HC Deb 04 March 1968 vol 760 cc32-5
Mr. Hogg (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the situation in Durham Prison.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

At 7.50 p.m. yesterday, prisoners in the special security wing at Durham prison overpowered an officer and obtained the key to a door which leads from the cell block to a small chapel and two offices for members of the staff of the wing. Twenty-one out of the 24 prisoners in the wing locked themselves in the chapel and the offices and blockaded the door with the chapel furniture. The officer who was attacked was not injured.

The area where the prisoners blockaded themselves is part of the special security wing. The police were informed by the direct radio link and immediately sent reinforcements to the prison as a precaution until the extent of the incident could be assessed. These have been withdrawn since the governor is satisfied that the prisoners are still fully within secure conditions.

A new workshop has been provided as part of the special security wing and work in light textiles and wrought iron was due to start today. This would have made an improvement in the general conditions in the wing. I understand that the men have two main complaints; they consider textile work inappropriate and object to doing the cleaning in their own wing which has hitherto been done by other prisoners.

The Director of Prison Administration has gone to Durham to make an assessment of the situation and will report immediately to me.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the whole House is concerned about this incident, as the security wing contains some of the most dangerous criminals in custody? Will he be disposed to consider the possibility that this disturbance is due in part to the absence of a maximum security prison and the necessity for confining these men in the special security wings of prisons not otherwise suitable for the purpose?

Mr. Callaghan

I shall certainly be disposed to take that into consideration. As the House knows, we are now awaiting a report from a body of people who have been studying the proper method of holding in custody criminals of this nature. When we get that report, it will certainly influence the nature of the decision about the future of special security wings in ordinary prisons.

Mr. Bob Brown

Will not my right hon. Friend consider the provision of some good heavy manual work for prisoners of this type?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not want to answer that question off the cuff. The proposed work, that which I have outlined, was regarded as appropriate, and it was intended to effect an improvement in the conditions of the men incarcerated there.

Mr. Deedes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at least one difficulty arises from the fact that this block, like every security block, is to some extent improvised? Will he bear in mind that, whether it is decided to have one security block or more than one, it is important to provide well-established blocks as soon as possible?

Mr. Callaghan

I am sure that difficulties arise from improvisation, but the immediate cause of this incident seems to be the intention that the men should start work today.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a report was made by a Committee which visited Durham Gaol, among others, and which visited this block? It made representations about the kind of work provided for long-term prisoners. Is it not high time that the House had an opportunity to discuss this and many other very important matters about the prison service?

Mr. Callaghan

I would welcome the attention of the House being concentrated on the prison service so that we can ensure that conditions are right, but what has been done in Durham within the limits laid down, namely, the provision of a special security-proof workshop, was intended to improve the conditions of the men working there.

Mr. Hooson

I noticed that there was no mention of a complaint by the prisoners about the wrought iron work. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that this kind of work will not add to the difficulties of security in that building?

Mr. Callaghan

The same thought had occurred to me, but I am assured that proper precautions would be taken.

Mr. Lipton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for some time there has been a high degree of mental tension among the prisoners in the special security wing at Durham? Will he take steps to ensure that adequate exercise facilities are provided and that those facilities are made possible by more perimeter security rather than special security-wing security?

Mr. Callaghan

The prison regulalations lay down the amount of exercise which prisoners must have every day. I understand that in Durham it is done twice a day, not at fixed intervals, so that there can be maximum circulation. I readily agree that conditions were not intended or devised to meet these high security arrangements, but we should not get too far from the cause of the present disturbance.

Mr. Buck

Is it not appalling that proved—and I use the word advisedly—torturers and murderers should take over a section of a prison? Will the Home Secretary confirm that at no stage was there any danger of a mass break-out by these violent men?

Mr. Callaghan

That question should await the report of the Director of Prison Administration, who is now on his way there. The Inspector-General of Prisons will himself be making inquiries into special security arrangements.

Mr. Sharples

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his predecessor more than two years ago said that a decision about the long-term future of these men was absolutely crucial? Does he believe that we can go on indefinitely with these temporary expedients?

Mr. Callaghan

No, there cannot be temporary expedients indefinitely, but a matter of policy should be thrashed out properly before a decision is made. An expert committee is now making a report on the subject, and I hope to receive it in a matter of weeks if not days.

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