HL Deb 02 December 1964 vol 261 cc1176-92

6.56 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is the number of convicts who have escaped from confinement since 1955; how many of these are still at large; whether there has been an increase in the number of escapers; whether a large number of the escapes have occurred while prisoners were enjoying some relaxation of their confinement; what punishment is inflicted as a deterrent against escaping; and whether a convict who is at large at the time when his sentence ends is deemed to have completed it and so is free from re-arrest. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. This Question was suggested to me when I saw in the Sunday Times of October 4 a "Rogues' Gallery" of photographs of some 82 gaol breakers who are still at large. The newspaper also provided a number of statistics which were, I thought, interesting and indeed alarming.

It appears that since 1955 2,413 convicted criminals have escaped from prison. Owing to the efficiency and energy of the police the great majority of them have been recaptured, but nearly 100 of those who have escaped since 1955 are still uncaught. Some three years ago my noble friend, Lord Conesford, asked a Question about the increasing number of escapes from gaol, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, in replying said that this increase was causing the Home Office great concern, that they were studying the matter and that they hoped they would be able to take remedial measures. They do not appear to have been able to take any effective measures. Whereas in 1955, out of a gaol population of 17,427, there were only 87 escapes; in 1959, out of a gaol population of 21,419, there were 301 escapes; and in the first nine months of this year there were 238 escapes.

If I had not already decided to ask a Question after reading the Sunday Times of October 4, I should certainly have done so after reading The Times of October 5. I quote from that newspaper:, Lowestoft, Oct. 4 The seventh prisoner to escape from the £1m. 'maximum security' prison at Blundeston, Suffolk. since it opened a year ago, and the second in less than a week, vanished into the thick woodlands round the prison this afternoon from an angling party…. A group of prisoners had been fishing in a small lake in the 9o-acre grounds. Angling is part of the rehatilitation programme for prisoners. Peter John Olds, aged 36 … slipped away quietly, leaving his rod at the water's edge. On Wednesday Alexander Gilmour, aged 51. climbed over the 12 ft. fence after exercising in the prison yard. Although he was watched by other prisoners he was apparently not seen by officers. Of the other escapers from the prison, two are still at large.

And in the same newspaper and in the same column, from Aylesbury comes the report: Search for a man who escaped from Aylesbury Prison, Buckinghamshire, early to-day switched to Towcester, Northamptonshire, 28 miles away, after two vans were stolen.

And it goes on to describe how John Florko, aged 18, had escaped.

In asking this Question. I do not make any point of the unfortunate escape of Charles Frederick Wilson, the train robber, because that was obviously an extremely carefully and skilfully planned enterprise by the same people who had planned the Great Train Robbery. I do not think that one can reasonably complain, when so much ingenuity has been used by such extremely able men in carrying out a rescue, if it is successful. I wondered, however, whether we could he told about the case of Alfred Hinds, who has escaped on so many occasions.

I am sure that all these escapes are a matter of great public concern. Too small a proportion of the known criminals in this country are convicted. That has been the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and it has been expressed by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Reid, Lord Shawcross and Lord Devlin. With all the difficulties that legal procedure and evidence puts in the way of a conviction, when people are convicted and rightly sentenced to imprisonment it is really a very serious matter that there should be so many escapes from prisons of all kinds. These escapers are dangerous, as is shown by the records of these men. They are a great danger to the people who live in the vicinity of these gaols, especially to the aged, to women and to those who are not able to defend themselves.

The first question I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—and I am afraid it is not contained in my written Question because it is a point which was put to me subsequently—is this: Is it the case that no action is normally taken when offences are committed in furtherance of an escape? When a man has broken out of gaol he usually commits some offences, whether it is trespassing or stealing food and clothes or taking and driving away a car, or perhaps something even more serious than these offences.

There have been a number of escapes from open prisons. If I may indulge in a little light relief on what is a serious subject, I understand that there was one case where a convict escaped from an open prison with the wife of one of his warders. In other cases prisoners have escaped while enjoying recreation, which is part of the reformative treatment, or while working outside of prison or, as in a large number of cases, when they have gone to hospital for examination or treatment, whether they were really suffering from an ailment or suspected ailment or whether that was part of the method adopted in order to escape.

I want to know what punishment is inflicted upon a prisoner who escapes, and by whom. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government accept it as proper that a punishment inflicted upon a man who has escaped might properly be a deterrent to him and to others from escaping. I know that a deterrent in certain senses is regarded as a dirty word by the present advisers of Her Majesty's Government: but I should like to ask—and I think it important: Do the Government consider it proper when a convict has escaped from prison that a punishment should be inflicted upon him which is likely to deter him from attempting to do the same thing again, or another prisoner from doing it for a first time?

By whom is the punishment imposed? Is it imposed by the visiting justices of the peace or might it be imposed by the governor? I suggest that there is no reason at all why the governor of a gaol should not be entitled to impose penalties upon one of the convicts in his charge who has escaped. I would suggest that it would be a perfectly fair and reasonable and proper thing if the automatic penalty for escape was that whatever sentence had been imposed upon the convict should begin again from the time when he is recaptured. I have an idea—and this is one of the questions I would ask the noble Lord—that, so far from that being the case, if an escaper is still successfully at large at the time when his sentence would have been concluded had he still been in prison, he is therefore exempt from re-arrest. Anything more unreasonable I can hardly imagine, if this is indeed the case, than that when a convict has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment and has succeeded in escaping early in that sentence, because the date to which he was sentenced to imprisonment in view of his wrongdoing has been passed, and he has been at large, he should not be liable to re-arrest.

My Question is interrogatory. I was in touch with a previous Home Secretary on these matters—I think it was after the escape of a prisoner from the open prison in Sudbury in Derbyshire, near my constituency—and, although that Home Secretary was a member of my own political Party, I must say that I was profoundly disappointed at the attitude which he adopted with regard to escaped prisoners. It seemed to be that of a kindly schoolmaster who was inclined to say about some escapade of a boy in his charge, "Of course, he really must be punished because he has broken the rules, but one ought not to be too severe, because when I was young I might very well have done the same thing". I hope that the noble Lord, whose attitude about prisons we all appreciate, will agree that a humane and enlightened attitude to first offenders and those capable of reform does not in any way preclude stern action against convicted criminals who escape from gaol.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, as a Devon man I need not apologise for speaking on the subject of Princetown. We recall that it was, and I trust still is, Home Office policy to remove that prison from Dartmoor. That was Mr. Butler's decision. Since then no date has been fixed for doing away with the prison. It was founded in 1809 and, your Lordships will be relieved to hear, thoroughly modernised in 1850. What a big cheer the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will get from all quarters of the House if he is able to announce a firm date for the removal of Princetown Prison! It may be that the last Government did not give high enough priority to their scheme of prison building. I hope to hear that Her Majesty's present advisers are giving still higher priority to that matter.

When the new prisons are built, I suppose there will be a question of priorities as between relieving congestion in the existing prisons, which is, I understand, improving, or replacing the prison on Dartmoor. As it is, that prison has every conceivable disadvantage, but, from the point of view of this debate, it is a high security prison that has become highly insecure. In former days Dartmoor owed its security to two factors. In the first place, the warders were perfectly ready to use their carbines and sabres; the prisoners knew this, and they seldom had to use them. The other factor was the terrain. Some 60 years ago Dartmoor was a wilderness, scattered with bogs, wild and almost trackless. To cross Dartmoor then without a compass and a really good map was not only difficult, but dangerous. To-day things have altered. The warders have become so humane. Public opinion insists on such humane conduct from them—I do not complain of it, but it is a factor of which we must take account—that if, at the end of a long, arduous chase, one warder gets a little rough with the prisoner he has recaptured, there is an inquiry and public opinion is brought into play.

Then, Dartmoor's character has altered. It is now crossed by excellent roads and many—too many—tracks. There are forestry plantations where a man may hide. There are landmarks in the shape of television masts and telegraph wires. And, above all, the bogs, I am informed by those who know them better, are drying up. It is not nearly so difficult or dangerous for an escaped prisoner to make his way across Dartmoor. Consequently, the authorities of the prison have to face this dilemma. They have to decide whether to keep a man in all day in the terrible circumstances of that old-fashioned prison—and that is a soul-destroying thing to do—or to allow him out on working parties, in the knowledge that almost any day on Dartmoor a mist may descend and make it easy for him to escape. I do not blame the Governor for making the mote generous decision; I am sure he is right. But the consequences have to be faced, and more and more men are escaping from the Moor.

What are these consequences? Well, there is a financial consequence. It is roughly estimated that over the last three years escapes from Dartmoor have cost the Devon ratepayers something like £3,000 a year. This, of course, is half of the cost, the other half being paid by the central grant. But why should the ratepayers of Devon pay £3,000 a year because of Government inefficiency? This is how the people of Devon argue. Another factor is that on the many days when the police force is mobilised and tired out by working long hours of overtime the general security of Devon is bound to be diminished.

But much the greater cost lies in the anxiety of so many people. I wonder whether your Lordships and the Government realise what the news of an escape means to people in Devon villages. Devon is a county where elderly people come to retire. They get a little cottage, or build themselves their dream bungalow, perhaps rather remote from the village, and there they settle. They turn on the wireless and listen to the six o'clock news.

The prisoner who escaped from Princetown last Wednesday has not yet been recaptured. He is so and so. now serving a sentence of six years for robbery with violence. It is thought that he is still wearing prison uniform. He is believed to be making for Exeter. The old folk turn ID each other and say: Exeter! That is only five miles away, and he will pass by us, because he will go across country. I suppose by day he will hide in the woods. There is that big wood above the cottage; he can hide there and come out at night. He might come here. Well, a reassuring statement has been issued. It has been pointed out to these householders that the man is, after all, "on the run"; all he wants—and you must give him what he wants—is some food, a suit of clothes, a coat and all the money you can give him. The suggestion is—and it is a wise one—that they should not resist the man, but give him what he wants, and let him get away with it. Yes: but what sort of a night are these old people going to have, with this violent, hard man—because it is only the hard men who get to Dartmoor—in their neighbourhood? That is the present situation, and that is what will go on happening until you move the prison.

But what until then? Are all possible precautions being taken? "Walkie-talkies" are used in the pursuit of prisoners. I am under the impression that every time a prisoner escapes, "walkie-talkies" are hired and issued to the police who have to search Dartmoor. I should have thought it far more sensible to make them a permanent part of police equipment. Now tracker dogs. Why do we not keep tracker dogs at Princetown? Surely that is an obvious precaution. Is enough use being made of horses on the Moor? There are hunts all round the Moor. Has anybody thought of enrolling huntsmen and Masters of Hounds as special constables? Is enough use being made of the experience gained in guarding prisoners of war during the conflict? Have we turned new and first-class intelligencies on to this problem, or are the Home Office content to go on in the old way, I wonder?

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will make this question his own. We all know the noble Lord's keen interest in prisoners. He is a West Countryman—I think perhaps the only West Countryman in the present Government. It would be a satisfaction to me if I could feel that the noble Lord was personally involved in the question. This week we were reminded of a great Home Secretary who involved himself personally in the work of his office. He put on his top hat and went down to see the last stand of Peter the Painter. It is that sort of personal involvement of the Home Office for which I am pleading.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I would at once assure the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, that the Home Office are certainly taking a very keen interest in this subject and, not only that, are pursuing a decidedly new approach. It is because we are pursuing a new approach that to a large extent the number of escapes has increased. I detected in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in putting his points an attitude which appeared to be not a new approach but, indeed, an archaic approach which I would put in the pre-Gladstonian era. I think I have my date about right, because, although he did not exactly suggest it, the kind of solution he envisaged for this problem of how to prevent at all costs any escapes was to revert to the ball and chain. I am encouraged to think that that may be so because his Question asked what is the number of convicts? The use of the word "convicts" in this context went out of use at about the same time as the ball and chain.


My Lords, I really see no reason why the word should not be used just because of some sloppy sentimentality. A convict is a man who has been convicted.


I will accept that the convict is a man who has been convicted, but I still adhere to my opinion that the noble Lord's approach in this matter is archaic, and one which I should not have thought had any kind of general acceptance in this country at all, certainly not with anyone who has any knowledge of prisons, including almost anyone in the Prison Service.

The noble Lord gave a fairly accurate forecast of the answers to the questions which he has put, and has asked me to answer, which were culled, I gather, from the Sunday Times. I hope he will not mind if I give the up-to-date Home Office figures in answer to the questions which he has put, which I have subdivided into five main questions, the first being the total number of escapees.


"Escapers", not "escapees". "Escapee" is the past participle and has no bearing on one who escapes.


At least the noble Lord will allow me to use my own words and my own language; but if he likes to call them escapers, he may. The total number of prisoners who escaped in the last ten years up to the middle of last month was 2,566, an average of some 250 a year. Of those, there were 90 still at large at the most recent count a few days ago. Of course, it is extremely regrettable that 90 are still at large, but I would point out that that is 1 in 28 or about 3½ per cent. of the total who escaped. It may well be, and indeed is probable, that most, if not all, of the 90 who are still free will be arrested in due course.

The noble Lord's second question was: Has there been an increase in the number of escapers? As he suggested, there has been an increase during the ten-year period. There were 87 prisoners who escaped in 1955, when the turnover of prisoners was 64,000. Last year 355 escaped, when the turnover of prisoners was 106,000. That, of course, is one factor to take into consideration. But a high proportion, 47 per cent., escaped from open prisons. With regard to secure prisons, escapes expressed as a percentage of the average daily population in 1963, when they had in fact decreased, was only 3 per 1,000 or less than one-third of 1 per cent. But escapes from open prisons amounted to 6 per cent. or 1 in 16 of the average daily population of open prisons. Since 1955, whereas the number of open prisons has increased from eleven to fourteen, the number of prisoners in those prisons has doubled.

As your Lordships will know, suitable prisoners are transferred to open conditions as soon as possible, primarily because, particularly in the sense of rehabilitation, this is a good thing in itself. It improves the prisoner's prospect of rehabilitation, which is one of the major objectives of the penal system, and of course it sensibly reduces over- crowding in local prisons which makes training in them very difficult, if not at times almost impossible. Before transfer to open prisons, prisoners are carefully screened, but no amount of screening can eliminate the risk of escape, or indeed the sudden urge which in so many cases overcomes reason. It has been my lot on a number of occasions to have men who have escaped from prison telephone me and ask for my advice. The only advice one can give them, of course, is to go back immediately. They have then asked for my advice and help as to how to do so. I have even arranged for the police to meet them. There is no question at all that, particularly from open prisons, most of the escapes result from a sudden, unreasoning urge, w rich is quite understandable.

The noble Lord spoke about a previous Home Secretary treating this matter with some levity, almost as if it were a schoolmaster dealing with boys playing "hookey". I agree that it is not the same thing. The boy who is playing hookey knows that he might have some minor punishment, but the man who escapes from prison (and every man who escapes from prison knows—it is in the Prison Rules—what is going to happen to him when he is caught, as almost certainly he will be) will be subject to major punishments, which indeed are such a deterrent (I will detail them to noble Lords in a few minutes) that I can say that some of those men who have spoken to me, usually on the telephone, when they have been "on the run" were in fact deterred from going back because of the severe punishments awaiting them. Indeed it has been my, duty, usually successfully, to persuade them that it is their only chance and their only hope of eventual rehabilitation.

The noble Lord spoke about Blundeston Prison where most of my friends are. It is unfortunate that this very fine new prison should have had a number of escapes from it; but it is a new prison, there was a misunderstanding about security which has now been put right, and there is no reason to think that the experience we have had there recently is likely to he repeated.

But with regard to open prisons, great care is taken, and screening methods are under continuous review. Prisoners known to be an escape risk are excluded from open prisons, as are those convicted of certain crimes of violence and of certain sexual offences. So a prisoner escaping from an open prison is almost certainly not likely to be a man to use violence or to be a menace to the community. In every other case the prisoner's record is studied, and there is consultation between the governors and members of the staff of both the sending and receiving prisons before a man is transferred from a secure prison to an open prison. The whole of our thinking is that, except for a minority of prisoners (the real thugs and the kind of people about whom the noble Earl was talking), we must continue to develop the open prison régime.

My Lords, the third main point in the noble Lord's Question was what number of escapes have occurred during relexation from confinement? Of the 2,566 escapes, 1,214 were from open prisons and 759 from outside working parties, from hospitals or from other special visits. The noble Lord will be aware that in many cases the medical facilities in a prison are not sufficient for the treatment of some prisoners and they go to hospital, from where, unfortunately, we do get occasional escapes. What happens of course, is that the prisoners simply walk out of the hospital there is no difficulty about it. They are counted in the figures, as are also the men who are sent on parole to attend the funeral of a wife or a relative and who do not return. This is bitterly resented by the other prisoners because it is abuse of a privilege very much appreciated. But it does happen in this sort of desperate circumstance. They, too, are included in the total number of escapes. That is a total of 1,973, or nearly four-fifths of the total number of escapers that I have mentioned.

My Lords, on behalf of the Prison Service, the governors and the prison officers, I reject utterly the suggestion that those escapes can in any way be regarded as due to negligence on the part of the staff. It just is not true. That accounts for four out of five. There is the question of working parties and the selection for working parties, which the noble Earl mentioned, particularly from prisons for recidivists, such as Dartmoor. That, of course, presents a very different kind of risk, and a very great deal of discretion is left to the governor. Employment in an outside working party is always under supervision. It is considered that reasonable risks can be accepted in the interests of the general health of long-term prisoners and to give them a better preparation for taking up employment on their release. I do not think any noble Lord would dispute that.

But I personally feel—and here I am expressing an absolutely personal opinion; I am not committing my Department on this—that although news of escapes is perhaps exciting and makes a story for newspapers, nevertheless the importance of it is greatly overdone, although it is not underestimated by prison governors. I remember one governor of a prison (it shall be nameless) telling me that in a year or two he would be retiring, and hoped (it was a secure prison) to realise his chief ambition: that no prisoner would have escaped from inside the prison during his term of office, which was a long one. He realised that ambition. But, of course, you cannot help the breakings-away from a working party.

Measures have recently been taken and others are being urgently studied to improve security in closed prisons. It would be contrary to the public interest, as I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, if I were to go into details, but I can indicate that they include improvements in material security such as bars, building materials and fencing. We hope to include more scientific methods of detecting attempts to escape and to reduce to a minimum the effect of human failure. These measures also include specific instructions covering known weak points relating to supervision. The whole question has recently formed the subject of a Departmental meeting at which governors and chief officers of prisons and representatives of the Prison Officers' Association met senior officials at the Home Office to discuss common problems and to work out the best means of combating the weaknesses disclosed. The results of this meeting are presently being studied, and any further measures necessary to improve security will follow.

We have considerable hopes that the changes which are being made in police work itself will also have an effect. Indeed, the formation and co-ordination of the regional crime squads under Commander Bliss which was announced recently is one of the things we hope will have an effect on reducing the number of escapes and of increasing security.

The noble Lord asked what penalty is inflicted as a deterrent against escaping. There is not just one penalty, there are many. Escaping is regarded as a very serious offence against prison discipline and is invariably referred to the visiting committee or board of visitors—the visiting magistrates that the noble Lord referred to. They may award any or all of the penalties set out in Rule 51 of the Prison Rules, all of which are displayed in the prisons; all prisoners know about them. They form a very formidable deterrent, including six months' forfeiture of remission, which anyone who knows anything about prisons realises is the worst of all forms of punishment because it is virtually the equivalent of another nine months' imprisonment.

Apart from that, these are some of the other penalties: the forfeiture or postponement of their privileges, the privileges which are set out in the Rule Book; exclusion from associated work for a period of anything up to 56 days; stoppage of earnings for a period of up to 56 days; cellular confinement up to 56 days—eight weeks' solitary; restricted diet for up to 15 days, apart from forfeiture of remission. Rule 51 also provides for forfeiture of the right to be supplied with food and drink under Rule 21(1); and forfeiture of the right to have his own clothing. They build up to a very formidable list and they are certainly a deterrent. But, as I say, they do not stop people from walking out of hospital or of an open prison—a minority of them.

The noble Lord asked what happens if a man commits another offence whilst at large. Of course, it depends on the offence, but almost certainly he will be charged in court, just as any other man committing a crime, and given the appropriate sentence if convicted. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, mentioned the terror of the elderly people. I appreciate that, although I deplore it, but I could not myself think of any case in recent years on or near Dartmoor where a resident had been assaulted by an escaping prisoner. These men themselves are hunted animals, themselves in a state of terror, and the last thing they want to do is to make contact with anyone by whom they can be recognised.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked whether an offender still at large is deemed to have completed his sentence. The answer is, No, he is not. In the case to which publicity was given recently, the case of a prisoner who had escaped, he had been at large for a long time and was then picked up by the police and was net returned to prison. But in that case the sentence was imposed before 1948. Under the law as it then existed the sentence had expired long before the prisoner was picked up; therefore that particular man could not be sent to prison. But under the Criminal Justice Act, 1948—that is, since 1948—a prisoner at large when his sentence would otherwise have expired is not deemed to have completed it. If he were subsequently arrested, as indeed nearly all of them are, he would be required to complete his sentence, including also such loss of remission as the visiting magistrates might decide. He will be subject to Rule 51, which relates to special clothing. He loses his classes—everything.

I have talked to prisoners on the "A" list, the escape list—the light over the head all night, the peephole looking through the door; I likened it once to the Chinese water torture. After having had a word with the governor first, I have spoken with them, real tough men, and they have asked how they can, as it were, get away from the "A" list. I have said, "You jolly well know how to get a way from the 'A' list; behave yourself. Go on for a year". And those men have got off the "A" list; they made good, literally, in prison and afterwards. It can be done.

I think I have effectively—I hope, effectively—answered Lord Molson's Question, and I would now turn to the points regarding Dartmoor raised by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, particularly about escapes. I do not minimise the effect that these escapes have, if only because whenever there is an escape from Dartmoor everyone knows about it, everyone is alerted and we are constantly informed about it. But let us have it in perspective. During the last ten years there have been 81 escapes from Dartmoor; that is an average of eight per year, and there are more than 500 prisoners there. Of the 81, 30 were escapes from inside the prison—that is, three per year—and 51 from outside working parties, which is roughly five a year.

The noble Earl made certain suggestions for dealing with the situation, but eight escapes a year would not justify the permanent retention at Dartmoor of tracker dogs and their expert handlers, under the control of prison authorities. But under the existing arrangements tracker dogs are used by the police where it is thought to be necessary to assist the capture. This is obviously more efficient and a more economical method. The noble Earl mentioned mounted patrols. Some use is made of mounted patrols. If the noble Earl saw the illustrated article in the Observer on Sunday, he will have seen a picture of a mounted patrol on Dartmoor.

With regard to "walkie-talkie" wireless, the way the noble Earl put it, about the police hiring "walkie-talkie" sets after a prisoner has escaped, sounded rather odd. The fact is they are Home Office "walkie-talkie" sets, and that is the general position: they are hired from the Home Office by the police forces over most parts of the country. The depot is at Tavistock, and of course they can be obtained immediately, by day or night. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl, however, that so far as Dartmoor is concerned, in addition to the provision of these facilities, we have now made arrangements for some sets to be held by the police, permanently available, on permanent hire. As I told the House on November 10, we are having extended trials of a new type of "walkie-talkie" set, and I hope for still further improvements in that way in the near future.

With regard to working parties on Dartmoor, whenever foggy weather is expected outside parties are cancelled, except that even in had weather the dairy and stable parties have to be manned. Working parties on Dartmoor could not be dispensed with entirely. No one on the escape list is included in the outside parties, although prisoners with an earlier history of escaping are not excluded if their conduct, in the opinion of the governor, has justified removal from the escape list. The noble Earl mentioned the expenditure which falls on the Devon county rates, and correctly said that half is police expenditure and ranks for 50 per cent. Exchequer grant and that the other half falls on the ratepayer. But I must point out that the recapture of escaped prisoners is recognised as a police function to be performed in all parts of the country, whether the escapes are from closed or open prisons, hostels or detention centres, all over the country, whose inmates are not merely local people. The problem, therefore, is not peculiar to Dartmoor. Indeed, the number of escapes pro rata appears to be smaller at Dartmoor than it is over the country as a whole; so that one could perhaps claim that Devon County are paying less than some other counties under this head. But this expenditure is a legitimate charge on the police fund, and it would be difficult to justify making special provision for the cost of discharging one particular police duty.

The noble Earl raised the question of the future of Dartmoor Prison, a matter in which he rightly says I have been interested for a long time: that is, interested in pulling it down. At the public inquiry four years ago the previous Government said that Dartmoor Prison would cease to be used when other accommodation became available for the prisoners, and that, owing to the inconvenience of the site, no new prison would he built there. I myself obtained an assurance to that effect from the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst. Later on, an undertaking was given that at least three years' notice would be given of the start of the run-down of the prison. Of course, this was for the benefit of local tradesmen and others whose livelihood depended wholly or partly on the existence of the prison.

The prison building programme has made great progress, but the number of prisoners has increased since 1960, and we are not yet able to do without Dartmoor Prison, particularly as in other prisons there are still 5,000 men sleeping three to a cell. But I can assure your Lordships—perhaps I may give a personal word about this to the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh—that we fully intend to close the prison, and we shall give the promised three years' notice as soon as sufficient progress has been made in providing new accommodation elsewhere.

I hope that I have said sufficient to satisfy your Lordships that the utmost is done to prevent escapes, and that we are constantly striving to improve security. But what we will not do—certainly what I would find it impossible to advocate—is to so restrict the movement and activities of prisoners that we virtually destroy their chances of rehabilitation. I know that we read novels about escapes from horrifying prisons, when people had to tunnel under the earth, perhaps with a ball and chain attached to them. I suppose that we could stop all escapes, or most of them, if we shackled prisoners as in the days of medieval methods: but that we cannot, and will not, do. All else that can be done to prevent escapes, so long as it is in keeping with the penal policy now being followed by Her Majesty's Government, we will do.

House adjourned at six minutes before eight o'clock.