HC Deb 26 March 1947 vol 435 cc1292-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Earl Winterton

This is a very important Clause, and, I am sure, will receive the support of Members on both sides of the Committee. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to say a word upon it. First, perhaps, I may say as one who was for some time an assistant Minister at the Home Office, that, as I understand this Clause, its provisions are intended to carry out in the Army, a reform equal in magnitude to the admirable reforms carried out in penology some years ago. Some hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee may have had the advantage that I have had of visiting at one time or another the experimental prison at Wakefield. At that civil prison convicts are put on their honour in many ways. They are allowed to work practically without guards. The effect on those men has been to reduce what is known—to use the technical jargon—as recidivism to the most astonishing degree. I have always thought—and I think that those hon. Members with experience of this will agree with me—that something of the same kind should apply to the Army; that a certain type of offender, instead of being sent to a prison or detention barracks, should be sent to a place where he can receive this remedial treatment.

I would invite the right hon. Gentleman to tell us about how many of these buildings it is proposed to have. As I say, in civil administration it has proved a very great success. I hope that included in the system—if I may have the attention of the right hon. Gentleman—will be some system of—I do not like the word "phsycho-analytical," because it has come rather into disrepute in recent years—some system of examination of the offender, to see whether he is altogether normal. That has been one side of the penal remedial system in civil prisons, and it has been found in some cases that the men were not responsible for their actions. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to say a word on the subject. I think it might have a beneficial effect on the Army and, indeed, on the recruiting for the Regular Army.

Mr. George Ward (Worcester)

I should like, from the Air Force point of view, also to welcome the idea of this Clause. I also ask the Secretary of State to tell us a little bit more about what is intended by these establishments. How is it to be decided who is to go to a detention barracks and who is to go to a corrective establishment? Will it be decided according to the type of offence, or the type of offender, whether he is a first offender or not? Or will it be done according to the length of the sentence awarded? Will short-term people go to the corrective establishments? There are many points of that sort we should like to know about.

Apparently men are to be allowed out of the establishments on parole for certain periods. It is the fact that when a man goes to a detention barrack his pay is stopped. Is his pay to be stopped when he goes to a corrective establishment? If so, what happens when he goes out during these periods of parole? Does he get his pay back for those periods, or is his pay not stopped at all, during the time he is there? I think that is an important point, on which we should like some information. I welcome this provision, but I think we ought to have these points cleared up before we pass this Clause.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

I am very glad to respond to the invitation of the noble Lord to say a little more about this Clause, which he rightly described as most important, embodying the changes in the system of punishments in the Army and Royal Air Force, to which my predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred in this House on 2nd July, 1946. A very interesting experiment is about to take place. Although a great deal has been done during the war to rehabilitate the soldier who has, for various reasons, misconducted himself during his service, we intend to take that progress still further. As the noble Lord has said, we have taken the best possible advice and experience, including the experience of the Home Office, which has gone exhaustively into these matters, and our intention is to use the military corrective establishments, as we are going to call them, not exactly as a place of punishment for the soldier who has fallen by the wayside, but as an institution which will rehabilitate him, so that he can once again become a good soldier performing his military duties properly. He is also advanced a step further on the road to that high standard of citizenship, which is incorporated in all the educational efforts that we are making for the young soldiers.

It would take too long at this stage to explain the detailed points in connection with this experiment, and, if the Committee permit me, I will consider whether it is not possible, on some future occasion, in some way or other, to acquaint hon. Members with much fuller details than I am able to give tonight as to the methods and machinery which we are going to adopt to carry out the object underlying this Clause. Perhaps I might briefly outline the stages of the soldier's training, because they will receive training in these corrective establishments. Under this scheme, a soldier sentenced to detention, will serve the first period of his sentence in a military corrective establishment, in which there will be psychiatrists who will be able possibly, to help him, and, certainly, to form an opinion as to his mental attitude. We have found in the Army, and I imagine that the same is true of the Royal Air Force, that a psychiatrist has been able to help a great deal in eliminating some particular trouble which has affected the soldier or airman, and which might land him into some form of crime or misdemeanour involving him in a sentence of detention. In the preliminary stage of this training, he will undergo a strictly disciplined and corrective individual training. In other words, a lot of the training which he goes through in his ordinary military life with his unit, will be intensified, because the soldier has only reached the position of being committed to the detention barracks because he has been a bad soldier, and, therefore, we have to elevate him and bring up his standard of military conduct, training and discipline so that he is brought back to the position—which is occupied by most soldiers—of being a good soldier.

Earl Winterton

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that every man who is committed to detention will, as a matter of course, go to a corrective establishment for his preliminary training?

Mr. Bellenger

Just as in the case of the model civil prison at Wakefield, we are setting up what I might call a model corrective barracks. I believe we have in mind at the moment to set up one immediately, but I am speaking without checking up the facts. At the moment, of course, we have not got the ideal places to which we could send all soldiers in detention, so that it will take a little while thoroughly to implement this proposal, but our intention is that the whole system of punishments in the army shall be organised eventually, through these military corrective establishments. If a soldier is now sentenced to detention, he will go to one of these establishments.

Mr. George Ward

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that men sentenced to detention would do the first stage of their punishment at one of these establishments and then go to a detention barracks. Surely, that seems an odd thing to do? First, the man is given corrective training under good conditions and under observation by a psychiatrist, and then, having made him into a good soldier, we are to send him into a detention barracks.

Mr. Bellenger

No. I do not want to give that impression, and I was going on to say what the next stage was. The first stage would be spent in one of the corrective establishments, where the man would undergo severe or strict discipline and individual training. After that, he would go to another military corrective establishment. May I put it this way? The period of serving his sentence of detention will be divided into three stages. After the first stage, which I have just outlined, the soldier will go on his road to rehabilitation through the second stage, in which he will be given lighter conditions and in which military training will not be so strict. He will be branched off in a direction which will tend to teach him, or to encourage him, to reach a better standard in many of the aptitudes which he possesses. For example, a soldier from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps will have certain qualities when he comes in first of all. The emphasis, at first, will not be on those qualities, but on the military training and discipline. After he has served that period, he goes on to what I may call further studies and further education, and, in the latest period, he will be given an opportunity of going out on parole. That will mean that he will be given the opportunity, which many soldiers had during the war when their sentences were suspended, of going back to his unit and so rehabilitating himself in that way.

Earl Winterton

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this is a question of great interest and importance. I think he will find, although I am speaking without the book, that this system is quite different from the admirable system in civilian prisons. The Wakefield experiment was set up by the Home Office in order to give to a certain type of prisoner, who would benefit from a particular treatment, the chance to avoid the risk of becoming a regular offender. This is quite different, irrespective of whether they are to be sent to these establishments. This is quite a novel principle. It is a different system, and the men are not selected because of the advantage they are likely to gain from a particular type of treatment.

Mr. Bellenger

I think the establishment which has been referred to deals with what I might call the hardened criminals, who then go to a prison. They do not serve sentences in a military detention barracks, but go to a civil prison. We are dealing with the vast majority of offenders, who are not hardened sinners, but who need some training to bring them back to the proper standard. Therefore, they need a different kind of treatment from that to which the noble Lord referred, which really applies to the "old lags" and the hardened sinners. At the third stage, the man will be a soldier ready to go back to his unit, and, because of that, we are going to give him the opportunity of tasting freedom again by allowing him out on unescorted parole at least once a week.

The time has been too short for me to explain this scheme thoroughly and in detail, but I will endeavour to acquaint hon. Members with a good deal more information in some other way. The whole purpose of the scheme is to take these people who are committed to detention, through three stages, in an effort to bring them back to rehabilitation, and not to force them into a further life of crime and misdemeanour but, by training, to make them into good soldiers and good citizens. This has been carried out to a certain extent during the war. We are now going to intensify it, and that is why we want this Clause to enable us to carry on something which the noble Lord agreed was a very good idea.

Major Legge-Bourke

I welcome the introduction of these establishments, because I think they will serve a very good purpose, but I differ from the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which they should be set up. From what he said, there is one point about which I think a mistake is being made. If we send a man to a corrective centre, and, in the first stage of his training there, we give him individual training, I think we should run a very great danger that he will associate, for evermore in his mind, training with punishment, and it is most important that we should avoid that. Personally, I am all for keeping prisoners physically fit, but we must be very careful before we accept the idea of a man learning, in a corrective centre, the job he will have to do in his own regiment. I think that may lead to a lot of trouble, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that point very carefully.

There is one question which I would like to ask. Is it the intention to set up these establishments elsewhere, in B.A.O.R., and in the Colonial stations for our men? It seems to me very important that we should consider the matter very carefully before we accept this idea carte blanche. I cannot help remembering that an officer of the Adjutant-General's branch, during the war, came out and addressed a gathering of all ranks in Syria, and told us, in order to encourage us and show us how difficult it was for us to get home on leave, that the difficulty was that there were no ships. He also told us that he had five officers who had been waiting under close arrest for a long time, whom he had been unable to send home, and there were no places in which they could be kept in detention in Syria. It is most important that, when our troops serve overseas, the conditions there should be brought up as near as possible to what they are at home. I hope that the intention is to spread this idea to Dominion troops as well, and that it has already been mentioned to them. I should he interested to hear what reception it has had. It seems to me that this is something which is highly desirable, and which should be shared by as many people as possible.

6.45 p.m.

In conclusion, I would say that it is most important that we should subdivide the hardened type from the others, and I should like to make one suggestion. I believe that, for many years past, a great many officers sentenced men to detention, who had had not the foggiest notion of what detention was like, and, possibly, had never been inside a detention barracks. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity of ensuring that as many as possible of the officers who are entitled to award detention shall visit these corrective centres, and, indeed, the detention barracks. It is highly important that it should be realised by such officers to what they are sentencing their men when they award detention, and the sooner the young officer gets to know it the better. I suggest that it might be a suitable thing to begin with the young officer when he is in his embryonic stage at Sandhurst. The sooner everyone is aware of the punitive arrangements in the Army, and the Air Force, the better, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that point in mind.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

Very briefly I want to say how much we on this side of the House welcome this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that, at a later stage, he would amplify some of the questions put to him. I want to ask him, in view of the keen interest taken in this matter, that, when he reports to the House from time to time, he will say something about the success or otherwise of what I will call this experiment.

Mr. George Ward

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question about pay. May I take it that during the third period some part, at least, of the pay of a soldier under detention will be restored? Otherwise, how is a man to go out on parole?

Mr. Bellenger

As the hon. Member knows, detention automatically carries with it the suspension of pay. I would welcome further opportunities of telling the Committee about the progressive steps we are taking in the Army, to make it conform, as it were, to modern ideas, but, unfortunately, the time at my disposal today is too short. My best opportunity for doing so is when I make my Estimate speech each year, and then, I am afraid, I have so much else to talk about, that it is not always possible to do what my hon. Friend asks. Nevertheless, I will do my best to see that hon. Members know what is happening.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.