HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc1225-41

5.49 a.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I wish to use this opportunity to direct the attention of the House to the growing problems of high-security dispersal prisons. My constituency houses the Hull prison, one of seven high-security prisons and the one that has suffered the worst riot this century. The proper lessons must be drawn urgently from the Hull riot. It is vital that urgent steps be taken to prevent any such riots in other high-security prisons, for I have reason to believe that others may well happen.

I welcome the recent publication of Inspector Fowler's report on the Hull riot. I believe that it is the first time the Home Office has published a report on a major prison riot, and to that extent is a major step forward in public discussion on our prisons. In my evidence to the inquiry I requested that the Home Office consider opening up a public debate on these matters and said that one of the first steps towards that would be publication of the report. After considerable criticism of the non-publication of the Gale Report into the Parkhurst riot, this is a valuable precedent. I hope that it will be followed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on making the report public.

However, I have a serious difference with the inquiry over its conclusions. If they are accepted there is a great danger that they will contribute to further tensions and further incidents in our prisons.

The dispersal prisons are special prisons dealing with high-security prisoners. These prisons pose special and specific problems requiring specific and special policies. I want to differentiate between such prisons and what are known as the local prisons. In my evidence to the inquiry I spoke of the need for a different policy for the high-security prisons, for a number of obvious reasons that I spelt out in that report. Such prisons house prisoners requiring the highest security.

All the evidence is that external security has been achieved quite successfully. There have been no escapes from Hull. There have been one or two from other high-security prisons, but in the main the security of high-security prisons has been increased.

I am largely concerned about the nature and type of the regime inside the prisons. We have so far failed to implement the kind of regime that would prevent the sort of riot that occurred at Hull and reduce tensions and incidents, which unfortunately are increasing to dangerous levels. Therefore, I ask the Department to reconsider its expenditure priorities in this area. It is clear that the public spending cuts have had considerable effects on prison expenditure.

The four-day riot at Hull was a landmark, making necessary a rethinking of prison policy, particularly for high-security prisons. This morning I am concerned solely with high-security dispersal prisons.

Hull was a unique prison, because it was subjected to vastly different types of régime at different times, and therefore one can compare them. In my evidence to the inquiry I was able to identify those régimes almost by reference to the Governor of the time. When I visited the prison as the Member of Parliament and talked to people associated with it, I was aware of a liberal régime under one Governor and of a stricter period under another Governor before the riot. To my mind that stricter régime contributed to the increasing tension and the eventual riot.

As the Member of Parliament I am naturally deeply concerned about my constituents who, unlike the situation at a number of other high security prisons, live very close to Hull Prison. That is one of the factors the Home Office must take into account if it is to consider dispersing high-security prisons in the future. As Fowler points out, it is not a satisfactory prison, situated, as it is, so close to a densely-populated area.

I am as much concerned with the level of tension in the prison. That tension is felt by my constituents outside. As soon as an incident occurs, the security forces are naturally brought in and the people living nearby immediately feel involved. Even false alarms tend to cause tension. As the Member for the area since 1970, I have witnessed a considerable increase in that tension.

This has led me to express my concern to the Home Office in a series of interviews and letters. I wrote to the Minister of the day, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), expressing my concern and referring to specific incidents, including one in which a man who was surrendering from a rooftop demonstration was savaged by a dog. That incident was not denied by the Home Office at the time and was repeated during the Hull riot.

I was assured by the Minister on 30th August 1974 that it was an isolated incident and I can assure you that there are no grounds for concern about morale in the prison generally". He added that it should not be taken to indicate that internal control is in jeopardy". Events did not bear out that judgment. They bore out my judgment and prediction that there would be a much more serious incident in the prison. I give a similar warning tonight. We shall witness yet another very serious incident, and I shall give my reasons for saying that.

I prepared my report on the Hull riot because the prisoners felt that the evidence they had given to the official inquiry would not be treated objectively. The inspector has described the evidence I collected as "carefully prepared", for which I am grateful—and for his report. I tried to weigh the balance of arguments put to me in interviews with the prisoners and with those connected with the prison. I reached a different conclusion from that of Inspector Fowler.

My analysis, together with the reasons given by prisoners in letters to me of why the riot took place, coincide with the analysis by Inspector Fowler. He and I agree on the causes and about errors that were made. First, there was no single cause for the riot. It began when a passive demonstration deteriorated through bad judgment by the prison administration, and it was avoidable Second, Hull Prison has a greater pro portion of high-security prisoners than other prisons which affect the chemistry within the prison itself. Third, overtime cuts had an aggravating effect on prison officers, and that certainly inflamed the atmosphere inside the prison. Cut-backs in recreation facilities certainly aggravated the situation and the governor—in this case it was Governor Kearns—was far too strict in his interpretation of the rules and used inexperienced prison staff.

Inspector Fowler concluded that the liberal circumstances in Hull Prison provided greater opportunities for riotous behaviour. This is entirely contrary to my evidence. I took the view that it was a stricter regime. It is contrary to what the prisoners said. It is contrary to what people who had worked in the prison had said. It is certainly contrary to a lot of the evidence that Fowler includes in his report.

I do not believe that the Fowler inquiry satisfactorily investigated questions of brutality and assault. I believe that these matters will be pursued in court, and other matters outside Inspector Fowler's remit are being investigated by the police. I am sure that we have not heard the last of these matters.

Inspector Fowler rejected the view that a hard institutional toughness existed at Hull Prison. Consequently, he made recommendations which at best tinkered with the problem and at worst may encourage Governments and others to allow to continue the present stricter system in our high-security gaols, with the possibility of further riots and incidents.

The central thesis of my evidence was a comparison between the liberal governorship of Governor Perrie in 1968–70 with the harsh regime under Governor Kearns from 1973 to 1976 just prior to the riot. The prisoners' view was that the attitude inside the prison hardened considerably from what they identify as the liberal period under Governor Perrie.

The test facing anyone listening to evidence from prisoners is to make an objective judgment. I accordingly obtained the Home Office statistics for those periods to see whether it was possible to make an objective comparison.

From 1968 to 1970—the liberal period —there were on average 11 solitary confinements of prisoners per year. That was a reduction achieved by Governor Perrie from 57 a year for the previous three years. It increased to an average of 106 per year under Governor Kearns. That was an increase of 860 per cent. over the number that occurred under Governor Perrie and an increase of 125 per cent. over the number that occurred in the three years previous to Governor Kearns.

Therefore this question must be answered: if Hull Prison were responsible for 8 per cent. of the prison population, why was it responsible for 40 per cent. of the solitary confinements that were awarded in internal high-security prisons? It may be argued that the prisoners were more troublesome there, but the statistics of incidents in all security prisons show that Hull was middle-to-bottom of the league in all disciplinary matters. Although it was not the prison with the greatest number of troublesome prisoners, it made the highest use of solitary confinement.

Fowler did not address himself to that central fact. I would have thought that it was necessary to reconcile those important statistics if one wished to distinguish between a liberal and a strict régime, as I attempted to do in tables and graphs in my evidence. Inspector Fowler refers to it in paragraph 267 of his report, where he says that there were indications that suggested that there was an increased use at Hull of sentencing to segregation under rule 43. The increase was from 45 a year to 110 a year. That is not just an indication. It is a positive increase reflecting a very different policy. Inspector Fowler goes on to argue that a crisis was normal at Hull. The real question for him to ask was why there were such crises at Hull, and a major failing in his conclusions is that he did not make proper use of the Home Office statistics.

It is interesting that in the Report on the work of the Prison Department for 1976, which came out only last week, the Department informs us that each of these high-security prisons has attached to it a psychology unit which regularly collects and records basic information on both the characteristics of the individual prisoner and the events of prison life such as sick reporting, number of offences against prison rules etc. … indications of the stability or otherwise of the regime are sought. Uusing a mathematical model known as Catastrophe Theory, psychologists are attempting to identify patterns of institutional life which might predict when an event such as a riot is likely to occur". Did the model working in Hull give any indication of the possible riot that was to come, which everyone had been telling the Home Office was likely to occur? Were the data used in the catastrophe theory model the same kind of data as I have used in my own report? If that is so, why did not Inspector Fowler refer to this work which was going on, or even talk to the unit about the data? Presumably, such units would have been able to identify different types of of régime in the data fashion I have suggested, which is the very essence of the Catastrophe Theory model referred to in this year's report on prisons.

Inspector Fowler pointed out that one of the matters which really upset the prisoners once they broke into the accommodation and were holding out there was to find these reports on themselves. Inspector Fowler says that it triggered off the destruction which occurred from then on. Were these the reports of such a psychology unit, and were they the reports that the prisoners got hold of?

I can give an indication of the incensed feelings about that matter. I have a number of letters which have been smuggled out and sent to me from prisoners inside Hull and from other prisons to which they were sent. They refer to these files. Here is one letter: These files were terrifying reading: the most elemental and crude 'psychological assessment' of prisoners by staff. Every other word was 'psychopath', and the utter dehumanised portraits of ourselves, plus many summaries of interviews between staff and prisoners which had simply not taken place. I may say here, as I have elsewhere, that these files were liberated very soon after the riot started, and changed the whole mood of the prisoners, for suddenly all our suspicions of the view of us by the regime were confirmed. They spoke of us as animals rather than human beings. They undoubtedly stoked the fires of rebellion. Inspector Fowler confirms that attitude, and it is embodies in that letter, which came out before the Fowler Report. In these circumstances, it is important that there be an explanation of why these reports were there, and what is the role of such units.

Nevertheless, despite all this evidence, Inspector Fowler draws the conclusion —I think that this is the most dangerous part of it—in paragraph 10(d) of this report: The paradox, of course, is that in a prison where tolerance had been shown the opportunity for riotous behaviour was that much greater. If the suggestion was, as implied in the report itself, that the regime in Hull was tolerant and, because it was tolerant, it led to the Hull riots, I entirely reject it. My evidence is clearly on record for everyone to see, as it was publicly available and still is. But the evidence in the Fowler report itself contradicts the central conclusion. For example, Inspector Fowler points out that Governor Kearns contributed to the instability by his rigid interpretation of rules; that some of the board of visitors felt that he had made insufficient concessions to prisoners in treatment terms; that the prison administration dogs—this is recorded in his report—savaged prisoners after they had come down from the roof after surrendering; that there were insufficiently experienced arrogant, young prison officers, not ideal for Hull; and that property of prisoners in Wing B who had taken no part in the riot was smashed up despite the orders of the governor. I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that the Home Office will be paying damages in respect of prisoners' personal property which was smashed by the prison officers—the personal property of people, that is, who were not involved in the riot in any way. Perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on that.

Fowler also points out that the situation moved from a passive demonstration to a riot because of the failure of judgment in not allowing what was normal procedure in the prison to take place.

All these and other factors dispute the contention that a liberal regime existed in the prison. In no way was it like that which people interpreted to be a liberal régime under Governor Perrie— régime of which I was aware from visits to the prison. Many people associated with Hull Prison draw a distinction between them.

Fowler's remarks about the grievance procedure inside Hull are totally at variance with the facts, and certainly at variance with the views of people such as the members of the Jellicoe Committee who looked at the prisoners' role in grievance procedures. Another interesting insight is that Fowler uses the word "subversive" in relation to prisoners who are said to undermine order, and yet when prison officers smashed prisoners' equipment this was described by him as "excess zeal".

A recent article in The Sunday Times states that Home Office psychologists have been doing surveys of the attitudes of prison authorities as to what is considered to be subversive. They conclude, having asked prison officers to point out who the subversives were, that it is a term used by them to justify the fact that they treat these men differently from others. There was no common factor between these people whom different officers had described as subversive and as undermining prison authority.

To a certain extent, therefore, I find that it is not surprising that Inspector Fowler, in his report, does not deal—certainly in view of his conclusion—with the matters that I raised in my report. These are the kinds of thing that one associates with liberal régimes. One could consider the introduction of a separate prison ombudsman. The education and recreation cuts should be reversed. Fowler could have taken such matters into account and made recommendations. He could also have considered the problem of the increasing numbers of psychiatric cases being kept in prison. There should be a review of industrial work, particularly when we find wage costs equivalent to 4 per cent. and the administration costs of the unit about 54 per cent., with a loss of £2,500,000.

It was no surprise to me that a number of people have felt that the Fowler inquiry has reached a conclusion that is at odds with its own interpretations. For the reasons that I have indicated, it is a report which has failed to reach the objective set for it. Indeed, it has been described, with some justification, as eyewash.

If we are to look at these very crucial issues, we have to draw the proper conclusions from this lesson at Hull. I support the suggestion that there should be an independent public inquiry. An editorial in The Times said that the only proper course would be for the Government to set up an independent public inquiry. I fully support that suggestion.

I am concerned that the situation could be worsened by the Fowler inquiry encouraging people to believe that the present position can be maintained simply by tightening up the procedures in one way and another. I think that is the worst road to follow, and it is essential that the Minister should give consideration —and especially the Home Secretary—to hold an independent public inquiry.

The review of the Department's Prison Report 1976 last week showed an alarming trend of increasing figures of assaults and disciplinary offences in prisons. In some cases they have increased by as much as 80 per cent. in all categories of offences inside prisons. Some prisons are showing greater strains than others. It is my view—and, apparently, the Department's—in looking at the Catastrophe Theory, that when we compare the figures of the different prisons we can begin to see a similar pattern to that at Hull.

I think I could predict that the next incident will be at the Albany Prison in the Isle of Wight. All the symptoms that I noticed at Hull Prison are present at Albany. I have received evidence smuggled out only this week from Albany Prison, talking of the lack of availability of the Governor, and of cell fires which have recently taken place. It speaks of men spending 23 hours in a cell, of aggravation with prison officers, of overtime cuts, and of people seeking to go into solitary confinement in order to get away from the tension. It is not difficult to predict that the same kinds of problem are present at Albany as were present at Hull Prison. A report about Albany by Amnesty International describes an incident in September 1976 and expresses concern about developments there which, it feels, are a denial of minimum requirements for prisoners.

All these matters would seem to suggest that Albany is developing all the characteristics associated with the Catastrophe Theory that is talked about.

The Albany figures show an increase in all categories of offences, whereas it is mixed in some of the other prisons. Parkhurst, which is considered to be quite a tough gaol, shows almost the opposite taking place. Offences per head in Albany are 5.84, but in Parkhurst the figure is 0.61 according to the Department's figures. It is nine times as high in Albany as in Parkhurst. Such figures began to develop in Hull. Therefore, all the signs that we noticed at Hull are becoming evident at Albany, and it is possible to indicate them in Gartree.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that the Catastrophe Theory will not be used as between one prison and another to test its limits by increasing offences. That is a matter of some concern. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me an assurance on that matter. Clearly we are beginning to see the development of these problems in prisons. Therefore, something must be done immediately.

Dispersal prisons do not have the same population problems as local prisons, but there is a strong argument for reducing prison populations. The editorial in The Times, six weeks before the Hull riot, predicted that we must do something before the prison population got above 42,000. It would be unfortunate if the Government were forced into drastic action by what was referred to by Mr. Roy Jenkins as some violent and tragic event. The previous Home Secretary felt that there would be considerable problems if we got above 42,000. According to the Department's figures, we have 42,419 prisoners inside our prisons. That means that prisoners stay in the cells longer and that there are more disciplinary incidents.

The Government have cut back expenditure on prisons. By 1979 expenditure on prisons will be only 75 per cent. at today's values. Therefore, it is urgent that the Minister should consider some kind of amnesty—that is not too farfetched in Jubilee Year—and set some kind of precedent. We should bear in mind that 21,000 male prisoners over 21 years of age are serving sentences of less than 18 months. If we could cut those sentences by 10 per cent., we should be able at a stroke to release more than 2,000 prisoners from our prisons and bring down the population to 40,000.

I hope that the Minister will consider holding the public inquiry, for which I have called. I welcome his statement on 14th July when he said that he still believed in the concept of a dispersal policy and that he intends to maintain it.

The Minister referred to the systems advocated by Radzinowicz. I remind him that when Radzinowicz recommended the system of dispersal as opposed to the concentrated system recommended by Mountbatten, he said that increased security need not, and must not, be obtained by a reversal of the trend towards a more liberal and constructive régime inside our long-term prisons, still less by a partial or complete return to the restricted solitary life for the prisoner for which our nineteenth century prisons were designed. Therefore, the Radzinowicz system is associated with the liberal system in which I believe. This proved to be the most effective system in Hull, once the outer perimeter was secured.

I hope that a public inquiry will look at the minimum factors needed to maintain a liberal regime in all high-security prisons. An independent public inquiry could look at the Hull riot within the context of that remit. I hope that the Minister will consider that course of action.

6.20 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I should be discussing this matter this morning. When the Hull riot broke out I was the Minister at the Home Office in charge, and my hon. Friend's first discussions on the problem were with me. I hope that I put facts at his disposal which helped him in some way. He has rightly concentrated our minds on the reappraisal of total policies, as did Mr. Fowler in his report when he recommended a further review of dispersal régimes.

I cannot promise another public inquiry on this matter, but I can promise that the Home Secretary will consider not only the observations of Mr. Fowler's report, as he must do in consultation with the staff associations, but the observations that my hon. Friend has made in his printed report and in the debate that he has initiated this morning. He is right to deal mainly with the pre-riot conditions at Hull, rather than the post-riot conditions because many of these matters are still being investigated by the police, and are outside the framework of the report.

If I quarrel with my hon. Friend at all it is about his support of the dismissal of the Fowler Report. The Fowler Report does repay study. It is not an argument against a liberal regime. It is a detailed examination of the complex problem of administering a dispersal prison. It certainly points to the difficulties of the staff in operating this sort of régime. It is not illiberal to look at staff problems.

In particular the report directs our attention to the risk of staff withdrawing from contacts with prisoners in the changed circumstances of imprisonment. Many prisoners are less ready to accept the restrictions of imprisonment with resignation. The danger is that officers will see the safest course as keeping their distance and dealing entirely formally with prisoners. Encouragement for the staff to become involved with the prisoners and take an interest in them is the way in which Radzinowicz should be fulfilled. That is real security and control.

It is necessary, to preserve the life of a prison, to protect the weak from the strong and to reduce exploitation and manipulation which, as my hon. Friend knows, occurs in prisons. Our prison service has had an honourable record in trying to develop reformative regimes and to influence prisoners to a crime-free life. But no cure can be prescribed for crime and administered by carefully selected régimes. The person concerned must have motivation before he can reform.

What we can do is to institute a régime within the prison to maintain as far as possible the mental and physical health of a prisoner and to develop his social skills, particularly by recreational and educational services. That not only relieves boredom and frustration but deals in many ways with the problems that might arise on re-entry into society.

It is interesting to note that the Fowler Report referred to earlier evidence that the Americans some time ago gave up the idea of having one big prison for the most dangerous prisoners. The Home Office believes in the Radzinowicz Report and the policy of dispersal prisons.

The main difference between the Fowler Report and the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is about the Hull riot. My hon. Friend believes that it was the strict régime that preceded the riot that led to the riot and that a more liberal régime is less likely to lead to a disturbance. The Chief Inspector did not see the régime at Hull as having been particularly strict when compared with other dispersal prisons in respect of privileges, relations between staff and inmates, and general treatment. He considered that the seeds of possible disturbances are ever present in the régime of a dispersal prison, whether it is liberal or not, and that the task of management is to anticipate problems, to try to reduce tensions and to handle incidents so that they do not escalate.

My hon. Friend touched on the subject of cellular confinement. I shall deal with that matter a little more in due course. At any rate, I am glad that my hon. Friend agreed that there was no misuse of powers or violence against prisoners before the riot. My hon. Friend made it clear that Hull Prison had no such previous history, and that has been borne out. Mr. Fowler found no evidence that the staff were encouraged in a policy of brutality. That was based on statements from prisoners as well as from the board of visitors.

My hon. Friend suggested that psychology units may have a baleful influence on the régimes at dispersal prisons. The reports that the prisoners got hold of were not reports of the Catastrophe model, or whatever it is called. Certainly reports are being undertaken by the psychology units, but I do not believe that the units have been founded for long enough or are sufficiently established to have drawn any conclusions.

My hon. Friend also asked me about whether varying régimes were being used in prisons to test the Catastrophe Theory to the full. I can say categorically that that is not so. If there are differences between prisons they are not there as a result of using prisoners as guinea pigs to test a theory.

I have dealt with the matter of the post-riot incidents to which my hon. Friend referred. Mr. Fowler's report makes it clear that simple comparisons on a pre and post change of governor basis are misleading.

I should like to deal with the matter of cellular confinement. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that Hull was undoubtedly taking and containing the most difficult prisoners in the dispersal system. It was, therefore, hardly to be expected that the pattern of disciplinary awards would be the same as at other dispersal prisons. What is more important is the type of relationship that existed between the officers and the inmates.

The régime was a liberal one in which staff used considerable sympathy and tact when dealing with prisoners. The question of the severity of the régime is one that my hon. Friend has elevated to a fairly central theme. Of course there are times when régimes are tightened and the reasons are not always unjustified. But nor is a liberal régime always justified if, by liberality, one means something outside the rules. The previous governor's efforts to prevent the entry into the prison of drink, drugs and money in contravention of prison rules were no bad thing. The use and abuse of those commodities is likely to lead to greater disturbances. Régimes are changed in the light of experience, sometimes when an escape has been narrowly averted or in order to make relations between the staff and prisoners as tolerable and enlightened as possible. There is no central direction.

My hon. Friend will agree that governors must have reasonable flexibility. Only they can see how a high measure of freedom can be combined with a minimum chance of escape. My hon. Friend referred to his constituents living in the shadow of the prison. This was graphically described in the Fowler Report and in the narrative reports of the time. People in the neighbourhood of prisons demand assurances against escapes and deserve a minimising of possible danger.

My hon. Friend asked about claims for compensation. These are being entertained and, as evidence of the lack of a spartan régime, one prisoner is claiming for possessions lost in the riot. He would hardly be able to claim for them if there had been a repressive regime before the riot.

I do not accept that the channels for grievances are inadequate or that prisoners are inhibited from using them. Thousands of petitions reach the Home Office and hundreds of letters are sent to hon. Members. Where appropriate and practicable, grievances are remedied. We have no proposals for changing the system, but we are always willing to examine grievances and I undertake to do that in the light of what my hon. Friend has said.

Just as he was right in saying that merely to categorise people as subversives means that a few people foment trouble in an otherwise trouble-free prison, so it is misleading to claim that there would not be trouble or violence but for brutality or a repressive régime. We live in a mobile age and we have to accept that people resent prison régimes, however enlightened. There are some who commit criminal offences in the pursuit of political objectives who seek to further those objectives while in prison. There are greater tendencies to violence among the whole of society, and the imprisonable population is no exception. There are certainly those who will use and manipulate the grievances of others to further their own hostility and aggression towards staff. Clearly there is a need to look at the régime in all cases, but there is equally a need to consider the individual and to try to anticipate problems.

Violence is endemic among some of the prisoners of whom my hon. Friend speaks whether or not the régime is liberal. He speaks of the Fowler Report stating that it was a passive demonstration that went wrong. I think that he will accept that further in the paragraph there is the comment that the passive demonstration was used by some prisoners as a means of escalating the violence.

My hon. Friend has made a fair point about finance. Although the prison service has suffered a good deal less than most services there has had to be a curtailment of overtime levels. Although the Chief Inspector suggested that that was one of the possible causes of the riots, he also suggests that that aspect should not be exaggerated.

My hon. Friend broadened the issue to talk about the prison population and amnesty. Let it be clear that when we are talking about prison overcrowding we are dealing primarily with young prisoner centres and local prisons where people of the type that my hon. Friend describes are to be found. It would not help the régimes within the dispersal prisons to talk about the sort of amnesty of which my hon. Friend is speaking. My right hon. Friend has already rejected that suggestion. Nevertheless, it is right and proper—we have done this in the Criminal Law Bill —to review constantly whether we are putting too many people in prison for longer than is necessary. The Advisory Council on the Penal System has recently reported on the length of sentences and in the Criminal Law Bill we have shortened periods of imprisonment for default of fine and abolished imprisonment for simple drunkenness, which betokens inadequacy. I suggest that there is a way of reducing the prison population, but it must be a proper way and it must be properly thought out. The rather Procrustean amnesty measure that my hon. Friends has suggested is not the proper way.

My hon. Friend has spoken seriously about Albany Prison. I can assure him that whatever has happened in the past his warning will be taken seriously and that we shall investigate it. He need not think that it will be forgotten. My right hon. Friend will consider the Fowler Report. He will read my hon. Friend's report and his comments today. He will do so without any of the complacency that might be assumed, but with the knowledge that no easy answers or coordinated remedies will emerge. They will be difficult matters because the nature of dispersal prisons is difficult and at times dangerous for the staff.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree, as many of the prison staff are his constituents, that whatever the outcome of a few inquiries, the vast majority of prison staffs work with great tolerance, courage, pragmatism and sympathy for the prison population. They deserve the recognition not only of the House as a whole but of the whole country. They do a difficult job extremely well. I hope that my hon. Friend will take my assurance and—

Mr. Prescott

I support what my hon. Friend says, as I am sure that the House would, too, because hon. Members often say that prison officers have a difficult job. However, as Fowler points out, and the prisoners confirm, it is the older type of prison officer for whom there is considerable respect. Towards the younger type, which Fowler recommends should not be in this type of prison, the feeling may be less than friendly.

Mr. John

I understand the difficulties of placement, and I understand the nature of dispersal prisons. The hardest thing to get in any occupation is experience. Youth betokens mistakes, whether they are in handling people or in abstract questions. We need people who are flexible and who have sympathy and imagination, and who can combine a degree of tolerance with firmness.

I believe that the prison staff of this country do an excellent job on behalf of our society.