HL Deb 01 February 1966 vol 272 cc265-8

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied:

  1. 1. that the publication of information giving the names of prisons in which individual prisoners are serving their sentences is best calculated to meet the needs of security;
  2. 2. that the publication of details of security measures being taken to safeguard the persons of individual prisoners is wise or desirable;
  3. 3. that the publication, often in detail, of the steps being taken to recapture escaped prisoners is not 266 playing into the hands of those escaping, and leading to frustration of the efforts of those engaged in the chase.]


My Lords, it is not the practice of the Home Office to disclose to the Press or to the television or broadcasting authorities the whereabouts of individual prisoners, or to give any details of security measures; but prisoners have families and friends who visit them, and we interfere as little as possible with what is said at these visits. Prisoners are also continually being discharged, and we have no control over what they, or any other persons not in custody, choose to say to the Press or to the television or broadcasting authorities. I consider the publication of information about individual prisoners or security measures to be undesirable in principle, but I do not think it would be practicable to prevent it. In any case the information published is often inaccurate. The extent to which the police give information about their investigations is a matter for the chief officer of police to decide. When chief officers seek the aid of the public it often happens that valuable information is received as a result of Press publicity.


My Lords, I. thank the noble Lord very much for his reply and for his courtesy in this matter. May I start my supplementary questions by saying that, as the noble Lord will be aware, my Question was framed long before this fresh spate of publicity concerning the movement of prisoners from Durham to the Isle of Wight was given to the world by the Press over this last weekend? Would the noble Lord not agree that such announcements are not calculated to assist the police and others responsible for safe custody and security generally? Would he not further agree that, ideally, complete silence concerning the whereabouts or the movements or projected movements of prisoners would be a wiser policy, if it were possible to achieve it, and most likely to serve the interests of security? Would he not agree that, if necessary, restriction of the Press should in extreme cases he resorted to? Finally, with regard to this movement reported over the week-end of prisoners from one gaol to another, it is said that they are being shut up in 28-cell maximum security block built at a cost of £250,000, and the noble Lord will no doubt have seen that the senior warden said yesterday, The man has not been born who can get out of this block. May I hope that the noble Lord will join me in hoping that the senior warden will not have to eat his words?


My Lords, taking the last of the noble Lord's five questions first, I very much doubt whether this experienced prison officer said what he is alleged to have said. He is more likely to have said that the prison has not yet been built from which some man cannot escape. With regard to the first supplementary that the noble Lord put to me, this is typical of the position, because we have made no statement at all to the Press or to anyone else about the move to which he referred and therefore these Press stories are merely speculative, as anyone who analyses them will discover. The Press said that these prisoners were to be transported by air, or by road or by rail. I do not think that that information constitutes a serious breach of security.


My Lords, were not facilities given to the Press to interview some of these prisoners in prison by the Home Office? If so, does that not mean that the Home Office must disclose to the Press the whereabouts of prisoners, and how can that be reconciled with the noble Lord's Answer to the question on the Order Paper?


My Lords, the whereabouts of certain prisoners has been a matter of general knowledge for some time, and the Home Office has no objection to confirming information if it is true and generally known. With regard to the special facilities to which the noble and learned Viscount has referred, my right honourable friend felt that the public interest and concern which has been caused by the largely inaccurate reports that have been circulated about the conditions of the inmates, could be allayed if the Press were allowed to go to the prison and see the conditions for themselves and have the opportunity of telling the public about them.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the action of the Home Secretary in this matter is very much to be applauded, and that the report in to-day's Daily Mail has brought a new sense of balance into the whole question?


My Lords, I will convey the noble Lord's remarks to my right honourable friend. I should also like to add, in reply to a question by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, which I did not answer, that his suggestion of any kind of Press censorship in these matters would, in my view, be not only wholly undesirable but completely impracticable.