HC Deb 10 May 1967 vol 746 cc1459-69

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

12.13 p.m.

Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)

The right of an individual to contact his Member of Parliament is generally a recognised and accepted part of our democratic procedure. Very often, during the efforts made to deal with a constituent's grievance, a situation is revealed which causes wider concern, and the value of an hon. Member's personal contact with constituents cannot be over-stated.

A few weeks ago, at short notice and under great pressure from the Lord Mayor of Norwich, I had to deal with the case of a young constituent of mine, a girl aged 17, who on a first offence had been convicted by magistrates and remanded in custody for a period of approximately three weeks pending reports and a decision on her future. The court was held in northern Norfolk. The place for remanding her in custody was Holloway Prison, London, well over 100 miles from her home.

I do not wish to name the girl. There has been quite enough publicity given to her case already, and I am pleased to inform the House that there has been a very happy result for her. I look forward to her developing as a good and useful citizen and, for reasons which the House will understand and appreciate, I shall not reveal her identity.

My concern is to deal with what, in my view, is the serious situation revealed in a letter to me from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, dated 18th April, the final paragraph of which says: It appears that courts in London, East Anglia and the south-east of England have no female remand centre facilities, and the only place where a girl aged 17 or over can be placed is, therefore, Holloway. I understand that she is too old to go to a remand home where the age limit is 17 years. Up to that point, I had tended to be critical of the magistrates in the case, but that statement by the noble Lord altered the picture somewhat. On 27th April last, I tabled a Question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and his written reply said: The remand centre at Holloway for girls aged 17 but under 21 is now being brought into use. It is in the remodelled hospital, and is entirely separate from the rest of the prison. Adult women on remand at Holloway Prison are kept separately from convicted prisoners. He went on: I am considering whether more satisfactory arrangements can be made for remand accommodation for women and girls in the south-east, but I have to bear in mind the very heavy increase in the male prison population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1967; Vol. 722, c. 322.] Although young women on remand are kept separate from convicted prisoners and even the accommodation is an improvement on what used to be the case, the prison stigma remains. Furthermore, at this critical time, these children— because that is what they are—need parents or relatives readily available. Long-distance travel imposes a considerable burden on them, and not only a financial one, and parents are not always to blame in these cases.

If this is a remand centre, I pose these questions. Why give a prison number? Why has it a prison address, with "H.M. Prison, Holloway" on letter headings? Why lock up girls in their cells at 5 p.m. until next morning, and on Sundays at 4 p.m. until Monday morning? Then again, what about the dress—thick seamed stockings, black flat-toed lace-up shoes, red cardigan, green-spotted blouse, and grey skirt—in other words, a prison uniform?

I have considered this situation carefully and, to my mind, it all adds up to a prison sentence in advance and cannot be justified. Very few of these young girls basically are complete and absolute potential criminals. I speak as a father. In a young girl aged between 17 and 21, emotional upsets often lead to stupid actions needing great care, understanding and sympathy in handling the individual.

In my view, the situation revealed gives rise to serious concern. Shock treatment may help in a few cases but in many others serious and permanent harm can be caused. Many magistrates in East Anglia are concerned. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) is unable to take part in the debate and tenders his apologies because he shares my serious concern and gives me full support in any efforts I may make.

The hon. Gentleman is under pressure from an important body of women in his constituency, including quite a number of magistrates, who have expresed their serious concern and I will quote from a local newspaper on the matter: Several members, including some whose personal experience as magistrates has given them an insight into the problem, took part in discussion. It was emphasised that it was quite wrong that young people brought before a court and remanded for some special psychiatric or medical report should be taken to prisons pending their next appearance before the magistrates. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South will, indeed, be bringing pressure to bear in other ways.

It may be argued fairly and properly that the accommodation in Holloway is separate, but the fact remains—and this is the serious factor which worries me and many others—that the only remand centre for the whole of East Anglia, the whole of the south-east of England, which are both very large areas, and for London, for girls aged 17 and under 21, is Her Majesty's Prison at Holloway. That fact cannot be denied.

I appreciate the problems of the Home Office and all those who would like to see something done to achieve a better situation. I know how difficult it is for authorities when they want to set up a small remand home in an area. Immediately the local population rises up in protest. But we must face that situation. Some years ago, I had to face it when the Salvation Army wanted to put up a home in a so-called respectable neighbourhood in the area in which I lived. We had to fight but the home was set up and is now part of the local scene and is doing magnificent work.

I do not want to delay the House. I feel that I have a very strong and worrying case. I appreciate all the problems that face the Home Office in dealing with this serious situation. But perhaps, if there is some degree of publicity of this issue, the people who should look at the situation are in many cases the magistrates themselves who take decisions which place the Home Office in this situation. As I have said, I appreciate the problems but, even allow- ing for all this, I cannot help but say and bluntly declare that the position is disturbing, worrying and shocking.

12.24 p.m.

The Minister of State for the Home Department (Miss Alice Bacon)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) for raising this subject because it gives me an opportunity that it is not possible to have during ordinary Question and Answer to say what we have been doing about this problem during the last year or two. I can well understand his anxieties about the matter. It has always worried me that young girls have had to be remanded in prison.

I make it clear that today we are discussing remand centres. Sometimes there is confusion in the minds of some people between remand centres and remand homes. Remand homes are for children under the age of 17 and are the responsibility of the local authorities. My hon. Friend will know that, only a few months ago, I was able to open in Norfolk a very good remand home provided by Norfolk and the surrounding counties for boys and girls under 17.

One aspect which my hon. Friend has not mentioned is probably more worrying than any of these which he did mention. This is that, on occasions, magistrates declare that a boy or girl under the age of 17 whom they are remanding is too "unruly or depraved"—to use the words of the Act—to be sent to a remand home and must be sent to a remand centre or, if one is not available, to a prison. This has caused me a great many headaches during my time at the Home Office.

We are today discussing remand centres, which were envisaged by the Criminal Justice Act, 1948. These centres were to be placed where boys and girls between the ages of 17 and 21 could be remanded in custody in order to avoid being remanded in prison. Unfortunately, progress in the 1950s was very slow. Not one remand centre was opened in the 1950s. Indeed, I often raised this matter, when I was in opposition, with the then Government and in 1961, during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act, 1961, I was instrumental in leading for the Opposition and defeating the then Government in Committee because of the lack of remand centres. The first remand centre—one for boys— was not opened until 1961, which was 13 years after the 1948 Act setting them up. So my hon. Friend will appreciate the difficulty which has faced us because of the slowness in getting these centres started between 1948 and 1961.

All those that are now in operation for girls were opened in 1965. Those that are fully in operation at the moment are at Brockhill, near Birmingham, Low Newton, in County Durham, Puckle-church, near Bristol and Risley, near Warrington. Some of these also have separate accomodation for boys on the same site and some for women. Each block for the girls in the age group 17 to 21 is separate. Thus, by 1965, the whole of the country was covered except for the far South-West and the southeast of England, including London and Norfolk. For the far South-West, temporary accommodation at Exeter is available until there are additional places at Pucklechurch, which we are providing at the moment.

That leaves the area of south-east England, London and Norfolk. This area has given us a great deal of concern. It was announced some time ago that Hollo-way was to cease to be a women's prison and that the site was to be cleared and redeveloped as a remand centre to serve the whole of the South-East. Unfortunately, there has been delay with this project due to the increase in prison population over the last few years. But 18 months ago, when it was clear that we could not dispense entirely with Hollo-way in the immediate future, I investigated the possibilities of an interim arrangement.

I felt that we could not wait until Holloway was completely rebuilt in the way I have described. I looked around for some place where we could have an interim remand centre until the time when Holloway could be properly developed. We decided that what we could do quicker and in the best possible way was to take the old hospital at Holloway. This has now been shut off from the main building and redesigned as a remand centre. It is only partly in use as yet but will be fully in use in about eight weeks' time, when the decorations are complete. We took the opportunity presented to build a com- plete new hospital for the prison and this has a separate entrance from the remand centre.

This new hospital is a great improvement on the previous one. The staff is assisted by visiting psychotherapists and specialists, including specialists in gynaecology and venereology, and is supported by nearby hospitals. I recently visited the remand centre and the hospital to see how it was going on and was very pleased with what had been done. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has been critical this morning, will visit the remand centre when it is fully in operation. I invite other hon. Members to visit it, because I am sure that they will be pleased with the accommodation provided.

This centre will be called the South-East Remand Centre. I know that many people, like my hon. Friend. feel that the word "Holloway" conjures up terrible things, but I hope that when he goes to the remand centre he will also visit Holloway to see some of the good work that is being done there, even in the old building. One wing is run on a group counselling basis, and there is a domestic training wing where full-time domestic training is given to those sentenced for neglecting children and others likely to benefit from it. That is by the way. This remand centre, as an interim measure, will be functioning within eight weeks, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take the opportunity to visit it.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of the distance that has to be travelled when someone from Norfolk was remanded in London. I recognise that girls may be some distance from home, but this is inevitable not only in Norfolk but in the rest of the country. The total number of girls aged between 17 and 21 remanded in custody at any one time is very small. On 30th April only 117 girls were so remanded in the whole of England and Wales. This is rather a high figure, because usually the numbers of such girls on remand are below 100. Even with five centres my hon. Friend will see that the numbers are very small. It would be quite impracticable to have more and to run units for very small numbers. Even where there is a remand centre for boys on the same site there are completely different establishments, which require staffing in different ways.

Norfolk is not alone in this matter. I represent a constituency in Yorkshire, and my hon. Friend will see from the siting of the remand centres to which I have already referred that there is not a remand centre in Yorkshire, and that girls have to travel either to Warrington, in Lancashire, or to Durham. With such small numbers involved, it is a choice between a few remand centres where the girls can be properly looked after, or travelling rather longer distances.

Most girls remanded in custody are remanded for medical and psychiatric reports so that the necessary staff must be available in or near the remand centre. They share medical specialists with other establishments, but there must also be resident staff for observation purposes.

When the Criminal Justice Bill, now before Parliament, becomes law, it is most likely that the numbers remanded in custody will be even fewer. At present about half of the 35,000 people —adults and younger people—annually remanded in custody do not, on conviction, receive custodial sentences. Some of them—over 2,000 in 1965—are not even convicted. This a matter which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary thought ought to be tackled in some way in the Criminal Justice Bill. In that Bill, which has now gone to another place, restrictions are therefore placed on the powers of magistrates to remand in custody. This means that the figure of about 100 girls aged between 17 and 21 who are remanded in custody at any one time could be fewer than this in future, when the Criminal Justice Bill is in operation.

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it would be unrealistic and impracticable to provide more than five remand centres for girls. As I have said, not only in Norfolk but in many other areas of the country girls have to travel some distance.

My hon. Friend raised the question of girls and boys being given numbers. It is necessary for proper documentation and statistical records that each person received in custody should be allotted a number. After all, there might be several Mary Smiths in custody at any one time. I can assure my hon. Friend that these persons are not called by their numbers; they are usually addressed by their Christian names in girls' establishments of this kind. It is essential, however, in order to avoid mistakes, that numbers should be used.

The atmosphere in a girls' remand centre is not one of rigid disciplinary control on an impersonal basis. Girls remanded in custody are allowed as much time in association at work, in classes or at recreation, as circumstances or staff allow.

My hon. Friend said that girls were locked up This is not general, but a good deal depends on the individuals themselves perhaps I can have a word with my hon Friend on that matter later.

As for clothing, an unconvicted person in custody can wear his own clothing if it is suitable, tidy and clean. He can also have clothing sent in from outside by his relatives and friends. Only if his clothing is considered not suitable and when no clothing is sent in from outside for him is he provided with prison clothing, and then it is of a different colour from that worn by convicted prisoners.

I can assure my hon. Friend that we appreciate the problem. I hope that he will recognise that during the last few years we have made some strides, after a great deal of neglect. I hope that he and any other of my hon. Friends, or hon. Members opposite—if there are any present!—will take the opportunity to visit the new remand centre when it is ready in a few weeks' time. I am sure that he will recognise that we have done everything possible to provide a very good building with adequate decoration, and that we have all the medical and psychiatric facilities available. I could not promise him, however, that we could have a lot of little units all over the country. This would be a completely unsatisfactory and impracticable arrangement.

It is a choice between travelling a short distance and having facilities available. We have taken this question very seriously. I have spent a great deal of time on it myself, because it is something in respect of which I expressed criticism when nothing whatever was done in the 1950s, after the passing of the 1948 Act. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we are doing everything we can and will recognise that we take the problem very seriously.

Mr. Wallace

Is my right hon. Friend not of the opinion that in the circumstances that apply especially in the area about which I am concerned, magistrates should at least be a little more careful in dealing with the sort of people about whom I have expressed concern? I can give her a letter which shows that this is a point which must be taken care of——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

I am afraid that the hon. Member is making an intervention, and not a speech. He has exhausted his right to make a speech.

Mr. Wallace

Yes, I have nearly exhausted myself, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Would my right hon. Friend assure me that a discreet word could be passed on to magistrates that they should not too readily convict these people or remand them?

Miss Bacon

That is a very difficult question. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has no power to direct magistrates how to carry out their duties. The Criminal Justice Bill restricts to some extent magistrates' rights over remanding people in custody, but how they perform their tasks and deal with the people who come before them is entirely for them.

The debate having been concluded, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the sitting till half-past Two o'clock, pursuant to Order.

Sitting resumed at 2.30 p.m.