HC Deb 29 July 1960 vol 627 cc2082-101

2.28 p.m.

Mr. Alan Brown (Tottenham)

It is an honour and a privilege for my colleagues and myself that the subject selected for discussion at this hour should be the provision of secure accommodation for offenders under the age of 17 years. May I be permitted to express my sincere appreciation of the fact that we have this opportunity of discussing a subject which has already proved to be of considerable public interest?

I desire, also, to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Vosper), who, in his important capacity of Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, has at all times during this, my first Parliamentary year, unfailingly accorded to me the utmost courtesy, consideration and assistance during the many meetings I have had with him on the many diverse matters inseparably connected with the subject of child care and the welfare of children and young persons.

This subject raises issues of the gravest importance not only to oursleves, but to all concerned with the treatment of the juvenile, and, in particular, the juvenile offender. The measure of this concern is reflected in the almost fantastic number of letters which I have received during the past few months, not only from private citizens, some of whom themselves were obviously once juvenile delinquents, but from organisations, both official and unofficial. Therefore, on behalf of all these interested persons I express my thanks to you, Sir, for allowing me to initiate this important Adjournment debate today.

We are most hopeful that when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate he will make known to us the intentions of the Home Department in relation to the serious problems confronting us in considering the subject now before us. That it is a subject of the utmost importance to the public, to the Press, and, indeed, to all of us, has been made manifestly evident by the widespread publicity which the national Press has repeatedly and heavily given to this subject in the past few months.

Crime has reached a peak never before known in this country. Further, it is still rising. That is shown by two important crime reports issued this week. I refer to the Report of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, concerning both the Metropolis and the Counties, which was issued on Wednesday, and the Home Office Report for 1959, which was issued yesterday. They are horrifying, and it is no exaggeration to say that society is alarmed.

The increase in the number of juveniles found guilty before the courts from 67,724 in 1956 to 99,559 in 1959, for which the figures have just been published, is without parallel in the history of this country. Even the difficult war years produced nothing compared with this disastrous increase. For the sake of those interested, I will state that the figure was 55,511 in 1938 and 62,355 in 1946. I have not time—nor is it appropriate to this debate—to dwell upon the reasons, but I hope that next Session the Leader of the House will make time available for the House to debate the reasons which may possibly lie behind this increase in delinquency.

There is little comfort to be gained from the knowledge that not all of the 99,559 children found guilty before the courts during 1959 were guilty of indictable offences. In fact, 53,183 were found guilty of serious and indictable offences. The inescapable fact is that over the past four years each succeeding year has seen no fewer than 10,000 more children brought before the courts than occurred in the previous year. In 1955, the figure was 60,666. In 1959, it had risen to 99,559.

It is terrible to think that, last year, 53,183 children were found guilty of indictable offences and, all told, no fewer than 99,559 children appeared in courts on various charges. Can anybody deny that such a rake's progress is a social evil which, if not halted, must affect the future well-being of the nation?

That the incidence of juvenile delinquency is higher in the large cities than in country districts is self-evident. The Manchester Children's Committee revealed in its report that last year one out of every 25 of the city's eight to 16-year-old population appeared before the courts. The fact that the figure of 1,290 children who appeared before Manchester courts in 1956 had increased to 2,075 in 1959 has caused the deepest concern and alarm to the Manchester authorities.

The only comfort I can offer to those Manchester citizens who have so kindly written to me is that, while their increase in the incidence of juvenile delinquency is greater in proportion than the national average, it is not, after all, so much greater than that experienced in other large conurbations, as a study of the national figures will show. Manchester has ample cause for alarm, but the fact is that we all have cause for alarm. The whole nation has cause for alarm.

However, one important fact has emerged as a result of all the publicity which this subject has recently evoked. The modern adult generation has at last displayed a very real interest in modern youth. In this respect, the national Press is to be congratulated, because it has led the way. We must admit that genuine appreciation of other people's children is one of the rarer virtues. Up to at any rate last week this interest had been centred upon the type of "secure accommodation" which in this modern day and age the country has seen fit to provide for juveniles classed as offenders.

The knowledge that even now our prisons are the only institutions to which juveniles on remand, who, for their own good, sometimes need to be held in secure accommodation, can be sent has shocked the nation generally. The provision of secure acccommodation for certain classes of children and young persons who have been found guilty before juvenile courts is a matter of considerable interest to society.

But to those persons who have a special interest in the welfare of children and young persons it is a matter of the gravest concern. I refer to the children's officers of the local authorities who include superintendents of remand homes, headmasters of approved schools, case workers and welfare workers in the field; also, the police officers and the officers of the probation service, and prison officers. In addition, I must mention our school teachers and the leaders of youth clubs. From representatives of all these categories of workers I have had opinions and viewpoints expressed to me which have greatly supplemented my own knowledge and experience in this field.

Upon many of the aspects we have discussed we are in full accord, and one of them is this, and it is most relevant to the subject now before us: no person can possibly improve in any company for which he has not respect; and further, parents should ever be mindful of the fact that by the character of those we allow our children to have for friends their own character is likely to be formed and will most certainly be judged by society.

To the men and women I have mentioned falls the difficult task of administering the numerous laws which this House has passed from time to time which relate to children and young persons, many of them going back to 1908. If these laws have failed, either wholly or in part, to produce the desired effect for which they were introduced, no blame can attach itself to these administrators. For good or evil, they can only administer the law as it stands. If there has been failure to halt the ever increasing incidence of juvenile delinquency no blame can attach itself to these administrators because in like manner they can utilise only those services which we make available to them to use.

In this respect, I will ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State conscientiously to ask himself if, in fact, we really have made such services available to these administrators. There are many who do not think so. As one senior police officer remarked to me: In my opinion a contributory factor to the failure successfully to combat the increasing juvenile delinquency lies in the failure to provide the services necessary for the work, not to a failure on the part of the personnel engaged. Many persons with specialist knowledge are of the opinion that another contributary factor in our failure is that we still seek to perpetuate a system of treatment of the young offender which contains both methods and penal sanctions long since outmoded. I shall not dwell at length on this since there will not be time. I just make that opinion known.

I would refer hon. Members to the Answers made at Question Time in the House on 17th March by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, for they still remain vividly in the minds of all who heard them. They amounted to two admissions: first, that during January, 1960, two girls only 15 years of age had been imprisoned in the notorious Holloway Gaol; and, secondly, that the alarming disclosure published in that same day's edition of the Daily Mail was quite true. This was the story which the Daily Mail, courageously, if I may say so, headlined, revealing that a 14-year-old schoolgirl sent to Holloway Gaol had been placed in a ward with women accused of the gravest offences. It was further reported, and accurately so, that this child's offence was only that of a breach of a probation order in that she had played truant from school.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that the admissions which the Joint Under-Secretary of State had to make on that memorable day, 17th March, caused a sensation. As one national newspaper commented: It is a ghastly thought that the means that have been devised for a child's protection can be a stepping stone to a rake's progress. A system which means that children can be bundled together with possibly hardened criminals should be smashed. I think that it will be agreed that society has already arrived at at least one important conclusion on one important issue which this subject raises. Their condemnation of that feature of our present system is based upon the knowledge that our prisons, and frequently notorious ones, are the only institutions which afford accommodation which can be described as secure accommodation, apart, of course, from certain mental institutions.

The public, busily engaged upon their everyday affairs, have little time to ponder on such social evils as delinquency, or to realise that one of the many factors in this field is that persons classed as delinquents can range in age from eight to 80 and over. We must bear in mind that the age of criminal responsibility in this country still remains at eight and is the lowest in the whole of the civilised world. But society, and rightly so, expects those who govern to keep an ever watchful eye on such matters and to ensure that if there be a need for secure accommodation to be provided it be not only secure but, far more important, it be suitable. Even to attempt to vindicate a system which holds that prison is a suitable place in which to accommodate children and young persons is, in my view, to disclose an abysmal ignorance of child psychology, but, happily, no attempt at such vindication has been made, at least by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, although I have my suspicions that there are some permanent officials who stubbornly resist a change.

In such surroundings as a prison a child must inevitably mix with older youths and young adults most of whom are more hardened and experienced in criminality. Adolescent children under 16 are particularly susceptible to criminal indoctrination, and such treatment, far from acting as a deterrent, can have only the opposite effect. Further, as delinquent children are, in most cases, the victims of bad social background, or act under their own retarded or morbid mental development or immaturity, it is quite useless to imprison such children—a penalty which has no educational value and does nothing to discover or destroy the root of the evil. Unless this is done there is no hope of preventing further development of criminal tendencies, let alone effecting the social rescue of the child.

The unfortunate compromise of attempting, for lack of suitable secure accommodation, to house the new spirit of education within the old prison system is deplorable. That is not my opinion alone but that of everyone of those officials whom I mentioned earlier, who have a great interest in the welfare of children and with whom I has discussed this matter at considerable length.

I do not think that there is need for me to say a great deal more on the subject of accommodating children in prison. Because the case of the little girl at Holloway Gaol, to which I have referred, received widespread publicity, there are, inevitably, many people who believe that hers was but an isolated case. Unfortunately, this is far from being true. The pernicious practice of imprisoning children is growing. I reveal, with absolute horror on my part, that during the first half of this year, from 1st January to 30th June, no fewer than 382 boys and 20 girls were sent to prison and that not one of these youngsters had reached his or her seventeenth birthday.

Many of them were only 14 or 15 years old. Such figures are both appalling and alarming.

Again and again we have been told when we have criticised the sending of a child to prison that the decision of the court was proper and an Act, usually the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, is quoted. My reaction to that sentiment is simply that nothing should be legally right which is morally wrong. Anybody who suggests that justice cannot be executed without wrong should beware, for surely his own words will condemn him.

Do we need the provision of secure accommodation for offenders under 17 years of age? Unfortunately we do, but I do not think that any new legislation is required to make such provision, though no doubt I and all of us will be advised on that when my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate. Had the provisions made in past Acts of Parliament, and particularly in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, been more fully implemented there would have been no purpose in my speaking today.

There are, however, many children who just will not stay put in an ordinary remand home or in an approved school. As hon. Members may know, such institutions are open buildings where one may come and go more or less as one desires. Why do youngsters abscond? Youngsters do many inexplicable things. Why do they sometimes put a sprig of holly in father's bed? The point is that they do, and the headmaster of an approved school once said to me, "It is fine to reason with a child if you can reach the child's reason without first destroying your own." This is part of the process of growing up.

Sometimes when a child absconds the most undesirable incidents follow and they are almost invariably detrimental to the child. I should like to quote two examples. There was the recent case of the 15-year-old girl, whom I shall call "Miss X", who absconded from a remand home near London. She was picked up by a strange man in a cafe. Unfortunately, there are plenty of creatures of this type in London. She spent the night with him. The girl, like all youngsters who abscond, was an easy prey for villains, because almost invariably these girls are penniless. They have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep.

The girl had been put on the streets by this man for purposes of prostitution. Happily, she was arrested by the police within a short time and was returned to the authority concerned. It is unfortunate, in many respects, that since the Street Offences Act came into operation recovery by the authorities of girl absconders has become much more difficult, because the ponces into whose hands they so often fall keep them under cover and out of sight, possibly in dubious nightclubs.

The other case was that of a 15-year-old boy who was sent to prison on 9th June at Middlesex Sessions, having pleaded guilty to no fewer than 47 offences. The chairman of the sessions was reluctant to take this step but, as he said, It is impossible to send you to Borstal until you are 16. This boy's father came to see me. He told me that the boy is a persistent absconder. On at least eleven occasions he has absconded from remand homes and approved schools. The trail of offences for which he was sentenced at Middlesex Sessions were committed between the time that he absconded from an approved school early in May this year and the time that he was arrested by the police later the same month. His father thinks that if the boy had been held in suitable secure accommodation these offences would never have happened. I must agree, for the boy's record at Kidlington Detention Centre, which provides such accommodation, was good.

I have no doubt that the provision of more junior and senior detention centres would go a long way towards solving this problem. Their atmosphere is quite different from that of a prison. Furthermore, no prison stigma attaches to a youngster who receives this treatment. As for the provision of suitable secure accommodation for children of a certain type on remand, I see no reason why a, certain number of closed remand homes should not be provided. I suggest, also, that many of the present open-type remand homes could be easily and readily adapted to provide a few units of secure accommodation.

I do not believe that time is any longer on our side. There is overwhelming evidence that present-day methods of treatment of the juvenile are marked by two disquieting characteristics. First, there is a most notable inefficiency in deterring from delinquency, as evidenced by the alarming increase in the incidence of delinquency and, secondly, a most remarkable efficiency in still further corrupting those children who undergo the treatment.

A complete overhaul of these methods is urgently needed. Where children are concerned, we surely have both moral obligations and grave responsibilities. The children of the present will be the nation of tomorrow. In the knowledge that the future is purchased by the present, there is sound wisdom in the old saying, "The best way to elevate the nation of tomorrow is properly to raise the children of today."

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I think that the whole House will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) has rendered valuable public service by drawing attention in our Adjournment debates today to this very serious subject. His speech, on which I congratulate him, has covered a very wide field and has drawn attention to an aspect of social conditions which is causing very considerable disquiet in this country. My hon. Friend has not only drawn attention to the increase in juvenile delinquency, but he has also had some very valuable suggestions to make with regard to the remedial measures necessary to deal with it. I hope that we shall hear from the Joint Under-Secretary of State with regard to the far from satisfactory conditions which exist today for dealing with young offenders.

First, may I stress the seriousness of this subject? There is no doubt that juvenile delinquency is increasing and becoming a serious social evil. It is particularly increasing, as my hon. Friend said, in urban areas. That is not unnatural. In many ways urban life is unreal. There are not the same outlets for healthy, outdoor activity as exist in country districts and even in provincial towns. There is the inevitable tendency among numbers of young people to find an outlet in rowdyism, hooliganism and so forth, and things have now reached a very serious pitch.

I think the limit was reached in the incident which occurred in my constituency only two nights ago. Then, in the evening, five car loads of youths drove out from the neighbourhood of Hoxton and entered Highbury Quadrant, a quiet, peaceful, residential part of Islington. They were armed with choppers, bicycle chains, bayonets, crowbars and knives. Within a few minutes a violent intergang warfare between these two sets of young gangsters had broken out, with the result that the peaceful inhabitants were completely terrified, left the streets, and shut themselves up in their houses. Fortunately, a number of police cars arrived on the scene and some of the offenders were arrested and will be dealt with. The fact that this kind of thing can happen in a peaceful residential part of London is a very serious commentary on the lengths to which delinquent youths will go.

I am repeatedly hearing accounts of vandalism done to public property. One knows what happens on the railways. The same kind of thing is happening in our public parks and open spaces. It is a situation with which the authorities really must deal. I agree with my hon. Friend that education can do something. The provision of a better and larger youth service can do something. Probably nothing can do more than an enlarged police force. I know that the Home Secretary is aware that with our depleted police force at present there is a certain inducement to juvenile delinquency. My view is that nothing would do more to restrict it than a greater likelihood, and, if possible, a certainty, that this kind of vandalism will be detected and punished. One of the great dangers today is that so much of it goes undetected and is, therefore, encouraged. Consequently, I would put over and above all as a social necessity in this field the urgent need to bring the police force up to strength. I would reinforce what my hon. Friend has said. The certainty of detection and punishment is all-important.

Treatment is another matter. I do not think that our present methods are anything like as effective or as modern or as satisfactory as they should be. Obviously, for treating juvenile offenders we require different methods from those used for treating adult offenders and hardened adult criminals.

I think the whole country was shocked by the revelation in March that a 14-years-old girl had been incarcerated in the same ward as a number of women convicted of criminal offences. I admit that there is the problem of how to deal with the perhaps unusual, but not all that unusual, case of the boy or girl who is always absconding from remand homes, and one must face the fact that there are instances in which such a person must be placed for his own sake, as well as for the sake of society, in secure accommodation, but it seems to me that what has come to light in recent months, much of which has been explained by my hon. Friend, shows that our present arrangements are not satisfactory.

There ought to be an adequate number of remand homes with adequate security provisions so that persons of that type can be properly dealt with and not sent to prison. I hope we shall hear that in future whatever legislative or administrative arrangements are necessary will be made to ensure that we do not have the possibility of young boys and girls of tender age, however vicious their tendencies may be and however many offences they may have committed, finding themselves in a gaol side by side with adult criminals. That can only make the matter worse and cannot improve the possibilities of their being given adequate remedial treatment.

One knows that this will call for a certain amount of expenditure. However, the problem is an alarming one, and the country must face the fact that during recent years we have not spent very much on modernising our prison service. It has suffered, I suppose, probably more seriously than any other social service from the enforced economy, or the chosen economy, of the last 15 or 20 years. Probably no one would have wanted to give it a high priority over education, houses, hospitals, roads and so forth. But we must now face the fact that there is a very long backlog of modernisation to be overcome, with all the necessary expenditure involved, in bringing our prison service and our remand homes up-to-date. We are suffering from our neglect by this increase in juvenile delinquency and also by the fact that because of that delinquency we have instances of children having to be sent to prison.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said and hope that he and I between us have said enough not only to stimulate the Home Office into action but to enable the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State to tell us something about the Home Office's plans for the future.

3.10 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

The subject chosen by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) is one to which he has devoted much study. I am grateful for the kind words he used about me, and, in return, I may say that I have benefited from his very considerable experience in child care.

The House will recall that earlier this Session he introduced a Bill intended to restrict the powers of the courts to remand young offenders to prison, but that there was not time to discuss this matter. The subject of this debate, however, goes a little wider, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity of stating the Government's attitude towards this problem. It is, as he says, one of considerable importance.

The hon. Member and the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) talked about crime and juvenile delinquency in general. Neither the Home Office ministers nor anyone else can afford to be complacent about this, which is one of the greatest social problems at the present time; the figures which were published this week emphasise that. It is not crime by hardened criminals which worries me so much as the considerable amount of crime committed by those under the age of 21.

There is, however, one scrap of comfort to be derived from the figures published this week. It is true that crime committed by young offenders is increasing, but that is not generally true of those under the age of 14. That could be significant. The hon. Members said that crime amongst young people is much higher than in the war years. That is true. People who have given considerable study to this problem believe that one of the causes relates to the year in which a young person was born. If that is true, then those born during the war may be in what one might call the "delinquent generation," and there may be some relation between that and the present decrease in the rate of crime at the age of 12 and 13.

The evidence of this week's figures suggests that we are now getting away from that generation. There is a scrap of comfort to be derived from that but, of course, it is no reason for relaxing other methods which are needed to deal with this problem. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East about the importance of the Youth Service, about which I have always been much concerned. I agree, also, that nothing is more important than an adequate and strong police force. The fear of being found out is much the greatest deterrent which we can have for young people.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hopes to have in the autumn the interim report of the Royal Commission on Police, which may help in this respect. The question of the juvenile court system is within the terms of reference of the Ingleby Committee. The House and the Home Office have waited patiently for the Report of the Royal Commission, which will tell us much, and when the House resumes in the autumn it should have something to study.

The main issue of the debate is the remanding to prison of young offenders under the age of 17. Unintentionally, the hon. Member may have given the impression that all this number of young persons under 17 were sentenced to imprisonment. That is not true, of course. We are concerned with those remanded for a short period to prison. Practically no child under 17 is committed to prison and, by law, no child under 15 can be sentenced to imprisonment. A person under 17 can be sentenced to imprisonment, but only by the higher courts. In fact, the average number of children so sentenced is about six to eight a year. Proposals which my right hon. Friend will introduce to the House next Session may reduce that figure still more.

However, we are concerned with the children who are received for two or three weeks, possibly less, in prison on remand as being the only secure place where they can be accommodated. That is the case of the girl who was in Holloway Prison. As the law stands, a child under the age of 17 who is remanded in custody by a court normally goes to a remand home, of which there are many and which are run by local authorities. If the court considers that a child who has reached the age of 14 is so unruly that he or she cannot safely be detained in a remand home, or so depraved as not to be fit to be detained there, it may commit him to a remand centre, if one is available, and otherwise to prison.

As the House knows, there are as yet no remand centres, so all young offenders who are too unruly or too depraved for remand homes have to be remanded to prison. I say right at once that in the Government's view that is not a desirable state of affairs. We deplore the fact that it is necessary to send any young offenders to prison, even for these short periods and I hope to show what we are doing and what action we are taking to make other provision for their custody.

Hon. Members may be interested to know how many young offenders are remanded to prison and what kind of children they are. The hon. Member for Tottenham gave some figures, and I have some which are more detailed. First, I should make it quite clear that they are children who have been charged with or found guilty of an offence. Where a child has been brought before the court as being in need of care or protection, other provisions apply. These are cases where such proceedings are adjourned, the court making an interim report for the detention or continued detention of the child or young person in what the Act calls a "place of safety". A remand home is a place of safety within the meaning of the Act, but a prison is not. The point is that we are concerned here not with care or protection cases, but with cases of young persons who are on remand because they have committed some offence.

Let us take the figures for last year, 1959. These are the numbers who were received into prison under those pro- visions: boys aged 14, but not yet 15, 43; girls aged 14, but not yet 15, 1; boys aged 15, but not yet 16, 125; girls aged 15, but not yet 16, 4; boys aged 16, but not yet 17, 412; girls aged 16, but not yet 17, 21. That is a total of just over 600. For the first six months of 1960, the total was just over 400. Taking those numbers as a rough guide, we can assume that each year between 600 and 800 children under 17, nearly all of them boys, are certified by the courts as being either too unruly or too depraved for the normal remand home.

Fortunately—and this is most important—only one-third of the numbers are under the age of 16. The House will have understood from the figures which I have given that the bulk of the numbers are over 16, but under 17. I should make it quite clear that there is nothing new about this and that it has been going on, certainly since the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, and presumably for many years before that. It so happens that cases occasionally hit the headlines, but this has been the procedure for many years in the case of children who are too unruly or too depraved.

What kind of children are they? There has been a great deal in the newspapers about this, and what I read there sometimes gives the impression that these children are no more than being mischievous or are children with high spirits. The hon. Member knows that this is not true. I only wish it were. If it were, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, a small proportion of the many thousands of children who come before the courts always present a serious problem, and always will.

It may be that the children of young parents, to whom he referred, in his constituency, may be in this category. There are, unfortunately, a small proportion of extremely delinquent children falling into three categories. First, there are those who are already so depraved that they would be likely to corrupt other children if they mixed with them in remand homes. This is most important, and in the interests of the other children they must be kept separate.

There are those who may be violent in their behaviour, or who are liable to hurt other children, assault members of the staff or do serious damage to property and who have to be sent to a remand home. I have seen some of this damage for myself. They must be kept in conditions in which they cannot harm any other children or members of the staff, or perhaps property.

The third group comprises those who are liable to run away if given the slightest opportunity. They may crash cars or commit other offences in so doing, and, therefore, in the public interest, they must be confined in some state of security which the normal remand home simply does not provide. Members of all three groups are liable to be placed among children of their own age and may lead others into wrongdoing, to revolt, or to escape.

To some, this may seem unbelievable. When I read the newspapers, I sometimes get this impression myself. They are represented as being young innocents. I know that the hon. Member has great experience on this matter, and he knows that there are these really difficult children. I have met some of them in recent months myself. Many thousands of ordinary children who, unfortunately, pass through remand homes must be protected from this small number of unruly or depraved Children, many of. Whom have to be protected from themselves.

This is the problem, and I think the hon. Member and I are agreed on that. The question is: what is to be done about it? In framing the subject for today's debate, the hon. Member possibly adopted a more positive note than he did in presenting his Bill some months ago, because this is not a question of legislation. It is a question of solving administratively a problem which has confronted us for some time. It is a problem of finding places of security and safe custody to which children unsuitable far remand homes can be sent. I should, therefore, like the House to examine the possible solutions to this problem, and the difficulties that must be overcome.

I think that the hon. Member would accept that the young offenders now remanded to prison could not be looked after in remand homes as they are now staffed and equipped. Most of these remand homes, admittedly, have detention rooms, and can cope with the moderately bad child, but depraved and unruly children of the kind we are talking about are a different matter. Merely to lock them up away from other children in solitary confinement for two or three weeks would be no solution. That kind of treatment has been criticised for adults in recent weeks, and I am quite certain that solitary confinement during the period of remand would be unacceptable in the case of children.

On the other hand, we cannot allow them to associate freely with the other children in a remand home, who include not only young offenders, but also those in need of care or protection. The Criminal Justice Act, 1948, envisaged a remedy by the provision of remand centres, to which all young prisoners under the age of 17 should be sent. If this proposal is carried out, it certainly will avoid the stigma of prison, but there are still some objections to it, in that the remand centres now envisaged will be for children of all ages and it will be imposible completely to segregate young people by age groups. Nevertheless, the remand centre was the accepted solution and remains the main plank in our programme. Even so, it does not meet the other objections which the hon. Member has raised.

Mr. Fletcher

Surely it is possible to construct remand centres solely for juveniles, if so required.

Mr. Vosper

I shall be dealing with that point.

The nine or ten which this country needs will, as at present envisaged, be all-purpose remand centres, and although segregation will be possible it will not be as complete as one might require. But, in fairness, I must say that at present there are no remand centres. It is easy to stand back, as one national journal did some weeks ago, and criticise their absence but can we say that we have got our priorities wrong? Should we have built remand centres instead of houses or schools and should we, two years ago, have built remand centres instead of dealing with overcrowding in prisons? I do not think that our priorities have been wrong. I think that it was inevitable that remand centres had to take a low place in the programme.

The provision of remand centres is a vast and expensive project. To give the House an example, the remand centre that is now being built at Risley, in Lancashire, will cost about £1¼ million. As the Prison Commission's building programme stands, remand centres form an urgent part of it and, as I have said, the first centre, in Lancashire, which will cater for the north-west of England, is now in the early stages of construction. It will be a large, all-purpose establishment, designed to accommodate men and women as well as young offenders. It will contain 400 men, 150 boys and 60 women and girls, and will have a hospital in addition to all the normal facilities.

A site in Durham is about to be acquired for a second centre, and others will take their place in the programme as suitable sites are found. At this second centre in Durham—and this bears on the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East—it is planned to provide accommodation for young offenders in the first place and for adults subsequently. This is a significant and very recent change, which will accelerate the provision of secure accommodation for young offenders. Remand and observation centres, therefore, with the priority now being given to young offenders, remain the ultimate solution, with the limitations that I have mentioned.

But we must do something more than this. I accept the plea that the hon. Member made. The Home Office is urgently examining what might be at least a partial solution—the provision of specially secure wings of blocks at existing remand homes. There are difficulties in this proposal, the principal one of which is that the children for whom this special accommodation is needed are few in number, and come from all parts of the Kingdom. For example, during a recent period of about three weeks, 22 boys were remanded to prison from 17 different courts.

Some of the courts were in or near London and other big cities, but others were in remote parts, as far away as Yorkshire and the South-West. They are the ones who present the real problem. When they are on remand they must be kept reasonably close to their homes and to the courts before which they are to appear. It would not be practicable to provide special staff and secure accom- modation of this kind in Cornwall, for instance.

But at the request of my right hon. Friend the London County Council has considered whether it can provide secure accommodation at the Stamford House Remand Home, to take some boys who might otherwise be remanded to prison. The Council has agreed to make suitable arrangements for acccmmodating up to seven such boys of 14 and 15 years of age at any one period. Seven may not sound very many, but "at any one period" means that a considerable number can be accommodated during the course of the year, and this should be sufficient for the London and Home Counties area.

On behalf of my right hon. Friend, I should like to say that he is most grateful to the London County Council for its co-operation in this matter. It will impose an additional strain on the council, and we are considering what help we can give the council financially and in other directions. It may also be possible to make similar provisions at one or two other remand homes serving large urban areas. That would go some way towards reducing the number of children sent to prison on remand, although it would not provide a complete solution.

Girls present a much more difficult problem, because, although there are fewer of them, they are more apt to hit the headlines when they are received into prison. However, this aspect also is to be discussed with the London County Council shortly in an attempt to find a solution.

I do not want to delay the speech of the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), but I should say that I visited Holloway where this child was remanded, and I visited the hospital ward where she was accommodated. I should have thought that there could be much worse conditions under which young girls could be accommodated. I accept, however, that that is not the right solution and I hope that we shall find something better.

Perhaps I might briefly summarise our proposals. First, remand and observation centres remain the principal provision, but now with priority for secure accommodation for young persons.Secondly, separate secure remand home accommodation in London for boys under 16. Thirdly, consideration will be given to similar proposals in one or two other cities, and for girls in London. Over and above that, the provision of extra places in approved schools and detention centres may also ease the pressure.

Nevertheless, the House must accept as inevitable that for some time to come a number of young people will continue to be received into prison. This will be essential in the interests of other young people. It is not a matter of legislation, it is a question of resources, and my right hon. Friend is just as anxious as the hon. Member for Tottenham to deal with this along with the other proposals he is making in the interests of penal reform.