HC Deb 30 November 1949 vol 470 cc1213-6
Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, in page 82, line 18, column 2, at the end, to insert: At the end of section fifty-two there shall be added the following subsection: '(5) Rules made under this section may provide for the temporary release of persons serving a sentence of imprisonment, corrective training, preventive detention, or Borstal training.' In section fifty-seven, in subsection (1), for the words from ' subject to such conditions' to the end of the subsection there shall be substituted the words ' subject to compliance with such conditions, if any, as the Secretary of State may from time to time determine.'

In section sixty-one, in subsection (5), for the words from ' The provisions of Part I' to 'that Schedule' there shall be substituted 'The provisions of the Seventh Schedule to this Act.'

At the end of section sixty-five there shall be added the following subsection: '(4) For the purposes of this section a person who, after being temporarily released in pursuance of rules made under subsection (5) of section fifty-two of this Act, is at large at any time during the period for which he is liable to be detained in pursuance of his sentence shall be deemed to be unlawfully at large if the period for which he was temporarily released has expired or if an order recalling him has been made by the Prison Commissioners in pursuance of the rules.' In the Eighth Schedule, after sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 1, there shall be inserted the following sub-paragraph: ' (2A) In the case of a person who is deemed by virtue of the last foregoing subparagraph to have been released on licence under section fifty-seven of this Act, the Secretary of State may, without recalling him to prison, substitute for the licence granted under the Penal Servitude Acts, 1853 to 1891, a licence under the said section fifty-seven.' This Amendment provides for the temporary release of people serving a sentence of imprisonment, corrective or preventive training or Borstal training.

Mr. Hale

I was not quite clear about the meaning of the words in this Amendment or what the intention was. I hoped when I read it that it was the inception of a very important social experiment. I am not denigrating the importance of this provision. I think it is excellent. I can see that it deals with a very important difficulty connected with the emotional circumstances that arise during a man's imprisonment and the real difficulty of releasing a man temporarily because there has been no machinery for getting him back. In that respect, I welcome the reform. A sentence of preventive detention would mean that some sort of procedure might be tried experimentally, in the case of a very long sentence, as is already practicable in the case of sentences for life. The Secretary of State can deal with those matters.

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has, normally, periods for a review of these procedures. I was hoping for some experiment in the way of temporary releases in long sentences to see whether reformation had taken place. I am wondering whether that can be put into force. The provisions of the Act of 1948, with regard to preventive detention, have certainly not been carried out by the courts in the spirit in which this House hoped they would be. One has the highest judicial authority for saying that those sentences have actually increased and that they are being applied in cases where it was not intended that they should and where they can prove a very great hardship. This is a serious social problem. The House has never been able to deal with the problem of what is to be done with these men at the time of their release. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us that there will be some experiments in the way of the temporary release of good conduct prisoners in order to see if they have made good and can make a return to civilian life.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

If I may, by leave of the House, speak again, I would say that the Amendments with which this Amendment is associated are for that very purpose. There is one difficulty which might arise. If a person were sentenced for life and we released him, he might commit a somewhat minor offence which might not justify his being brought back to prison but might justify the Secretary of State imposing some condition such as that he should be looked after by an aftercare council. These experiments will be of a varied kind, and, naturally, as circumstances make it possible, they will be developed in various ways. It may be that, as was once the case in Germany, instead of keeping people in prison we might eventually use them for developing the land and for other social purposes. That is already being done in Perth. A number of prisoners go out from Perth every day just as if they were going to normal work. There might be an experimental period during which they might become practically normal persons except that they would have to come back to the prison at night. Men surviving that period might be allowed out altogether and to stay with a farmer, in which case new billeting arrangements would be required. All these things will be tried, and, I hope, many more. If a person is released from sentence for a very serious crime and commits a minor offence, it is necessary for the Secretary of State to be able to vary the conditions without necessarily bringing him back as a punishment, and provision for that is made.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Who actually decides at what stage the misdemeanour is such that a man should be called back, and at what stage would a man be considered not to have gone so far that it was not thought desirable to call him back again? Is that a matter entirely for the Secretary of State, or what sort of datum line will be laid down?

Mr. Woodburn

Clearly the cancellation of a release granted by me would rest with the Secretary of State. He is the person who controls the man's behaviour so far as it is exercised when he is outside prison. However, a man might be brought before a magistrate and convicted of a minor offence, and that would be reported to the Secretary of State by the magistrate or the police, and the Secretary of State would then have to decide whether that offence was sufficient to justify the cancellation of the temporary release and bringing him back again.

There might also be the case of a man sentenced to life imprisonment who was not mentally very stable and yet was not certifiable. It might be possible to release such a man into some sort of custody—that is a risk which a Secretary of State might take—but the Secretary of State has to have power to bring him back if he shows signs of taking to drink or behaving in a way which is likely to endanger the liberty or lives of other people. Somebody has to judge that, and in the last resort the Secretary of State does so with the advice of the various experts concerned in each case.

Amendment agreed to.

Twelfth Schedule. —(ENACTMENTS REPEALED.)

Amendment made: In page 86, line 16, column 3, leave out from "(4)," to end of line 18, and insert:

"section eighty-one so far as it relates to sections ten and seventy-one."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

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