HL Deb 17 February 1971 vol 315 cc611-95

4.0 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I must begin by making two apologies. First, my noble friend Lady Serota, who was to have spoken at the beginning of this debate, because of urgent family business was not able to be here in time. She realised that a day or two ago, but she will be here later on to-day. Unfortunately I have to get to Yorkshire this evening. I expect to be here for some two hours or so more, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I have to leave before the end. However, my noble friend Lady Serota will be here to sit on the Front Bench if I have to leave before the debate ends.

I am sure we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the way in which he introduced his Motion this afternoon. It was a first-class speech which set a high standard on a difficult and intractable subject. In your Lordships' House there are a number of noble Lords who at various times have had responsibility for the administration of prisons. Of those taking part in this debate in particular, my noble friends Lord Stow Hill and Lord Stonham and I myself were all at the Home Office together, and we were grateful to my noble friend Lord Stonham for the debate which he initiated a few weeks ago. As the right reverend Prelate has said, the debate this afternoon is perhaps a narrower one, but it is complementary to the one which was so ably introduced a few weeks ago.

As I have said, there are several noble Lords who have had responsibility for the administration of prisons, and I think they would all agree that it is one of the most interesting but also one of the most difficult jobs in government. There are many reasons for these difficulties. I will mention only a few. It is impossible to know in advance the number of prisoners for whom to plan. After I left the Home Office I went to the Department of Education and Science, and although there are difficulties about the building of schools it is child's play compared with the planning of prisons. For instance, I knew the birth rate in a particular year and I knew that five years on we should have to plan so many school places for the children entering primary schools. But with prisons, and particularly the local prisons, the governors do not even know how many they may have to-morrow; and they can never say, "We have no room", or, "You must wait your turn".

The second difficulty is that it takes a much longer time to build a prison than any other building. I know this is partly because the building itself is complicated, but often the main reason is that while everybody likes to live near a school or a hospital—provided it is not a mental hospital—few people like to contemplate living near a prison. So there are almost interminable delays while planning permission is obtained, with objections and inquiries and so on. Sometimes I felt very frustrated at the delays which can occur on that account. It is true that once a prison is built in a locality the outlook changes, but already the delay has occurred.

Also I believe the public is schizophrenic about prisons and prisoners. There is a great deal of criticism in the Press about conditions in some of our prisons, and quite rightly so, but there is also criticism about the building of new ones. I have often said that in this sphere you cannot win. I was at the Home Office when there were the spectacular escapes of some of the long-term prisoners, including Wilson, one of the train robbers. Immediately there was a great outcry for tighter security, an outcry which I suppose was understandable. So we transferred some of those who were considered to be potential escapers to the special wings at Durham and Leicester which had already been planned and put into operation by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. However, those were intended only as a temporary expedient. The relatives of the men in Durham and Leicester gave interviews to the Press and there was great public concern about conditions there. I visited the wing at Durham and quickly came to the conclusion that that wing was completely unsuitable for a long-term prisoner. The cells were good, as the right reverend Prelate has said; the recreation was fair the exercise area was much too small. But, worst of all, there was just a handful of prisoners who saw only their fellow-prisoners and a few members of the staff who were on duty.

Having said that, I must also say that the accounts given by the relatives were exaggerated and gave the idea that the place was much worse than it actually was. Because of that criticism, we took the unprecedented step of allowing a Press reporter and a photographer from the Press Association to go inside the prison to take photographs and get interviews with the prisoners. Your Lordships may remember these photographs, which appeared in every paper throughout the country. There were photographs of train robbers and other long-term prisoners watching television, playing table tennis and sitting at a table, eating. And what happened? Again there was criticism: "Is this what happens to the taxpayers' money?" And we were accused of being too soft. As I have already said, my Lords, this is an area where you just cannot win. I am very pleased indeed that it has already been announced by the Government that the special wings at Durham, Chelmsford, Leicester and Parkhurst will go out of existence for the purpose for which they are now used, and that these long-term prisoners will no longer be held there. It was said that these security wings were escape-proof, but in the last year or so we have seen that this is not so. Prisoners actually got out, and one is still at large.

The debate we had in December ranged very wide, but to-day we are discussing a special and a narrower problem, but nevertheless a very important one. It is the problem of the men and women who will probably have to spend many years in prison. During our last debate mention was made of sentencing policy, and I agree that the sentencing policy ought to be reviewed. Then we had the parole scheme, which is proving extremely successful. But even if the sentencing policy is changed and even if the parole scheme is extended there will probably still be those who, for one reason or another, will have to spend a long time in prison. The abolition of the death penalty meant that those who would previously have been hanged are now serving a long sentence in prison. In the past, life sentences have been regarded as 9 to 12 years, with a few longer. But those are the ones who, because of mitigating circumstances, have been reprieved. All recent Home Secretaries have said that the Prison Service must provide for those who will have to spend a very long time in prison. I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate when he says that these prisoners are not all alike; some of them are more dangerous than others.

I voted against retaining the death penalty for the murder of prison officers, but that does not mean that I do not appreciate the problems of prison officers who have to work with some prisoners who feel that they have nothing to lose. The Motion to-day talks about the difficulties for the prisons and the prisoners, and I hope that we are going to have in mind, as I shah show later on, the difficulties of and the changes that we ought to make for the staff, as well as for the prisoners, because they have a very difficult job to do.

We have the advantage in our debate to-day of the Report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System, The regime for Long-term Prisoners in Conditions of Maximum Security, and we are told by the Government that some of their recommendations have been accepted by the Home Office. This Report, I believe, is a first-class document except in one respect which I will mention in a few minutes, and it is a very realistic document. It devotes a great deal of space to security and the design of prisons. We need prison security for the safety of the public, but for other reasons also. A properly designed prison with effective perimeter security is the only way in which prisoners, particularly long-term prisoners, can lead lives like men and women and not like animals. I will here say that I had mixed felings about Earl Mountbatten's report. It was useful, it was valuable, it was based on security. But I believe that for a time at least it put the clock back with some of the worthwhile experiments that were going on inside our prisons.

Our problem to-day is to discuss how can we provide security plus a reasonable life for those who are in our prisons. Somebody says, "Well, the régime is all wrong"—and of course it is—and, "The buildings are all wrong". At one time it was contemplated that there would be built on the Isle of Wight a new special security prison for those that are now called Category A prisoners. The Advisory Council disagreed with that and suggested that these prisoners should be dispersed rather than concentrated in one prison. I understand that the Home Office have accepted that view, and this dispersal is already taking place. To be fair to those who first put forward the idea of the prison on the Isle of Wight, I should say that they felt that a high security prison, with high security on the perimeter, would enable much more easy movement within the prisons with less regimentation. But the Report has convinced me that dispersal is the right policy, provided—and I hope we shall get some reply on this point from the Government—the conditions envisaged by the Advisory Council can be provided in the selected prisons. The conditions which the Advisory Council laid down have been possible in a new prison.

One of the points stressed by the Advisory Council is that the prisons to which the prisoners are to be dispersed should be in the country, but I understand that the prisons selected by the Home Office are Parkhurst, Wakefield, Wormwood Scrubs, Gartree and Hull, which I would not regard as being prisons in the country. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord who is to reply what is being done to provide the conditions for these long-term prisoners in the prisons to which they are to be dispersed.

Our old out-dated prisons rely on the security of the cell at night plus close supervision during the day. At night there is a skeleton staff and everybody is locked up. In the daytime the supervision is very strict; one can see just three or four prisoners marching around with a prison officer with them, with the locking and unlocking of doors which has to go on at every turn. I believe that the prison walls of most of our prisons are inadequate as a means of containing determined escapees. I sometimes looked at the wall of a prison and thought, "If I were in here for 10 years"—and, my Lords, I am not very agile—" I would have a jolly good try at getting over that wall". And recent years have shown how easy it is, with help, to get over a prison wall.

The design of our prisons and the régime impose a restriction on movement within the prison. It has led to chamber-pots and buckets and slopping out. For some years, when I was in Opposition in another place, I remember asking frequent Questions of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and then of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, about when the remand centre at Risley was to be opened. It took years. I am not blaming anybody for that, but it did take years. And then it fell to my lot to open it, after I had been in the Home Office a very short time. It was a magnificent building. It had been planned for years; it had cost a great deal of money—I think in the region of £2 million. There was a great ceremony for the opening with everybody coming from the whole of Lancashire. The Press was there ready to take my photograph inside one of the new cells in this modern up-to-date remand centre. Just as the cameraman was about to take my photograph I froze in horror, for what did I see under the bed? Your Lordships can guess: it was a chamber-pot, in this new and up-to-date remand centre.

I believe that the best design for safety is that of the double perimeter, with control of the area between two fences. And here may I say how much I disagree with the Report of the Advisory Council when they recommend that the security officers who are on the towers of the security prisons should carry firearms. I know that the Council were split down the middle on this recommendation; about half were in favour and half against. I am against the use of firearms by security officers, for all the reasons given in the note of dissent by Dr. Peter Scott. I think it would trigger off a shooting match; it would show a bad example; it would be an utterly wrong policy for us to pursue. But there is another reason, too. As I have said, the security prisons are not in the country; they are in the middle of cities, in the middle of busy towns. I ask myself, if the officer is on the turret, where will he fire? Will he fire at the prisoner inside the walls? I do not think so. He is much more likely to fire if the man has already got outside the prison grounds, with consequent danger to members of the public.

Security is important, but it is important really because it determines the kind of life that the prisoner can lead inside the prison. I believe that the Advisory Council are quite right when they say what should be done for the prisoners inside the security prisons. What kind of life should the prisoners lead, once we have got the prison from which it is very difficult to escape? First of all, I agree with the Advisory Council that there should be many transfers; that these long-term prisoners should not spend too long in one prison. Also it is important—and the Advisory Council mention this—that inside the prison there should be a chance for some kind of choice in various aspects of the prisoner's life, whether it is choice of clothing, choice of food or choice of the classes to which he shall go. There are so many prisoners who leave prison and who cannot think for themselves, because they have been regimented and not had to think at all for many years. But what is most essential is useful work and some interest after work, particularly with education and recreation.

As the right reverend Prelate said, we were too apt to think of criminals as if they are all alike. Nothing is further from the truth. This is particularly so with the so-called Category A group prisoners. There are great differences even between men who have committed the same offence. I remember once visiting a prison where two train robbers were in adjacent cells. Their attitude to their imprisonment was entirely different. One moaned and complained; the other thanked me for what I had done and told me how he worked to pass the time—which, incidentally, included learning Spanish. I wondered afterwards what he had in mind in learning Spanish, but at any rate it gave him something with which to pass the time. I prefer to think of individuals rather than of groups.

When I think of the long-term prisoner, I think not only of the one who has been given a sentence of 10 or 15 years, but of the prisoners who have been in and out of prison for many years of their life. I have in mind one young man 25 years old who has just started a prison sentence of 8 years. He comes from a good working-class family of devout Christians. It is a big family, and all the other children are a credit to their mother and father. At the age of 14 this boy was in an approved school. He was out for a few weeks and then he went into borstal. He was out for a few weeks and he received a 2-year sentence to a young prisoners' prison. He was out again for a few weeks, and he then received a 4-year sentence. He was out again for a few weeks, and he has now been sentenced to an 8-year term of imprisonment. With remisssion, he will be 31 when he comes out of prison, and he will have been more or less continuously in some kind of imprisonment. I know that an approved school is not a prison, but he will have been in an institution of some kind since he was 14.

What is the Prison Service going to do for this man while he is in prison, probably for six years if he gets his remission? First of all, I think he has to be made secure. I think he has to be in a security prison, because he is an escapee. The first escape was from an approved school on the Isle of Wight. He went to Leeds to see his mother who was in Leeds Infirmary. So he will try to escape. He has done so before. For his own sake, as well as that of the community, we must make it impossible for him to do so, because a prisoner on the run is somebody without a job to do, and he will get into trouble and come back to prison again for a longer time. The important thing is that he should be given training for a job when he comes out of prison, and that he should work a full week's work. Those are the two important things.

Noble Lords may think that in taking this man as an example I am taking an exception. I only wish I were. But those of us who have dealt with prison cases know that there are far too many who go from approved school to borstal, from borstal to prison, and then are in and out of prison for the rest of their lives. Therefore it is essential that this young man and those like him shall learn a trade and that they shall learn to do a full week's work. Secondly, it is essential that he shall have some interest in his leisure time. I know that good work is being done at the moment, particularly in Wakefield Prison, with education. I was pleased that some of the students of the Open University are prisoners in our prisons.

The right reverend Prelate said that we are supposed to train men and women to lead a good and useful life so that they may leave prison better than they went in. But our prison system has made a mockery of this. I remember one prisoner only, a woman, who told me that her aim was to leave prison better than when she went in. I think she was speaking educationally, and she was facing a very long period in prison. She told me, indeed, that she wanted to make so much use of the time in prison that she had not enough time inside to do all that she wanted to do. But this is exceptional.

Now I turn to visiting. I know that the right reverend Prelate mentioned this. It is most important that those who have near family and friends should receive regular visits. I think more investigation and work needs to be done about visits at the week-ends by wives, and certainly that this ought to take place in different buildings. These visits could not take place in our prisons as they are to-day. Ordinary prison visiting should take place in better conditions. One feature which worried me about building the security prison on the Isle of Wight was the difficulty caused to people visiting from the North of England. I come from the North of England, and I often think that I have suffered, both in another place and to some extent here, because I live 200 miles away and everything is geared to London.

The Advisory Committee recommend that more financial help should be available to enable relatives to visit those in prison. Well, that is all right, and I agree with it. But it is not only a question of finance; there is the difficulty of a woman from the North of England travelling to London, changing at main line stations in London and going out of London a considerable distance. That is all quite daunting for a woman who lives 200 or 300 miles away. I hope, therefore, that this point will be looked at when prisoners are being allocated to the prisons throughout the country.

The Advisory Committee did not say anything about women; they said that their Report was only about men. But I am pleased that in the reorganisation which is about to take place for women prisoners there is going to be a North and a South base. It is important that women from the North are in the North and not always in London. On the whole, women are not escapees. I do not think they need the same maximum security. The average woman in prison wants to get out to go back to her home and her family, and that is the last place she can go to if she escapes from prison. Therefore, I think that one can have a different régime altogether. I have always thought, too, that there has never been any problem for work for women in prison. They do a full week's work and are always fully occupied.

I said at the beginning of my speech that we had to consider the staff as well as the prisoners, and that we have to protect the staff in the arduous job they are doing. The best way to do this is to lessen the tension inside the prison. Tensions build up between prisoner and prisoner and between prisoner and staff. Bad, cramped conditions are matters the effects of which are worked out on the staff. If the staff knew that the outer perimeter was secure, they would not need to be so conscious of security. I believe that this would lead to better relations between staff and prisoners.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate mentioned the public and prisons. Of course we do not have an open day in the way in which we have open days in schools. We can do so in some open prisons. But I believe that the community as a whole does not know what goes on in a prison. Even to people who live in streets right alongside a prison it is a mystery; they have not the slightest idea what the régime is like. If we could get some community interest in the prisons I think it would be all to the good.

I should like to make just one or two points in conclusion. First of all, I believe that our public discussion of prisons and prisoners has been bedevilled by extreme views in the past. On the one hand there is the "hang them; birch them; flog them" brigade, who would take away all human dignity and make prisons as degrading and punitive as possible. I absolutely reject this view, and I am sure that nearly all Members of your Lordships' House reject it. Secondly, there are some who are interested in prison work who are so idealistic that they never come down to earth. I am all for ideals. We cannot get very far in politics and life without them. However, I believe that idealism, to be worth while, must be tinged with realism. We have had these two extremes.

Our prisons contain some evil men, some dangerous men, some foolish men and some weak men. But they are all individual human beings, and we have to remember that they have all to take their place in the outside world. In the past prisons have made transition into that outside world not better but worse. Our aim must be to fit a man, or woman, to live a good and useful life outside the prisons. As I have said, some of those we are discussing to-day are murderers who would have been hanged. Parliament decided that they should live. We decided they should live. We did not condemn them to a living death, and it is up to us to see that that is not what happens.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by also thanking the right reverend Prelate for having initiated this debate. I was particularly glad, and I hope that it gratified him, that he found himself addressing such a full House. There can be no doubt whatever that all he had to say was listened to by the House with the very greatest possible attention, and on my own part, if I may say so, with some little emotion. I think I found myself in agreement with the right reverend Prelate upon practically every proposition that he put forward.

When I look at the list of speakers who are to follow me in this debate, and see the names of people who are so much better qualified to speak upon this subject than I am, I feel that I should not detain the House for more than a few minutes—indeed, I am going to confine myself to one suggestion as to how we might be able to mitigate the conditions in which these long-term prisoners are living. The right reverend Prelate said that in this field it was difficult to find a new idea. My idea may not be entirely novel, but I do not remember having heard it debated or discussed. My proposition is that so long as we retain the long-term fixed sentence, the determinate sentence, we shall be confronted with an insoluble problem. I think everybody will agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is the taking away of a man's liberty by sending him to prison that is the punishment, and that it is not for the administration of the prison system to punish him when he is inside.

I think that everybody will agree also in this day and age that the longer a man is incarcerated the more desirable it is that there should be a liberal and unrestricted régime. What we get is the exact opposite. We get the exact opposite because the long-term prisoners, the people who go in under very long sentences, are the very people for whom the maximum security measures are required. That is for two reasons: one is that if a man goes into prison for 15 or 20 years it is almost certain that he has committed a very great offence indeed, and it is very likely that it was an offence concerned with violence. That makes him a high-risk Category A prisoner. Secondly, the very fact that he goes in for such a long term of imprisonment makes him a higher escape risk, because if a man has no hope, or cannot visualise coming out of prison for, say, 15 or 20 years, he is likely to feel that his only hope is to escape and get out. As a result, it is necessary, in the very nature of things, to apply to the long-term prisoners the most rigorous and restricted régime: which, of course, is the very thing one does not want to do.

I ask myself: is there any way in which we can escape from this vicious circle? I suggest that the solution might be found if we were to abandon the idea of the fixed, determinate sentence in the case of serious, grave crime, and reduce by one single day the period sentence. The fixed sentence has this grave disadvantage, as I have always thought, that when the sentence is pronounced by the judge the person is sent to prison for a certain period of time, subject only to the remission for good conduct and now, in addition, the possibility of being granted parole. Subject only to those two things, there is no way in which he can by his own efforts, or by trying to rehabilitate himself, reduce by one single day the period of his sentence. The hopelessness of the fixed sentence is that it gives a man no encouragement to try to make something of himself, in the hope and expectation that he may be able to come out into the world and live some reasonable and useful life. I do not think the parole system really offers much help in the case of the long-term prisoners, because they are by definition the people who would be almost the last candidates for the use of the parole system.

Could we not change the present system of fixed sentences in these cases and introduce the indeterminate sentence? This is not a novel proposal, because every time we sentence a person to life imprisonment we are imposing an indeterminate sentence; we are leaving it to the Home Secretary to decide when, if ever, that person is regarded as fit to come out again into society. Supposing we did the same thing in the case of grave crime, and sentenced a person for an indeterminate term, leaving it to the prison authorities and the Home Secretary to decide when he should come out, what would be the advantage?

If you look at the figures, as I have endeavoured to do, you find that at the end of December, 1968, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, there were just short of 600 people in prison under life sentences. I believe (and I should like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong about this) that only a very small proportion of the people who are now in prison under a life sentence are Category A prisoners; that is to say, escapists of the first order. I believe it is also true to say that if you look into the people in Category A, the biggest risks, you find that the majority are the people who have been sentenced to a long fixed term of imprisonment.

My Lords, may there not be some lesson to be learned from this? I suggest the lesson is that if a man goes in for "life", as it is called, he then has hope that if he behaves himself, and tries to rehabilitate himself, his case will be considered and he may come out. The reason why so few people sentenced to life imprisonment find themselves in Category A, and under the special security requirements, is I think, that those people have hope. That suggestion indicates a practical contribution which might be made to solving this problem in the sentencing policies of the courts. I may be very ignorant about this, and I do not know whether this suggestion has been considered before, but no doubt the Minister will be able to let me know about that.

In conclusion, I think there is an objection in principle to the imposition of the fixed sentence where long terms of imprisonment are involved. That is that it is quite impossible for any judge, however wise, to decide what a man before him in the dock and under sentence will be like in 10 or 15 years' time. By then he may be an entirely different individual. If my suggestion of introducing the indeterminate sentence for all crimes carrying a penalty above, say, eight years' imprisonment were adopted, so that if the judge thought that an eight years' sentence was insufficient he would then pass the indeterminate sentence, we should have made an improvement in our legal system of sentencing and a contribution to the solution of one of the problems which the right reverend Prelate has raised.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, a few weeks ago we had a full debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, which was concerned with the problems raised by the increasing size of the prison population. To-day, the right reverend Prelate has provided an opportunity to consider in more detail part of that population—the prisoners serving long-term sentences. Perhaps I should start by saying that the description "long-term" does not have any recognised definition in the context of our present debate. We might begin by reflecting that one year of a man's life is a long time in any circumstances, and in prison it must seem longer than almost anywhere else. For certain purposes a recidivist prisoner serving a sentence of five years or more is classified as a long-term prisoner, and the same description is applied to a "star" prisoner; that is, one with little or no previous prison experience who is serving four years or more. Similarly, when the Advisory Council on the Penal System considered the question of long-term prisoners in conditions of maximum security it concerned itself with prisoners serving sentences of more than four years. Some of what I have to say will apply generally to such prisoners, but in view of the right reverend Prelate's concern with prisoners serving life imprisonment or very long fixed terms, some of them in conditions of maximum security, I shall try to concentrate on aspects which relate particularly to these prisoners and their treatment.

It might be helpful if I were to give some indication of the numbers involved, and update the statistics available to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the right reverend Prelate. On December 31, 1970, the total number of male persons aged 17 or over serving sentences of imprisonment was approximately 26,000. Of these, almost exactly 3,000 were serving sentences of over four years and up to and including 10 years. Another 237 were serving fixed sentences of over 10 years; and there were 753 men serving life sentences, including sentences of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure. There is a tendency to believe, perhaps as a result of a few notorious cases, that the courts are now making much greater use of very long fixed terms of imprisonment than they were a few years ago. This is not borne out by the figures. In 1969, the number of men received into prison with fixed sentences of over 10 years was 28. The corresponding figure in 1961 was 20. As a percentage of the number of male offenders sentenced by the higher courts, the number has actually declined, from 2.3 per cent. to 1.8 per cent. In general, the picture is that the proportion of the prison population which is accounted for by very long fixed terms has remained remarkably constant over the last decade. Because of the abolition of capital punishment and other factors, the position regarding prisoners serving life sentences is rather different and I shall return to this later.

The purpose of this debate, as I see it, is to consider the conditions of detention of long-term prisoners, and perhaps I may offer one or two reflections about the role of the Prison Service. The first aim of a penal system is to protect the public. Men are not lightly sent to prison for long periods. Among the long-term prisoners are many who have demonstrated by their record of antisocial or violent behaviour that they are a danger to other people. Prisons are still built with "stones of law". Nothing would do more to undermine public confidence in the penal system, and impede a liberal approach to prison treatment, than a belief that the Prison Service was failing in its primary purpose of keeping prisoners in safe custody. It has become rather fashionable to criticise the emphasis on improving prison security following the inquiry by the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten of Burma. But the escapes which led to his inquiry and Report in 1966, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, has referred, were a sharp reminder that if it appears that the negative aspect of prison security and the positive aspect of treatment and training are out of balance, then public confidence is at risk. There is another way, too, in which this balance is a precondition of a forward-looking penal policy, and it is one to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, has also drawn attention. Good staff/prisoner relationships will inevitably be made harder to achieve if prison staff are constantly looking over their shoulders, doubting the adequacy of their physical defences.

Maintaining this balance, between security on the one hand and treatment on the other, is one of the crucial tasks of any prison system. We cannot in a civilised society be content to shut away people who have offended and forget all about them. Even the utilitarian, untroubled by any moral obligation or promptings of conscience, would have to recognise that, come what may, the prisoner serving a fixed sentence will at some time have to be released. He would have to ask how best that man can be equipped, in the future interests of the community as well as of the prisoner himself, to return to life outside the prison walls. Our approach, therefore, is to try to match the conditions of the long-term prisoner to the degree of security that he is assessed to need, and to his prospects of release.

The concept of parole, introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, has brought a valuable feature into the penal system in that every sentence is now in a sense indeterminate. Every prisoner has the opportunity to show his fitness for early release. The phasing of the prisoner's treatment, and the assessments that are made of his progress, call for a close relationship between the Prison Department of the Home Office and the Parole Board. I think that most people who have a close interest in this subject believe that the way parole is evolving is one of the most encouraging features of penal policy in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who will be speaking later in the debate, must be weary of compliments by now, but I believe that his own contribution, and that of his colleagues, is one that will become increasingly recognised as time goes by.

I want to stress this general approach to the treatment of long-term prisoners, my Lords, and the conditions in which they are held, because there is sometimes a tendency to equate the long-term prisoner with the prisoner held in conditions of highest security, the Category A prisoner. Perhaps I ought to take this opportunity to remind your Lordships that there are four security categories of prisoners which were introduced in 1967, as recommended by Lord Mountbatten. Category A consists of prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or to the police or to the security of the State. In Category B are those who do not need the very highest conditions of security, but for whom escape must be made very difficult. Category C are prisoners who cannot be trusted in open prisons, but who do not have the ability or resources to make a determined escape attempt; while Category D consists of prisoners who are fit for open conditions.

It is important to appreciate that prisoners serving very long sentences can be, and are, in any of these categories. It might possibly be inferred from what the right reverend Prelate said that they were all in Categories A or B. It is quite true that the majority are in those two categories, but the four categories apply irrespective of the length of the sentence. Leyhill open prison, in Gloucestershire, for example, is not subject to formal restrictions as to the category of prisoner sent there. There are at present rather more than 50 carefully selected prisoners serving life sentences in Category D.

At the other end of the spectrum from prisoners of the type I have just described, who can be trusted in open conditions, there are those in Category A. The latest statistics are these. On January 31, 1971, there were 222 sentenced prisoners in this category. Nineteen of these were provisionally in the category pending assessment by the allocation centres to which long-term prisoners are sent after conviction and sentence. The remaining 203 had been through the allocation procedure and sent to appropriate prisons. Only 12 of these prisoners, in Category A, were serving sentences of less than 10 years; 66 were serving 10 to 15 years; 14 were serving from 16 to 20 years; 10 were serving over 20 years; and 101 were serving life sentences. My Lords, 101 in Category A, out of a total life sentence population of nearly 800! Classified according to the offences committed, out of the total of 203 in Category A 83 had been convicted of murder or attempted murder; 12 of manslaughter; 79 of various violent offences, including robbery with violence; and two of offences under the Official Secrets Acts.

My Lords, I should like to explain, because this is a matter of considerable importance, how the placing of a long-term prisoner in Category A is decided. The first step, as I have just mentioned, is for the prisoner to be sent after sentence to what is described as a long-term allocation centre. There, a detailed analysis is made from all the available information of his offence, character and attitudes, and also of the security and control problems that he is likely to present to the Prison Service. If his sentence or offence raise the question whether he should be placed in the highest security category, Category A, his case is referred, with recommendations as to his category and allocation, to the Prison Department at the Home Office, where it receives further detailed consideration. If the Department concludes that the prisoner would, on escape, be such a danger that he should be in the highest category, then a recommendation is submitted for decision at Ministerial level. I might say at this point that Ministers take a close and continuing interest, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will know from his own experience, in this policy and its practical application, particularly where prisoners in the highest security category are concerned. The status and allocation of a Category A prisoner is reviewed at least once a year, and in many cases more frequently, and he will be downgraded out of Category A as soon as this is considered safe. In 1970, for example, 28 prisoners were downgraded from Category A to Category B.

The objective of this procedure recommended by the Mountbatten Report for categorising a prisoner as A is to identify to the staff the prisoner whose safe custody is of paramount importance. It follows that the category, if it is not to be devalued, is, and ought to be, used very selectively indeed. It does not follow, however, that the price of vigilance is, or ought to be, the repression of the prisoner. There have been various suggestions as to how these Category A prisoners should be treated. One proposal was that they should all be kept together in a single, specially constructed prison with maximum security—a fortress solution. This proposal has not been accepted, and the present policy, which is based on a study by the Advisory Council on the Penal System, is to disperse them among prisons with high perimeter security within which they can take their place, among Category B prisoners, in a normal prison community. So to this end a number of so-called "dispersal" prisons have been designated and have been given strengthened security.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? He would agree, I suppose, that one factor in deciding whether a prisoner should be placed in Category A and maintained in Category A is the kind of reputation that that prisoner has borne in the minds of the public?


My Lords, the factors that are taken into account by those concerned with the categorising of prisoners include the degree of notoriety, the type of offence committed, the likelihood that the prisoner may offend again, the likelihood that the prisoner may escape—all these factors are taken into account at the different stages. As I have said, it is very important to appreciate that there is a constant review of the prisoner's categorisation—at least once a year and sometimes more frequently. Because the various factors change in weight over time, the review procedure is extremely important. Somebody is not put into Category A because there is a sudden public outcry and then left there for all time; the case is reviewed regularly.

My Lords, let me go on to describe the dispersal prisons which have been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. The aim is to restrict the Category A element in their populations to not more than about 10 per cent. of the total. Two of these prisons, Wakefield and Wormwood Scrubs, between them contain over one-third of the allocated Category A prisoners. The other dispersal prisons are Parkhurst, Hull, Gartree and Albany, the last of these having come into use for the purpose only a few months ago. The new prison at Long Lartin, already in use for Category C prisoners, will be added to the list when it is completed next year.

It is therefore only a minority—40 out of the 203 sentenced and allocated Category A prisoners—who are contained in the maximum security wings at Chelmsford, Durham, Leicester and Parkhurst. These wings have special security precautions against the possibility of escape and were established when perimeter security in the prison system was not as high as it is now. Their present population of 40 compares with 62 four years ago. In that time conditions in the wings have been substantially improved, but the policy is to disperse their inmates to the prisons I have mentioned as and when we are confident that they will be assimilated elsewhere. This process cannot and will not be done precipitately—we must remember that the special wings contain prisoners whose absorption in a normal prison community will present serious problems—but the Government have decided that the time has come to make a start. We shall, therefore, in the near future close the special wing at Durham prison. This will have the effect of reducing the number of prisoners detained in the remaining three special wings to about 25 in all.

Let me now turn to prisoners serving life sentences. At present there are about 770 in all. Statistically this is a small proportion—approximately 2 per cent.—of the total prison population, but, of course, it raises problems of containment and treatment out of all proportion to its size. Moreover, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, the number of prisoners serving terms of life imprisonment has been increasing. At the end of 1955, there were 89, less than one-eighth of the present figure. By the end of 1964 it had reached 365. In the six years since then it has more than doubled.

What has caused this increase? There is no straightforward answer, although it is likely that we are seeing in part the general effect of the increase in crime, and in part the cumulative effects of the two stages in the abolition of the death penalty in 1957 and 1965. A further factor is the use by the courts of the life sentence not only for murder—for which it is a mandatory penalty—but also for certain offences, including offences other than homicide, for which it is discretionary. The court will often make it clear in imposing such a sentence that it finds it impossible to foresee how soon the offender will be safe to return to the community and prefers to leave this decision to the Home Secretary on the recommendation of the Parole Board. I think these comments bear very much upon what Lord Foot said in his speech. At the end of last year there were 89 prisoners serving life for manslaughter; 25 for rape; 21 for arson; and 51 for other offences of a violent or sexual nature.

Let me say a word or two next about the release of life sentence prisoners. No such prisoner is released unless the Home Secretary, on the recommendation of the Parole Board, and after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge, if he is available, thinks it safe to release him. Even then the prisoner is subject to a licence which makes him liable to recall to prison at any time in the future. Noble Lords will appreciate that, with the abolition of capital punishment, the number of life sentence prisoners who cannot, even after many years, be safely released is likely to grow. Already there are 71 who have served more than 9 years, including 17 who have served more than 13 years. More than half the life sentence population have, as yet, served less than four years so that it is hard to predict how large this category of men who have to be detained for exceptionally long terms will be in the future.

The problem of detaining these men humanely is a grave one, including, as they do, prisoners whose psychopathic qualities make them a danger in prison as well as out, and others whose offences make them a target of strong hostility from fellow prisoners. As with the Category A prisoners, men serving life imprisonment are not all concentrated together in one place, but are dispersed amongst a number of prisons. Some, as I have said earlier, are in open conditions, others are in prisons with a high degree of security. The great majority of lifers are held in these dispersal prisons, particularly Wakefield and Wormwood Scrubs, which together hold a little over half of the total. These are prisons catering mainly for the criminally unsophisticated among the life sentence population, and the high proportion of it which they contain reflects the preponderance of "domestic" and situational homicides. It follows that the staff of these prisons, including their doctors and visiting psychotherapists, have an exceptionally deep experience and understanding of the problems of the life sentence prisoner. But, according to their needs, such prisoners are contained too in a variety of other closed prisons including some, like Maidstone and Bristol, with lower security than the dispersal prisons require. Nineteen prisoners serving life sentences are at Grendon Underwood, an institution regarded by many as the brightest jewel in the prison system.

I should like to emphasise that the location and progress of every life sentence prisoner is kept under constant review, both within the prison where he is serving, and at the Home Office. At the early stage of his sentence he is likely to spend some time in a local prison, probably the prison where he was for pre-trial diagnosis and reports. This is a time when he learns to adjust to the shock of his trial and sentence, and the staff have the opportunity to form a picture of him that will guide his subsequent treatment. The local prison is likely to be reasonably near his home, so that if he has relatives and friends to support him, there is the advantage that they can visit him without difficulty. During this early stage the prisoner will normally go to a long-term allocation centre, and reports and recommendations from the centre will be taken into account in deciding both his security category and the prison to which he is allocated. Again, the desirability of keeping him as near as possible to relatives and friends is kept in mind but it has to be weighed, not only against the availability of a prison of a necessary degree of security, but against any special medical or other requirements influencing the prisoner's location. Thereafter, the regular reviews may point to the need for a new location or, for example, for the exploitation of some medical aspect of the case. If they do, the prisoners can be transferred and in practice a prisoner serving a very long sentence may very well be contained in more than one prison after the initial allocation has been made.

I have so far spoken mainly of those long-term prisoners who are serving life sentences or who fall into security Category A. But before I end, I should like to broaden my remarks a little and touch on what is meant when we talk about the "training and treatment" of long-term prisoners. There is a wide range of training in all the prisons I have referred to; not just in the formal sense of learning crafts or technical skills in the workshop, or the educational opportunities provided by tutor-organisers, but in the more simple—and perhaps the more important—things to people who have gone astray; like getting on terms with other people in the same community, even if it is a prison community. But we shall expect too much of the Prison Service unless we recognise the limitations imposed by the custodial setting and by present knowledge about behaviour and personality.

We must remember, too, that for a multiplicity of reasons many prisoners are going to serve a very long period of years in prison. For these it is essential to do everything possible to sustain their personality until release. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke of the problem of deterioration, and this must be one of the central concerns of those responsible for the prison system. The prisoner has to be helped to develop capacities which will assist his eventual reintegration into the community. Part of the task here is to assist the prisoner to make the re-evaluation of himself which must underlie any hope of rehabilitation, and also to ensure that this process of self-knowledge is not discouraged once it has begun.

Ways of achieving this must be steadily developed in the prisons along the lines recommended in the Advisory Council Report, The Régime for Long-Term Prisoners in Conditions of Maximum Security. Prison staff are encouraged to regard the whole institutional community, and the day-to-day events within it, as contributing to treatment. In this way prisoners are helped to learn from relationships with each other and with the staff; so that even a negative or an unfavourable response to a prisoner's request can be seen and used as a learning and treatment opportunity. Important contributions are made to this process of socialisation by people from the world outside: by prison visitors, chaplains, voluntary associates of the probation service, instructors at evening classes, and by all the men and women who from time to time come into the prison to share the prisoners' activities. Means are also being sought of teaching prisoners social responsibility by enabling them to share in the running of the social life of the prison community; and, within the limitations of the prison régime and security, a constant effort is made to foster the prisoner's ability to make responsible decisions by widening the area of choice available to him in his daily life.

My Lords, none of these tasks is made any easier by overcrowding, by obsolescent buildings and by shortages of staff. These are the practical problems of resources, which were discussed so fully on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. But this afternoon, with the focus on the treatment of people spending long periods inside the prisons, and speaking for the Government, I have tried to explain our attitude, our policies and our reasons for them.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I join with every noble Lord who has so far spoken in expressing my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for introducing this debate; and also I would express my thanks and congratulations for the manner of his speech, for the great deal of thought and research that has gone into it and for the questions which he addressed to the Minister, to which, I hope, he will in due course receive an answer. I do not think there is any doubt at all—or there should not be—in the mind of anyone, after hearing the debate so far and the facts that have been put forward, that long sentences have introduced a new element into penology. We now have the "death sentence" for non-capital crimes; because, my Lords, it is a death sentence for a man to be immured for over 20 years in the kind of conditions which obtain in the special wings. He loses himself as a man, he loses his whole individuality, he loses his ability to think for himself, let alone act for himself, and he becomes a zombie. It is impossible to rehabilitate such a person.

I make no quarrel about the fact that the special security wings were set up and were populated. It was done under conditions of near hysteria and great public pressure. It was unthinkable that these men should be allowed to escape; and the responsibility placed on successive Home Secretaries and accepted by them was, "It is our business to see that they do not escape." So the special wings were brought into operation and men practically elected themselves to them. They picked themselves—or the newspapers did. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made clear that we must not confuse the security units with Category A, which is the top security category for very bad men in prison. I have no complaint whatever about the allocation procedures. Allocations are made by men of great experience, and humanely. Above all, the Home Secretary has to decide on every one; both that the criminal should, or should not, be in Category A, and also the prison to which he is to be sent.

Anyone who sees the daily sets of papers, as I did for a good time, can see that no man who is put into Category A has not earned the right to be there—if "earned" is the proper word to use. Nor, indeed, can I ever remember seeing such a case where it seemed to me that the current sentence was too severe. In saying that we have introduced this new element of the "death sentence" for non-capital crimes I do not mean it as a criticism of the courts. All the men have been sentenced according to laws passed by Parliament, and it is for Parliament itself to alter the laws and guard against any danger.

I think it should be laid down that no sentence for a non-capital crime should be more severe in its practical effect than that imposed on a murderer. So, my Lords, a considerable part of the case put forward by the right reverend Prelate is being attended to. The special units are being closed down. They should have been closed some time ago. There are some 400 Category A men whose crimes are absolutely horrible; they are far worse than the crimes of the men in the special units. Reading about them the only conclusion one can come to is: "I do not grumble about the category that that man is in. I only wonder that he has not gone to a special institution"—because it does not seem that men can do these crimes and still be sane. Of those 400 there are 40 men at present in security; the other 360 are either secure or semi-secure prisoners. That is, of course, where the special unit men will go; but this risk has been accepted all the time. These men are a danger to the public, who are extremely concerned if they escape. In Hull, Chelmsford, Garston and other prisons they are walking about just like any other man in prison. I do not complain about that. What I complain about is that these special security wings should be still in operation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will mention the feeling about this matter to the Home Secretary, because it is bad for the prison staffs.

I believe that almost any prison officer in almost any prison has a rotten job; but the prison officers looking after the special units have an intolerable job. They are constantly in some physical danger—though that is, I hope, a lot less now than it was—and they are constantly having to engage in at least wordy warfare, with extra and acute responsibilities. If they fail they are under the whole glare of Press publicity, and there is bound to be a severe inquiry in the prison: they are on a kick in the teeth to nothing. That is quite unnecessary. I suggest that the noble Lord might take 50 or 100 of the last Category A allocation papers and read them, and then see whether he is not satisfied that they are far worse than the records of most of the men in the security units. There is no need for that.

I am thinking, too, of prison governors. The views of prison governors could be asked for. I do not think they are asked when these Category A men are continually sent to them. They have to take them and they do take them, and look after them as they would look after the others. So far as the prisons are concerned it is bad for them, owing to the cramped nature of the accommodation and the fact that the men are there for 20 years. Of course, the prison governors and the Home Office have done, and are constantly doing, all they can to ameliorate the lot of these men. That is why they get these co-called privileges, such as looking at television occasionally, and things like that. It does not make them any less on the road to being zombies.

So far as visitors are concerned, I support everything that the right reverend Prelate said. But this applies to all prisoners. The accommodation for prisoners in virtually every prison is very bad indeed. As my noble friend Lady Bacon mentioned, it is only about three months ago that I induced the Home Secretary to agree to the erection of a building in Leeds prison with money provided by the W.R.V.S. That will give the noble Lord some idea of the lengths that we have to go to in order to provide this facility. It is just a building in the grounds of the prison where the visitors can go and keep out of the weather while they are waiting. We even have to depend on voluntary efforts to secure such modest improvements.

I do not think there is any doubt that the prisoners would be much better off and feel better off, and certainly much happier, if they were moving about in the ordinary way. I know we are all agreed that the idea is to have a secure perimeter and freedom within it. But when is that idea going to be implemented? Or, rather, when we have a new prison built with a secure perimeter, when is the régime going to be altered? I have in mind, for example, the new prison at Coldingley, near Byfleet. The right reverend Prelate asked why we could not have a committee to discuss new prisons before they are built. Coldingley was like that. Not merely was there in that case an experienced and knowledgeable committee, but every section was represented. The committee not only met before the prison was built, but kept on meeting until it was finished and Ministers saw the men in it; and the committee were able to keep in touch.

That, my Lords, is a secure prison. I think that the discipline staff—the guards if you like to use that term—should be altered accordingly, and we should be getting towards the ideal that we all have in mind. The chief trouble is that we have debates, and someone puts forward an idea; it is considered in the Home Office; it is decided that it is right and that they will try it. Then there is an interregnum and what has been decided either does not get done or is only very slowly carried out: certainly it does not become universal. That is one of the things that I should like to see done.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, mentioned the word "hope". This is the great thing within prison: the prisoner must have hope. But by these long-term sentences men are practically deprived of it. The one great hope of all of them is parole. All the train robbers are technically eligible for parole. This means that when they have served 10 of their 30 years their case will have to be considered by the local review committee, and if that committee makes a favourable recommendation the case will go to the Parole Board. I believe that the better conduct in wings has been because the men hope for parole and are guiding their lives accordingly.

Have they any real hope, my Lords? The Parole Board should consider their cases, if they come before them, exactly as they have considered every other case. One of the things they must consider is the effect on public opinion: the safety of the public. I can only hope that they will have regard to the fact that although these men are all serving 30 years, they are not all equally culpable. I said that all of them are serving 30 years, but in fact two are serving less: one is serving 15 years, and one 18 years. And, to boot, they have had time to spend all their money. I do not know whether that was a consideration which prompted the court, but it is an extraordinary fact which indicates that the men are not all equally culpable.

My noble friend Lady Bacon mentioned the two men she saw, train robbers who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and referred to the difference in their attitudes to prison life. If the report on a prisoner is good—if he has tried, has been a good prisoner and worked well—and if the prognosis as to his future is good, then I hope that, irrespective of his notoriety (which is not of his creation) the case will be considered on its merits, or demerits, and dealt with as any other. I hope that the Home Secretary will not flinch from what I regard as his duty when the prisoner goes before him. The first case or two will be taken as a guide, and if the men are not paroled—I do not say that they should be—then hope will die. That is the very worst aspect about this.

My Lords, I have said that Parliament should set a practical limit to determine sentences, and I hope that this suggestion will be considered. It is no good expressing pious hopes; we have to do this by rule, otherwise we cannot blame the courts. But we should not be pushed away from the proper course by hysteria engendered in the Press; we must deal with this problem on its merits, and give our own humane feelings a chance.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate, and for encouraging me to take a small part in it. I should like also to thank the Government Chief Whip for making it possible for me to speak at a fairly early stage in the debate, and to couple that with an apology, for the reason why I asked that that should be done is simply that I had already long since undertaken to fulfil two previous engagements from which I cannot be excused. I shall be very sorry to miss the subsequent speeches and the winding up, for which I apologise to your Lordships.

Because so much has been said by other noble Lords, and so much more will be said before the debate is over, on topics about which I could have perhaps said something, I propose to limit my remarks to the problems of long-term prisoners who are serving fixed sentences. There are two aspects which have caused us concern as members of the Parole Board in considering the merits, or otherwise, for parole. I hope that this will not embarrass the Minister; I have given him advance notice of these two points, and in one way or another we have covered them in our annual report. To the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who has just entered the Chamber, may I say how interested I was in his observations in relation to parole, and to the suggestion that all sentences beyond a certain length might be indeterminate. The point that I was going to make has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in drawing attention to the indeterminate element in fixed sentences that is introduced by the advent of parole.

My first point is that only in relatively few cases have the Board been able to recommend for parole at their first review, men serving long sentences, that is, at one-third of their sentence. The main and obvious reason for this has been our concern for the public, and the risk which we consider that many of these offenders would represent to the public if they were released at so early a date as at the first third of their sentences. Other considerations have also been brought to bear in certain cases. It is of interest to mention statistics. About three-quarters of the 40 per cent. of the long-term prisoners who have been granted some parole in the course of the middle third of their sentences have had to wait until they have served at least half the sentence before they were released on licence. The point I am trying to make is that the Statute requires that the case of each man must be reviewed not only at one-third of the sentence, but subsequently at regular intervals of one year thereafter. Our concern is about those many men who have to wait for a second review, some a third and a few a fourth review before they are eventually granted parole. I think the Minister pointed this out. If he did not, would your Lordships please take it from me that that is so. This applies to only 40 per cent. of the total who are termed "long-term prisoners".

The remaining 60 per cent. of the long-term men who do not get parole at all are also reviewed at annual intervals. Whenever we speak to long-term prisoners during our visits to prisons—and we have visited all the prisons in England and Wales, some of them more than once—it is borne upon us how stressful is this annual cycle of hope and anxious expectancy, prolonged over three or four months, between the interview of the man by the local review committee, and the eventual decision imparted to him by the Home Office. This is followed, as a rule, by the inevitable disappointment, the loss of confidence in himself, and perhaps in the system and the establishment at large, and the bitterness when that refusal is given. This state of tension and disappointment is not confined to the prisoner; it is inevitably imparted to his dependants, his relatives, and this can create serious problems in the domestic situation, both at the time of refusal and at the time of eventual resettlement.

My colleagues and I are convinced that some further thought has to be given to this problem—possibly in the form of amending legislation. It may be that the statutory requirement of an annual review for all prisoners eligible for parole should be replaced by some discretion given to the Parole Board to order a review at appropriate intervals, after the first review has taken place, depending on the circumstances. In this respect it would be similar to the way in which "lifers" are considered. This would be the same for everybody, it would be fair to everybody, and would enable the majority of longer term prisoners who are unlikely, as shown by the statistics, to get parole at one-third of their sentence, to get on with their sentence without disturbance, without disappointment, and there may well be other alternatives by which this serious hardship and snag may be overcome.

My second point is concerned with a later situation—the situation which follows release from prison. In general it must be true that the longer the sentence the greater the need for supervision and support when the offender returns to the community. At present, this need is met for about 40 per cent., as I have explained to your Lordships, by the release on parole licence at some stage before the end of the two-thirds of the sentence is reached and a man would inevitably leave prison at that moment. But what about the remaining 60 per cent. who do not get parole at all? These are going to be released without any supervision or, unless they specifically ask for it, without after-care and support. The only exceptions to these are the men and women on whom extended sentences have been passed and who have, by Statute, to be subject to supervision for the total span of the sentence imposed by the court. I have not mentioned young prisoners because, although the same rule applies for them, there are very few young prisoners, as one might expect, who have to serve very long sentences.

However, these long sentence men are the very men who stand in most need of supervision—and I stress the word "supervision"—as well as support. I know that for a number of them there is the pre-release employment scheme, in which they can take part from a hostel or from some other situation. That aspect of rehabilitation is not the one I am drawing attention to. The real point I am trying to make is that it is the need for supervision which is not provided under the hostel scheme. I have the greatest regard and respect for the splendid work of the voluntary after-care agencies, but I think they would admit this. Certainly I myself do not think that they can meet the need of many of these men, who require a firm hand in the form of compulsory supervision, with eventual sanctions, as well as after-care. I would say that this is both in their interest and in that of the community.

The question of the third one-third, the final third, of the fixed-term sentence is a very well-known and long-standing problem. Traditionally it has been reserved for the purposes of discipline in the prison and to give some incentive to the man to behave and earn the full remission, as well as, of course, a proper brake on unreasonable and hopeless pursuit of appeals to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). Yet it is my view that at least some part of this final third of the sentence should be available for conditional release under supervision. This problem might be solved by widening the scope of the supervisory aspect of the extended sentence to include all sentences beyond a certain length. Whatever might be decided in that direction, an amendment along those lines would undoubtedly go a long way to remove the dilemma which is faced by the Parole Board time and again when we consider the parole of men who may well remain, in our view, a continuing risk to the public when we know that they are going to be released without any restraint at all in a matter of months.

My final point, my Lords, is about an entirely different matter which I admit has been aired this afternoon and with, rightly I think, some strong feeling. I am going to turn to it myself only briefly and for a particular reason. I refer to the matter of the special security wings. I do so knowing what has already been said. During our visits to prisons up and down the country, my colleagues and I have always taken the opportunity to pay a visit to the special security wings within the prisons which hold them—in Durham, Leicester, Chelmsford and Parkhurst. I hope your Lordships will not misunderstand my sentiments when I say that my colleagues and I have nearly always emerged from these visits considerably shaken and disturbed. I hope I may claim that we have no illusions about the nature of the people who are placed in these special conditions; nor of the crimes they have committed; nor of the very considerable risk which they would probably present to the public if they were to escape. We naturally accept that some of them will have to remain under conditions of maximum security for a considerable time to come. When I say that we have been extremely troubled by our meeting of the people inside and by what we saw and heard there, I am referring not only to our concern about the inmates, their morale and tension and the conditions, but to our concern for the prison staff as well.

I was going to make a suggestion on the premise that it was the policy of the Government to maintain these wings for a considerable time to come. After what we have heard from the Minister, and after the strong pressure put by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to hasten the speed of changes in this field, I am hopeful that it will not be long before these changes are made. As it is, I presume to make these remarks in order to stress how thankful I am that the policy is going to change. I should like to conclude by telling your Lordships, from the rather special, privileged view of an independent outsider into the situation in prisons, what an absolutely splendid job in human terms the governors and the staffs are doing for the prisoners as well as in terms of security for the public.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened this afternoon to very valuable and well informed speeches from a number of Members of your Lordships' House. We must all be grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing the subject in the very moving speech to which we listened. I would begin my speech, which will be brief, by taking up the last point that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made just before he sat down after his extraordinarily interesting and valuable speech. We are blessed in this country with a first-class prison administration. He referred to the governors. What he said is equally applicable to all prison officers, welfare officers; to the after-care service, and everybody else in the Service, including those voluntary workers who go to make up, in a broad sense, our prison administration. I would include the staff at Broadmoor.

If I venture to intervene in this debate it is with some hesitation, because I am so out of touch with modern developments, which have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and other speakers. But I did have in 1965, when the death penalty was abolished, responsibility in these matters which I was very fortunate to be able to share with my noble friends Lady Bacon (as she now is), Lord Stonham and Mr. George Thomas, in the other place. I speak from personal experience when I say of our Prison Administration that it is a Service in which there is a high element of vocation. It is extremely hard work. It is done against a background (or it was in 1965; it is less so now) of grim Victorian prisons. It is done sometimes in the face of lack of understanding, and criticism. But I would say of them that, in my experience, they were always most anxious and eager to promote reform; to study and consider ways in which prison conditions could be humanised. This is understandable, not only because they feel a vocation to enter into this Service, but also from the nature of their work, which is far less difficult and exasperating if the prisoners feel confidence and trust in the prison officers who have to look after them.

I would add this. On my left I see in the Box Mr. Duncan Fairn. He has now, I believe, earned a retirement which I hope he is enjoying. And I should like to couple with the Prison Administration the Prison Department in the Home Office. Any Secretary of State who has to make the extremely difficult decisions which that Office involves could not have had better and more devoted service than that given by the officers in that Department, based on their very long experience in this difficult field of administration. I should be lacking in gratitude if I did not also mention two other names: one, Sir Charles Cunningham, the then head of that great Department of State, than whom no Secretary of State could ever wish for a wiser counsellor or more loyal friend at his side. The other is the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, whose help I found always most invaluable when I exercised those functions.

My Lords, much of what I should have liked to say and to discuss has already been traversed by previous speakers and I will not go over the same ground again. Your Lordships may, however, like to know at any rate something of the then contemporary thinking in 1965 when, at the Home Office, I and the Ministers with whom I shared responsibility, and my advisers, considered what were the sort of problems which might emerge if the death penalty were abolished, as it was. The increase in the numbers of prisoners serving life sentences obviously was one likelihood, and that has in fact eventuated; and I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that the numbers are still increasing. To complete the picture as it emerged from the figures, it might be worth while quoting to your Lordships from the White Paper, Cmnd. 4214, issued in November, 1969, from which I think the right reverend Prelate took his figures. May I quote these words: The term of imprisonment actually served"— this was in November, 1969— by prisoners sentenced for life is determined according to the circumstances of every particular case—and every case is different. Since the war most life sentence prisoners have served a term equal to that served by a prisoner with a long fixed sentence of between 10 and 18 years. That means, in effect, those years, less probably one third remission for good conduct.

The passage continues: Out of 180 such prisoners released in the 10 years 1959–1969 all but 19 had served for periods equivalent to a fixed sentence of 10½ years or longer on which the normal one third remission had been granted. A few life sentence prisoners were detained for much longer periods. One had spent 15 years in prison, one 20, and two were released after 21 years. Such very long periods have been unusual since the war. But the position is changing partly as a result of the abolition of capital punishment. There are some men who have already spent a considerable period in custody (in one case more than 20 years) and whom it would not in the present state of knowledge he safe to release into the community. A few may have to be detained for something approaching the term of their natural life. My Lords, anyone who approaches this jurisdiction, the treatment of the long-term prisoner, I suppose must at once accept the obvious truth that the first requirement is to protect the public against the really dangerous criminal. In this case the consequences may be very harsh. It may mean that he has to serve a very long period of time, possibly even in some cases practically the whole of his natural life. That is harsh in his case; but clearly anybody who is charged with the responsibility of considering release dates for long-term prisoners and their custody in prison must accept that requirement as an overriding ditty on his part.

I hope your Lordships will not think it presumptuous if I venture to quote language which I remember using as a general statement of principle in relation to the very long-term prisoners. What I said was: Even with the worst type of prisoner, I would always be loath—and I know that any other holder of my office would be utterly loath—wholly to extinguish all hope in the mind of any human being that he would ever be allowed to walk outside the prison walls and converse with free men and women. If I were compelled to do that, I would, of course, do it, but in doing it I would, nevertheless, try to replace the loss of that hope by at least the hope that he would have inside the prison confines such amenities, activities and human contacts as would make his life a civilised one and enable him to endure the penalty which, unfortunately, the interests of the community require that he must undergo. My Lords, I think, in retrospect, those are words which I should not wish to amend in view of the subsequent development of the problem. In exercising that jurisdiction which I had to exercise I was constantly very impressed with what seems to me, from my contact with very many prisoners in many prisons, to be the danger of deterioration. One had to measure the risk to the community against the risk of deterioration of the individual, which might make it impossible, or next to impossible, for him ever to re-enter society, and try to strike a proper balance in any particular case between those two horns of the dilemma.

We started in 1965 with the advice of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, particularly on that topic, and again, if I may, I will quote. There had been considerable divergence up to that time on the part of those who were well versed in the problem as to how long the ordinary man—and as has been pointed out, prisoners differ immensely—could stand imprisonment. They were then talking of the ordinary Victorian prison, with its very grim features. How long could a prisoner stand that without showing what, in a loose sense, was described as deterioration? The conclusion that the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment came to was recorded in a paragraph of their Report which I should like to quote: This divergence of view no doubt reflects the difficulty of generalisation on such a subject; so much depends on the idiosyncrasy of the individual prisoner. Moreover, we think that 'deterioration' is not always used in the same sense. Some mean by it an actual degeneration of mental and physical powers that makes it impossible for a released prisoner to become a useful member of the community. To others it denotes no more than that gradual weakening of the capacity to make decisions and to take responsibility that sooner or later must affect all those who have their lives ordered for them in the artificial environment of a prison unless they are exceptionally strong characters. Deterioration in its graver sense is, we think, no longer a serious risk for those who serve the maximum normal term of 10 years or so. The conditions of prison life have been greatly changed in the last 25 years; improvements are constantly being made; we have suggested others; and so long as the present policy continues the risk will grow steadily less. My Lords, in effect that was the advice that we started with in 1965. I hope I may claim to have made it my business personally at first hand at least to familiarise myself with the problem by constantly meeting the actual individuals involved and sitting, often in their cells, trying to talk to them. But when all is said and done, the position comes, sooner or later, sometimes frequently during the course of one week, when the Secretary of State finds on his desk the usual memorandum with reference to a prisoner. He may be a prisoner who was originally of disturbed mind and who is in Broadmoor or Moss Side, or a prisoner with regard to whose sanity there is no question who was in an ordinary prison. The reports not infrequently bore a depressing pattern: "This prisoner at first would not co-operate, then he cooperated better; he has now served nine years in prison; he has recently shown signs of beginning to go downhill; he stays by himself, does not talk to the other prisoners and is surly with the prison staff. We feel that there is a process of degeneracy beginning in this prisoner." That is the sort of problem you have. Annexed to the report are very full and comprehensive psychiatric reports tracing the history of the prisoner. That is one side of it.

The instinct of any person with ordinary humane feelings, I hope, is to say, "I cannot be responsible for letting that man degenerate into what may ultimately become weakness of mind, if not insanity." Against that has to be laid the record of what he has done. One of my most distressing recollections is sitting in a cell talking to a prisoner who, when he was first taken into custody, had been found to be suffering from a disturbance of the mind. He had subsequently recovered, and when I saw him the prison administration were anxious that again he was beginning to go downhill after many years of custody. I am no psychiatrist, but it looked to me as if that was precisely what was happening; he was again slowly beginning to lose his reason; his mind was beginning to wander. That man was a double child murderer. What can one do in a case of that sort? However much one may be prompted by feelings of ordinary humanity, however much one must feel horrified at the idea of driving a person into insanity, those are the sort of practical problems the Secretary of State has to deal with and on which he receives such magnificent support from the quarters I have indicated.

One has to be as clear as one can be in saying what one means by the term "degeneracy". Possibly I can give examples which seemed to me to indicate the way a person's mind was going. May I say at the outset that I do not accept that it is only in the very long-term case that a man may become in a sense degenerate. If I camouflage the examples I give, your Lordships will understand. I remember a very long-term prisoner saying to me that when he came out in three or four years he was going to go straight. I asked where he intended to go, and he said he would be all right; he would be looked after by a friend who had been very good to him. I asked where was that friend, but he had not seen or heard of her for years and he had no idea whether she was alive or dead. That is the sort of thing I have in mind. Tie was perfectly sincere in all he was saying, and he had a kind of defence by erecting a dreamland around himself. It would have been extremely wicked and foolish on the part of anyone speaking to him to do anything to break down that world of make-believe which fortified him. That is a long-term prisoner.

There is a different sort of degeneracy, perhaps not rightly called degeneracy, in the case of the five, six or seven year term prisoner which I noticed and was constantly meeting. A burglar said he had burgled because the neighbours said unkind things about him. I said, "Do you mean you tried to get even by burgling their houses?", and he replied, "No, I didn't burgle their houses; I burgled other people's houses". That, again, is disguised, but it is the effect of what he was saying. An even more sad case, I sometimes found, was the prisoner who in no conceivable sense could be said to be abnormal, the man very much in possession of himself, who had been in hostel. In those days hostel accommodation was unfortunately very short, but if a man had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than four years and had come to the end of his sentence, having earned the third remission, and was due to go out, he was put into a hostel within the prison precincts, if there was accommodation for him, and allowed to go and work without any supervision in the town, if employment could be found for him. This was done in order to accustom him to go back to normal civilian life.

This man—and I am certain he had good in him, although he had served a fairly long term, I think of five or six years—told me, looking rather embarrassed, "I was in hostel". The normal period is six months. I said, "How long had you been there?", and he said, "Five months". That is a type of degeneration, loss of will, loss of control, which I think is equally dangerous. That unfortunate man—I say "unfortunate" although no doubt he had done a great deal of wrong, but I believe he had good in him, if I am any judge of men—had been within one month of liberty after all those years in prison, and had been unable to resist temptation. He met up with some friends and got involved in what he called "doing a job", and he was caught and was back in prison. I suppose he is out by now, and I can only hope that if he reads these words he will understand how sincerely I express the wish that he has made good in outside life.

These are the problems, and in so far as treatment is concerned the then thinking of the Home Office is incorporated very largely in two White Papers, one The Young Offender and the other The Adult Offender. Those two documents set out the then thinking for the purpose of prison reform. I should like to refer to three features. The White Paper, The Young Offender, is only indirectly relevant, if at all, to this debate—indirectly in the sense that probably those who have interested themselves in these matters will be conscious of a curious uniformity in the case history of so many long-term criminals: juvenile court, juvenile court, juvenile court, approved school, detention centre, probation, probation, probation, then three years, then seven years, and then your long-term prisoner. When I say that former of those White Papers is relevant to this problem, I say it because it is very important to try to prevent people from getting into the category of the long-term prisoner by going through that normal course and list of offences. Once they are there they are so difficult to get back.

If one looks at the situation from the point of view of the long-term prisoner, who may be evilly minded or may not be so evilly minded, who may have been unfortunate in the company he kept or the circumstances in which he lived, one finds that he is likely to say to himself, perhaps not explicitly but in his unconscious mind, "I have done things for which society will not forgive me; I am on the other side of the line and I consort henceforth with those in like case on that side". Once he is in that position it is very difficult to get back to the other side of the line, to a society which will respect him and have affection for him in the normal round of daily life. The Paper on juvenile offenders is very relevant to that aspect of affairs.

On the question of adult offenders, I want to say two things and then bring my remarks to a close. It is a fairly long White Paper and I shall not seek to go through it. The right reverend Prelate was a little critical, I thought—I do not complain—of the efforts made to try to modernise and humanise prison conditions. He is certainly not the only person who has been so. The Prison Administration is constantly under attack, and so is the Home Office, and they are used to it. The point I wanted to make was this. One aspect dealt with in the White Paper on adult offenders relates to work done by prisoners, a subject which has been referred to in the debate. Anybody who goes into a prison—certainly it was so in my case—is most depressed when he sees a large number of men working in a room for a few shillings a week. That was the situation in 1965. It has been rather changed now. Paragraph 24 of the White Paper records that a scheme was being worked out, under which prisoners would receive normal wages; that is to say, the same wage that they would receive had that work been done outside, out of which they would contribute towards their own support and that of their families and perhaps also towards the cost of compensating their victims.

That was an endeavour the aim of which was to try to give them a sense of achievement and to help build up their self-respect. It was found, when the scheme was costed, that the difference between the value of work done in a prison workshop and that done in a properly organised factory, even if credit is taken for the reduction in the cost of the keep of their families and for their own keep in prison, would have involved an annual subsidy of some £6 million a year. Other schemes had to be thought of. There was an extensive prison building programme in progress and many things needed doing. Unfortunately it was impossible to make available the £6 million a year by way of subsidy, so other devices had to be found which I will not go into. I refer to this to show how uphill the work of prison reform often is.

The other aspect of that White Paper upon which I should like to touch is that with which we gratefully associate the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. When I look back at that person who was five months in a hostel and could not last out the other month, I always think to myself: the provision whereby he could earn an extra one-third by way of remission from his sentence, on parole or licence, I should have thought would have been extremely helpful to that man. If he had been sentenced to six years—and that was the kind of sentence; I do not remember what it was—he would get the normal one-third off for good conduct, and if he had managed to convince my noble friend Lord Hunt, he could hope to get another two years off. Thus he would serve two years out of his six.

I felt convinced at the time—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will feel able to agree with me—that in that sort of case the man would have retained sufficient will power to last out that extra month if he had managed to get four years off his six years. I was rather disappointed to hear from my noble friend how rarely it has been possible to find prisoners who were suitable for the extra one-third off. But I perfectly understand, and I accept at once that the overriding consideration is the safety of the community as a whole.

My Lords, those are the observations that I wished to add from the point of view of one who, at any rate, has had to exercise this extremely painful jurisdiction.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, before I say anything at all I must declare an interest on two counts. I have been a magistrate for over 26 years and I have been in Dartmoor. I hasten to add, in connection with the second interest, that it was as an official visitor and not as an inmate. In recent years, as we have heard to-day, much more attention has been given, and properly given, to the question of the reform and rehabilitation of the individual who has received a prison sentence. I hope that this attention will continue to be given and will grow. At the same time, I submit that it would be fatal if we lost our sense of proportion in this matter.

We have moved a long way from the days when hanging could equally be the penalty for murdering a human being or stealing a sheep—and thank God for it! In other words, we have vastly improved our sense of proportion. We must maintain this improvement; but I submit that to do so we must have a differential. By this, I mean that our view and treatment of the habitual criminal or the criminal who has committed a really dastardly crime must be poles apart from our view and treatment of the minor and, in most cases, first offender. Most of us abstain from committing a crime because we know that such an action—for instance, robbery with violence or beating one's wife because the soup is cold—is morally wrong. At least, I hope that is the reason. But the sad fact remains that there are, and I fear always will be, individuals who care not a hoot for the moral outlook. When weighing things up, on one side of the scales is placed a potential gain, and on the other the potential penalty if they are caught; it is only if the latter is sufficiently severe that such men will be deterred from their criminal intentions.

The severest penalty allowed by law to-day is a long-term prison sentence. One reads and hears criticisms of this penalty. Sometimes the critics produce telling phrases, such as, "a human being rotting, physically and mentally, in gaol". Whatever may be the accuracy or inaccuracy of such a phrase, it will probably do no harm to spread them around among the "Mr. Bigs" of the criminal fraternity. But, to conclude, I strongly submit that the severe deterrent is the only possible way of preventing crime when the potential criminal has no moral outlook. To-day, a long-term prison sentence is the only really severe deterrent. The peaceable citizen, the potential victim, is more worthy of any consideration than the potential criminal. Therefore, for the sake of the peaceable citizen, long-term prison sentences must continue.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, when I noticed that my noble and ecclesiastical friend the Bishop of Durham had put down this particular Motion, I was fairly certain that if I took part in the debate I should find myself in agreement with him. So it has happened, apart from one minor difference. I should like to thank him for the clarity and the comprehensiveness of his setting out of the problem. If there is in this kind of debate a canvas which attracts the larger brush, then perhaps I may be permitted to draw some inferences from an experience which was mine for about 20 years as a prison chaplain, as the Methodist Nonconformist chaplain appointed to Holloway prison, which is no more, or is soon to be no more, and to Pentonville prison, which as we know in those days was for those who in crime had acquired an "A" level rather than an "O" level, though I understand that recently it has gone more comprehensive.

It is from the experience which I gained then, and the stench of Pentonville—the ineradicable smell of Pentonville is still in my nostrils—that I came to a number of conclusions which have not changed over the years, and indeed have been fortified, even to-day by the contents of this debate. In the first place, it knocked out of my mind and out of my system any sentimentality which regards a prisoner as an unfortunate and disregards the fact of evil. Any prison is a wicked place, and it is foolish to pretend that it is anything else.

There may be a forcible reduction of crime, but there is ample evidence of sin, and in my judgment it would be quite erroneous to proceed on the assumption that the institutions we can create and the methods we can adopt can ignore the fundamental characteristic of human behaviour and the nature of what, ecclesiastically, we very properly call "sin". At the same time, a contrary opinion was equally clearly fixed in my mind: it was, to what an extent circumstances plays an imperative, or at least a decisive, part in the behaviour patterns of so many who find themselves in Pentonville prison. On the same principle that Pascal's description of the shape of Cleopatra's nose affected the subsequent history of the West, so it is, I believe, completely true that in many respects when we look at the prisoner we have to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I"; and in any case we have to recognise that, were we put in something of the same hazards and circumstances which afflicted our fellows, we might not stand in such rigid judgment of their behaviour.

Alongside those two very general impresssions, which have lasted with me through the years, was another one which is far more controversial. But I declare it, and shall then proceed, I hope, to say something about the particular conditions of long sentences which are, in microcosm, an indication of their general characteristics. I believe that the prison system is irrevocably flawed in its very essence. I believe that, sooner or later, it must be superseded by a system entirely different. The very fabric of the system as expressed in places like Pentonville prison is an example of the way in which, from the standpoint of the populace, it is still regarded as a place to which you send those who are either inconvenient, in your own estimation, or anti-social in their behaviour, so that you may then forget about them, sleep soundly and quietly in your beds, and have no fear that they will rampage about the place. The only fear is that if the sentence is not long enough the day will come when you have again to concern yourself with their reappearance.

This is not something which can be modified or altered by any of the various methods, which I cordially accept and for which I am profoundly grateful, that have modified the system as I knew it 40 years ago in Pentonville prison. Nevertheless, it is still, as a prison system, committed in general principle to deterrence and retribution, and has not the fundamental opportunities, however changes are made, for that reformative process, which I am sure the right reverend Prelate and I would agree is the only one consistent ultimately with the Christian faith, and the only principle which can finally justify the various processes of incarceration and separation of individuals from the community in which they live. I do not believe that the prison system, as such, can be reformed. The evidence of the various changes which have been made already is first-class evidence that it has sooner or later, to be replaced.

Now from the general to the particular. What are the problems associated particularly with long sentences? In my experience the first problem is that if you imprison a man in conditions which do not substantially vary for a period of more than four or five years—and that is a very long sentence—you are in grave danger of destroying irreparably some spiritual dimension in his character. I have known many long-term prisoners; those who have returned to Pentonville, and those whom I visited elsewhere. I cannot remember one who was not grievously and irreparably impaired in some very necessary part of his spiritual or psychological makeup—not one. I reflect that on one occasion when I was taking part in a television discussion, there was on the screen a recorded interview with none other than Sir Donald Finnemore who, as a High Court judge, gave it as his opinion that on no evidence that came to him could be say that prison, at any rate a long sentence, had ever done any prisoner good. That is a considerable comment from a man of the widest experience.

It can be argued that the doing of good to the individual prisoner is not the sum total of the process of punishment or incarceration in a prison. But to look at a long sentence which is primarily concerned with the behaviour pattern of that criminal, and is set within the general framework of what is to be expected of him is, I believe, to condemn that man, unless—and I shall come to this a little later on—there is a change in the remedial process, to a life which thereafter will be irreparably impaired. But, worse than that—and I take the words of the right reverend Prelate—is the deterioration. I was glad to hear my noble friend quote from a previous statement he had made, in eloquence which I cannot attempt to copy, but the substance of which I will dare to repeat.

Whatever the circumstances, whatever the heinousness of the crime a man has committed, whatever the nature of his misdemeanour, whatever the atrocity he has afflicted upon the community in which he lives, I do not believe that you have any right to take away hope from him. I think men can live without love—many do so and do it fairly well. I suppose it can be argued that people can do without faith. But, with the third of that trilogy, I do not believe that any man can go on living anything of a semblance of a true life if, however long the tunnel, he cannot see light at the end of it. Therefore, the sentences which destroy the dimension of hope, as they very often do even with a period of four or five years, are impermissible to a civilised society. If it goes on very much longer it will certainly create a condition under which he becomes, and will remain, less than a man. This does not in any way exonerate a man from the crime that he has committed. It does not in any way suggest a soft or sentimental attitude to him. I think it refers to his inalienable right, the right to hope, which I believe is the substance of true life.

There is a third category of deterioration which I will mention, though it is not a subject for which I have much stomach. It is true that for many people who are segregated and cannot express fully their sexual desires, proper desires of that kind, life perhaps becomes a mixture of fantasy and masturbation. This is a condition which is deplorable and with which, if I may say so, Christian theology must make a much more serious attempt to come to grips.

There is an added evil, a monstrous evil, connected with the segregation of men in prison and the homosexuality and perversions which prevail in prisons, particularly over the long periods in which a man is deprived of the natural expression of his sexual desires. These are not only deplorable, in many cases they are disastrous. These are some of the conditions which, in my judgment, make it imperative that the long sentences be treated with such seriousness as either to get rid of them altogether, or to make such provisions as to alter them substantially so that they can become conformable, in some measure at least, to what a civilised community ought to expect and employ as its public measures.

In the first instance, I do not suggest that a man who has served five years, and thereafter is in danger, as a general rule, of deterioration and the loss of a spiritual dimension of character, should be automatically liberated with a kind of blessing on his head, as if he is entitled once again to take his place in society and to be free from all restraints. Of course not. What I suggest is that part of the element of hope which should be offered to the prisoner who must be segregated, perhaps for a long time, is that after a certain period there should be a variety and change in the actual custodial conditions which he suffers, and from which he may progressively improve, thereby having in an indeterminate sentence the option, or the opportunity later, of being released when he has acquitted himself sufficiently to be entitled to such release.

Secondly, I am quite sure that the block system of prison must increasingly give way to the smaller units of custodial treatment in which ever-increasing opportunities of freedom, even for short periods, ought to be interspaced with those custodial conditions. One of the answers, surely—and it has been practised elsewhere with considerable effect—is that the married man should have marital opportunities, if you like in weekends when he is on holiday from prison. This is not to regard his crime as any the less heinous or discreditable, but to preserve him from the total deterioration into which he is likely to fall unless such measures are made available. I want to canvass the opportunity of regular holidays for prisoners serving long sentences. I know that there are infinitely many problems associated with the coming back of the prisoner who may take a delight in his holiday and may not want to return to the prison cell.

I agree with all of those things. But I am much more concerned in this debate—and this has been, of course, the emphasis of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham—not with the methods by which we ultimately cleanse the community in which we live of the crimes which infest it, but with what are the particular effects and problems associated with long-term sentences.

I refer lastly to the field of religion. I do not intend to ignore it, and your Lordships would not expect me so to do. I have had long experience in conducting services regularly every week in Pentonville prison. They were not an unqualified success. We were never short of church organists—I do not quite know why. But there was always dubiety and difficulty in choosing familiar hymns, for while the chaplain was singing one set of words from the hymn book he had a strong impression that the congregation were singing other words. Sometimes the hymns were, if not ill-chosen, at any rate startlingly chosen. Singing "Onward Christian Soldiers!" and hearing them yell at the top of their voices: Brothers we are treading Where the saints have trod was hardly an accurate description of their condition, but was perhaps an indication of their hope. But, on a more melancholy note, do your Lordships know the favourite hymn, "The sands of time are sinking"? One of the most heart-searching of all the phrases, which I so well remember the men singing, is this: Slowly the hours of daylight fade, So fade within my heart. The hopes of earthly joy and bliss Which one by one depart. I am not sentimental about prisoners, but it would ill-befit this cloth that I wear if I did not claim that one of the ways in which to ameliorate the condition of the long-sentence prisoner is, as the right reverend Prelate has suggested, vastly to improve the spiritual services and ministries which can accompany that time of trial and tribulation. I believe in conversion—of course I do. But, if I may give an illustration of what happens, I could have brought a witness to-day who, after spending 40 years in prison, is not only going straight now, but will continue to go straight. He was not converted in prison; he became aware of spiritual resources, which up to that time he had ignored or knew nothing about, out of prison. I hope that the day will come when we shall discover methods which are more consistent with the Christian faith of finding correctional treatment that does not incarcerate a man and expose him to the sort of deterioration of which we have heard so much to-day.

I would conclude by saying this. If we were to apply to this problem a tithe of our ingenuity and application that we have devoted to more sordid and materialistic problems, I do not think it would be beyond our wit and our understanding to make a world where the prisoner was not treated sentimentally as if he were unfortunate, but was treated creatively as if, whatever he had done, there was a possibility, provided there was no medical impediment, that he might recover. The best deterrent, ultimately, to crime, the best reformative process and the best protection of society are the recovery and rehabilitation of the prisoner. Therefore I welcome most heartily what has been said to-day and I hope that it will be fruitful.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate. He put the Motion down a long time ago and we have had a long time to think about it. I have been through a period of great confusion and I think it is an appallingly difficult problem. But your Lordships will all he relieved to hear that I have come to what I think is a firm conclusion. But before I say anything more, I should like to say that our debates on penal reform suffer a little from our all being on the same side. On the whole, in our debate we do not suspect one another of being floggers or hangers, and the other side is insufficiently voiced. There are very important problems here, and I should like to say—in spite of the fact that he is not in his place at the moment—that I was glad the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, took the line that if people behave very badly you must "slap them down" hard. That is roughly what he said.

I want, in particular, to follow the line which was started by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. It was pursued by other noble Lords, such as my noble friend Lord Stonham and, later, my noble friend Lord Soper—I refer to the question of the indeterminate sentence. In the first place, I think one must clear one's mind about long sentences. Nobody suggests that long sentences are not a deterrent. What we suggest is that a 14-year sentence is not a noticeably larger deterrent than a 10-year sentence and therefore, as the last four years are probably extremely cruel, there is no point in raising the sentence from 10 years to 14 years. There is a period where this argument does not apply. It is perfectly clear that a 6-year sentence is more of a deterrent than a 2-year sentence. So this question, like so many others in this world, is not absolutely clear. But one can say that if you ever give more than 10 years sentence you are not increasing the deterrent in any way. I would also say that if you are doing something which there is a good deal of evidence to show is cruel and there is any way of avoiding it, then you should avoid it.

The next point is that, in my opinion, the length of sentence is decided at the wrong time. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, pointed this out. It seems to me that the judge (and it is noticeable that we are unable to interest the learned Judges in this House enough for them to attend any of these debates, which is a great pity; I know that they are very busy, but I should like to mention that I miss seeing them here) should see to a fair trial and allot a period of punishment—and by "punishment" I mean, literally, punishment. This is something which cannot be dissociated from crime. I think that society demands it and, at this stage at any rate, I do not wish to deprive society of that satisfaction. But once it has been decided what the proper period of punishment is, the learned judge is not in a position to decide whether the man is still a danger, or when he ceases to be. In other words, the judge is not in a position to decide whether society still wants protection from the man.

So it seems to me that we come to the indeterminate sentence, either as practised in Denmark where in certain circumstances you are sent to somewhere like Herstedvester, which takes the most difficult cases of all and whose business it is to turn them out as soon as they can; or the model in some American States where the judge sets a minimum and a maximum. At the moment, our normal practice, coupled with parole, is in a sense in that form, and I should like to suggest, following on the original suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that after due consideration we introduce legislation which compels the Judiciary, if they are to give a sentence of 10 years or over, to give it in the form of a minimum and a maximum. I should like to go further than that and lay down the largest minimum period. I should like it to be 5 years. If it is too little to satisfy society or the judges, I will, if I have to, settle for more. But I think there should be a specific period, and that it should not be within the judge's power to exceed it, although of course he should be able to give less. The maximum period is of course life, which we already have in the form of a special type of indeterminate sentence.

If this is done—and this is a very serious suggestion—there are going to be two effects. One is that you are not going to let out people who are not fit to be let out until the maximum period has been served. In other words, if you give a man 5 to 20 years, he will not get out until he has served 20 years, unless the prison authorities, through the Parole Board or however it is done, let him go. Equally, you will not keep in people who, according to the best information, are perfectly fit to go out. Those are two very great gains which entirely alter the whole business of long sentences. It seems to me to make sense, but of course there are many difficulties. I do not know whether people would be content with even 7 years.

I noticed in the Guardian yesterday that after a very dreadful murder a young man was very properly sentenced to life by the judge, who said, "There is talk going around that 'life' now means quite a short time. This is quite wrong; and in your case it is going to mean at least 10 years". Maybe we should allow them to have as long as 10 years—I do not mind. But we must have a figure and a minimum figure, and that can only be done with two additions to your armoury. In the first place, you have got to have the right places to send this quite small number of people. The noble Lord told us that the number is about 1,000 to 1,100 now. It may increase a certain amount, but out of the 26,000 adults, or whatever it is, who are in prison, it is not going to be a very large proportion. You have got to have somewhere to send them which is deliberately trying to get them out again. We have nowhere in England of this kind except borstal, which does to some extent do this. Herstedvester does exactly this; it is its business. At Grendon we could very easily do it, except that all our people, of course, have fixed sentences; but in so far as parole applies, we try to do it. I think some of the open prisons do it to some extent. If you deal only with the long-term prisoner, with the very serious offender, you are dealing with a small enough number, in my opinion, to deal with him properly, and I believe we have the buildings if they were allocated. If we could have three prisons to take these 1,000 people (or, if we include Grendon, which would be another 300, we could have four prisons devoted to these people) I believe we could create an atmosphere where these men would come knowing that they had a chance of getting out but that the opportunity rested on their own shoulders.

Coupled with this, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I think it was, said, you must have proper after-care. The after-care which exists at the moment, which is a probation officer with a case load of 40, 50 and sometimes 60, having four or five discharged prisoners among them, is not satisfactory. I have a suggestion to make. We are thinking aloud to-day, my Lords; that is the point of this sort of debate. I would say that the maximum case load that should be given to anybody who is looking after one of these long-term prisoners is five or six. I would use recruits to the Probation Service for this, working under the supervision of a senior probation officer. I would call them "helpers", or something like that—the Danes call them "social aides"—and I would bring them into prison at the earliest stage at which anybody in the prison thought the prisoner stood a chance. In other words, you would say to him, "We are beginning to think that in due course we may be able to recommend you for parole, though we have not got there yet. But if we do, you have got to have a chap you are prepared to work with when you go out. We are going to try out one or two on you. If you do not like the first, you can reject him and you can have a second. But sooner or later you have got to have somebody you can get on with before we let you out". This, I think, would work very rapidly; they would soon get on with these young men quite well.

In my opinion, by paying a social worker of this type the normal rate (which is certainly not £2,000 a year, but let us call it that) he could keep six men out of prison. At £1,250 a man, your Lordships can do the sums yourselves. We would make money out of it in the neatest possible way. This is an absolutely serious suggestion. I do not believe the indeterminate sentence is any good without these two things. I think you must have really close, personal after-care; and I visualise the biggest land-mark in a long-term prisoner's time in prison to be the day when he is given a helper. I think it could be used extremely well. I believe you must have this, and I think you have got to have prisons which are orientated in exactly the opposite way to that in which they are now.

My Lords, this has nothing whatever to do with security. Maximum security, except for the expense, would be no disadvantage to this sort of prison. The prisoners in Grendon do not mind the wall in the least. In fact, in my opinion they could get out if they wanted to. We have been open for eight years, and, as the noble Lord said, we have 19 "lifers" there and a lot of other very awkward customers, and we have never had an escape. That is not because our security is as good as all that, though it is good: we have never had an escape because the men think something is being done for them.

My Lords, this cannot happen tomorrow, but I really do not see, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested, why it should not be the day after to-morrow. We are very apt to go on looking at these things, when they quite obviously ought to be done, and not do them. I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to suggest absolutely seriously to the Home Secretary and to his colleagues that a Departmental Committee should really look at this question. It is not the first time that they have thought about it; I know that. It could be done; it could be made acceptable to the public. It would put the judges in a very much better position to do what they are doing. It would take away from them almost gall the criticism which exists at the moment; and I think you would get people coming out of prison when they ought to come out and staying in when they ought to stay in, and this would be a real achievement. In closing, I should like to say to the right reverend Prelate that if nothing else happens as a result of this debate, it has certainly done me a lot of good because it has made me think very hard, and I am extremely grateful to him.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, when, as a member of the Advisory Council on the Penal System, I first visited the four special units, I was so appalled by the cramped and cabined conditions, and by the general atmosphere of hopelessness and misery, that I almost began to think that it had been wrong to abolish capital punishment. I almost began to believe that the alternative which we had imposed upon certain offenders was something even worse. So I was delighted to hear from the Minister that the number of prisoners actually held in those four wings has been considerably reduced, and that the Durham wing is to be closed, I think he said shortly, and the other three before very long. Because, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out to us in his introductory speech, the real problem presented by the long-term prisoner is that of preventing him from deteriorating into something which is almost an animal, if not a vegetable, existence, and it is extremely difficult to do that, or to do anything about it, unless you can create quite different conditions within the prisons from those which obtain now.

I am glad to hear that the Home Office has adopted the proposals of the Advisory Council that the plan to build one prison for all these Grade A people should be abandoned and that they should be dispersed among other prisons so that the Grade A category would enjoy the same privilege as those in all the other three categories of being contained in prisons with a mixed population. We all seem to be agreed that, because of the Grade A category prisoner, in certain prisons you must have a maximum perimeter security it you are to have minimum restrictions inside, and that for the other three categories there must be that amount of security which is necessary to prevent their premature return to society.

But I am sorry that three existing prisons in the middle of cities are to be be turned into prisons where some of these Category A people can be sent, because I do not think that those prisons, or indeed any of our 19th century prisons, can ever be adequately adapted for the kind of régime that we are all, I think, agreed should be introduced once an adequate degree of security has been established. Prisons which were built to keep people in cells, and where security rested to a very great extent on heavy bars on cell windows; prisons which were built so that the prisoners could see as little out of their windows as possible—prisons of that kind contain conditions which are totally inconsistent with the kind of régime for which we are searching. I am afraid that we shall not get very far towards what we want unless and until either new prisons are built or existing prisons are gutted from the inside and completely converted. That is my first point.

My second point is that if we are to have a really free and liberal régime inside a prison, we must first of all hive off from the prison population all the violent psychopaths and schizophrenics and probably the more serious sexual offenders, and send them to special institutions like Grendon Underwood. We ought to have built and we must build more Grendon Underwoods where such offenders will receive highly-expert psychiatric treatment. Long-term prisoners perhaps will then not present such a serious problem, because the problem will be simply a medical one: a problem of curing them of the mental, emotional and psychological diseases from which they suffer. Indeed, in their case it has always been a medical problem.

Once you remove them, once you get perimeter security, prison officers can concentrate on what is their proper job, which is not to keep worrying about how to prevent possible escapes but how to build up again the character of those in their charge, how to restore to these people their self-respect, a certain confidence in themselves and, above all, a growing conviction that they can become and are becoming respected and useful members of the community in which they find themselves; respected and useful both to their peers and to those in charge of them. That, I think, is the greatest element of hope that we can give to any prisoner: to convince him that he can become, and that we all intend to enable him to become, an accepted member of the community in which he has a really useful place.

One of the greatest contributory causes of the deterioration which sets in in practically every case of a long-term prisoner is that he becomes so entirely dependent upon the decisions of other people. He becomes a cog in a machine: he does what he is told to do; he takes what is provided for him, and he has no responsibility and no decisions to take. We need to try to create a régime where, progressively, the area of free choice and personal decision is increased; where, year by year, the prisoner may look forward to obtaining what, if you like, you may call privileges but at any rate obtaining a wider area of choice. The actual details of how that could be done must be left to the experts.

It must be combined with the necessary element of security. There are matters to be considered, such as prisoners' clothes. At sonic stage during a long sentence a prisoner should reach a point at which he will be allowed to get out of prison uniform and to choose what he wants to wear. I think the prison uniform itself has a bad psychological effect upon the prisoners. There could be a choice in food and a choice whether he should have more visits, more letters or greater freedom of association, or whether to stay in his own cell on a particular day and not go out to work. There should be as many free choices as it is possible to devise for the long-term prisoners. I believe that that would go a great distance towards preventing him from the otherwise inescapable deterioration.

My Lords, if one were publicly to advocate a régime of that kind, then immediately one would come up against a very strong public opinion which would hold that this was sentimental, that it was being soft and that it was undermining the deterrent effect of the punishment. What we are engaged upon undoubtedly is an immense campaign of public education. We have to convince people that a very long sentence represents, in the first place, the abhorrence and condemnation of society at a particular offence which has struck deeply at the roots of society. Secondly, it represents a hoped-for deterrent, that the offence will not be repeated by other people. Thirdly, it represents an element of public security, that this particular offender, anyway, will not have the opportunity of repeating his offence for a very long time. I think that the first and second objectives are taken care of by the sentence itself. The sentence proclaims what happens to a man who does that sort of thing. It is a deterrent. The sentence proclaims the abhorrence which society feels for this particular offence. The mere passing of the sentence achieves those two objects.

So the great bulk of these long-term sentences are being served almost exclusively in the interests of public security—and the public must be educated to know that; and to realise that, just as we take it for granted that we pay a great deal for the defence forces and the police, so we must pay quite a lot if we are to be secure from the activities of certain convicted criminals. We have a great campaign of public education in front of us and I am most grateful to my right reverend brother for having promoted this debate as one contribution to that campaign.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken has struck a note which has been struck with equal eloquence by other speakers this afternoon when he tried to set out a policy of hope for these our fellow human beings whom we consider we are compelled to lock up for so many years. We are all greatly indebted to his right reverend brother the Lord Bishop of Durham, both for his splendid speech and for selecting this aspect of the prison problem.

In the last 15 years—and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and I are survivors from the first prison debate in this House—we have had quite a few debates on prisons. But, inevitably, the discussions all too often became bogged down in questions which, while of great importance, were in the end economic or even financial questions—questions such as, "How many new buildings?", or "How are we to pay the staff more?", and other matters of that kind. These issues we have been, as it were, spared this afternoon. We have had no economic alibis. No one has said that it is going to cost so much to provide a proper treatment for these people, the relatively small number under discussion. But we reveal ourselves as a community not yet at all certain as to what to do about them; so it is the philosophical and human problem that has been brought out so well by the Motion that we have been debating this afternoon, framed as it has been by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

My Lords, I am tempted—although at this hour I shall certainly not fall for the temptation—to comment freely on the speeches of other noble Lords, if only to express my agreement with them. I would express a very large measure of agreement, for example, with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and so many others. My old friend Lord Stow Hill will forgive me if I differ from him—a little ungenerously he may think—at one point of his argument. He spoke most movingly and, in a way, with special understanding—which I suppose has been denied to the rest of us—of the problems of a certain kind of prisoner. But when he paid his tribute to the Prison Administration I am afraid that I jibbed. While I am ready to pay tribute certainly to Mr. Duncan Fairn, and to Lady Reading, who was also mentioned, and to individual prison officers, I am afraid that when I think of the Prison Administration, in the widest sense, I have to place on them (taking the officials and Ministers together; and in the last resort it must be Ministers) the responsibility for the fact that we find ourselves where we are.

If one is going to congratulate the Administration in the widest sense, one must express, it seems to me, a measure of satisfaction with our arrangements which I, at least, am far from feeling. I will not say more about the Home Office—it would need a Secret Session for me to be able to do so—or I might lend aid and comfort to prisoners, who would exploit the comments which might reach them all too easily. But, at any rate, I am afraid that I cannot join in that tribute to the system, or to those who have run the system over the last 25 years. If anyone says that we get the prisons we deserve, meaning that the public are to blame, that also I cannot swallow. That is another alibi, and I think that there are too many alibis in the world of prison reform.

However, my Lords, I must come to my own contentions. Undoubtedly the great majority of those with whom we are concerned this afternoon have committed grave crimes in the sight of God. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, struck a religious note; but none of us—not even Lord Soper—can say how deep is their innocence or guilt compared with our own. That is hidden from us. But in any human society we have to make some calculations about the guilt or responsibility of those who break the criminal law; and in these cases we must regard them as having been, when they committed their crime, very guilty men. Of one thing I am sure—I am not quite certain whether the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, actually said this, but I thought I detected it in his argument; that is, that no human being is irredeemable. That my Lords, I postulate; if I did not believe that, I think I should shoot myself. At any rate, I personally submit to the House that no human being is irredeemable; and when I say that I do not mean only in the next world; I mean in this vale of tears.

Starting from that, my Lords, you may feel that I am going to lead the "softies". I certainly have been accused of being a "softie" in this connection. Lord Donaldson's wife, Lady Donaldson, wrote a fascinating book some years ago about a famous novelist, Mr. Evelyn Waugh, who was a great friend of Lord Donaldson and his wife, and of myself. In this book it states that Evelyn Waugh wrote in 1964 to Lady Donaldson that he was so glad that I personally was not going to be Home Secretary when the Labour Government was formed. If Mr. Waugh had been closer to the scene, he would have realised that my chances against the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, were negligible; but he was not in politics. I do not think that he was close enough to know about the wisdom and firmness of Lord Stow Hill. Had he known, I am sure he would have said that he was very happy to think that the noble Lord was at the Home Office.

But Mr. Waugh did say that if I had been there the criminals would all have got loose and we should all have been murdered in our beds. That was Mr. Waugh's conclusion about my attitude. As that idea may have got about, let me say that I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that judicial punishment must figure in any civilised society. Without it, law and order would be impossible. I wrote a book to that effect, but it is rather late to begin boosting it now as it was written about ten years ago.

However, my Lords, let us start from that point. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and other speakers (not perhaps altogether with the noble Lord Lord Soper; but we can discuss that at some other time) the thought that punishment is necessary. But punishment, if it is going to be punishment, must be painful; that is an essential element of it. It is true that one may have incarceration against one's will, reluctant incarceration, which is not painful. I think that earlier someone mentioned long spells in hospital. Of course, my Lords, if one goes to a boarding school, one may not like it; but at any rate it is not punitive. So that all incarceration, reluctant incarceration, is not necessarily punitive. I lay great stress in these relatively few remarks on the distinction between punitive and non-punitive incarceration.

I am convinced that, whatever language is employed about it, prison will always contain a punitive element. It will certainly always seem to the prisoners to contain a punitive element. That, I am sure, is why the noble Lord, Lord Soper, would like to get rid of it in times to come. But so far as the next period ahead is concerned, in the foreseeable future, I think that we must take it that we are going to be stuck with prison as figuring largely in our system of punishment. Even in the most enlightened sort of prison to-day few prisoners will ever believe—this is my experience, and I doubt whether anyone would differ from me—that their gaolers are really their benefactors, their moral saviours; they simply will not "wear" that.

Prisoners become attached to particular officers, and even to particular governors. I have met many of prisoners who admired and respected their own governor, and certainly the officers they knew best. But they regarded these officers and governors as helpless instruments of an evil system. The last time this was brought home to me was when I was visiting Parkhurst prison a week ago. I was going round with a most enlightened and popular governor. He was telling the prisoners that they were there for treatment; or it was hoped that as time went on they would realise that they were there for treatment. One prisoner was far too polite to do more than raise a sceptical eyebrow, but I suggest that no prisoner will ever believe that he is in prison for treatment.

My Lords, I come back to the long-term prisoner specifically. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, will understand why I cannot join in those tributes to the system, or the Home Office which is running it, when I touch for a moment on the details of the present situation. I have known enough excellent Ministers and officials at the Home Office in the last 25 years to be aware of the immense gap between their good intentions and the way it all seems to the prisoner on the receiving end. I will not say much about the top security wings: it has been said already, so eloquently and so conclusively. Certainly had these wings been continued much longer they would have been revealed as a lamentable and inhumane conception. A top security prisoner in one of these wings wrote to me recently: Security prisoners are in prison for storage, nothing else. Is that a malevolent or fatuous remark? It is not very different from what your Lordships have been saying about these top security wings this afternoon.

I must confess with honesty that some prisoners, if asked, would say that they would rather be in a top security wing than in any other part of the prison. I do not say that they are happy there, but they would rather be there than in an ordinary prison. One reason is, of course, that they do not do any work. I have inspected all four wings at different times, and there has never been any work going on: under those conditions it seems impossible to persuade the prisoners to work, and, as I say, some prefer it that way. There is also a higher ratio of prison officers, and in one security wing the relationship might be rather better because there were so many more officers than there would be in the prisons as a whole. Nevertheless, I join in condemning these wings in the country, and I am glad that we shall not have them with us much longer.

Quite apart from the security wings, what I find so appalling is the inhumanity of official policy in regard to small things. It is all so different on the spot from the speeches which are made by admirable Ministers, whether of this Government, the last Government or the Government before that. One prisoner known to me (in fact his case was raised in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton) wished to study sociology, and various difficulties were placed in his way. For example, he was refused permission to obtain some books that he required from his brother. Another prisoner, who was allowed, in one top security wing, to have his child on his knee, was refused that concession when he went to another top security wing. All sorts of violence followed. These little interferences were put right eventually, like many others, but only after they were taken up at the highest level and with a great deal of "argey-bargey".

Identical twins, inseparable before their imprisonment, have not hitherto been allowed to meet even once a year, which seems to me distinctly hard, and I should think bad psychology. Another long-term prisoner was at first refused permission (this was at the end of last year) to send out three Christmas cards painted by himself. Eventually permission was secured—and all sorts of arguments went on about it with the Home Office—to send three cards. But then there was an argument as to whether he was to be allowed to send a fourth card, which he wanted to send to an official of the prison who had moved to another part of the country. Eventually that was put right with the Home Office. I do not know what will happen next year—whether he will be allowed to send five or six. It is this kind of pettiness which arouses in me so much indignation, and which really does, if I may say so, make the actualities of prison life so different from the ideal statements.

In this context, I should like to mention one more serious point of criticism, as distinct from these relatively small points that I have mentioned. About three months ago, a prisoner serving a life sentence wrote to tell me that he was now prepared to undergo psychiatric treatment. This was something quite new, and in this particular case very encouraging. This is what he wrote from a top security wing: Leaving aside my argument that to a person who will never be released from prison a standard psychiatric treatment is rather pointless, and accepting the possibility that some type of psychiatric treatment could help one live a fuller and more useful life in Prison, I am quite willing to co-operate as fully as possible in this connection should any officials be similarly optimistic, which I doubt. I know that the success of such treatment depends finally on the attitude of the patient, and I acknowledge that I have certain character traits which I want eradicated if possible. To anyone who knows that prisoner that represents a large advance after several years in a top security wing. There is a man who is not deteriorating at the moment, but is improving. One might have hoped that the Home Office would respond rather rapidly to this encouraging sign. It may well be that this is the turning point in the life of a prisoner with a grave background. Yet three months later I have been unable to obtain any assurance from the Home Office that any positive steps have been or will be taken. If this chance is missed, I should not care to share the responsibility of those who have missed it. On the one hand, we agree that there is a grave danger of deterioration in these wings with long-term prisoners, but when there is a sign of improvement, if we do not grasp the opportunity, then we can be quite sure that eventually at least deterrioration is bound to come.

Some of these issues—though not the last one, I think—may seem trivial. But they are not trivial matters to the prisoners. And the Home Office do not exactly treat them as urgent if we can judge by the long delays of weeks or even months. If the House asks me why I think these long delays occur, I must in a sentence give my opinion. It is no criticism of one Party, one individual, one official, one Minister or one anything, but a criticism of the situation in which we find ourselves. The high people in the prisons, the governors and so on, are very nervous of deciding anything which would lead to criticism from the Home Office. The Home Office officials are very nervous of deciding any sensitive matters, at least, which are not laid before the Home Secretary—not necessarily the present Home Secretary but any Home Secretary. The Home Secretary is so busy with Northern Ireland and other things that he simply has not the time for the running of the prison, system. That is in my opinion the cause of about three-quarters of these delays. The net result, whatever the cause, is that to prisoners the system (we know it to be run by high-minded gentlemen) seems to be a piece of collective callousness, and if we were in their place I doubt whether we should think differently. That is the criticism of what is being done now to the long-term prisoner.

I want to come to the future, and I shall not be long about it. I wish to lay before the House one kind of proposal which I daresay can be fitted into the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter. I am not putting mine against theirs, but I am just throwing it into the common pool. How can we bring hope to these fellow beings who are so devoid of hope at the present time? I applaud the prison hostel system. I am amazed and rather shocked that it has not been developed more rapidly in the last 10 or 15 years. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the working of the parole system. Since I was a hit churlish in joining the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, in a tribute, I will try to compensate by paying him a tribute. It was, after all, the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, who produced the Bill that instituted the parole system. If anybody is the father of parole in this country, it is the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill. I hope that I have now made some amends. Certainly a lot of the credit is his: and we are all very pleased to have the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, there. Nevertheless, we must move much faster, and we are moving now in regard to parole as in regard to hostels.

Before I close, I wish to set out briefly my own personal thoughts about the future. I believe (here I am fairly close to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson; we have thought this out independently, and my proposals are not exactly the same as his) that we should set a figure which we should call X for a maximum number of years of imprisonment within the prison system; that is, for those who make genuine efforts to improve. Of course, if people make themselves a thorough nuisance in prison, that is bound to add to their sentence. But I am assuming that the prisoner makes a genuine effort to improve. It should be possible for any man to secure his release from the prison system—I use that phrase explicitly—within this given number of years if he makes geniune efforts to improve. The maximum number would be the same for all prisoners.

Doubtless I shall be asked at once the 64 dollar question: Suppose, in spite of these efforts, and in spite of everything, when the X years are up it is still considered too dangerous to release him? The authorities might be more cautious than I would; but they have the responsibility and in the last resort they must be allowed to make the decision. What then? If they say that after the X years it is not safe for him to be released, at that point he should have the option I urge of a transfer to what I call a therapeutic community. If he prefers prison, of course—and some would—let him stay there. If I were asked what the therapeutic community would look like, I would say that in many cases it would look like Broadmoor, and in all cases it would owe a great deal to Broad-moor. Like others, I have visited Broad-moor. I have one good friend who recently emerged after four years in Broadmoor. I have no doubt whatever that the psychological atmosphere in Broadmoor is quite different from what it is in a long-term prison, and the atmosphere is much superior. No doubt real treatment and real improvement of character is much more possible in Broadmoor than it is in prison.


Or Carstairs.


I will be guided by the noble Lord and perhaps he will follow me up and develop that point in a moment. Whatever other factors may be at work, the essential superiority of Broadmoor lies, so the people who have been there tell me, in the non-punitive atmosphere, as compared with the punitive atmosphere which will always be associated with a prison. In Broadmoor the staff can, and do, convince the inmates—as seldom, if ever, they do in a prison—that the system is really on their side, the staff are doing everything to get the patient back into the community as soon as possible, and that the prisoners can get themselves out by their own exertions. It may be said that this should be possible in regard to prisons, and under the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, of the indeterminate sentence in prison, this may be so. I am only saying that it is going to be a great deal easier, vastly easier, in a community which is frankly outside the prison system.

I can see, with pleasure, that something of this kind has already begun to be introduced into the prison system. Naturally one thinks of parole, which is a real step forward. Last week I visited Parkhurst, as I have already said, and saw the beginnings of an experiment there of very great interest and much significance for the future. I saw a wing in Parkhurst devoted to prisoners with long-term psychological problems—not exactly a smaller Grendon within the walls, but in that respect resembling Grendon. Parkhurst, which is sometimes called the "End of the Road", has this wing for prisoners with psychological problems. So in what might be called a very tough prison an attempt is being made to establish a therapeutic rather than a punitive approach. The Governor said that so far as possible they try to avoid giving punishment, for example, in this wing. I do not want to be too dogmatic in anything I say about one particular approach to this problem necessarily being better than another, but this wing is highly promising. It is under an assistant governor, closely associated with the medical officer, and ing the leadership. You may have some leading medical superintendent; you may is called a "Joint Experiment in Disciplinary and Medical Control". Nevertheless, in spite of a promising experiment of that kind, I repeat that, in my view, if we want a therapeutic community we hands. It may be that part of it could be psychiatric and part of it educational. There could be various ways of organismust in the last resort organise it outside the prison.

There will be quite a number of prisoners who will not benefit in any ordinary sense of the word by being told that they were "disturbed". I do not say that the whole of this therapeutic community has to be in psychiatric have an ex-prison governor, a famous ex-headmaster, some great leader of men, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or somebody of that kind—if we can find anybody else of that kind. So I do not want to be dogmatic on that point. The idea is plain to the House that anybody who went to prison for many years could know that after a period of x years, if he behaved properly, he would have complete freedom, freedom with certain strings, or the chance of going to this therapeutic community which would be organised entirely for his welfare—at any rate, in the sense that that is true of Broadmoor.

My Lords, we are all at one in trying to solve this human problem, and I do not want to be unduly dogmatic about the number of years or precise arrangements. I would call my institution, a "College of Safety"—somebody may think of a better name. Whatever the precise method adopted, I am quite sure that we cannot go on for ever simply bewildered and helpless with regard to this human problem. We have made a good start this afternoon under the leadership of the right reverend Prelate. I know that the Minister is most humane, and I hope that time after time we shall return to this problem and gradually find our way through to a solution.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just resumed his seat commented on the difficulty, after such an interesting discussion as this, of resisting the temptation to take up a substantial number of points which have been made by other speakers. He said that he was going to resist it. I am not altogether sure that he succeeded. I am much less able to resist temptation than my noble friend, whose moral vigour is well known to everybody in this House. I am not going to give way as much as all that, but I will comment on what he said about the rigidity of the system, for I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said. In the case of the Home Office, however, it is much more due to the natural rigidity of their old established Government Department than to any lack of good will in the office itself. There is undoubtedly a slow grinding of the wheels which is noticeable to anybody who has taken much part in these criminological operations. I remember opposing pretty vigorously the merging of the Prison Commission into the Home Office some years ago. I still feel that that was a great mistake, and this slowness and rigidity has increased a great deal in the prison administration since that happened.

The remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, about suggestions for dealing with long-term cases were on much the same lines as the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donaldson. This interested me very much. In a vague way, my own mind has been turning in that direction. These are serious proposals, and I hope that real attention will be given to them in the Home Office.

I could comment for quite a long time on the most interesting and thoughtful speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, whose interest in these matters is well known to us all. I will resist that temptation, but looking through some volumes of the British Journal of Criminology in the Library, with a view to finding material for this debate, I was interested in an article by Professor Lopez Rey, who is the United Nations expert adviser on these problems. After visiting a number of the prisons in this country he took rather a poor view of them, compared, as I understood it, with the general condition of the prisons on the Continent of Europe. I copied out a sentence from this article which is in the fourth volume of the British Journal of Criminology in which he said that the prisons are as unsatisfactory in their living conditions and in their widespread idleness as they were a hundred years ago. I am afraid that there is a great deal of truth in that. Many of these prisons, of course, are prisons which were already operating then, and operating in a not very different way from the way they are operating now. I will restrain myself from commenting further, although I am afraid that that has taken up a few minutes of the remarks which I prepared.

I should like first of all to join all the other speakers who congratulated the right reverend Prelate from Durham on his speech this afternoon and on giving us the opportunity of discussing this problem. It has also given us the opportunity of having a most informative speech from the Minister, if I may say so; I learnt a great deal from what he said and I shall read carefully in Hansard details of his speech, which was full of interest.

The right reverend Prelate has in a way narrowed the subject. We have been used (as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said) to discussing these things "in the round" for very many years. There is a good deal to be said for picking out a special subject of this kind in the way the right reverend Prelate has done. It gives us the opportunity of going a little deeper, and I personally have found this particular debate one of the most interesting in the series which has been going on now for over twenty years. One of the difficulties is that it rather leads to repetition and some of the points I have on my notes are points which have been explored, more or less thoroughly, by other speakers this afternoon. I shall do my best as I go along not to repeat too much of what has been said.

In the general type of debate one tends to get the idealistic and possibly rather fluffy type of speech to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, was referring. In the kind of specialised discussion we are having to-day one gets a speech which is much more thoughtful, much deeper, much more knowledgeable; though possibly less eloquent, although in the case of the right reverend Prelate one knows from past experience that those qualities are combined with eloquence in his case, and he certainly has not disappointed us to-day.

I propose to take a rather different aspect for the greater part of my speech, and I want to concentrate on the long term—the "very long term", to use the expression from the Home Office Advisory Council. First of all, I should like it to be quite clear that I align myself with the opponents of the very long-term type of sentence, and particularly what one might call the very, very long-term. In the Home Office Advisory Council's admirable White Paper—which I was glad the noble Baroness praised so highly, because it really is an admirable piece of work—sentences are divided into long term and very long term. I rather think (and I shall say more about this a little later on) that one ought to have even a third category—a very, very, long term: that is sentences of over 20 years. The long term is four to 10 years; the very long term is above 10 in the Report. But now we have this third, very small group, but a very important group, the group of those of the over 20 years sentence, which I call the "very, very, long term".

I should say in the first instance—although your Lordships will mostly have heard me say this before—that I am opposed to prison if it can possibly be avoided. We inflict altogether too many sentences of imprisonment. But that is not the subject of to-night's debate. And I quite agree that there are a number of times, in fact a very large number of times, when it is not possible to avoid the infliction of a sentence of imprisonment. That brings one to the length: how long should the sentence of imprisonment be? That is one of the greatest difficulties confronting the sentencer. In the old days, when most crimes were felonies, there was no particular difficulty about this. If we did not execute the man or sentence him to transportation to America or Australia, we kept him in prison for a very long time, indeed often until he died of gaol fever. This procedure during the liberal nineteenth century was discarded, and we reached a stage when we had a more liberal policy in respect of death sentences, though the policy of the long sentence survived into the present century. I can remember when I was a schoolboy, and beginning to be interested in these problems, that sentences of 10 or 15 years were a matter of course with the red judges at the Assizes. One of the interesting points brought out by the Home Office Advisory Council is that after the war until very recently the number of sentences of imprisonment of over 14 years inflicted by the courts was an average of about three a year, which shows how tremendously a penal policy can change well inside a century, or indeed half a century.

Then we had the "Great Train Robbery" and the reaction of the courts was instantaneous and marked a kind of epoch in modern sentencing. It was too instantaneous, but evidently it represents the policy of the superior criminal courts because several of those very long sentences—30 years—were approved by the Court of Appeal.


My Lords, the noble Lord will agree, will he, that that policy has been much modified by the coming of parole?


Well, my Lords, I do not think it has been very much modified with these very long, 20 year, sentences; such cases are not really very susceptible, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, himself pointed out, and the policy of the very, very long sentence has not in fact been in any kind of way discarded, because the figures the Minister gave were, I think, double figures on sentences of over 20 years. It is very questionable whether this is a milestone on the way forward. In my own mind I am convinced that it is a milestone on the way backward. It seems that this is the policy of the highest courts of criminal justice at the present time.

It is a very proper tradition, in the legal profession at any rate, that the individual sentences of a judge should not be questioned; except of course in a court of appeal, where counsel who are appearing have that open to them. But when it is a question of a policy, it is not only right that one should discuss the policy, but it is one's duty to do so. It is quite clear that this policy at the time when it was embarked upon over the mail train robbers in 1963 was received with a good deal of criticism, hostile criticism indeed, not only by some members of the legal profession, but also in at least one well known journal. I myself very much doubt whether it was a wise policy. One can quite understand the feeling at that time, particularly as there had been a number of cases of spies and others where the international security of the country had been at stake.

The whole question of the purposes of imprisonment in the modern State is open to discussion on this issue. Many people take the view that prison is justifiable only on the basis that it is used for the purpose of rehabilitating the prisoner. I myself would not go as far as that, but obviously in the modern context of penology rehabilitation of the prisoner has become a more and more important factor, and one which must receive adequate attention from everybody who is concerned in it.

When you get to the very long-term sentence of imprisonment-10 years and upwards—I think it is fairly clear that you are beginning to get into difficulties as regards re-education and rehabilitation. The Home Office Committee were obviously worried about this. At the very beginning of their chapter on the special problem of prisoners serving very long-term sentences they have a comment which is a fairly strong one coming from a body of this kind. They say that they are well aware of the extreme gravity of a decision to deprive a man of his liberty for a substantial portion of his life"— and when you get a sentence of 30 year, quite obviously it is a substantial portion of his life. Even if the man is going to earn some remission, it remains a very substantial portion of his life and one which is likely, in the words of my noble friend Lord Stonham, to deprive him of hope for the future. I agree with my noble friend and with the right reverend Prelate that that is a very serious thing to do.

When the case of the train robbers came before the Court of Appeal, I remember that one of the advocates who appeared—now Sir Elwyn Jones—quoted from the late Alexander Paterson, who was possibly the most understanding and far-sighted of all the practical penologists in this country in the present century, in which he said that he doubted very much whether it was really feasible to do much in the way of rehabilitating a man when he was in prison for over 10 years. It has come out time after time this afternoon that when a man has been in prison for 10 years or more it is a question of preventing him from degenerating—from, one might say, losing his condition as a human being rather than of being able to turn him back into a normal citizen.

I should like to say a little more on the question of rehabilitation a little later on, but at the moment I want to deal shortly with the three arguments which are put forward for these very long-term sentences. Incidentally, I notice on my notes that Dr. Harman Mannheim, who I should say is the most distinguished living penologist, not only working in this country but in the world, wrote a very interesting article on the American experience. Before the very, very long term sentences were first imposed in this country they had them in America and they had been the subject matter of a very real controversy there. In his article, Dr. Mannheim made clear the view of most, if not the great majority, of penologists, which is an adverse one. But in a way the Americans do it better than we do because their prisons for these very long-term sentences are much more humane institutions.

Those of your Lordships who have read that most interesting and encouraging book, The Birdman of Alcatraz, will remember that a man who was in prison for well over thirty years, and who was allowed to take an interest in birds and to write about them and to become the expert on birds for one of the weekly papers, rehabilitated himself completely because he had an interest in life which men are deprived of under our system. I must say that the one American political prisoner I have known, who was sentenced to a thirty year term, came out only a year or so ago and seems to have kept his sanity and interest in life and standing as a human being in very much the same way as did the Bird Man of Alcatraz.

Of the arguments that are put forward, one is the argument of retribution. When one hears what happened in regard to the train robbers, one's immediate instinct is to think, "They ought to be punished as severely as possible". That old-fashioned outlook is very dangerous and the first thing one has to do is to try to rid oneself of it. Then, of course, there is the argument that a long sentence deters people. An extremely long term of imprisonment is supposed to deter the old Adam in most of us from embarking upon those crimes which we would like to do if we did not know that we were going to be sentenced to very long terms of imprisonment. Here again, Alexander Paterson expressed the doubt as to whether a term of over 10 years had any special deterrent effect on what might be called the professional criminal, who is the man most likely to have that kind of sentence inflicted upon him. Surely, the experience since the infliction of these very heavy sentences upon the train robbers, since when there have been a whole lot of outrageously violent crimes very much of the same atrociousness, shows that these very heavy sentences have had no effect at all as a deterrent. Therefore deterrence is out of it.

The third argument is a much more rational one. It is that there are a certain number of these people who have to be kept locked up pretty well permanently because the safety of the community has to be put before any sort of rights which they may have as human beings. This is an understandable and rational argument. On the other hand, it is a repugnant argument to put before any group of sympathetic and understanding human beings, and I would suggest that we ought not to allow ourselves to be driven into accepting it unless every possible alternative method of handling this type of case has been explored and rejected. It may possibly be that at the end of the whole thing there is a small handful of people who have to be sacrificed, whose humanity has to be put in jeopardy in the interests of their fellow citizens. I would be driven to that conclusion with very great repugnance, and I do not really feel that that situation has been established.


My Lords, surely the noble Lord, who is a most enlightened penal reformer, does not really mean that he would entertain the idea of destroying a person's personality?


My Lords, I would try to keep it alive by the sort of suggestions that are made in the report of the Home Office Committee. However, there may be cases where people will have to be kept locked up. I am not saying that that is so, but I can see that it might happen; and indeed up to a point it does happen, because when people are so mentally disturbed and ill they are sent to Broadmoor, which the noble Earl in his speech to-day compared favourably with the prisons, and we accept that they may have to be kept there for the rest of their lives. Therefore, that is a possibility; and it is a possibility which I believe should be accepted in a number of these cases—that they should be sent to Broadmoor rather than to prison. I believe that if quite a number of these people were properly examined by mental experts, that would be the case.

That is one group. The other group consists of the psychopaths. There is always a great deal of discussion among psychiatrists as to how far psychopaths are curable, and some progress has been made. I think it is fairly clear that a psychopath, at any rate after treatment and after a number of years—or at least some psychopaths—can be sufficiently cured to be released without danger to the community. Then, of course, there are the men who are called normal, although I find it difficult to believe that any man is mentally normal who indulges in the sort of conduct which leads to his being sent to serve one of these very long-term sentences.

I am leaving out the question of life sentences, which I should have liked to discuss, because that has already been adequately dealt with in the debate. A great deal of research is needed into the mental calibre of the people serving life sentences and one of the interesting things about the Home Office Council's Report is that they underline how very little real research has ever been done in regard to these matters. The Council more than once in this Report stress that a great deal more research is essential to a proper understanding and a proper handling of these matters. I hope that the Minister in his reply will be able to tell us how far that research has been put in hand.

It is here that I should like to say a few more words on the subject of reeducation and rehabilitation. This, of course, presents an almost insuperable difficulty in the case of these very, very long term prisoners, as the Home Office Council, in this very interesting chapter on the subject, make only too clear. Incidentally, it is interesting to notice that they seem to have overlooked an interesting article in Vol. I of the British Journal of Criminology by a New Zealand psychologist who has been much employed in the New Zealand prison service, in which he deals with the problems of the mentality of these very long-term prisoners. I have an interesting quotation from him which very much bears out what the right reverend Prelate said about the sensitiveness of these men themselves to the danger of becoming prisonised.

This psychologist quoted one particular man who came to him and said that he wanted to be rescued from this and was prepared to do anything with this object in view. He said, "The great thing is that I want to keep myself alive." He recalled how, when he entered the prison, he saw "grey faces with grey suits in a grey world". Your Lordships can just imagine the feelings of the wretched man, coming in from the outside air; the feeling of depression which it caused him to find himself in such surroundings: how much he wanted to resist apathy which he realised was going to be the very real task before him in keeping himself alive and fit to go out to the general community at the end of his long sentence.

I would like to underline one particular passage of the proposals of the Home Office Council in which they propose a week's holiday for the very long-term prisoner who has deserved it. I should be very grateful if the Minister would tell us whether this proposal is being implemented or is likely to be implemented, because it struck me as being one of the most interesting and fruitful of the various suggestions made in this very valuable section, which I was very glad to find the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, underwrote so enthusiastically. It would obviously at this hour be rather foolish to go over all this ground again, although it is very important ground indeed in connection with the subject matter of this debate. I will therefore close by making two more additional points very shortly, and perhaps putting one or two further questions to the Minister who is going to reply.

The first point is that I do not feel that the judge who has to do the sentencing, at any rate in many of these very long-term cases, has proper advice and the proper material before him at the time. He is expected to give his decision and almost always does, as it were, off the cuff. Of course, these cases often last a long time, and one knows that the judge, as the case goes on, thinks about the sentence he will impose if the verdict is one of guilty. But I feel that not as much is done as ought to be done to enable the judge to come to a really sound decision at that stage. Some of these criminal prosecutions last for weeks and cost tens of thousands of pounds. And at the end of it all how much time is given to getting the right sentence? Very little. It seems to me that we could afford at this stage to spend a little more money in having further psychiatric and other advice. I would suggest, as another suggestion to be added to those made during the debate, that in any case where the judge is proposing to impose a very long sentence, 10 years or upwards, he should suspend his decision. It would not be quite the indeterminate sentence which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, advocated, but a suspension for, say, a month, or some other period, during which there could be further examination of the man, further discussion with probation officers or other people of that kind. And then, at the end of that time, the judge would be in a very much better position to come to a really sound decision as to the proper sentence. I believe that the money would be very well spent at this stage, and it would be a fleabite compared with the enormous sums often spent on prosecutions.

Then I would underline again the importance of the suggestions which have been made for dealing with these very long-term cases. I entirely underline what has been said by the right reverend Prelate and other speakers about hope. If a man has been sentenced to 30 years, there is not much chance of his obtaining parole until after a very long time. What hope has he? It is very difficult to imagine a man who is buoyant enough to have much hope, although the man arranging to escape who hopes to get away to Spain no doubt encourages himself by learning Spanish. But that is a very unusual case. I feel that not only should we enable the man to have some hope, but we should also encourage his interests in a way which has been described by several of the speakers tonight. Here again, the case of the bird man of Alcatraz is a good example of the way interests can be encouraged. I am sure that many of these long-term prisoners are intellectually able to take advantage of the sort of proposals to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford referred. I agree with him that arrangements ought to be made in the Home Office, with the prison governors, for handling much more rapidly, and I hope much more favourably, such ideas.

I have already asked the Minister about implementation of two proposals of the Home Office Advisory Council. One is in respect of research; and, as I have said before, the Home Office have one of the best research units anywhere in the world if not the best, in criminological and penological matters. They are well placed for carrying out research of this kind, research which is referred to twice in Section XIII of the Report. I was asking the Minister also about the week's holiday. There is another question. On page 61 of the Report on the régime, right at the end, there is a proposal that all these cases should be reviewed at least once every three years. I think the Minister did say that that was being implemented, so I need not ask him to answer that. I will now throw the ball back into the Minister's court, and hope that he will be able to give me the information for which I have been asking.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an exceptionally interesting debate, and one of very high quality. The main themes rather surprisingly, have been not so much criticism of the physical conditions in which long-term prisoners are confined, although there has been some of that, but rather concern about very long, fixed sentences and about sentencing policy generally. That has been referred to by several noble Lords; and another main theme has been the treatment of prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, remarked that we were thinking aloud to-day; and that is the purpose of a debate of this sort. That must be true. The value of a debate of this kind is that it helps to influence and inform public opinion.

I really have an impossible task at the end of a debate like this. I have already spoken for half an hour; there have been 12 speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who in a most interesting speech, asked six, seven or eight specific questions. If he will forgive me, I think it will be better for him and for the House if I let him have the answers in writing, as I have done on previous occasions.

I said earlier in the debate that I was trying to strike a balance between security and treatment. What I must try to do now is to balance two other considerations: the need to give due regard to the speeches that have been made with so much thought by noble Lords and the need for reasonable brevity. I think the best way I can do this is by concentrating on a number of points which have been raised, all of them important, underlying which there has been the implication—it was only the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who actually said this—that despite the good intentions of people at the centre, things look very different inside the prison.

Let me start with the question of psychiatric treatment and facilities, because there have been many references to disturbed prisoners and the need to keep the personality alive. Although this is a task that falls to be performed by prison staff and prison medical officers, there is a very extensive network of psychiatric care. Psychiatric facilities are available to longterm offenders from the prison medical service, which has 98 full-time medical officers and about the same number of part-time medical officers. The service can also call upon 47 visiting psychotherapists and five joint consultants in forensic psychiatry. There are 41 prison service establishments which have psychiatric facilities; about two-thirds of the full-time medical officers to whom I have just referred have psychiatric experience, and over half have psychiatric qualifications. Then there are the medically directed psychiatric prisons at Grendon Underwood, which has been referred to in the debate, the psychiatric centres at Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield Prison and, for women, at Holloway. There is also the very interesting experiment in co-operation between the medical and lay staff under the supervision of the assistant governor at Parkhurst, to which the noble Earl referred in his speech.

It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that in 1970 no fewer than 144 prisoners received psychotherapy at Wakefield Prison alone, and that at Wormwood Scrubs, where, as I explained, there are substantial numbers of long-term prisoners, there are seven visiting psychotherapists who, between them, conduct 14 weekly sessions; a daily average of 26 psychiatric patients are receiving treatment in the hospital at Wormwood Scrubs.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the case of a long-term prisoner who had indicated to him that he was now ready to accept psychiatric treatment; and he criticised my Department quite sharply because, in the time that had passed since the prisoner gave the noble Earl that indication, he had received no assurance that any positive steps had been taken. I am grateful to the noble Earl for not naming the prisoner, because I cannot believe that it would be in the best interests of any prisoner whose mental health might be in question to debate his case publicly. Therefore, in replying to the noble Earl's strictures, I do not want to say anything that might enable the case to be identified in any way. But I can make the general point that a prisoner's stated willingness to receive psychiatric treatment, although a necessary condition if treatment is to be offered, is not the only factor to be taken into account.

There are other factors. These include the question of what weight, having regard to his previous history and the medical diagnosis, should be attached to the prisoner's statement. There is also the question of whether psychiatric treatment, and if so of what kind, can usefully be offered to him, and whether the treatment is likely to help. Then, too, there is the question of the stage of the sentence at which treatment can be best offered. Another question is where in particular the treatment can best be given, having due regard to security and any other considerations which may affect the prisoner's location. I can say, however, that the case to which the noble Earl referred is well known to us. It is receiving close attention by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, but it is a case where he does not think it right for a decision to be taken without full medical reports and the most careful thought.

May I say something next about the pre-release employment scheme. The scheme is available for life sentence prisoners, once they have been given a date of release. Like ordinary determinate-sentence prisoners, they can spend the last six months of their sentence on this scheme. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know the figures for last year, because they are significant. The number of places is 367, which allows 734 men each year to pass through, given that a prisoner spends a period of about six months on the scheme. An analysis of the figures for 1968–69 suggests that approximately 72 per cent. of prisoners who were eligible and had reached the last part of their sentence without securing release on parole were accepted as suitable by their pre-release employment selection board. That figure of 72 per cent. is a significant one which we ought to bear in mind.

The question of visits featured in several speeches. The right reverend Prelate, when he opened the debate, referred to visits; and so, too, did the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and other Lords. The aim of the Prison Department is, I should like to stress, to enable a prisoner to maintain contacts through visits with his friends and relatives. For an adult prisoner, the statutory entitlement is one visit in eight weeks, though in practice the frequency is considerably greater than this—at least one every four weeks. Moreover, depending on the pressure on visiting resources in the prison, some prisoners receive regular visits even more frequently than that.

The need to provide adequate waiting facilities, refreshments for visitors and facilities for looking after children is well accepted, and considerable progress has been made. As noble Lords were talking I glanced at a report of what is happening in that field, and perhaps I may quote one or two items, in particular concerning children, for whom there is a particular need for facilities to be provided. At Chelmsford Prison, for example, a new block with a children's room is in the planning stage. At Dartmoor, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, soft toys, books, comics, pencil and paper are provided for children; at Leyhill open prison, an outdoor playground for children; and at Maidstone, high chairs are provided and facilities for warming babies' milk. These are things that are happening, not airy policy being discussed within the Home Office; that is where the policy started. Examples such as these are indicative of what is actually taking place within the prisons.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, developed a perspective concerning the treatment of men who have to be detained for very long terms; he suggested that no prisoner should serve more than a stipulated maximum term of imprisonment, whatever that term might be, in order that he might see a light at the end of the tunnel.


My Lords, may I just correct the noble Lord? I said that he should not serve that period without being considered for parole; not that he should not serve it.


My Lords, quite so; I appreciate that point and accept the correction. The essential point, certainly in relation to the concept of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and, if I understood it right, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson as well, is that there will be some people whom it will not be possible to release after the period of x years. The question, therefore, arises as to where and how they should be detained and treated. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, was kind enough to give me advance notice of what he intended to say on this matter. But this is, of course, a large idea, and I should be doing less than justice to the thought that has gone into it if I attempted to give any detailed appreciation, off the cuff, in a brief reply fairly late in the evening. But I can assure the noble Earl and the noble Lord that this is a proposal that will be studied closely and with interest, both in the Home Office and also outside by penologists and criminologists, whose opinions build up and establish a body of public opinion from which, in the end, all policies result.

The suggestion does, however, raise several important questions; and these apply also to the proposals advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. What would the maximum term of imprisonment be? Would such a maximum be reconcilable with the deterrent and retributive objectives of the courts in passing sentence? By what means other than by the Prison Service or the Hospital Service—and having due regard to the nature of the inmates who remain in a therapeutic institution of this sort—would the institution be staffed? Could one single institution meet the needs of the wide variety of offenders who might qualify for it, or would there be a need for more than one institution? What changes in sentencing law and practice would this concept require? The noble Lords who have spoken on this matter have given us all food for thought and the benefit of their very considerable experience in this field.

There is one further point that I should mention: it has not so far come up in the debate, but it bears on sentencing law and practice which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, pointed out, is really the crucial aspect of these proposals. It is that the law on offences against the person, including the law of homicide and the penalty for murder, is now under review by the Criminal Law Revision Committee. The conclusions of the Committee concerning the respective merits of the life sentence, or the fixed sentence, are very relevant indeed to the proposals that have been put forward to-day.

My Lords, I hope that I have said enough to show that in the Home Office we do indeed think about, and care deeply about, the responsibilities which are placed on us for looking after long-term prisoners, and that we do try to strike a proper balance between the right of the public to be protected and the interests of the individual offender. I am sure that the members of the Prison Department of the Home Office, the governors of the prisons, and the prison staffs will be greatly encouraged by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, who of course speaks with authority as a former Home Secretary.

I must rebut the allegation made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, when he suggested that to prisoners there seems to be a "collective callousness" in Prison Department headquarters, I do not suppose that prisoners are ever very likely to praise their gaolers, but none the less I could not help noting that his generosity of mind led him to pay tribute in his speech to the constructive and imaginative experiment that has been made at Parkhurst with the medically orientated régime that exists there in one of the wings. It is exactly this same headquarters that has put a great deal of effort into setting up and monitoring that experiment.

That really is all I have to say, my Lords. I apologise to those noble Lords who put particular questions to which I have not replied, but I can assure them that I shall go through Hansard with considerable care, and so will my Department, and that they will receive a reply as soon as possible. I have tried in this reply to show what is actually going on in the prisons, whereas in my opening remarks I was describing what the Government's policy was. I have tried to pick out some of the features that seem to me very admirable in the prisons. There are many generous and tolerant actions and decisions which go unsung in the Prison Service, and nobody in that Service would have it otherwise.

8.16 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain much longer those of your Lordships who remain. There are many questions I should like to press and many points I should like to take further about categorisation, review procedures, especially the possible deepening and broadening of diagnosis, about visits, about work, about parole and pre-release schemes, and especially about the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—the possible variation of custodial conditions, holidays, and so on. I am certainly very grateful for the suggestions which have been made about public education and indeterminate sentences, and especially grateful, if I may say so, for the most promising suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, of employing auxiliaries to the probation service. However, I think the House has borne with me very generously already.

May I just take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to all the noble Lords who have joined in the debate, and especially the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has borne a double burden in the day, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who had perforce to leave but not before he gave us of his rich experience and wisdom, especially in relation to parole and security wings. I must also express gratitude to those who wrote to me encouraging letters expressing their concern for these issues though they could not be here, and also to those who, by their very presence, not least until 8.18 p.m., have shared in the deliberations. I am well content that the topic has been aired so thoroughly, and I dare hope that our words may result in some kind of action matching the deep seriousness of the situation. Because of that, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.