HC Deb 20 June 1974 vol 875 cc663-5
11. Mr. Moonman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many visits have been paid by Lord Longford to Her Majesty's Prisons since January 1971; how many interviews he had with Myra Hindley and with Maxine Croft; whether he had any meetings with Patricia Cairns; and what instructions apply in relation to future applications to visit these prisoners.

Dr. Summerskill

There is no central record of the number of visits made to prisoners by Members of either House of Parliament but records are kept of visits to individual prisoners. These show that Myra Hindley has been visited by Lord Longford on 13 occasions since January 1971. There is no record that he ever visited Maxine Croft, or of any meeting with Patricia Cairns in Holloway while she was employed as a prison officer there. My right hon. Friend does not propose to make any changes in the arrangements for authorising visits to prisons by Members of either House of Parliament.

Mr. Moonman

The House will want to study that reply with great care. What are the rules which govern visits to prisoners by peers and Members of Parliament, particularly when the private conversations are then revealed, as Lord Longford revealed them recently in a whole chapter in his book relating to his meetings with the Moors murderess? Should not this practice be condemned?

Dr. Summerskill

A Member of Parliament may visit or interview a prisoner only on the express authority of the Secretary of State unless he receives a valid visiting order direct from a prisoner or is a justice of the peace. As to the conditions on which he visits a prison, it is assumed that a Member can be trusted to use with discretion and propriety any information that he gains in the course of his visit. Facilities were always granted to Lord Longford in his capacity as a Member of the House of Lords who had an interest in the welfare and rehabilitation of individual prisoners.

Mr. Tinn

I accept the necessity for Members of the House of Commons to have access to prisons; but I am somewhat disturbed to learn of the privileges extended to Members of the House of Lords, bearing in mind that a constituent of mine, who wished to have access to certain prisoners to investigate the circumstances of the death of his son, has been denied such access. I should have thought that if a privileged occasion existed that would have been it.

Dr. Summerskill

I shall certainly reconsider the conditions of access to prisons by peers. The situation at the moment is that Members of Parliament and peers can visit prisoners, but only with the express authority of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Tapsell

Is not a peer just as much a Member of Parliament as any Member of this House?