HL Deb 21 February 1963 vol 246 cc1441-87

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, this Order, for which I am seeking the approval of your Lordships to-day, is designed to achieve the full integration of the Home Office and the Prison Commission. The reasons for this were fully explained to Parliament during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act, 1961, and the principle of integration was end-dorsed by both Houses after much careful discussion. Your Lordships doubtless may recall that this matter was fully debated at the Committee stage in this House on the May 18 two years ago and that the principle of integration was then approved by a vote of 50 to 18. The reasons for integration have not changed since then. Your Lordships may nevertheless wish to be reminded of them.

At present my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, has a two-fold departmental responsibility. He is responsible for the Home Office and for the whole range of subjects covered by that Department. He is also responsible for the Prison Commission which, since the Prison Act, 1877, under which it was established, has had a separate statutory existence. The reasons why we now wish to bring that separate existence to an end can be summarised under three main heads.

The first and, indeed, the most important consideration in our mind has been the need to tackle the manifold problems involved in the treatment of offenders on the broadest possible front and in the most coherent and comprehensive manner practicable. The more we learn about the causes of crime, and the further we advance in our treatment of it, the more one need becomes increasingly apparent. That is this need to diagnose, and then to deal with these problems as a whole. The treatment of the offender does not begin and end in prison.

While there is much that is baffling and mysterious about juvenile delinquency, your Lordships will know, if only from our recent discussion of the Children and Young Persons Bill, that the seeds of delinquency can often be sown very early. To-day, penal treatment, especially among young offenders, cannot therefore be considered sectionally. I think your Lordships also recognise—and none better than some noble Lords opposite and, indeed, none better than the right reverend Prelate who will be speaking in this discussion—that the treatment which an offender receives from his fellow men after he leaves prison is no wit less important than the treatment which he receives from society while he is in prison. The more, therefore, that we can look at this problem as a whole, and not in a series of departmental boxes, the better. Increasingly, therefore, we need to look at the whole range of these problems, to learn from our experience in the different fields and in the light of that, and in the light of the best possible research, systematically applied, to shape our policy and to allocate our resources to the best advantage.

If this is right, as I am sure it is, there is, I suggest, no more case for a separate Department for prisons—outside and distinct from the Home Office—than there is for a separate Department for children, or for criminal justice or for the Probation Service. In saying this, I am not suggesting that there is not already close liaison between the Prison Commission, the Home Office and the constituent branches of the Home Office. Of course there is. But I am claiming that when the successor to the Prison Commission is no longer a separate and statutory body of its own, the relationship between it and the other branches of the Home Office will inevitably become still closer. In our view, my Lords, that process is not only inevitable but right.

I would suggest that this Order is also desirable on constitutional grounds. The plain fact of the matter at present is that the Home Secretary is responsible in exactly the same degree for the work done by the Prison Commission and for that done by the Home Office. The Prison Commissioners, equally with officers of the Home Office, act under his direction, both generally and in specific matters, and it is anomalous and misleading that they should exist as a separate statutory body and should thus be set apart and differentiated from the Home Secretary's other advisers. My right honourable friend, the First Secretary of State, speaking as Home Secretary in another place on April 12, 1961, quoted the Report of the Departmental Committee on Scottish Administration of 1938, which resulted in the amalgamation of the Prisons Department of Scotland with the Scottish Home Department. This is the extract which he quoted and which I should like to read to your Lordships: It is a constitutional principle that a Department and its Minister are indistinguishable, but a Department incorporated and established by Statute to carry out specified functions in the name of the Department, although acting under the control and direction of the Minister, is necessarily regarded as a separate entity. We consider that this is an anomaly which should be rectified. The responsibility of the Minister to Parliament is inconsistent with any measure of independence (even if only apparent) in any Department for which he speaks. My Lords, so far as I know, that amalgamation has worked perfectly well in Scotland. I am not necessarily suggesting that we should always follow Scottish precedent, and I recognise that as a nation—I hesitate to say as a House—we may have a certain addiction to constitutional anomaly. But one thing has become quite clear to me in reading the debates in both Houses of Parliament on this subject; and that is that the constitutional position is not, in fact, clear in certain quarters. For example, some people credit the Prison Commission with an independence which in fact it does not have. I suggest, therefore, that it is right that we should recognise, as this Order does, the true constitutional position and make clear beyond doubt the true responsibility on my right honourable friend. It is usually best to recognise facts as they are.

Thirdly, I would suggest that integration is in the interests of better organisation and the more effective use of the resources available to the Home Secretary. Much has already been achieved in this direction. The headquarters staff of the Prison Commission has been progressively strengthened in recent years by the secondment of administrative staff from the Home Office. Certain of the specialist departments of the Home Office already serve the Prison Commission as well—for example, the Legal Adviser's Department and the Public Relations Department. In addition, the Chief Architect's Department of the Home Office and the Department of the Director of Works of the Prison Commission have already been combined under the former Director of Works of the Prison Commission. There is a limit, however, to what we can do without alteration to the statutory position. In all of the special arrangements which have been made, we have had to pay due regard to the existence of two separate Departments, and this is inevitably a hindrance at times.

I would claim therefore, my Lords, that there are clear and definite advantages to be gained from integration. Nevertheless, the discussion of this matter, both inside and, indeed, outside Parliament, shows that misgivings undoubtedly exist in certain quarters. It has been suggested, for example, that integration must inevitably diminish the standing of the prison service and may worsen the prospects of its members. The quality of this great organisation depends, as does the quality of any organisation, on the quality and keenness of those who serve it. Were these misgivings based on fact, this would indeed be a serious matter. But, my Lords, I wish to state quite categorically, and with conviction, that they are wholly misplaced.

Here I think it is necessary to distinguish between the professional Prison Service, from the prison officers up to the senior professional officers in the headquarters office of the Prison Commission, on the one hand, and, on the other, the ordinary Civil Service grades, executive, administrative and clerical, who work in prisons and other establishments or in the head office. It has been suggested that integration may mean a take-over by administrative and executive civil servants of the functions of the professional staff of the Prison Service. Any such suggestion, my Lords, is quite wrong. Those of the Prison Commissioners, and the Assistant Commissioners, who have the special experience and the knowledge gained from service in senior posts in prisons and other institutions, the Governors and the officers of the prison service, will continue to carry out their duties as they do now. No-one has any intention of replacing them by Whitehall warriors or clerics. Thus, in the future, as in the past, Governors will be able to make a valuable contribution to the general administration of the Prison Service.

In fact, my Lords, the position of the professional Prison Service will be wholly unaffected by integration. Their conditions of service and their prospects of promotion will not be affected. The highest posts in the Service will continue to be filled in the same way as they have been up till now. Thus, the young prison officer enlisting in the Service today and going on his course to the training college at Wakefield, will have just as much chance, after integration as before, of rising right to the top, to Governor and, indeed, beyond Governor. Indeed, my Lords, I would suggest that integration will, in fact, widen the opportunities open to the bright young prison officer. I would remind your Lordships that since 1895 the post of Chairman of the Prison Commission has always been filled by a Home Office official. It is not impossible, in my view, to conceive of that imaginary young officer at Wakefield one day becoming head of the Prison Department or, for that matter, permanent Under-Secretary—a future John Anderson.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment? Is he saying that the professional prison staff will in fact be eligible for admission to the administrative grade of the Civil Service?


My Lords, I am saying that for the exceptional young prison officer there will be no limit to where he can get; although that type of class-to-class transfer would, of course, be exceptional.


But it will be possible.


Certainly, yes. May I now turn to the purely Civil Service aspect of this matter? I would remind your Lordships that the Commissioners and their staff are already civil servants. As a result of integration they will come under no different code of behaviour or method of control than hitherto. Moreover, their tenure of office, their salaries and their pension rights will be quite unaffected by this Order. So far as ranks are concerned, the three Commissioners are officers seconded from the Home Office—the Chairman, the Deputy-Chairman and the Secretary—and, on ceasing to be Commissioners, will retain their present rank of Assistant Under-Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary respectively. The two other Commissioners, the Chief Director and the Director of Borstal Administration, will retain these posts, and indeed these titles. The same will apply so far as the Director of Prison Administration is concerned. The Assistant Commissioners, for their part, will become Assistant Directors, but their status and their responsibilities will, as I mentioned a moment or two ago, remain precisely the same as they are to-day.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. Perhaps I ought to know the answer to this point, and perhaps it has been made plain elsewhere. But will the Prison Commission reappear under the name of Prison Board; or will it be a department of the Home Office, like the Children's Department, for example, or will it be something else?


I am coming to that but I will anticipate what I was going to say. The Prison Commission will no longer exist; it will be called the Prison Department; but the Prison Board, which is a quite separate part of the Commission, will remain. But I should like to come back to that, if I may, in a moment.

The existing Civil Service element in the Prison Service is not, of course, confined merely to the senior administrative officers. As I have already mentioned, there are many civil servants in the Prison Service in executive and clerical grades. Like the senior administrative personnel, their status and their prospects will in no wise be damaged by this Order. Indeed, they can only benefit from becoming members of a larger Department. While I am dealing with this matter of staff and organisation I should like to come back to the point which was put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and I would remind your Lordships that assurances have already been given that the Prison Board, which is a body on which the senior administrative and specialist officers meet to discuss general questions of policy, will continue to meet and fulfil its important part in the administration of the Prison Service. Assurances were given to that effect two years ago, at the time of the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, but I am glad of the opportunity to repeat those assurances.

So much, my Lords, for staff. I have also noted some anxiety that after integration we may be less well-informed about the problems and the prospects of our penal system. I can assure noble Lords that it is certainly not our intention that any less information should be available about the work of the Commissioners, when they become the Prison Department of the Home Office, than has been available in the past. I have seen many tributes to the full, frank and informative annual reports which the Prison Commission produces. These tributes are well deserved, and I would merely point out that the Order specifically provides that the annual reports should continue to be made and laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State.

Finally, may I refer to one anxiety which I have seen voiced by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Longford? During your Lordships' debate on the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Act, 1961, the noble Earl suggested, (and I quote his words from column 764 of of Hansard, of May 18, 1961): the change proposed by the Government will convey to the public the idea that our prison services, in the widest sense, are to receive a lower priority than hitherto. Frankly, I find that particular anxiety hard to understand. The priority accorded to these vital services is and will remain a matter of Government policy, based on the advice and recommendations of my right honourable friend. Surely what we see now—the greatest building programme in this field which this country has ever known, at least for a century, recruitment to the Prison Service running at a higher rate than at any time since the war; and I cite merely these two examples—demonstrates the priority which we are according, and will continue, and rightly so, to accord to these services.

My Lords, the Order itself is very simple, and I think I can explain it very briefly. It consists of four Articles and two Schedules. The first Article is formal, and proposes the date of April 1, 1963, as the date for its coming into operation. This is obviously convenient, as the beginning of a financial year. The second Article transfers all the powers, jurisdiction and functions of the Prison Commissioners in respect of all institutions within their purview, and all property, rights, liabilities and obligations of the Commissioners, to the Secretary of State. It provides that the Commissioners and their staff shall be transferred to the Home Department and dissolves the body corporate consisting of the Prison Commissioners. Article 3 makes special provisions for the annual reports, to which I have referred, and provides for the necessary adaptations in Statutes and other instruments. Article 4 makes supplementary and transitional provisions. The two Schedules set out in detail the adaptations which are necessary in various statutory references to the Prison Commissioners, substituting the Secretary of State for the Prison Commissioners wherever this is appropriate.

I trust that in the light of these explanations your Lordships will approve this Order and will accept our considered judgment that the integration which is provided in it is not, as has been suggested in some quarters, a step backwards, a retrograde step, but a necessary forward step in the development of our arrangements over the whole field of penal policy. We all wish to move forward in this field, and we believe that these new arrangements will help us to do so in the future. In saying this I am, of course, well aware of the long tradition and the high reputation which the Prison Commissioners and their staff have built up over the years. I am well aware of the great work which great men like Lionel Fox and Alex Paterson, and many more before them, have done. Their work is rightly a source of pride to the Prison Commissioners and, indeed, I would suggest, to our country as a whole. I am convinced that those traditions and that reputation will not be impaired by what we now propose, but will be carried forward and enhanced in the future. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Prison Commissioners Dissolution Order, 1963, be approved.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that the informative speech to which we have just listened from the noble Earl is full justification for having to-day a probably short but nevertheless adequate debate on this subject, although it was discussed two years ago, rather than letting it go through "on the nod". The noble Earl has given us a great deal of very necessary information we did not have before. In particular I am grateful to him for telling us what will be the position of the Chief Commissioner and the Deputy Chairman and the Secretary. The Secretary, for example, will be an Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service. But there are other senior officers in the Commission of whom we know and whose work we hold in the highest esteem and we really do not know what their position will be. What, for example, will be the position of the other Commissioners? They will presumably hold a rank below Assistant Secretary. Will they be Principals? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may be able to answer that question when he winds up the debate.

The noble Earl will be aware that we are extremely anxious about this matter not only on the question of principle, about which he has reiterated the three main arguments of the Government for this change, but also on the future position of the people in the prison service whom we know and those we do not know. I find it most disturbing that we are here to-day considering an Order which affects the future work and livelihood of 11,000 people, all of whom hold their jobs "at pleasure", and there is not a single word in this Order which says anything about these people who have no enforceable contractual security. It does not say a word about their future employment, promotion, pensions or any other rights at all. I find that quite remarkable in view of the fact that usually, when a Government Department proposes an Order which is going to have an effect of this kind on the future employment of people at present engaged in a particular service, it nearly always goes to the greatest possible pains to put such provisions in the Order. It may be argued that, because these 11,000 people are already civil servants, it was not possible on this occasion, but, for my part, I confess that there is considerable unease about it, and any further information which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can give by way of assurance or otherwise to dispel that doubt will indeed be most welcome.

My noble friends who will speak after me in the debate are, I know, very concerned to argue again the principle of this particular change. But I confess that I myself am mainly concerned to address questions to the Government on the subject of how the change is going to affect the prisons. The noble Earl gave as one of the main reasons for this Order that if the closed box of the Prison Commission were opened and it was merely a section of the Home Office, it would help in dealing with the manifold problems in the treatment of offenders, which he quite rightly said do not begin and end in prison. I therefore want to know whether these administrative changes now presage a fundamental change in prison practice and the closing of what I regard as the scandalous gap between policy and practice, as is indeed revealed and confirmed by the Commissioners' Report. In that Report the Commissioners say that behind the facts in the Report there lies a story of countless acts of personal courage, enterprise and persistence which are deserving of the highest praise. From my own knowledge I say that that is true, but also from my own Knowledge I say that it is a story of mounting and catastrophic failure.

The total prison population before the war was 11,000. To-day it is over 30,000. Part of that three-fold increase is of course due to the unhappy increase in crime, but a considerable part of it, in my view, is due to the prison system itself and the virtual absence, or at least grave inadequacy, of any serious, comprehensive, sustained effort at rehabilitation. It seems to me—and the noble Earl virtually emphasised this point in his speech—that the Government's sole answer to the problem of more prisoners is more prisons. Indeed, more than forty new penal establishments have been completed or are in course of development since March, 1959, when we had a White Paper on penal practice: a 50 per cent. increase. Are we to continue—and will this administrative change affect the position—feverishly putting up prisons to house people, many of whom, in my view, need never go there if we tried other methods? Or is the policy still to be little more than "Shut them up; keep them alive; let them out", so that the cost in money and in misery and human waste continues to rise?

To-day our prisoners, allowing for National Assistance and other grants to their families, and lost production, cost the nation over £60 million a year, some £2,000 a year each. For that tidy sum, of recent years the taxpayer has been getting a constant increase in crime and recidivism. What does the prisoner get? Page 122 of the Commission's Report tells us that about one-twentieth of the total prison budget is spent on inmate maintenance. The entire expenditure on food and drink, all forms of clothing, bedding, cutlery, crockery, furniture, medicines and medical supplies, for over 30,000 men and women for a whole year is little over £1 million. If you work it out for each men, woman or borstal boy—Bill Bloggs or Barbara Fell—you find that is 15s. for a whole week for everything, the lowest standard of living in Europe, a Hottentot standard.

The noble Earl mentioned other departments in the Home Office. Will it occur to the Home Office as somewhat extraordinary that necessarily the same Department pays £10 a week for the support of children in its care and only 15s. a week for men and women and boys in its prisons? If you split up the 15s. a week allowed for a prisoner's keep you find that for his food and drink for a whole week we allow him 11s. Many of us have been in the prisons as visitors. We have put our nose over the cooking pots. We have smelled a bit of meat and may have had our opinions on what it is. But ask yourselves—if you do not know the answer, ask your wife or housekeeper—what 11s. a week for food means. I asked mine and she told me that she spent 11s. a week on shop-bought food for our cat, and, when he deigns to oblige, he has in addition some of our own. It is about one-third of what I find it necessary to spend in my hospitals, with some 2,000 people to feed a day, for an adequate balanced diet.

Eleven shillings a week for 21 main meals is 6d. a meal, and the people who have to provide a meal for that can do so only by buying the worst of everything; and in many cases, as I well know, it is food not normally considered fit for human consumption. The best and most devoted cooks are at their wits' end to provide eatable meals, and the worst send up revolting messes. Small wonder that the Commissioners in the Report devote less than half a page to the catering services, and even in twelve scant lines they say that there was little change made in the dietary in 1961, that The assistant catering officer appointed in November, 1940, resigned early in 1961". And again: As service is now usually by the cafeteria method, which permits inmates to reject items as they wish, there is no supervision of individual intake, but the system of regular weighing of inmates affords some check. Any farmer worthy of the name would keep a better check on the eating habits of his cattle. I would ask, will the new régime do better?

Take clothing—and I would again remind your Lordships that these are the official figures. On underclothing, shirts, suits, protective clothing, if any, sheets, pillows, blankets, furniture, cutlery, crockery, and other equipment for each prisoner we spend precisely £7 a year—2s. 9d. a week. On medicines, bandages, surgical and medical equipment we spend on each prisoner 10d. a week—and this despite the fact that the doctor sees one prisoner in seven every day; so that, on an average, every prisoner goes to the doctor once a week. A remarkable fact about the Prison Medical Service is that there are no fewer than 122 full-time or part-time medical officers—one for every 250 prisoners. That compares with the 2,000 patients cared for by the average general practitioner—eight times as many; and he of course, if necessary, sees them in their homes.

There are just two other items of that kind that I would mention. First, a prisoner's earnings average only 3s. 1d. a week—and I know that some earn more, and that some do not earn anything at all. Secondly, on all forms of education and recreation in prison we spend precisely 3s. 4d. per week per head. These figures cover men, women and borstal boys. Will the new régime change this appalling situation? These figures from official sources cannot be refuted. Whatever your personal opinions are, these figures do not lie. Your Lordships will draw your own conclusion about what can be provided with them. I think you will agree that no amount of explanation can disprove that, with expenditure on the basic elements of life on such a low scale, it is impossible for prisoners to live other than as sub-humans. And, in my view, if people are treated as sub-humans that is what they are likely to become.

I know that it is difficult for those of us who have not served a prison sentence to imagine what such conditions are like. Everyone has a distaste for criminals, and few people believe what they say. Six months ago, however, a number of young people came to me who had been to prison for their part in anti-nuclear demonstrations, some of them as many as four times. They were young people of good character—honest, respectable and truthful. They are people that you and I would believe, as do the toughest of reporters who have interrogated them. Their experiences in twelve different British prisons shocked them into deciding to try to do something to improve things, and they came to me for advice. I advised them to submit a memorandum to the Home Secretary and the Commissioners, and to allow a fair time for a reply before they did anything else. That was done last August; and they even offered not to publish at all if it could be shown that publication was contrary to the interests of penal reform.

They had no acknowledgment at all from the Home Secretary, and nothing from the Commissioners, except a 34-word note saying that they had studied the memorandum with interest and would bear the points in mind. So last week, after waiting six months, the report was published under the auspices of the Prison Reform Council, of which I have the honour to be President. It reveals a public scandal, and it is all true. I do not propose to discuss it now, but I hope that your Lordships will read it, although, despite its most restrained language, it may, in the words of Mr. Bernard Braden on television on Saturday night, "make your hair stand on end."

My Lords, the Home Office, the Home Secretary, declares that men are sent to prison as a punishment, not to be punished. The facts I have quoted from the official report prove that that is a lie. Men are punished and degraded, unnecessarily and unofficially, every day of their prison lives. Four years ago we approved the Home Secretary's decision to Treat prisoners at all times in such a way as to encourage their self-respect. We agreed that it was right to enforce a high standard of cleanliness in the persons of the inmates. We applauded the decision to stimulate or awaken the higher susceptibilities of prisoners and turn them out of prison better men than when they came in. Will that begin to be done under the new régime? The practice to-day is to awaken their higher susceptibilities by harnessing them to the chamber pot, and the shambling, humiliating 7 a.m. queue to the waste pit, every morning. Even the new psychiatric prison at Grendon, opened a few months ago, is based on the chamber-pot routine. We enforce a high standard of cleanliness by allotting 50, or even 100, men to one lavatory and one sink, and putting them on a charge if they insist on going to the lavatory at night; by giving them one tiny tablet of soap to last two weeks; by giving them one tablet of shaving soap, size 1½ inches by 1 inch, to last them three months—and no possibility of any more. We encourage their self-respect by dressing them in ill-fitting shoes, ill-fitting and often dirty clothing, by washing their shirts once every two weeks.

Finally, by using and misusing regulations over letters, visits, complaints and so on, in what are known to be pettifogging and tyrannical ways, we do not rebuild but destroy a man's self-respect and increase his feelings of humiliation and degradation. Then, when he has paid for his crime and is released, legally no longer a criminal, we send him out with a few shillings in his pocket, a railway warrant stamped "H.M. Prison", and an insurance card with no stamps on it, which shrieks aloud of where he has come from. Usually he has no job and, as the noble Earl mentioned yesterday, of 170 men and women who are coming out on March 19, 114 have no homes to go to. Then we expect him instantly to stand on his feet and become a good citizen.

My Lords, this is the naked, brutal truth; and it is these conditions, plus the lack of adequate welfare services inside, and of after-care services, outside, prison that are one of the major reasons for the constant increase in the prison population.

Recently I wrote some newspaper articles on this subject much more forceful and detailed than anything I have said to-day. The Secretary of the Royal London Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society wrote to tell me that he would find it very difficult to disagree with a single word in them, and for some years he was a prison welfare officer, living in prison. He also referred to the efforts of his devoted and energetic staff, who, though they do fine work with pitifully inadequate resources, get a great deal of criticism but seldom a word of praise. My Lords, I gladly praise them and the many devoted and enlightened governors and prison officers who spend their lives in a hopeless fight against impossible odds.

Without major Government help no radical improvement is possible. I ask again: does the ending of the Prison Commission mean that the Home Office are determined to make a complete change in the system—a reversal of the attitudes which allow this scandal to continue? Will the Home Office stop covering up, cease taking refuge in ever more Committees of Inquiry and start carrying out their own declared policy, the policy approved by Parliament four years ago? While they are doing this, will they look objectively at the constructive proposals sent to them last August?

I, who know personally a very large number of them and correspond with literally thousands more, can say that many men in prison are bad men and brutes, but vastly more are just selfish, or shiftless, or unfortunate, or lazy, or even borderline mental cases. The more we brutalise, degrade and humiliate them, the more we make certain that they will go hack to prison. The more we try to lift them up and help them, the greater is the chance that they will become decent citizens. I ask, and public decency demands—and I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell us—that from now on, for the first time in prison history, we should begin to treat our prisoners as erring human beings, but as people to whom we mean to give a real chance to become decent citizens.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, there is so much of vital importance to do and so much that has been left undone that it seemed to me rather strange that, towards the end of the present Government, they should bring forward something which, at the best, will do little harm, and, at the worst, could considerably weaken the skill with which the Prison Commission have always performed their duties. Freedom—which is a word very badly misused in the present generation—still means quite a lot to very many of us, and this over-centralisation and complete integration with the Home Office must inevitably threaten the feeling of being their own masters which the Prison Commissioners now have—even if in fact the freedom is, to a great extent, theoretical.

I was very interested in Lord Stonham's fine speech on the present position in the prisons. May I say straight away how thoroughly I agree with practically everything he said? The point, surely, is this. Whose fault is it that things are as they are at present? Is it that of the Home Office, or of the Prison Commissioners, or is it partly the one and partly the other? In my humble opinion, the attack is rightly aimed at the Home Office not only for failing to modernise the prisons themselves (which they are attempting to do at far too late a date), but also for the way in which prisoners are treated. It is that fact which makes it even more dangerous to allow the Prison Commisisoners to be completely joined with the Home Office.

The advantages of such integration seem to me to be very slight: a tidier organisation, a very small saving of money, and a closer link with the Children's Department of the Home Office and the Criminal Research Department. Again, that is to a great extent only theoretical, because, of course, they already work closely with them. The noble Earl mentioned "departmental boxes". What a terrible expression—an expression that can only have been used by civil servants without any feeling of humanity at all. And it is humanity that we are really talking about. The only real argument I see in this proposal—and I am sure it is not one the Government would support—is that by being united the Prison Commissioners could arouse a feeling of far greater urgency in regard to the possibility of reasonable research into the whole of the prison administration.

Against all this is the concrete fact that the Prison Commissioners have always, and particularly in recent years, done an exceptionally fine job as an independent team. They now face the danger of interchange and cross-postings, and of being swallowed up in a vast organisation. They are admired by the general public, as opposed to the criticisms—and often only too justifiable criticisms—of the Home Office in regard to their conduct of prison affairs. The work of the Prison Commissioners, apart from just being a job, is one of complete devotion, arid their proper pride in having their own organisation must have helped considerably in their whole outlook upon life. If I were a pessimist I would say that this proposal, if this does nothing else, at least brings to light the greatness of the work they have done and are still doing. If I were an optimist I should hope that the Government would have second thoughts and leave well alone a body that has always done magnificent service. Perhaps, my Lords, it is more than a coincidence that the date on which these proposals would take effect is April Fool's Day.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, it is, of course, true, as the noble Earl said, that the treatment of criminals does not begin or end with a prison sentence. Nevertheless, the time a man spends in prison is a supremely important time and gravely affects his future. So that the administration of the prisons, the drawing up of rules, the making of regimes, is a matter of supreme importance. It calls for persons in charge of it to have great experience, continuity in office, and some degree of independence with which to force policies upon the Home Office or, if need be, to resist the whims and caprices of a Secretary of State.

What prompted me to intervene in this debate was an anxiety lest, by integrating the Prison Commissioners completely into the Home Office, and so creating merely another department of the Home Office exactly on a level with, say, the Children's Department, the result would be that civil servants, in the course of rising through their careers, would spend a part of their time in the Prison Department and then be moved on to some other work, so that in time the heads of the Department—the men upon whose skill, wisdom and experience, I maintain, the successful administration of the prison system depends—would come to these posts with very little actual experience of prison administration. If I understood the noble Earl correctly, it seems I have no cause for that anxiety. It would appear that, though they will not be called Prison Commissioners, the same type of man with the same kind of experience behind him will in fact be appointed. I am very grateful indeed for that assurance. I only hope that it will be honoured by successive Governments and by successive Secretaries of State. But I can see that there will be a standing temptation to use the Prison Department exactly as the other departments in the Home Office are used. Nevertheless I am grateful for that assurance and a great deal of my anxiety is taken away.

It is really replaced by a deep perplexity, because it seems to me, from what the noble Earl said at the beginning of this debate, that this is really a change in name only. I cannot see for the life of me what real advantages it is expected will accrue from this administrative change. It looks to me as though it was simply a matter of tidying up the administration. If that is so, then I think it is due to an almost obsessive desire for tidiness. For, after all, the only virtue of tidiness in administration is to increase efficiency, and is it really argued that this will in fact make the administration of the prisons more efficient? In what respect is it argued that the Prison Commissioners have been, or are inefficient?

I cannot quite grasp what are the advantages which Her Majesty's Government expect to get out of this change. Such inefficiency in the Prison Commissioners' work as there may be—and at one time I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was turning into a fierce attack on the Prison Commissioners—is not, I am sure, due to the Prison Commissioners themselves. I am not at all sure, indeed, that they are due to the Home Office. I think that they are due to the cramping restrictions imposed upon the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners by Her Majesty's Treasury.


My Lords, will the right reverend Prelate allow me to intervene? I thought I made it quite clear in the opening sentences of my speech that I was making no kind of personal attack at all, and that I held the Commissioners in high esteem. But I did, and do, attack the system, and I agree with the conclusion which he has just reached.


My Lords, perhaps I ought to have made myself clearer. What I meant was that the noble Lord's description of our prisons as they now are, the greater part of which I believe to be true, means that, for one reason or another, the Prison Commissioners have not been so successful as we should all have liked them to be. If this change means in fact that the Home Office will be able to extract a great deal more money from the Treasury, then indeed I shall welcome it; and I should hope that the first thing that would be done would be to remove that blot upon our culture and civilisation in England: Her Majesty's Prison on Dartmoor.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is rather striking that all the speakers in this debate are speaking not from the point of view of the Party they represent in the House but from the point of view of their own experience in dealing in one capacity or another with these problems of our penal system. Another thing that is striking is that there are six speakers this afternoon, apart from the two Government speakers, and all of these speakers are asking the Government to pause and think again before making this Order. Of course I have not heard the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, and my noble friend Lord Longford, but I have spoken to them and I know they will take the same point of view as has been taken by other noble Lords and by the right reverend Prelate. So I hope that the mere fact that there is considerable doubt about the advisability of making this Order in this House now, and dissolving the Prison Commissioners, will cause the Government to think very carefully before proceeding with it.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who has taken such a great interest in these matters since he took office, that it is most desirable that there should be an integration of our whole service for the treatment of offenders, adult and juvenile; and that the prison system is a hotchpotch, partly voluntary, partly statutory, partly under the Home Office, partly under the Prison Commissioners. But, my Lords, it seems to me that the real question is whether this integration should take place under a statutory body like the Prison Commissioners, or under a Government Department such as the Home Office. That is the question that has to be decided, and all I am asking the Government is not to decide that question here and now. I will try to give reasons why I think it is advisable that there should be a delay before any final decision is taken. I am not saying that, when the final decision is taken, it may not be in favour of integration within the Home Office, although I myself would be against it, but I am saying that to take that decision now would be premature.

I can see that this is a question of balance; there are arguments on both sides. But may I give two arguments which the noble Earl did not mention, in favour of not integrating tht service under the Home Office? First of all, there is administrative efficiency. The noble Earl did not make as much of a point as I expected him to make of the advantages of administrative efficiency in bringing this under the umbrella of the Home Office. Of course there are advantages, and there might be a saving of money; but I would point out that there would be one considerable disadvantage, and it is this. If the Chairman of the Prison Commissioners and the Deputy Chairman become Assistant Under-Secretaries of State at the Home Office, as they will do, then it means that any decision of importance has to be referred to the Permanent Under-Secretary. Noble Lords know perfectly well from their own experience the delay that is always caused if you have to refer a matter for decision to a senior official in a Government Department. So this would add to the delay in administering the prison system. Quick decisions are often called for. They are now made by the Prison Commissioners. In the future they would have in many cases to be referred to a senior official in the Home Office, and possibly after that to a Minister.

But these administrative arguments are arguments of an entirely secondary nature compared with the primary concern for all of us, which is the efficiency of the prison service. It seems to me that the prison service needs a continuity of career. That is the first and most important consideration. The noble Earl said that in this respect the prison service would continue as at present, but then he answered a question by my noble friend Lord Taylor which showed quite clearly that it would not necessarily continue as at present. He said that in some cases, for the sake of promotion, a man might be taken from, say, the governorship of a prison and transferred to the administrative grade of the Civil Service—that is to say, there might be cross-postings from the prison service to the Home Office and, indeed, presumably, to the same grade in other Government Departments. That is exactly what I think would be highly undesirable. I am certain that the noble Earl and the Government would not dream of undermining the efficiency of the prison service in that way, but we cannot guarantee that there will always be the same Ministers in charge or that the intention of every Government will be the same—a point which was made with very great force, I thought, by the right reverend Prelate.

I think that continuity is desirable, and I also think that there are certain qualities which are needed in the prison service but which are different from the qualities needed in the home Civil Service. I am not saying that there are not some home civil servants with those qualities, but there are two qualities which are essential in the prison service and which are not essential in the home Civil Service. The first of these qualities is human sympathy. You must have a great deal of human sympathy to be a successful prison officer or prison governor. The second of these qualities is imagination. A great deal has been said about the defects in our present system, with which I entirely agree. I am not going into the question of the responsibility for this state of affairs, although personally, from my knowledge of the Prison Commissioners, I should not say they are in the least responsible. On the contrary, I think they are people who are doing a tremendous job of work, and who are doing their utmost to make the best of a bad system. I think the responsibility goes much deeper: we have ourselves to blame, and the nation as a whole has a great deal to reproach itself with over our present system. But I am not going into all that. All I would say is that these qualities of imagination and sympathy are essential; that they cut a man out for a career in the prison service, which ought to be a continuous career and which ought not to make him liable to be posted to an office in Whitehall.


My Lords, I wonder whether I could interrupt the noble Earl here. I think he misunderstood my point. All I was saying, in answer to an interjection and in explanation of it, was that a young man coming into the prison service would have in the future, as indeed he has now, a carière ouverte au talent. He could go right to the top, and right to the very top in exceptional circumstances. I think the noble Earl has misunderstood my point.


My Lords, may I just follow that up for one moment? The noble Earl said that it is at present possible for a person entering the prison service to go right to the top of the Civil Service. It is complete nonsense, my Lords. Are we not going to have an answer to this point? Is the noble Earl really maintaining this extraordinary statement?


I said "right to the top". I was not meaning right to the top at the moment of the Civil Service.


But it will be possible in future?


It would theoretically be possible, yes.


This is really what worries me. This business of promotion—which is, after all, the central point of any man's career—is now going to be a ladder within the Civil Service. That is what seems to me to be undesirable. To take what I think is a very close parallel, look at the Colonial Service, or look at the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. There you get a perfectly good system of promotion, but it would be extremely bad if serving officers were to have to go into Whitehall if they wanted to move up to a higher rank, or if Colonial Service officers were to have to go back into the Colonial Office. It seems to me that here we have a body of men who ought to be independent of the Civil Service, if they are to do their job in the way their job has been done in the past by the great majority of people, and in the way which has caused certain outstanding figures to emerge who have blazed the path of penal reform.

My Lords, all I am asking the Government to do is to pause and to think. I am fairly certain that if there were a secret ballot of all those in the prison service at the present time they would be against this change. I am perfectly certain, from reading the Press, that the authorities on penal reform are against it. The noble Earl is just as aware as I am that there is going to be an enormous change in dealing with after-care as a result of the Report of the Home Office Committee which is considering aftercare at the moment. That will mean a choice between further integration with the Home Office, a Statutory Board, or the continuance of the work by voluntary bodies. It will mean an important choice which ought not to be prejudged by this decision to integrate the Prison Commissioners and the prison service with the Home Office at the present time.

All I should like to ask the Government to do is to pause, to think and to delay this important decision until they have before them the Report of the Committee that is dealing with aftercare, and until they can consider the whole of the prison service, the welfare side as well as the prison officers' side, together. I should like to see complete integration starting with the prison welfare officer and going up to the top, to the Prison Commissioners, so that you get a ladder moving up that way. But this is a matter which ought to be considered as a whole; and I am firmly convinced that the Government ought to wait until they have the Report of their advisers on the subject of after-care before deciding to integrate the Prison Commissioners and the prison service with the Home Office.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all agree that we want the very best thing possible to happen in regard to prison services, and I hesitate to bring forward my point, which is really a very small one, except that its influence on the whole is, I feel, of supreme importance. That is why I venture to bring it before your Lordships. So often in the very best enterprises a small item is overlooked, and eventually that small thing can, in the long run, harm the undertaking to an extent far beyond any impact ever envisaged.

The point I should like to put before your Lordships is an offshoot of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, and concerns the Prison Commissioners themselves, and the standing they have built up throughout the whole of the country. Up and down this land the names of Paterson, Fox and Mellanby have become names treated and regarded with the greatest respect—and, even more than that, looked upon with very great trust by the prisoner himself. In the past Prison Commissioners have been able to use initiative to try out and prove those things which seemed worth while and good to them—enterprises in a new shape and practices with a fresh flavour. There is nobody who would not pay tribute to Sir Lionel Fox as a man of such personal dedication that he always strengthened, just by his very presence, those who were around him. But only those of us who knew him could appreciate at what cost—financial, personal and physical—this was done. If the contribution of men like Paterson was great, so were the sacrifices demanded of him; and the need for him to turn his back on ambition and cleave only to his task was what made him so great a man. I doubt whether any noble Lord who has spoken so far has emphasised as much as it should be emphasised the fact that the men who are doing most useful work in the Prison Service are those who have again and again turned their backs on personal ambition and personal advantage in order to serve humanity in its most difficult form.

Like the right reverend Prelate, I feel that the difficulty is that the very able and promising young civil servant must, because it is imperative to his job, be given a variety of experiences to fit him for the dizzy heights which he may ultimately attain. He must of necessity be a bird of passage, plucking from each department as he serves in it experience which will, in turn, enrich his capacity and groom him for yet more difficult tasks. I have spent many years working for and with Government Departments, and I have learned much of rules and regulations. Nobody appreciates more than I do the need for some of these rules and regulations, but I would respectfully submit that they have been evolved for dealing with matters that follow certain patterns and not for the administration, control and care of human beings as prison occupants. If Her Majesty's Government insist on handing over the direction of the Prison Service to a Department, however perfect that Department may be, it must fall into the stream of the Civil Service methods, and men and women—superb men and women—will come and go. And in coming and going they will give wonderful service, but will not know their subjects except through files and the usual methods of those who occupy for a space of time the seats of responsibility in other departments—be they the Aliens Branch, the Children's Branch, the Civil Defence Section, or the Pornographic Literature desk.

There are many departments which demand the skill and the acumen, the versatility and the intelligence of the very best brains, but none which demands so great a sacrifice of personal self-participation, because of the special problems involved, as does the Prison Service. The men and women in control of the day-to-day prison work must be people who have learned through experience and who are as dedicated to their undertaking as a doctor is to his practice. Prison Commissioners have heretofore been appointed on the recommendation of the Secretary of State and—I quote from Halsbury: They exercise their functions in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State and make an annual report to him which he must lay before Parliament. This shows that the Secretary of State has the control required, but by virtue of the independence of the Prison Commissioners the day-to-day work is not subject to Civil Service procedure and the personnel are bound to be of a definitely specialised type. Reformers have developed through constant contact with, and experience of, prisons and prisoners, and I am convinced that the able and imaginative civil servant with hopes of highest office would not be the one to be weighed in the same scales as the man of great social service, prison experience, zest, hope and vision.

My Lords, I believe that a great deal more is asked of Prison Commissioners than any salary scale could meet; but equally throughout the world we can hold our British heads high because of the things these men have achieved. I am no reactionary, but I beg Her Majesty's Government to examine this side of the problem once more, recognising the human factors of a very special nature that are essential if the prisons of the future are to have the direction which very special men alone can give and through which it is hoped we can attain those things which we hope may eventually be achieved.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, if this were an ordinary coffin the noble Lady who has just resumed her seat would have knocked the last nail into it. But I am afraid that the Government will succeed in getting the lid off again. I should like to say a few words about this matter, on which I spoke at some length during the Committee stage of the Bill. The matter is one of very great importance, and one on which I feel very strongly; so I am sure your Lordships will forgive me if I intervene rather late in the debate.

The noble Earl said that some people feel that this is a retrograde step. In my view that was very much an understatement. To many of us it is not a retrograde step; it is a disaster. It is the worst disaster that has happened in the present century in connection with the whole problem of the prisons and the reform of criminals. It is astonishing to me that a Home Secretary who has been so liberal and a leader in this movement to so many of us during recent times should have allowed himself to be led up the garden path in this way by the civil servants—because this is a Civil Service scheme. It is an organisational scheme for tidying up the situation and bringing the thing into the Home Office.

I cannot bring myself to believe, as the right reverend Prelate could, that things will be carried on in the future in the same way as in the past. The change would not have been brought up if that had been the object. Obviously, the administration of prisons is going to be carried out by the Civil Service. But there are already too many civil servants in the Prison Commission. That may be one of the reasons for Lord Stonham's stricture—and it was to a very considerable extent a stricture—on the situation as administered by the Prison Commission: although I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is not only the Treasury but the community as a whole which must accept responsibility for what is going on in the prisons in this country at the present time. The Treasury merely reflect the feeling in the community, that this is a second-rate enterprise and not one which should have the strength of the community behind it. But, of course, the noble Lady who has just sat down is right: it has been built up over the past years by men of great humanity, men who have sacrificed their careers in the interests of this unfortunate section of the community.

It is a most significant thing that those civil servants who have gone from the Home Office (Sir Lionel Fox was one) into the independent atmosphere of the Prison Commission have themselves condemned this scheme. It has been condemned by Sir Lionel Fox, who, unfortunately, died eighteen months ago, and it has been condemned by his predecessor, Sir Harold Scott, in a letter to The Times. And, although I brought this up in the Committee stage, the noble Earl made no attempt to answer the point. These are the people who know what will happen to it after responsibility goes to the Home Office; for they have spent their lives there. Undoubtedly, apart from Sir Lionel Fox himself, the great innovations and progress which have been made over these last years have been due to the efforts of people brought in from outside—men like Sir Alexander Paterson—who were not civil servants, and others on the Commission at the present time.

My Lords, those who have the respect of the people working on this problem are not the people seconded from the Home Office for one or two years, but those who have come in from outside and are devot- ing their lives to it. I should like to know what real progress has been made in the Prison Commission since Sir Lionel Fox ceased to be Chairman. What progress has been made with the Norwich scheme? That was one of Sir Lionel Fox's protegés, and I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, told us about it two or three years ago. A not dissimilar scheme, under quite different auspices, has been going on at Wandsworth—the group scheme. What further progress has been made by trying to put that into operation in any of the other prisons? The open prison was one of Sir Lionel Fox's innovations; and on the whole it has been remarkably successful.

The truth of the matter is, my Lords, that the organisational mind, to which we owe this change, is not the mind which produces the great forward movements in connection with penal reform. I should have felt much happier if the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, had devoted his speech to matters of this kind, rather than what was hardly better than logic-chopping—though I appreciate that that is a little unfair to him, because he speaks to a brief, as one has to do on occasions of this sort. But what earthly reason is there for combining responsibility for the Home Office with that for the Prison Commissioners? Perhaps there is a logical argument. During the war my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth was, very successfully, both Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security, while at the present time another Minister is Home Secretary and Minister for Wales—which is quite a separate assignment—and he gets on perfectly easily.

The noble Earl went on to say that Departments of the Home Office do analogous work. But Departments of the Ministry of Education do analogous work. So that is not a very sound argument. There are no doubt architects and other departments in the Home Office which, for the sake of economy, also work in prisons. But that is not the main issue. The basic work of the Prison Commissioners is looking after prisoners and trying to turn them out better men than they were when they went in. That is the essential job, to which the great contributions over recent generations have been made not by Civil Service systematisers, but by men who come in with real imagination, real sympathy and real understanding. That is what this Order will remove from the administration of prisons and the service of the prisoners. I feel very strongly about this matter, and I shall certainly vote against this Order, even if nobody else will go into the Division Lobby with me.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I feel some disquiet over this Order, for the simple reason that it appears to me that the ultimate protection for the Prison Service at the moment is the fact that the Prison Commissioners can resign and publish their reasons for resignation. If they become a Department of the Home Office and civil servants, while I suppose they could, in the last resort, resign, it would be without precedent for them to publish their reasons for so doing. For this reason, the Prison Service seems to me to be losing some element of the protection it has against starvation by the Treasury, as the Treasury appears to be doing.

We nowadays put emphasis on the training of prisoners. Is this consistent with continuing the punishment by the revolting food and sanitary conditions, which were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham? It is not only members of the Committee of 100 who have been to jail and published their conclusions. Books of this sort have been written for many years back, and all have had roughly the same story to tell. I should be greatly reassured if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when he comes to reply, could tell us that there will be a little more money for the food in prisons; and, above all, for something for which Home Secretaries have been agitating for years, though they have never been able to carry it against the Treasury—that is, the provision of stamps on prisoners' national insurance cards. If a man comes out with no stamps on his card, he is a marked man. If, as frequently happens, some person of in the shop where he works discovers that he has no card, he will almost certainly be thrown out. This point has been made to me with great force by prison chaplains, and I think it is time the Home Secretary managed to put the matter right with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unless we have a better explanation of the reason for this administrative change than I have heard so far, I am afraid that I shall not be able to vote for this Order, although I may not vote against it.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to notice that there are 16 noble Lords sitting on the opposite Benches. I only hope that the number will not be greatly augmented by those who have not heard this debate when we come to a Division. I should like it to be clearly recorded that that is the number sitting on the Benches opposite at this particular moment, and perhaps two more noble Lords may have heard part of the debate. We certainly intend to divide the House on this question, because we are quite dissatisfied with the showing of the Government.

I take it that this is not a general debate on penal reform or prisons. I am glad to think that my noble friend Lord Stonham has a Motion down on an important aspect of this subject—namely, the report of the young people who were recently imprisoned for their political views and activities. I look forward to a full debate on that subject when the time comes. I myself can bear witness to the complete integrity of the people concerned, which, indeed, has been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. Too often prisoners are not gentlemen with much reputation for honesty, and therefore their testimony, while probably quite accurate, tends not unnaturally to be discounted; but the testimony of these witnesses has not been, and will not be, discounted. There are certainly very serious charges against the arrangements in prison which arise from their report.

I will say nothing about the general prison position to-day, except to make one point to illustrate my view that we must be profoundly dissatisfied with the progress of penal reform in recent years. Some years ago, early in 1957, Mr. Butler became Home Secretary and pledged himself to launch a new campaign for penal reform. May I say that my noble friend Lord Stonham and I, and others concerned with penal reform, have never questioned the devotion of Mr. Butler to that cause. Mr. Butler took overcrowding as one of the giants in the path of penal reform, a point mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who, I know, is greatly concerned about the prison situation. Mr. Butler took the number of men sleeping three in a cell as a good index of the state of overcrowding. Early in 1957, when he became Home Secretary, there were 2,000 sleeping three in a cell. The latest figure, which the noble Earl has been kind enough to supply to me to-day, is 8,498. I am not making a personal charge against Mr. Butler. He did his best.

We are aware of the increase in the number of prisoners from the crime wave. That is the direct cause. But the fact is that we have failed to cope with the great increase in crime, just as if, in the case of education, we had simply ignored the bulge in child population. Therefore, while acknowledging the sincerity of individuals, I have nothing but reprobation for our total failure to improve conditions in prisons in the last few years, bearing in mind both the increase in crime and our overall failure to cope with it.

I have asked, therefore, whether, if that is so, a change may not be desirable. Probably noble Lords will remember the exchange which comes somewhere in one of Oscar Wilde's plays—and some noble Lord more familiar with Oscar Wilde will no doubt be able to tell me from where it comes: What would life be without coffee? And then someone says: What is life with coffee? That, in a sense, is my attitude about the Prison Commission. What would life be without the Prison Commission? And what is life with the Prison Commission? I will not dwell on that further.

We are forced to ask ourselves: what is the reason for what is generally regarded by all those interested in these matters as an important change? There is something mysterious about this change, and when the mystery, after quite a lot of public discussion over a number of months, continues to inject some administrative change, one can usually be sure that there is something most unsatisfactory about it. I am sorry to say that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, whose position in this House needs no bouquet from me, has totally failed to remove the air of mystery which hung over this subject after the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, had addressed us in such a charming way in the summer of 1961. I am sorry that I have not given notice of my remarks to the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, but they apply readily to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and perhaps one noble Earl will accept the remarks relating to another noble Earl coming from a third noble Earl, and I hope we may be regarded as being from the same trade union.

Some little time ago I went to see the present Home Secretary, and in the course of doing another kindness he asked for my views on this question. I expressed them a little casually, because I was not prepared for a full explanation of them, but I was deeply impressed to find that the present Home Secretary should have taken the trouble to write me a long letter seeking to allay my anxieties. I then wrote to him, and now, in his absence in Bermuda, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has written to me, and as the correspondence is all public, perhaps I may quote from it. The present Home Secretary informed me, in the first letter he wrote to me, that there are important advantages in the change. He said: There are a number of good constitutional and practical reasons for merging the Prison Commissioners and the Home Office". To-day we have listened to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and we are all aware that if there are good reasons for a change he is the one man to explain them. But I defy anybody in the House who has sat through the debate, and still more anybody who has not sat through the debate and has just arrived in time for the Division, to leave this House and explain to a friend why this change is being made. It has, in a sense, once again been defended on two more or less conflicting grounds: one that it amounts to nothing, and the other that it is an important change producing valuable economies and integration. I do not know on which of those legs the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, prefers to rest, but I must press the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, to tell us when he replies, whether, in his view, this amounts to anything very much in practice. It could be said that it is just a constitutional tidying up and we are making heavy weather of it; that it is just really assimilating the constitutional position to the actual position.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl, I would reassure him that I prefer to rest on my own natural legs and not on the artificial one with which he has just supplied me.


I think the noble Earl may need a third leg in the form of the Lord Chancellor. I am always excluding those who are pure Lobby fodder, because they are carried into the House, rather than make use of any legs at all. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will help the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on this point, I would ask: is this, in fact, represented as being a change of practical importance, or is it simply a constitutional tidying up? I do not think it is easy to accept the view that it is just a legal reformulation, if only because when it was discussed before the Lord Chancellor of the day, the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, attached a good deal of importance to the advantages which could come from integration. He pointed out then that there are quite a number of services connected with crime which do not come under the present Prison Commission and in which the Home Office is interested—the children's service, approved schools, probation service, and so on. We were led to suppose that one considerable advantage of this change would be that in some way or other more integrated control of these services could be adopted.

Indeed, later in that debate the Lord Chancellor of the day intervened in a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, as follows [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 231, col. 777]: I attach great importance to the integration, so that the Home Office will be dealing with all matters in the field of delinquency. I do not want there to be any misapprehension on that point. So at that time we were led to suppose (and I do not think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, would contradict this to-day; unless I misunderstand him, he also quite favours integration) that there would be important advantages concerned with integration. We are told that some new department is going to take over the work of the Prison Commission. Does it mean that the new department, now or in the foreseeable future, will take over these other services? I do not say that that is necessarily wrong; but if it is so, then we should be told. And if it is not so, then this doubt should be removed and we should be told that there is no question of an important integration of their future.

These issues can be thought to be marginal—that is to say, one should not be unduly dogmatic as to how these matters are arranged in the Government Service. But I take the strongest exception to what appears to be an important change of this sort without any clearer explanation than we have had. I would say that the attitude of the Government, in spite of the excellent advocacy, as always, of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and of the Lord Chancellor in 1961, is completely ambiguous. I do not think that anybody here has the slightest idea whether this will be an important change or whether it will not.

I am not going to labour the point which has been put so well by other speakers as to why many of us would prefer to see the Prison Commission carry on; in view of what has been said, this would simply be impertinent. I would only quote something which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, on the last occasion, from Sir Harold Scott, who was Chairman of the Prison Commission a good many years ago, and which puts in a nutshell all I should wish to say further on the reasons for our disquiet to-day. He said: So long as the Commissioners retain their own corporate status they must feel a very special sense of personal and intimate responsibility for the prison service. It is too much to hope that there will be a similar response from a purely administrative department. That puts in a nutshell what has been said with so much eloquence and strength of feeling to-day.

Before I close, I should like to touch on one aspect—and I am genuinely grateful to the present Home Secretary, and to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for the great trouble they have taken between them to try to remove my anxieties. What worries me most, quite frankly, is not the constitutional position. In some ways it is not even the corporate value of the Prison Commissioners, which is a point that has worried most noble Lords to-day. I am concerned with another side of this question which has come out in various speeches—namely, the effect of these changes on the prospects of the young man entering the prison service. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was kind enough to write me a letter to-day, which I am at liberty to use, in which he explains the views which he feels sure would be those of the Home Secretary if he were in this country. He said this again in the House this afternoon: Our intention is to go on as before with a mixed team of administrators and professional officers guiding and directing the Prison Service. Earlier he said: The posts to which Prison Governors can be promoted at headquarters are, at present, those of the Chief Director, the Director of Borstal Administration, the Director of Prison Administration and the Assistant Commissioners. He has told me in terms, in a letter which I have received to-day, that three of the positions of Prison Commissioner are available to Prison Governors who have served in the prison service. That is, I gather, the present position. But if we look in Whitakers Almanack we find that there are four officers mentioned before we reach any of those who are referred to in this letter. There is the Chairman of the Prison Commission, the Deputy Chairman, the Secretary and the Establishment Officer. Are we to assume from this letter, which is carefully drafted and emanates from the Home Office, I am sure with full authority, that those top four positions in the Prison Commission are not at present open to Governors and ex-Governors? They are not occupied by them.

We are told that the remaining three positions of the seven Prison Commissioners are open. Are we to assume that the top four are not open? The noble Earl whose heart, I am sure, is in the right place—I do not want to embarrass him—went a shade further in his speech. I was not quick enough to take down the exact words, but I think he said there was no reason why a Prison Governor should not attain the position of Chairman of the Prison Commission, at any rate in the exceptional case.


My Lords, I think my exact words were that it was not impossible to conceive of that happening.


Then I can only ask the noble Earl why he did not think it right to mention that fact in the letter which I received this morning over his signature. I give him full credit for the struggle in which he is engaged against the forces of reaction, but it has taken a great effort. I do not want to embarrass him further, but the fact is that in the official letter emanating from the Home Office to-day the first four posts in the Prison Commission are excluded from those which are open to Prison Governors. It is against that background that we are profoundly dissatisfied with the way in which this question is approached.


My Lords, there seems to be some misunderstanding. I understood my noble friend to say that under the new regime the post of Permanent Secretary of the Home Office is open to any prison warder now. Is that correct?


Those officers have not been called "warders" for about 40 years, but otherwise I think that is what the noble Earl was understood to say. At any rate, I think we can take it that when he is Home Secretary he will readily give place to a prison officer. In other words, not even the highest positions will be excluded. But it was an important pronouncement, and it represents a rapid advance since this morning, when the top four posts were excluded, let alone the top positions in the Home Office which were mentioned, although I had raised them in a letter myself. So the whole position is fairly fluid. It seems clear that those who believe that at present the whole status of the prison service is disgracefully low, must make their protest this afternoon.

Some young graduate was asking me whether I thought he had a good opportunity of service in the Prison Service. Assuming that he is ready to sacrifice everything without getting a complete fulfilment, of course one should not discourage him. But if a young man goes into the Home Office, of course he could become Permanent Secretary and perhaps after to-day he will feel encouraged. But up to now the young man in the Prison Service has not had any of the highest positions open to him, either in the Home Office or in the Prison Service proper, if you count the Prison Commission.

One may say that this particular issue is not affected by whether or not we pass this Order. I think that is a doubtful point. We have not had any clarification, except the forthcoming remarks, subject to a good many qualifications, of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. But I think there are a good many of us who are disturbed at the thought that the Home Office are going to destroy the independent life of the Prison Commission. We do not feel they understand what we are driving at when we talk about the valuable services that this Commission have rendered in the past. We do not feel they understand what we mean when we still feel that the Home Office are keeping all the best positions in this field to themselves. We feel that the time has come when some protest must be made if only to extract a much clearer undertaking than has yet been obtained, that the opportunities open to young men entering the Prison Service not only are as good as but are much better than before. Unless we can obtain that undertaking—I hardly venture to think we can—from the Lord Chancellor, then we shall consider it our duty to vote against this wretched Order.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I put one point which puzzles me, because like many noble Lords I find this an extremely difficult subject? I was out of the country at the time when the Act under which this Order is being sought was going through this House. At that time I had been much impressed by a friend of mine who has some experience in these matters, Hubert Secretan, who has expressed his views in The Times quite recently, and I had considerable doubt about that section, as it now is, of the Act. Nevertheless, it is now in the Act, and this Order is a not unnatural sequel to the powers there given.

I am not saying in the least that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is wrong in the attitude which he has now put forward, but I think it indicates a rather important change of policy by the Party for which he speaks. I shall tell him why. It has been represented on previous occasions on similar matters that, as I understood it, Her Majesty's Opposition did not feel it right to negative an Order in this House if the Order had passed the House of Commons. In this case, the Order has not gone before the House of Commons—and that may be a point of great importance—and I am completely baffled myself to know what prompted Her Majesty's Government to introduce this Order into this House before we had the advantage of knowing the views of the House of Commons upon it. But they have done so. I am quite convinced that the present Home Secretary believes this not to be a retrograde step at all, although I quite appreciate the reasons which make the noble Earl and others think it a retrograde step.

There is one thing I hope my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack may be able to clear up in the speech he is about to make. I apologise to the House for intervening between the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor.

I had the advantage and privilege many years ago of knowing as a young man, and later, the late Alexander Paterson, and I shared the view of his ability in this field that has been expressed from so many quarters. I should like to know whether his view can be disclosed to the House. Though I cannot say this from personal conversation with him, I believe Sir Alexander Paterson at the end of his life was not entirely satisfied with the position of the Prison Commissioners. I do not know what the relation was that was desired between them and the Home Office, but, if it should be possible for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to indicate at all—and I daresay there are constitutional difficulties—what are the views of the Prison Commissioners on what is now being proposed, I think it might be helpful to some of us.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord speaks, may I just say one word about the position of my noble friends on this side of the House? We recognise the force of what the noble Lord has just said, and we are not proposing to make this a Party issue. A number of my noble friends feel very strongly about this matter, and I gather that there is a strong feeling in all parts of the House that this Order should not be accepted. But, so far as my noble friends are concerned, we shall regard it as a free vote. We are not putting our own Whips on, and every noble Lord will be free to decide on this matter as he thinks right.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to that announcement with the greatest interest, and when one looks at the Division Lists one will be able to see what difference, in fact, it has made. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, began his speech by some comment about the numbers of your Lordships who had heard this debate and also made some comment on those who had not heard it. This is no new debate. The subject-matter was fully debated in 1961, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said, the principle was then accepted by your Lordships' House that by an Order in Council the powers of the Prison Commissioners could be transferred to the Home Office.

There have been many debates on this subject. I think I have heard most of them; indeed, my memory goes back to the first debate I heard on this subject, in 1948 on the Criminal Justice Bill of that year, introduced by a Socialist Government, containing a clause similar in all material respects to that contained in the Criminal Justice Act, 1961. When that clause came to Standing Committee two Socialist Members of Parliament and one Conservative criticised it, and the then Home Secretary made a very powerful and convincing speech in favour of the proposal which is now embodied in the Criminal Justice Act, 1961, and which has been the subject of discussion again to-day. But having heard the comments of the two Socialist Members and one Conservative on the Standing Committee, Mr. Chuter Ede rose to his feet and said: With deep regret I recognise the feeling of the Committee"— as I say, only three Members had then spoken, and Mr. Chuter Ede went on— and I shall not press the clause. And these are the words I commend to the notice of your Lordships, uttered by a Socialist Home Secretary as long ago as 1948: I regret the loss of it as a very serious injury to the future efficiency of the Prison Service. The right reverend Prelate raised a question about the effect on efficiency, and I would pray in aid those words of Mr. Chuter Ede. But, to finish off the account of what happened in that Standing Committee, I may tell your Lordships that what the then Home Secretary said so convinced the late noble Earl, Lord Winterton, and myself that we would not allow the Home Secretary to withdraw his own clause without a Division. So we had the somewhat unusual result of the Home Secretary leading his Party to vote against a clause which he regarded as important in the Socialist Government's own Bill. This unusual episode in the conduct of a Bill through Parliament in the other House is, of course, past history. But what is significant, in my submission, is the fact that at that time the then Home Secretary, with his experience of the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners, should have thought it important to make this change, and that if this change were not made it would be, in his words, a very serious injury to the future efficiency of the Prison Service. The First Secretary, when he was Home Secretary, reached the same conclusion; and that sort of conclusion is not reached as a result of any kind of jealousy between the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners. It is sometimes represented as if all that the Prison Commissioners have done is good, and all that the Home Office has done is had. The truth is, of course, that while they have been in existence together they have both been working to achieve the same ends in this particular field.

In the debate to-day a number of your Lordships have spoken of the Prison Commissioners as if they were either independent or possessed a degree of independence; that they were a quasi-independent body. You have only to look back at the Prison Act, 1877, to see that that is not so. At that time the local prisons were placed under the Secretary of State, and this body corporate, the Prison Commissioners, was created to assist the Secretary of State in relation to the discharge of his functions; and this body corporate was put under the Secretary of State's power to give directions, specific and general. So, right from its inception there has not been independence. There has been a body corporate created by Act of Parliament; but that was rather the pattern in those days: that a commission or body corporate was created to assist in the discharge of functions of a Government Department. To- day we no longer do that, and surely if a proposal came forward that certain new functions should now be undertaken by a Government Department it would be regarded as a great anachronism to suggest that Commissioners should be appointed to discharge those functions, because everyone would expect them to be discharged by civil servants.

My Lords, if I may turn to just one other point in passing, before I come to the particular points raised in speeches by your Lordships, I would just say this. The link is so close that the Prison Commissioners and those who work in the Prison Service are all civil servants. I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in his very interesting speech, whether I was putting forward this proposal on the constitutional ground, or on the ground that it was a most important and essential change; and on which leg I stood. My Lords, I stand on both legs. Sometimes I place more weight on one, sometimes on the other; but both legs are strong; even if I repeat some of the arguments more shortly, perhaps, than they were advanced by Mr. Chuter Ede, not only in support of this proposal in 1948 but also (and I ask your Lordships to note this) when this proposal came before the House of Commons in 1961, when he made a very persuasive and, I thought, strongly convincing speech in support of this change.

We all know the great repute rightly enjoyed by Sir Lionel Fox and Sir Alexander Paterson. We know what they did, and I should be the last in any way to seek to suggest that they were not entitled to the high reputation they justifiably enjoy. But that reputation which they earned did not depend upon the existence of a statutory corporation called the Prison Commission. What it depended on was having the right men in the right place in relation to the Prison Service.

Under the system we have now, the Home Office are responsible for the whole of penal treatment: for dealing with juvenile crime; for dealing with those who go to approved schools; for probation and after-care; while the Prison Comissioners deal with prisons. That is, in essence, illogical and wrong. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was, I think, right in saying that the real question was not whether there should be integration (if I understood him correctly) but whether there should be integration within the Home Office or within the Prison Commission; whether the functions now discharged by the statutory corporation should be transferred to the Home Office, or the Home Office's functions transferred to the Prison Commission.


My Lords, may I put one point to my noble and learned friend? I follow his point that the important thing is to get the right men in the Service, whatever it is called. I think it is a fact that when Sir Alexander Paterson, who I think we all agree was a "right man", was appointed, he was not a civil servant. Will it be equally possible, and likely, after this Order is made, that a non-civil servant will be appointed to such a position in the Prison Service?


My Lords, I should say that it would be just as equally likely as it is at the present moment. If some outstanding person established a tremendous reputation in a field outside the Civil Service, and were willing to come in, and the Home Secretary wanted him, I feel sure that every effort would be made to achieve that result. In fact, as your Lordships have been told, the Commissioners are civil servants at the present time.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord, can he tell me how many outsiders have been appointed into the Home Office since the end of the war?


No, my Lords; I am not in possession of that information. Nor, I think is it relevant to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. Perhaps I may resume the theme that I was on, because I want to deal with the various speeches which have been made. The real question is not, I submit, whether there should be integration or not, but which pattern the integration should take. I think that was the approach of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I would say that in these days, under our present system of administration, it would be a most unusual, exceptional and, I submit, unwarranted pattern to adopt to transfer more responsibilities, a wider field of activities, to Commissioners who form a body corporate but who are at the same time, like other civil servants, responsible to and under the direction of the Home Secretary. I think anyone considering the position de novo would take the view that the right way would be to create a new department of the Home Office.

Now may I turn to some of the particular questions raised in this debate? The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, began the debate from the Benches on his side of the House with a speech in which I thought he devoted more time to the question of conditions in prisons to-day than he did to the question of whether or not this Order should be made. But he did ask a question about the other Commissioners, and I hope that I shall be able to answer it correctly. The Chief Director and the Director of the Borstal Administration will, if this Order is passed, retain those positions and their titles. The noble Lord made the point that he did not know what was the position of the other Commissioners and that the Order did not say anything about the future employment of their services. The Order would not ordinarily say anything about that matter, because they are, as I have said, civil servants; and the Order will not affect the tenure of their offices, the salaries, superannuation rights of the Prison Commissioners and their staff, because they are already civil servants and will remain so.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor? We have been told that the head of the Prison Commission will be an Assistant Under-Secretary of State, that the two officials immediately below him will be Assistant Secretaries. What we have not been told, and what the Lord Chancellor has not yet said, is what equivalent Civil Service ranks directors and assistant directors will have. Obviously, we should know that because they will be in the Civil Service.


I am not in a position to give an answer, at the moment, but I am sure my noble friend Lord Jellicoe will gladly write to the noble Lord on that point. What I can say is that the two Commissioners now described as Chief Director and Director of Borstal Administration will retain those posts, and indeed those titles; and I think the same will apply so far as the Director of Prison Administration is concerned. The Assistant Commissioners will become Assistant Under-Secretaries but their status and responsibilities will remain precisely the same as they are to-day. I am not sure that does not answer the noble Lord's question.

The noble Lord then went on to give a somewhat lurid account of conditions in Her Majesty's prisons. We are not debating that matter to-day, but I should not like it to be thought that the Government accept the picture he has drawn as an accurate picture of the position. In particular, he drew attention to the results of certain mathematical calculations he had made as to the amount spent on food for each prisoner, which I think he said was 15s. for each week for everything, and he described that as a "Hottentot standard".


My Lords, I think the figure was 11s. was it not?


15s. for everything and 11s. for food. That, of course, ignores the value of the food produced in the prisons. The point I want to make, and I think it is the real answer to the noble Lord, is this: that the particulars of the dietary scales are set out in detail in the official publication Prisons and Borstals, and I am told that they are fully adequate for health and that great improvements have been made in recent years in preparation and service of meals.


My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord say whether or not the two figures I quoted, which are out of the Commissioner's Report, are correct? And will he say how much food is grown at prisons like Pentonville or Wandsworth, or Strangeways, or places of that kind?


My Lords, we are not debating penal reform or the Report of the Prison Commissioners. Her Majesty's Government do not accept the picture drawn by the noble Lord as an accurate picture of the present position. Indeed, the noble Lord went on to criticise efforts to provide 40 new penal establishments and suggested that all we were doing was considering building more places for keeping people inside. That building of new penal establishments is part of the answer to the very kind of complaint the noble Lord made. I recognise, and I think we all recognise, there is a great deal to be done in this particular field. We are not debating that to-day. I would just say this. The noble Lord at the end of his speech put the question more than once, "Will the new regime be better?"; and that, I thought, as I think the right reverend Prelate thought, was rather a reflection on the work done by the Prison Commissioners. I do not know whether the new regime will do better or worse than would be the case if the two institutions, the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners, were kept separate in the future. But I am not sharing or joining in any implied criticism of what the Prison Commissioners have done. All I am saying is that I was convinced by the speech Mr. Chuter Ede made and by the arguments I have heard on so many occasions that the change proposed by this Order will tend to the future efficiency of the prison service as a whole.

Then Lord Moynihan made a most interesting speech. He thought that this proposal would weaken the position, I think it was, of the Prison Commissioners. I believe he was not directing his mind to whose fault the present situation was due—whether it was that of the Home Office or that of the Prison Commissioners. He thought it would be more dangerous to let the Prison Commissioners be joined with the Home Office because he considered that they had performed an exceptionally fine task as an independent team. With the greatest respect to his Lordship, that really is a misconception. It is a team of which we have known the names of those in charge, but it has never been an independent team.

The right reverend Prelate quite rightly said that administration is of the greatest possible importance. I could not; agree more; and there will still he a report similar to the Report of the Prison Commissioners for your Lordships to see. Then he asked a question: should we get the same type of men with the same type of experience? I see no reason at all to suppose that we shall get anything different in quality from those responsible for the prison service. He asked me, too, what real advantages will accrue. He said that the only virtue would be an increase in efficiency—the very test used by Mr. Chuter Ede in relation to this clause as long back as 1948.

I believe the case for efficiency can be put in this way. Think, for a moment, of the duplication which would necessarily ensue if instead of having branches of the Home Department you had separate Commissions running the Aliens Department, the Children's Department and all the rest of them. There would be a tremendous amount of duplication. To some extent there must be duplication now between the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners in relation to the field covered by the Prison Commissioners. But the real argument for administrative efficiency is that put by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who really covered all this ground. He used the phrase "Departmental boxes", to which objection was taken.


My Lords, may I intervene? I was not really talking about administrative efficiency in this respect. I was talking about skill and experience in this particular area—the important, humane and personal business of managing prisons.


My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the right reverend Prelate in any degree, but I feel confident that this change will not lead to the slightest diminution of that. What it will lead to, I think, will be a closer degree of co-operation and so a closer degree of efficiency. I hope, too—I have no connection with the Home Office; I have never served in that Department—that when this change is made it will lead to perhaps greater speed being made with the changes in the direction that we all want to see achieved.

I have already said something in answer to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, but I should like to touch on one or two other points with which he dealt. He made the point that if this change were made, any decision of importance would have to go to the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Home Office, and that that would mean delay. I am sorry to have to tell him that that is not really a sound argument, because any question of importance which comes to the Prison Commissioners already goes to the Permanent Under-Secretary. In fact those who will be at the head of the prison service after this change is made will have the same degree of responsibility for decisions as they do at present.

The noble Earl also spoke about the prison service and the continuity of a career. Some criticism in this respect was made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. But I do not think that this change will have any adverse effect. It may to some degree open the doors a little wider for a career in the Civil Service; it certainly will not shut them. We were asked to pause and think again before

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.