HC Deb 29 June 1961 vol 643 cc853-7

Lords Amendment: In page 18, line 16, at end insert: (3) Where a girl or woman has been sentenced to borstal training in Northern Ireland, the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland may, without application in that behalf, make an order for her transfer to another part of the United Kingdom, there to serve her sentence or the remainder of her sentence, as the case may be, and for her removal to a borstal institution in that part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Renton

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that Privilege is involved.

Miss Bacon

I should like a little explanation of this Amendment. The proposal here is that when girls are committed to borstal in Northern Ireland the Northern Ireland Government shall be able to bring the girls over to England, Scotland or Wales for their training.

I appreciate the difficulty here. There are so few borstal girls in Northern Ireland that the Northern Ireland Government do not think it advisable for them to go to the expense of keeping a borstal institution open for the one or two girls who are committed to borstal training. Nevertheless, I do not like the idea of girls who are committed for borstal training in Northern Ireland being shipped across, as it were, to England, Scotland or Wales for their borstal training. It means, in effect, that they will be coming from their own country to another country far away from their relatives, and it is most unlikely that such girls would receive any visits from their relatives during the period that they were undergoing their borstal training.

12.30 a.m.

I have been looking at the question of the treatment of young offenders in Northern Ireland. I find that there are three approved schools there and that in 1958 there were some 67 girls in those schools. I should like one or two assurances from the Minister. First, can he give us an assurance that he will endeavour to communicate with the Northern Ireland Government, to see whether, where a girl under the age of 17 is committed to a borstal, it would be possible for her to be put into an approved school instead? I should have thought that it might have been possible to turn one of the three approved schools into a kind of senior approved school to which the odd one or two girls committed for borstal training could go.

I know that at present one or two girls are actually confined in prisons, but even if they came to this country I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman could assure us that they would not be put into blocks attached to prisons. Most of the girls at present undergoing borstal training in this country are in blocks attached to prisons, not only in blocks attached to women's prisons but in blocks attached to men's prisons.

It is all right for the hon. Gentleman to say that these girls might go to a beautiful borstal, but the majority of girls in this country undergoing borstal training are confined in blocks attached to men's prisons. If they are sent to Durham they are so confined and if they go to Manchester they are in a block attached to a men's prison. I should like some assurance in the matter before we pass the Amendment.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has pinpointed a dilemma that we are all in. Let us admit candidly that there is a choice of evils here. There are so few cases in Northern Ireland of girls who are likely to have to be sent to borstal by Northern Ireland courts that it is not worth there being a girls' borstal there. The nearest approach which they have to one is a few rooms in the women's section of Armagh Prison. During the seven years from 1954 to 1960 inclusive only about one girl per year on average was committed to borstal. That means that, in effect, the girl concerned gets no proper borstal treatment.

The Northern Ireland Government therefore asked us whether we would consider restoring the power which existed until 1948 to transfer such girls to serve their borstal sentences in this country. We felt obliged to comply with the request and to co-operate with the Northern Ireland Government, but we appreciate, and so do the Northern Ireland Government, that it will mean, in practice, that it will be virtually impossible in future, as it was up to 1948, for the relatives of such girls to visit them at the borstals in this country.

As I say, it is a choice of evils, but, on balance, we agree with the Northern Ireland Government that it is better that the girls should have borstal training rather than that they should have the experience which, unfortunately, has been the case in Northern Ireland in the past. Of course, some of the girls could be sent to Scotland—that should be pointed out—but the girls coming here will either be sent to the girls' open borstal at East Sutton Park in Kent, which is a very fine place of its kind and which, at the moment, has vacancies, or they will be sent to one of the closed borstals which have established a useful reputation for themselves in spite of the circumstances which the hon. Lady has described. There is a new closed borstal designed as such for the purpose under our prison building programme which is being built in Essex and which will be completed before next Easter.

I cannot give the hon. Lady the first undertaking she asked for, namely, that when girls sentenced in Northern Ireland are under 17 they will be sent to an approved school in Northern Ireland instead of borstal in England. The reason I cannot give that undertaking is that it is, of course, entirely a matter for the courts in Northern Ireland. I must leave the matter there. It would be quite wrong for me to embark on any comments affecting the jurisdiction of the courts of Northern Ireland.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I am not very happy about what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I suppose that the logical thing to say is "Do not be a girl in Northern Ireland". It seems that this will make it extremely difficult to carry out the kind of work in connection with the home circumstances of those in borstal training which ought to be carried out. One of the most difficult sides of borstal work and approved school and prison work is in the transfer of the young person back again to the home surroundings, in preparing the home for the release of the young person, and so on. This is difficult enough in any case, and to do it across the Irish Sea, which I think is the barrier which has to be surmounted, will be very difficult indeed.

It is difficult not to accede to the hon. and learned Gentleman's request, but I should have thought, although he says that it is not his business and he cannot answer for Northern Ireland, that it is the people running the borstals here who have to do the training, and it is difficult for them to do so successfully if they cannot have the contact with the home which is required. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has said. We regard this matter with extreme reserve.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to:

Lords Amendment: In line 18, leave out subsection (6) and insert: (6) In subsection (5) of this section references to supervision include references to any obligation to comply with requirements or conditions imposed by a licence or otherwise imposed by law on or in connection with release from a prison or other institution, and any liability to be recalled or returned thereto; and for the purposes of that subsection it shall be assumed that a person who, if released in his place of sentence, could have been placed under supervision, would have been so placed.

Mr. Renton

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. MacColl

I wonder whether the Minister of State will give us an explanation of the substitution of the new subsection (6).

Mr. Renton

This is a drafting Amendment and with it go the Amendments in page 19, lines 8 and 10, which substitute references to the prisoner being subject to supervision instead of under supervision, thereby bringing the drafting into line with that used elsewhere in subsection (5). The new subsection (6) improves the drafting of the existing subsection (6). In particular, the words after the semi-colon make it clear that subsection (5) applies to prisoners under the age of 21 when sentenced and who, under Section 25 of the Prison Act, 1952, or corresponding, provisions of other Acts applying to Scotland and Northern Ireland, may, at the discretion of the prison authorities, either be granted remission OT be released under a young prisoner licence.

Question put and agreed to.

So subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.