HC Deb 12 April 1961 vol 638 cc366-70

Amendment made: In page 14, line 35, leave out subsection (1).—[Mr. Renton.]

9.45 p.m.

Mr. V. Yates

I beg to move, in page 15, line 22, after "next", to insert "but one".

Subsection (4) says: A prisoner who would, apart from this subsection, be discharged on any of the days to which this subsection applies in his case shall be discharged on the next preceding day which is not one of those days. The days referred to are Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Bank Holidays. I am asking that instead of being released one day before a Bank Holiday or Christmas Day, he should be released two days, or 48 hours, before it.

I will make another attempt to convince the hon. and learned Gentleman of the reasonableness of the Amendment. I did not table an Amendment in Committee upstairs, but I asked a question on this subject in the hope that this proposal would be acceptable. I called his attention to examples of prisoners who had been discharged from Dartmoor on Christmas Eve and who had arrived in Birmingham at 5 o'clock in the afternoon of that day. What opportunities have probation officers to get those prisoners settled in on Christmas Eve? I am thinking particularly of homeless prisoners. I know that not many prisoners are involved, but experienced probation officers tell me that this is a problem. I merely ask that where a prisoner is due to be released on Christmas Day or on a Bank Holiday, instead of being released the day before he should be released two days before.

Mr. Hobson

As I read it, the hon. Gentleman is proposing that nobody should be released on a Friday, because anybody serving a sentence of more than a month is excluded from release on a Saturday, and the Amendment surely would prevent a prisoner being released on the Friday before that Saturday?

Mr. Yates

I am proposing a difference of one day, irrespective of the sentence. I am thinking particularly of those who have to travel long distances. If a Prisoner was due to be released from a prison in the south of England on a Bank Holiday and had to travel to Dunham, he might arrive there on the eve of the Bank Holiday. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that administrative arrangements were being made in certain cases to deal with this problem. I do not consider that the Amendment would interfere with any special arrangements which might be made. I am merely asking that a more generous attiture should be adopted when a prisoner is released because it is most important that he should be rehabilitated, and I do not believe that we have anything like the proper method for rehabilitating released prisoners.

The hon. and learned Member said that he would consider the matter and write to me. He did so, saying: I do not think it would be reasonable to provide that all prisoners should be released two days before a bank holiday period, as opposed to the one day for which we have provided in the Bill, since the number of prisoners faced with a long journey on discharge is but a small proportion of the total number released. I have therefore considered whether it would be practicable to make special provision for the small class of prisoners in respect of whom difficulty may be expected to arise. I am sorry to say that I have been forced to the conclusion that it would not be practicable to legislate specially for them since they are not a homogeneous or distinguishable group. That sounds very much like Civil Service jargon. In fact, the only difference is that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not end by saying, "I am your obedient servant". As far as I know, he never has been. He goes on to say: I have therefore reviewed the existing arrangements to satisfy myself that everything possible is done to help the man who on his discharge is going to have a fairly long journey to his destination. I find that there are already special arrangements for prisoners discharged at weekends and before public holidays, and for those who have an unusually long journey home and cannot reach the local National Assistance Board office before it closes on that day. Really! I should have thought that, whatever arrangements he wants to make, nothing that I am suggesting would prevent his adopting them in special cases, if he has the power to do so.

He continues by referring to the fact that the National Assistance Board makes a payment to the discharged man sufficient to enable him to maintain himself until he can apply for a full allowance at the local office at his destination. I asked a probation officer with much experience what he thought about this, and he said: It is true that it is the homeless type we have in mind but it is extremely difficult to find lodgings for a prisoner whom the aftercare officer has probably never seen … He may not have seen the prisoner until he is suddenly confronted with him just before a bank holiday. We appreciate it is difficult to legislate for such a small group but we would have thought it best to err on the side of generosity and allow 48 hours to settle a man in accommodation before a bank holiday. It is possible, and I am sure you will agree with this, that it is false economy to risk a man's future rehabilitation, with the subsequent loss to society, for the sake of the extra 24 hours. The probation officer ends by saying: … in theory the present arrangements are adequate, but in practice are frequently found wanting! That letter is from a man of very great experience. Whatever the hon. and learned Gentleman may say, the present position is not satisfactory. We are treating these men in a mean and niggardly fashion, whereas we should make sure that there is adequate time for them to be properly rehabilitated.

I have no more confidence in moving this Amendment than I had in moving the previous one. When the hon. and learned Member accepts one of my Amendments it will be a cause for great rejoicing and celebration. Nevertheless, I hope that he can accept this one. In the end he might find himself able to move away from the usual official jargon of the answers that we often get in these matters, and get down to something a little more human.

Mr. Renton

I live in the hope that I may one day be able to accept one of the hon. Gentleman's Amendments, but I do not wish to encourage him to go on trying too often. On this occasion, I am afraid that the Amendment which he has put down will probably have results which he himself did not expect. He is asking that we should go much further than he asked in Committee. During the Committee stage, he suggested that there should be no discharge within forty-eight hours before a Bank Holiday. Now, he is asking for no discharge for forty-eight hours before a Saturday, and that limits the opportunities of discharge very considerably, especially if there is a Bank Holiday anywhere near.

For example, in a year in which Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday, it would require a prisoner to be discharged on the preceding Friday. On the other hand, a prisoner due for discharge on Boxing Day in the same year—that is to say, on Wednesday—would be discharged on Monday, and that would be Christmas Eve, which would be precisely what I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to avoid. A similar situation would arise in respect of prisoners due for discharge on Saturday, 28th December, because the Wednesday and Thursday would be Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and the prisoner would again find himself discharged on Christmas Eve.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned, as we all are, about the prisoner who has to make a long journey on the day of discharge, but these cases are fortunately few in number, and it would be unreasonable to grant the sweeping concession sought on their behalf if it would have the strange results which I have mentioned, more especially as special arrangements are made to mitigate hardship by special payments at the prison itself.

For these reasons, although this is not an easy matter and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are all trying to do our best to avoid any kind of inhumanity in this matter, I feel obliged to advise the House that the hon. Gentleman's Amendment should not on this occasion be accepted.

Amendment negatived.