HC Deb 11 March 1981 vol 1000 cc904-84 4.21 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide a statutory basis for the rights of prisoners and to make those rights enforceable. I welcome this opportunity to ask the House for leave to bring in a Bill on prisoners' rights. I know that the House is anxious to move on to the Budget debate, so I shall do my best to be brief. Speaking up for prisoners in gaol is never the most popular of causes. Yet I am confident that most people, if they listened to the arguments, would accept that the principles underlying the Bill are fair and reasonable.

Prisoners in gaol are subject to what are known as the prison rules. These are statutory instruments made under the Prison Act 1952. The problem is that prisoners do not necessarily know what the prison rules are. Moreover, even if they know what is in the rules, they are not able to take action to enforce them if they feel that the prison authorities are acting in breach of the rules.

I turn briefly to the main provisions of my proposed Bill. The first is that prisoners in gaol should have the right to know what is contained in the prison rules. They should have the right to know about the regulations which govern their imprisonment in one of Her Majesty's gaols.

Secondly, I believe that prisoners should have the power to enforce the prison rules. They cannot do so at the moment. In a case in the High Court in 1980 concerning the controlled unit at Wakefield prison, it was held by the judge that most of what occurs inside a prison is likely to remain untouched by judicial scrutiny. It is therefore my intention in the Bill to give prisoners the right to take action, through the courts if necessary, to enforce the prison rules. Of course, if that sanction were available to them, it is most unlikely that they would ever have to use it, as clearly the prison authorities would make sure that the prison rules were rigidly adhered to.

There is then the question of contact with solicitors by prisoners. The 1979 report of the Royal Commission on Legal Services said: Persons on remand or serving sentences in prisons are at a disadvantage when seeking legal services, because they cannot visit solicitors and there may be some restrictions on then-correspondence with their legal advisers.

The proposed Bill therefore provides that there should be no censorship of letters to or from a prisoner and his or her legal advisers. There should also be reasonable facilities for discussion of legal matters between the prisoner and his or her legal advisers. Clearly one of the prisoner's concerns might be that he wished to take legal action against the prison authorities. It seems quite wrong that a prison officer should be listening to conversations or reading letters concerned with such a matter.

There is also the question of what happens when a prisoner is subject to discipline for a breach of the regulations in prison. Where the prisoner is to appear before a board of visitors on a disciplinary matter, the Bill provides that the charges should be made known to the prisoner in advance, that he should if necessary have the benefit of legal advice, and that he should also have a full opportunity to present his case at any disciplinary hearing. Similarly, when a prisoner is on a disciplinary charge before the prison governor, the Bill provides that the prisoner should have advance notification of the charge and a full opporunity to present his case.

Members of the House will know that the classification to which a prisoner is subject has a material effect upon the conditions under which he is held in the prison. If a prisoner is unhappy about whether that classification is fairly or reasonably based, the Bill provides that the prisoner should have the right to make representations about it to the prison governor.

On the question of ordinary letters and visits, the Bill also safeguards the right of a prisoner to receive and to send a certain number of letters and to have a certain number of visits.

I hope that the Bill will also give the House an opportunity to discuss the vexed and controversial question of whether prisoners in gaol should have the right to vote.

Finally, the Bill will incorporate the Bill of Rights of 1688, which makes it unlawful for cruel or unusual treatment to be delivered as part of the punishment of prisoners. At the moment, this cannot be enforced in a court of law. Similarly, the Bill incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights which makes it unlawful to subject prisoners to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

4.28 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I, too, apologise to the House for detaining it from considering what is clearly very important business later this afternoon, but I feel that much of the Bill ought to be opposed. It is a workmanlike attempt by the proposer to introduce a measure of reform—much of which I accept—into the penal system. I believe that some of it, however, would undermine the whole working of the prison system, and as such I oppose it.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I believe that the prison system operates on the basis of discipline and obligations during the time that the prisoner is incarcerated. If the Bill were passed, that whole basis would be altered. The prisoner would be wandering around the prison with a fistful of rights in his hand like any employee of a firm. It follows that, in my view, remission is a privilege and not a right. The prison system cannot keep an inmate within it any longer than a judge has sentenced that prisoner to be there. Remission is the most effective sanction that a board has.

I have no objection to some of the proposals—for example, prisoners being entitled to a copy of the rules, or some of the proposals about legal advice. But the proposals for reforming some of the disciplinary matters are, in my view, misconceived. The present system of adjudication is based on the fact that a prisoner is dealt with promptly, in his own interest as much as anybody else's. To insist that a 14-day period should elapse before the prisoner can be dealt with would totally alter that. The prisoner knows the details of the charge because he has already come before the governor and been given them. If he does not, they are explained to him when he goes before the board of visitors.

Most prisoners in fact plead guilty at the adjudication stage. Nearly all of them want the matter to be dealt with quickly. In a category C or D prison, if a prisoner is held incarcerated in close confinement, it really is not possible for that to continue for a period of 14 days. If, for example, there has been an assault on an officer or another inmate, or an attempt to escape, it is not practicable to have prisoners floating about the place until the 14 days have elapsed.

The point to which I take most exception is that solicitors or counsel should be permitted to represent inmates at board of visitor hearings. Adjudications are an. internal matter. As I said earlier, bearing in mind that no additional term of imprisonment can be awarded by a board of visitors than was originally awarded by the judge and that an appeal lies by way of petition to the Home Secretary—in my experience he deals with them promptly—I do not believe that legal representation within the prison at the adjudication stage is appropriate.

The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) referred to harsh and degrading treatment. There has been no harsh or degrading treatment in the prison system for most of this century. The Prisons Acts and the regulations made under them make that very clear. If an inmate were to receive such treatment, he would immediately petition and the matter would be dealt with.

I wonder whether the promoters of the Bill have considered the problem faced by the prison officer himself should he be confronted by legal representation on behalf of the prisoner. He, too, must be entitled to have the prosecution case presented by a lawyer, and so it goes on.

Who will pay for this? Presumably the legal aid system. But the legal aid system even now cannot cover some things that we should like to see covered, such as the appearance of a prisoner before a judge in chambers asking for bail or representation of a parent in child custody proceedings. I do not think that that is appropriate.

Much of what is contained in the proposed Bill happens anyway. The hon. Gentleman has not gone through the measure clause by clause, so I shall not either, except to say that the current situation is exactly the same as that proposed in many of the clauses. It is not appropriate to claim that the Bill represents a shaft of light on our prison system.

It would not be appropriate to allow visits from just any person. That would enable the criminal fraternity to carry on its activities surreptitiously. Although the Bill provides that such visits cannot take place if it undermines security, often the damage has already been done. That is typical of the woolly thinking behind much of the Bill. I am happy to commend some parts of the Bill, but other parts, which are dressed up as reform, already take place.

By definition, most people in prisons are villains. Given half a chance, they will manipulate the system, and the Bill gives them that chance. If the measure is passed, the possibility of prison governors exercising discipline through their officers will be very much diminished.

I said at the beginning that I am old-fashioned. Perhaps I am—[HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."]—but I believe in discipline and standards, above all within the prison system. Much of the Bill, if enacted, would diminish that dicipline and those standards, and I hope that the House will reject the motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House Divided: Ayes 117, Noes 135.

Division No. 98] [4.33 p.m.
Alton, David Lestor, Miss Joan
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Lyons, Edward (Bradf'dW)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack McDonald, DrOonagh
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) McNally, Thomas
Beith, A. J. McNamara, Kevin
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood McWilliam, John
Bottomley, RtHonA.(M'b'ro) Marks, Kenneth
Bray, Dr Jeremy Marshall, D (G'gowS'ton)
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Maxton, John
Brown, Ron(E'burgh, Leith) Maynard, MissJoan
Brown, Ronald W.(H'ckn'yS) Mikardo, lan
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n &P) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Molyneaux, James
Canavan, Dennis Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Carmichael, Neil Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Cohen, Stanley Newens, Stanley
Concannon, RtHon J.D. O'Neill, Martin
Cook, Robin F. Owen, RtHon Dr David
Cryer, Bob Palmer, Arthur
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pavitt, Laurie
Davis, Clinton (HackneyC) Penhaligon, David
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Dickens, Geoffrey Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dixon, Donald Prescott, John
Dubs, Alfred Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Duffy, A. E. P. Race, Reg
Dunlop, John Richardson, Jo
Eastham, Ken Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
English, Michael Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Evans, John (Newton) Rooker, J. W.
Field, Frank Rost, Peter
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Sandelson, Neville
Fookes, Miss Janet Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Ford, Ben Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Foster, Derek Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Foulkes, George Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Freud, Clement Spearing, Nigel
Garrett, John (NorwichS) Stallard, A. W.
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Steel, Rt Hon David
Graham, Ted Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Stoddart, David
Grimond, RtHon J. Strang, Gavin
Hamilton, James(Bothwell) Straw, Jack
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tralFife) Taylor, MrsAnn (Bolton W)
Haynes, Frank Torney, Tom
HomeRobertson, John Wainwright,R. (Colnev)
Homewood, William Watkins, David
Hooley, Frank White, FrankR.
Howells, Geraint Whitehead, Phillip
Hughes, Robert (AberdeenN) Whitlock, William
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Willey, RtHon Frederick
Janner, HonGreville Wilson, Gordon (DundeeE)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Wilson, William (C'trySE)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Winnick, David
Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Kerr, Russell Tellers for the Ayes:
Kilfedder, James A. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and
KiIroy-Silk, Robert Mr. Clive Foley.
Leighton, Ronald
Ancram, Michael Bell, SirRonald
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)
Banks, Robert Benyon, W. (Buckingham)
Berry, Hon Anthony Lennox-Boyd, HonMark
Bevan, DavidGilroy Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Biffen, RtHonJohn Lyell, Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Macfarlane, Neil
Bottomley, Peter (W' wichW) MacKay, John (Argyll)
Braine, SirBernard Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Bright, Graham McNair-Wilson,M. (N'bury)
Brittan,Leon McQuarrie, Albert
Brooke, Hon Peter Madel, David
Brotherton, Michael Marlow, Tony
Brown, Michael (Brigg&Sc'n) Mates, Michael
Browne, John(Winchester) Mather, Carol
Burden, SirFrederick Mawby, Ray
Butcher, John Mawhinney, DrBrian
Carlisle, John (LutonWest) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mayhew, Patrick
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Meyer, SirAnthony
Chapman, Sydney Mills, lain (Meriden)
Clark, SirW. (CroydonS) Montgomery, Fergus
Cockeram, Eric Morris, M.(N'hamptonS)
Cope, John Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Cormack, Patrick Mudd, David
Corrie, John Needham, Richard
Crouch, David Newton, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ. Page, John (Harrow, West)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Durant, Tony Parkinson, Cecil
Eden, RtHon Sir John Parris, Matthew
Eggar, Tim Patten, Christopher(Bath)
Elliott, SirWilliam Pollock, Alexander
Fairgrieve, Russell Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Farr, John Price, SirDavid (Eastleigh)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Rathbone, Tim
Forman,Nigel Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Fox, Marcus Rhodes James, Robert
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Fry, Peter Rossi, Hugh
Garel-Jones, Tristan Sainsbury, HonTimothy
Glyn, Dr Alan Shelton, William (Streatham)
Goodlad, Alastair Shersby, Michael
Gow, Ian Silvester, Fred
Gower, SirRaymond Sims, Roger
Grant, Anthony (HarrowC) Sproat, lain
Greenway, Harry Squire, Robin
Grieve, Percy Stainton, Keith
Griffiths, PeterPortsm'thN) Stewart, lan(Hitchin)
Gummer, JohnSelwyn Stewart, A. (ERenfrewshire)
Hamilton, Hon A. StradlingThomas.J.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Temple-Morris, Peter
Harrison, RtHonWalter Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Hastings, Stephen Thompson, Donald
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Townend, John(Bridlington)
Hayhoe, Barney Wakeham, John
Henderson, Barry Waldegrave, Hon William
Higgins, RtHon Terence L. Walker, B. (Perth)
Howe, RtHon Sir Geoffrey Wall, Patrick
Howell, Ralph (NNorfolk) Warren, Kenneth
Hunt, John(Ravensbourne) Watson, John
JohnsonSmith, Geoffrey Wells, John(Maidstone)
Jopling, RtHonMichael Wells, Bowen
Knight, MrsJill Whitney, Raymond
Knox, David Wolfson, Mark
Lang, Ian
Lawrence, Ivan Tellers for the Noes:
Lawson, RtHon Nigel Mr. Ivor Stanbrook and
Lee, John Mr. Richard Alexander.
LeMarchant, Spencer

Question accordingly negatived.

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