HC Deb 27 April 1972 vol 835 cc1772-4
Mr. Fred Evans

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make immediate arrangements for the four girl students jailed last week for contempt of court, and presently at Pucklechurch remand centre, Bristol, to have facilities for conversing with their visitors in their own language, and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

In accordance with the Prison Rules, visits must be conducted within the sight and hearing of a prison officer. There is no Welsh-speaking woman officer at Pucklechurch remand centre to supervise visits during which Welsh is spoken. I do not think it would be reasonable to make special arrangements in respect of these prisoners, all of whom also speak English. They are free to correspond in Welsh if they wish to do so.

Mr. Evans

Will the Home Secretary accept that this answer will cause supreme contempt in Wales? If he is able to keep prisoners at Pucklechurch, it is equally possible for him to make special arrangements for them to use their own language to their visitors. Is it beyond the wit of the Home Office to go as far as Cardiff to secure such a warder? Will the Home Secretary accept that it is an inalienable human right to speak one's own language, and it is this kind of insensitivity by his Department, as evidenced in recent remarks by the Lord Chancellor, that forces moderates to become extremists? Will he undertake to make immediate arrangemenments either to have these girls removed to a remand centre in Wales where these facilities exist or to provide the facilities at Pucklechurch?

Mr. Maudling

The practical difficulty is that very few women and girls are remanded in custody and Pucklechurch has to cover not only South Wales but also the whole of the south-west of England. There is no Welsh-speaking interpreter available at that centre. The girls are entirely free to correspond in Welsh as much as they like without any limitation, but the present rules have been established and it seems sensible to me that conversations should take place in such circumstances that they can be heard by a prison officer.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the Home Secretary aware that his prison regulations also say that visits will take place in the most humane conditions? Does he believe that until he is able to provide accommodation for these girls in Wales, where there are Welsh-speaking officers he is justified in the unreasonable and rigid stance that he has adopted this afternoon? Will he exercise his discretion and not withhold the ordinary human right that people shall be able to converse in their own language?

Mr. Maudling

I do not see anything inhuman in requiring these girls, while they are in prison for contempt of court, to converse with visitors in the language of the United Kingdom, a language with which they are wholly conversant.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

The Home Secretary's response to my right hon. Friend's question was deplorable and unworthy of him. Most Welsh people do not subscribe to extreme or violent action in breach of the law. They believe, nevertheless, that persons in custody should not be denied the right, if they want it, to converse in their own language with visitors in accordance with the spirit and intention of the Welsh Language Act, 1967. Will the Home Secretary take action to remove this impediment immediately?

Mr. Maudling

In this particular circumstance I do not think it unreasonable that conversations—as opposed to correspondence, which is not fettered in any way—should take place in the language of the country as a whole in order that the prison officer should know what is being said.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the scope for asking Private Notice Questions widened? 1 thought there had to be some element of urgency. While this was a very important subject, it seemed to be applicable to a Written Answer or even an Adjournment debate. I merely wondered whether the scope had been widened so that we could use it on other occasions.

Mr. Speaker

The scope is entirely a matter for me.