HC Deb 20 July 1914 vol 65 cc141-7

Where a Court of Summary Jurisdiction has power to pass a sentence of imprisonment, the Court, in lieu of passing a sentence of imprisonment, may order that the offender be detained within the precincts of the Court, or at any police station, till such hour, not later than ten in the evening on the day on which he is convicted, as the Court may direct.


I beg to move to leave out this Clause.

I wish to obtain some assurance from Home Secretary on the points raised in connection with this Clause. I object to the Clause, first, because I feel that it will not do very much good. The proposal is, that in certain cases the person who would otherwise be sent to prison is simply put under lock and key in the Police Court or police cell and let out later in the day. This is open to certain objections. The principle one is that there is no proper accommodation for this kind of custody, especially in the case of women prisoners. I understand that the Home Secretary is, on the following Clause, going to make some proposal which will ensure that the accommodation in the police cells shall not be made use of for this purpose, unless it is made suitable under directions issued by the Home Office. I am not sure whether these directions will apply to Clause 12, as well as to Clause 13, and I would like to have a statement on this point. Another objection is that in the case of women prisoners there are no female attendants for many of these police cells. I understand that the Home Secretary is going to move an Amendment which will ensure female attendants for women offenders dealt with under Clause 13. I am not sure whether this provision will also apply to Clause 12, and I would like this point cleared up. There is a third objection in reference to the hour at which prisoners shall be let out. The proposal is that they shall be kept in until ten o'clock at night,—or, rather, not later—and in all probability that hour would be the one chosen as a rule. That means that men and women would find themselves let out at an hour at which it may be difficult to get home, or, at any rate, which is not an hour suitable for the liberation of a prisoner. On that point I understand that the Home Secretary is going to meet us. It is in order to obtain some assurance on these points that I beg to move the Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment. I desire particularly to direct attention to the hour at which prisoners may be let out. As I understand the idea underlying the Clause is that it saves a man or woman the shame of a conviction. It is a kind of minor punishment, not the ordinary prison, but enough to frighten a person. There are two very great objections to it. One is that anyone who knows anything about the subject will agree that the whole atmosphere of the Police Court cells, so far from being a deterrent, is demoralising. There is a kind of stern discipline about prison which is frightening, and possibly reforming; but about the atmosphere of the Police Court cell there is nothing except what is degrading and demoralising. Turning to another point, I cannot conceive how it is considered desirable to turn out this type of petty offender, who is a weak person, and should be protected from temptation, at ten o'clock at night. Even those of us who sit at Petty Sessions know very well that ten o'clock is the worst hour which you could choose to let a person out. The public-houses are still open. The man, and, still worse, the woman, would go out alone, and be received as a kind of pothouse hero by boon companions, and probably get drunk. In the city it would be still worse, for the public-houses are open later there. I am very glad to know that the Home Secretary will consider the question of altering this hour. But it shows what strange ideas some reformers have of dealing with matters like this, for all who know anything of the subject must realise that you could have no worse provision than a provision by which a young girl or boy, or a petty offender of any kind, could be turned into the streets from one of these places at ten o'clock at night.

8.0 P.M.


My hon. Friend speaks of this Clause as if young boys or girls would be always let out at ten o'clock at night. This Clause gives a discretion which is to be exercised by the magistrate, and it is obvious that the magistrates could be trusted not to exercise such a discretion wrongly. But in order to remove anxiety on the point, I am quite prepared to accept an Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Dickinson) lower down on the Paper to substitute eight for ten o'clock. I cannot conceive that any magistrates would wrongly exercise the power of detaining until ten. Though the magistrates would exercise their discretion in the use of their powers, I am prepared to accept the Amendments of my hon. Friends. If the places available at the police stations or Police Courts are not proper for the purpose, the magistrates must be aware of that fact, and they will not exercise their powers if the conditions are not satisfactory. What we propose now is to give the magistrates the opportunity of imposing what may be called a lenient punishment, and we propose in the next Clause to give the magistrates the power to inflict a penalty which will not necessarily send a person to prison for a period longer than five days. The magistrates have surely a full knowledge of the circumstances and of the character of the persons before them, and will exercise their powers reasonably. It must not be supposed that magistrates will necessarily exercise their powers in the worst possible manner. I hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the assurance I have given. I will accept the substitution "eight" for "ten," and I will even go further and accept a proposal in the name of my hon. Friend (Mr. King), if it is pressed, that an offender shall not by any order be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to return to his abode on the day on which such order of detention is made.


I do not understand how there can be any strong objection to the Clause, which is only intended to apply to cases where a sentence of imprisonment might be imposed. It must be worse to send a person even for a very short time to prison than to detain that person in a room within the court-house, or possibly at a police station for a day or any part of a day. Sometimes on a conviction taking place, the magistrate knows that within a short time some friend is willing to come and take charge of the person convicted, but if you release the prisoner at once, he disappears, and the chance of handing him over to his friends goes. If you have the power to keep the prisoner in the courthouse, it may be for no more than some hours of the day, you can obviate that, and hand the person over to his friends. In regard to the hour of release, I think eight o'clock is nearly as bad as ten o'clock. Eight o'clock is not an hour at which to release young persons, especially women or girls. For myself, I think it would be better to extend the time to eight o'clock the next morning, making that the maximum time. It is far better to release prisoners in the morning than at any time at night. You have less danger of their falling into bad company. They start fresh in the morning, and may have a chance of finding work, and they will avoid the dangerous and perilous task of finding quarters at night, after conviction. For myself, while I do not of course mean that the power should be used in every case. I should like a discretion to be given to the magistrate to detain persons of this kind until next morning, when they might be released at six, seven or eight o'clock without any danger at all.


I think my right hon. Friend has taken a perfectly genuine step to meet the various points raised. While I agree with the hon and learned Gentleman opposite that probably eight o'clock at night is not very much better than ten o'clock at night, I should like to say a word or two as to the state of the police-station cells, though perhaps that discussion might be taken more conveniently on the next Clause. As I understand him, the right hon. Gentleman desires in future, if possible, to level up the condition of the police cells. I think my hon. Friend has made a very substantial point in calling attention to the very dirty condition of the cells at many of the police stations. A person who may not be, a case-hardened offender should not be put into the company of drunken prostitutes and other prisoners in the police cells, and there is need of a levelling up of the condition of cells connected with Police Courts and police stations. I think we might have some more specific assurance on this last point, and that the powers of magistrates will be reasonably and not carelessly exercised.


I desire to make one suggestion to the Home Secretary, who I think has gone a considerable way to meet objections to the Clause by indicating that he will accept eight o'clock instead of ten o'clock. But, as has already been pointed out by the hon. and learned Member opposite, eight o'clock being a very unsuitable time for young persons to be discharged, I propose that the difficulty might be got over by substituting six o'clock. It appears to me that the suggestion made by the hon. and learned Member opposite is open to this objection that the detention should be for reform and detention at the Police Court is not reform in any sense.


I think that perhaps too bad a character has been given of the accommodation provided at Police Courts or police stations. The accommodation does not necessarily mean that the cells will be used, for at most police stations, especially at those with which I am familiar, there are rooms to which those persons could be sent. There is the charge-room, where any young person could be put, and it would not be necessary to use a cell at all. It is not incredible to suppose, in the year 1914, that even in remote parts of the country there are rooms and places connected with the Police Courts and police stations where these young persons could be provided with temporary accommodation; and, as to the police cells, which are under the supervision of the Home Office, they are obliged to put them into a sanitary condition, and they are wholly different from what they were in years gone by. The rooms at various places in the country would be furnished, and they would obviously be the proper places in which to detain anybody for a short time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I propose, to move—


On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to substitute the word "eight," and may I ask whether that Amendment should not come before the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member opposite?


I must take them in the order in which they appear on the Paper, but the difficulty could be met by striking out the word "ten" in order to insert the word "eight."


I beg to move, to leave out the word "ten" ["ten in the evening"], and to insert instead thereof the words "eight in the morning on the day following."


The assumption against the Bill is that, as the magistrate has the power to release the person at ten o'clock at night, which is regarded as a very unsuitable time; therefore, he will invariably exercise that power. That is the whole argument directed against the Bill.


It is not my argument.


No, it was not the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would point out that under the Amendment proposed by him, the magistrate would have the opportunity of discharging prisoners at two o'clock or one o'clock in the morning, or any hour he pleases, and as I understand it if I accepted his Amendment, I should have the whole argument against me. Perhaps the magistrate might send out young girls at ten, eleven, or twelve o'clock at night. The difficulty would be in working the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman in a great many places. At the Police Courts and police stations, in the majority of instances, there is no suitable place where a young person could be kept until the next morning. When we get to Clause 13 we propose to take steps to ensure that proper places shall be provided for the detention of young persons for one or more days. I hope, in these circumstances, that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: Leave out the word "ten" ["ten in the evening"], and insert instead thereof the word "eight."—[Mr. Dickinson.]

At the end of the Clause add the words,

"Provided that a Court of Summary Jurisdiction shall, before making an order of detention under this Section, take into consideration the distance between the place of detention and the offender's abode (if his abode is known to, or ascertainable by, the Court), and shall not make any such order of detention under this Section as will deprive the offender of a reasonable opportunity of returning to his abode on the day on which such order of detention is made."—[Mr. King.]