HC Deb 04 December 1962 vol 668 cc1269-88

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

9.31 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

We have just been discussing a matter of considerable interest to many people in this country. I propose to discuss a question about one single man—and not a very important man—a constituent of mine, who is now in prison. I know that the House will always agree that the case of one man has as much right to be discussed as the case of a whole industry.

This matter begins with a letter I received,written on 14th March from the father of this man. This was the request I received: Could you please give me some information. You see I have a son in Camp Hill Prison, Newport, Isle of Wight. He wrote and asked me if I would send him a book on laws. So I bought a book called Criminal Laws and sent it to him. Now he's wrote back and told me that he's not allowed to have it. Could you please write back and tell me why this is, as it may improve him when he comes out. That seemed a perfectly reasonable request.

I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and asked why it could not be met. On 6th April I received a letter which said: In certain circumstances, such as to assist the prisoner in the preparation of an appeal, prisoners are allowed to purchase legal books or have them sent in by relatives or friends, but such books are issued for a limited period and for a specific purpose. As Daffon could give no convincing explanation as to why he wanted this book, the Governor refused his request. I can see no reason to interfere with his decision. This seemed a somewhat arbitrary line to take and I pursued the matter further. I wrote again and received another letter on 27th April. It said: This is essentially a matter in which the Governor, acting as the Commissioners' agent must be allowed to exercise discretion and one of the points he has to consider is whether the circulation in the prison of the book in question is likely to endanger good order and discipline. I think that that is a ridiculous answer. Mr. Daffon, senior, also thought so and he posted the book to his son in prison at a later date. I am not absolutely certain about the dates but it may be that the Under-Secretary knows them exactly. The man in prison was allowed to see the book for one week. In other words, the Governor completely changed his mind. He did not mind it being seen for a week and there was no question then of good order and discipline. So far as I know, there was no riot in the prison or anything that should not happen there. The Governor changed his mind but the position in the prison remained as it was before.

Since then the book, apparently, has been held by the Governor. That seems an extraordinary act. The Governor, who is charged with keeping good order and discipline, has held this book, which is not his property but the property of Mr. Daffon, senior. It is probably a book of some value. Why should this be so? I should like an explanation why this book is held by the Governor and not allowed to be given back to the owner, Mr. Daffon, senior.

On what principle does the Governor or the Home Secretary work in this matter? What kinds of books are allowed to prisoners? Would this man have been allowed to have Lady Chatterley's Lover? Would he have been allowed to have Crime and Punishment, which after all deals with a subject with which he is directly concerned? Would he have been allowed to read Macbeth, which is a story of a very sensational murder. Would that book be withheld? Would he be allowed no book? Would he be allowed books of light literature or learned books? What books may he have? There seems to be nothing to show any system on which the Governor exercised his discretion. It is important that we should know about this. On 8th November, the Under-Secretary said: A request from a prisoner for a text book of criminal law for the purpose of serious study would not usually be refused, but the Governor was not satisfied that this was the object of his request."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 1137.] How would it be known that it was for serious study? What exactly is serious study? How serious has it to be?

We may be told that the only reason this man wanted this book was in order to evade the law. That may be so; I do not know. I am not pretending that this man is a Chessman, trying to improve himself until he can write books on law. I should like to know if the Home Office thinks that he would evade the law by having this book. If so it seems strange to take so much trouble to keep it from him when so many people, by employing taxation experts and so on, are able to evade the law constantly when they are out of prison. It may be that this man was doing no more than they are doing in discovering methods of evading the law.

I should have thought that it would be better that he should have the book and learn about the law. It may be that the Under-Secretary takes the view that it is better that criminals should be kept ignorant of the law. "Keep them stupid, keep them good" may be his principle, I do not know. To me, it is not a good principle on which to work. I see no reason why this man should not have the book.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to give an explanation, because it seems to me that the action of the Governor, which the hon. and learned Gentleman has specifically supported in letter and in answer to a Question, is high-handed, illegal, dictatorial and stupid. I cannot see why the hon. and learned Gentleman should support such action.

9.38 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Reading)

I have listened to the case put forward by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale). I apologise to the right hon. Member for missing the first few moments of his speech, but, as he will realise, he was called a little earlier than is normal on the Adjournment. I had expected to be listening to him about ten o'clock.

It seems to me that in this case there is a considerable amount of depth and material and towards this end I should like to make one or two remarks. It seems imperative that in prisons or borstals books should be readily available. It is necessary to attempt to ensure that people who are detained by Her Majesty should have the opportunity to better themselves during their detention.

Obviously, problems will arise and there must be some control. I wish to refer particularly to a borstal in my constituency of Reading, where there are a large number of boys mainly at the punishment end of their borstal training. I should like some assurances from my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary concerning their freedom to follow further studies during their detention at Reading.

Is whatever request that these boys may make for study and learning being met? Is it possible to supply the necessary facilities and background for the tuition which it is imperative that people in a bortsal should be able to obtain? These men are the younger element of the population and they should, if possible, be given and encouraged to take opportunities of reading and study in preparation for something useful that they can do both for themselves and for the community when their detention or training is finished.

I realise that my hon. and learned Friend might need notice, but I wonder whether he can give me details of the amount of training that takes place not only at Reading, but in other prisons and borstals. It is important that people should know about this and for us to be assured that my hon. and learned Friend does everything in his power to ensure that the need for the facilities which I have outlined is met.

The anxiety which may be felt in the case referred to by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich may create uneasiness, perhaps unnecessarily, in people's minds that everything is not quite as one might like it to be. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend can give us assurances about this.

Does my hon. and learned Friend have in his service trained librarians or other personnel who consider the problems which this whole question raises? The governor of any institution might have a considerable problem which is out of his depth in dealing with applications both for training and for books to extend the learning process. It is essential that he should have all possible advice available to him. I know that local authorities would be willing to assist if my hon. and learned Friend felt that he did not have all the personnel and assistance that he might require or that the governors of prisons or borstals might wish.

A considerable amount might easily be done in co-operation between governors and persons who have to control prisoners or boys at borstals and the local education structure in the community in which these institutions are situated. The days have passed when there is any bad feeling about the desire of local authorities to co-operate with a prison or a borstal. I should like my hon. Friend's comments on this. There is a possibility of improving the training and the facilities available. It is perhaps a new suggestion that local authority co-operation should be used to a greater extent, not only in the supply of books, but in the provision of courses and arranging the study which is allowed during a person's training at a prison or at a borstal. I underline that my particular interest is towards the young offender, the boy at a borstal, where the possibility of being able to use some corrective influence is of the greatest importance.

Local authorities would be very happy to give this assistance. It would not cost much. I speak for my own authority. Any help that it could give, although it might be for people only temporarily in the borough, in reforming or assisting in the reform of a person at a prison or borstal would be not only gladly but happily given.

How much of this is being done? Can my hon. Friend tell me whether this has gone as far as we would like it to go? What schemes have been operating? How successful have they been? The background is not only the difficulties which occasionally arise. It surely must be the overall structure becoming much more important and poignant than one specific case where there appears to be a problem.

I am concerned that my hon. Friend may not be able to get the right people to give advice in the structure of the present system. Are there adequate supplies of all the right types of books? Are these readily available? What other instances of difficulty is my hon. Friend aware of? What other instances giving rise to concern has he come across within the last two years? In the running of any scheme like this there must be things which are not always quite as smooth and clear as we would like them to be. I should like my hon. Friend to deal with the background of this and the co-operation which local authorities give him.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale)) very much deserves every congratulation, both for the diligence with which he has pursued this case and for deciding to raise it on the Floor of the House.

My right hon. Friend said that he was raising the case of one man. His first motive is to rectify the injustice which is done to one man, if injustice has been done, but, as he himself revealed, and as has been underlined by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery), much wider issues are raised. What may be said by the Minister tonight and what may be decided in the future may affect a large number of people in our prisons during the years to come. Therefore, this is an extremely important matter.

The hon. Member for Reading represents in the House one of the most famous prisons in the whole country. I should like to imagine what would have been written by the most famous prisoner who was ever in that gaol if he had heard of the case which my right hon. Friend has recited.

The Minister and the Government must understand that they have a very strong onus on them to prove the case. The denial of a book to a man seems such an elementary offence that there must be an extremely powerful case to be presented for making it excusable in any sense at all, even if it can be excusable, which I have great reason to doubt.

I shall not spend much time on the details of this case, which my right hon. Friend has already covered. He says that books are allowed for serious study. He said that after one week this prisoner was denied the right to read, An Introduction to Criminal Law. I cannot imagine why anybody would want to read An Introduction to Criminal Lawunless it is for serious study. I do not imagine that anybody has ever read An Introduction to Criminal Law by Cross and Jones for light salacious reading.

I should have thought that, particularly when the book is allowed to a prisoner for a week—the hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. If the man was not allowed the book at all, the argument would be on a different footing. There seems to be a conflict of evidence there, but the main argument stands even if the Under-Secretary is able to say that this seditious book was denied to the prisoner every time he asked for the right to read it.

What possible harm can it do for a prisoner to read a book on criminal law? If another man took the example of Alfred Hinds in that respect, would it do any harm? Prisoners have as good reasons, or even better reasons, for reading a book like that as have other people. We all know that people have been put in prison for offences they have not committed. I think that it happens extremely infrequently but, even so, prisoners should have a special right of access to law books. They should have special facilities for getting at them. The more they read about the law, the better.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer, and most lawyers would claim that the more people read about the law the more they respect it—though some might differ from that view. Therefore, lawyers should be as eager as anyone to see that as many people as possible in Her Majesty's gaols should have access to law books. It is inconceivable that a man in gaol should be denied the right to read An Introduction to Criminal Law. When the Under-Secretary replied to my right hon. Friend on 8th November last, he said: I think that we have to leave discretion to the Governor in this matter … since, under the rules as they stand, there is no right to insist upon any particular book."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 1137.] The rules as they stand may say that, but the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Reading about seeking the cooperation of local authorities are good suggestions, and should he examined by the Government. But if the rules are not changed, or if they can be interpreted as they seem to have been done in this instance, enlarged facilities will not make any difference. Therefore, this case rests on the whole question of the rules as they stand.

The hon. Member for Reading asked whether it was right that the Governor should have the decision. Prison governors have extremely awkward tasks that no one envies them. I am sure that most of them, probably all of them, act from a great sense of duty. I do not make any charges against them, but whether they are the best censors of the books people should read is another matter. I do not think that anybody should censor them, although there may be the question of how many books are available.

The Government should surely be eager to get prisoners to read as much as possible. Did reading a book ever do a man any harm? The whole onus is on the Government to suggest that the rules should be sustained at all. Or do some governors think that books might put unfortunate ideas into people's heads? Why should any person be denied the right to read a book? What other better prison occupation could they have? The hon. and learned Gentleman must very fully explain this very extraordinary situation.

Anyone looking through the country's history will see that prisons have been some of the best universities in the land. Some of the most famous of our writers learned to write in prison. Many people who have been sent to gaol, not just for political offences but for other offences, have made very good profit of their time there, and were able to do so only because they had access to the books. What would have been said if John Bunyan had been refused the right to read books—or Leigh Hunt, when sent to gaol by a Government even more deplorable than this one? But Leigh Hunt was allowed books.

The more I think of a prisoner being denied this right, the more furious it makes me feel, and the Under-Secretary should share that fury. I hope that his reply will show that he has inquired into the case much more closely than he had apparently done on 8th November, and that he is so alarmed at what occurred that he is examining the rules to see how they apply, not only in this prison but in the other prisons, and will take into account the proposals made by the hon. Member for Reading and by my right hon. Friend.

Before the Under-Secretary replies, I hope that he will think over the quotation I am about to read, and if he gives us an inadequate answer tonight I hope that it will keep him awake for many nights in future. The quotation is: Without books God is silent, justice dormant, natural science at a stand, philosophy lame, letters dumb, and all things involved in Cimmerian darkness. Is it Cimmerian darkness that Her Majesty's Government wish to sustain in Her Majesty's prisons?

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

There is another aspect of this case which has not yet been raised and about which I am disturbed. I do not know how long this Governor has been at this prison, but I have had to take up with the Home Secretary the case of a prisoner who was refused paper and pencil. It has been said that a man may require a book to prepare his defence and this man may have wanted to prepare an appeal. It ought to be made clear that when an appeal is first put forward, the sentence automatically stops and then, if the appeal is rejected, the period taken in considering the appeal is tagged on to the end of the sentence. A prisoner loses time in that way if his appeal is turned down. My constituent had to write to me about being refused paper and pencil.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Rees.]

Mr. Howell

Thi s incident has occurred in the same prison. The Home Secretary immediately gave instructions that the prisoner concerned was to have the facilities which he wanted.

It may be that there are barrack-room lawyers in prison—everybody knows what I mean by a barrack-room lawyer—and perhaps these are more aptly called prison lawyers. This prisoner could quote Sections of Acts in connection with which he wanted me to approach the Home Secretary to claim certain rights which it appeared to him that he was entitled to receive. He must have learned that from somebody somewhere in the prison, or there must be a library to which he has access. However, if there were not a library, presumably, as in this case, the prisoner would feel that he did not have the same facilities for an appeal, or that justice was not being done.

My constituent wrote to his father asking for a law book to be sent to him. Has this Governor suddenly stopped censoring prisoners' letters? The letters which have come from the prison have been censored by a prison officer, and if it was intended that my constituent should not have the book for which he had asked his father, the prison officer concerned should have told him that he was not entitled to have it and that if his father sent it, it would be confiscated. If moral justice was to be seen to be done, that is what should have happened. The Governor or the senior prison officer responsible for censoring letters ought to have prevented this problem in the first place, unless it is that he has a perverted sense of humour and allowed the prisoner to write for a law book which he was not to be allowed to have. I do not know what the cost of his book was, but it was a shameful thing that the father of a prisoner should have been allowed to buy it when the prisoner was not to be allowed to read it. I am bound to accept that all this was done in good faith.

If it is true, as I believe it is—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell me if I am wrong—that there is a prison library, all the man had to do was to say to the Governor, "I think that I have the right to appeal and I want to appeal and to do so I want the facility of this book from the library". I want to know whether when a man contemplates an appeal his sentence stops from that moment or from the moment when he makes his appeal. If my constituent had been a barrack-room lawyer and had known the ropes, he would probably have been able to get the book from the prison library without putting his father to any expense.

It is not for us to judge the form of literature or other reading matter which people may choose. I get a lot of pleasure from reading Erskine May, but other people might find it dull. Not everybody likes literature. It was a long time before I could understand why people should want to read ancient history, but one day, when I had nothing else to read, I found it interesting to compare ancient times with modern.

If the censoring officer and the Governor had no right to delete the man's request from his letter, would not it have been better to have told the prisoner, "It is no good asking for this book. It will not be permitted when it comes"? If they had the right to do that, why did they fail so miserably to exercise it?

10.5 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

This is an important matter of principle, and the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dug-dale) is quite right to raise it. I will come on to the specific case as soon as I can, but I think that I should first say a word or two in response to the more general questions about the facilities which prisoners have both for private reading and for further education, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).

The further education of prisoners is treated as an essential part of their training, and the visiting assistant commissioner has a special responsibility for education and welfare. He works in close co-operation with the Ministry of Education whose inspectors regularly inspect and advise on the educational work at prisons and borstals. The local education authority appoints full-time or part-time tutors to organise the work in all but the smaller establishments.

The work of professional teachers is often supplemented by voluntary tutors or by qualified members of the staff, and the object of all this of course is to counteract mental stagnation, to provide more valuable matter for thought and conversation than crime, criminal associations, and other similar conversations, and, in the words of the Gladstone Committee To awaken the higher susceptibilities of prisoners", or, in the words of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, to lighten them from Cimmerian gloom.

Particular emphasis is, therefore, laid on discussion groups and on such subjects as music, painting, modelling, drama and literature, and special attention is paid to the treatment of illiteracy because, as I think most hon. Members know, the remarkable change in character that comes over an illiterate once he ceases to be analphabetic is quite a remarkable work of redemption.

At the opposite end of the scale facilities are provided for prisoners of higher educational attainments to study for the General Certificate of Education, or even for Matriculation and degree examinations held by the University of London. Special technical classes are held for those taking vocational training courses who wish to prepare for the City and Guilds or other external examination, and a wide range of correspondence courses is available. All prisoners undertaking courses of study, whether in classes or privately, are provided with notebooks which may be taken out on discharge—this is a relatively modern concession, for obvious reasons—if properly used for the approved purpose.

As for libraries, in most prisons the county, city, or borough library has now assumed responsibility for the library which it treats as one of its branch libraries receiving a grant from public funds for the help which they generously afford. The stock of books is chanced at regular intervals, and if the prisoner needs technical books these are provided on request. This development has greatly improved reading facilities, and prisoners are encouraged from the beginning of their sentence to make full use of these facilities. In all establishments prisoners now have direct access to the library shelves to change their books. There is a similar arrangement regarding periodicals, though for security reasons these periodicals must come direct from the publishers or from a bookseller.

Governors are required to provide at public expense for the benefit of all prisoners who are entitled to association a minimum of three different newspapers daily, and I would be happy to reassure the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that although the choice of newspapers provided at public expense is within the discretion of governors they are obliged to have regard, as far as possible, to the wishes of the majority of prisoners in making the choice. But there is no ban on the provision of any newspaper or periodical. If the prisoner wishes to have one, other than those publicly provided he may do so, as a personal issue, at his own expense.

I now come to this case. Since the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the word "illegal" I want to make it clear at the outset, by quotations from the prison rules, that whatever hon. Members may think about its desirability there is nothing whatever illegal in what the Government did in this case.

Mr. Dugdale

I did not mean that it was illegal not to allow the man to have the book, but it seems to me to be peculiar, to say the least, to keep the book, which belonged to the prisoner's father.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

No request has been received from the prisoner's parents for the return of the book. If such a request were made the book would be returned, but they have not asked for its return.

The rules are Statutory Instruments, which are added to from time to time. They are laid, and the last complete set was laid in 1949. I do not think that at that time any objection was taken to the rules, which I shall now read out. The rules are definitive. Rule 6 says: The purpose of training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to establish in them the will to lead a good and useful life on discharge and to fit them to do so. This is the guiding light for governors in that part of their duties which relates to the training and treatment of prisoners.

Rule 29 says: The Rules in this section shall be applied due allowance being made for the difference in character and response to discipline of different types of prisoner in accordance with the following principles:—

  1. (i) discipline and order shall be maintained with firmness but with no more restriction than is required for safe custody and well ordered community life;
  2. (ii) in the control of prisoners officers shall seek to influence them through their own example and leadership and to enlist their willing co-operation;
  3. (iii) at all times the treatment of prisoners shall be such as to encourage their self-respect and a sense of personal responsibility."
It is, therefore, against a general background of discipline and control that Rule 69, which is of broad application in this case, is to be considered. That rule reads: Prisoners may receive books or periodicals from outside the prison under such conditions as the Commissioners determine. That rule is in the section relating to education and libraries, to which I have referred.

In this case, from the inquiries that I have made, including an inquiry from the Governor, at no time was this prisoner allowed this book—not for a week, or at all.

Mr. Dugdale

That is contrary to the information given to me by the prisoner, but if the Governor says so—

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

That is the information that we have—at no time was this book allowed into the prison. I am not quite sure which way that cuts, but that is the information we have from the official sources.

This was a prisoner serving a sentence of three years' corrective training—for office breaking and larceny and assault on a police officer—at Camp Hill Prison, in the Isle of Wight. There was sent to him, in December, 1961, by his parents, this book, entitled An Introduction to Criminal Law, by Cross and Jones. The introduction to the book says: This book is primarily concerned with criminal law from the point of view of lawyers in general and the law student in particular. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Charles A. Howell), I am fairly sure that the time for appeal in the case of this prisoner had expired a long time before he asked for the book. There was, therefore, no question of its being used for the purpose of an appeal.

As for the suggestion that he ought to have been stopped at an earlier stage by the censor, I am told that the censoring officer would not have taken it upon himself to censor a request for a certain book, because that would be going beyond his functions. The censoring is not done by the Governor. If he did that, he would do nothing else.

The prisoner had been found by educational tests to be below average intelligence and with very low educational attainments. It was evident that he would have great difficulty in understanding the book, and his criminal record and behaviour in prison made it sufficiently clear to the Governor, in whose discretion this matter is placed, that his interest in crime could hardly have been described as a healthy one.

In passing, I might say that there have been many cases, and I hope to quote some, where books on crime and books of this sort were allowed to prisoners either for the purpose of their own case or for the purposes of general study if they were apparently of a sufficiently intellectual calibre to be able to reach that stage. It was natural, therefore, for the Governor in this case to inquire into the reasons why the prisoner wished to have this book.

It is wrong to say, as I think it was suggested but not pressed by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich, that there is any veto on books on criminal law. For example, in 1957 a preventive detention prisoner at Northallerton Prison asked for permission to buy the latest edition of Prisons and Borstals. He wished to study various reforms outlined in the book as it was his intention to submit various proposals to the Home Secretary following his discharge. Again, a preventive detention prisoner in Parkhurst asked for a copy of the Criminal Justice Bill, now the Criminal Justice Act, 1961, and the Report of the Advisory Council on Corporal Punishment. These were allowed. In 1958 a prisoner in Holloway asked for Archbold's Pleadings and a book on manic depressive psychosis. This was allowed because the prisoner genuinely required both for prosecuting her appeal. A prisoner in Leeds a little earlier applied for two books, Outline of Criminal Lawand a Government Report on sexual cases. This request was allowed because it related directly to his own conviction and sentence.

The right hon. Member for West Bromwich mentioned Lady Chatterley's Lover and was quite right in saying that the problem of supplying this book has arisen in quite an acute form. Not unexpectedly, the problem arose in 1960 as to whether it should be allowed in its unexpurgated form into prisons and borstals. The decision was made that it could be allowed to those over 21 but not to borstallers and young prisoners under 21. Again, what is apparently a perfectly harmless work, as one would have thought—Crockford's Clerical Directory—was forbidden to a prisoner whose method of earning his living was to pose as a clergyman and persuade people to part with their money to him. It was forbidden on the ground that it was suspected, although it was only an assumption,that it might provide him with a lot of information which he could subsequently use.

Finally, a prisoner in this very prison recently wanted a book on civil law which he named and which was not available in the prison library. The Governor asked the chairman of the board of visitors, who was a solicitor, if he could help him. The chairman managed to obtain the book and he loaned it to the prisoner. Therefore, it is not right to say that there is anything like a large or extensive veto. The number of occasions on which books are refused is very small indeed. If the prisoner had been considering or preparing an appeal or defending himself in other criminal proceedings outstanding against him, no objection could have been taken.

Mr. Dugdale

What would have happened if the prisoner had given a reason similar to that given by the other prisoner who wanted to prepare a treatise on borstals? If this prisoner had given some such reason, quite apart from any question of appeal, would that have been enough?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

If the reason seemed a reasonable reason—the Governor has a wise and human discretion in these matters—it would probably have been accepted; but the Governor has to take into account all the circumstances, including the mental capacity of the person making the request.

Mr. M. Foot

The hon. and learned Gentleman is, conceivably, proving that the granting of the book to this prisoner would not have done him any good. Can he say what conceivable harm it could have done to the prisoner?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I have not seen the prisoner and I do not know the circumstances in the prison. It is not for me to speculate on that. If the prisoner had given some indication since his sentence began, and before this question arose, that he was genuinely interested in study, either the study of the law or of subjects connected with it, or even that he was keen to improve his general education—

Mr. Foot

We have all got to start some time.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

—he would have been allowed the book.

He was given the opportunity to be more forthcoming about his reasons, but he did not take it. From his knowledge of the prisoner, the Governor formed the conclusion that study was not the real reason why he wanted the book. He therefore told the prisoner that he was not prepared to allow him to have it, but that, if he was dissatisfied with that decision, he could apply to the Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, who was visiting the prison the next day. This gave the prisoner the opportunity to explain to the Assistant Commissioner anything which he did not wish to tell the Governor. Such circumstances do sometimes arise.

The prisoner had a second opportunity to explain why he wanted the book. The Assistant Commissioner, if he had disagreed with the Governor's refusal, could have allowed the prisoner's request, for the Assistant Commissioner, among his other duties, has a special responsibility in matters relating to educational facilities for prisoners in the prisons which he visits. The prisoner gave no reasons to the Assistant Commissioner but simply asked to petition the Secretary of State. He was pressed to give a reason, but he gave none, asking merely that he might petition my right hon. Friend. In his petition he gave as his reason for wanting the book that, if he could get an idea about the rules by which we live, he would be able to keep from breaking the rules.

My. Dugdale

Very sensible.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

As the prisoner's previous history consisted of larceny, store breaking, office breaking, with an occasional assault on the police, the suggestion that he habitually broke the law through ignorance was patently absurd. Since it was clear that a study of this book would be of no assistance in the training of this prisoner to be a law-hiding citizen and that his real motive for wishing to read it was, if I may put it so, collateral and not likely to be conducive to the corrective training which was the sentence imposed upon him, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State saw no reason to interfere with the Governor's decision.

As I have said, there is no question of confiscating the book. If the prisoner's parents want it, it will be returned to them carriage paid, but no request has been made, since the right hon. Gentleman raised the matter, for the book to be returned, and, as far as I know—I am fairly sure of this—it remains at the prison.

Mr. M. Foot

Instead of all this paraphernalia which the hon. and learned Gentleman is giving us, would it not be much simpler for the Home Office to issue an instruction to all governors that the reading of books never did any harm and that, therefore, the Home Office hopes that governors will always, where they possibly can, allow facilities for reading them? It would not do any harm. All this great bureaucratic machinery, with appeals, to make sure that a book does not get into someone's hands where it might do harm is quite extraordinary. The hon. and learned Gentleman has not adduced one reason to show why this man might have suffered from reading the book.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I canot assent to the proposition that no book of any sort ever does any harm to any prisoner. That may be the hon. Gentleman's view, but it was not the view when these Rules were passed in 1949.

Mr. Foot

Then the rules are wrong.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

The House of Commons of which the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Member passed them quite happily in 1949. So far as I know, no dissent was made at that time. They work extremely well. Apart from the specific case of Crockford's Directory, there are other cases—they are very few —where it is thought that it would do the prison and the prisoner more harm than good, and I have sufficient confidence in the corps of prison governors to leave the matter in their hands. There is an appeal to the assistant commissioner. There are the library facilities of which I have spoken.

In my view, we cannot lay down the sort of absolute principle, which the hon. Gentleman asserts, that the governor must grant these requests. There are cases in which to do so would prejudice the good working of the rulings laid down in Rule 6 and Rule 29. Due allowance has to be made for the difference in character and response to discipline of a hundred different types of prisoners. and neither the hon. Gentleman nor I but only the governor can have knowledge of that.

Mr. Dugdale

The hon. and learned Gentleman has read all about this case. He must know what the Governor's reasons were for thinking that this book would do harm to this prisoner. Or is he simply saying, "The governor, right or wrong", and nothing else matters?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

No, I am not saying "The governor, right or wrong" at all. The whole point of the procedure of appeal shows that it is understood that in these matters, as in others, it is human to err. However, within the society of a particularly tough prison such as this, where corrective training is going on—it is not like the borstals referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading—I cannot speculate about what the effect of this book might have been on the prison, let alone on the prisoner. All I say is that the Governor has been given a discretion. Rarely is it exercised against any book that a prisoner wants.

I remember in Dartmoor during the summer, when I went over the place, the amazing facilities in the library there, not only for getting books, but for instruction and advice, both from the staff and from a lot of people who voluntarily gave their time in the educational field to the staff in all the different forms of intellectual and group activities that were going on, and the range of books that were available. The access to the shelves for the purpose of browsing in the library was evidently immensely appreciated, particularly in a long-term prison like that.

I think it wrong to suggest that this is anything but, as I said in my Answer to the Question, an exceptional case. I must insist that the Governor retains discretion about what literature he allows in. For obvious reasons, he frequently cannot make his reasons public, because the discipline in a prison is often a matter of great security. We who defend him have therefore, in many ways, to defend him with one arm tied behind our backs.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman and all those who are rightly concerned to see that our prisoners are not denied any reasonable facilities for their literature or their education—

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Surely, this book is not classed as literature.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

The hon. Member's definition of literature may be a little different from mine. From the introductory passage which I have read to the House, it seems a rather stodgy form of literature. It is from the point of view of lawyers in general and the law student in particular. To describe it as literature—I hope that I am not slandering—might be thought to be giving Mr. Cross and Mr. Jones an accolade which I do not know whether they deserve. I was using the word "literature" in a compendious form. I stick to that, because I very much agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that this is a light to lighten the darkness of those who are necessarily kept in confinement. I assure the hon. Member and his right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich that it is the policy of the Prison Commissioners and of my right hon. Friend to keep that light burning and to increase its power, because only in that way can these people be redeemed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.