HC Deb 04 April 1963 vol 675 cc615-7
22. Commander Courtney

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the Dartmoor branch of the Prison Officers' Association regarding the substitution of psychiatric treatment for birching in the case of recent attacks on prison officers; and what replies he has sent.

34. Sir T. Moore

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he will take in response to the representations made by the Prison Officers' Association about his refusal to allow the prisoners who had attacked prison officers at Dartmoor to receive the sentence ordered by the visiting magistrates.

Mr. Brooke

I have received no such representations.

Commander Courtney

May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention a very interesting letter in The Times from a former prison commissioner which dealt with the problems of command as opposed to those of administration in H.M. Prisons? Can my right hon. Friend say whether the governor of this prison was wholeheartedly in support of his action in this matter?

Mr. Brooke

I read that letter with great interest. I do not propose to answer questions about whether my officers are or are not wholeheartedly in support of what I have decided. I have no doubt whatever about the rightness of my decision.

Sir T. Moore

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us, including the prison officers, find it very difficult to understand his action on this occasion? Is it his policy to withhold from prison officers this last protection against the brutal thugs whom they are supposed to try to control? Psychiatry does not take every place in our life.

Mr. Brooke

I think that there may be a misapprehension that psychiatric treatment is being used as an alternative to corporal punishment. My decision was that these two men should be the subject of psychiatric examination because there were certain facts known to me that seemed unquestionably to need further investigation. I think that I am right in saying that of the last 24 recommendations for corporal punishment in such cases, 15 have been confirmed. There is therefore no question of each of these recommendations not being considered strictly on its merits.

Miss Bacon

Is the Home Secretary aware that some of us feel that his action on this occasion was his most courageous since he has been Home Secretary?

Sir T. Moore

Fear the Greeks when they bring gifts.

Sir H. Studholme

Although I agree that this is not nearly such a simple question as it may at first sight appear, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend would agree that the best way of dealing with these dangerous criminals is to let them know that if they attack prison officers they will be sent for a long time to some place where they will be segregated under the most rigorous and strict discipline?

Mr. Brooke

I think that prisoners who are in full command of their faculties do know that very serious consequences may ensue if they attack prison officers.

Mr. K. Robinson

Despite the pressure from his hon. Friends, will the right hon. Gentleman continue to rely on responsible medical opinion in dealing with cases of prisoners who are psychiatrically ill?

Mr. Brooke

I shall take into account all the evidence available to me, and I shall then reach my own decision without fear.

23. Sir H. Studholme

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reply he is sending to the petition he has received from wives of Dartmoor prison officers, asking that a stronger line of action be taken against prisoners found guilty of assault on prison officers; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke

I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of the reply which has been sent to the petition on my instructions.

Sir H. Studholme

In view of the interest taken in the matter by a number of constituents, I beg to give notice that I shall attempt to raise the question on the Adjournment.

Following is the reply:

Home Office, Whitehall, S.W.1.

3rd April, 1963.

DEAR MADAM, The Home Secretary has now given careful consideration to the petition on behalf of the wives of Dartmoor prison officers which was enclosed with your letter of 23rd March. He sympathises entirely with the feelings of the wives of prison officers who are exposed to the danger of assaults by prisoners, but he cannot accept the criticism of his actions which the petition implies. The facts are that out of 24 awards of corporal punishment made by boards of visitors and visiting committees since the beginning of 1960, 15 have been confirmed. It would not be right for the Home Secretary to give an undertaking, as the petition requests, that all future awards will be confirmed, since it is his duty to consider each case on its merits.

Yours faithfully,

Signed: A. H. TURNEY,

Private Secretary.

Mrs. D. Goodier.