HC Deb 17 November 1986 vol 105 cc321-31 4.11 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the hostage incident at Her Majesty's prison, Peterhead.

The prison officer who had been held hostage in A hall since Sunday 9 November was released on Thursday 13 November at 12.10 pm. The House will be relieved to know that this major incident was brought to an end without injury to the officer involved. I commend the efforts of the governor and his staff, the police, and the members of my own Department who have worked unstintingly to secure his release. Five prisoners in need of medical attention of one kind or another were released by their colleaues from A hall on 12 November and the remaining prisoners left A hall and gave themselves up early Thursday afternoon after first setting fire to the hall. I commend also the fire and other emergency services for the assistance that they rendered during the incident. The circumstances of the incident will be a matter for the police and the procurator fiscal to investigate.

I am sorry to have to tell the House that A hall itself and its contents have been very substantially damaged by those who took part in this incident. Moreover, D hall of the prison suffered some smoke and water damage and has had to be evacuated temporarily.

The recent incidents have involved relatively few inmates. I deplore the actions of a small minority who have been responsible for wholly unnecessary and counterproductive damage to recently refurbished accommodation at a time when the Government are seeking to provide more modern facilities in Scottish prisons. As a result of the incident the previous week at Saughton prison in Edinburgh and this incident at Peterhead, those who are held in these prisons will without doubt have, as a result of their own actions, to be housed in less satisfactory accommodation. I appeal to those who are in prison not to be deluded into foolish actions by those who seek to stir up trouble and make the physical conditions under which prisoners are held less rather than more acceptable.

The Government are fully aware of the concern which has been expressed with varying degrees of responsibility about conditions and treatment of prisoners in Scotland. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland has been charged by me with investigating the nature, extent and validity of general grievances indicated by prisoners at Her Majesty's prison Peterhead about conditions and treatment of inmates at that establishment and to report to me on these matters, with any related observations or recommendations, as quickly as practicable.

I can assure the House that when the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has been received it will be published and made available to the House. It is not his duty to investigate allegations of criminal conduct. Any complaints are for the police and procurator fiscal to investigate. Inmates who are seen by the chief inspector will be made fully aware that they may make any complaints implying criminal conduct on the part of prison staff in writing by sealed letter to the police or procurator fiscal or may request an interview with the police if they wish to make any formal complaint.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

May I first express my relief and, I am sure, that of all my right hon. and hon. Friends that the prison officer held hostage has been released unharmed? Everyone must be grateful for the patient and skilful efforts made by the prison service, the police and fire services to defuse a dangerous and unhappy incident.

I agree with the Secretary of State that it is important that the prison system should now have a period of stability and that any recurrence of violence or disruption would be totally counter-productive and self-defeating. I note what the right hon. Gentleman says, and that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is being asked to investigate the grievances that may or may not exist in the prison system. No hon. Member would question the chief inspector's impartiality, but it is important that the inquiry should inspire confidence both inside and outside the prison system.

Is the remit wide enough to deal with the causes of tensions that undoubtedly exist in the system? Would it not be better to appoint an independent person or committee rather than a senior civil servant, who could be seen in certain quarters as being compromised by his very position? The Secretary of State will no doubt remember that, when the tragic suicide incidents occurred at Glenochil, he appointed Dr. Derek Chiswick and his colleagues to look into the circumstances. Would that not be a sensible precedent on this occasion, so that we could have in charge of the investigation someone from outside the prison system, who is independent of it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman now consider the impact on the prison system of the changes to the parole system that were introduced about two years ago? He will remember that they were introduced retrospectively in certain cases, and that they resulted in specific categories of prisoners who were serving more than five years being excluded from the parole system except in exceptional circumstances. Does that not destroy hope and remove the incentive for good behaviour among long-term prisoners, thus greatly increasing the difficulties faced by prison officers who deal with populations such as those found in Peterhead?

In the light of what has happened, is there not a case for giving even greater weight to the Parole Board's sharp, but I am certain very considered, criticisms of the changes in the parole system? I think that they underline the points that I have made. Does the Secretary of State realise that those criticisms reflect a wider concern? The second paragraph of the Parole Board's report says: The general impression which emerged from the Board's discussions at establishments is of a counter-productive policy producing much bitterness and cynicism, and divorced from the spirit of parole as it was originally conceived. Will the Secretary of State consider going back to the drawing board, particularly as the changes were introduced by the fiat of the Secretary of State and have not been properly discussed or considered in the House, or by other interested bodies? Press stories have already appeared to the effect that the plans to build a new prison at Peterhead will not be affected by recent events. But the Secretary of State must be aware that Peterhead is perceived as the big house, a tough prison that deals with hard cases. Is there not a persuasive argument to be made that we should look again at the decision to rebuild on that site? It is an unpopular site and access by families is difficult. Should we not be reassessing and reviewing the case for building in the central belt and for having a policy of dispersal rather than concentration?

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)


Mr. Dewar

I accept that the hon. Gentleman has a strong local interest, but the issue is the wider good of the prison system and not any local interest.

Present discontents concentrate the mind on the disappointing progress made in the aftermath of the May committee report on the role and training of prison officers. Scottish Office committees seem to have been sitting interminably. Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we shall see some results for all that effort?

Mr. Rifkind

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I welcome his statement that he did not wish in any way to question the impartiality of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, but it sounds somewhat odd when set against the hon. Gentleman's subsequent remarks.

He asked whether the fact that the inquiry is to be carried out by the chief inspector is acceptable and whether the report will be independent enough. I must emphasise that the inspector is completely independent and does not answer through the Prison Department. He is not a member of the Prison Department and he answers directly to the Secretary of State. If we consider the various reports that he has made since his appointment, we shall be aware that he has not been reluctant to express criticism when he has thought that to be appropriate, and when he has thought that changes in the practice of the Prison Department are justified. I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House an absolute assurance that the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in carrying out this exercise, will fall exactly within the purpose of his office, will be completely independent of the Prison Department and will report directly to me. As I have said, his report will be published and will be available to the House when it is concluded.

I remind the hon Gentleman that the reasons for the nevi parole policy stem from understandable concern about especially horrific types of murder and serious crimes of violence and drug trafficking. Early release on licence is a privilege and not an entitlement. The interests of justice and those of the community at large must be given the highest priority. As the hon. Gentleman has recognised, even within the ambit of that policy, which has been in force over the past couple of years, there can be exceptional circumstances in which a different conclusion is reached on parole. It is for the Parole Board in the first instance, when making recommendations to me, to indicate whether it believes that in particular cases there are exceptional circumstances that would justify departure from the parole policy. I believe that that is the proper course of action.

I do not believe that the geographical location of Peterhead prison can be seen at this stage to be relevant in any way to the recent difficulties that have been experienced. The suggestion that a comparable prison should be built on a site in central Scotland is a matter of legitimate public debate, but I am not aware of any evidence at this stage to suggest that that would have a material effect on the progress to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Continuing consideration must be given to ways of improving the prison system, but at the end of the day we shall have always to deal with a significant number of very dangerous criminals who have been convicted of appalling crimes. We must consider the safety of the public and, in terms of our responsibilities to prison officers, the best way of dealing with prisoners of the sort and background that I have mentioned.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful for the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It is well known that Peterhead prison is in my constituency, and during the past week I spent most of my time at the prison. I pay my tribute to the governor and his staff, and to the prison officers who have spent so many long hours at the prison looking after the interests of the inmates and carrying out their responsibilities by providing them with food, and by ensuring that many other inmates have been sustained and that the normal routines of the prison have continued. I pay tribute also to the police officers who stood around and ensured that everything went smoothly. Tribute should be paid as well to the Grampian fire brigade, which had 10 appliances at the prison under the control of the chief firemaster, Mr. Morrison. Although A hall was badly damaged, the fire brigade managed to save D hall. It was an extremely successful operation.

I commend the Scottish ambulance service for standing by with ambulances in case any help from it was needed. I do not think that we should forget the wives and families of the prison officers, who obviously were under strain during the siege. We must be fair to the media, which fairly reported the incident and spent much time at the prison.

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has said about an independent committee of inquiry, but I accept my right hon. and learned Friend's reply that the Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland will be independent and will make a full and comprehensive report to him which will be made public. I think that that will be acceptable to those outside this place who, like myself, have been trying to ensure an independent inquiry.

With any inquiry, and whatever the inspector may decide, it is imperative that the festering sore of the continual accusations of brutality that are directed against prison officers in my constituency is cleared up once arid for all. We cannot afford to have it continuing. Even Andrew Walker, who led the recent incident, suggested that the allegations were groundless. I agree with him wholeheartedly and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give the House an assurance that when the report is published and made public he will respond to the recommendations with speed.

Finally, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have not yet heard the hon. Gentleman ask a question.

Mr. McQuarrie

This will be a question, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Very well, I shall allow the hon. Gentleman to ask a final question—well, a question.

Mr. McQuarrie

My final question is to ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend will give a categorical assurance that the new prison will start to be constructed in March 1987. It is already in the programme, and the Scottish Office has assessed the starting date as March 1987.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive contribution during the difficult circumstances of last week. I know that it was made at great personal inconvenience to himself. My hon. Friend has a deep and detailed interest in the problems at Peterhead, and his interest as a local hon. Member is extremely well known and much appreciated.

The inquiry by the Chief Inspector of Prisons will be completely independent and my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to study the report, as will the House as a whole. I hope that recent developments will have no effect on the long-term plans for the improvement to Peterhead. If there were ever to be any change in that respect, I would let the House know, but at the moment I have no reason to believe that there would be.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Government have been responsible now for seven years for prisons in Scotland? Therefore, it was a fairly poor comment to say that the Government are aware of complaints about prisons. Does the Secretary of State feel that, if any of the recommendations that the Chief Inspector of Prisons made to him had been acted upon, they might have helped to avert any of the incidents which have been referred to? The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred to location. Is the Secretary of State aware that in practice he was talking about it often taking a full day for a person to get a half-hour visit? When the hon. Gentleman was referring to location, that is what he was talking about.

Lastly, should not the Secretary of State have said something about the contribution made by the Daily Record's correspondent in helping to effect the release of the warden?

Mr. Rifkind

One pays a welcome tribute to the journalists who were involved, and who made a constructive contribution to ensuring a peaceful conclusion of this unfortunate incident. I am happy to say that.

The hon. Gentleman implies that nothing has been done to improve conditions in Peterhead over the past six or seven years, but that is not the position. Since 1979, about £1.4 million has been spent on a major refurbishing programme at Peterhead, and all the halls except D hall, but including A hall where the recent incidents occurred, have been upgraded and improved. Toilet facilities and showers have been provided and a new utility hall for recreation and a cinema have been built. Along with other improvements, these have produced a significant enhancement of the standard of facilities provided for inmates. It is sad that the fire that certain of the prisoners initiated at the end of last week's events will put back the very significant improvements that have been made in A hall, which has been only recently refurbished.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for taking such speedy action, and for his warm support for the prison officers? Does he agree that the majority of people in Scotland are most concerned about security? Is he aware that many of the prisoners in Peterhead have committed most horrendous crimes, including murder, and should be detained there as a first priority in secure conditions, and that other improvements, while most important, are secondary to that?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, Sir. I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The supreme obligation of the Prison Department and of myself as Secretary of State in this respect is to ensure that those who have been convicted of serious crimes and who are a threat to the public are kept in secure conditions to ensure that for the duration of their sentence they can no longer be a threat to the public.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Can I inform the Secretary of State that the family of the officer who was taken as a hostage lives in my constituency? I am sure that it will give the family some comfort that the Secretary of State has praised the officer concerned.

I wish to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said about training. God forbid that we should have another case of hostage-taking, but I hope that officers are trained to try to cope with such an event. It alarmed me that every press release and all the news coverage during the siege was presented with the accompaniment of a noisy generator.

I wonder whether it is wise to have such a situation. Some sections of the media suggested that it was intended to drown the prisoners' protests. Will the Secretary of State say why, with tensions running so high and with a man's life at stake, that should have happened?

Mr. Rifkind

The physical safety of the prison officer who had been taken hostage was the supreme consideration throughout the duration of the incident. At one stage the press and the media were asked to leave the vicinity of the prison because it was felt that their presence might encourage actions that would endanger the officer's life.

I wish to pay tribute to the prison officer who, I understand, had become a qualified officer only a year or so before the incident. Clearly he had to go through what for anyone would have been an appalling and distressing experience. I am sure that we all wish to pay tribute to the way in which he maintained himself during that appalling period.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the general sympathy of the public is more inclined towards the prison service than towards the inmates? The release of the prison officer has been greeted with great relief. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman also agree that a balance must be drawn between discipline and motivation?

In response to the question from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about the parole service, the Secretary of State said that in exceptional circumstances the Parole Board may be able to take decisions that could have an effect on the release date of a prisoner and the categories under which he was interned. Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman do better to give back to the Parole Board its previous powers over the prison service, so that the prison service could work with prisoners who realise that their behaviour may have an effect on their ultimate release date?

Mr. Rifkind

In response to the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I must say that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to prison officers who, day after day, expose themselves to substantial potential physical risk in dealing with people whose backgrounds, in many cases, show that they are very dangerous and difficult to handle.

The hon. Gentleman's latter point referred to the Parole Board. The board does not take decisions; it makes recommendations to the Secretary of State. We have said that if the Parole Board in the exercise of its judgment believes there to be exceptional circumstances that would justify departure from the normal rules concerning parole, it is for the board to refer to that and explain the exceptional circumstances. If the Secretary of State agrees, the existing rules on parole would not necessarily apply. In the first instance, however, it is for the Parole Board to consider whether there are circumstances that would justify such a recommendation.

Mr. Alexander Pollock (Moray)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, irrespective of any inquiry into the prison service, there will be no prejudice in respect of any proceedings that the procurator fiscal may choose to take, after a full examination of all the circumstances, in relation to any charges that might be appropriate? Can he also confirm that there are serious sanctions available to protect prison officers in these dangerous circumstances and that they will be applied rigorously if necessary?

Mr. Rifkind

Clearly, it is for the procurator fiscal to decide whether charges are appropriate. It would not be right for me to comment on that aspect. The inquiry by the inspector of prisons will not deal with the question of criminal offences. It is important that a distinction is made between the responsibility of the inspector of prisons and the responsibility of the police and the procurator fiscal.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Although one can agree with the Secretary of State and those hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the prison officers regarding the difficulties that have occurred in Saughton and Peterhead prisons, may I ask the Secretary of State to turn his attention just a little towards the accusations made by some of the prisoners? After all, they are human beings and there may well be something of substance in their points. Will he instigate an investigation into the validity of the prisoners' complaints?

Mr. Rifkind

That is exactly the purpose of the inquiry that I have announced today. The Chief Inspector of Prisons will he available to hear specific complaints from individual prisoners. In the light of the information that he is given and the conclusions that he reaches, he will make recommendations to me, which will be published. We can then consider whether any changes in prison practice are appropriate.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), will my right hon. and learned Friend contrast the level of capital expenditure on prison building of this Government with that of the previous Administration under the Lib-Lab pact? Does not the incident that occurred remind us that the work of prison officers is always responsible and sometimes extremely dangerous? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, while every allegation of misconduct must be followed up most rigorously, we believe that the vast majority of prison officers give wonderful and dedicated service in most difficult conditions and times, and that, whatever the outcome of the inquiry, that should not be forgotten?

Mr. Rifkind

I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the House to that question. Under this Government, capital expenditure on the prison system directed to improving living conditions for prisoners and working conditions for prison officer staff has increased from £2.9 million in 1980–81 to £11.7 million last year, and is expected to exceed £10 million in the current year. We have made a deliberate and sustained effort to ensure that the fabric of our prison system is compatible with modern requirements.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

Does the Secretary of State accept that changes in the parole system are having a damaging impact on the morale of prison officers and prisoners? If he does not accept the arguments that have been advanced at least three times this afternoon from Opposition Members, will he accept the arguments advanced forcefully by the chairman of the Scottish Parole Board? Does he accept that the time has come for a comprehensive review of how we are proceeding in these matters?

Mr. Rifkind

Hon. Members refer to the policy on parole announced by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, and we must put the matter in perspective. I am informed that only about 20—that is about 5 per cent.—of lifers have committed offences of murder that were specified within the new policy. A number of individual prisoners have been sentenced to a period of 20 years or more where a formal minumum recommendation was made. We are talking about a tiny fraction of the total prison population, and that fact should be taken into account.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

In acknowledging the relief felt generally about the freeing of Prison Officer Crossan, will the Secretary of State remember what he said about the importance of grievances being aired in public? Does he not recognise that, by seeking to separate from complaints those that might lead to a criminal charge being brought, he is ensuring that complaints of criminal behaviour will not be aired in public because they will be handed to the police and the procurator fiscal? Does he further recognise that the crucial consideration that we are now having to face in Scotland is that there is a pattern of disturbance in prisons under this Conservative Administration? Independent reports are being produced, but are not being acted upon —that by Dr. Chiswick, who at the weekend said that the Government had not acted upon his report; the reports on the Long Riggend disturbances; and the recommendations of the inspector about the remand prisoners at Barlinnie.

The responsibility for these matters lies with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The general public in Scotland is becoming increasingly anxious that the Government's penal policies are leading to intolerable stress and danger for prison officers.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating somewhat. Complaints that may involve criminal behaviour will be aired in court if they lead to prosecutions being brought by the procurator fiscal—

Mr. Maclennan

If they lead to that.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman says "If". Unless he is trying to impugn the judgment and impartiality of the procurator fiscals—

Mr. Maclennan

I am not.

Mr. Rifkind

We are talking either about grievances that involve alleged criminal conduct—in which case there will no doubt be a charge and the matter will be aired in the courts—or about matters which, even if they do not involve alleged criminal conduct, are considered as likely to lead to disturbances in the prison system. The chief inspector will examine these matters. I have already said that his report will be published. After all, these matters will be aired as completely as anyone would wish.

Mr. Michael Hirst (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that John Crossan, the young prison officer involved in the disturbance at Peterhead, showed considerable courage during and after his ordeal and that he epitomises the professional commitment of the Scottish prison service? However, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that long sentences may not be conducive to good conduct by prisoners? They have no incentive to behave well, in view of the length of their sentences. What sanction and encouragement can my right hon. and learned Friend introduce to encourage better conduct, given that, for some of these prisoners, an extra year or two on their sentences is no deterrent at all?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend drew attention to one of the fundamental difficulties in any modern society. If this House determines, as it regularly has, against the reintroduction of the death penalty, in practice the only inevitable consequence is very long sentences for those convicted of particularly horrific crimes. Our society must accept that it may never be safe to release some individuals because for many years they may continue to be a potential threat to the safety of the public. I pay tribute to the prison officers, who have to cope with that situation. Indeed, they have to deal with people whom the authorities may not be able for a long period to contemplate for release from a prison establishment.

Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I wish to try to soften up the Secretary of State by appealing to him to agree that perhaps the House and society have not paid enough attention to penal matters and penal reform. In the light of that comment, will he be more specific about parole? Does he say that inmates will not be able to raise this matter with the chief inspector? Surely it must be self-evident that one of the causes of discontent—perhaps a minor one—is the fact that families have to travel from Glasgow to Peterhead for visits. I appeal to the Secretary of State not to make a final decision about the rebuilding of a prison on the site at Peterhead.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Society as a whole does not show sufficient interest in penal matters. Indeed, it is only when an incident of the kind that occurred last week takes place that the wider public appears to show any interest in these matters. The Chief Inspector of Prisons may take evidence on any matters that prisoners at Peterhead think are relevant to the grievances that they wish to express. Whether these grievances refer to parole or other matters, they will he completely free to draw them to the attention of the chief inspector, and he will take them into account when making his recommendations to me.

Mr. Bob McTaggart (Glasgow, Central)

Will the Secretary of State for Scotland reassure the House that the remit of the chief inspector will be wide-ranging enough to cover all aspects of the regime at Peterhead and its place in the overall Scottish prison system, and not just the effects of parole on the prison service? Will advice and help from experts outside the prison service be available to the chief inspector in the same way as it is available to his counterpart in England? Mr. Hennessey is presently helping his counterpart in England.

Mr. Rifkind

Any prisoner at Peterhead is free to draw to the attention of the chief inspector any matters that he thinks appropriate. The only qualification that I have mentioned with regard to that general entitlement is that any allegations which involve a criminal offence clearly would be matters for the police and for the procurator fiscal to consider. I have said that, in order to ensure that these matters can be looked at completely independently, if any prisoner at Peterhead wants to make allegations that might involve a criminal offence, he can put them in a sealed letter, which can be handed to the chief inspector of prisons, who will transmit them to the procurator fiscal. This will ensure that these matters are fully investigated without any fear of consequence to the individual prisoner concerned.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The sealed letter—let me get this straight—unlike any other letter, is written without supervision. Surely the fact that a prisoner is known to be writing a sealed letter will create difficulties. Could not this lead to certain ambiguities?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must try to be reasonable in his comments. We are anxious to ensure that any prisoner who has a grievance is able to ensure that these matters are properly looked into. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that prisoners constantly write letters. If they write a letter, put it in an envelope, seal it and then hand it to the Chief Inspector of Prisons, no one other than the person who is entitled to open the letter will be aware of its contents.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Will the Secretary of State accept that those of us who have prisons and, therefore, prison officers in our constituencies are relieved at the outcome of the siege and abduction? Will he also take the point that those of us who, in the past two or three years, have experienced problems within the prison service are frankly not assured by the type of inquiry that the Secretary of State envisages, not because of misgivings about the quality of the report that is likely to be produced by the Chief Inspector of Prisons but because it will be conducted in secret?

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman also agree that there is a need for public scrutiny in this area and that, above all else, public assurance can be achieved only if reports are seen? The remit of the Chiswick report was limited, but when the committee went through the gathering of information it was subject to the public gaze. When its recommendations came out, the Chiswick report was regarded, by and large, as satisfactory because the process was carried out in public. A report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons will do little to allay the fears and worries of the community in exactly the same way as his predecessors' reports on Glenochil did little to reassure the community about the running of that institution until Chiswick reported.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's comments are unreasonable. He implied that prisoners have no means, other than contact with the chief inspector, of letting their views be known. He is well aware that prisoners are free to write to their Members of Parliament, their legal advisers and others. Indeed, if allegations that they put to the chief inspector are thought not to have been properly considered, there are numerous ways in which a prisoner can ensure that his allegations are known to the outside world. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that, over the years, chief inspectors—both the present one and his predecessors—have shown that they are perfectly willing to make considerable criticisms of the prison service when they believe such criticisms to be justified. They are not part of the prison service in any normal sense. They answer directly to the Secretary of State and not to prison service officials. Therefore, I believe that their independence and impartiality, which was acknowledged by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), have been recognised.