HC Deb 12 July 1965 vol 716 cc28-31

Mr. Sharples (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any statement to make as a result of his investigation into the escape of four prisoners from Her Majesty's Prison, Wandsworth, on 8th July.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)

I have received the report resulting from the investigation which I ordered, and have in the light of the report and the circumstances of the escape reviewed both from the short-term and long-term point of view the existing security precautions against escape.

I have not yet completed my review and it is continuing. Appropriate instructions to prison governors were issued over the weekend. In addition, for the long term, I have set in train inquiries to ascertain the feasibility of other improvements which I have in mind.

The report which I have received discloses no reason to think that any member of the prison service was guilty of misconduct or negligence, but does suggest one improvement in the existing security arrangements at Wandsworth Prison, which has been covered in the instructions issued.

I am considering, but have not yet decided, whether it would be desirable to appoint a special security adviser, in addition to those charged with this responsibility in the Prison Department of the Home Office, to inspect and keep constantly under review the working of security arrangements in Her Majesty's prisons.

Whilst I am not prepared to make public the report which I have received, I would think it right, in accordance with the precedent set by my predecessor in the case of the report of the escape from Winson Green, to show the report to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft).

Mr. Sharples

While thanking the Home Secretary for that reply, may I ask him to answer the specific question which I put to him on Friday: that is, whether the special security arrangements relating to certain prisoners connected with the mail train robbery which were ordered by his predecessor were in force at the time of this escape. Secondly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman undertake to make a further statement to the House when he has completed his inquiries, and certainly before the Summer Recess, bearing in mind the very real security considerations which are involved?

Sir F. Soskice

I have no reason to think that any of the precautions had been neglected.

My long-term review may take some time, as I have instituted certain inquiries to which I wish to have the answer. I will try to make a further statement to the House as soon as I can, but I cannot guarantee that my conclusions will have been reached before the House rises for the Recess.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that one of the difficulties in this kind of case is that the overwhelming majority of the people find themselves sympathising with the men who have escaped—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and that the reason for this is that a property-owning judiciary has imposed sentences eight times as long as it would impose for the most brutal crime against a child and that while this kind of sentencing goes on we cannot expect to have public sympathy behind it?

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

On a point of order. I think, Mr. Speaker, that I heard the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) refer to the judiciary concerned as a property-owning judiciary. If, as I took it to be, that was intended as a slur against the judiciary, should it not be withdrawn?

Mr. Speaker

The whole thing is wrong, because the hon. and learned Member would require a substantive Motion on which to criticise the sentences. I must ask him to withdraw the criticism now because the occasion is the wrong one on which to make the criticism.

Mr. Paget

Of course, I abide by your direction, Mr. Speaker. As the occasion is the wrong one, I withdraw what I have said on this occasion, without in any way prejudicing my position on any other occasion.

Mr. Turton

While the Home Secretary is making his inquiries, will he take steps to see that all vehicles are prevented from being parked outside all prisons?

Sir F. Soskice

I cannot add to the statement which I have made that appropriate instructions have been issued.

Dr. David Kerr

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that his testimony to the effect that the prison officers were in no way improperly involved in this escapade will be warmly received in the constituency and throughout the prison service? Will he note that there is growing and understandable concern among people living around Wandsworth Prison at a repetition of this sort of escape, with the evident growth of hazard to the life and safety of the people living in the area?

Sir F. Soskice

Of course, I will take note of that. I am very glad to be able to say what I have been able to say with regard to the prison service.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the Home Secretary aware that both in this escape and in the previous escape by a train robber, a high degree of sophistication in the organisation of the escape from outside is shown, and that whatever precautions are taken inside the prison this does not remove the need for much more thorough intelligence work concerning prisoners' outside contacts?

Sir F. Soskice

That is very largely the problem. I most certainly have in mind what the hon. Member has put to me.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that so long as the missing £2 million, the proceeds of the robbery, are not located, there will be ample money and plenty of men available to organise further escapes? Will he, therefore, concentrate upon making additional efforts to trace this money at the earliest possible moment?

Sir F. Soskice

The police are making the utmost endeavours to locate this money.

Mr. Braine

Bearing in mind that timing was of the essence in this escape operation, as it is in every escape operation, can the Home Secretary say whether the exercise time of long-term and dangerous prisoners is varied, whether it was varied on this occasion and, if not, why not?

Sir F. Soskice

Obviously, those are matters to which I have been having regard. The hon. Member will, I know, agree with me when I say that it would not be in the public interest to answer his question in any detail.