HC Deb 09 March 1967 vol 742 cc1731-2
8. 8. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on conditions in Durham Prison.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Five prisoners have been punished by the visiting committee on charges arising from the disturbance in E wing of Durham prison last month. The committee has also decided to inquire into allegations that have been made about the treatment of prisoners. I welcome this in the interest of the staff, who have an exceptionally difficult task, as well as that of the prisoners, and shall carefully consider its findings. The situation in the prison has returned to normal, but I shall watch it closely, as I am concerned about the problem of avoiding causes for tension without at the same time compromising security.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but are not the disturbances caused by conditions in maximum security wings which Lord Mountbatten has described as intolerable, save as a stop-gap, in a country with a record of civilised behaviour? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will do all he can to accelerate the prison building programme?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, indeed, I am not sure whether Lord Mountbatten used exactly the words that the hon. Gentleman used, but he expressed sentiments broadly in accord with them. I agree that these conditions can be no more than a stop-gap. But it is difficult to get rid of the maximum security wings until we have the maximum security prison. Lord Mountbatten thought that the summer of 1969 was the earliest date for that. In the meantime, I am trying to do what is possible, without compromising security, to make conditions rather more tolerable in the very difficult circumstances of the maximum security wings.

Mr. Lipton

Has not the time come for a completely independent outside inquiry into conditions at Durham, conducted by people in no way connected with the prison service? Is my right hon. Friend aware that conditions seem to have worsened considerably since the maximum security wing was established?

Mr. Jenkins

I think that everyone recognises that conditions are bound to be difficult in the maximum security wing, although there is a history of difficult conditions at Durham. The visiting committee is an independent body in the sense that the members are in no way my servants or directly associated with the Prison Department. I shall certainly look at what it says and see what then requires to be done.

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