HL Deb 04 May 1955 vol 192 cc741-806

4.0 p.m.

LORD PAKENHAM rose to call attention to the Report of the Commissioners of Prisons for 1953 (Cmd. 9259); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to the contemporary situation in our prisons, taking as my text the last Report of the Commissioners, which deals, in fact, with the year 1953, but trying to bring the story up to date to the best of my ability. I do not think that either I or any of the noble Lords who are to follow me (and I am particularly pleased to think that I shall be honoured by the participation in our debate to-day of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who has done so much for prison reform) will be accused, whatever may have been said in the last debate, of following an electioneering purpose. I recall that at a time when I was a prison visitor I was standing against the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and for some reason only known to the electorate or himself he was successful. I recall that when I was standing against him I allowed the fact to leak out that amongst my other virtuous activities were those of a prison visitor, and I was accused by some small-minded elector of desiring to woo the prison Vote. Well, the prison vote in the contemporary sense is non-existent, and when I pointed this out to my tiresome friend he argued that, like other politicians of the Left, I was adopting a far-sighted line and was looking beyond that election to elections of the future. But, seriously, I think that no one can claim that in discussing this matter we are at all benefiting or damaging our various political Parties.

I would just mention that besides having been a prison visitor in past years, I undertook more recently, with expert colleagues, on behalf of the Nuffield Foundation, an inquiry into the causes of crime. Within the last year or two I visited some twenty prisons or Borstals in the course of that inquiry. I also spent a most interesting time at the training college for prison officers at Wakefield, whose principal struck me as one of the most remarkable young men in the Prison Service or indeed in any Government service anywhere. Since I concluded those inquiries, as perhaps some of your Lordships may know, I have turned to banking, which may seem rather a sharp step away from crime. But it can be pointed out that analogies are possible. Both the banker and the average delinquent are anxious to make the fullest use possible of other people's money; but of course the banker goes through certain small formalities first, such as securing the owner's permission. At any rate, I can assure your Lordships that I have found myself quite at home in both fields.

Before going further, I should like to express gratitude to all those who have helped me, both in recent times past and in connection with this speech. I should like to say a special word of gratitude to the Governor of Wormwood Scrubbs. He has certainly no responsibility for anything that I may say, but he has allowed me to visit Wormwood Scrubbs very often in the last year. I might also mention that I have, I believe, made a number of friends during this inquiry, on both sides of the fence. I include among friends found in that way one or two who have recently been imprisoned and who bear well-known and honoured names, and who have borne themselves, as I have the best reasons for knowing, very bravely in their adversity.

In my speech, I am going to try to keep within reasonable compass. That, of course, means passing over or leaving to others who are more competent to speak upon them a number of vast subjects, any one of which could easily occupy your Lordships' House for the whole of this afternoon or indeed for several afternoons. I am going to say nothing about the causes of crime (which was the subject of my inquiry) or about Borstal, upon which I know that Lord Moynihan will be speaking with much authority later. I am not going to say anything about detention centres, except to ask the Minister the question of which I have given him notice in relation to detention centres for young men between 17 and 21, where they are given what might be called "shock treatment." I am going to ask the Minister whether he has looked into my question and whether he would not be inclined to agree that the higher staff should be supplemented; whether they are not in fact trying to conduct this experiment on a shoe string at the present time.

I shall pass over the special problems of women prisoners and psychological treatment in prisons. I shall also pass over the very complex and sometimes very tragic questions associated with homosexuality, which the Government Committee is now investigating. I shall leave the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, and other experts to go into certain very pressing problems, such as the all-important matter of after-care, which are looming in the mind of anyone who studies these questions at first hand. I shall concentrate on one single theme which I shall approach in a spirit of dogmatic interrogation. I shall try to draw, if possible, tentative agreement from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is going to reply and who, I know, has specialised on these questions in recent times.

On an early page of his classical work English Prison and Borstal Systems, published in June, 1951, Sir Lionel Fox, the distinguished Chairman of the Prison Commissioners, states the central purpose of the prison system in these terms: the purposes of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to establish in them the will to lead a good and useful life on discharge and to fit them to do so. My theme this afternoon divides itself into two discussions. In the first place, I ask how far we are carrying out this central purpose of the prison system as defined by Sir Lionel Fox. Secondly, I ask: if we are failing to carry out that purpose, what are the reasons for our failure, and what steps can reasonably be taken to live up to our professed ideal of the practice? To the major question I submit, subject to the views of the House, a confident answer. I submit that in respect of the great majority of our convicted prisoners—I do not say all of them—we are completely failing at the present time to live up to our declared purpose. We are doing nothing, or next to nothing, to reform them; indeed, it may well be argued that they are likely to have come out of prison worse than when they went in—at any rate, worse than when they began their sentences. The second question I ask is: why are we failing to do our duty?—which is a more controversial question. I have certain clear ideas of my own which I should like to place before your Lordships. The question of what we ought to do about it, perhaps, is more controver- sial still, though here again I shall try to be as concrete as possible.

Let me take my first submission: that we are doing nothing to reform the vast majority of prisoners—I hope that, in the interests of brevity, I can bypass the very genuine doubt whether, on balance, men are ever likely to be reformed in prison; whether prison is not likely to do them more harm than good. I want to quote some words of Sir Alexander Maxwell which I think will be generally acceptable. He said: How far it is practicable to make men and women better by methods of prison treatment may be arguable; that it is possible to make them worse is incontestable; and the primary object of prison reform is to mitigate the deformative effects of detention. Apart from the deterrent and preventive aspects of imprisonment, whether we think that, generally, putting people in prison makes them better or worse, we surely start off from the broad supposition that our task and duty is to do the best we can for the moral welfare of these people. I am assuming again, for the sake of brevity, that a certain amount of imprisonment is necessary, for reasons of deterrence and prevention, though there may well be those who would say: Why have prisons at all? I am not trying to argue that point: as I say, I am assuming that a certain amount of imprisonment is necessary. I am also assuming (this may be held to be rather a big assumption, but I must make it in order to get on) that there is no evidence that the so-called old-fashioned forms of imprisonment are more deterrent than the so-called modern reformative types. I am arguing that we ought to be doing all in our power to improve the prisoners when they are in prison, and that at the present time we are not making an effort of this kind commensurate with the greatness of our country or with our degree of social enlightenment in other fields.

Let us assume (and this assumption again could be slightly modified) that in some of our prisons—what I call our best prisons, or, to be more specific, our training prisons—we are making at the present time an adequate effort to reform the inmates. How many, and what proportion, of our prisoners, come under this head? When talking of good and bad prisons, of course, I make these remarks without any reference to the personalities of the governors. Some of our best governors are in charge of the worst prisons, so that there is no possible slight on any particular governor. I have received assistance from the Home Office on these figures, and they must not be held responsible for any views implied or for any of the implications of the figures. I would submit that 2,547 (roughly 2,500) out of the 15,392 (say, out of 15,400) now serving sentences of imprisonment are covered by my definition of being in training prisons: I start with the assumption that the fact that 2,500, out of rather more than 15,400 people in prison to-day, may be said to be in training prisons is relatively satisfactory. The figure of 15,400 may strike some people as rather low, but I am excluding those in Borstal, women prisoners, civil prisoners—that is, people imprisoned for debt—and those waiting sentence, and excluding Scotland, as I am sure your Lordships will allow me to do, in view of the fact that their arrangements are separate.

The way I work it out is that we can say that there are 1,540 in regional training prisons, of which I suppose Maidstone and Wakefield are the most famous; 746 in corrective training prisons and 350 in young prisoners' centres—I suppose that Camphill, in the Isle of Wight, is well-known as a corrective training centre, and Lewes as a young prisoners' centre, Taking all these, we have a total of rather more than 2,500. If we exclude Borstal women prisoners, civil prisoners and those not sentenced, we find 10,803 in local prisons and 2,042 in central prisons. By local prisons I mean places like Winchester, Manchester, Birmingham and Wandsworth; and by central prisons I mean establishments like Dartmoor and Parkhurst. We find 12,845 in local and central prisons. These figures are offered deliberately, but after a great deal of work, for purposes of illustration.

There is only one central prison known to me, the open prison at Leyhill (which counts as a central prison) where I would say that some serious efforts are being made to reform the prisoners. On the other hand, I would not agree, from experience I have had recently, that corrective training prisons or wings are on a par with the full training prisons. So, broadly, the figures I have given seem to illustrate my point pretty correctly: that about 2,500 are in training prisons and 12,850 in non-training prisons. I would submit, therefore, that if I were to say that a serious attempt is being made to-day to reform only about one-sixth of our prisoners, I should not be far wrong. Even if I omit, as perhaps your Lordships would ask me to do, the 2,000 who are serving sentences of less than six months—and it might be argued that one cannot do much with a prisoner under six months, although that can be argued either way—we still find we can hardly be said to be seeking to reform more than one in five of our prisoners; and maybe we are seeking to reform considerably fewer.

As regards local prisons, the ordinary prisons we all know and which depress most of us when we go into them, perhaps I may be allowed to quote the words of one of our most experienced prison governors: Nothing happens in the local prisons. It is an entirely negative life. We do not ask anything of the prisoners at all, and the one hope is to get them out of these prisons. I suggest that that is a view generally held by those most actively concerned with prison reform in recent times. Hours of work in local prisons, the Home Office have been good enough to assure me, now apparently reach an average of 27 a week, compared with 37 to 40 in training prisons.

I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whether he could confirm the fact that the hours of work in local prisons average 27 a week. In the Report of the Commissioners of Prisons for 1953, which is the last published document available, at the top of page 2, I read: The local prisons…will continue to be limited to a workshop week rarely exceeding 22 hours. If it "rarely exceeded" 22 hours, I suppose that the average would probably be rather less. It looks as if some rather startling increase in working hours in local prisons took place between 1953, or, indeed, 1954, when this Report was actually published, and the present day. There is this unexplained increase in hours of work from 22 to 27. I find that a little hard to swallow, but I always believe in accepting official figures unless I have any better information. However, I should be grateful to the noble Lord if he can tell us that it is a fact that 27 hours are being worked weekly in local prisons. Whatever the figure is, it is a good many hours fewer than are worked in training prisons.

I do not think that anybody seriously pretends that the prisoner in a local prison is treated as an individual for whose moral development any responsibility is felt, or can be felt, by anybody. I distinguish specially, again without any reference to personalities, between local and training prisons. I would agree readily that in the training prisons a great responsibility is accepted, though those who run these prisons are the first to recognise the deficiencies. A noble effort is being made in many cases to send the men out better than when they entered prison. It is invidious to pick out individual names, but it will be generally conceded that Mr. John Vidler, the Governor of Maidstone, bids fair to leave an undying name in the prison service.

From the prisoners' point of view, it is worth asking where the difference lies. How does the prisoner notice this difference, which I suggest is so profound, between good and bad prisons? I want to stress that it is not primarily a question of comfort, though (to take only one point) the disgusting sanitary conditions which prevail in some of our older prisons are less likely to be found in prisons where reform is being attempted. Nor am I referring primarily to a distinction—though there is an important distinction—between open prisons, which most of us would call camps and from which indeed anybody can escape if he is so minded, on the one hand, and closed prisons, on the other hand, which have all the paraphernalia of walls and gates, cells and keys. Take our two best known training prisons, for example, those of Maidstone and Wakefield: each is a closed prison, although each has a small farm attached, to which it is possible to graduate. The distinction lies, in the first place—we are comparing the training with the non-training prisons—in the fact as suggested above, that in the group of prisons which I have called "reforming" prisons it is possible to do a full day's work, while in the ordinary, local prison, for instance, that is not possible at the present moment.

Moreover, the kind of work is far more fruitful in the first case than in the second. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, with all his great authority and experience, will deal with some of these topics and with this one in particular: that the work in the training prisons is more fruitful than in the local prisons. At Wakefield or Maidstone, for instance, there are first-class engineering shops for the purposes of trade training, and even for those who do not need or cannot learn a technical trade, every effort is made to give them something to do which is fairly worth while; whereas in local prisons a lot of such work as is available consists of sewing mailbags, which everybody knows can be done more effectively by machines. Those are differences.

But the Prison Commissioners, I believe, and certainly the prisoners to whom I have spoken, seem to be agreed that the most important distinction between the two types of prison (leaving out, of course, personalities), lies elsewhere. It lies, surely, in this fact: that in the best prisons an atmosphere exists to which these is no parallel in our worst prisons. The word "training" seems to me rather to confuse the issue, being used at one moment to refer to technical or trade training, and at another to the whole effort towards moral improvement. Therefore, it does slightly blur the issue. But I think we can accept that in the reforming type of prison an individual attention is given to and a responsibility accepted for the moral welfare of the prisoners; and there is scope for the prisoners themselves to make use of relative freedom and to take powers of leadership and responsibility. I think we must agree that that has come to exist in the training prisons, and also that this conscious concern for their individual welfare as the main official policy of the authorities is not lost on the prisoners. But in the ordinary local prison the prisoner certainly is not conscious that any effort of that kind is being made on his behalf.

Do we recognise that this is a deplorable situation which, in principle at least, we should spare no effort to remedy? That is the first point that I put to the noble Lord, and I am sure he will not mind my saying that he has had ample opportunity to reflect on it before the debate this afternoon. I would hope for a clearer statement from the Government on this point than the Commissioners have been able to issue. Much as we respect the Commissioners, they are civil servants and must be held to take instructions from the Government and to operate within certain financial limits; and in the last resort, when it comes to a broad acceptance of a point of this kind, we must look to the Minister rather than to any official.

It may be argued, and it is implied, I think—though I should not like to say this except subject to correction—in more than one passage of Sir Lionel Fox's classic book that a high proportion of our prisoners would not benefit from any great effort to reform them morally. Even if we concede that those in prison for only a few weeks cannot be helped greatly in this way, I would never agree that if we take away a man's liberty for as much as six months—and you will recall that I cut down the figures in that way earlier on—we do not accept a heavy obligation to try to send him out a better man, or, at any rate, not a worse one. And even if we rule out the short-sentence prisoners, we are still doing very little for the vast majority. I could never accept the view—if it is put forward to-day and I hope it will not be—that some men are so dead to all forms of moral training that no effort should be wasted on them. To make only one point in that connection: a view of that sort could never be squared with Sir Lionel Fox's description—if I understood him aright—of the central purpose of the prison system as being the establishment of a will to lead a good and useful life among all convicted prisoners.

The next explanation for our apparent failure to do very much for the great majority may be offered in terms of economics, and obviously this cannot be lightly brushed aside. It is no use far me or any alleged reformer to talk as if the sky may be the limit in this one field. The overcrowding of our prisons, the fact, for instance, that out of 17,485 in prison 2,886 are still sleeping three in a cell, is a sore impediment in the path of the best-intentioned prison staffs. On the last occasion that we debated these matters, in November, 1952, the Lord Chancellor of the day, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, gave us an interesting account of the Government's building plans, and if I pass over the question of building this afternoon it is in the hope that others, including the Minister, will give it proper attention.

Another topic, which again I pass over, is the securing of adequate work of a worthwhile character through Govern- ment contracts and otherwise. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, will deal with that subject thoroughly. I confess myself, along with many in the prison service, a convert to the idea of paying the prisoner wherever possible an ordinary working wage, from which he would be expected to pay for his keep and to make over a proper allowance to his dependants. Those are all great subjects, but I must leave them to others this afternoon.

As I understand the matter, the supreme bottleneck which to-day frustrates the efforts of all who would like to extend the training system (using that word in the sense not only of trade training, but also of moral training) is the shortage of staff. I know the dangers of crude comparisons, but it is a fact which I verified with the Home Office, that before the war the three-shift system for prison staffs was in force in all thirty-one of our prisons and to-day it is in force in only twelve prisons out of forty-three. The figures look better if you bring in Borstal institutions, but at the moment I am, sticking to prisons; and those are the figures given to me by the Home Office. I cannot help quoting the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, again—and I mentioned to him that I would quote this to-day. In our debate in November, 1952, as the Lord Chancellor of the day, he used this language [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 179, col. 364]: …subject to such restrictions as may be imposed by financial or other considerations, they"— the Commissioners— 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 year—that is to say, to all the local prisons. Two to three years, be it noted. So it was hoped at the end of 1952 that in two to three years the three-shift system for staff, which enables the staff to give more individual attention to the prisoners, would be extended to all local prisons. It is now two and a half years since that statement was made, and, as I have told the House, the three-shift system is in force in only a quarter of our prisons. Without it, I venture to think that the idea of individual treatment for prisoners remains, and will remain, a fantasy. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us what has gone wrong in the last two and a half years to prevent the realisation, even, one might say, in the slightest degree, of the hope held out, no doubt on official advice, by the Lord Chancellor of the day in November, 1952.

Cannot we, therefore, if we are talking in terms of ratio of prisoners to the staff, agree on this further step: that it is a major and imperative duty either to bring down the number of prisoners very sharply or to increase very rapidly the number of staff, or preferably both. It is true—let us be thankful—that the number of prisoners is dropping. It was 24,000 in 1953; it is 21,000 at the present moment. It is still nearly twice the prewar figure of about 11,000. In case anybody wonders how 21,000 squares with a figure of 15,000, as I discussed earlier, this 21,000 includes Borstal and includes the civil prisoners and prisoners awaiting trial: it is the total population that the staff have to look after.

Naturally, we are all equally anxious to promote a reduction in crime, and on the subject of otherwise reducing the prison population I found many well-informed people, including members of the prison staff, who believe that we could, by one of several methods, keep a good many convicted delinquents out of prison without any loss of the deterrent effect. We might make an increased use of probation. We might use some system of suspended sentence which I believe, would be of special helpfulness in dealing with many sexual problems; or the extension of attendance centres, now being used for juveniles. Or we might think out better ideas than any of those. But, taking the number of prisoners as given, which I must do for the purpose of the argument this afternoon, I beg the Government to take far more trouble and give far more attention and publicity to a recruiting campaign for prison officers than we have seen from any Government in my recollection in this country.

I realise that the noble Lord has not got very long to launch this great campaign, but I am making these references without any sort of Party implication whatever. I hope these words will reach whatever Government presides over our destinies. The subject has absolutely no Party connotation, and I beg the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government to-day to make sure that, if he is returned to power, he and his colleagues will give far more attention to a campaign. I do not recall coming across any advertisement for prison officers. I am no good myself at studying advertisements, and some noble Lords may say that publicity has been effective. I beg the Government to give this matter the sort of attention that has been given in recent years to recruiting for the fighting Services. I hope the noble Lord when he replies—and I hope he will not cut short his remarks in any degree whatever, because whoever is not able to be with us at the conclusion, I promise to be here—will tell us what steps the Government are taking or will take when, and if, they have confirmed authority, to increase the supply of prison officers without reducing the standard. Seriously, as I think the noble Lord will agree, the standard must on no account be reduced. To put it gently, it is giving a good many of us concern at the present time, and it is said by some who know these matters best to be distinctly lower than it was in prewar days.

The Government will have much fuller information, but I believe I am right in saying that the Prison Commission aimed at increasing the number of established basic-grade officers by 162 during the financial year 1954–55. In the first nine months of that period they actually lost five such officers. I believe some slight internal re-adjustment may provide a little explanation, but not very much. That was the result of their drive in the first nine months of the year 1954–55. The award of increased pay last autumn seemed to stimulate recruiting, but a few weeks ago when I visited the training college at Wakefield, the number taking the course was only thirty-five or so against eighty on some previous occasions. I beg the Government to recognise the gravity of this matter and to redouble all their efforts. But, if I may offer a personal opinion, I should be misleading the House if I seemed to think that any recruiting campaign, however successful, appealing for prison service of the kind we have known hitherto, is likely to bring about any rapid transformation in the foreseeable future. I do not hope for miracles along those lines, but I would hope for substantial improvement.

With that in mind, I approach my main concrete suggestion. Having talked to many prisoners in the last year or two, I have found that in nine cases out of ten they judge a prison not by the buildings, not by the lavatories—though this is always referred to, I am afraid—not by physical effects at all, but by the way they are treated, by the attitude of the staff as a whole, and most of all, by the attitude of the officers with whom they come most in contact. Quite independently, on visiting both prisons at different times, I have found prisoners at Wakefield and Maidstone recalling gratefully that they were no longer shouted at there as they had been at local prisons. Yet the officers at Wakefield and Maidstone are trained in the same college. They are told not to shout. They have the same tuition which, in my opinion, from my short visit there, is excellent. Yet something comes over the officer when he leaves Wakefield—I am talking now of the Wakefield Training College. If he goes to a good prison he finds himself treating the prisoners in a gentlemanly-like fashion; and if he goes to one of the local prisons he finds himself shouting at them. That is, if you like, the mystery of prison life at the present time.

But I do not think the reasons are very mysterious. It is, as I have been suggesting hitherto, partly a question of providing the same staffing ratio in our average prisons as now prevails in our best, and making sure that the three-shift system exists. But there is a refinement here on which I should like to lay heavy emphasis—if you like, my main emphasis—this afternoon. What is specially lacking in the ordinary prisons is an adequate supply of assistant governors. For example, in an ordinary Borstal you may find eight assistant governors. You will find six at Wakefield, and if you go to Wandsworth you will find one. In Wandsworth, where they have about 1,300 men—certainly well over 1,000—you will find one governor, one deputy-governor and one assistant governor. They are really like a large battalion without any company or platoon commanders. If the poor officers are found shouting at the men as a result, I do not think one can blame any of them—certainly not the governor, for whom I have personally a very high respect, having known him since he was governor at Oxford.

The ordinary prison officer, even if he rises to be a principal or chief officer, plays the part of an N.C.O. Exceptions obviously exist. A number of them rise to become assistant governors and governors, but, speaking broadly—and I am trying to put this delicately—there is nothing, I am afraid, in their background or general qualifications, let alone their training, which would enable them to provide the inspiration of a true social service. The idea that the prison service of the future should be a true social service is the principal thought I am placing before the House this afternoon. If, for the moment, I may express a vision, I see a service in which the training and sense of vocation are just as manifest as in the probation service or in the teaching profession.

Many questions will be legitimately thrown at me. I will mention one or two rather interesting problems that I think arise at once. How far, for example, could young men of the probation officer or school-teacher type be relied on or expected to provide the essential framework of security? Somebody has to keep the prisoners, or some of them, from escaping. We cannot, however idealistic we are, neglect the security aspect altogether. How would I link what I am proposing with the welfare services which are already beginning to be provided in prisons, or the long-established religious facilities? These questions, again, I must pass over this afternoon, except to say that in my view the chaplains of all denominations are scandalously overworked at the present time. Whether they be full-time or part-time, they have an impossible task; and of all the reforms to be suggested one is an increase in the number of chaplains, whether full-time, part-time or both.

I repeat that I have expressed a vision, if it can ever be realised—and I hope one day it will be. In such a service it would be essential to eliminate the present sharp and somewhat revolting distinction between, on the one hand, what are called the superior staff—the governors, deputy-governors, assistant, governors—and, on the other, subordinate staff, the chief officers and the principal officers. At present there are about 100 of the former kind, of various grades, and about 3,500 of the latter. A time may come—I am not suggesting that it will come to-morrow—when all promotion will be from the ranks. Certainly I feel that all assistant governors and governors should serve in the ranks for some period. Some assistant governors have served in the ranks for a considerable time. But, in the meantime, if we can unify the service in that way, we must face the fact that the vast majority of the prison staff are not, and for years to come will not be, of the calibre from which assistant governors and upwards—what one may call the "officer categories." on a military comparison—can be manufactured.

I submit, therefore, that if we are, in fact, going to deal at the same time with the short-run problem of providing far more individual treatment for prisoners in most of our prisons at the present time and of laying the foundation of a true social service in the future, we must push ahead rapidly with the recruitment of far more assistant governors; in military parlance (the comparison is easy to present), we must staff the prisons with assistant governors down to platoon commander level. That might mean increasing the total number of assistant governors from 100 to 500 or so. That is what I have in mind as the objective. That might cost something like £300,000 or £400,000, or a little more, because the higher staff are at present lamentably underpaid. I conceive that the total bill might be something of the order of half a million pounds, but I believe that the service obtained would be cheap at the price.

If I am told that the bill for prisons in England and Wales is already going up from just over £7 million to £9½ million between 1951–52 and 1955–56, I would urge with extreme conviction that the increased expenditure on men, and above all the right men, is even more important than any increase of expenditure on buildings—not that I underestimate the need for the latter. I would add only that there never has been a shortage of candidates for the position of assistant governor since the war. It should not be difficult, at a price which we could surely pay and which we can afford, to find sufficient young idealists, equipped and ready, after suitable training, to devote their lives to the prison service with a true sense of vocation. It goes without saying that any suitable candidates from the ranks would always be warmly welcomed, and that these leaders of the future would have no more urgent duty than that of expanding, rather than restricting, the redemptive opportunities of the prison officers, and especially the chief officers serving under them. It would be a tragedy to down-grade or curtail the opportunities of the excellent men who are serving as chief officers or of other persons.

I draw to a close, leaving other topics to other speakers. I should like to sum up my central argument under five propositions. First, we must all accept a heavy obligation for the moral welfare of all our prisoners. Secondly, we are seeking to discharge this obligation to-day in respect of only a relatively small proportion of them. Thirdly, the task of extending to the general run of our prisons the practice and atmosphere of our best prisons is impeded by various factors, but most of all by a shortage of staff, which, in global terms, is likely to persist but should be tackled far more vigorously than ever hitherto. Fourthly, more particularly, progress is held back by a shortage of those with the qualities and training to provide the inspiration of a true social service. We should, therefore, proceed rapidly to multiply several times the number of assistant governors, choosing wherever possible young men; the retired colonial servant can be most valuable, but my vision would be realised by bringing in young men who would see in a reformed prison service a life's vocation. Fifthly, our ultimate vision would be of a prison service for which we could proudly and confidently appeal for the finest candidates that our country could offer. It would be manned by a body of recognised social servants. I will not imply that they would be any more loyal or earnest than the present officers, who have borne the heat and burden of the day and include a number of magnificent men; but the prison officer of the future would be deliberately attracted, selected and trained on principles at once more in keeping with modern penological thinking and, may I say, in the presence of representatives of the Church, ancient Christian conceptions: I was in prison and you came to see me…In so much as you did it to one of my least brethren you did it to me.

My Lords, I have done no more, as Edmund Burke would have said, than state a case. The power rests with the Government, and, along with it, a very heavy responsibility. We have acquired in recent years in this country, as elsewhere, many excellent penological notions. It is up to the Government—and heaven knows! this is no Party question—to set out anew to promote a prison service with some chance of carrying those ideas into effect. The broad arrow and the cropped head, the face averted to the wall when a visitor passes, are not so long since dead; and to adapt some famous words of Maitland: To no small extent they still rule us from their graves. In their lives they were powers of evil, and in their deaths they have not wholly ceased from troubling. A prison officer of the highest repute told me recently that when he joined the service twenty-five years ago it was contrary to all convention, and regarded as most imprudent, to converse with a prisoner. We have made some progress since those days. I recognise, I hope, the need for the preservation of authority and personal prestige, but is it too much to-day to lay it down as an axiom that you cannot train where you must not fraternise?

Even to-day the growth of a fruitful relationship between officers and individual prisoners is all too often inhibited or choked at birth by an old, and, as I think, false and inferior conception of what the service represents. Only a few weeks ago a prison officer recruit at Wakefield training college told me that when he joined the service he supposed that his main job would be to "bung 'em in and lock' em up." It is for the Government of the day to define anew the rôle of the prison service in the future and to take the physical, financial and administrative steps to honour their words in action. To-day I implore the Minister to give us, if possible, an inspiring statement of intentions. But if, as I can understand, he and his colleagues need more time for reflection, then at least let us be told that the Government recognise the gravity of the problems. At least let us be shown that their minds are open and accessible to all sincere, constructive suggestions; that they recall our special Christian duty to those whom, for reasons which seem good to us, we have felt compelled to deprive of freedom; that they remember that we who discuss the disposal of these unfortunate fellow human beings have ourselves required redemption and will one day, like them, require to be forgiven. I beg to move for Papers.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords I am very glad that the noble Lord has raised this urgent question. Every noble Lord should face it and look at it in as concrete a form as he possibly can. In the few minutes during which I am going to speak, I shall try to put concrete facts, as I see them, before the House and make two suggestions that I am inclined to think are practical suggestions. First of all, this is not a problem of immense magnitude. It concerns about 21,000 men and women. Surely it is possible for a State like ours, a Welfare State, with all these immense improvements that we have seen in practically every social Service, to face this small problem and to deal with it in a common-sense and urgent manner.

We have the experience in dealing with prison questions. Over the last generation, we have had a series of great prison reformers, beginning with Ruggles Bryce, Alec Paterson, Alexander Maxwell, and I would include with them the present Prison Commissioners, with Sir Lionel Fox, the Chairman of the Board. We know what ought to be done, yet we do not do it. The result is that in certain respects, particularly in the matter of accommodation and work, so far from making any progress in a world in which a great deal of progress has been made in other walks of life, we have actually fallen back, I would almost say 50 or 60 years. To-day, there exists a thing unheard of in the days when I or my predecessors were connected with the Home Office. No fewer than 4,595 prisoners are confined three in a cell; they are shut up in that cell at about tea-time in the afternoon, and left there with nothing to do until the following morning. A state of affairs like that would have horrified the great penal reformers of the past who made our system one of the best in the world.

Then there are the antiquated buildings, some of which date back to the French wars at the beginning of the 19th century. There is the under-staffing. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has quoted some figures about under-staffing. I should like to support the questions that he put to the representative of the Home Office upon the subject. We were certainly given to understand, when we had a debate in this House two or three years ago, that that situation was going to be greatly improved. So far as I can understand, far from having been improved it is getting worse. It was very much the same with the buildings. I remember the late Lord Chancellor, Lord Simonds, making a most encouraging speech from the Woolsack, in which he described the new security prisons, the boys' Borstals and the girls' Borstals that were going to be built. So far as I can make out, the first security prison is only just rising from the ground and it has been totally impossible to find a site for the second security prison. Lastly, there is the question of work in the prisons. Before the war, there was a regular week of employment of about five or six hours a day. To-day, as we have heard this afternoon, in the local prisons, it comes to two or three hours a day, and then very often upon work that is of no particular value to anybody.

There are four points—antiquated buildings, over-crowding, under-staffing and under-employment—upon which urgent action is immediately needed. What is happening? We are told of this great building programme. It is my view that we are never going to mitigate, much less remove, these evils if we make a new building programme the central objective of what we are doing. I believe that it is going to take years and years. In addition, I believe that it is going to cost so enormous a sum of money that the Treasury will not face the expense. Let me give noble Lords a simple example. In the new security prison that is now being built, the place for each prisoner is costing £3,000. In view of that figure, I am not surprised that the Treasury have not been enthusiastic over this building programme.

Suppose I am right, and that the building programme is a matter of several, perhaps many, years: can anything else be done to remedy this situation? I be- lieve that in two directions much can be done, and done quickly. I take first of all the question of reducing the number of prisoners, particularly in these local prisons. I am convinced that a great many of these men and women who are sent to prison for a few days or weeks would be much better working at their jobs outside. That is not a revolutionary proposal; it is being tried out in many countries, particularly in the Scandinavian countries, and I understand that we are beginning to try it out upon a small scale even here.

The first proposal, then, that I make to the Under-Secretary to the Home Office to-day is that there should be a detailed inquiry into all prisoners' records. I would begin with the local prisons, where the prisoners are serving the shorter sentences, and I would make an analysis to see how many of them could be got out of prison and left to work outside. That is not a proposal to make the life of the prisoner any softer; it is a proposal to clear the local prisons and to make it possible to carry out in them the sort of reforms that we all wish to see. At present they are cumbered up with this vast number of men and women who come in for a few days and go out, having done no good to anybody and having cost the State quite a considerable sum of money. Let me give noble Lords an example. In the last year for which I have figures there were 5,514 imprisonments for non-payment of fines. It is cases of this sort that ought to be analysed. It ought to be seen whether a great many of those offenders might not work outside, possibly coming back to prison over the week-end in certain cases; be able to get the full rate of wage for their job; pay for their keep, if they are still kept in prison, and pay also what is due from them for the fine and for compensation, if there is a victim in the case. Thereby we could free the local prisons from this mass of men and women who are simply a nuisance.

Again, there were 3,025 sentences in 1952 not exceeding fourteen days. I am sure that an analysis into the individual cases would show that from that point of view we should be much wiser—and it would certainly be much cheaper—not to put these people into local prisons and to crowd the local prisons to such an extent that any decent sort of life in them, and any possibility of reform, is almost impossible. That is my first proposal to the Home Office—to make careful review of the individual cases of these prisoners to see how many could work outside, with the result that we should be able to carry out the sort of reforms that we all wish in the local prisons.

Now I come to my second proposal, which concerns work, not only in the local prisons but in the training prisons as well. I am convinced that we are still living in the past. We do not follow the kind of experiments that are being made successfully elsewhere, and our idea of work in prison is still tainted with the idea of the treadmill—something at which to keep the prisoner; and it does not much matter what it is. We ought to revolutionise our ideas in this respect and base our attitude towards work in prison upon the idea that such work should be useful; that it should be paid for at the regular rate of wages, and that the wages paid should then be allocated to the man's keep, to compensation for the victims, and to the accumulation of a sum for the prisoner when he leaves prison.

We might even carry that proposal a little further to the point that has now been reached in France, where one certainly does not expect to find progressive prison reform. There, at present, I am informed, there are five long-sentence prisons, in which neighbouring industrialists have installed up-to-date machinery; and prisoners, still in custody, work this machinery and receive a full wage for what they do. Again, there are other prisoners, even men with long sentences, who are allowed to work in industries outside. In some cases they are out on parole. Some have to come back and report to the prison at special times, and possibly come back at weekends. These are ideas that I commend to the Home Office. I believe that, if carefully applied to suit the conditions of our own prisons, they might revolutionise life in long-sentence prisons, as well as in local prisons.

I am convinced that the best hope for many of these prisoners, some of whom may at first sight appear to be absolutely hopeless, is to make them work and take an interest in their own work. I believe that along these lines we might start upon a whole series of reforms which would not only reduce the number of inmates in our prisons but also enable efforts at reform to be made in a way which is quite impossible under present conditions. I suggest then, first, an analysis of the cases of short sentences to see which of the men and women had better not work outside; and secondly, a fundamental review of work in prisons. Obviously, in such a review it would be essential to bring in at the very start the trade unions and employers' organisations. In the past there has been much groundless anxiety upon the question of work in prisons. After all, it involves only perhaps 6,000 or 7,000 men and women—a quite insignificant number. I feel that if the trade union leaders and the employers were faced with the problem they could help us to make work in the prisons profitable from the point of view of the State, useful to industry and perhaps most important of all, helpful for the moral future of the prisoners.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, after two such excellent speeches. I will add only a few comments on this most difficult problem. We ought to be quite clear in our minds as to our intentions. There appear to be four. There is the obvious necessity of keeping certain prisoners out of harm's way, locked up or secured so that they will not interfere with other people. Secondly, there is the question of a deterrent or punishment to discourage others from taking part in crime. It would seem, as we advance in our knowledge of the subject, that the deterrent appears less of a cause for restraint from crime than we used to think. Statistics bear out that the deterrent is not so effective because there are other forces which work the other way.

Then there is a very strong motive which should not be ignored—the desire for retribution or for vengeance. I think that must be accepted; for in a primitive society, when someone is hurt the natural reaction of the victim's friends or relations is to seek revenge; and hence, in certain societies, one gets the vendetta, lynching and similar happenings. In modern society we have taken away the right of vengeance and substituted the control of the State, with the injured party and the public being allowed the satisfaction of knowing that the wrongdoer will be brought to justice, tried, and, if guilty, will receive the appropriate punishment. I consider that that is a very strong element of, and possibly the only valid argument for, capital punishment. But there is a drawback to that, for we find that the effect of such punishment upon wrongdoers is often to make them react in even greater violence against society. That happens in vendettas and also in cases of over-harsh sentences.

A fourth aspect of this subject to which we should pay more attention is reform, the effort to make the prisoner better. We should strive for that not only from the humanitarian or Christian standpoint, though those aspects come into it, but as much from the practical, utilitarian and economic point of view. It has been pointed out that a prisoner is an extremely expensive liability on society. I speak subject to correction, but I understand that the present cost of our prisons is something like £9,700,000. That is a formidable budget, but that is not the only loss. One must also consider the loss arising from the fact that the prisoner is not a productive person producing his keep. At the same time, by being a bad influence (that is, if he remains in his bad ways) he may well influence other people to follow a life of crime. Thus there is a terrible liability to the State, and it would be worth a lot of money and effort, even bringing it down to the most practical terms, if a large number of these people could be reformed. Very few people would seriously disagree nowadays with a policy of reform, but unfortunately, in spite of general agreement, such a policy is not carried out.

I thought the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, made a most powerful speech. And it seemed to me that it was the more powerful for being so restrained and consisting so largely of under-statement. He quoted from the work of Sir Lionel Fox these words which I should like to repeat: The purposes of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to establish in them the will to lead a good and useful life on discharge and to fit them to do so. That would be the ideal object of our prison system. Unfortunately, as pointed out by both the earlier speakers, we are far from even attempting to cope with the problem, and I would urge Her Majesty's Government to try to face this problem, with a view not only to reducing this £9,700,000 but also to reducing suffering, the bitterness and the feelings of frustration of this large prison population.

The main topic about which I wish to speak, and which I feel is the crux of the whole problem, has been extremely well dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. But I think it is so important that I should like to reinforce his remarks—I am, of course, referring to the question of work in prison. The one opportunity of reforming and making contact with a prisoner, and of possibly changing his mind and his character, occurs in those hours when he is at work. Those hours vary, I understand, in different prisons from three to seven or more a day. But that is the prisoner's life. Every day he does his work. And when he is doing it that is the one time when you can get at him.

I remember reading, when I was at school, that in the 16th century the way of dealing with prisoners was to send them out to pile up a whole heap of rocks in a corner. When they had done that they had to move the pile to another corner, and after that they had to take it back to the place where it was in the beginning. Of course there is nothing so demoralising, so embittering, so utterly frustrating as unnecessarily hard and unpleasant work for seemingly unending hours. That idea has been largely carried on under the system which has kept men sewing mailbags, picking oakum and so on. Every prisoner knows that mailbags can be made a hundred times more quickly, and better, by machine. He knows that he is given this work so that he may have an unpleasant task to keep him busy. He must inevitably resent this. It is certainly no measure of reform. I suggest that more constructive work should be provided for the prisoners. As we have heard, a certain amount is now done in that way in some of the better prisons, where the prisoners are occupied with weaving, foundry work, tailoring, bricklaying, laundry and so on. There is a certain amount of this work, but nothing like enough to go round. And that is the whole difficulty. I think it will be found that prison governors bitterly complain of this fact. There is great need to find constructive work for prisoners in our prisons.

I am rather ashamed to say that the best example of a prison I have ever seen was the Bolshevoi prison near Moscow. I visited it in 1936. I had been asked what, among other things I should like to see, and I replied: "I should like to see one of your prisons." So I was taken to the Bolshevoi prison, which was not far from Moscow. It is not an institution for long-term or political prisoners; it is occupied mainly by convicted persons who are serving sentences of about four or five years. I found that the prison was rather like a little village, and centred upon two big factories. At these factories the prisoners were making spoils goods, such as tennis racquets, skis, and footballs. They received reasonable wages, of which quite a lot was deducted for keep and allowances, but they retained a certain amount which they could either save or spend on little luxuries.

The thing that surprised me was that there were no bars or locks or keys. Here were men serving quite long sentences, and apparently they never attempted to escape. If a man had been good—that is to say, if his behaviour had been absolutely irreproachable for something like eighteen months—he was allowed to have his wife and children to live with him in a little hut or house. That is a privilege which is also given in Mexico in some cases. I asked the authorities at Bolshevoi what happened in case of any indiscipline, what punishment was meted out if a prisoner misbehaved. One has perhaps to allow for a little exaggeration, but this is what they told me. They told me that, in the first place, punishment for indiscipline was curtailment of privileges. If that did not work, and the prisoner in question still remained refractory, he was given solitary confinement. That meant that he was obliged to remain in his house. He was not locked in, but he was told that he must not go out for a certain specified time. If that did not work, the ultimate sanction was that the man was paraded before the whole prison camp—the governor, the officers and other prisoners—and given a "dressing-down." Apparently this was so effective that no prisoner ever wanted it repeated. It seemed to me that that was an extraordinary experiment, and apparently it was working exceptionally well. It certainly supports the ideas which we have heard from the previous speaker with regard to tile possibility of more suspended sentences, and of the possibility of employing our prisoners in factories where they can be given constructive work which would not only repay the prisoners but pay off some of this £9 million and be of enormous benefit in reclaiming and building up the characters of the prisoners themselves.

I know exactly what the objections are to that idea. I think they come under two headings, and I am glad to say that this is a completely non-Party and non-political question. First, I think the trade unions have not always envisaged this question in the most progressive sense. There is a genuine fear that to employ prisoners on these lines would be a way of exploiting cheap convict labour, a fear that it would be the thin end of the wedge. It is thought that if prisoners were allowed to be used in this constructive way it might be a prelude to the introduction of the labour camp or the concentration camp which, as we all know, existed in Germany before the war. I think that last is an absolutely unfounded fear. I feel that if we ever were unfortunate enough to have the sort of Government which could establish camps of that sort, into which they put their political opponents and made them work, the fact that there was some sort of a precedent would not have much influence. I think the safeguard of that is the democratic constitution which we should all support.

A second fear which I think is much more real has already been mentioned: it is the fear of cheap labour undercutting the private market. This is a fear entertained both by the manufacturers and by the trade unions. They are afraid that if this cheap prison labour can produce goods at cheaper levels than they can, certain firms may be put out of business; that the general effect on wages will be detrimental, and that it will inevitably lead in the end to unemployment. I suggest that that is an out-of-date point of view. With almost full employment, with the tremendous need for skilled labour and labour of all kinds everywhere and with the pressing need for more production, our great need to-day is to produce goods cheaply, to lower the cost of living and to sell in foreign markets so as to get the materials and food we need. If there is a danger, it is that we shall be unable to afford to get the materials and food that we require. I think that is the real crux of the situation.

The days when we had enormous unemployment are gone—I hope for ever. As the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said, the amount of prison production is so small, in relation to our total production, that it could not affect the position. I urge any Government to take a strong line on this matter, and to build up our prisons as constructive factories. At present not only are prisoners put on the demoralising work of mailbag sewing, but when they are put to work in foundries, on looms or on tailoring or bricklaying, they are not encouraged in a constructive way: they are simply taught one thing to do and are kept at this one little job for years. What we must do is to interest the men in their jobs, and I think that if they were getting a decent wage, even though there were deductions, that would give them more interest. I should also like to suggest that it might be possible to work out some scheme for remission of sentence if a man worked well for a long period of his sentence and produced a large amount of goods. I think that would have some effect in reconciling a prisoner to his work and would build up an interest in the work going on in the prison.

I understand that recently a system has been introduced whereby prisoners are given mailbags to sew in the evenings in their cells, as well as during the day. I do not know whether this is voluntary or compulsory, but it seems to me a bad system. A number of prisoners wish to improve their lot and take advantage of the evenings, while the lights are still on, to read and do correspondence courses. If the mailbag sewing is done voluntarily for some small remuneration, that is one matter; but if it is compulsory it cuts out any idea of improvement or of giving a prisoner a chance to educate himself and learn something to do when he gets out. I also understand that in some prisons no electric bulb of more than 40 watts is allowed in the cells. That makes reading very difficult. I think that is one of the little economies which seem so unnecessary: it discourages education and frustrates prisoners, and is also extremely bad for their eyesight. We must remember that there is a percentage (I do not know what it is) of educated men in prison, men like solicitors and doctors. Some of them regret bitterly their lapse from good behaviour and wish to take what chance they have of reading and studying. I should have thought that everything ought to be done to encourage that trend amongst that sort of prisoner. Everything should be done to make the prison libraries useful and books accessible to prisoners, though I do not think that is now always done. A number of evening courses are provided, some good and some, I gather, very inadequate. I hope the Government will press on with such schemes, which can add interest to a terribly monotonous and soul-destroying life.

Other noble Lords have referred to the appalling sanitary conditions in some of our prisons, which I gather would disgrace a Hottentot village. It is not only the inadequacy and small numbers of the lavatories: the condition in the cells of prisoners, after seventeen hours or more in a cell with one chamber-pot for everything, is sometimes frightful. If we are to educate prisoners to better standards it will not be done by sending them into slum conditions. Surely we want to improve their standards in every possible way. I think something should be done to make sanitary arrangements much better.

One of the difficult problems is the medical service. I know that there is a shortage of doctors and dentists everywhere, but in some prisons I understand that the shortage is particularly acute. In one big prison, with several hundred inmates, the dentist comes one day a week, and he is so pressed that all he can do is extractions. Whatever is wrong with a tooth, a prisoner must either have it out or not have it touched at all. If he protests, his name can go on a waiting list; but it may be ten months or a year before his turn comes. Surely something better could be worked out. I do not know whether it would be possible to encourage dentists who are prisoners to practise in prison, but I feel that something ought to be done to reform the medical side.

I would also mention epileptics. I wonder whether the Government could have one section of prisons given over to epileptics, who often have these terrible fits at night when no one can get at them. I remember an experience at school when I had to carry a boy in an epileptic fit out of chapel. To see a man in such a lit is frightening, and it is something one does not forget easily. Epileptics can do themselves harm in a fit, and I think that more care is needed. They should not be treated as ordinary prisoners, being kept with other prisoners and left at night without the possibility of getting help when needed.

I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply two questions. The first is with regard to prison visitors, who perform most useful functions. I have here a booklet, Prison Visitors—Advice and Guidance. It begins: Prison visitors are requested to read the following advice carefully and to comply strictly with it. Proceeding to the next page, we find that visitors should not concern themselves with such questions as the justice of the conviction or the length of the sentences of those whom they visit. Prisoners will often wish to discuss such matters, but the visitor should avoid such discussions. In practice, it is almost impossible with prisoners to avoid any discussion of their sentences, and I should have thought it unnecessary to impose this obligation. Yet visitors have to comply with this impracticable advice, otherwise they will not be allowed to see prisoners. The other small point that I should like to raise concerns letters, which are censored and are few and far between. I wonder whether the noble Lord can explain the reason for the present restriction on letters sent to and by prisoners. Is this mainly due to the shortage of staff available for censorship? And does the noble Lord see any way of overcoming this difficulty? We must remember the important part that letters play in the life of a prisoner, who is cut off from his family, and I wonder whether some amelioration of conditions cannot be conceded.

Those are the main points that I wish to raise this evening. Some may say that have urged the case of the prisoner too far and that it is a question of being too easy-going. But I assure your Lordships that the prisoner is punished enough, and to spare. I feel that we should examine this problem not emotionally but scientifically and humanly. We should not emphasise the retribution aspect of it, but should try to cure the sick in mind, and turn these enemies of society into useful, harmless and happy people.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, one could spend one's lifetime on this subject without getting to the right answer, just as many people have spent their lifetimes and great fortunes in trying to find the cure for cancer; but just because that cure has not yet been found, I do not think there are many people, if any, who are not positive in their own minds that it will finally be found. That is the way in which I feel we should look at our problem of the prisons to-day. Any lessening of crime must be our main object. I feel that we owe a great debt of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for moving this Motion this afternoon. To me he made (if I am not impertinent in saying so) not only a most interesting speech, but a very moving one. I am sure that all who listened to it and all who read it will feel that their job is to do all they can to support him and to try to make things better. Here I should like to thank the many people, both those behind the bars and those administering to and guarding them, for the help they have given me.

This is a vast subject and, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, one can only deal with certain aspects of it. I shall try to tackle in a small way the question of young prisoners and the important matter of after-care. I feel that if one could answer the question of crime in the young, and one could prevent those under twenty-one years of age from getting into trouble, then it would be only a matter of time before the whole total was automatically reduced. Now that the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, has been in force for some time, and, what is just as important, the immediate post-war period, which is so dangerous from the criminal point of view, is over, there is some hope that things are getting a little better. Nevertheless, the failures are still lamentably high. One must realise that now (and when I say "now," I refer to 1952–53, which is the time we are discussing) there are twice as many young prisoners in Borstal as there are in prison, whereas ten years ago there were three times as many young prisoners in prison as there were in Borstal. Therefore, one must assume that the cases in Borstal are now more serious, and that is bound to affect adversely the reconviction to sentence. I welcome the suggestion that segregation is all important to young prisoners, and I am only sorry to see that, through lack of staff and accommodation, we cannot go much further there.

There is one crime that I think even now we do not take seriously enough, and that is the crime of violence against the person. I should not advocate in many cases Gilbert's suggestion that the punishment should fit the crime, but it is in respect of these cases that I am not happy that there is no corporal punishment. A great number of these violent offences are carried out by young men who are thorough cowards at heart. They are a real danger to the public when they are at large, and they are an equal danger when they are behind bars. I feel that their treatment should be very specialised. I am also concerned at the number of cases remanded in prison that afterwards get neither a prison nor a Borstal sentence. In the last debate in another place, some twelve months ago, the figure was quoted at 10,000. I know that one of the answers to this will be in the remand centre, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply what the present position is regarding remand centres and what is the hope for the immediate future.

I should like to add one word on detention centres, and especially on those for boys of the ages from fourteen to seventeen, who are mainly sent there for three months' detention, which is a comparatively short space of time, and when they come out there is no compulsory after-care. Those boys go back to the environment which was probably the cause of their trouble; they go back with no one to look after them and, as I say, with no compulsory after-care at all. I am told that there might be administrative difficulties here, but the numbers are small. In Campsfield House, which was the only centre of that kind in 1953, there were only 210 boys, of whom 70—that is to say, 35 per cent.—refused voluntary after-care. I would suggest strongly that we should recommend that those boys should all have compulsory after-care.

Now let me come to the Borstals themselves. Here we have a completely different outlook from that to which we have been listening this afternoon. Here something really is being done in respect of the treatment of young prisoners and their training. One is always most impressed by the last thing one sees, and only a few days ago I went round Feltham. From my previous knowledge, and from this particular visit, I am quite certain in my own mind that the tackling of the young prisoners in this way—that is, by the Borstal idea—is quite right. We have now had forty-five years of Borstals, with vast improvements made. I do not know how many of your Lordships have television sets and looked in last night to see the original history of the open Borstal. I hope this is not advertising—I have nothing to do with the B.B.C.—but I thought it was an excellent hour's entertainment; and not only entertainment, but a great instruction. It reminded us that the open Borstal system has now being going on for twenty-five years and has been gradually improving; and in my opinion, it is now in a position where it really does these boys a great deal of good. It not only gives them a chance of pulling themselves together, but it gives them the choice of training in a vast number of practical subjects, with first-class instructors. We all know it would be much better if the numbers were smaller, and I think it should be one of our ambitions to try and reduce the numbers; but this again means more staff and more expense. I think it is one of those things that we can try to do when the time comes.

I do not want to insult any of your Lordships by comparing a Borstal institution with a public school, but there is one principle that is the same in both cases: that is, that the value of each varies directly with the type of headmaster and housemaster or, in the case of Borstals, governor and housemaster, that are appointed. I think we have all seen a temporary deterioration in one or other of the great public schools due to a bad headmaster, and we have seen a house go down in its standards because of a bad housemaster—even in those schools that we are proud of ourselves. That standard is probably kept intact by the tradition that a public school holds; but there is no such tradition in a Borstal and, therefore, it is even more important there to get the right type for both the housemaster and the governor.

I am even more certain now than I was when I came here this afternoon that the running of Borstals and prisons are two quite separate things. Though I am in agreement that the lower scale of prison officer, the junior scale, should learn in both, I think that when one comes to the higher scale they should be separate. I think the higher officer should be able to concentrate on a Borstal or a prison, rather than go from one to another, which I understand is the case at the moment.

I was quite amazed at the amount done at Feltham. This is not the Borstal for what are usually called the "bright boys" of crime. They were rather the backward boys, and yet the standard of training could make them justifiably proud. There was training in carpentry, in metalwork and market gardening—though I did not see any of them trying to market potatoes—and many other ways of training which could fit them for something when they got out. If this is the case, and if we believe in the Borstal idea, which I most certainly do, why is it that over 50 per cent. go back again? With the open Borstals, I think the figures are quite good; but for the overall 52 per cent. who return on reconviction something is radically wrong. I do not think we should be complacent for one moment with this figure. I have spoken to some people—and I am not now talking about ex-prisoners—who say that the figure went up considerably directly after the war, that it is now coming down again, and that when we get over that period we cannot expect anything more. I cannot believe that that is right. If we believe that the Borstal idea is right and they are wrong, then the fault can only be in after-care. So we come on to this very difficult question of after-care.

First of all, may I continue to deal with Borstal, in which, of course, aftercare is compulsory and part of the Borstal sentence. Of course, it is not popular. In fact, I know of several prisoners who would have preferred to go to prison, so that when they came out they would know that they were perfectly free, than to go to Borstal and know that when they came out they would have a further period in which they would have to be under their probation officers. When they come out these boys do not seem to remember that they have done anything wrong. They do not seem to realise that they have not finished their sentences, and that they should prove their worth before they can be accepted as normal citizens again.

There is a great problem here in knowing how to be fair both to the boy and to his employer. It is this that from the start makes the probation officer's task so difficult. I think that we in this country are extremely lucky in our probation officers. They do a magnificent job of work. They are not particularly well paid, and they get little thanks for what they do. I should like to suggest that they might be given bigger powers than they have at the moment. As I understand it, when a boy comes out of Borstal he is put on probation. So long as he behaves himself and he is a good boy, then everything is all right; but if he gets into trouble, even if that trouble has nothing whatever to do with his previous conviction, then the probation officer cannot do any more and the boy has to be handed back to the Borstal authorities. I know of one case in which that happened, and although he did not go back to Borstal that boy completely lost any confidence he had in his probation officer. I should have thought that some arrangement could be made whereby probation officers had some power outside the courts, particularly in the early months after release, so that they could deal with these boys themselves, without having to refer them to the Borstal authorities.

Now I come to what I suppose is really the crux of the matter so far as after-care is concerned, and that is that so many of these boys come from bad homes. I think it affects the adult prisoners just as much as the young prisoners who have come from bad homes, either with fathers who are criminals themselves or much more often with families who, in the words of the present day, "could not care less." They have the wrong friends. They cannot go home to get help because there is no help there. They get a little worse until they start on a life of crime. When they come out of prison they go back to exactly the same surroundings. Before they are caught, very often they have made a lot of easy money, and money means nothing to them. They get a job at the right amount of money and, of course, it is not enough for them. For all these people—and there are great numbers of them—this magnificent idea of home leave which they now have at Borstals falls completely to the ground.

Home leave is a thing I should like to see greatly extended. I should like to see it given, not only to the people who we know can go back to happy homes, but to those to whom I referred just now and also to the homeless. My suggestion would be this. I am certain we could get carefully selected families who are prepared to take these boys on their first week or so free, and give them a holiday. The decision of the boy, which is a voluntary decision, to report back to his Borstal—and by "voluntary" I do not mean he will get into trouble if he does not—at the end of his leave is very often the first constructive thing that he has ever done in his life.

I want to say one word about the Army, because that, too, can be a source of trouble. A considerable number of ex-Borstal boys and ex-young prisoners go straight into the Army after their sentence. We all know, particularly those of us who have been in the Army, that the hours are not very long in peace time and there is a great amount of spare time—many evenings and many week-ends. I do not know if there are any statistics of the reconvictions of ex-Borstal and ex-young prisoners, but I am wondering what percentage come from the Army, because I am a little frightened that that is a condition that might attract them back to crime. Of course, it is possible that the regiments to which they go are carefully selected. They may be regiments abroad; they may be regiments well away from where they live or from any danger of further crime. However, I think that is a point we should consider.

Then, so far as Borstals are concerned, there is this question of the trade unions. Here, they can help more than anyone else. They are the biggest employers; they have jobs to offer, particularly now, with full employment, in all the trades in which the Borstal boy is trained. Through the vast opportunities that they can offer, they could build these boys' lives into something worth while. I understand that the trade unions will not recognise Borstal training. That does not mean, of course, that a Borstal boy cannot get a job in a trade union, but he cannot get one as of right. If the trade unions would only realise what they could do to help, it would be really one of the main answers to the whole of the Borstal problem.

I come now—and it must be only very briefly—to adult after-care. The more I think of this and the more I have thought since I said I would mention this subject, the more I am certain that nothing I can say, even if I spend the next two or three hours on it, is sufficient to tackle this problem. I sincerely hope that we can have a full debate on this problem later on. But there is one point I want to bring up because I think it is important. I do not think the position can improve until the prospective employer is given an opportunity of seeing the position of the prisoner and until the Prison Commissioners can, after advice, recommend good-conduct prisoners to their future employers.

It has been suggested that prisons should have permanent welfare officers. I think that would be a great step forward. Through them we could get this intimate relationship between the outside world and the future employer (particularly, again, the trade unions) and the man who is, in a considerable number of cases, fighting hard to regain his self-respect, to be able to go out without a slur on his character and to do a good job of work once he comes out. I was rather surprised to hear one example which shows what I mean. I understand that an outside firm offered to produce educational films of all the main industries of the country. These films have, in actual fact, through the trouble of two or three people, been shown continually at Wormwood Scrubs. The offer of this firm was that, without any expense to the prisons, they would show them in all the prisons of the country. This offer was made over a year ago, and I understand that no answer has yet been received.

There is one other point I want to raise, and that is about chaplains. I think that the Church is very responsible in this way: not responsible because a person goes to crime, but responsible to do their utmost to see that, a man having got there, they try, as we all, I hope, are going to try, to make him a better person. I must say I am very sorry to see that there are no right reverend Prelates here this afternoon. Even the "Duty officer" appears to be absent.


One of the right reverend Prelates was present this afternoon.


I noticed that one was here earlier, but I would say, in all humility, that that is not quite enough. I was talking to one of the governors not long ago. Everyone knows that the men in prison, and the boys particularly, are not good material for the Church; but they are not atheists, Religion just has not come into their lives. The governor told me: "I get very tired when I am questioning these boys. When they come in, I say, 'What is your religion?' The answer is always the same—'Church of England.' So I decided to change my question. I said to one boy, 'Are you a Christian?', and the answer came, 'No—Church of England'. "That is not the reply of an atheist; it is the reply of someone who does not know anything about religion. I was talking to an ex-prisoner who, I may say, is of great intellect. He said that the padres he came across treated the subject far too lightly. He added: "So far as the padre attached to my own prison was concerned"—he called it "his own prison"—"he should seriously have called himself an agnostic." I cannot even be impressed with the 1953 reports of the chaplains that we are reading. Some of them seem to think that there is no trouble at all; that they have cured it all; while others seem to think that there is no hope. There seems to be no definite idea or programme amongst them.

I must again give one example. Up to two years ago I was a member of the Sheriff's Fund which looks after the wives and families of all prisoners in the Landon prisons. We therefore came across all the chaplains of the London prisons. They did not appear interested; they did not know anything about the cases with which we were dealing. Until I myself said that I would go and see the governors about the whole position, they did not even come to the meetings. I must say that there was one exception, and that exception was worth far more than all the rest put together. I must also be fair and say that I spoke to the Chairman the other day. He said: "There is no doubt that things have improved in the last two years." But surely the Church should give of its best here. I take this as one of the most important points, not only while a boy or a man is in prison but when he comes out. If he cannot rely on the chance of speaking to his rector or parson which he should have, wherever he is, then there is a gap in the opportunity that he may need to make himself a better man.

I have kept your Lordshsips longer than I intended to do. It is, however, a subject that I feel should be continually before us. I sincerely hope that, whichever of your Lordships may be on the Government Benches in a few weeks' time (I know I shall not be), we shall have an early opportunity of discussing again this most important problem.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of speaking in this debate, but I have noticed with surprise that no one has referred to the question of the mental condition of the prisoners, especially the child prisoners. I have no experience of prisons, not even as a prisoner, and I do not know what those conditions are. I have, however, had considerable experience of the children, especially in London, over a long period of years during which I was a medical inspector of schools, and ran a school clinic. As a result I got to know a great deal about children in Southwark, not far from the place in which we are now speaking. The variation in the mental capacity of the children was very great. There are special schools for mentally defective children, and there are large numbers of children some of whom have instincts of great violence and so on. Where these instincts are sufficiently marked—if, for instance, a child commits an act of violence—the child can be treated as a patient. A great many of these children who are brought up for crimes may be, and I think almost certainly are, mentally defective, or on the way to being complete mental defectives.

This is a matter which ought to be carefully looked into, because it is no good expecting those children to reform unless they can be treated by some entirely new medical method—which I do not think is at all likely—and their minds improved to an extent that will transform them into responsible human beings. If they are very bad cases they will eventually, of course, end up in some kind of institution; and they may be there for some time. But at the present time a good many people who may be just on the margin are in prison. The noble Lord who has just spoken seemed to lock at things very much as I do. He said that he thought that boys do not realise when they have done anything wrong. He spoke about their conditions in a way that suggested he was intimately familiar with them. I think he will probably agree with me that some of these young people are really mental cases requiring special mental attention. That is an aspect of the matter which ought to be looked into very carefully.

Very little has been said about the medical aspect of this matter. There was talk of the difficulty of getting medical treatment, medicine and dentists for institutions. I am sorry to hear that. I do not think that that matter is incapable of solution. If it were discussed with representatives of the medical profession, I feel sure that something could be done. I think the House would welcome some further information about the mental condition of these young persons who, in such great numbers, are either under Borstal treatment or something closely akin to it.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a series of well-informed and carefully thought out speeches. I feel that this debate has been of the greatest possible value. It is perhaps rather a relief to get away from the electioneering atmosphere for a few moments and to have an occasion like this. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, not only on bringing forward this Motion but on the style and temper and thoughtfulness of his most moving address. I think it entirely to the good that somebody like him should interest himself in this problem and should give it his attention. We have also had notable speeches from the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who speaks on this subject with vast experience, and from Lord Huntingdon and Lord Moynihan, who knows a great deal about the subject, particularly that of Borstal, to which he has given a great deal of thought.

I became interested in this subject years ago, in 1922, but my knowledge is out of date and therefore I am not going to spend very much time in considering the matter. I should like to say at once, however, that I could not agree more with the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in saying how hesitant courts should be about sentencing anybody to prison for the first time, particularly to a short sentence. But it did not seem to me that he was quite facing up to the problem. After all, the problem is: how we are to treat our prisoners? If, for reasons good or bad—at any rate, reasons which seem to him to be good—a judge sends a person to prison, then it is the duty of the authorities to keep that person in prison; and it is no good blaming the authorities because that person is in prison for a short sentence for a first offence. Unless we in this country have a wholly different system, the authorities must, of course, keep the person there.

I remember very well, from the old 1922 days and onwards, the frightful difficulty that always presented itself to the governors of these prisons, and to the Home Office, about finding useful work for the prisoners to do. If the prisoners are taken away from the security of the prison, they require a large staff to look after them; and obviously the security largely disappears. On the other hand, within the confines of the prison itself it is exceedingly difficult to find any useful work for them to do. This problem has been considered by successive Home Secretaries for the last thirty years. To my knowledge, they have all been humane men who have wanted to do what they can, realising the importance of this matter. But it seems to me that the difficulty is very great, and I do not think it has yet been removed.

I should like to reinforce what has been said in this respect. I think it would be a good idea if the Trades Union Congress were brought into talks on this subject, because I feel that the fears which were expressed in the days of unemployment are quite irrelevant in the full employment of to-day, and it may be that something more could be done than has been done. I am perfectly certain that in this matter, so far as the Home Office are concerned, we are pushing at an open door—I know that they are most anxious to do something of this sort. May I just say that I entirely agree with Lord Moynihan that the success of all these experiments depends on the type of man in charge. It is perfectly true that, however good a school may be, however good its traditions, it can be ruined in a very short space of time by a bad headmaster. That analogy applies completely to this sort of place. On the whole, in my experience, the people who are doing this class of work are fine people. It is not highly remunerative work. They do not get very much public notice—I sometimes think they do not get enough public notice. But those who are doing the work well, are doing it because they realise that it is a job that has to be done and is a job worth doing: they have a sense of devotion to the job. We need to encourage that class of man in every way possible. I hope and believe that there are enough people coming along to do the work.

The problem of understaffing, of course, has always been difficult. I have often wondered whether, to some extent, the problem of staffing could not be overcome by finding some convenient island (I do not know whether we have one off the coasts of England; if not we might borrow one from the Scots) where we might send some of these people—possibly with their wives and their children, if they wanted to go. If that were done, the staff needed to look after them could be reduced to a minimum, and all that would be required would be to see that the prisoners stayed on the island.

The long and short of the matter is that there are two kinds of people in prison. There are those who go there for the first time, or perhaps the second time, who have not made up their minds to lead a life of crime. For them we must concentrate all our energies on trying to help them to go straight again—which means, I suppose, giving them the courage to face life again and to try to make good. For them, the emphasis should plainly be on reform. I agree with Lord Huntingdon that we need not be sentimental about this matter. From the mere economic point of view, if we can make these people into good and useful citizens, that is the cheapest way of dealing with this problem. Therefore, one must emphasise that.

At the other end of the scale there are a group of people who have shown clearly enough that they intend to lead a life of crime. I am afraid that in those cases the chance of reform—though, of course, reform must be tried—is very slight. Such people ought to be kept away from the public, for the public have a right to be protected from their depredations. In such cases emphasis should be on security, because reform, if not impossible, is at any rate exceedingly unlikely. I should like to see a system of preventive detention in which the detention is as little irksome as possible while, at the same time, the security is complete. I was appalled to hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, that the cost of a new prison now being built is of the order of £3,000 for each prisoner to be housed, so that a prison to take 100 people would cost £300,000. I suppose that is the actual building cost of the structure, and does not include maintenance thereafter. Hearing that appalling figure made me cast about to see whether there was not some island where the frightful cost of the present system could be avoided.

I will not stand further between the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whom all noble Lords are anxious to hear on this subject. Speeches of noble Lords have founded a number of difficult questions for him, but I very much hope that the noble Lord may be able to give us elucidation on these points. I rise merely to say how grateful all noble Lords should be to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for raising this matter in the way which he has done.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the House and my noble and learned Leader will forgive me if I interject a few remarks in this debate. The timetable was a little disturbed as a result of the debate on the Potato Marketing Scheme earlier this afternoon, but I should like an opportunity of expressing my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who introduced this Motion. It is most valuable that we should be able to have these discussions from time to time. That part of his speech which I managed to hear seemed to be full of sound sense and inspired enthusiasm, a combination which one does not always get and for which one should be very thankful when it comes along. The noble Lord's report on current theories of crime and criminal responsibility which he has been preparing for the Nuffield Trust, and of which I have been fortunate enough to have a preview, will be a very important document. I hope it will be the beginning of serious research into this matter, for I have long felt that, considering the extraordinary expense to the community, economically and morally, of this problem of delinquency, it is a scandal that we have not tackled it in any scientific manner.

I should like the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his reply—and indeed Her Majesty's Government—to give attention to the question of research into these matters. While I appreciate that in its Estimates the Home Office has allowed for research so far as it is able to do so, and has assisted in a number of important research projects carried out by university departments, the Institute for the Study of Delinquency and other organisations, this is still a mere fleabite when one considers the vast extent of this problem. A great deal more ought to be done on those lines. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in his searching investigation of the prison problem. He made it quite clear that we are failing so to organise our prison system that we do, in fact, reform any appreciable number of the men who go through it. I do not think that there is any blame on the Prison Commission for this. My impression is that, certainly over the last fifty years, the Prison Commission have been a very enlightened body who have done their best in the circumstances of the penurious contribution which Governments have made to their work. I believe that those responsible in the Home Office have for some time been alive to the importance of the work of the Prison Commission and have tried to forward it. When one remembers that men of the calibre of Sir Alexander Maxwell and Sir Harold Scott (who have both been chairman of the Commission within the last twenty or thirty years) have, in effect, been seconded from the Home Office for this important work, one must realise that that aspect has been looked after from the official side.

My complaint is that Governments have not given to the Prison Commission the support which they deserve. That may be partly because there is no political capital in it. The ordinary man who has not given much thought to the subject objects to the spending of money on wicked people when the social and welfare services of the country are still far from perfect. As a result, there has been a lamentable lack of support from all Governments, ever since the beginning of this century. There are still in existence jails which were condemned long before the First World War and which are not fit to house swine, let alone human beings. It is a real scandal, which has called for redress for well over a generation, that such prisons should still be in use. It is well to make clear that nothing which has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, or other noble Lords in any way reflects on the Prison Commission, for they are not to blame.

The most significant part of the noble Lord's speech was that in which he showed the extraordinary difficulty of dealing with prisoners in such a way as to send them out of prison better men than they went in—or even not considerably worse. In a sense, his speech amounted to a plea that fewer men should be sent to prison. Every avenue ought to be explored for keeping down the number of people in prison. There is a certain irreducible minimum against whom the community has to be protected—men who must be put in prison; but I feel sure that a very large part of our prison population, at present and over these last years, consists of men who ought never to have been sent there. If one analyses the kind of thing that happens, that can be proved to be so. I have the honour to be chairman of one of the smallest quarter sessions in the whole country, from the point of view of work, but a quite significant number of men who come before me and my fellow magistrates to be dealt with are men who have never been put on probation and have never had an opportunity of benefiting from the help of a probation officer. It is scandalous that at this late hour there are benches of magistrates, and even judges, who send men to prison for the first time without ever having given the probation officer an opportunity to see what he could do with them. Time after time I have had a prisoner's record which has consisted of a whole series of three, six, and nine months' sentences. Everybody who has given any attention to this subject, and the Home Office particularly, have been declaiming against short sentences for twenty or thirty years, but the exhortations of the Home Secretary and the pleas of the penological reformers seem to have had no effect whatever. Often the people responsible have been professional magistrates. I have been very much upset to see this, time after time. The giving of short sentences in this way really works like a sausage machine for manufacturing criminals.

One particular reform which I think was introduced by the 1948 Act was a rather ingenious method of trying to make sentencing tribunals pause and think before they sent a young man to prison. It is contained in Section 17 of the Act, which requires a court when sentencing a man under 21 years of age to prison to set out in writing the reasons why no other sentence but imprisonment was deemed to be appropriate. If you have to do that, you stop and think a bit. I am afraid that not all magistrates stop and think before they send people to prison. One very interesting result of the operation of this section in the 1948 Act was a marked decrease in the number of prison sentences on young men under 21. Would it not be a good thing if we, perhaps, extended the age to 25? And I should like to suggest further that in all cases where a man has not been in prison before the sentencing court should be asked to set down in writing the reasons why it does not put him on probation. I do not mean to say that in every case where a man has not been put on probation this ought to have been done—there are some cases where, obviously, a sentence of imprisonment is the only correct one—but, in my experience, there is still a very substantial proportion of people sent to prison without the probation officer ever having beer given the opportunity of showing what he can do with them.

Another way in which I think we could reduce the prison population to some extent is by magistrates granting bail more easily. I think the police are a little too stiff sometimes in opposing bail, and that magistrates are a little too ready to accept the police point of view about this matter. A large number of men sent forward to courts to be tried and dealt with are convicted and are afterwards put on probation or dealt with by way of conditional sentence, or something of that kind; and they have been kept in gaol for a substantial period of time on remand or awaiting their trial. It is rather a remarkable figure—something like 9,000 per annum, according to the 1953 Prison Commissioners' Report, which is the one on which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has founded his Motion. Some of these people are acquitted altogether, but a substantial number of them are obviously people whom the judge who sentences them is satisfied could be put on probation. Surely, if they are people who could appropriately be dealt with by the probation method they ought not to have been kept in prison. I should like to see more, attention given to this matter.

It is difficult to say how serious it is from the point of view of corrupting the people concerned, but I feel that in too many cases even a short sojourn in prison has a very corrupting effect on a man. Particularly is that so in the case of the younger prisoner. I think this adds force to the need for quicker implementation of the provision contained in, I think, Section 27 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, which, as your Lordships will remember, introduced the important innovation of remand centres for young people under 21 years of age. My impression is that little progress has been made with the setting up of these remand centres. In so far as they exist, as far as my own experience goes and from what I have heard, they are working very well indeed. But the shortage of them is so great that there is a tremendous pressure on the ones which do exist. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will be able to tell me something as to what plans there are for increasing the number of remand centres as quickly as possible.

Then I think we sometimes forget that when a man is in prison, even if he is just awaiting trial, the country is deprived of his services as a workman. Most of these men, if they were not kept in prison—as they often are for some weeks before trial—would be going on with their work. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has indicated some aspects of the expense to which the taxpayer is put as a result of keeping these people in prison. I believe it is something like £6 a week. On top of that, work is being lost, possibly to the extent of another £6, £10, £15 or even more.

I had a very good illustration in this connection at a recent quarter sessions, and I would ask your Lordships to allow me a minute to mention this case. A man was committed for trial at quarter sessions very shortly after the preceding quarter sessions had been held. If he had been kept in prison he would have been there for about ten weeks before his actual trial. Therefore the bench of magistrates, very sensibly, gave him bail. They might not have done so, for he was a man with a rather bad record. He got employment almost at once, and when he came up at the sessions he was quite properly convicted by the jury. The police gave evidence that the man's employer was very pleased with his work and would like to keep him. The bench decided to postpone sentence for six months. The man was more or less put on his honour to continue industriously and honestly in the job he was doing, and he was, in effect, told that if at the end of the six months it was found that he had been behaving himself he would not be sent to prison. He came back six months later and the report on his work was absolutely first class. There you have the case of a man who might well have been in prison for the whole of the time; instead of which he was doing a very good job. And I think there is every indication that he will continue in that job and will go on doing it very well.

Finally, there is the question of the man sent to prison in default of paying a fine. Your Lordships will recollect that there was something of a scandal about this question in the early years of the century. The average number of such prisoners before 1936 was running at over 11,000 per annum, a substantial number of whom it was generally felt ought not to be in prison at all in respect of these defaults. The Money Payments Act, 1936, was passed in order to put that position right. As a result the figure fell to something under 3,000 in 1947. Since then it has risen substantially, and the last figure which we have in the Commissioners' Report is no less than 5,500, and out of this number time to pay has not been allowed in over 3,000 cases. This is an appreciable portion of the entire prison population. I have a feeling that many of these men probably ought not to be in prison; that it is a bad thing that they should be there, and that it offends against the policy which it seems to me the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has so effectively proved to be right. I should be glad if the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, could throw light on this matter. Why is this happening at the present time, and ought not steps to be taken to see that this figure is brought back to something like the 3,000 at which it stood before?

The final matter to which I should like to refer is the open prison, which was mentioned by my noble friend in his opening speech and which has been referred to more than once since then. So much could be said about open prisons that it would be necessary to have a debate on the subject. The essential point about the open prison is that it is not a prison at all in the ordinary sense of the word. It enables a man to preserve his self respect in a way which is essential if he is to be rehabilitated and to return to an honest and decent life. Anybody who has visited a local prison, on which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, poured his scorn, must have felt it almost impossible for any man to preserve that modicum of self respect which is essential if he is to learn to be a good citizen again. But in an open prison he is given the chance of escaping. It requires some exercise of will, some exercise of self respect, not to take advantage of this opportunity. He has chances of working which he does not get in a local prison and which again enable him to feel that he is pulling his weight and earning a little, and when he goes out he will be able to look his fellow citizen in the face in a way in which a man from a local prison cannot do.

I appreciate that it is not possible to turn over completely in a few years to open prisons, but it is an interesting and significant thing that in the localities where these open prisons have been set up and where, in the first instance, almost always there was considerable local objection, this opposition has been withdrawn. In my own county a tremendous effort was made to persuade the Prison Commissioners not to take over an Italian prisoner-of-war camp and use it as an open prison. Fortunately, they refused to give way before local opinion. The open prison has been there now for three or four years, and opposition locally has not only been completely withdrawn but people are glad to have it there, because the prisoners add to the social amenities of the district. It has been an astonishing volte face, and the way in which this open prison is being run is a feather in the cap of the authorities. There are many more things one could say on this matter, but I hope I have said enough to support the Motion of my noble friend. I hope that in these ways more and more men will be kept out of prison and that we shall work out other methods for dealing with them, because I am sure that progress lies in that direction

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate. Her Majesty's Government welcome this debate, and I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it for the helpful and constructive suggestions they have offered. I should like particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for his sincere and most knowledgeable speech. I would thank him also for the great trouble he has gone to in the course of recent months to make himself expert on this subject, as undoubtedly he has become. I have found that, whenever I visited a prison, I have been asked after a short interval of time whether I know Lord Pakenham. When I am able to say that I have that honour, I seem to grow in grace. I am sure that I shall now have the noble Lord's forgiveness if I say that I do not wholly agree with everything he has advanced in the course of his argument. I will gladly deal with the important, points raised, but I think the noble Lord will agree that we must treat the Report as a whole, because it is the Report which we are discussing.

It is nearly three years since we last discussed this extremely important matter. I wish that many people had read this most readable and informative Report as seem to derive most of their impressions from the sensational crime stories by ex-prisoners which appear in our Sunday newspapers. On this point, I should like to quote from the Annual Report for 1953 of the Council of the Central After-Care Association. They say: While we welcome all constructive discussion, through whatever medium, of the problems of resettlement and social readjustment which face the discharged prisoner, we cannot but deplore the effect, both on the public and the prisoner, of that glorification of the stories of individuals which has of late become increasingly apparent. I particularly regret the fact that some sort of mystique has grown up regarding Parkhurst, Holloway and Dartmoor. Anything that comes out of these prisons is always bad news for the public, and the good news is never heard of at all.

To turn to the Report, three things stand out to which noble Lords have drawn attention in the course of the debate. All reflect closely on Lord Pakenham's thesis. The first question is overcrowding, which of course arises directly from the post-war crime wave. The second is the problem of recruiting staff: that is just one more of the problems arising from a term of full employment. The third point is that, notwithstanding the unprecedented difficulties raised by these two problems which have been with us since the end of the war, substantial progress has been made in implementing the novel and various proposals of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, says that we have not done enough. As to that, we shall see.

Let me first deal with these two difficulties—first, with the question of overcrowding. As the noble Lord has told us, the prison and Borstal population before the war, in 1939, was 10,000. In 1950, it had risen to 20,000, and by 1952, at the peak, it reached the figure of 24,000. In 1953, it began very slowly to fall. That slow and gradual decrease has continued, and to-day the total is about 21,000. Several suggestions have been made in the debate this afternoon for the reduction of these figures. I may say that these figures apply only to England. It is noticeable that the rise in figures does not apply to the numbers in Borstal and of women prisoners: for these the figures have risen hardly at all. It is also interesting to see that there has been no similar rise in the figures for Scotland. I asked my noble friend Lord Home if he could tell me whether this was due to the fact that his countrymen are more virtuous than we are, or whether they come across the Border to commit their crimes. He has been unable to tell me.

The suggestion has been made by the noble Lords, Lord Templewood, Lord Huntingdon and Lord Chorley, that there might be a reduction in the number of civil prisoners—that is, those imprisoned for debt and for non-payment of maintenance and so on. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, supported by other noble Lords, also suggested that we might reconsider the question of suspended sentences. This question was gone into very carefully in 1952. The Advisory Council for the Treatment of offenders were asked by the Home Secretary of the day to consider and report on the suggestions made by Sir Leo Page that the courts should be given power to impose suspended sentences. They heard evidence from a number of bodies qualified to give opinions, but formed the conclusion that they could not recommend the adoption of suspended sentences. I will look again carefully at the suggestions put forward by noble Lords this afternoon to see whether any fresh ideas which were not in this Report are now advanced, but I am afraid that at the moment we shall have to stand by the opinion of Sir Granville Ram when he submitted that Report three years ago.


My Lords, is the Report available to the public or not?


I have it here, and I do not think it is a confidential document. I shall certainly make it available to the noble Lord if it is not. The effect of the sharp rise in the number of prisoners is that in 1952 we had 5,200 prisoners "trebled up," sleeping three in a cell. This figure is now down to 3,000. But let me make it clear that nothing except necessity excuses this deplorable state of affairs. Oddly enough, this situation has had little effect on health and discipline, although that does not alter the fact that it is a wholly undesirable practice and the elimination of sleeping three in a cell is a matter of first principle. Let me add that overcrowding is not allowed to interfere with training in specialised prisons. Therefore, its effects have been confined entirely to local prisons, about which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, was so eloquent. This problem of overcrowding accentuates the difficulties arising from shortages of work, to which reference has been made, and shortages of staff. This problem is not of our making, but it is a difficult one to solve. I will try to put before your Lordships some of the ways in which we are endeavouring to tackle it.

First, there is the programme for the construction of new prisons. This is a long-term programme which requires approval as part of the capital investment programme. There are two new secure training prisons, each for about 300 prisoners. Building is in progress on the prison at Everthorpe Hall, North Cave, Yorkshire, and negotiations are in progress for the site of a second training prison in Lancashire. The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, who was particularly interested in the mental treatment aspect, may be interested to know about a special psychiatric establishment for abnormal prisoners called the East-Hubert Institution, at Grendon Underwood, in North Buckinghamshire. That is named after the two famous alienists who originally recommended it. We have great faith in this scheme, and we feel that it will be a valuable penological experiment. We also have two secure boys' Borstals, each for 150, and two small Borstals for girls, each for 75. Our Borstals are not overcrowded. but they are occupying valuable security prison space which could be used for other purposes; and in any event, Borstal training ought not to be carried out in the atmosphere of prison buildings.

As to immediate measures, as your Lordships know, we have made good use of forts, country houses and disused camps. Since the war we have opened two medium-security prisons in disused forts; we have opened five local prisons for men, two open regional training prisons for men, one open central prison for men, two open regional training prisons for women, and six open Borstal institutions; and in the summer of this year we shall be opening a new establishment for 200 elderly prisoners near the open prison at Eastchurch. Prisoners here will live in open conditions within a secure perimeter. We have reopened the old prison in Lancaster Castle for 250 prisoners, and premises near Rochdale are now being adapted as a small Borstal institution of medium security for 120 boys.

I suppose that we ought to take pride in this work, but it is a lamentable thing that we should have to take pride in having opened a large number of penal establishments. But we do take pride in the fact that we have tried to tackle with vigour and speed this problem of overcrowding. I have wearied your Lordships with these statistics to show that we are tackling the problem in a realistic way, not only in the quantity but, I suggest, in the quality, since the plans that I have outlined to your Lordships were based on the bold decision to break away from the traditional walled prison idea and place in open conditions every man and woman who could safely and properly be trained there. There are, however, limits to the number of prisoners who can be placed in open conditions. At the completion of our present programme roughly all prisoners capable of what is called non-cellular confinement will be in open conditions; but we shall still have a deficiency of 2,000 cells, and this must remain until our new building programme begins to have its effect. But as several noble Lords have pointed out, and particularly the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, when people are short of houses and schools, churches and clubs, the prison building programme cannot be placed high on the list of building priorities. But now we are moving to the time when we can do more about it.

I turn now to the problem which marches with that of overcrowding—namely, the question of staffing. The effect of the shortage is again particularly confined to local prisons, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, rightly said, have only enough staff to enable them to work a single-shift system. This means that local prisons have a short working day, and I can confirm to the noble Lord that the average work period per week is about twenty-seven hours.


That seems to be a big jump in the last year or two.


Yes, it is; but I think several features have added up to make the situation slightly better. I want to emphasise this point, since I am now talking about local prisons: that in all central, regional and specialised prisons there is a full three-shift system and a full working day for the prisoners.

Coming to the matter of recruiting for prison officers, I can tell the House that there is no shortage of men coming forward for the job, but they are not always the right men. We feel—and I hope that I can carry the House with me here—that we would rather be understaffed with the right men than up to establishment with indifferent men. As your Lordships know, the prison service is not every man's job. The problem of full employment very much impinges on this particular job, and I think I should be lacking in my duty if I did not emphasise strongly the necessity for getting only first-class men and women in the ranks of the prison service. Established officers' figures have increased by over 100 per cent. since the war, but that is, admittedly, still not enough. We are doing everything we can to increase the recruiting of suitable prison officers.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, says that he has not seen a large advertisement campaign. In that the noble Lord is quite right. While advertisements are inserted in newspapers for the job of prison officer, the form they take cannot be the same as the—I will not say blatant, but attractive—advertisement to recruits for the police forces and the Armed Services. We are doing everything we can, and any suggestion which the noble Lord may have to offer as to how we can increase our recruiting appeal will be most welcome. As to training, I think the noble Lord will be interested to hear that the Wakefield course for recruits is to be extended from three to eight weeks, and the preliminary training at a prison will be reduced from eight weeks to four. As to the governor and assistant governor grades, they have been rearranged since the war, and there are now 222, as opposed to 130 in 1939.


That includes Borstal, does it not?


Yes. I hope that I am not sounding complacent about this, because we urgently need recruits. A 100 per cent. establishment would have far-reaching and beneficial effects, particularly since it would mean a return to the universal three-shift system, which would ease many of the problems which have been worrying the House to-day.

I now turn to a problem which has featured in nearly every speech—namely, the question of work and pay in prisons. The object is to achieve the maximum amount of useful work and, if possible, work of the sort which will be useful to a prisoner after his release. The situation has become slightly easier, because the difficulties after the war of lack of workshop accommodation have now been eased, and scores of new workshops have been built since the war. I think I can say that the workshop accommodation problem is no longer acute. I have already explained the effects of staff shortage on working hours. Another difficulty has been the shortage of work, but I am happy to tell your Lordships that for the past year or two there has been a marked improvement here. We have had consultations with all those who might be able to help us—other Government Departments and so on—and a much more promising situation has developed. However, I want to sound this note of warning. Prisons cannot organise their labour force primarily on the basis of industrial efficiency. Priority has to be given to safe custody, discipline and the carrying out of the statutory rules. Further, many prisoners are incapable of anything except simple repetitive work—and that is the answer to the point which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, made about mailbags: that many prisoners could not handle the more complicated machinery which might be desirable for economic efficiency.

I was happy to hear the observations of no fewer than three noble Lords—the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt—on the question of, not quite slave labour, but the competition that might arise from prison labour with the outside world. The prejudice from trade unions and employers has been deep-rooted and thoroughly understandable. If this debate has done nothing else but clear the air on that point, and has enabled us to clear away that understandable prejudice, I think it will have been useful. The problem is not so noticeable now, at a time of full employment, but it is obviously something that we must have in the back of our minds as an old problem of the past which might—though we hope it will not—occur in the future. We appreciate fully the need for improving this situation and getting more and better work in prison, and particularly the sort of work which takes a man outside the prison walls—agriculture, forestry, and so on. I should like to emphasise that in all the specialised and training prisons there is a full working day on good-class industrial work, with a wide variety of vocational training classes in skilled trades. Many prisoners to-day who have been so trained take the City and Guilds examinations in their trades, and some have taken first and second places in all England in these examinations.

Now as to pay. This question has been frequently raised: the question of employing prisoners on modern industrial lines and paying an economic wage. It was considered by the Departmental Committee on Employment of Prisoners—that was the Salmon Committee—in 1933, which reported: We conclude, therefore, that it is impracticable to introduce any system of payment based on outside wages. Moreover, Sir Lionel Fox, the present Chairman of the Prison Commission, writes in his classic book: But imagination and reason alike recoil from the prospect of trying to realise this conception. It is difficult visualising a system of this sort which would not in practice be wholly unrelated to actual economic conditions, honeycombed with anomaly and inequity, almost impossible to administer, and unduly costly to the taxpayer; nor, in the opinion at least of the present writer, would it be likely to produce in practice the advantages attributed to it in theory. The weight of evidence is, therefore, rather heavily against the proposal. But let me add this. The whole subject of employment of prisoners is coming up, in August, I understand, at the World Congress of U.N.O. in Geneva. I understand that the question of paying an economic wage is going to be discussed. Some countries are alleged to be doing this, though we are a little uncertain as to how genuine that may be. However, we hope to get useful factual information on the subject; and if good ground is shown for its proving a satisfactory scheme we should welcome, of course, an inquiry by experts into the matter.

So much for work and pay. Now there is the all-important question of training. Let me put this as plainly as I can. The treatment of prisoners is now dominated by the conception of training. Her Majesty's Government stand by that conception and believe it to be wholly right and proper. Let me remind your Lordships of the aims of the 1948 Act in this field. They were, first, to give the sanction of law to the conception of training prisoners which, incidentally, had already been developed in practice by the Prison Commissioners; second, to try to keep young persons out of prison—that is, by extending eligibility for Borstal training, restricting powers of courts to send young persons to prison and providing for remand centres and detention centres; and third, to tackle on novel lines the problem of the persistent offender by providing for corrective training and a new type of preventive detention. We have failed to fulfil Parliament's intentions only in one respect—this will be of particular interest, I am afraid, to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, whose extremely well-informed and interesting speech contributed so valuably to this debate. I am afraid we have not been able to provide remand centres. But it does not alter the fact that we admit the need, and the plans are prepared. It is entirely for reasons of financial stringency at the moment, and nobody regrets it more than Her Majesty's Government.

With regard to detention centres there is a better story to tell. Full use is made of them by the courts, and we hope to widen the system. The régime is experimental. but we are wi[...]ling to learn. These centres are making an effective contribution in the field of combating juvenile delinquency. It is most important that they should succeed so that young people may be spared useless short sentences of imprisonment. With regard to young prisoners themselves, we have had striking success in special prisons, or the parts of prisons set aside to provide really rigorous and constructive training in the fullest sense for all young prisoners with sentences of three months and over. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned the question of the re-education of Borstal boys. I think the situation here is definitely improving. Corrective training and preventive detention have been fully developed in accordance with the intentions of the 1948 Act, and they are providing not discouraging results.

I should like to lay emphasis on the merit here of careful case study and observation. Many prisoners who may otherwise have been written off as quite hopeless have been saved from a life of crime by various and flexible methods of corrective training. It is a little early yet to say whether preventive detention has been really successful in the sense of diverting a satisfactory proportion of men from crime, although it is strikingly successful so far with women. It has been, successful in that it is fully used by the courts. Nearly 1,200 "old lags" are now out of circulation for periods of between seven and fourteen years. May I remind the House of a remark made by our present Lord Chancellor when he was Secretary of State for the Home Department? He said: Society has been spared 10,000 man-years of criminal activity. I heartily endorse that observation. This system of preventive detention also treats prisoners as capable of rehabilitation wherever possible. There are several novel features. One in the Report to which I should particularly like to draw your Lordships' attention is the experiment of the Bristol Hostel, which is for selected men in the third stage. It is a boldly conceived attempt to rehabilitate the worst type, and it has been strikingly successful at least in the response it has obtained from the men themselves.

It is in training in particular that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, says we are failing to make an effort (I think I took his words down correctly) "commensurate with our degree of enlightenment in other social fields." He concentrates rather on what is not being done, and does not give quite a fair impression of what is being done in the face of the difficulties of overcrowding and under-staffing to which I just referred. I entirely agree that, if constructive training is to be carried out, everything depends on what the noble Lord quite rightly calls the atmosphere of the prison. For this reason, it was decided that training in its fullest sense could not be carried out in the local prisons. There must be specialised prisons with the right atmosphere—that is to say, the régime must be based on trust and self-responsibility rather than on imposed discipline and safe custody. That means that the prisoners selected for such a régime must be willing and able to co-operate in it, and must be there for long enough to profit by it.

Since the war, the Prison Commissioners have developed the system of regional training prisons to which every prisoner goes who is eligible by length of sentence and suitability of character, whether he is of the star class—that is, the first offender—or the ordinary class, or even if he is sentenced to corrective training. Here, in the atmosphere which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, described, and with the individual attention by assistant governors which he quite rightly desires, this type of man gets full and constructive training. This is also true of the three central prisons to which the long-term prisoners—that is, the men who are doing over four years—of the star class are sent.

At the same time there has been developed what I think is probably the most comprehensive open prison system to be found in any country, and I think it is generally agreed—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will agree with me on this—that the open prison is the best instrument of penal training that has yet been developed. In this way, every prisoner who can benefit by constructive training, or who can be safely placed in open conditions, is taken out of the local prisons. Furthermore, all prisoners of the star class who for any reason do not fall into either of these categories are removed to special prisons reserved for this class and for civil prisoners. It is necessary, I think, to emphasise this much in order to remove the impression which noble Lords may possibly have gathered from some remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, that a number of prisoners happen to be in good prisons where they are trained and a much greater number happen to be in worse prisons where they are not trained. The true position is this. The convicted prisoners who are in local prisons are either waiting to go on to another prison or will stay there because they are quite unsuitable to be sent anywhere else. It is true that at any one time they represent a great majority of the whole, but their proportion is much more like two-thirds than the five-sixths which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has suggested.

By saying that, it does not mean that I wish to sing too highly the praises of the local prisons. They really present a most difficult problem. They tend to become the sort of sump of the prison world into which all kinds of people who cannot be fitted in anywhere else find their way. But, with this very unpromising material, we are doing the best we can with limited resources, with highly unsuitable buildings, with overcrowding, with under-staffing, and with the necessity to concentrate on discipline and safe custody.

I do not try to claim too much for the training value of a local prison sentence, but it is not entirely negative. A great deal has been done since the war, both to improve material conditions and to provide some positive elements in the local prisons. May I particularly draw attention to the evening education system and the vast improvement in libraries which has gone on in all the local prisons. In the old days, the books were taken round, the cell door was opened and any book, whether he liked it or not, was thrown into a prisoner's cell. Nowadays there is access in all prisons to extremely well-equipped libraries which are run in co-ordination with the local authority's public library committee. I was rather surprised to find a very extensive edition of the House of Commons Hansard deposited in one prison library by a kindly Member of Parliament. I believe that is common in one or two prisons. I regret to say that to my knowledge at present no prison is furnished with copies of the House of Lords Hansard. For reasons not known to me, one of our women's prisons, however, has in its library no fewer than two copies of the House of Lords Standing Orders.


Several people have suggested to me that it is very unlikely that prisoners will see a record of this debate. If the noble Lord cannot give us an assurance to-day about that, would he do the best he can in the way of seeing that a copy of to-day's House of Lords Hansard is circulated widely through the prisons?


I will consider that matter carefully. I do not know whether Hansard could possibly be circulated on those lines, but in the local prisons both wireless and newspapers are now available to the prisoners on a very much wider and more generous scale than they were at one time. I will look into it, of course, but, through that mysterious grape vine which seems to operate in prisons, I have no doubt that most of the noble Lord's remarks (and, I hope, some of mine), will get to the prisoners.


It has been suggested to me that the newspapers dealing with this debate will probably arrive in an expurgated version for the prisoners. That has been told me by people who have been in prison. I would suggest that a discussion of this kind should, if possible, be placed before the prisoners in the form in which it is truly reported—that is, in Hansard.


I assure the noble Lord I will look into that matter carefully. I was pointing out one or two improvements which have been made in local prisons since the war—education, libraries, newspapers and wireless. Particularly, I want to draw attention to food because, whenever food is bad, or somebody complains at Parkhurst, it becomes headlines in the newspapers at once. I think the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will agree with me that justifiable complaint can only be made of the smallest minority of the average meals served in prisons. Food is now served in cafeteria trays, and is of a standard which might surprise noble Lords. Regard is had to both quality and quantity. I have always made a point of sampling the meals in prisons, as I expect the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has as well. There is increased association in local prisons at both meal-time and at recreation.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, will, no doubt, be interested to know of the greatly increased medical services which since the war have been set in progress in local prisons, directed towards rehabilitation, particularly psychological and psychiatric services, rehabilitative surgery and specialised treatment under the National Health Service, both in outside clinics and in hospitals. Sanitation has been mentioned by many noble Lords. Of course nobody in his right mini would not admit that there is great room for improvement. We have exerted a great deal of effort to try to improve the Victorian sanitary conditions prevailing in prisons, and shall continue to do so. But, barring the pulling down of all prisons, we have done about as much as we possibly can.

I agree with the noble Lord that we have a difficult problem with these local prisons. I agree that some prisoners in the local prisons are probably untrainable, but the Prison Commissioners are always prepared to try. I should like to make that clear. We shall never give up trying. In the local prisons, within the facilities available to us and in view of the difficulties with which we are faced, we are working along the right lines. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, also raised the point of assistant governors—the "officer class" of the prison instructional system. I agree with the noble Lord whole-heartedly on their importance—some very good men are coming along—but I could not quite agree with him when he developed this idea of platoon commanders.


I think I made it plain that I did not feel that the military analogy should be pressed too far. We do not want to militarise our prison service, but in terms of number I suggest simply that we get down to the level of one officer to, say, thirty men.


Having one officer to thirty men would mean forty extra assistant governors at Wandsworth—that is a quick calculation I made while the noble Lord was speaking. I appreciate the noble Lord's point, but it is not a very practical idea. There would not be suitable work in the prisons for this number of assistant governors to do. It would be very expensive, and I do not think that the provision of many more assistant governors in local prisons would turn them into training prisons. We cannot over-emphasise the usefulness of the subordinate grade in the prison service as a reformative influence. The old picture of the warden, as he used to be called, the bawling sergeant-major type, is an unfair exaggeration, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will admit. There are many enlightened men in the prison service as prison officers. They are doing much fine work. The question of Goudhurst was raised. The appointment of an assistant governor for the purposes suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has not yet been thought justified. We are, however, feeling our way on detention centres. That particular point will be kept under review.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised the question of after-care. He said that this subject was of such importance that we ought to have a separate debate on it altogether. I whole-heartedly agree with him. Briefly, the whole process of after-care for prisoners (other than in local prisons) has been completely re-organised by the formation of a Central After-Care Association and by the decision to bring in the probation officers as field workers for the Association. Every prisoner in the care of the Association after his release is under the immediate supervision of a skilled social case worker. I should like, at this point, to pay my tribute to the probation service and to its workers.

We then turned our attention to the discharged prisoners' aid societies which operate in the local prisons. The Joint Committee of the National Association of Discharged Prisoners' Aid Societies and of the Prison Commissioners, under Sir Alexander Maxwell, have made recommendations in a Report which is here on the Table, Command Paper No. 8879. The recommendations in that Report are now being implemented. We look forward to much more effective work. As a result of that Report, the whole emphasis is now shifting from material aid on discharge to after-care, in the fullest sense. I am afraid that the compulsory after-care which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has in mind would require legislation. We will certainly bear that point in mind. Aftercare always puts in my mind the saying of (I think it was) Tocqueville: that it is very easy to imprison a man but difficult to release him. It is a problem which we are tackling as best we can. There is still much progress to be made, but we have already made a great deal of progress in that direction.

I have kept your Lordships an unconscionable amount of time. I have tried to deal with the major points, but I have left unanswered many of the interesting minor points raised. I will deal with them individually, if I may, by correspondence. Let me conclude by saying that there is really no conclusive end to any debate about imprisonment. For some 200 years these matters have been earnestly questioned, and no certain answer that I know of has ever been found, either on principles or on the methods of applying the principles. We must start from the basic fact that a man is sent to prison as a punishment for an offence against society; and that in so punishing him the court looks not only to preventing that man from committing further offence but also to preventing others who may be so minded to commit the same offence. But as I think was so well said by the late Archbishop Temple: The moral relationship of society towards the offending member cannot be exhausted by what has so little moral quality about it as mere deterrence. From the point of view of expediency, as well as of morality, the interest of society in punishing the offender is not well served unless he comes out of prison not only willing to take a normal place in society but able to do so. A prison system, therefore, must constantly preserve a balance between two principles which are apparently irreconcilable: punishment, on the one hand, and social rehabilitation, on the other. I think it is small wonder that Sidney and Beatrice Webb used to say that the most practical of all prison reforms would be to keep people out of prison altogether. My Lords, in that direction we in this country have gone a long way. But the problems of imprisonment are still with us, alas! in full measure—in over-full measure. I venture to hope that noble Lords will agree that in dealing with these problems, through a period of unexampled difficulty and complexity, our prison administrators have shown not only imagination but flexibility and resource, and also a proper sense of balance. The Report of the Prison Commissioners about which we have been speaking to-day is by way of being a progress report—I think it is progress that they have to report. I hope that nothing I have said this afternoon suggests that we are satisfied with everything and that we are not prepared to seek further improvement in every sphere of our prison administration. Perfection in this administration, perfect reports, would mean one sheet of paper announcing that all our prisons were empty. Our prisons are not empty, as we have discovered only too clearly this afternoon. We are doing everything we can to improve them along lines which we think are unrivalled anywhere else in the world. We are facing difficulties, but I hope I have convinced your Lordships that we are doing just about the best we can.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I do not feel that it would be the wish of the House that I should try to continue this debate; if I were to speak on the subject at all, I should feel bound to speak at some length. I should like to thank the noble Lord for the lucid and very friendly speech that he has just delivered, and over which he has taken great trouble. He never makes a bad speech—indeed, he usually makes a good one—and I feel that no one could have handled a difficult situation of this character more agreeably than he has. I say that this is a difficult situation because a number of noble Lords, some of them with much more experience than I myself possess, have come forward with rather fundamental proposals. I suppose it was too much to expect that the noble Lord or the Government or the Prison Commissioners could come down to the House, and say, "We realise that we can do much better than we have been doing. We realise that there are serious flaws in our arrangements. We realise that this new approach is the one required." It was too much to suppose that that should be said.

I am putting it as mildly as possible when I say that I am sorry that there has not been any indication of a new approach. But Jericho did not fall at the first sound of the trumpet; and we shall go on pressing the noble Lord. I feel that his heart is in prison reform, and that the day will come—we hope that it will not be so far distant—when he will be able to give us a much more satisfactory account of the way things are moving. I am not disputing that he is entitled to point to much progress, but I hope that one day he will come down and say that there is to be a new approach to the matter of this great problem, and particularly the problem of the prison service. He has made, as he so often does, an excellent speech, and I am most grateful to him and to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.