Do I understand my hon. Friend to be telling the House that a letter from a prisoner to his Member of Parliament may not be published without the consent of the governor of the prison?

Mr. Lipton

I do not want to dwell too much on that point, because there is an even more important consideration which I want to stress.

When I asked the prisoner to authorise publication, that letter, as all letters to prisoners, was intercepted, and I had this further letter dated 26th May from the right hon. Gentleman: The Governor of Wandsworth has forwarded to the Prison Commissioners for instructions the letter which you wrote on 23rd May to No. 6790 W. R. Gallagher, a prisoner in Wandsworth prison, as in the enclosed copy. The reason that the Governor has submitted the letter for instructions is that prisoners are not permitted to send out from prisons matter intended for insertion in the press or to participate in any attempt to stimulate public agitation about matters other than the prisoners own conviction and sentence. This is a long-standing rule necessary for the preservation of good order and discipline in prisons, and the Home Secretary could not countenance any departure from it. He has directed that the prisoner shall be given the letter but it follows that the prisoner will not be permitted, during his sentence at least, to comply with the request to authorise publication. If you would like any other information about the matter which is the subject of the prisoner's complaint I shall be very glad to try to supply it, and the Home Secretary or I will be very ready to answer any points you may care to raise in Parliament. I asked a Question about the matter on 14th July, but I will not bother the House by reading it in detail. I merely wanted to get further information on this prisoner, who had been kept in solitary confinement from 24th December, 1959, to 21st April, 1960. The right hon. Gentleman gave me, in effect, the same kind of reply as is contained in the letter which I have just read.

I mention those preliminary details to show that there is something unsatisfactory about the present system. What I consider to be the most unsatisfactory feature about the present system is that prisoners are put into solitary confinement without being given details of the charge on which they are regarded as being sufficiently dangerous as to require their being put into solitary confinement. That strikes me as a negation of all the principle of justice and morality.

In the House on 14th July, after being asked about the general practice of solitary confinement, realising that the present state of affairs was unsatisfactory, the Home Secretary said that he was to have the practice reviewed by the Prison Commission. For reasons which I shall adduce, I do not think that that will meet the purpose.

As a result of the Question I asked, I was given permission to interview Gallagher and another prisoner, whose name I will mention in a moment, in Wandsworth Prison, and I spent about two hours there on 18th July. I saw the governor. I saw the punishment cells, or the solitary confinement cells. I saw William Gallagher, and the point that impressed me most—and it was referred to in the first letter he wrote to me—was that he still maintained that he did not know on what charge he had been sentenced to solitary confinement by the Governor. He confirmed that he was taken from his usual place of work on 24th December, the day before Christmas. He said that the governor came down to the segregation landing on 25th December and told him: You are now on Rule 36. Gallagher asked why, and the reply he received was: You are a subversive and bad influence on the whole prison. Gallagher told me that he still did not know what wrong, or what breach of the rules, he had committed. He did not know then, and he still does not know, nor does his friend who is serving a sentence of imprisonment in the same prison. He said that he had no hearing, and that no charge or accusations were made against them so that they could answer them.

The rules relating to solitary confinement require that the prisoner is kept in his cell for 23 hours a day and then taken on exercise for one hour a day, but he felt so strongly about the injustice of this penalty that had been imposed on him for about 8 or 9 weeks—he was not quite sure of the length of time—he did not take advantage of the hour's exercise to which he was entitled. He told me that when they were allowed this exercise he and this other prisoner had to walk round in a circle one behind the other, and they were forbidden to talk, under threat of being put on report and further punished.

I will not go into detail about the conditions of the cells. One does not expect the cells in which prisoners in solitary confinement are put to be the best in the prison. The punishment cells in Wandsworth Prison are semi-basement, and I am prepared to believe what he told me, namely, that during the winter months when he was in this punishment block, or segregation wing, or whatever it is called officially, the light had to be kept burning all day and he hardly saw daylight for a long period.

The other prisoner whom I saw had been kept in solitary confinement from 24th December until some time in the middle of May. He also was emphatic in declaring that no specific charge had teen made to which he could reply, and no evidence had been adduced to justify his being put into solitary confinement.

When I saw the governor he told me that he had reason to believe, although he was not able to give me the evidence on which he came to that conclusion, that on Christmas Day Gallagher, and the prisoner whose name is Colin George Shipley, would have organised a mutiny, a id, unless he had put these two men into solitary confinement, 1,500 prisoners would have mutinied on Christmas Day.

These two prisoners had never been paced on a charge for attempted mutiny or for organising mutiny, or anything of that kind. All they were told was that they were suspected of subversive activities and undesirable actions. These were the phrases repeated by the right hon. Gentleman in his letter to me. I am always suspicious when people are accused of subversive activities and undesirable actions.

I asked the right hon. Gentleman for further details and, if he could, to amplify what he meant when he talked about Gillagher's subversive activities and undesirable actions. In his letter of 15th July the right hon. Gentleman said: 'Gallagher has long been known as a recalcitrant prisoner. In an earlier sentence he had to be returned to Wandsworth from the training prison at Maidstone because he was found to be a very bad influence. During his present sentence he and another prisoner were strongly suspected of attempting to provoke mass disobedience on the exercise ground early in November, 1959. Later that month Gallagher seriously assaulted a fellow prisoner. In the following month it came to the Governor's ear that Gallagher and other prisoners were planning to provoke mass disobedience on Christmas Day and he obtained authority to segregate all three. I understand that all prisoners who are segregated under Rule 36 are told why they have been so treated. No demonstration took place on Christmas Day, but the state of tension among the prisoners left the staff in no doubt that disorder had been planned and narrowly averted. I would still like to know what the evidence was for coming to that conclusion. In any event, I am not going to argue that Gallagher or Shipley are lily-white angels. They have long, criminal records. I know their records and the previous offences for which they were punished while serving these and other sentences. But those offences are irrelevant so far as this issue is concerned, namely, that these two men were put into solitary confinement for four and five months, respectively, on charges never specified and of which they were not acquainted.

Therefore, it is incorrect for the right hon. Gentleman to say—and I am sorry that he has apparently been misled into saying it—that all prisoners who are segregated under Rule 36 are told why they are so treated. I have confirmed by interview with these prisoners that this is just not the case. I saw these two men.

I have had some experience of commanding men. I have had to recommend men for promotion to senior non-commissed and commissioned ranks. I have therefore had some little experience in assessing qualities of leadership. I must say that I remain completely unconvinced that these two men have sufficient strength of character or the dominating qualities which could lead anyone to suppose that they were capable of organising 1,500 men to stage a mutiny on Christmas Day.

Even if they had those gifts and qualities for organising something like two battalions of men to mutiny at the drop of the hat and if, to that extent, the Governor would be justified in putting them into solitary confinement on Christmas Day and for a few days after, it seems no justification for keeping them in solitary confinement for as late as April or May the following year just because they were suspected of being involved in an attempt to organise 1,500 men into staging a mutiny.

Since I first raised this matter I have received letters from other prisoners, and I am going to write to them. I am going to read them because they confirm what I am trying to point out. I have not had permission to read these letters, but I am going to read them just the same. The first letter is from K. Holmes. It is addressed from Dartmoor and dated 17th July, 1960: Dear Sir, I submit for your information"— before I read this letter further, I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, because he does not know about these letters yet, I have just got them— the fact of my being put in solitary confinement in this prison for 12 days between 7th–19th December, 1957, without having committed any offence or been put on any charge. I complained daily to the prison governor and as to being put in a cell having no chair, mat or washstand, with a dirty mattress in a board base, with water cascading outside the door, and so dark as to require the electric light to be on all day and so dirty as to be beyond description, the writing on the walls going back more than 22 years. I submitted all these facts to the visiting committee on 12th December, 1957, and requested that they should inspect the hovel in the basement where I was lodged. The committee refused to do so or to take any action. I wrote to the Rt. Hon. J. Chuter Ede the same day putting on record these same facts without result. I further put on record these same facts in a petition of 16th December. 1957, and when there was a telephone call from the Home Office on 18th December. 1957, ordering my return to my location. I have complained repeatedly to the Home Office of such abuse of authority to the extent of requesting the appointment of a governor to this prison, which request of last September came to fruition last May. Letters to my parents complaining of prison treatment have been repeatedly suppressed, and on their writing to the Home Office last year they were informed that I worked 12 days in his cell and not in association 'which is a most inadequate admission of my condition at that time. I have on other occasions been put on trumpery charges resulting in my being put in solitary confinement on no less than 5 occasions, but the Home Office admit only one of his punishments has resulted in exclusion from associated work.' I have complained to the board of visitors of this falsification of the record but no action has resulted I complained again to the visiting commissioners while at Pentonville Prison last December, when Mr. Henderson said it was not his concern. I am gratified to note that such unscrupulous abuse of authority and disregard of human values may now be the concern of someone, and if any denizens of Regent's Park had been so mistreated there would have been a vigorous protest from the R.S.P.C.A. My attention has been directed to the prison rule threatening punishment if anything is communicated to the press or by any person visiting me, which with the suppression of my letters is calculated by the Home Office to conceal such maltreatment of which I complain, but it is questionable whether the Home Office is privileged to maintain any such threat offensive to fundamental principles which Mr. R. A. Butler has so often proclaimed as being his purpose to uphold. I was able to intimate to the visiting committee last week that such manifestations of abuse, bigotry and degradation appear to have departed with the previous governor; but such malpractices could not arise if the Home Office and the prison commissioners were less concerned with concealment. Yours sincerely, K. E. Holmes. I have another letter dated 20th July from prisoner L. Wells at Parkhurst. He writes as follows: Dear Sir, In view of the fact that Mr. Butler has removed the old time ban on writing letters to Members of Parliament, without any obstruction I am taking this opportunity of doing so. Mr. Butler has been asked to consider the undesirability of solitary confinement. I have just come up from solitary confinement from the 15th June until the 20th July. The offence I committed, nothing, no report made out against me. Prison officer told the governor that in his opinion I was the root of all his trouble. He told the governor that I threatened men with violence. He did not see any of this, I know, just information he received. Who from, he did not state, no other evidence to uphold what this man said. I would like to point out that I was not punished in any way, so I was told. I lost all my privileges, incarcerated for 23 hours a day, and my pay cut by half for five weeks. Also lost three months stage. I have been in this prison now since the 23rd February this year, and I have not been implicated in any trouble. This man has been hostile to me at all times. This man has a strong personal dislike for me. Nothing I can do about that, but he should abuse authority for any personal reason. There is not one iota of evidence that has justified this incarceration. This is the power this man has over me, one word from him and down I go, Mr. Butler is concerned about this sort of punishment, so am I, deeply concerned. I am still a young man and I have no wish to come out a raving wreck of a lunatic. I don't think there was anything else the governor could do but put me on Rule 36 upon hearing the statement by the officer. But I do think some investigation could have been made regarding his statement. The men I threatened with violence, where are they? That is evidence. I could have been given some sort of trial. There was nothing, no men and no evidence, just this man's hate for me. I have seen a member of the visiting committee regarding this incarceration, but I could get no satisfaction, but by doing so I have conformed with conditions laid down, all of them. I don't know why the officer did not state that I was the root of the trouble at Leopoldville, it would have been just as stupid as the statement he did make. If a man makes trouble. then he is punished, but there is no power in prison, or out, that can lawfully punish a man who has committed no offence. Yet this has been done to me, and I can get no redress. When I ask why, I was told, you'r in. I gave the order and your stopping there. I want to know why, what crime and for what reason. That is why, sir, I am writing to you hoping that you may be able to help me, also if something can be done about little Martin Bormann. In writing this letter I, L. Wells 6275, have conformed with the rules, therefore this letter should not he obstructed in any way. Date of posting 20–7–60, time about 2 o'clock. I am sir. Yours faithfully, L. Wells. I have had other letters from men who have been in solitary confinement, but I cannot reveal the names of the senders because those letters have been smuggled out of prison. The senders fiat very strongly on the matter and said I could use what methods I wished, but if their names were revealed sentences would he imposed on them for this admitted breach of the regulations.

The imposition of solitary confinement appears to depend on the ipsi dixit of one man, the prison governor. In the case of the two men in Wandsworth, he heard that these men were about to organise a mutiny and so this punishment was imposed on them, not for anything they had done or for their past record—lamentable as it undoubtedly is in each case—but simply because, acting on information received, which has never been disclosed, the governor decided that these men should be put on solitary confinement.

I quite agree that the governor should have this power, but only to be used as an emergency measure and subject to strict limitations. The Home Secretary said he asked the Prison Commission to investigate the practice of awarding solitary confinement, but I suggest that the Commission does not know what is going on, or does know and it is hushed up. In either case, it toes not consist of suitable people to conduct this inquiry.

If I am asked what proposals I would put forward, I would say, first, we ought to have an inquiry into the present unsatisfactory system, conducted not by the Prison Commissioners or anyone connected with the prison service. Only in that way will some sort of confidence be re-established. Secondly, I suggest that no sentence of solitary confinement should be carried out on a man without a charge being made in writing. That is not an unreasonable request. The evidence I have collected showing that men are put into solitary confinement without any specific charge being made is too comprehensive and comes from too many sources to be ignored. Therefore, I suggest that no sentence of solitary confinement should be imposed without a charge being put in writing. We should no longer have the continuation of a system under which a sentence can be imposed for an indefinite period on the basis of evidence which is never disclosed.

I accept that in cases of emergency the governor must have power to segregate dangerous prisoners, but this should be limited, and I suggest that no sentence of more than one, or at the outside two, weeks should be imposed without the prisoner being given the right of appearing before the visiting magistrate. In suitable cases that magistrate would have power to extend the sentence for a period of not more than another two weeks, so that neither the governor nor the visiting magistrate, acting singly or together, would have the power to keep a man in solitary confinement for more than a month.

In any event, the prisoner ought to have the right to appear before the visiting magistrate on every occasion on which it is thought necessary that the short period of solitary confinement to which I have referred should be extended. If the period of solitary confinement is to be longer than one month, the prisoner ought to have the right to a hearing before one or other of the Prison Commissioners, who would not have power to impose solitary confinement for a period, say, exceeding one more month.

The present system is so unsatisfactory and there is so much injustice that the time has come for the whole matter to be reviewed. I have said that the prison governor must have the power to impose these punishments in emergency, and I do not deny that he must exercise that right, but some automatic limit ought to be imposed on the length of sentence to solitary confinement. The prison governors cannot be regarded as gods in these matters. They are doing a difficult job at a salary which varies from about £1,350 a year to £2,250. That is less than the salary of a stipendiary magistrate, although in certain respects the latter has nothing like the powers possessed by prison governors. I mention the salaries to show the market value which the Home Office attaches to the job of prison governor and to show that at these salaries we cannot expect that the most brilliant men will be willing to take on this kind of job.

In these circumstances I think that a case has been made out for a radical review of the whole system. I hope that the Minister will tonight hold out a reasonable prospect of a thorough investigation into this problem, not by the Prison Commissioners, who are already too deeply involved in it, but by an independent outside tribunal whose findings will inspire confidence and will not leave these prisoners with a rankling sense of injustice, as a result of which they will become worse than they were before. We must try to redeem these men—even those with a long criminal record—if we can. Sometimes we fail, but we ought not to give them this deep-seated feeling of injustice against which, in the present circumstances, they are fully entitled to complain.

12.59 a.m.

Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)

I will intervene for only a moment or two at this late hour, but I cannot resist the opportunity because I used to be a prison visitor and I was a visitor to the very prison which the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) mentioned—Wandsworth. I assure the House that anyone who has any illusions about life before becoming a prison visitor will very quickly lose them afterwards, because the great majority of those in prison are hopeless people. In my opinion, there is nothing more foolish than to take as true a statement by a prisoner unless it is very well supported by evidence. I recognise the sense of humanity and the moderate way in which the hon. Member put his case and the sincere way in which he spoke, but I say that all the letters which he read out are completely worthless. It was not very good judgment to read out such letters which contained attacks on the prison governors and statements like "unscrupulous abuse of authority" made by prisoners and completely unsupported by evidence.

From what I know of prison governors—I have met a great many of them, not only at Wandsworth—I have not the slightest doubt that there is no truth whatever in those statements. Prison governors are a remarkably dedicated set of men. They are not just men in jobs. They have gone into those jobs and they would not have been allowed in those positions if they did not have a great sense of humanity and a desire to improve the lot of their fellow men in unfortunate positions. It is quite wrong to suggest that something has been done by individual governors of which there is no evidence.

I have not the slightest doubt that this man Gallagher knew precisely what he had done which he should not have done which caused the governor to submit a report saying that he was subversive and a bad element. The hon. Member mentioned that the man was known to have made an attack on somebody else and that he was a thoroughly bad character. To come to this House and suggest what is an irresponsible failure on the part of prison governors is not helpful.

The hon. Member touched on reforms which are necessary. I do not know whether there is a case for reviewing solitary confinement. If so, I do i not doubt that this will be done, as was indicated in the letter from the Prison Commissioners. Attacks of this sort, on the unsupported statements of prisoners who are known to be thoroughly bad characters, should not, however, be made by a responsible Member of this House.

1.2 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) took my advice and visited Wandsworth Prison. I am a little surprised that, having done so and having ascertained the records of these two men, both within and without the prison, as the hon. Member must have done, he tended at times to represent to the House that this was a case of two innocent prisoners being victimised by an oppressive governor. As the hon. Member must know, the facts of the case are entirely contrary to that.

I should say a word about the publicity aspect. There is no reason why, having gone through the usual channels, any prisoner should not write to his Member of Parliament and why that Member of Parliament should not then ventilate such cases in this House, as the hon. Member has done tonight. What prisoners cannot do—this results from a statement made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) as Home Secretary in 1949—is to communicate to a Member of Parliament a statement intended for the Press. There is, obviously, a difference between those two acts.

All this stems from an attempt to try to maintain good order and discipline in the interests of prisoners themselves, nobody is more desirous than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of liberalising the penal regime. The more one does that, the more it is necessary in the interests of prisoners themselves to ensure that that regime is not disturbed by a undesirable elements in the prison.

That is where Rule 36 of the Prison Rules, 1949, comes into operation. There is nothing new about this rule. I imagine that prior to 1949, there was an even more stringent rule. The effect of the rule h, quite simply, to authorise the governor to arrange for a prisoner to work in his cell and not in association with other prisoners. In practice, it goes rather further than that, because other forms of association in prison—association for meals and for recreational purposes—are within the discretion of the governor. Therefore, when a prisoner is segregated for work, almost invariably he is segregated for other purposes at the same time within the discretion of the governor, and that is the answer raised by the prisoner, Gallagher, to which the hon. Member referred.

I would emphasise that the sole purpose of this rule is to try to maintain good order and discipline in the interests of the prisoners themselves. Generally speaking, prisoners are segregated—I prefer to use that word: I will explain why in a moment—into two categories. Either they are prisoners who wish themselves to be segregated; and the majority come into that category: or else, on the other hand, they are prisoners who are very violent and who are troublemakers. The two cases instanced by the hon. Member come into the latter category.

By the maintenance of good order and discipline I mean something more than the smooth running of the prison, something more than mere protection of staff from assault, although I think both these things would be legitimate in themselves. The main purpose—this is the most important thing I can say to the hon. Member—is the protection of the great body of prisoners themselves who only want to serve their sentence quietly and earn the maximum amount of remission for good conduct. If bullies are allowed a free hand the life of those prisoners can become a sheer misery.

I visited Wormwood Scrubs last week and asked, without any previous notice, to visit two prisoners segregated under Rule 36. I found both of them had been told quite clearly why they had been segregated, as is the invariable rule of prison governors. In the case of the two prisoners mentioned by the hon. Member, it is quite clear that they had been told on the following day at least by the Governor that they had been segregated for subversive influences. What they did not accept, of course, was that their influence was subversive, and for that reason they argued to the hon. Member that they had not been told; but that must be a matter of opinion.

The next point I would make is that this Rule 36 has safeguards. The governor must obtain the consent of a member of the visiting committee or of an Assistant Commissioner. He did this in both cases. Thereafter the prisoner segregated has the right to apply—as they did in this case—to a member of the visiting committee. In both cases the visiting committee supported the action of the prison Governor. It is necessary for the action of the prison governor to be confirmed each month if the segregation under Rule 36 is to be continued. Therefore, there are safeguards to the power which is given to the prison governor in this respect.

The hon. Member rather suggested from the letters he had received—one was from a prisoner only too familiar to me, Kenneth Edward Holmes—that there are many prisoners in this situation. In fact that is not so. The figures I have got are very interesting. They show that in the middle of July there were some 22,000 male prisoners in the prisons of this country; 81 of those were under Rule 36, but 55 of those 81 were segregated for their own protection and at their own request. A further eight were segregated because of disposition to violence and a further 17 because of troublemaking activities. This is a small proportion of the prison population, and it was done in the interests of the other prisoners themselves.

I think the real point at issue here, and I think the hon. Member will agree on this, is that segregation obviously must continue. It is in the interests of prison discipline and penal reform, but perhaps the difference between segregation and solitary confinement is the real source of his concern, and it was that which my right hon. Friend had in mind when replying to the Question in the House the other day. Quite recently the Prison Commission have communicated to governors the desire that where possible some better arrangements should be made for the segregation of prisoners whereby the period of solitary confinement could perhaps be limited by confining prisoners under Rule 36 in some part of a landing in prison for themselves.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brixton that 23 hours out of 24 in a cell is not a desirable arrangement, but segregation is essential. The problem before my right hon. Friend in these days of overcrowded prisons is to find a method of effecting segregation without solitary confinement as it exists at present. In some prisons in the last few months it has been possible to move rather faster in this direction than it has been possible in others, and it is in this direction that my right hon. Friend is anxious to move.

I cannot give any very helpful indication that we can in every prison provide means of segregation where solitary confinement will not be necessary, because that depends upon the accommodation and on the type of prisoner. But it is my right hon. Friend's intention—and this was the purpose of his reply to a supplementary question—to pursue a policy not of eliminating Rule 36, which in my opinion is an absolutely essential rule, but of trying to improve conditions under which segregation is carried out. Therefore, in reply to the hon. Member for Brixton—and I was glad to be supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Lindsay) with his experience in this matter—I would say that I am absolutely certain that segregation is essential in the interest of prisoners and that there are adequate safeguards by appeal to visitors and the Assistant Commissioners. But I do not think that the hon. Member for Brixton disputes that in the two cases he has raised the record of the prisoners were sufficient to justify the action taken by the Governor. I explained this fairly fully in my letter of 15th July. Despite that, it is my right hon. Friend's intention to improve conditions in prisons and the conditions in which segregation is carried out.

Mr. Lipton

Is there any reason why a prisoner who is segregated or put in solitary confinement should not be given a chit setting out in writing the reasons for his being so confined? That would get rid of a great deal of the feeling of injustice which apparently exists today.

Mr. Vosper

I will look at that, but in the cases which the hon. Member mentioned neither prisoner denied that he was given the reason, but neither accepted the reason. If it had been put in writing I do not think that it would have been the solution in those cases.

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