HC Deb 11 April 1961 vol 638 cc45-9

(1)The maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for an offence under section thirty-nine of the Prison Act, 1952 (which relates to assisting prisoners to escape) shall be five years instead of two years.

(2)The maximum term of imprisonment and the maximum fine which may be imposed for an offence under subsection (4) of section seventy-two, subsection (4) of section seventy-eight or subsection (4) of section eighty-two of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933 (which relate to assisting persons to escape from approved schools and remand homes, and other like offences), shall be respectively six months and one hundred pounds instead of two months and twenty pounds.—[Mr. Renton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Subsection I of the new Clause is identical to subsection (1) of Clause 22 in the Bill as reported, but we suggest that it should be transferred to the new Clause for convenience in drafting. It increases from two years to five years the maximum sentence of imprisonment for helping people to escape from prison as defined in the Prison Act, and that means, in effect, not only prison but also borstal and detention centres.

The object of subsection (2) of the new Clause is to increase the maximum penalties which may be awarded for various similar offences relating to approved schools and remand homes. Those offences, which are offences under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, include assisting or inducing a child or young person to escape from a remand home or special reception centre; taking a child or young person away from a remand home or special reception centre without lawful authority; harbouring or concealing a child or young person who has escaped or been taken away from a remand home or special reception centre; and assisting, inducing or persistently attempting to induce a person to escape from or fail to return to an approved school.

The present maximum penalties for those offences, which can be serious, are a fine of £20 or two months' imprisonment, or both. Subsection (2) of the new Clause would increase the maximum fine to £100 and the maximum term of imprisonment to six months, or both.

These offences are not frequently committed, but when they are committed they can be serious, as in a case which came before the Central Criminal Court last November in which a man had, among other things, sheltered absconders from borstal and approved schools and employed them in fresh criminal activities. The judge, His Honour Judge Maude, expressed the view that the penalties which he was able to award were not adequate and suggested that the maximum penalty should be increased. That is what this subsection does. I think that the new Clause will generally commend itself to the House.

4.0 p.m.

Miss Bacon

We must always look very carefully at any proposal to increase penalties, but on this occasion I think that probably this proposal is reasonable. The new provision is in subsection (2), and is to increase the amount of the fine from £20 to £100 and the term of imprisonment from two months to six months.

Two things must be borne in mind in considering this new Clause. First, anybody who helps anybody to escape really knows that what he is doing is wrong, and I do not think there is any question about that at all. Secondly, and this is one thing that led me to support the new Clause, there is a tendency at the present time, which I think is to be welcomed, towards open establishments—the open prison, the open borstal, and so on—and I think it would be a pity if this trend were to be retarded because of the number of escapes and the number of people who help young persons in particular to escape. Bearing that in mind, and also the fact that this is not unreasonable, I think that we might perhaps accept the new Clause.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has said, may I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us the number of people who have escaped from open establishments and from maximum security establishments? My impression was that the record for open establishments was exceedingly good, and that, indeed, open establishments have justified themselves by the fact that taking a prisoner into one's confidence had paid a dividend, and also that the greater number of escapes was from maximum security establishments, where prisoners, being treated like prisoners, reacted in the way in which prisoners are likely to do.

I do not think that this new Clause is highly controversial, and I would not wish to treat it as such, but I should have thought that, on the whole, the case for the fact that attempted co-operation with the prisoner appears to pay dividends is important, and, therefore, I ask the Joint Under-Secretary if he can give us the figures.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I generally support the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), because in my experience the number of escapes from open prison and open borstal is very low indeed. In fact, the understanding in an open borstal that if one escapes and is captured, one will not be sent back to an open borstal is in itself a pretty good sanction for maintaining this position.

What I should like to know from the Joint Under-Secretary is whether subsection (2) of the new Clause is so worded that, where a child or young person is abducted from an institution, and where the child or young person cannot be proved to be attempting to escape, but is taken out by one of the parents or some relative where, perhaps, there has been a quarrel, it will catch the actual offender who assisted the abduction, rather than assisted an escape, which is the misdeed.

Sir George Benson (Chesterfield)

I should like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary a question on subsection (1). In how many cases have escapes or attempted escapes been assisted from outside? Two years is a rather heavy sentence, and unless there has been a significant increase in the number of attempts from outside to enable prisoners to escape, I doubt very much whether there is any ground for increasing what is already a heavy penalty. I do not question for a moment the seriousness of the offence. The seriousness of the offence is one thing to take into consideration, but there is also the frequency or infrequency of the offence which should be taken into consideration.

Mr. Renton

If I may deal with the question asked by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson), as is pointed out in the last two Reports of the Prison Commissioners, the number of escapes assisted from outside has increased very considerably in the last two years. I have these figures. In 1957, there were 57 escapes assisted from outside; in 1958, the same number—57; in 1959, 87; in 1960, 126; and in 1961, recorded up to the 7th of this month. 31. These are escapes from Prison Commission establishments, and the hon. Gentleman was referring to subsection (1).

With regard to absconding from approved schools, which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) had in mind, the position is different.

Mr. Hale

No. The hon. Member for Oldham, West had in mind the question of escapes from open prisons.

Mr. Renton

I am sorry, but I have not got separate figures of escapes from open prisons. Approved schools are in quite a different category. They are open establishments in themselves, and, therefore, the question which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) mentioned is pertinent to the matter. He asked whether the abducted child from an approved school would be caught by one or other of these offences under the Children and Young Persons Act, and there is no doubt that he would be so caught. If we are to increase these penalties, as is suggested in subsection (2), we shall, at the same time, be increasing the penalty for abductions from approved schools.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.