HC Deb 07 February 1957 vol 564 cc761-70

Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wills.]

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

There seems to be no association at all between the question of rating and valuation and the subject that I want to raise tonight. I want very briefly to deal with the question of the provision of remand centres. As I go along I hope, for the sake of the record, that I shall be able to say exactly what I have in mind. Before so doing, however, I should like to express my thanks to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for staying here to give some reply to what I have to say.

The question of the establishment of remand centres under our penal system has been raised several times quite recently in this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) has referred to it in the form of a Question, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) and I have also raised the matter. On the last occasion that I asked a Question along these lines I was told by the then Home Secretary—Major Lloyd-George as he then was—that the difficulty was one of finance. He gave figures ranging from £400,000 to £700,000 as the cost of establishing a remand centre. I will come back to that point in a moment.

It is desirable to refer briefly to the history of the matter. The Criminal Justice Act, 1948, did many things, including one or two things in reference to this subject. Section 48 of the Act says: The Secretary of State may provide—

  1. (a) remand centres, that is to say places for the detention of persons not less than fourteen but under twenty-one years of age who are remanded or committed in custody for trial or sentence;
  2. (b) detention centres, that is to say places in which persons not less than fourteen but under twenty-one years of age who are ordered to be detained in such centres under this Act may be kept for short periods under discipline suitable to persons of their age and description."
Section 27 of the Act says: Where a court remands or commits for trial or for sentence a person under twenty-one years of age … who is not released on bail … the following provisions shall have effect"— and I will refer only to paragraph (c), which says— it he is not less than seventeen years of age … and … a remand centre is available for the reception from that court … he shall be committed to a remand centre, instead of being committed to a prison. My final quotation is from Section 17 (2), which says: No court shall impose imprisonment on a person under twenty-one years of age unless the court is of opinion that no other method of dealing with him is appropriate … Subsection (3) says that if the court does impose imprisonment it must state the reason for its opinion that no other method is appropriate.

That Act was put on the Statute Book in 1948, more than eight years ago, and during the whole of the time since then nothing has been done to establish remand centres. I want briefly, but forcefully and sincerely, to say that that is causing terrible concern amongst magistrates, recorders, and anyone who has to deal with young people. Our concern grows into anxiety as the days go by, because of the difficulties in which we are placed in dealing with these young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is as concerned as I am, in his capacity as a justice of the peace, and particularly in relation to his work in the juvenile courts; and I hope to leave time for him to have an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, before the Joint Under-Secretary replies.

I do not want to weary the House with a lot of figures, but I should like to quote one of two from the 1955 Report of the Prison Commissioners. In 1954, taking young people between the ages of 14 and 21 there were 2,476 young people committed to prison on remand before conviction and for trial. They were not subsequently sent to prison and many were discharged completely. I suggest that that is a serious matter. I have not added up the figures but they mean that since the passing of the 1948 Act more than 20,000 young people have served a few days or weeks in prison awaiting trial or before conviction.

In this enlightened age surely we have different ideas than that even for a few days we should cause young people to be contaminated by hardened criminals, as they are in many cases. It could easily help to turn these young people into criminals themselves. In their Report, the Prison Commissioners state: It is unfortunate that economic conditions have prohibited the provision of the remand centres envisaged by the Criminal Justice Act of 1948 which would remove the greater part of these young people from prison. I believe that some magistrates are so concerned about the situation, and are so determined that under no circumstances will they send young people to prison, even on remand, that they have been tempted to, and actually do, send them to detention centres in sheer desperation. It is a fact, and I think that the Joint Under-Secretary will confirm it, that young prisoners are often held on remand at Wormwood Scrubs awaiting detention.

I was told by the former Home Secretary that the real problem is economic. It always has been and it looks as though it always will be. I hope that tonight we may get assurances from the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I make this suggestion. At the moment there are four functioning detention centres, so far as I can make out. I am not sure of the figure and it may be three, with one on the stocks. I understand that in the Estimates for 1957–58 two more are provided for, if the money is available. They are to be in the north of England. These are provided for in Clause 18 of the 1948 Act.

I was a member of the Standing Committee which dealt with that Measure, and I remember that we talked about short sharp treatment for the worst of the young offenders. We always regarded it as something of an experiment. I wish to ask whether the Home Office still regards it as an experiment. It has established three centres, and another is on the stocks, and I desire to know whether the Home Office regards that as a sufficient experiment. Detention centres were only to be used when other methods were not available. Very well; push those on one side and give us, in place of what is intended for detention, one or two remand centres. This is a matter of observation rather than of detention.

The previous Home Secretary said that the cost would be £400,000 for a small remand centre and £700,000 for a larger one, and £150,000 for the conversion of some old house into a detention centre. That is far too much money to be talking about. I cannot see the necessity for so much expenditure for the establishment of remand centres. I recognise at once that these buildings must be secure and that there must be no question of escape, but the figures given by the former Home Secretary seem very high. Suitable buildings could be found and made secure against escape, and observation and classification could go on in a satisfactory way. If two cannot be provided with the money that one has in mind, then in place of the two detention centres give us one in London and one in another area, where Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire meet. I have heard it suggested that the Government intend to build a new prison at Everthorpe for 300 men, at a cost of £800,000. Remand centres costing £700,000 seem out of all proportion.

I would end by quoting a resolution passed unanimously at the last annual meeting of the Magistrates' Association: Since much of the value of the alternative to prison is lost if they have to spend a period in prison, while such alternatives are considered or awaited, this Magistrates Association urges the Government to set up remand centres as provided for in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948. I appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman for a change of heart and immediate action in this respect.

11.43 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

I am glad of the opportunity at this very late hour to add my voice to what the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) has so very well and in such detail already expressed. This is a question in which both sides of the House should take part.

I would reiterate two things: young people should not be sent to prison in company with hardened criminals while they are awaiting judgment. Secondly, I utterly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the need for detention centres would not be so great if these remand centres were created. I wish to take up no more valuable time, except to add to the plea to my hon. and learned Friend in the hope that it may have some influence in the provision of remand centres.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

The experience of most people dealing with juveniles is that unruliness is often a sign of acute mental disorder and maladjustment. There is nowhere now between a remand home and prison to which a youngster of 15 or 16 years of age who has made the remand home too hot to hold him can go. That is one of the most urgent reasons for establishing remand centres.

The only other point I want to mention is the case of the lad on probation, who may have been put on probation on a two-year order at the age of 15. At the age of 17 he quarrels with his father, runs away from home, commits no offence but a breach against the condition of leading an industrious life. He goes back, but if the remand home will not have him there is nowhere to put him except prison. It is that kind of case which makes the remand centre a most urgent need. We are experimenting with detention centres. Let us learn more about how to use them.

11.51 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) for initiating a debate on this matter. He modestly refrained from reminding the House that he is a Vice-Chairman of the Magistrates' Association and speaks with very great authority on these matters. I am very grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) and of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), who also has great experience of this problem.

The hon. Member for Salford, West gave the legal background to this problem, and I am gratefully relieved from taking up the time of the House on that aspect. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Widnes mentioned the three types of institution—detention centres, remand homes and remand centres. All three have one purpose in common—namely, to provide facilities alternative to prison for the treatment of young people who have fallen into trouble.

Detention centres are set up under the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, to provide short periods of detention for young offenders. They provide a brisk régime of hard work and strict discipline; in other words, they provide a method of treatment after trial and conviction. But remand homes and remand centres, as their names suggest, are intended to serve an entirely different purpose. They are for the detention and observation of young persons before trial or sentence.

The remand homes are provided for the safe custody of children and young persons up to the age of 17. The main purpose of the remand centre is to receive young persons who are between 17 and 21, but in addition there are three other classes which it receives. The first is the one referred to by the hon. Member for Widnes—young persons between 14 and 17 who are too unruly or depraved to be sent to or kept in a remand home. Secondly, they take young persons between 14 and 17 who are remanded in custody far an inquiry into their medical or physical condition and for whom no suitable facilities are available in a remand home. Thirdly, they take or are due to take young persons between the ages of 16 and 17 on whom reports are required as to their suitability for Borstal training.

As the hon. Member for Salford, West pointed out, there is a real need for such facilities. My figures are slightly different from his. According to my researches, in 1954 there were 2,539 young persons between 14 and 21 who were committed to prison on remand who were not subsequently sent to prison on conviction.

Mr. Royle

Those are higher than my figures.

Mr. Simon

Yes. Of these, no fewer than 314 boys and 8 girls between 14 and 17 were received into prison because they were too unruly or depraved for custody in a remand home—and that is the problem to which the hon. Member for Widnes referred.

There is no doubt that far too many untried adolescents are being received into prison because there is nowhere else to keep them. That is highly undesirable from more than one point of view. In the first place, it is bad for the boys and girls; prison is the wrong place for them, as my hon. Friend pointed out. In some prisons, the facilities for segregation are necessarily limited, and even if there is no actual contact with other prisoners, the whole atmosphere of a local prison is a most undesirable one for young people. In the second place, the presence of these young people contributes significantly to the serious problem of overcrowding of our local prisons.

It will thus be apparent that there is no difference of view between the hon. Member for Salford, West, who raised this matter, and the hon. Members who supported him in his plea, on the one hand, and the Government and the Prison Commissioners, on the other, as to the desirability of establishing remand centres. The difficulty all along has been lack of resources. When the 1948 Act was passed, the Prison Commissioners found a number of new duties imposed upon them at a time when the call which they were able to make on the limited national resources was of necessity limited, and priorities had to be determined to ensure the best use of the available resources.

The most urgent need, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree, was the provision of new prisons and Borstal institutions. When I say that the new prison at Everthorpe, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, is the first new prison to be built in this country for nearly fifty years, the House will appreciate the urgency of the matter. I know, too, from his interventions in the debates on the Homicide Bill, that the hon. Member for Salford, West, like many hon. Members, attaches great importance to the new psychiatric prison which is to be built at Grendon Underwood—it is in fact to be started this summer, as we have heard.

The hon. Gentleman did suggest, or imply, that the resources devoted to detention centres should have been devoted to the provision of remand centres, at any rate now. If one could accept the view that, to carry out the intentions of the 1948 Act, it was more important to provide remand centres than detention centres, then his argument has some force. I am prepared to admit that it is a view which he is well entitled to hold. But I know that he will be the first to recognise that there are strong arguments on the other side, arguments which I submit are conclusive.

First and foremost, detention centres were set up under the 1948 Act to provide a new method of treatment for con- victed offenders between the ages of 14 and 21. They were one of the various alternatives to imprisonment—this is an important matter—provided by the Act in the hope that, when they were sufficiently developed, it might be possible to put an end to sentences of imprisonment on all persons under the age of 21 by magistrates' courts.

I know the hon. Gentleman looks forward to that moment, and that seems to me really to answer the point which he made, that we have two more detention centres in the immediate programme to be built in the North of England, because if we are to have an order putting an end to sentences of imprisonment by magistrates' courts, it is essential that the total programme of detention centres covering the whole country should be completed.

In any event, the relative costs of the two types of establishment really make any argument in favour of the priority of detention centres to a large extent academic. Detention centres can be provided by adapting existing buildings at comparatively low cost, as the hon. Gentleman himself pointed out. I have the figures. In fact, four centres have so far been provided, complete with staff housing, for less than £300,000.

On the other hand—the hon. Member disputed this, but it is a fact—remand centres must be buildings specially designed and erected for their purpose. They must be of maximum security, as the hon. Member recognised, comparable with a prison in that respect. They must provide facilities—this is the important part—for observation and examination by specialised staffs and for visits by friends and legal advisers.

Further, it is highly desirable, on grounds of economy of staff and premises, that remand centres should be combined with observation and classification centres. They would thus provide facilities for the medical, psychiatric and social examination, not only of young persons on remand, but also of adult persons awaiting sentence and of convicted prisoners, with a view to providing a better system of classification than is available at present. Of course, all those three types of service would be provided in different and quite separate parts of the institution.

The Prison Commissioners estimate that seven centres will be required, the total cost of which would be over £7 million. Even without the observation and classification wings, which would, obviously, be highly desirable, the cost would be over £4 million. However that sum may look from the point of view of a spending Department, from the point of view of the Treasury, which has to consider every demand on the national economy—security, the social services, such as education, housing, hospitals, and a rising consumption, not only for the wage earner but for the retirement pensioner and others in a similar position—the sum is obviously a very large one.

That is not to say that the need is not a real one, and I end, as I began, with an expression of gratitude to the hon. Member for Salford, West for initiating this debate, because he has reminded the House and the country that we are here concerned with human beings who may have fallen foul of the law but who are of an age at which there should be every hope of their redemption, and who are therefore urgent claimants on our sympathy. When I say "our sympathy," I do not forget the story of the Quaker who, when he was told by a friend that he felt for the poor, said, "Where do you feel? Do you feel in your pocket?"

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Twelve o'clock.