HC Deb 30 November 1949 vol 470 cc1216-29

Amendments made: In line 6, leave out "in Scotland."

In line 10, after "institutions," insert "in Scotland."

In line 11, leave out "in Scotland," and insert: to make certain consequential amendments to the Criminal Justice Act, 1948."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[King's Consent signified.]

6.35 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

It gives me great pleasure to shepherd the Bill on its progress to the Statute Book because I feel that its many ramifications will be of the greatest benefit to us in our criminal administration. The Bill came to us from another place after very careful scrutiny there, but nevertheless in its passage through its stages in this House it has been amended still further, and, I believe, perfected still further.

Most of the Government Amendments which have been introduced in this House fall into two categories, first, the insertion of those provisions which were left out in the other place to avoid questions of privilege, and, secondly, the introduction of provisions dealing with matters furth of Scotland. They deal in the first instance with Scottish probationers who move to England and English probationers who come up to Scotland. They next provide for the removal of prisoners and State mental patients to and from England and enable the Secretary of State to require prisoners discharged in Scotland to report to the police in England if they come to live there.

Further Amendments authorise the trial in Scotland of persons charged with certain indictable offences in foreign countries. The remaining Amendments introduce improvements in detail, for instance, the provision for payment by instalments of fines imposed on indictment. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on whose suggestion that was done.

These Amendments having been included, the five main results of the Bill will be, first, to equip the courts with fuller powers to obtain all the information they need to decide the most appropriate method of treatment for each individual offender; secondly, to remove some of the very obsolete penalties which are still extant in our criminal code, to improve the existing penal methods, such as probation and Borstal, and to introduce new methods of treatment; thirdly, the new provisions modernise the administrative arrangements for dealing with offenders after they have been sentenced; fourthly, the Bill will make suitable provision for the supervision and assistance of offenders after they have been released; and, finally, under the heading of "general purposes of the Bill," the Bill will improve the procedure of the courts in the interests of justice and of expedition.

Some question was raised on the score of expense as to what extent the new proposals would have to be modified or postponed in the light of the economy cuts. As that question was raised at an earlier stage it is right that I should briefly indicate to the House the extent to which the new proposals will be brought into operation and the extent to which they may be postponed. It was contemplated originally that there would be new capital expenditure by the State on buildings and additional annual expenditure by the State and by local authorities in relation to existing organisations. The Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill discloses the intention to have new State remand centres and detention centres, costing approximately £80,000 spread over a term of years, one new prison, costing £100,000, which would not be required for at least five years, and one State mental hospital already contemplated under the Criminal Lunatics (Scotland) Act, 1935. None of this capital expenditure we hope will be incurred in building new institutions in the course of the next year. In other words, the existing institutions will provide us with sufficient accommodation to cope with our present problems but, as the financial position eases, we shall be able to go on towards the erection of the new institutions.

It was estimated that the new institutions would cost £32,500 to run but, over and above that, we felt that the extension of the existing institutions and organisations would involve us in an annual cost of £16,500 divided between the Exchequer and local authorities to the extent of £10,250 to the Exchequer and £6,250 to local authorities. We propose to go ahead with these schemes because the total of £16,500 is not large and the increases will be incurred gradually as the services are extended and, accordingly, will not be all incurred at one time. For instance, in the next Financial Year the increase on the probation service should be of the order of £5,000 divided equally between the Exchequer and the local authorities. I trust that gives a brief but sufficiently informative picture of the amount of expense that will be incurred immediately as the result of the passing of this Bill.

The only further point to which I shall make reference is that part of the Bill dealing with the administrative arrangement for the trial of prisoners in prison for offences which are dealt with by the prison authorities. At one stage the question was raised about the right of the prisoner to call witnesses on his own behalf for his defence if he were put on a charge to be heard either by the prison governor or by the visiting committee. I am pleased to inform the House that instructions have now gone forward from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the prison governors informing them that every facility must be given to an accused prisoner to call witnesses, and that the right to call witnesses should only be denied if the governor is thoroughly satisfied that there is really no cause for calling those witnesses, and that the request is merely of a delaying or an unjustified nature. The general directive is to the effect that every facility should be given to a prisoner to call fellow prisoners or other witnesses on his own behalf for his defence. That substantially meets one of the complaints which existed in that connection.

The Bill, which is comprehensive and progressive, should open the way for the judicial and administrative authorities in Scotland, in co-operation with each other, to deal in a more enlightened way with offenders and in a manner more consistent with modern ideas and conceptions. I would take this opportunity, because it will be my last, of thanking hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House, and those who were in Committee, for the careful attention they have given, to the constructive arguments they have advanced, and to the co-operation they have shown in the passage of this Bill. I am sure that their efforts have tended to improve it and, as I said on Second Reading, I have the feeling that it is in these broad matters of human relationship that our Scottish Members particularly shine.

6.44 p.m.

Commander Galbraith

We are now parting with a Bill which at no time has introduced any real controversy on political lines. Apart from the Division which we had earlier this evening, the only Division during the course of this Bill was one in Committee when my hon. and right hon. Friends went to the "aid of the Government against certain of their own Members who were evidently in rebellion against them.

The Lord Advocate has put to us clearly and concisely what this Bill does. There has been little alteration in it. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, it improves the procedure in our courts and is a further departure from punishment towards reform. With that we are all in agreement. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say so, but it seems to me that we are here indulging in a great act of faith because the contents of the Bill are, to a large extent, quite against the weight of the evidence. Still, we are determined to take this step and so we can only hope that at the end of the day it will prove to be justified.

I am sure the House was grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he told us in regard to the new expenditure which this Bill incurs, and what will happen as a result of the economies which His Majesty's Govern- ment now find they have to make. I hope the Lord Advocate was not being over-optimistic. His outlook seemed to be that with the passing of another year, we would be in a position to start on the provision of the new buildings for which the Bill calls.

The Lord Advocateindicated dissent.

Commander Galbraith

If that is not his view, I take his word for it, but that is how it appeared to me. Nevertheless, one hopes the day will not be far distant when that expenditure can be undertaken. In parting with the Bill, we wish it well and we hope that the faith of this House will be justified.

6.47 p.m.

Sir T. Moore

May I first thank the Lord Advocate for his generous acceptance of the help he received from all sections during the Committee stage? Little party controversy has been aroused by this Bill for we all want to achieve one object—namely, preventing crime and trying to reform those who for some reason have already engaged in it.

Two problems arise out of the Bill. The first is how it will be administered from St. Andrew's House, right down through the various channels to the probation officers and all those other officials who will have to interpret the Act of Parliament and translate it into the human achievements that we want to see. The second is to what extent will the recently announced restrictions on capital expenditure affect the implementation of the Bill. Will it defer some of those buildings and centres and hostels on which the success of the Measure partly depends, or has the Secretary of State received any assurances from the Treasury that we shall be able to get ahead immediately? I am sure, the people of Scotland would be deeply interested in what the Secretary of State could tell us on those two points.

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) that this is a good Bill. It removes certain features from our criminal justice system which are out of touch with modern thought and feeling and, indeed, in some cases are almost inhuman. It abolishes penal servitude and hard labour and, what is far more important, the vicious, abominable ticket-of-leave system which has done more to break the hopes of men trying to make good than any other part of our traditional system. If for no other reason than that, I believe that the Bill justifies its passage into law. Also we were all happy to know that it enables the juvenile delinquents to be treated in a more sympathetic and helpful way, as well as those whose mental development has been either disturbed or seriously retarded.

I have selected the points which, to me, seem to make the Bill worth while. There are, of course, many other aspects, but those I have mentioned stand out as something which will be to the ultimate benefit of our people, rather than the technical details regarding finance which were given to us so fully by the Lord Advocate. There are also one or two defects which must be put against the many advantages I have attributed to the Bill. All Acts of Parliament have defects, but I am somewhat restricted in referring to them by the fact that we are now on Third Reading and I must keep to the contents of the Bill. It abolishes corporal punishment, to which reference was made earlier this afternoon. It abolishes it for both the thug and the gangster outside prison.

Mr. Willis

It does not.

Sir T. Moore

Can the hon. Member refer me to the Clause—

The Lord Advocate

The hon. and gallant Member should know that the abolition of corporal punishment outside prison was effected by Section 2 of the 1948 Criminal Justice Act, which was passed over a year ago.

Sir T. Moore

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. Time passes so swiftly, events move so rapidly and Government Bills tumble out of the printing presses with such rapidity that it is difficult to keep in touch with all of them.

I do not know whether I would be in Order in expressing the hope that something will be done to deal with the pernicious word "Borstal." I admit that the Lord Advocate dealt fully with this earlier today and gave the considered and well-justified arguments which have guided the Scottish Office. But no matter how eagerly the Scottish Office try to guide public opinion into referring only to the geographical situation of the Borstal Institution, I fear that in the courts, in public conversation and in the public mind for many years to come and, possibly, always that word "Borstal" will be used, with all the stigma which everyone of us knows it possesses. It is too late now, perhaps, to suggest any way out of that difficulty. I suggest, therefore, that all we can do is to influence the courts, public opinion and private conversation in any way we can so that as far as possible this word is eliminated from the English dictionary. It has become so much associated with ill-doings and misbehaviour that it always dogs the unfortunate individual against whom it has been used, no matter what he or she subsequently does. To my knowledge, it has spoilt many marriages that might otherwise have been successful and happy.

I congratulate the House as well as-responsible Government Departments for the wisdom and humanity which have been shown in the handling of the Bill. I hope that it will be a success and I wish it God-speed.

6.53 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

Before the Bill leaves the House I should like to direct attention particularly to the matter which I raised during the Committee stage in connection with "art and part," on which I hope a very careful watch will be kept. I remember that on one occasion when I mentioned this question, the English legal hon. Members on the other side of the Committee became very interested and wanted to know what it was. It should be noted by all that "art and part" has no limitation of any kind except the discretion of whoever happens for the time toeing to be in charge of legal authority.

In view of all that has been said, both in the Committee and during the discussion today, I hope that the most careful—and, I might say, humanitarian—attitude will be adopted towards punishment within prisons. Since the Committee stage, I have heard that that obnoxious cell to which I have referred is not now, and is not again likely to be, in use. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to assure us that that cell within a cell will never be put in use for prisoners in Saughton and that no similar cell will be built in any other prison.

Then there is the question of temporary releases. I was interested when the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) raised this point and asked the Lord Advocate what were its actual implications. The Lord Advocate made the remark that it would be good to see some of these lads getting out for a weekend visit to their homes. When we discussed the Criminal Justice Bill prior to the war, in the days of the present Lord Templewood, I made a proposition that, instead of families having to pay enormous expenses in visiting prisons, prisoners should be allowed out to visit their families. There was an outburst of laughter in the House as though I had suggested something which was far beyond the bounds of reason. But in the present Bill we are approaching a situation of that kind in which temporary releases are possible.

At that time also it was proposed that prisoners should be taken from distant prisons to the prison nearest their home when visiting day came near. An English prisoner, however, could not come up to Scotland. This Bill, however, is reciprocal, and now a Scottish prisoner—a Glasgow lad, for instance—can be brought up from the South of England to Glasgow, instead of his parents having to use all their money in travelling from Glasgow to the South. That will be possible under the Bill if the Secretary of State, together with the Home Secretary, will consider putting into effect the idea which was taken up by Lord Templewood and which would have been passed in the earlier Criminal Justice Bill had it not been withdrawn because of the war. I hope that this proposal will be put into operation as a result of the passing of the Bill.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his successors will be very careful on the question of recalling anyone who has been allowed out on temporary release. A person who has been so released, who might be starting to build up a good and decent life, might fall prey to temptation and make a blunder, although of not too serious a character, and be recalled in consequence. Although the Secretary of State has made it clear that each case will be carefully considered, I hope that the greatest latitude will be shown to anyone on temporary release who has earned a good character whilst in prison and has maintained it since his release. I hope that anyone in this position who yields to temptation and makes a mistake will not necessarily be rushed back to serve the rest of his time.

There is another point on which I should like to have information. On page 36 of the Bill, Clause 53 (5), dealing with special rules for special types of prisoners, one of which is "(b)", uses the words: any person serving a sentence on conviction of sedition. In Scotland sedition has always been classed as a civil offence. I should like either the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate to tell me of any case within the past 25 or 30 years where a prisoner convicted of sedition in Scotland has been treated as a civil prisoner. My experience is that all the people who have been charged and sentenced for sedition have been treated as criminal prisoners, despite the fact that in Scotland sedition has always been a civil offence. In the Bill it is treated as a civil offence, and I should like to know whether in the future prisoners convicted of sedition will be treated as such.

I think the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate have handled this Bill in the Committee and Report stages with great credit. They have met many of the questions which have arisen with a certain amount of come-and-go, and if we have not got all that we wanted in the Bill, we have had one or two promises from the Secretary of State as to the sort of treatment which many of us desire to see in the courts and in the prisons. I should like to associate myself with others who have expressed the opinion that the Bill should be helpful, as I believe it will be, and will bring about better conditions in the prisons, as a result of which we shall have better prisoners and thereby build them up as better citizens.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

The points which have been raised have been quite interesting, but a good many of them do not call for any reply. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) put some questions as to how the administration would work. That, of course, can only be answered by experience. I should give as my opinion that the administration will develop in humanity as the prisoners themselves develop receptivity. In other words, these two things march together, and just as we progress in the one field, so we shall undoubtedly progress in the other.

So far as capital expenditure is concerned, my hope is that we shall need very little. This is a case where the Government do not want to spend any money at all. We do not want anybody in prison. We want people to live in their own homes and behave themselves instead of going to prison. They are unwelcome guests. We want as soon as possible to devise ways and means of persuading people to live within the law so that we shall have no responsibility for looking after them at all. This is a form of nationalisation and control that is thrust upon us.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not overlooking the much more difficult case of people of. unsound mind who have to be looked after. I trust the right hon. Gentleman does not mean that he is closing his mind to the necessity of providing accommodation for them?

Mr. Woodburn

They are not in prison. I was talking of prisons. Such people as the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers to are in custody and have to be cared for in the same way as people are cared for in hospitals. We would much rather that it was not necessary to have prisons, mental homes and hospitals, but unfortunately they are necessary. The whole purpose of the Bill is to try by persuasion, education and other means to find ways of dealing with prisoners rather than cluttering up our community with prisons and holding people in detention. If any other method is successful, that method will be adopted.

Reference has been made to Borstal institutions. The best thing I can do is to suggest that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs, who raised this question, should visit the modern Borstal institutions and see what is being done there. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) referred to the question of allowing prisoners home for weekends. I can claim initiative in this matter, for during the war when I visited Borstals, I suggested that we should experiment by allowing these lads home for the weekend as a reward for good behaviour, and also as a means of showing them that we did not want to break their contact with life. We felt that if they went back home and saw that their homes were getting on all right, they might return to Borstals with a different feeling, resolve to behave themselves and develop a civic consciousness earlier than they might otherwise do.

The great punishment is to remove people from society. It cuts them off from their social life. That is the punishment of prison. It is a very serious punishment in some cases, because even people who go to prison have families; they have mothers, sisters and sometimes wives and children, and there is nothing that worries them more than not knowing what is happening outside. That often leads to discontent and rebelliousness, attempts to escape and even to violence that might otherwise not take place. This possibility of finding out what is going on at home and satisfying one's mind has the same effect upon a prisoner as it has upon anybody else, so that he decides to undergo his punishment and take his medicine. But if a prisoner feels that his people are being punished, it is much more difficult to control him.

This system is actually being practised. Where it is possible, the boys come out of Borstal altogether, and go to work on farms. I had the case recently of a Borstal boy who was going to be called up to the Army. In the meantime his mother had died and his home had disappeared. He actually asked for permission to stay at Borstal, even though he was at liberty to go away. He wanted to do his work at Borstal until he joined the Army. That ought to convince hon. Members that Borstal has lost its terror. People are beginning to realise that Borstal is an educational establishment and is no longer a form of punishment.

Sir T. Moore

The right hon. Gentleman has fairly precise indications, then, as to the success of these concessions?

Mr. Woodburn

Yes, it has made a great difference, and it enables us to divide the boys into categories. Of course, there may be boys who are quite incorrigible and others who are temporarily unable to fit into these conditions. But we regard Borstal as a place where we can get people acclimatised to living in society. In order to do that, we have come to the conclusion that they ought to get some practice. They do not get practice if they are treated as prisoners and criminals. Therefore, they work in the brickworks and on farms, and at the end of the day they return to Borstal like anybody else returning home. If they respond to that kind of training, they get more and more freedom. They are now allowed to go home at the weekends, or to go to the pictures and do other things in a normal way, as part of the gradual acclimatisation to a better way of life. A boy may finish up in Borstal because he has committed one or two mistakes or because he has been in the wrong environment. In a new environment he may be different.

I have also suggested—and it has been adopted—that softer influences ought to be introduced. There ought to be a club atmosphere, and instead of the boys being locked up in cells at night, they now have training in boxing and physical jerks. In addition, they do handicrafts. They make beautiful things which they can send home. They are beginning to learn how to use their hands and their leisure, which probably in their old environment was quite impossible. I am quite sure that, in spite of the fact that there are dirty old buildings which need to be replaced, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman visits Borstal he will find that the atmosphere inside has completely changed. It will be only a short time before people will learn that Borstal has a different meaning from that which it used to have, and that in spite of the name, the whole atmosphere of the place has changed. We do not propose to use names in that way. Each place will have its own name and will gradually acquire a reputation of its own. I hope that in due course educational retraining will have its effect and will make these places less necessary as a matter of discipline.

The question of recall has been raised. We have to face the fact that people who go to prison have committed an offence, and when they are released it is in the hope that they will not commit further offences. They cannot be released, commit other offences and then expect everyone to say that they should be forgiven time and time again. I can assure the hon. Member that in these matters great and sympathetic consideration is given to environment, and he will notice that the courts are very considerate about these matters in imposing sentences. A person who has been in prison for a serious crime might, after he has been released, commit a minor offence such as being found drunk and disorderly or drunk and incapable. In that case it would be quite wrong to put him back in prison to complete the punishment for the more serious offence, and I have taken power, in an Amendment which has been agreed to today, to enable the Secretary of State to impose new conditions, such as putting such a person under the guidance of the probation officer or after-care council.

I do not know that sedition can be described as a civil offence; it is really an uncivil offence. The purpose of the provision in the Bill to which the hon. Member for West Fife has referred is to enable persons who are in prison for the offences specified in that provision to be allowed certain concessions which would not be allowed to other types of prisoner. The hon. Member can be assured that this provision will be administered satisfactorily.

I repeat that we do not want people in prison. We want to educate them to behave as citizens, and we hope that our community will progressively develop in that direction. We hope that when we build new institutions they will be in line with the whole purpose and feeling of this Bill.

Mr. Gallacher

Is it not the case that in Scotland sedition is a civil offence?

Mr. Woodburn

Yes, all these are civil offences as opposed to military offences, and the Bill relates to civil prisons. Sedition is a civil offence and is described as such in the Bill. Certain exceptions are made which distinguish these offences, and rules may be made by which rather different treatment can be given to those who are convicted of such offences. They are treated under the Civil Imprisonment (Scotland) Act, 1882, I am informed by the Lord Advocate. The hon. Member is quite correct, it is a civil offence.

Mr. Gallacher

Can the Secretary of State instance a case during the past 30 years?

Mr. Woodburn

Sedition is not well-known in Scotland; it is not an offence which is committed very often. I am sorry to note the hon. Member's undue interest in this matter; I hope that it is not a case of coming events casting their shadows before. In our good democratic country, this is more an academic discussion than one which is of real interest. I hope that we shall send this Bill on its way with the hope that it will help our country's progress, and that prisoners will look upon it as providing a method of helping them to lead a proper life and not one which in any way encourages them to think of prison as a place to which they wish to go.