HL Deb 18 November 1952 vol 179 cc318-72

2.46 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON rose to call attention to the condition of our prisons; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, the subject to which this Motion refers was mentioned in the debate which we had in this House on October 22, on Penalties for Crimes of Violence, a debate which was introduced by my noble friend Earl Howe. The argument presented by Lord Howe and supported by the Lord Chief Justice and others, that the time had come to repeal the provision abolishing whipping as a penalty for crime, was answered with great force, I thought, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and by my noble friend Lord Templewood, who said that the Criminal Justice Act, 1948,which abolished the punishment of whipping, was really doing that in connection with the whole scheme of prison reform contained in that Act. That is undoubtedly true.

I have the Criminal Justice Act here. It was passed by Parliament in 1948, and different parts of it came into operation at various dates in the year 1949. It is far from being the case that the Act, in abolishing whipping, was making that isolated change. The Act itself, in its own Title, shows the contrary. It was: An Act to abolish renal servitude, hard labour, prison divisions and sentence of whipping; to amend the law relating to the probation of offenders, and otherwise to reform existing methods and provide new methods of dealing with offenders and persons liable to imprisonment: Among these new methods were the provisions in Section 21 for what are called corrective training and preventive detention. My noble friend Lord Temple-wood, who, when he was Home Secretary, followed a family tradition and devoted his particular attention to this subject, as every Home Secretary has to do in turn, pointed out during the debate in October that the proposed reimposition of whipping, by repealing the section in the Act of 1948, would be to take one corner of these reforms in prison administration without considering the scheme as a whole. I venture to refer to what he said, if I may quote his words. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 178, Col. 862] that this new plan was to give the community better protection against the hardened offender. The noble Viscount went on: This latter was a particularly important part of the proposals: the proposal that empowered the judge to pass a much longer sentence than formerly upon the hardened offender and to keep him in prison under corrective training or preventive detention for a sufficiently long time to make some impression upon him, and also for a sufficiently long time to protect the community from his further raids upon it.

Lord Templewood argued, having much sympathy with the Act of 1948: We came to the conclusion that, by means of proposals of this kind—the new institutions for dealing with the young, and the long-term imprisonment for the hardened offender—we should give the community better protection than the community had ever had before when corporal punishment was in operation.

My Lords, the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act for these purposes are stated in Section 21. There is no definition of corrective training or of preventive detention, but I gather that since the Act was passed the Prison Commissioners, acting on the authority of the Home Secretary, have set aside a certain amount of prison space for these purposes. If, when the Government spokesman replies to-day, he could give some indication of what this corrective training consists, it would, I think, be illuminating. As my noble and learned friend Lord Oaksey said in the last debate, the Act contains no definition of it, and it is not to be inferred from the section what corrective training is. As your Lordships know, Section 21 empowers the courts to order this training in cases where the convicted person is over twenty-one years of age. The person must be convicted… of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term of two years or more. He must also have been convicted on at least two previous occasions since he attained the age of seventeen of offences punishable … with such a sentence. Then there is a provision in regard to the powers of the court—the High Court judge or the chairman of quarter session —which says: if the court is satisfied that it is expedient with a view to his reformation and the prevention of crime that he should receive training of a corrective character for a substantial time, followed by a period of supervision if released before the expiration of his sentence, the court may pass, in lieu of any other sentence, a sentence of corrective training for such term of not less than two nor more than four years as the court may determine. Then there is a similar provision in regard to preventive detention.

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with those who argue that we must look at the provisions we made for the administration of prisons as a whole, and I am not at all desirous on the present occasion of reviving the debate which we had a month ago on the expediency or otherwise of restoring whipping as a possible punishment. But putting that aside and, as I say, not seeking to revive that debate, this question does seem to me to arise: Accepting the argument that Parliament in 1948 adopted a new scheme, the important part of which lay in the provisions that I have just read, what is happening now in the prisons, in view of this new Statute? I have been at pains to try to inform myself. I have twice served in the office of Home Secretary. Every Home Secretary in turn has this problem of prison administration prominently before him, and I have taken a great interest in it ever since.

I have ascertained, that, in addition to the Report that is made annually by the Prison Commissioners (the last one published is the Report for the year 1950, Command Paper 8356, which was presented to Parliament in September of last year), there is also another document to which I would call particular attention—namely, the Seventh Report from the Select Committee on Estimates, Session 1951–52. This Report concerns another place more directly than ourselves, but the Select Committee on Estimates of the House of Commons choose from time to time a particular topic to investigate, and in the Session of 1951–52 they chose the subject of prisons. They made a Report which is contained in this document, and to it they annexed the evidence which had been given to them, both by the Chairman of the Prison Commissioners, Mr. Fox, and by medical officers in various prisons. I commend the reading of this Report to your Lordships, for it contains some very important information.

What appears to have happened under the Criminal Justice Act is that the number of prisoners to be taken care of in our prisons has greatly increased—of course, that follows from the fact that judges were authorised to sentence to these longer terms of imprisonment criminals who satisfy the conditions of the section. The reform consisted in giving much longer sentences to these people; and that naturally increases the daily prison population. The first thing which I observe in this Report of the Select Committee is a paragraph headed "Overcrowding in prison," which begins in this way The marked increase in the number of prisoners results in undesirable overcrowding in local prisons in England and Wales. I might perhaps explain that the Prison Commissioners classify our prisons under various heads, of which "loca1 prisons" is the most important. There are, I think, twenty-four local prisons, and they house the majority of prisoners. The scheme appears to be that certain of the prisons have been set aside for the purpose of corrective training and preventive detention, and persons sentenced to preventive detention or corrective training are put into those selected prisons, rather than into local prisons. I am concerned for the moment, as was the Select Committee on Estimates, with the twenty-four local prisons about which this Report proceeds to give some detail. At the top of page viii it says this: In 1951, the daily average population in twenty-four oval prisons was 11,904, whereas the number of cells was only 8,672"— Obviously, if the system which years ago commended itself to prison reformers is to be adopted, that of giving each prisoner his cell in which he lived, except for the time when he came out for work or for exercise, on those figures you have a manifest problem to handle. If you have 8,672 cells into which persons can be put, and you have 11,904 prisoners in the local prisons, manifestly you have to do something about the balance.

And what is done about the balance —your Lordships may know it, and I think there will be no difference of opinion that it is very much to be regretted—is to put three prisoners in one cell. These cells measure 13 feet by 7 feet, or something of that kind, as Mr. Fox, the Prison Commissioner, testified before the Select Committee, and if you put three people in a cell that is made for one—well, various reflections suggest themselves. Possibly, some people will ask: "Well, why do you put three in a cell? Surely, two would be better." I think that most of us, if we reflect, will see good reasons why two convicted prisoners should not be put together in one cell. The number, therefore, is three; and to put three men in one cell involves, as was pointed out in the evidence given to the Select Committee, that some have to sleep on the floor. The arrangements, such as they are, including the sanitary arrangements, were made for one, and they have to be shared by three. I do not doubt that everyone will regard that as a very deplorable state of affairs.

I give an example which is to be found in the evidence here from one prison—Wandsworth Prison. In the record of evidence attached to this Report your Lord-ships will find evidence taken at Wands worth Prison on page 51. There is evidence by Mr. Lawton, the governor, and by Dr. J. H. Murdoch, the principal medical officer. The governor gives figures about Wandsworth Prison in this way. He says that during the last three months the number of prisoners of whom he has charge has gone up, and has now reached the total of 1.588. That statement will be found as the answer to Question 621 on page 50. In answer to Question 623, the Governor says that he has 1,116 cells. So, here we are in London, and if we imagine ourselves as looking inside the walls of Wandsworth Prison, that is the situation which we shall find. And to get over it, no one can do better than put three prisoners in one cell. Then Dr. Murdoch, the principal medical officer of Wandsworth gaol, in turn, gives evidence, and if those of your Lordships who have copies of this book will turn to page 61, you will see that, the governor having given some evidence, Dr. Murdoch was asked some questions about it. I call attention to his answer to Question 806, which appears on page 61. The matter is put to him in this way: We have been talking earlier about three persons in a cell? The Doctor replies: Yes, I say that is appalling and disgusting. The question which follows, and which those of your Lordships who have taken an interest in the matter may have read, shows his objection. He is asked this Question (No. 809) by the Chairman: This is a very important point about putting three prisoners in one cell. Would you explain to the Sub-Committee exactly what you feel about it? You have said you think it is appalling? The Doctor replied: I think it is insanitary. It can be condemned by any doctor. These are cells built to hold one person, by space, cubic capacity and ventilation and heating; everything is arranged for one man. It is supposed to be adequate for one man, and you are putting him into conditions over which he has no control at all…. You are putting him into sanitary conditions which are completely inadequate.…. And the Doctor goes on to give details which are not suitable for reading aloud, explaining the inconvenience.

I understand that if a prisoner objects to being put in a cell with two others, his objection will be considered by the prison authorities, and I have no doubt at all that they do their best to arrange the matter. But putting into one cell three people, all of whom have been convicted, is a dreadful thing to do. The reform that was made in our prison system long ago depended essentially on two propositions. The first was that a prisoner should be kept in solitary confinement in his cell, that he should be kept in his cell alone except, of course, when he was taking exercise or when he was set to work. The other proposition was that he should be set to work, and to hard work, as much as possible, I do not know whether any of your Lord-ships have seen the most admirable film of Pickwick. It may be that the representation there on the screen is exaggerated. But if you read Pickwick Papers you can see that the great objection to the Fleet Prison was that people were gathered together. Indeed, you may possibly remember that Mr. Samuel Pickwick, who was a gentleman of some substance, was welcomed by the warder and told: "You're chummed." He was notified that he was "chummed" in number so-and-so "on the third flight." And Mr. Pickwick went up to that room and found his colleagues in what I think was called "the Chummery." He objected, and the prison warder indicated that a great deal could be done with a little money. Mr. Pickwick ultimately got a room to himself. Again, if your Lordships recall the best known picture of Elizabeth Fry visiting prisoners at New gate, the point that strikes one is that the prisoners there are gathered together in the same place.

Prison reformers long ago came to the conclusion that the only right course was to allot the prisoner to his lonely cell. A cell is built to contain one prisoner, and it is very regrettable—that is all I say—that owing to the pressure of the times, and the number of persons serving sentences, it has been found necessary to depart from this course. I do not for one moment suggest that there is not in the Prison Commission—Mr. Fox and his colleagues—and in the Home Office itself, the greatest consideration given to this problem. Of course, there is. Every Home Secretary, in turn, has had to give his attention to prison administration. Every change has to be maturely considered in that great Department. But the fact is that, as this Report and this evidence shows, faute de mieux we are now putting three criminals in one cell in a large number of cases—some 3,000 or 4,000 cases.

That leads to a second result, which again is to be regretted very much, and which is dealt with in the Report of the Committee at page x, in the paragraph headed: "The shortage of prison officers." Those noble Lords who have had occasion to visit prisons will appreciate that if the prisoners are going to be taken out to do work in the workshops, they have to be watched and guarded while they do it. This Report shows that sometimes prisoners attack one another for some fancied grievance, and there must be prison officers there to keep order and discipline. The scheme of prison reform, which we accepted in the Home Office in my day and which my noble friend Lord Templewood spoke of as existing in his day, was a scheme under which prisoners should do a full working week of three shifts. But the result of the shortage of prison officers is that that cannot now be done. This is what the Report says: The dangers resulting from the accommodation problem are seriously aggravated by the long hours which prisoners in local prisons have to spend in their cells. This is due to the shortage of prison officers to look after 23.000 prisoners in England and Wales there are employed some 6.500 staff of all grades. This staff is not large enough to run the prisons on the most economical and efficient lines. In consequence, it is impossible, except in most central, regional and corrective training prisons, to operate the three shift system which was in operation before the last war. The three shift system consists of an early shift, a late shift and a middle or overlapping shift; it enables prisoners to work from seven and a half to eight hours a day in the work-shops and to take advantage of recreational and educational facilities available to most prisoners in the evenings it enables better discipline to be maintained, ensures better training and tends to a healthier prison atmosphere.

The Report of the House of Commons Select Committee goes on to point out that owing to this shortage of prison officers the number of hours of work which prisoners do in a week is most seriously diminished. The Report says: The effect on the prisoners is that they spend much longer in their cells, up to as much as thirteen and a half hours a day in local prisons. And observe that they may have two companions in their cells during those thirteen and a half hours. The Report continues: Their average working week amounts to twenty-two hours and in Parkhurst and Dart-moor, the central prisons for men undergoing sentences of preventive detention and long-term imprisonment, it is considerably less. The enforcement of discipline among the prisoners is also made much more difficult.

I hope I may be excused for calling attention to these matters, which Parliament should maturely study. Please do not misunderstand me. I am riot throwing any blame at all on the Government or on the Home Secretary because this is the condition of things. What I am saying is that this is a shocking condition and it raises the question for all of us: what prospect is there of bringing it to an end? Does this new plan of preventive detention or corrective detention lead to this multiplication of prisoners? That question arises in regard to the scheme which my noble friend Lord Templewood so movingly described to us as having a prospect of producing good results. Therefore, I have been at pains to put down several questions which I think it would be relevant to ask. I would have put them down on the Order Paper but for the rule that not more than three questions must appear on the Order Paper on one day, and that ration has already beer exhausted but I took the precaution to send a copy of them to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and no doubt he will deal with them as he thinks fit.

I will read the questions which I suggest arise on this matter. First, I wish to ask: What is the present prison population and how many prisoners are now required to share a cell with two others? What is the estimated period which must elapse before every prisoner can have a separate cell? My second question deals with the matter which is referred to in the Report of the Prison Commissioners. What is the date when it is estimated that the construction of the proposed new security prisons will be (a) begun, and (b) finished and in use? What is the prospect of carrying out the building programme for the two security boys' Borstals and the two small Borstals for girls and the Psychiatric Institution referred to in paragraph 4 of the Report of the Prison Commissioners for 1950?

Your Lordships will observe that in this connection I have used the phrase "security prisons." I believe that is a technical phrase that is used for those prisons which are so built as effectively to keep the prisoners in. There is another kind of prison which has been devised recently. I remember it very well when I was Home Secretary. I went to see it, It is the open prison. The idea was that a man who had not previously been sentenced and who had to serve a sentence of six months or more should be put, at any rate at the end of his time, in a place which was not the ordinary prison but one with no bolts and bars. Wakefield Prison is the prison which was selected for this purpose. It was arranged that at the end of their sentences these men should be kept in an open prison, where they did agricultural and other work and slept in Army huts, It was pointed out to me that the doors of the huts were not locked. There were no officers there with keys. In effect, the men kept one another in. But it was a privilege to be sent to this open prison. Moreover, it prepared the men for return to civilian life. I recollect that when I was in the House of Commons and responsible for the Home Office, I explained this to the House at some length, telling them my own experience and justifying it.

I still think there is great hope in the idea that a man who has the fate before him of remaining locked up in prison year after year, before the time comes for his release, should be able to live in a freer atmosphere and learn again to become a citizen. Further, the idea of these open prisons was that the prisoners who enjoyed this privilege would keep watch on one another. If anyone broke loose, he would bring disgrace on the whole system. I was told that the effect was very good, and there is many a man who has been through an open prison and has come out and, I hope, has behaved like a good citizen. The great advantage of that system is that open prisons are much cheaper than security prisons. The real problem here, of course, is how to provide for the imprisonment of this increasing number of men who are sentenced to imprisonment.

My third question is: What progress is being made in recruiting prison staff? I notice that Mr. Fox, in his evidence before the House of Commons Committee, said that he needed 500 more prison officials. What progress has been made in recruiting prison staff? And how many are still needed? I venture to think that this is another question about which we shall be glad to receive information: When will it be possible to restrict confinement to cell to pre-war hours, instead of the thirteen and a half hours in every twenty-four hours, so as to allow more time for employment, recreation and association? If you accept the proposition that a prisoner should be put to work, as discipline for him and as a corrective, then he should do a decent week's work. To allow prisoners to do only one shift in perhaps three hours, and then to lock them up again, is a most unhappy procedure.

Lastly—and this, again, raises a question in other Government Departments —how do matters now stand about the product of prison labour? There was a time, when I was young, when all prison labour was denounced. I see my noble friend Lord Samuel over there, and he will remember that the objection that prison labour was competing with industry used to be almost a daily dish. Great efforts have been made by the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners to get over that difficulty. They ask for tenders from the different Departments for the things which prisoners make. I therefore ask: Has there been a satisfactory response from Government Departments to the Commissioners' request for more orders for prison goods? The Report of the Prison Commission states that a circular has been sent to The Departments urging them to ask the prison labour section to produce what they need. Some things they can do. They make mail bags for the Post Office, and they are capable of doing other things as well.

Those are the questions which I feel it is reasonable to raise in this debate, and I should like to make this statement in conclusion. I do not doubt at all that the authorities are doing everything possible. The idea that the Prison Commission, or the Home Office, are indifferent to this matter is quite without foundation. But consider what a strange society we live in. We live in a society which gets greatly excited because of a repetition of serious crimes. The papers are full of stories about gangsters, and all the rest of it, and everybody is excited. There then follows a trial, and everybody is greatly moved to know whether such and such a person, accused of such and such a crime, is going to get off, or whether the jury are going to convict him. Counsel's speeches, the summing up to the jury, and everything else are widely studied by the public. But once the sentence is pronounced, and the man in the dock is moved away to the gaol, the interest of the public in the question disappears. I submit to your Lordships that it is our duty to take an interest in what is done for these miserable people in our prison system. I nurse the hope that the new plan may in the end produce good results. But in the meantime I feel it my duty to call attention to the facts testified to in the Blue Book, and to address to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, with great respect, the questions which I have formulated. I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to detain your Lordships at any great length, because there are many noble Lords who have a much greater knowledge than I have on this topic. I think the House should be grateful to the noble and learned Viscount who has raised this matter, which obviously is one that closely concerns the well-being of the country. There are, as he so rightly said, certain disturbing features in the present situation for which, I should agree with him, no-one is to blame. But I can claim some little knowledge of this matter. Since I was first elected to the House of Commons thirty years ago, I have visited a large number of prisons in this country, and though I have not, I am afraid, read any modern Blue Books, I have formed a certain view of my own with regard to them.

I believe that there are three justifications for keeping a man in prison. There is, first, the hope that while he is in prison it may be possible to bring influence to bear upon him to amend his life and to become a decent, useful citizen. That is the best justification of all, if it can be done. The public are most deeply interested in that, because if only we could make sure that, after a sojourn in prison, a man who was an evildoer, turned into a decent, respectable citizen, how much should we all gain! The second ground is that prison may have a certain deterrent effect, arid may deter others. Speaking for myself, I think it is idle to blink this fact: that unless, when a man leaves prison at the end of his sentence, he looks back to the gloomy portals from which he emerges and says to himself: "Please God I will so conduct myself that I never get back there again," then the deterrent effect is non-existent. When I was Lord Chancellor—it may have been just before then—there used to be somebody who threw a brick into one of the windows of Downing Street round about November. That person had done it for many years, and the sentence had become more or less common form—I think it was two or three months. On one occasion the miscreant—a woman—did it in October, instead of November. When the police picked her up, they said: "This is a bit early, is it not?" She said; "Yes. You see, my son has come home from the war a bit early; he is married, and has nowhere to live except with me. So I thought I had better come it here and give him my house." It is perfectly obvious, if we are realists about this matter, that the deterrent effect of that sort of prison is absolutely non-existent.

The third justification for keeping people in prison is, to my mind, that it protects the public from the activities of these people. When the Criminal Justice Bill was before the House I took a somewhat different view from some of my colleagues about this matter. I wanted to see those people who had proved themselves to be real crooks, and had been convicted several times, sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, not with the idea of reformation, which I thought hopeless at that stage, but with the idea that the public might be protected from the activities of these people for a very long period of time. That being so, I would have made the conditions of the incarceration as comfortable as possible. I should have allowed the prisoners to have visits from their friends and all that sort of thing; but I would have kept them there. That was, I think, the idea of preventive detention. I hope that preventive detention will be regarded rather more from that point of view than I think it has in the past. Those are the three matters about which I want to say just a word or two, and I must say that am deeply disturbed about all of them.

My experience of both men's and women's prisons is this. Although, of course, there are some cases of reformation, the condition and atmosphere of a prison are such that it is not the sort of place which is likely to make reformation possible. I believe—I say this with regret—that there are more people who advance further along the road to hell that way than advance the other way. I agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken that the fact that it is necessary to have three men in a cell is more than ever likely to bring about that result. I believe that there are a number of people who have gone into prison, comparatively decent people, having commited one offence, who have learned practices in prison which have turned them into real crooks. I regret to say that, but I believe it to be a fact.

I talked to the governor of one of our prisons (this was a prison to which people are not sent until they have been convicted three times) and I asked him how many of the men in his prison he thought were going to lead honest lives when they left. He said, with a strange smile, "Do you want a completely honest answer?" I said, "Yes." "Well," he replied, "I think I should probably be over-stating it if I said 1 per cent." If that is anything like right, it is an appalling outlook. I do not believe that by the mere process, the easy process, of making prison more and more comfortable, you will necessarily bring about a greater chance of reformation. I certainly do not want to go back to the old methods of brutality, and the working conditions of labour, which destroyed a man's respect for himself. I do not want that at all. But I believe it is a completely wrong outlook to think that reformation is assisted by trying to bring about all the material comforts you can. I do not believe that is true. So much for that matter.

If that is true in regard to reformation, it is most certainly true in the way of the deterrent effect of prisons. I saw a lady from the north of England who had committed a serious crime. I could see no evidence whatever of any contrition, but I found the most complete evidence of the appreciation with which she regarded what was being done for her in prison. Incidentally, I was warned when I went there that I must not talk about "cells," and that I must be most careful to use the word "rooms." She said to me something of this sort: "You know, I like Aylesbury so much; the air is so beautiful here. I have told my 'old man' that I am never going to live in the north again "—giving the name of her town. "I have told him to buy a house in Aylesbury. When I get out of this prison I am never going to leave Aylesbury." She added: "You know, I can't speak too highly of what is done for us here. The food is served so beautifully hot. It does make such a difference to food being hot, doesn't it? "I said," Indeed it does. "She said: "I think of my sisters outside, standing in the queues in the rain"—this was four years ago—" and I think we are so well fed here, with beautiful food served so hot." I thought that I must try to find something of discomfort about it all, and I said: "Well, I suppose you are sent to your room rather early, are you not?" She replied: "Yes, we are sent to bed early, but the beds are so comfortable—the most comfortable beds. "I asked her, "What do you do?" She said, "We have a very good library here. I like reading Westerns. Do you read Westerns?" I answered, "I have not read many Westerns." She said, "I like Westerns, and we have the best library of Westerns in the country here." I said, "At long last the light is turned out, and you are left in your room." "Yes," she said, "but if you want anything you have only to ring the bell."

I do not want to be accused of advocating a return to methods of brutality, but I do seriously ask your Lordships to consider this: Is that the right way to make prison have a deterrent effect, or is it the right way to bring about a reformation of the characters of the people in prison? I do not believe that the mere abolition of all the hardships of life is the right way to deal with this problem. I have already dealt with the way in which I think we might try to deal with preventive detention. I should be prepared to give up the idea of anything punitive about that. I should like to see a really long period of detention, in order that the public might be protected. I have not seen any of these prisons without bars. I can well understand that they may be most useful experiments. If they give these people back their self-respect and they work hard, that may be a way of reformation—I do not know.

Of course, there is one other matter that we have always to remember in dealing with prisons. With young men in prisons the sex problem inevitably becomes very acute. That is, of course, a constant thorn in the flesh to all those who have to deal with prisons. I believe I am right in saying that in some jurisdictions they have introduced a system of holidays in prisons. I do not know to what extent that is possible with certain types of prisoner. If it were, it might help to solve the particular problem which I have indicated—it might, indeed, have the effect of making the person who had a week off in a year, or something of that sort, dislike even more returning to the prison and, therefore, might increase the deterrent effect. That is a matter about which those who have studied this matter know far more than I do, and about which they would be able to express an opinion. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, is to be thanked by the House for bringing this matter to our attention. I believe there is something which does call for the most careful consideration by those who have studied this matter. At the present time we have not nearly solved this problem, and I am doubtful whether we are tackling it on the right lines.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to ask only one question, but I think it is a very important one; it is, whether anybody thinks that mere prison, and certainly prison under the conditions described by the noble and learned Earl, can work any good effect upon anybody. If it cannot, then there is an end of all humanitarian arguments of prison per se as a reforming influence. I think that when we consider this question we are rather too apt to assume that everybody who is sent to prison is more or less a scoundrel. We should also think of the people who are really rather victims of circumstance. For example, a man who commits an assault under extreme provocation is sent to prison. Let us take the case of that man. Who looks after his family? We take a man and for a wrong deed we suddenly and violently break the ties which are the most important and sacred ties which help a man to lead a decent life. I say that to do that is in itself brutalising; it may have a very bad effect on a man's character. People say, "Prison is to protect the public." But in the case of a man like that the public does not need protection. I may say that I have been fortunate enough to know men who have done a term of imprisonment and who have rebuilt their lives and are honoured, respected and loved by their family and their friends. Yet one hears them described perhaps as "old lags."

The news I get of the prison house is twofold: one is that it is the most fertile school of vice and crime that can be imagined; and the other is that it is far too comfortable. I am quite sure that for the habitual criminal, or for the good man who has had one lapse, prison is not the answer, though I should not be prepared to suggest any alternative today. To my mind, prison is rather like looking at a boy's mathematical problem; you can see that it is wrong but perhaps you are not able to provide the answer. But the man for whom I wish to put in a plea to-day is the man who is not an habitual criminal and who is riot really a wicked man at all. I think that to inflict a sentence of imprisonment on such a man, unless it is absolutely necessary, is a difficult thing to justify.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I want to intervene in this debate for only two or three minutes. I think that the proposer of the Motion, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, is to be congratulated for bringing this matter before the House. From the attendance here this afternoon it is obvious that there is a good deal of interest in this particular Motion. I want to raise two instances which have worried me very much in the last few months. One is the case of a young man who was sent to prison, and the other a case of a young man who was sent to a Borstal institution. I was approached by the parents of the young offender who had to go to prison, who were very much distressed by the fact that in the prison in which he was confined he was occupying a cell with two other people. That state of affairs apparently went on for many months, but just before I saw him he had been removed to another block in the prison precincts and was then enjoying the benefit of a single cell. There was great distress at the thought that this comparatively young man was occupying the same cell as older and possibly hardened criminals.

The point I really wish to make is that before the termination of his sentence he was moved to another prison in the country, and I understood that he was about to finish the sentence. I did not hear anything of him for a few weeks, but, much to my surprise, on two or three occasions I was rung up on my telephone on a reversed charge call (which naturally I accepted) and to my great dismay I learnt that this young lad had already been in several occupations and was drifting from one to the other. It was obvious that on leaving prison he was more or less left to his own devices, and it seemed to me a tremendous pity that directly after serving a fairly long sentence for one or two little crimes which he had committed, possibly in the exuberance of youth or otherwise, he was allowed to drift without any supervision whatsoever. That may have been the young man's own fault. I wanted to mention this particular case in order to bring home the fact that when young men have served their first sentence in prison some system should be adopted whereby they can be supervised or looked after or given work to do.

The next case which is before me is that of a country boy who was sent to a Borstal institution for, I believe, a period of three years. The crime which this young agricultural worker had committed was not a very serious one. With one or two other lads he had been a bit of a nuisance in the village, perhaps had done some poaching and so on, but at any rate on one occasion he decided that he wanted some fowls, and he took them, with the result that he was sent to a Borstal institution. Once he was at the Borstal institution he was not allowed to go home. His sentence was for three years and the three years is nearly over. He had been doing a useful job on the land, driving horses, not a tractor: he had been allowed to go out with horses. The point of this case is that suddenly he was told, apparently by the authorities, that he was to be moved to another Borstal institution. That did not in fact take place, but a few weeks ago, unknown to his parents or to anybody, he was sent to a mental institution. His parents received notice of the different address from the young man himself, and when his mother went to see him in this new institution he knew that he was in a mental institution and he said: "There is no insanity about me. I am not insane. I am sent here with all these other people who are insane, and I cannot understand the reason." That naturally created a good deal of distress to the parents. I am informed that there was no hereditary insanity in the family and it seems to me that if this young man now finds himself in a mental institution the possibility of his returning home at the end of the three years' Borstal detention to which he was sentenced will be a very remote one indeed.

The point I wish to raise here is that it is very important that people who are young first offenders and who are sent to Borstal should not find themselves sent to a mental institution. Here is a lad who might work on the land and, in my submission, he should find himself back at home at the end of the three years for which he was sent to Borstal. I do not want to intervene any longer between your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, but I thought I was justified in raising these instances which have come to my notice within the last two or three months in order that, if there is in fact something wrong in these two cases, it may be put right.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join those of your Lordships who have thanked the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for bringing this matter before us this afternoon. It is a most important subject and one which, I think, we cannot discuss too often. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wise, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his observations—which were possibly a little apart from the theme raised by the noble and learned Viscount. I would say only that the first of the cases to which the noble Lord referred is a very common type indeed. Every judge and every chairman of quarter sessions must have had a very large number of such cases to deal with. It is a common psychological type. There is undoubtedly a mental illness in that type of case, and I agree with the noble Lord that something more ought to be done to look after this kind of criminal on discharge. The 1948 Act, of course, makes new provision for looking after prisoners after discharge, but I do not feel that it goes quite far enough. So far as my own observation goes, however, a good start has been made, and I hope the Government will see their way to put more money and personnel into that side of the problem, because it is a very important one indeed.

The noble and learned Viscount's speech really brings us back to one of the fundamentals of a political society, which is the preservation of law and order in the community; and I think we should be very grateful to him for having done so. I myself feel that it might be better, rather than spend more money on the prisoners, to spend such money as is available on increasing the numbers of the police force. Indeed, that might be better than spending the money in any other way. The more thought I give to this matter—and I am sure I am echoing the thoughts and experience of other noble Lords—the more I am satisfied that the policeman on the beat is the best preventive of crime of all. It is a disturbing feature of the present situation that the police force is so very much down on its numbers. I feel that if only we could bring the police force back to its proper strength and get the policeman back on his beat, the figures of crime would begin to drop at last. But that, again, is a little apart from the observations of Lord Simon.

The noble and learned Viscount has drawn attention to a matter which has been, I am sure, one of the principal worries of the Prison Commission since before the time when he himself first went to the Home Office—and that is a very long time ago. During the First World War I had the pleasure of working, with the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who was then an official in the Home Office. I gathered from him that during the years before that war they had been engaged on a problem which I understood had been before the Home Office for a long time—that of trying to get Pentonville Prison and other old prisons moved from the spots on which they stood and put elsewhere. I believe that a decision in principle had already been taken to do so in the case of Pentonville—but it is still standing. Pentonville Prison is typical of the old prisons which we have they were built over a hundred years ago and they are quite unsatisfactory from the point of view of the carrying through of what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, described its the first aim of prison reformers—namely, that prisons should be used to reform the prisoners who are sent there.

I agree with him that it is stupid to treat prisoners too leniently in prison. The noble and learned Earl gave us a very amusing account of conditions which he seems to have found at Aylesbury. When I visited the old prisons I must say that I have not had the feeling that the amenities there were such as to encourage the unfortunate inmates. What has seemed to me to be a fact is that those men who are giving so much devoted work to trying to reform these people while they are in prison have an almost insuperable task, in view of the conditions that prevail in these old prisons. I am sure the community would be much better off if many of these buildings could be blown off the face of the earth—used, perhaps, as experiments for atomic bombs or something of that kind—and replaced, not by luxurious hotels but simply by decent modern buildings in which a man, without being pampered in any way, could retain his self-respect. A famous prison reformer once said that a man should be sent to prison as a punishment and not for punishment, and I think that that is a very pertinent observation.

But the existence of these old out-of-date prisons is once again proving the truth of the old saying that "it's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good." They are, in effect, forcing the Prison Commissioners to set up more of the open prisons, such as Ley Hill, which have been referred to more than once to-day, particularly by Lord Simon. Personally, I think that these prisons are one of the means by which this terrible problem can be solved. They are valuable from more than one point of view. They are valuable because, for one thing, they have proved that it is possible to trust a prisoner in many ways; and I think there is nothing which so assists a man to keep his self-respect as to trust him. Of course, if you trust some of these men too far you are making a mistake, but in the hands of sensible and experienced prison officers the trusting of a man can help him to build up his self-respect; and it is only by doing that continually that a man becomes fit to resume his position as a decent citizen among his fellow-citizens.

The open prison is proving much better too, from the point of view of providing prisoners with work. One noble Lord to-day made the important observation that it is essential that prisoners should be kept at work—and hard at work. I think one of the fundamental criticisms which can be made against the administration of prisons over the last generation is the fact that there has not been enough sensible work for prisoners. It is better, of course, that they should be kept making bags and picking oakum, and that sort of thing, than doing nothing at all. But, after all, that sort of work is not the sort of work that prepares a man to be a decent citizen after he leaves prison. I appreciate that there are many difficulties in the way, that the attitude of the trade unions has, in the past, been far from helpful in this respect. That was understandable in days gone by, when there was a great deal of unemployment, but we are now living in a world in which, at any rate in this country, we are very short of personnel for the numerous jobs which have to be done in the community. In those circumstances, it seems to me that it is nothing short of a scandal that these men should be kept cooped up in these prisons, not doing a proper job of work or being trained to do the sort of work which they could do well and satisfactorily after they come out of prison.

In the open prisons, where men in small groups can go and work on farms, can go and work on land drainage and can go and work in forestry, and in a number of other ways, that difficulty is, to a substantial extent, bring surmounted. Therefore, I feel that the proposal which the Prison Commissioners are making, to open up a series of new prisons of this kind in different parts of the country, is very much along the right lines. At the present time, when the financial position is a difficult one, it is certainly a point of some importance that these open prisons are much cheaper to run than the closed prisons of the type which the noble and learned Viscount has been condemning so ably in his speech this afternoon. Those are the main points which I should like to make to your Lordships. I am quite sure that there are many aspects of this matter which call for much more thorough attention, and we should be most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for bringing this matter before us to-day.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I personally am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for bringing forward this Motion. I deeply regret that, through no fault of my own, I was not here to listen to his speech, because I was going to remind the noble and learned Viscount that about the time, or just before, he was Home Secretary on the second occasion—I remember the first occasion it was during the First World War—I started my acquaintanceship with local prisons of the grimmest kind. I refer to one. It was a local prison which housed the "old lags," as some people call them, of the county of Yorkshire. When the noble and learned Viscount started his work as Home Secretary, those places were certainly grim on the outside. That is where I agree with the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat. As he says, they were so well built that they were very difficult to destroy. A 500 lb. bomb was dropped into the courtyard of this prison. It made a crater but did not displace a stone, so well was the prison built. When the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, became Home Secretary on the second occasion the insides also of these local prisons were terribly grim. I believe they were coated with lime wash of the dullest and greyest type. Both Strange ways and the Yorkshire prison—especially the York—shire prison—are surrounded by foundries and gasworks, and so it is excusable that the outsides of those prisons are covered with soot.

If the noble and learned Viscount could spare the time, I should like him in the near future to see what he tried to do when he was Home Secretary—that was, to give a fillip and an encouragement to what are called "visiting justices" to make not formal reports, but real reports, for the benefit of the Home Secretary and also of the Prison Commissioners. It took a bit of doing. I remember that when the noble and learned Viscount became Home Secretary there was a miserable little gas flame which was outside the cell itself and which only reflected light inside. There were also the so-called "decorations." To-day, thanks to enlightened administration of the Prison Commissioners, backed by Home Secretaries of insight and humanity, I find a great improvement in the colour schemes. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that bright colours, whether in a prison, a mill, or anywhere else, have apsychological effect.

I went into the prison as recently as last weekend. It was a very dull day, but I thought they had actually put the carpet down at the entrance for any V.I.P's. in the way of new prisoners who might be coming to pay them a visit. There was a bright colour scheme, even on the steps —they were the same colour as the colour of the Woolsack. The walls were a pleasant cream colour, and on them were some beautiful pictures which had been lent by the local corporations from the permanent collections in their art galleries. I am looking at the positive side and trying to show that we have not been standing still, even in the difficult war years and particularly the later years when there was serious overcrowding. For instance, on Friday, there were 786 prisoners in a prison which was built for about 500.

Throughout the whole war and since, the peace in that prison has not been broken. One also has to remember that the prison has been manned by a depleted staff. I wanted to make my little speech really in order to pay a tribute to the staff and the governors for the great work they have done in these local prisons where there is serious overcrowding. To-day, the buildings are equipped with electricity and relayed radio. Moreover, after we have advocated it for many years, there is a "tuckshop." It is no use anyone trying to do some black marketeering, because these prisoners can buy their tobacco, their chocolates and their hair cream—and some of them rather value their hair-cream; they used to use margarine in the old days to make their hair look nice and crinkly. They purchase these things on the credit they earn by being good conduct prisoners. So far as we know, there is no black marketeering. There is the tuckshop, doing a good trade, but I know it was frowned upon when it was started in some of our local prisons. All our local prisons now have tuckshops.

The hospitals, too, have been transformed. The hospitals at these local prisons are as good as any that you would find operating under the National Health scheme. I went into the maternity ward at Strangeways to which all women prisoners from Yorkshire, Lancashire and also, I believe, parts of Lincolnshire, are sent. I could tell by the very atmosphere that there was a happy feeling prevailing. In spite of every circumstance and everything else that one comes across, I suggest that there has been a transformation inside these grim institutions, which we cannot destroy and which we cannot easily replace.

I go on to speak about what I actually saw in another prison, a convict prison, housing long-term prisoners. I was with a Prison Commissioner and had permission from the governor to go where I liked, under supervision. He said, "Go into that cell by yourself." I went in and the man in the cell told me that he had been in the prison for fifteen years. He went on to say. "Just look at what I have got," and he showed me a hen canary sitting on her eggs. That was his occupation—he had become a bird fancier. He said, "These four eggs will not hatch for another week. Do you think the Governor will allow me to stay to see if they all hatch out alive?" I said that there was no law in this country that could keep him in prison when he had purged his offence, and that he would be a free man. I point out the psychology of that. In the same prison I found beautiful tooling in bookbinding, and I found some of the finest rugs being made, finer than you would find in the Cabinet Ministers' rooms in another place—and, I should not be surprised, finer than those in some of the rooms occupied by the Law Lords. These prisoners were doing positive, useful work.

I quite agree that local prisons present difficulties. But one of the great uplifts for men confined in such places during the war was when they were allowed to make biscuit-type mattresses. They were beautifully made. By the way, no oakum is now used in any prison. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in the hearing of the House, mentioned oakum. I think that passed away soon after the treadmill was abolished. The noble Lord is a little out of date. These "biscuits" were made in their thousands for the A.T.S. and the other women who were fighting for us in the last war, and also for the men who were serving in barracks. The prisoners were proud to make them. They do make mail bags. We have some looms. Prisoners do not do much weaving in a local prison, but they make thousands of shirts for their fellow-occupants of these "homes from home." So progress has been made in a positive way. I want to emphasise that.

Now I want to deal with overcrowding. I have no doubt that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has mentioned overcrowding. Quite recently, I made careful inquiry into this matter. No man who is in any sense abnormal is allowed to be in a cell with other prisoners. As recently as last Friday I put to a prison governor this plain question, "Can you point to any viciousness because you have three in a cell, instead of two?" He said, "For years we have been talking about eating in association and talking in association. You want to know how they are getting on. Conte here when it gets dark early, when the prisoners have to stay by themselves from half-past five in the evening until the next morning. We take notice of the fact that these men have conversations. So far as I know, it is not evil conversation. You will find some of them with their notebooks making and comparing notes of lectures which they have received." They do have lectures—even in local prisons.

I will leave local prisons for the moment and come to the case of Wakefield Prison, to which are sent prisoners from all over the country. There are about 800 prisoners at Wakefield. I know something about textiles. At Wakefield I saw a complete set-up of the most up-to-date automatic weaving looms to be found anywhere in this country or outside it—even in America. There the prisoners are taught to weave and to use the other operative parts connected with the manufacture of clothing. In another part of the prison there is a real iron foundry. In yet another part the prisoners are being taught to be bricklayers. So far as I know there has not been a whisper of criticism from the dreadful trade unions about which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has spoken. At Wakefield, tuition in almost any subject that one can mention, even divinity, is of the highest order. Therefore I want to pay my tribute to what has been done in a prison such as Wakefield, where there is more room for exercise than in such a prison as Strangeways or even the Yorkshire prison, where the only room for exercise is in the rings—what we call "cinders"—I do not know what you call them down here.


The noble Lord does not suggest that Wakefield is a typical prison, does he?


I have not yet left Wakefield. I shall go back there in due course, in all probability. But I will come back to a local prison, where there is no room for exercise except these rings of ground cinders. There again, there has been a transformation. The governor gave these fellows their heads and, except where there are rings for exercise, you find beautiful flowers—at any rate, there were some up to a month ago, although now, of course, there will not be so many. They have made flower gardens. Again, this is a positive policy by the Prison Commissioners. I do not think I know any one of them now, although I used to. Therefore, in speaking as I am, I offer praise where I believe praise is due. The Prison Commissioners are doing such a good job of work. I have also been in a local prison where they have been trying to apply the provisions of the 1948 Act relating to corrective training. There is great difficulty here, because, with all the good will in the world, you cannot find suitable corrective training for every one of the people who come before a very discerning prison official—the acting governor—who is doing his best to try to screen these men, in order that they shall be able to come out of prison rehabilitated. And rehabilitation of offenders is the policy of this country, so far as prisons are concerned.

To revert to Wakefield Prison, I believe this prison was started under the regime of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, when he was Home Secretary. It was my privilege some years ago to go there with my mentor, the late Sir Alexander Paterson, and we went over scrubland to what was, in fact, an open camp. I have since been there when it has been full, and there has been only one prison official to look after me—but of course I am harmless enough. I said to the official accompanying me on my visit last week, "How many men have you got in your open camp to-day?" and 1 remarked that it was certainly a model establishment. I asked at the same time whether I might tell your Lordships' House how many inmates there were. The official replied: "Yes, there are forty-eight." It is impossible, with the wave of crime from which we are now suffering, and with the lowering of moral standards in this country, to find substantial numbers of men of the right type to send to an open prison. Therefore, with my feet on the ground, and your Lordships having your feet on the ground, I suggest that our policy should be to make the best of a bad job with these prisons and also, where possible, to have more of the open prisons. But I must tell your Lordships this: you need more closed Borstals, instead of open Borstals, if you would deal adequately with the young scamps who come before the courts in these days. The other day a recorder of twenty-seven years' experience, when he had before him a youngster who was eligible for Borstal, said, "I refuse to send you to Borstal to contaminate the people there." I do not know the 1948 Act as a lawyer, and I cannot say whether the recorder could have sent that young fellow to prison. But I hope he could.

I am afraid that I have talked rather a lot, and perhaps too long, but I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, realises that he started a silent revolution when hefounded—or was the means of prodding on the Commissioners to establish—what is now called the Imperial Training College. A revolution has certainly been taking place there. For some years we have been sending from that beautiful college men and women, chiefly men, to work in our prisons. They are properly trained, and they are people who show a sense of vocation. I remember that when the place was first started it was composed of hutments. The prisoners in Wakefield have since built a most beautiful college, and during the past four years more than 3,000 men, and a few women, have gone through it, I learn that two Malayans have been sent from Malaya, in order that they may be helped to an understanding of the spirit of this country and to take something of it back to Malaya by showing how prison warders should behave. I am not going to apologise—especially having in mind the prisons I have heard of and seen abroad—for England and the English way of life. I have the exact figures of the numbers of people who have passed through this institution. One third of them go to a prison for eight weeks to see if they can stick it—I have the exact figures here, but I will not weary your Lordships with them. I will say only that on the average for the last four years, 66 per cent. of the trainees—that is, over 2,000—have gone into our prisons in this country, and I believe that we have even found prison officials for that famous prison which is so well known to my noble friend Lord Greenhill and which I believe is called Barlinnie. I think that we sent our best men there because such men are needed in Glasgow. But that is by the way.

I end by commenting that there has been a doubling of the prison population (it has goneup from 10,000 to 20,000), and having regard to what one reads in the newspapers, and noting what some sloppy-minded people say, one might imagine that the magistrates arid judges take a delight in sending people to prison. The fact is that we do our best to keep them out of prison, but we are at our wits' end to know what to do with some of these offenders, especially the younger ones. I would emphasise that the people who enlarge the numbers in our prisons are the prisoners themselves. We do not want these people in the prisons; we want them to stay out. I do not want to preach, but if only we could raise our moral values, even to the extent of 10 per cent., I am sure that we could reduce the prison population by 10 per cent.

I wish that I could get my noble friend Lord Chorley and some of the noble Lords opposite together to form a mission to act in this connection—and I think that laymen could hold a mission of this sort better even than the Bishops could —to try to instil a little common sense into some of these people who are filling our prisons. During these last twenty years, to my own certain knowledge, there has been a positive and upward trend, as the principal of the college said, in standards of humanity in the matter of treatment of offenders. I have found that exemplified in the case of the prison governors I have come across. And we can take heart because there has been this transformation, though I am not for a moment suggesting that we should be complacent. But we do not want more open prisons until we can put in them the proper type of person who has a sense of decency and will not break his word. During the five or ten years that Newhall camp has been a prison there have been only about two escapes. Some time ago I attended a cricket match in which nearly all the players were long-service men, and I said to one of them: What would you do if you knew that a man was going to escape? "He replied: "We should break his neck"—or rather he did not simply say that they would break "his neck," he interposed a very strong adjective. This experiment has been a great success, but we need to be cautious in the extent to which it is developed. We want more closed Borstals: we want to till the open prisons if we can find the proper type of person to fill them. I think we may be able to do it.

My Lords, those are the reasons why I have travelled as quickly as I could from Yorkshire in order to thank the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for introducing this subject in your Lordships' House to-day. I also wish to thank him for what he accomplished when he was Home Secretary, I could tell your Lordships one or two stories about what he has done, but that would be imposing too greatly upon the patience of the House. I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to take part in this debate.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House must feel under a debt to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for calling our attention, and the attention of the country, to a situation which he has rightly described as shocking. My sympathy, as the sympathy of the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, goes to the governors and the prison staffs as well as to the Prison Commissioners. They have an extraordinarily difficult and out-of-date apparatus of punishment with which to contend. After all, in spite of many commissions and committees of reform dealing with prisons during the past one hundred years, the old buildings still remain, little altered, for the most part with bare walls, with high barred windows and with tiny cells of 13 ft. by 7 ft. by 9 ft. I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount said in his most forceful speech about the wrong of putting three men into one cell of such a restricted space. Nothing that he has said goes too far. But I should like to ask a question of those engaged in prison reform. Is it really the case that solitary confinement in single-man cells is the best type of confinement and punishment for all and sundry?

I believe it is the case that imprisonment as a punishment is of recent origin: it is only two or three centuries old. Dungeons and the like had long been in use in order to put dangerous people out of harm's way, but it is comparatively recently that imprisonment has been used as a punishment. National prisons on the cellular system were introduced in a permissive form in 1791. I believe that a good deal has been learned about the methods of dealing with criminals of various kinds since then. Attention has been called to some of the new methods which are now in use, and particularly to the Wakefield system and all that that involves in its variations at Wakefield and elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Calverley, spoke of Sir Alexander Paterson. I am sure we all know of other Prison Commissioners, retired, departed or actually serving now, who gave or are giving of their best to improve the whole prison system, and to whom the country owes a great debt.

I think the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, who spoke about his experience sat Aylesbury, must have been in a rather indulgent mood when he had that conversation with that lady. Is it possible that there was a garden path outside the prison up which the noble Earl was being led, or even that his leg was being pulled'? I cannot think that the whole sequence of questions and answers can be wholly truthful or wholly unrelated to her powers of deception.


My Lords, I am very conscious that ladies can often deceive me, but this was not the only lady I saw on that occasion. I saw half a dozen of them. I selected to tell the House only the story told me by one, but that story was by no means unique.


There may be excesses in certain prisons, but I think that the piling up of incident after incident until the bell could be used to bring the staff at the lady's desire was perhaps a little more excessive than the usual, or even the possible, excess.

I want to say only one more word before I sit down. We must bear in mind the problems of the prison governors and the Prison Commissioners in separating the different types of criminal. No doubt some are almost hopeless, though no one is quite hopeless, and others are reformable. The prison governors and the Prison Commissioners have to keep a firm eye on the latter category and do everything they can for them. The various methods which are in practice at Strangeways and Wakefield and other prisons, of an educational and artistic kind to draw out the creative abilities in these young prisoners, deserve every encouragement. I remember hearing one gentleman who is now a Prison Commissioner give a lecture with the title "Buried Treasure." There, in an effective way, he described how young men and women who sometimes come into our prisons, having committed grave crimes, nevertheless contain great potentialities for good, which it is the object and vocation of the prison governors and staffs to bring out.


My Lords, is the right reverend Prelate aware that they now have an orchestra at Wakefield?


I am prepared to receive the information with gratitude.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House on this, the first occasion on which I venture to address it. Until I heard the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, speak, I did not quite realise in what sense he proposed to refer to "the condition of our prisons," whether it was to be to their structural condition and accommodation, to the state of good order and discipline within their walls or to the health of, and methods of dealing with, then inmates. From his eloquent speech it is now clear that the noble and learned Viscount was concerned with the accommodation—or, rather, the lack of accommodation—in prisons, and with the ill-effects on the morals and health of the inmates which are consequent upon that inadequate accommodation. The debate, however, has covered a wider field, and has encouraged me to venture to intervene.

I feel some diffidence in following the noble and learned Viscount. I do so as a layman who has no expert knowledge, and certainly has not the knowledge which comes from the occupancy of a Ministerial post, such as the Horne Office, for a not inconsiderable period. But I have had some experience, extending over a good many years, as a magistrate and as chairman of a bench, and that experience has convinced me that if a punishment is to be effective it must be a deterrent. If prison is to be an effective deterrent, then the conditions in prison must be neither easy nor comfortable, and the work must be as hard as the prisoner can do. I would venture to say that prison life should be such that those undergoing it will make up their minds that nothing in the world will induce them ever to go back to prison if they can possibly avoid it. I do flat think this is always the case. I venture to quote an instance, within my knowledge, which is perhaps supplementary to that quoted by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. Some little while ago, a man was brought before the bench on which I was sitting, and of which I was chairman at the time, charged with arson. It was a serious and deliberate case, and a great deal of damage had been done. It was obvious that the man would have to be committed for trial. Before committing him for trial I asked him whether he had anything to say, and he said almost these words, "Yes. Winter is coming on, and it is time I was back in prison. They keep me warm there." Obviously to that type of man prison is no deterrent. It does seem that there is something very wrong when a man who has obviously been to prison before can talk in that way and feel that way about it.

I do not suggest for a moment that prison conditions should involve physical suffering, or that they should be deleterious to health. I agree absolutely with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and with other noble Lords who have spoken, about the serious and deleterious effects of overcrowding, and as to its bad physical and moral consequences. I do not suggest that the reform of prisoners should not be an important object in all prisons—I emphatically believe that it should be—but I do say that a prisoner's life should certainly not be comfortable or easy in any way, and that he should have to do as hard work as he is capable of. I believe that a man who is kept lonely and comfortless (I do not think he ought to be comfortable in prison) will be much more likely to listen attentively to chaplains and others who, while instructing him and endeavouring to reform him, point out that his condition is due to his own fault, and that if he lives an honest, decent life in the future he will not again have to undergo the discomforts of prison. The terms of this Motion do not include the general question of corporal punishment, but it may be noted that this form of punishment is still authorised in prisons for offences which, broadly speaking, might be described as mutiny and violence. I believe that to be a very effective deterrent. Once again I would venture to reiterate the importance of ensuring that whatever sentences are given have a deterrent effect.

This Motion seems to cover a wide field, and I hope that I shall be in order if I venture to refer for a moment to approved schools and Borstal institutions. These are penal establishments and forms of prison—or I believe they are supposed to be. While not for a moment excluding instruction and reformation, I think these should be more penal establishments, and less (for want of a better term)public schools than they are at present. Let no one think that the boys who are their inmates are innocent, simple boys who have been led astray. That is not the case of one in a hundred of them. They are very bad boys, and they have nearly all had chances, often having been placed on probation, and so on, earlier. As bad boys they ought to be dealt with and disciplined. There have been cases in the newspapers—one quite recently—which may possibly have brought home to many people how bad some of these boys can be. I do not think they should be treated with gentle methods.

There was a report in some newspapers the other day of an experiment in a new form of treatment for some of these bad boys, which sounded to me to be very much more to the point in dealing with them than the methods adopted at some of these approved schools. At any rate, it was said that on completion of this course the boys all agreed that they wanted never to go through it again. I feel that I may have gone a little outside the terms of the Motion, because Borstal establishments are not really recognised as prisons, although they are penal establishments. With those few words I will conclude what I have to say, once again emphasising my strong belief that, if punishment is to be of any use, it must be deterrent, and really deterrent.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I do not rise to stand between the House and the Lord Chancellor for more than two or three minutes, but I have risen for two definite purposes. The first is to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken upon his maiden speech. He and I were in the House of Commons together for a great many years. I know well, also, that in the County of Hampshire he has a long record of fine public service, particularly in the field to which he has just alluded. I am sure that we have all listened with great pleasure to what he has said, and we hope that he will often take part in our debates in future.

The other reason for which I have risen is to say, like everybody else, how glad I am that this debate has taken place. It will have been useful if it emphasises to the Government the great urgency of three questions. The first is the question of prison staffs. It seems to me not only a tragedy but a public scandal that year after year we have gone on with this shortage of prison staffs. At the moment the world is very excited over questions connected with crime. I hope that some of this excitement will be directed to insisting that we get the 500 extra staff that are needed for the prisons and the 10,000 police that are necessary for the police force. Secondly, there is the question of buildings. I know very well the difficulty of building new security prisons in present conditions. The cost would be tremendous. None the less, I think it is possible to adopt more makeshifts in the way of using disused camps for open prisons. I believe that that is the view of the present Home Secretary and the Home Office. I congratulate the Home Secretary upon what he said the other day, when he categorically stated that he was not content with the present position; that two open prisons had been recently opened, and that he contemplated opening more. Thirdly, I am very glad that more than one speaker has insisted upon the need for harder work in the prisons. It is a scandal that in many of our prisons today prisoners are working only two or three hours a day. With the extra 500 staff it should be possible to go back to the three-shift system and to ensure seven or eight hours' work a day for every prisoner in every prison.

That brings me to the next point I should like to mention. While I was listening to the speech of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, it seemed to me as if he were under the impression that a lot of sentimental people had been trying to make prison life comfortable. I do not know whether he includes me among these sentimental people.


Hear, hear!


Whether he does or not, certainly the noble Lord behind him does. Let me say to the noble Lord behind him that nothing is further from my intentions than to make the life of prisoners comfortable. I am horrified at that kind of interview with the lady at Aylesbury which the noble and learned Earl described. If the treatment of that lady really represents the kind of treatment which goes on in Aylesbury—and I should be very much surprised if that was the case—the sooner it is stopped the better. The last thing in the world that I wish to see is the prisoner's life made comfortable. I wish to see him work very hard and look back on his term in prison as I see a young man recently looked back on his experience in a detention centre: he said he hated every minute of it and hoped he would never go back to it.

At the same time, in dealing with these questions of punishment one has to hold the scale—and it is not always very easy to do so—between the regime of extreme punishment with little hope of improvement, and the régime of some privileges that a man loses if he behaves badly. I remember that when I was at the Home Office I went into this question very carefully with the Prison Commissioners of the day and the experts who advised them. We all came to the conclusion that it was more effective, both for prison discipline and for the reform of the prisoner, if the prisoner began with certain privileges and these privileges were taken away from him if he behaved badly, rather than to begin his life at the very bottom and make him feel that there was nothing to lose. That has been the policy of the Prison Commissioners for some years, and I am sure it is the right system upon which to work.


Give him a real incentive.


The suggestion seems to have been prevalent this afternoon that those of us who have been interested in penal reform are sentimentalist. I can assure am, noble Lord who holds that view that that is not so. Take my own case as an example. I have studied this question just as I have studied any other question, political or economic. I have reached my conclusions as best I could upon the evidence that was actually placed before me by the people whose opinion was of value. Sentiment has never entered at all into my conclusions, and I hope that no one in this debate will think that those of us who believe that the present plans—the plans, that is to say, under the Criminal Justice Act—are the most effective for dealing with crime, have reached those conclusions from any sentiment, false or not false. The noble and learned Viscount who initiated this debate seemed to me to suggest at one point in his speech that the great extent of crime appeared to call in question the usefulness of some of these reforms. Perhaps I misunderstood him.


I did not mean to say that.


If I misunderstood him, I will not continue my argument. If I did not, I would say to him that it is still too early to judge. The reforms have not yet had time to be fully tested. In the meanwhile, I think it would be calamity if, in a fit of excitement—perhaps a fit of justifiable excitement— over the increase of crime, we tore up plans that were mades after most careful inquiry and went back to practices which, in my view, were not only bad practices but were extremely unsuccessful in keeping down crime. I have ventured to make this short incursion in this debate to make clear the position of those who hold views like mine: that we are just as rigid in our determination to suppress crime as anybody else, but, on the whole, we think that the plans which both Houses accepted, practically unanimously in the Criminal Justice Act, are the most effective way of dealing with crime.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Jeffreys, on his maiden speech in this House and to say how much I hope that on future occasions he will assist us by his counsel and advice. I am the more tempted to do that because I am afraid I must say I ventured, as a callow youth, to support the noble Lord's father on his platform when he stood as a candidate for the Basingstoke Division of Hampshire. If I add that from that day, now long, long ago, until I joined your Lordships' House I do not think I ever made a political speech, your Lordships will see why I have special reasons for congratulating him.


May I ask whether the candidate was returned?


Yes, he was, and I may say that he remained to become the "Father" of the House of Commons.

I would join with everybody in thanking the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for raising this debate. In doing so, I would venture to quote the words used by a former Home Secretary, subsequent, indeed, in office to the noble Viscount but not the immediate predecessor of the present Home Secretary, in a foreword he wrote to a little pamphlet issued by the Home Office: The harm done by crime is caused by a comparatively small number of people; but if harm is done by strong methods of punishment the whole community is answerable. It is therefore right that every member of the community should have the opportunity of knowing what is done in his name by those responsible for carrying out the methods of punishment provided by the law. Those are wise words and they fully justify the noble and learned Viscount, if he needs any justification, in ventilating this matter in this House and, through this House, to the country at large. They were written by Mr. Herbert Morrison.

This question of prison management is one which has for generations been the most intractable of problems, not only in this country but in every civilised country. In this country we generally start from the year 1895, the time of the Committee over which Mr. Herbert Gladstone, afterwards Lord Gladstone, presided. The note sounded through the Report of that Committee was that the primary and concurrent aims of prison management are deterrence and reformation. Those two aspects of prison management are concurrent. It has been very interesting to sit on the Woolsack, between the two sides of this House, and to listen to the different weight which is given from time to time on each side of the House to these different aspects of this problem.

I cannot hope to travel over the whole field of prison administration. What I propose to do is, first, to deal shortly with one or two questions which were raised by subsequent speakers, and then to return to the questions which the noble and learned Viscount was good enough to send me when he put down this Motion for debate. First of all, I should like to refer to one or two observations that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, made. I confess that, like the right reverend Prelate, I was much astonished at hearing the account of his visit to Aylesbury. I do not know how long ago it was, but I am sure that those who are here and who heard what he has said will have listened with interest, as I did, and will take due note. It does not represent the picture which I had had painted to me of Aylesbury or, indeed, of any other prison. If I knew that the noble and learned Earl had ever been young and innocent I should think it had happened to him in those days, but I do not think that can be the solution; and there I must leave that visit to Aylesbury in the state of puzzlement which afflicts the right reverend Prelate.

There is another aspect of the noble Earl's speech with which I can deal more seriously, and I hope more effectively; that is, the fear which he entertained as the result of something said to him that the effect of prison was not to deter or to reform. The facts are—and I think there is some comfort to be derived from them—that 80 per cent. of first offenders do not return to prison. That is a comforting thought, but there is something better than that: it is approaching a figure of 90 per cent. of those who are imprisoned in the regional and central prisons, that is the grave offenders, who do not return. So that when the governor of the prison—and I know not which prison it was—told the noble Earl that he would be lucky if more than one in twenty did not return, he must in some way have been misleading himself upon those vital statistics. It is not the fact.


The prison to which I referred (I do not wish to give the name) is a prison in the south of England to which prisoners go only when they have had three convictions. They are already committed to a life of crime when they go there.


That would be Parkhurst. My figures do not agree with the noble Earl's, and naturally the matter can be looked into.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, commented upon two particular cases. He did not give sufficient details to enable those who are assisting me to trace them out, but I would say this to him. The first case he gave was of a first offender who was put into a cell with two other prisoners who were hardened offenders. If that means prisoners who have been in prison before, that is wholly contrary to the practice, and I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord must have been misled upon that point, or, if he was not, that it was a very exceptional case. First offenders are not put into cells with hardened criminals who have been in prison before.


May I say that the Lord Chancellor is probably right: I could not say whether they were old offenders or not, but I understood, when I visited the young man in prison, that that was the position; and I also gathered it from his parents. In regard to the first case, I do not think I ought to give the name of the young man to the Lord Chancellor, but in regard to the second case I can supply him with details because the boy is still under treatment.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. Of course, I should be prepared to agree with him that the other prisoners into whose cell the prisoner he mentioned was put were offenders, or they would not have been there at all; but I should be prepared to say that they were not hardened offenders. As to the other case, that of the young man sent to Borstal and then from Borstal to some mental establishment, and who is still detained there, it is impossible that he should be there unless he is certified as insane, or mentally defective. I venture to say that I do not understand what complaint there can be. If he is certified he is properly put away in a mental institution. Certainly if the noble Lord will be good enough to give me the facts I will have the matter looked into.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, in a very interesting speech, said something which I must say found an echo with many; he pointed out the great difficulties under which the Prison Administration hove laboured these many years; and he spoke in the highest terms of the way in which the Prison Commission—I say nothing of the Home Office—have met and dealt with those difficulties. I should not like this debate to close without a tribute, at any rate from myself, and I think also from others of your Lordships, to the way in which those duties have been discharged, in very difficult circumstances, by the Prison Commission, and particularly by the present Chairman of that Commission.

Now I come, if I may, to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and the questions which he asked me. I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' time. What I propose to do is to say a few words upon the prison accommodation, or lack of it, and on overcrowding. Then I will say something about the steps which are being taken to meet that deficiency. I will also say something upon the question of the prison staffs and the plans which are being made for the recruiting of further staff. In conjunction with that (for the two questions are bound up together) I will say something about the hours of work, and the difficulty which has always been the nightmare of prison management—that of finding sufficient work of the right kind for the men to do. I will also say a few words upon discipline, and particularly on the question of those prisoners who are undergoing corrective training or preventive training. And I will try not to be long about it.

Now, my Lords, the present prison population is round about 24,000. In saying that, I have perhaps fallen into the same error as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Jeffreys, did, because that 24,000 prison population includes 3,500 inmates of Borstal institutions. But it will be convenient to speak of the prison population as including Borstal inmates. There are, then, about 24,000 altogether. That is a daily average, which of course will vary from time to time. The next question which the noble Viscount asked me was how many prisoners are now required to share a cell with two others. That figure, again, will vary from time to time, but it is substantially the figure which appears in the Prison Commissioners' Report and which was referred to in the Report of the Select Committee—namely, round about 5,500. I want to say at once in regard to that something which I think is of some importance. That figure of 5,500 prisoners sharing cells does not include any prisoners at the central prisons, the regional training prisons or the corrective prisons. It is an evil admittedly, a great evil, but one which occurs only in the local prisons.


Nor, I suppose, does it include any women prisoners.


It does not refer to any women at all. In what I am saying now I am dealing exclusively with male prisoners. I shall have a few words to say later about female prisoners, but the same problem does not arise. The female sex is much better behaved than the male; there is nothing like the same increase in the prison population of females.

I was saying, I think, that this evil is one which occurs at local prisons only; it does not occur al: the prisons where prisoners are serving the longer sentences. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, the inmates of the local prisons are in a very large proportion prisoners serving short sentences, though there are, necessarily, some who are serving sentences of up to a three-year and even a four-year term. Nobody doubts the evils of that system, but I think it is right to reassure your Lordships on this account, and there is nothing to the contrary in the Report of the Select Committee. The Commissioners and those advising them have been unable to trace any ill-health, any disease, any lack of discipline, to the aggregation of three prisoners in a cell. Therefore, although theoretically it is indefensible, yet it has not had the ill-results which might have been expected.

The noble and learned Viscount referred to one aspect of this matter which, of course, is always in the minds of the Prison Commissioners, and that is the homosexual tendency which we always have to watch out for among the inmates of a prison. That no doubt is the reason why it is thought better to put three inmates into a cell, rather than only two; in the nature of things it is extremely unlikely that you would have three homosexually inclined persons together in one cell—remembering always that any person who is suspected of such a tendency will not be put with other prisoners. There is one other aspect of this crowding in a cell which I would mention. It did appear that when the Select Committee visited a certain prison they found the prisoners in a cell sleeping on the floor. That is no longer the case in any prison. In the cases in which more than one prisoner is in a cell the prisoners sleep in bunks built in a tier. So that that perhaps worst evil of overcrowding can be for the time being discounted.

I wish to say something in more detail about this question of accommodation. I hope that I may be allowed to say that what I am about to refer to is a situation which occurred before 1951 when the present Home Secretary came into office. This is no Party matter and I am not going to divide up the question of right or wrong between Parties, depending on when we or our predecessors have been in office. It has nothing at all to do with that. What I am going to say is bound up with the difficulties which have faced the Prison Commissioners from 1946 onwards. The prison population, including those in Borstal institutions, was under 11,000 in 1939. By 1950 it had risen to over 20,000; and, as I have told your Lordships, it is now round about 24,000. To meet the difficulty the Prison Commissioners had by 1949 regained possession of, repaired and taken into use six additional cellular prisons. They had also established four additional prisons and six additional Borstals of the open type in camps or large country houses. Nevertheless, there was still a serious measure of overcrowding in the prisons, and the steps which they thereafter took were these: since 1949, between 1949 and 1952, the Commissioners recovered and took into use one more cellular prison and opened five additional open prisons and two additional open Borstals. Therefore, since the war (I will add those figures together) they have made a total addition of seven cellular prisons, nine open prisons and eight Borstals.

As your Lordships will appreciate, that still leaves a large gap to be filled, and you will want to know how we propose to fill that gap, so far as we can. I wish I could be more optimistic and tell you that in the near future there is a prospect of the whole of that gap being filled, but your Lordships will appreciate how many claims there are upon labour and material—upon, in a word, the investment programme. There is clamour for schools, clamour for factories and clamour in this House the other day for the building of hotels. All these different claims have to be met and valued. It is not a simple case of having a programme which we can meet disregarding all other programmes. But what we hope to do is this. Approval—and when I say "approval," I mean the approval of the Prison Commissioners—has been obtained for a programme of new buildings to comprise two secure training prisons, each for about 300 men, two secure boys' Borstals for 150each, two secure girls' Borstals and a psychiatric establishment for mentally abnormal prisoners.

In regard to that programme, the position is as follows. A site has already been purchased at Everthorpe Hall (that is near Hull, in Yorkshire) for the first of the two secure training prisons. It is hoped to start budding operations next year and to complete the building within four years. Those are events which will, of course, depend upon circumstances over which it may be we shall have no control. Search for the second site continues. It is hoped to start it in the following year. I should like to tell your Lordships this, which is typical of what happens. For the psychiatric institution, a promising site was found but, unfortunately, it had to be abandoned because what is called—it is not a nice expression— "planning clearance" was not given to it. Search for another site is proceeding. Work on the permanent Borstals, the two for boys end the two for girls, is not expected to start until 1955. In the meantime, endeavours are being made to find temporary accommodation in various ways and, in particular, plans are being made for finding open camps.

In regard to that matter I will just say this word in passing. There is no doubt that the system of open prisons, for the initiation of which I think the noble Viscount deserves much credit, has proved a great success: but it is equally true that it has to be watched with the most vigilant care because it can be spoilt altogether if the wrong inmates are allowed to be taken into it, with disagreeable circumstances to follow. Whenever it is proposed that an open prison shall be established in any neighbourhood, it is natural enough that at once there is local reaction and objection. In regard to thereof the five camps which are now proposed to be built, objection has been taken by the locality, with the result that the Minister of Housing has prescribed that there shall be a public inquiry. An unfortunate delay was imposed, but it is a delay that may not be altogether evil if, by argument, the inhabitants can be satisfied that no particular harm is likely to result from an open prison. There is Wakefield. for instance, which is, I think, the oldest open prison and from which, as I am told, there have been only seven escapes in six years, and only one what might be called disagreeable incident, I think not a very serious one at that—some offence committed by the escaping prisoner. There is. I think, great hope for these open camps.

I cannot pretend that the situation is altogether satisfactory; indeed, it is not. We all aim at being able in time to restore the principle of a cellular prison in which only one inmate will be confined in each cell, but that time cannot come yet. We have to face things as they are. For my part, I should be extremely reluctant to ascribe any blame to the predecessors of the present Government for having failed to build, and equally I would disclaim any blame so far as the present Government are concerned. I would add, as I have said before, that I think the Prison Commissioners have done a most admirable job in the way in which they have met their difficulties. I want now to say a word about staff.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord, in his most able and informative speech, leaves the subject with which he has been dealing, could he indicate what, in his opinion, is the cause of the overcrowding? Is it that there are a larger number of crimes committed or is it that there are longer sentences imposed, which involves a larger population in the prisons?


It is very difficult to answer that question categorically. No doubt, there is some increase in the number of prisoners, and, of course, the daily average population will be, to some extent, conditioned by the length of sentence of each prisoner. No doubt, so far as the preventive detention and corrective training prisoners are concerned, they have had longer sentences than heretofore. I am speaking without advice, but I should think that much the predominant cause for the overcrowding is the increase in the number of criminals. However, I will have that checked. Before I come to the question of staff, may I say one thing, because it is so significant, I think, of the general position? The former Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede, in a debate in another place, expressed his regret that he had not been able, as Home Secretary, to allow the building of more prisons because he thought that the housing problem was so urgent. It is just that call for different measures and different kinds of relief that has created the difficulty.

I will come now to the question of staff. Dealing only with the prisons that are at present erected, the task of the Commissioners has been to bring into the service and retain a sufficient number of suitably qualified staff to man sixty-one prisons and Borstal institutions, a detention centre and five detached camps. That compares with thirty-eight establishments before the war. Your Lordships will see how greatly the task has increased. It was their task to deal with the immensely growing population and, so far as possible to extend to all those prisons the three-shift staff throughout the service, to enable a proper working day to be done by the prisoners. During the five years from 1947 to 1951, after allowing for the replacement of an average yearly wastage, by retirement and so on, the average net gain in the strength of established officers was 295 a year. That is a creditable performance, because the task of recruiting and training officers for this job is not an easy one. They have to be carefully chosen and trained, and many, I believe, are rejected. That is what was done in those five years. The result was that the strength of the basic grade was increased from 1,746 to 3,222, or by 85 per cent. By the end of October of this year it had been further increased to 3,303, an overall increase of 89 per cent. There are, in addition, 84 temporary officers, making a total of 3,387.

In the crisis of last year there was some lull for the time being in recruitment, when all Civil Service staffs were cut down. Since June of this year advertising has proceeded in the national and local Press, the response to which, together with the assistance that has been obtained from the Ministry of Labour and National Service, is producing large numbers of applications and is resulting in a steady increase. I think that that is a question which the noble and learned Viscount specifically put to me, and I can assure him that there is that steady increase.


I thank the Lord Chancellor very much. I am not quite clear (I may not have heard) what is the answer to the question about how many are now needed.


I have not yet finished. Before I came to that matter—and this is strictly germane to it—I wanted to say a word about what is a relevant topic, namely, the question of hours worked by the inmates of prisons. At present the staff is adequate to provide for the three-shift system to be in force at all regional training prisons, all separate corrective training prisons, and what are called the two central prisons for "stars." That is a somewhat curious word, but familiar enough in prison management. It means those persons serving long terms who are selected as being capable of reformatory treatment. The additional staff which the Commissioners hope to obtain by the end of the present financial year will suffice to introduce this system into the two central prisons for "ordinaries" as distinct from the central prisons for "stars" and preventive detention. Those two are the prisons at Dart moor and Parkhurst. For that purpose an addition of about forty officers will be required. As I have said, it is hoped to get them by the end of the present financial year.

The Estimates for the forthcoming year have not yet been presented to the Treasury, much less approved; therefore I cannot say anything very definite about the matter, but I think I am entitled to say that what the Commissioners propose to do is to ask for an increase in staff in the basic grade up to the maximum of their expected recruiting potential for 1953–54; that is to say, a net increase of about 300. It is hoped that this will enable them to staff the additional establishments which they expect to open next year, to reinforce further the staffs of certain prisons which are now understaffed, and to introduce the three-shift system at the two establishments which contain both local and corrective training prisoners—namely, Durham and Liverpool—and at the special prison for young persons at Lewes. That is making a big stride. I would only add that, after that, subject to such restrictions as may be imposed by financial or other considerations, they hope to see recruiting proceed at a pace which will enable them to complete the extension of the three-shift system in two to three years—that is to say, to all the local prisons. It must be noted that this is subject to the availability of housing accommodation for the additional staff; but that, at least, is the programme which the Commissioners have set themselves and which they hope to achieve. In the circumstances, your Lordships may think that that is a pretty straightforward programme.

The answer that I have given deals not only with the third question of the noble and learned Viscount, as to what progress is being made in recruiting prison staff and how many are still needed, but also with the question as to when it will be possible to restrict confinement to cells to pre-war hours, so as to allow more time for employment, education and recreation in association. But these things are not quite so simple as that. The fact is that even with the shortage of staff, I am told that in all the prisons, both central and local, more time is now allowed for education and recreation in association than was the case before the war. The routine is so adjusted as to make that possible.


Hear, hear!


I hear the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, agreeing with what I have said. He has a wide experience in this matter. It is fortunate that recreation and education have been allowed to proceed. The final question asked by the noble and learned Viscount was whether there had been a satisfactory response from Government Departments to the Commissioners' request for more orders for prison-made goods. That matter was, referred to in paragraph 29 of the Report of the Select Committee. As to that, I must say a few words. As I said some little time ago, this question of providing work for prisoners has always been the most intractable problem of prison management, for many reasons which can be summed up in one, I suppose—namely, that a prison is not a factory. The prison officials have no control over the number or the quality of their workers. In the order of things, they can have no fixed programme. For the most part, they dare not use expensive material or delicate machinery. A much larger measure of supervision is required than in a factory. There is always (even now there are rumbles of it) the danger that if prison industry competes with outside industry there will be trouble with organised labour. So the provision, day in and day out, of adequate and suitable work for the inmates of a prison presents, as it has always presented, very grave difficulties.

The types of work which can be done by prisoners (I hope I am not wearying the House if I give a little time to this most important problem) fall into certain categories. First of all, they can be concerned with the erection, maintenance and care of prison buildings and grounds. Now all that is, of course, done by the prisoners themselves. The second is the manufacture of goods and the cultivation of vegetables for use in prisons. That also is done by the prisoners themselves. Another category is the manufacture of goods for other Government Departments and public bodies, and, coupled with that, the provision of labour for services required by other Government Departments and public bodies. It is in regard to those two categories that some improvement ought to be, and we believe will be, effected. Further categories are those of the manufacture of goods for private markets and the provision of labour for services required by private bodies or persons.

I have already indicated the difficulties which exist, even at a time of so-called full employment, with regard to prison labour and prison services competing with outside labour and services. That is not the kind of work which can be relied upon to supply the prisons with sufficient orders. It is, therefore, in the manufacture of goods for other Government Departments and public bodies, and the provision of labour for such Departments and bodies, that we find hope. It was in regard to that sphere that the Select Committee referred to a Treasury circular which was issued inviting other Departments to make use of prison labour. I am bound to say that, according to the information I have, the response to that circular was at first inadequate—as, indeed, the Select Committee in their Report found. But whether or not as a result—I think probably it is as a result—of the Select Committee's Report, things have definitely improved. And according to the information I have (I think it would be superfluous to go into the details; all your Lordships require to know is the general principle of it), it seems that there is a definite trend in the way of using prison labour for other Departments. As say, I do not think that I need go into the details of that. There are a substantial number of prisoners employed outside prison walls in various services, which is done whenever it can be.

Finally, I want to say something about discipline in the prisons. In passing I must apologise to your Lordships for not being able to find my papers easily. As your Lordships may have observed, the Lord Chancellor is in a singular difficulty, in that he has no Despatch Box on which to put his papers. He is, therefore, at a considerable handicap in finding them. I want to say a word or two about discipline in prison, because it is a very important matter. On the whole, the Commissioners report that discipline now presents no serious problem. I will give your Lordships certain figures. So far as local prisons are concerned that is to say, prisons whose inmates are serving sentences up to four years, in some cases, but for the most part are serving very much shorter sentences—the percentage of prisoners punished daily is 10 of 1 per cent. In the regional training prisons it is .06 of 1 per cent. In the young prisoners' centres it is .31 of 1 per cent., in the corrective training prisons .15 of 1 per cent., and in the central prisons .09 of 1 per cent.

I think your Lordships will perhaps be interested to know also the figures of assaults by prisoners on officers and assaults by prisoners on other prisoners, because that is rather an acid test of the discipline which prevails. In 1951 there were only thirty-five recorded assaults by prisoners on officers in that large prison population. In the same year there were 107 assaults by prisoners on other prisoners. I want to keep off the subject of corporal punishment, which is only indirectly germane to to the present problem, but I think your Lordships will be interested to know in how many cases corporal punishment has been inflicted in prisons since the end of the war. In 1946 the number was five; in 1947 it was eight: in 1948, fourteen; in 1949, nine, and in 1950, six. All those cases were of gross personal violence against officers.

I do not think I ought to conclude what I have to say about discipline without saying a word or two on the subject of the notoriety which certain prisons have received in the Press. It is, of course, quite natural that a prison institution should be regarded as news. Dart moor readily conies into the news because everyone remembers the mutiny of some years ago. Then there are Holloway and Parkhurst. Holloway, of course, is a women's prison, and naturally they get into the news if anything happens. But when you remember, particularly, that in Parkhurst there are 500 recidivists, as they are called—habitual criminals;500 of the worst men in this country, I suppose—it is surprising that there are not more assaults. The Prison Commissioners tell me that they have no fears regarding matters there. Perhaps they must not be too optimistic, but so far as discipline is concerned, both in the central prisons and in the local prisons, where there is overcrowding, they are satisfied with the discipline that prevails.

Now I want to say one more word in regard to persistent offenders. By "persistent offenders" I mean those persons who, being over thirty years of age, have been sentenced to preventive detention (all of whom, I think, are sent to Parkhurst) and those who are sent, being twenty years of age at least, for corrective training. I think there has been some little misconception about corrective training. It is an expression which does not involve any particular punitive element, although things are made hard for those subject to corrective training. Persons selected for corrective training are those who it is hoped can be reformed by their training in a term of years—from two to four years—a term which is longer than can ordinarily be given for the offence for which they are sentenced. That was the purpose of establishing a new class of persons who were to be subject to corrective training. They were persistent offenders who, being brought up for sentence, were sentenced to longer terms than they could be sentenced to under the Statute for the particular offence which they had committed, on the grounds that they had committed previous crimes. It was hoped (and it is still hoped) that, yielding to corrective treatment, they might become good citizens of the world. That is what corrective training amounts to. So far from it involving a greater degree of the punitive element than other treatment, those subjected to it get more association, more education, more vocational training and more personal attention from the officers of the prisons. It is hoped by corrective training to make them good citizens.

So far as preventive detention is concerned, the same principle is maintained. Men sentenced to a period of preventive detention may be thought incorrigible. They are sentenced to a long term of imprisonment—from five to fourteen years. It may be that nothing can be done for them, but they are a danger to the community and they must be put away for a long term of years; and just because they are put away for a long term, special efforts are made to train them and to bring them back to decent standards of conduct. These are the two classes of offenders for whom special provision was made in the Criminal Justice. Act and we dare to hope (though time has not been long yet for the experiments, and conditions have been very difficult) that that system will be some help, both in the deterrence and reform of the criminal.

It would not be right for me to end this debate without citing some words which I came across when I was preparing to deal with this debate. Let me remind you of these words. I think there is no noble Lord in this House who will not be able to ascribe the proper authorship. They were spoken in the House of Commons in 1908. The mood and temper of the public with regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm, dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused, and even of the convicted, criminal against the State—a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment—a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry those who have paid their due in the hard coinage of punishment: tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerative processes: unfailing faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heat of every man. These are the symbols, which, in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and sign and proof of the living virtue in it. There is only one man alive who could have said that. Times change, and it may well be that since those words were uttered greater consideration must be given to the element of deterrence than to that of reform. I would echo what many noble Lords have said: prisons must not he made too soft. On the other hand, we surely need not give up hope that the other element in punishment, the reformatory, should have its place. I do not know whether I have answered all the questions which the noble and learned Viscount asked me. If I have not, I will gladly communicate with him later.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I must express my warm thanks to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the trouble he has taken to provide the House with the information which I sought in my questions. I am most grateful to him and I think he has contributed materially to the public knowledge on these drab matters. I have to complain of no gap in his answer. I am particularly glad that he has explained what is the meaning of corrective training. I should have thought that reformation might have been the object of all imprisonment, but apparently certain persons, the persistent offenders, are selected for corrective training. I am sure we all hope that this system is going to bring good results.

My noble friend Lord Templewood, in his interesting intervention, seemed to think that what I had said when I opened this debate implied that I thought that the reforms about which he is so eager had failed. I made no such suggestion. What I pointed out was that the reforms, taken as a whole, had hardly begun, and that we were well justified, therefore, in inquiring what was being done about them In fact, I availed myself of the views which he himself expressed on October 22, 1952, when he said: The basis of corrective training was that the habitual criminal should be given a long sentence in a prison adapted for the purpose, where he would be made to work very hard. The noble Viscount went on to say: I am informed that, owing to the shortage of staff in the prisons of preventive detention and corrective training, the average working hours are only about twenty-two a week.


My Lords, if I may explain to the noble and learned Viscount that point, with which I omitted to deal in my reply, the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, was misinformed about that altogether. He was also misinformed in a statement that in some prisons only two or three hours' work a day were done.


I had rather inferred that that was a mistake from having studied rather closely the figures in the public documents, but I am well pleased to be told it is so.

I think the debate to-day has done some good. It has produced some important information from the Home Office, which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been good enough to communicate to the House. I must not fail to join with other noble Lords in expressing my pleasure in Lord Jeffrey's' maiden speech. He and I were old colleagues in another place, and it appeared to me that he made a contribution from his own experience which will be most welcome and will cause us to hope for further contributions from him in the future. I thought that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester went to the heart of the matter when he asked the question: What is the purpose of prison? The Lord Chancellor has reminded us how that famous prison reformer, the late Lord Gladstone, in his report, pointed to deterrence and reformation. Perhaps that is rather the answer to the question: What is the purpose of punishment? In answer to the question "What is the purpose of prison?" I would say that the reason why a person is sentenced to a term of imprisonment is, first and foremost, to protect the public. If the convict can be reformed at the same time, so much the better.

Before I withdraw my Motion, may I be allowed to say, in my concluding sentences, that this debate to-day has been investigating one of the secrets of the prison house? It is an exploration to discover what in fact happens when the convict is moved inside and the prison door clangs. It is a distressing thing to think how eager the public is to be informed of criminal conduct and criminal trials. When the dread sentence is pronounced from the bench, and the prisoner is hurried away by the gaoler, he is like a man over whom the waves of the sea close; and we tend to forget it. It seems to me that it is an essential part of the duty of Parliament to keep watch over this portion of the service. I most warmly share the view expressed by the Lord Chancellor, that we owe much admiration and respect to those devoted men who are staffing the Prison Commission, and to their officials. Mr. Fox has written a most interesting book, which I have had the advantage of studying, The English Prison and Borstal Systems. In the appendix that he has added to the book he gives some extracts from Reports made by Buxton and by other earnest reformers. It is with a desire to recall the efforts of those reformers, and to join in their wake, that I have invited the House to consider this sombre subject this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.