HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1017-8
1. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied that all possible steps are taken at Her Majesty's prisons to prevent inmates from gaining access to rooftops in order to demonstrate.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

Precautions are taken in every prison to prevent inmates from gaining access to the roof, and these are kept under continuous review. Any case where the precautions are found to be insufficient is specially investigated to see what further measures are necessary.

Mr. Ross

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that answer, but I am not entirely satisfied with it. Can she confirm that at the recent demonstration at Wormwood Scrubs prisoners got on to the roof by way of scaffolding, and can she also confirm that that was precisely the way in which prisoners got on to the roof at Parkhurst in my constituency a year ago? Does the hon. Lady not think that further precautions should be taken? As this is an expensive exercise, with the throwing down of slates, which cost a great deal to replace, does not she think that prisons should be roofed with rather less expensive materials?

Dr. Summerskill

It is the case that scaffolding was erected inside D Hall of Wormwood Scrubs for essential building work and that three prisoners used the scaffolding to break through the security mesh on a window which would not normally have been accessible. Although precautions will continue to be taken and new measures introduced when necessary, building repairs will still sometimes have to be carried out, and every effort will be made to see that this does not make it possible for prisoners to gain access to the roof.

Mr. Lipton

Is my hon. Friend aware that short of having one warder to watch each prisoner for 24 hours a day it is impossible to guarantee that, now and again, something untoward will not happen?

Dr. Summerskill

That is true. My hon. Friend is quite right, in that there is a great shortage of staff. Every effort is made to see that when building work is going on there is special surveillance of the prisoners. Special security measures are taken, such as seeing that all interior doors and doors giving access to the roofs of prisons are secured, and special wire is used to protect vulnerable areas.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

As scaffolding is not erected where it should be, and is erected where it should not be, and by using it prisoners gain access to roofs, will the Home Office ensure that in future when prisoners do gain access to the roof they are cleared off quickly, with fire hoses, instead of being allowed to remain there for a long time to do immense damage, for which taxpayers and not the prisoners themselves have to pay?

Dr. Summerskill

In 1975 there have been only six incidents, throughout our prisons, of prisoners being on the roofs. The object is to ensure that there is no threat to security, and that there is no danger to the staff or prisoners. The practice of leaving the prisoner to come down voluntarily has proved successful in every case.