Liberal Democrats finally rebel over prison book ban

Ian Swales acted as primary sponsor of the EDM
Ian Swales acted as primary sponsor of the EDM
Ian Dunt By

Liberal Democrat MPs have finally begun to rebel against the party leadership over the ban on sending prisoners books.

A handful of Lib Dems have tabled an early day motion in parliament lodging their protest against the restriction, which is the subject of a campaign by leading authors.

Bob Russell, Mike Crockart, John Hemming and Mike Thornton tabled the motion alongside Ian Swales as primary sponsor. Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders also lent it his support.

The move is a significant kick in the teeth for the Liberal Democrat leadership, which has doggedly defended the Ministry of Justice policy despite criticism from across the political spectrum, including the Green party, Ukip and Labour.


The EDM reads:

"That this House is deeply concerned by the ban on all prisoners receiving books as gifts under the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme which will have a detrimental effect on prisoner rehabilitation; notes that the ban has been opposed by eminent writers including Mark Haddon, Philip Pullman and Carol Ann Duffy; further notes that to deny prisoners the books they need in order to improve their skills and support their learning is both unreasonable and counter-productive given that reading goes hand-in-hand with education, rehabilitation and humanity; and urges the government to reverse the ban as soon as possible by exempting books from the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme."

Senior Lib Dem figures like Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have been vocal in their support for the ban, saying that prisoners can have up to 12 books in their cell at one time. They can either purchase their books using funds earned in jail or borrow from the prison library.

But penal experts scoffed at that defence, saying prison libraries are often extremely limited and unable to get books from outside. The meagre wages paid out to prisoners during the week leave little room for purchasing novels.

Some senior Lib Dem sources have expressed private discomfort with the ban, but have not been willing to come out express their opposition to the move in public, although the presence of party support for the EDM may make them think again.

The Lib Dem MPs chose not to support an EDM from Labour MP Pat Glass, which has been tabled for a week.

That EDM has the support of the Labour front bench and sports 36 signatures, just one of which is from a Lib Dem MP.

Chris Grayling's ban on prisoners being sent books is part of his Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, a new "spartan" set of rules for inmates intended to push them toward rehabilitation courses.

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