HC Deb 07 May 1958 vol 587 cc1377-84

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

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Montgomery Hyde (Belfast, North)

I wish to draw attention to the need for an institute of criminology. We have nothing of the kind in this country today, although it is generally agreed that crime and its methods of prevention and treatment deserve the most careful and detailed study.

On the other hand, there are a number of well-known institutes of criminology on the European continent, in Paris, Rome, Vienna and elsewhere. The subject is also taught at professorial level at various continental universities, including quite small ones. In the United States it is taught in 25 of the leading universities, of which the University of California, with its autonomous Department of Criminology under the direction of Professor Austin MacCormick, at Berkeley, near San Francisco, is outstanding. Yet there is not a single chair of criminology in any university or university college in the United Kingdom. Such teaching and research in the subject as are carried on here at present, on a very limited scale, lack the proper co-ordination which an institute of criminology might be expected to provide.

The only criminological foundation in this country with the title of institute is the Institute for the Study of the Treatment of Delinquency, a private establishment which was founded in 1931 as a clinic for the examination of offenders, later becoming a centre for evening courses devoted to social studies. It cannot be compared, as regards either organisation or teaching aims, with the continental institutes or with the sociology departments in those universities in Britain which teach this subject.

In raising this subject, I should like to pay a tribute to a brilliant and energetic worker in the field of penal reform who has died during past weeks—Miss Margery Fry. The project of an institute of criminology was very near and dear to her heart, and she strove tirelessly and selflessly towards its realisation down to the time of her final illness a few months ago.

It was as the result of her urging that the Howard League, whose secretary she had been for some years and on whose executive committee she served until the end, put forward the idea in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last June. Incidentally, I am glad to see the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) in his place, as I know that he has valiantly discharged the duties of chairman of the Howard League for 25 years.

Miss Fry followed up the League's letter by going to see my right hon. Friend, and, with her characteristic charm and persuasiveness, although she was already in failing health at the time, she pressed the advantages of the scheme on him. The response of my right hon. Friend was favourable, and he translated it into a public expression of his views when he came to address the Howard League shortly afterwards.

Speaking at the League's annual general meeting in London on 5th November last year, the Home Secretary said: You have taken the initiative, an initiative which I welcome, in suggesting the creation of an institute of criminology in this country. I intend through various contacts to see that this proposal will be seriously considered, not just by the Government, because it is not primarily our business, but by the universities. Crime and its treatment seem to me to be no less suitable as a subject for study and teaching by the universities than a number of other social phenomena; and this is a field in which we particularly need the help and urge of the informed but detached public opinion which the universities are so well able to produce. That was six months ago. I am not complaining, as I know that these negotiations take time, but I think we are entitled to ask what has happened since then. The only official information has come from the Minister without Portfolio, Lord Mancroft, when he answered Lord Pakenham, who raised the matter in another place a fortnight ago.

Lord Mancroft said on that occasion: This proposal is one in which the Home Secretary is much interested. It would, however, be generally agreed that it would not be appropriate for such an institute to be created and run by the Government. My right hon. Friend is accordingly engaged in certain informal consultations with universities at which criminological work, both in teaching and in research, is carried on. He hopes that these consultations will produce useful results, but I am afraid that there is little more which I can say on the subject at the moment".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 23rd April, 1958; Vol. 208, c. 934.] I do not wish to say anything which might jeopardise these consultations in any way, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will at least be able to point to some progress having been made.

As I have said, no university in the United Kingdom has yet established a chair of criminology. Cambridge has a Department of Criminal Science with a director at its head. Otherwise the university teaching of criminology in this country usually forms part of the syllabus for the study of sociology, psychology or other social sciences. At present, readerships in criminology exist only in Oxford and London, the latter tenable at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Some of the provincial universities provide courses in the subject or some branch of it, but teaching is mostly confined to a few odd lectures. I am, however, happy to think that it is not completely overlooked in one university with which I have a particular connection, the Queen's University, Belfast, where special attention is paid in the Department of Psychology to the subject of juvenile delinquency.

I should also emphasise that nowhere in the United Kingdom can the student of criminology obtain any separate academic qualifications for proficiency in the subject, since no degrees or diplomas in criminology are available here. I sometimes think that it would not be a bad idea if our judicial authorities—High Court judges, recorders, chairmen of quarter sessions, stipendiary magistrates and the like—whose powers of sentencing are considerable—could undergo a course in criminology, or, perhaps, even obtain a diploma in it as a condition of their appointments, as well as taking periodic refresher courses in the subject. A British institute of criminology would suit this purpose admirably.

Of course, in this context I use the term "criminology" in its generic sense to include not only the science of delinquent behaviour—that is, criminology proper—but also various forms of treatment, what is often called penology, and such ancillary disciplines as criminal biology, psychology, forensic psychiatry and scientific police methods of crime investigation. I hope that the proposed institute would embrace all those aspects of the subject.

Finally, it may be asked what could an institute of criminology hope to achieve. In the first place, as the Howard League has already pointed out, it could do much valuable research in co-ordinating the teaching of and re- search in a subject which, sparsely taught as it is in this country today, is in some danger of disappearing altogether with the actual or eventual retirement of a few well-known criminologists, such as, for example, Professor Mannheim and Dr. Radzinowicz.

Moreover, if such an institute were to concentrate, in the initial stage of its existtence, on post-graduate work, its activities might stimulate the teaching of criminology up to graduate level in the universities. Then, if it set the high standard which is to be expected, the possession of a qualification in criminology might well become desirable or even obligatory in some of those concerned with the administration of justice, as I have already indicated.

At the other end of the scale, even non-diploma courses conducted by the institute for justices, police, probation and prison officers could prove of value, not least as a common meeting ground for the discussion of problems to which there may be a variety of approaches.

A broadly based and suitably located institute of this kind with a representative staff and board of management would, no doubt, also co-operate closely with the Home Office Research Unit with advice and assistance in all aspects of research, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will recognise. One fruitful subject for research which immediately conies to mind is the recent increase in various forms of juvenile delinquency, as reflected in the crowded state of our Borstal Institutions and approved schools.

I hope that I have said enough to demonstrate the need for an institute of criminology. What has to be done now is to get the scheme launched in a practical form, and I hope that the Government will be able to provide the necessary initial impetus for this fairly soon. Whatever form the project eventually takes in practice, I am sure that it will always be associated in our minds with the name of Margery Fry.

11.33 p.m.

Sir George Benson (Chesterfield)

I am extremely glad that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) has raised this matter. The present position is that practically the whole of our penal methods and our treatment of delinquency are based on either tradition or guesswork. There is scarcely any precise knowledge. Our penal system, the courts, and the depredations of criminals must cost the country a considerable sum each year, but it is only in the last five years that the Home Office has considered it necessary to spend any money on serious research into the problems raised by the existence of crime. This very large problem requires an all-out attack.

I want to pay tribute to the work which has been done by the Home Office research section. It is very new but it is extremely active. Its research is of an intensive and practical kind, and it does not bear on the problems which the hon. Member raised—the need for teaching of an academic kind where this matter can be studied and where our lawyers and the general public can gain knowledge of this almost invincible problem. Home Office research, vitally important though it is, is no substitute for an institute of this kind, which will be a general educational force in the community.

I do not want to say more, except to urge upon the Home Office the great importance of bringing this country into line with practically every other country of the world. We allow our courts, our magistrates and the whole administration of the penal system of the country to rest upon pure guesswork and tradition. Nowhere at present can the court and the whole penal machine look for guidance and information. An institute of criminology is a vital need, and I hope that the Home Office will take early steps to cooperate in the foundation of such an institution.

11.37 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) has raised a matter of great interest and importance this evening, and he has not only put his own case most effectively but has also told the House a great deal of what I intended to say in reply to him. I do not complain of that.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been giving much attention to the suggestion which was made to him by the Howard League that the time has come to encourage the establishment of an institute of criminology in this country for the first time. He had the advantage of discussing the matter some months ago not only with the late Miss Margery Fry, to whom my hon. Friend referred, but also with the late Lord Drogheda. Those who are interested in the subject of penal reform have suffered greatly by the deaths of those two faithful workers. Lord Drogheda performed most valuable service as Chairman of the Home Secretary's Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders. Many tributes have been paid to Miss Margery Fry, and I should like to add my own. It is sometimes said that penal reformers show more sympathy for the criminal than for his victim, but it was typical of Miss Margery Fry's broad and generous humanity—and of the spirit that should animate all concerned with penal reform—that in the closing months of her life she gave much time to elaborating proposals for the payment of compensation to the victims of crimes of violence.

My right hon. Friend is deeply convinced that the vigorous pursuit of research into the causes of crime and the treatment of offenders is an urgent matter, especially at a time when crime is increasing and none of us can say what are the fundamental causes of that increase. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) has pointed out—and he speaks with great experience in these matters—the teaching of criminology is no less important than research.

The precise functions and terms of reference which an institute of criminology might have would, of course, have to be settled by those eventually concerned. It might cover a very wide field indeed, and I certainly think that two ends need to be served. The first is to train, preferably at post-graduate level, those who will carry out research and teach others in future; and the other, as suggested by both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Chesterfield, is to provide teaching facilities for those people who, outside the universities, are concerned in their daily work or in voluntary service with the prevention of crime, the administration of justice, or the treatment of offenders—for example, magistrates, probation officers, members of the police force and of the prison service. In addition, such teaching and opportunities of instruction might help to form a better-instructed public opinion on this important matter.

In spite of what my hon. Friend has said, much has been done in recent years to increase research and develop teaching in this field, and the Home Office has done its best to give such help and encouragement as its resources will allow. The House might be interested to hear just something of the many examples of research that are going on. There are various projects in hand, some of them in the universities, some under the auspices of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency—which, as my hon. Friend said, is a private venture—and some by the Research Unit set up by the Home Office. Research is being planned or is being carried out on the nature of group relations in prisons; the changes brought about as a result of the "Norwich" experiment; the sentencing practice of the courts; the social consequences to offenders of being convicted and sentenced; crimes of violence in the Metropolis—that is being done in the Department of Criminal Science at Cambridge; and the development of prediction studies. Those are just some examples. Of course, much remains to be done, and many fields for research are suggested from time to time.

It is a fact, as has been suggested tonight, that Great Britain is today almost alone in having no institute for the study and teaching of criminology, no chair in criminology at any university, and, indeed, no separate university qualification specifically in this subject. It may well be that a stage has been reached where the establishment of such an institute within one of our universities would be of great value, in order to give a new impulse to studies in this field, to set high standards in a subject whose academic status has not yet been fully recognised, and also to meet a growing demand for teaching in this subject.

My right hon. Friend accepts that view. As I say, he has paid great attention to it, and he has undertaken certain informal consultations with university authorities. Those consultations are still in progress, and are necessarily, and I think rightly, confidential at this stage. I do not think that the House will ask me to say anything more about them, because it would be premature to do so. I am sorry that I cannot say anything more definite about that at this moment, but we do hope that these consultations will lead to useful results. Meanwhile, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised this subject, for my right hon. Friend certainly welcomes the opportunity for discussion that has been given this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at a quarter to Twelve o'clock.