HC Deb 30 March 1961 vol 637 cc1514-5
31. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the attempted break out of prisoners at Wandsworth Gaol on 19th March.

Mr. R. A. Butler

At about 10.50 a.m. an Sunday, 19th March, seven out of ten prisoners exercising together suddenly ran towards a temporary corrugated iron wall screening a new building in course of erection. Presumably they intended to force their way through the sheeting and get over the prison wall by climbing the builder's scaffolding. Prompt and determined action by the four supervising officers foiled this attempt and the prisoners were removed to the cells. One officer was bruised on the face and hand, but I am glad to say that he was able to return to duty yesterday.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of the fact that this was the second outbreak from Wandsworth within a few days, is the Home Secretary satisfied that there is nothing about the conditions at Wandsworth which requires any special investigation?

Mr. Butler

Naturally, I caused special investigations to be made on hearing this news. I think one must say that the prisons, and Wandsworth in particular, are overcrowded at present. But I am satisfied that on this occasion there wore four officers on duty with ten prisoners, which is a reasonable precaution, and that the officers dealt with the situation in a satisfactory way. But one must say that at present the prisons are overcrowded. I have caused special investigations to be made with the Prison Commissioners.

Mr. V. Yates

In view of his last remark about the overcrowding of prisons, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that three prisoners broke away from Birmingham yesterday where three men are sleeping in one cell in conditions worse than ever in history? Cannot he do something about that, because I am sure that it must contribute to the danger? Cannot something be done to alter the position and make conditions less overcrowded?

Mr. Butler

I am hopeful that the prison building programme, which involves no less than thirty-one establishments, and has been accelerated over the last three years, will eventually help to cope with the situation. At present we are at the peak of the trouble and the most unsatisfactory feature is the number of instances in which three people are sleeping in one cell. That cannot but be regarded with revulsion by the general population.

Miss Bacon

Apart from the building of more new prisons which is very necessary, can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will be in a position to make a statement about the intentions of the Government with regard to the report of the Streatfeild Committee, which would in effect mean that fewer people were serving such long periods on remand in prison?

Mr. Butler

We found the Report of the Streatfeild Committee very valuable and we should like to take action on it at an early date. But first we must finish the legislation which we have in hand, and then we can proceed with further reforms.