HC Deb 29 July 1949 vol 467 cc181-3W
Mr. Grey

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what modification he proposes to make in the conditions under which prisoners are allowed to communicate with Members of Parliament.

Mr. Ede

In July of last year, after consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, I decided, as I announced to the House at the time, to issue instructions that prisoners might be permitted to use letters from their ordinary allowance to write to a Member pf Parliament of their choice, and that such letters might be permitted in certain circumstances.

I am anxious to maintain this concession, which I think is right in principle, and in accordance with the wishes of the House, but experience of its working has shown that certain limitations are necessary in the interests of the maintenance of discipline and the proper management of prisons. Under the Prison Standing Orders a prisoner is not permitted to make complaints in his letters to friends and relatives about his treatment in prison, because there are appointed channels by which grievances of this kind can be considered and redressed. A prisoner can ask to see the Governor, and if dissatisfied with the Governor's decision, can ask to see the Visiting Committee or Board of Visitors, and he has the further remedy of petitioning the Secretary of State. He can also request an interview with one of the Prison Commissioners or Assistant Commissioners or in Scotland with an officer of the Secretary of State at his next visit to the prison. Moreover, if a prisoner makes, either to the visiting magistrates or in a petition, allegations against a prison officer, which are established to be false, and malicious, he is liable to be punished.

Hon. Members will appreciate that if a prisoner is to be allowed to use a letter to a Member of Parliament for the purpose of making complaints about his treatment, which he would not be allowed to make in an ordinary letter, and which he has never made to the prison authorities, the result would be that a prisoner could by-pass the appointed channels for the investigation of such complaints, and could make with impunity the most malicious and unfounded allegations against particular officers. This seems to be most undesirable and likely eventually to undermine the authority of the Visiting Committee or Board of Visitors who are the independent check on prison administration for which Parliament has made provision. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I therefore propose to issue instructions that a prisoner shall not be allowed to make complaints about his prison treatment in a letter to a Member unless he has already exhausted his right of making the complaint through the proper channels in one or other of the ways I have mentioned.

Under the Prison Standing Orders there are certain matters which may not be included in letters written by prisoners. These are:

  1. (1) Discussion of methods of committing crime, instigation of criminal offences, attempts to defeat the ends of justice by suborning witnesses or tampering with evidence, or attempts to facilitate escapes.
  2. (2) Complaints about the courts and the police which are deliberately calculated to hold the authorities up to contempt.
  3. (3) Threats of violence.
  4. (4) Matter intended for insertion in the Press.
  5. (5) Grossly improper language.
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  7. (6) Attempts to stimulate public agitation about matters other than the prisoner's own conviction and sentence.

There can be no grounds upon which it would be justifiable to allow a prisoner to include in a letter to a Member of Parliament any of these matters, which are objectionable in themselves, irrespective of the person to whom the letter is addressed, and my right hon. Friend and I propose, therefore, to issue instructions that the rule prohibiting the inclusion of such matters in prisoners' letters shall be applied to letters addressed to Members of Parliament.