HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc893-4
9. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any further plans to liberalise prison rules.

Mr. John

Prison regulations and standing orders are being examined with a view to making them less paternalistic and restrictive in some respects, whilst still safeguarding the interests of both staff and prisoners.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is great disappointment about the Home Secretary's statement on disciplinary procedures? Does he not think it proper that the functions of boards of visitors should be separated between, on the one hand, their disciplinary function and, on the other hand, their advocacy of prisoners' interests and the hearing of prisoners' grievances? Will he and his right hon. Friend look again at this matter?

Mr. John

My right hon. Friend has looked at it and has announced the Government's attitude. I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed with it.

Mr. Lawrence

Does not the Minister of State consider that much of the utter hopelessness of our prison system would be reduced by an extension of work regimes in prisons? What have the Government done in the recent past to extend work régimes for prisoners, and what do they proposed to do in future?

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman will know the difficulty of getting suitable work régimes, especially with the constraints in public expenditure. The Government are prepared to consider any constructive scheme to make prisons into places capable of reforming people's attitudes rather than places of mere incarceration which simply provide a period outside society.

Mr. Emery

Does the Minister realise that a large section of British society considers that a term of imprisonment should be regarded as a punishment, and that over-liberalisation does not provide what it believes to be the proper and necessary form of punishment to deter prisoners from committing further crimes and returning to prison?

Mr. John

I feel that I should not intrude on what is developing into a private quarrel between the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on this subject. It highlights a dichotomy in British society, and we have to decide whether we are aiming at harshness or constructive treatment. If, as the hon. Gentleman says, over-liberalisation is harmful, the very fact that he uses that phrase automatically means that it is harmful. We seek a proper measure of liberalisation which will safeguard the interests of both staff and prisoners. If the hon. Gentleman had visited prisons, he would have no doubt that they were fairly stern places.