HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc775-91

8.33 a.m.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

Since the Home Office report on prisons together with the statistical tables is now available, I thought this might be a convenient moment at which to debate it. In a longer debate one would wish to mention many more aspects of the report than I propose to mention this morning. For example, one might discuss the current employment situation, which is set out in chapter VI of the report and which gives an inescapable impression that too little is being done. If a similar priority had been given in this area of the prison service as was given following the Mountbatten Report on matters of security, a great deal more might have been done.

Chapter VIII of the report deals with rehabilitation. This is set out in a separate chapter for the first time, and this perhaps symbolises the importance of what is a vital and productive element in prison work. I note the increase in the number of educational officers mentioned in paragraph 40, namely from 118 in 1967 to 149 in 1970. That is welcome in so far as it goes.

But the reason I raise this matter this morning is the critical situation in our penal system which is revealed, not for the first time, in this prison report.

There is gross overcrowding in our prisons, particularly the local prisons for men and this has become far worse in 1970 compared with 1969. Paragraph 3 shows that in 1969 the highest number sleeping two or three in a cell was 10,539. But by 1970 this had risen to 14,174, a very large increase. The figures for the numbers sleeping two to three in a cell at the end of the year for 1969 was 10,241 while in 1970 it was 13,548.

This is no new development. It has been getting worse for years yet we do not seem to have noticed that by any human standards the position has become intolerable and we therefore continue to tolerate it. We try to mitigate it a little but without any fundamental rethinking of the whole question of when prison is appropriate and when it is not. To be fair some people are thinking but there is far too little action.

Overcrowding is defeating one supposed main object of imprisonment which is the reformation of the offender. Paragraph 31 of the report says that overcrowding: … made it difficult to sustain the advances of recent years in the treatment and training of inmates. It goes on: It threatened to reduce the opportunities for those informal contacts between the staff and inmates which do so much to improve the response and outlook of people in custody. Physical and material problems are referred to in the same paragraph. One governor of a local prison is quoted as speaking of the: … nagging uncertainty—whether the sewers will cope, can the boilers maintain the steam pressure, will there be enough work and if so where do we put them to do their daily task? There is little prospect of relief or change. There are three apparently more positive factors which one needs to take account of. First is the prison building programme left by the previous Government. The public expenditure White Paper says that in spite of this programme, the greatest since Victoria, on present trends overcrowding would become slightly worse, even though 10,600 additional places will be provided.

Then there is the question whether all this vast expenditure is worth-while. Is it cost effective? Would it not be better to make a greater effort at the other end of the problem with sentencing policy rather than attempting to cope with the consequences of that policy? I understand that in California counties are currently being subsidised to keep people out of state prisons.

This is not just a question of building prisons. What about the problem of staffing them? In paragraph 52 there is a reference to an increase in 1970 in what is described as an already unduly high level of overtime. Where will the staff come from to man these additional prisons?

The principal overcrowding is in the local prisons for men. According to appendix 3 of the prison report their average capacity is 10,092. The average number of inmates is given as 16,433. The greatest number of inmates at any one time in any one prison is, of course, very much higher. Where will these 10,600 additional places be provided and how far will they help these local prisons for men?

There is a second positive factor referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman in the Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill the other day, that the prison population has been stabilised over the past year and one asks hopefully whether this is a permanent change of trend. The prison population does not always follow the same trend. If one examines the position over the last hundred years, one finds that the proportion of the population in prison fell in the last 30 years of Queen Victoria, rose under Edward VII, fell under George V, and has been rising under George VI and Elizabeth. I hesitate to say whether there is any connection between the name of the Monarch and the trend, but it has both fallen and risen at various times, and it is still not as large now per head of the population as it was in 1871, It would be a happy state of affairs if one could believe that the trend had changed, but, clearly, we cannot base our plans on such a change, and we must be sceptical about whether a change in the trend has taken place.

The third positive factor is the Criminal Justice Bill. I say little about it, because we are at the moment considering it in Committee. But it has positive elements. It will result in more people being dealt with in the community. The effect, at best, is likely to be marginal, and the provisions regarding suspended sentences may tend to increase the prison population.

We must not place too much hope on these apparently more positive factors. In those circumstances, the Government must consider whether far more radical steps are not required to end the inhumanity of our present prison overcrowding. I believe that such steps could be taken without a significant increase in the risk to the population at large.

I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman will clarify certain figures. According to paragraph 3 of the Prison Report, the average population of our prisons in 1970 was 39,028 and the highest was 40,321. The highest number of people sleeping two or three to a cell was 14,174. The end year figure was 13,548. In paragraph 3 of the Public Expenditure White Paper, the prison population is said to have increased from 47,850 to 59,350. How does the figure of 47,850 compare with the average figure in 1970 of 39,028? Again, the figure given of people sleeping two or three to a cell—the figure about which the word "now" is used—is 16,000. That has to be compared with the highest figure in the Prison Report for 1970 of 14,174. What is the reconciliation between those apparently different sets of figures?

If the figures in the White Paper are to be believed, the situation is vastly more serious at the moment than even the Prison Report itself suggests.

Implicitly, present policy is based on the principle that prison accommodation in local prisons for men is indefinitely extensible. If one crates animals and sends them anywhere by air, there are standards of accommodation. There are none in local prisons for men. In some parts of the penal system, there are standards. If there is no room in a Borstal, an offender waits in a local prison which is already overcrowded. One cannot send an offender to a mental hospital unless the hospital agrees. A court cannot send anyone to a remand home unless there is room. The pamphlet issued by the Home Office and entitled "Sentence of the Court" says in paragraph 96: The régime of a detention centre cannot be maintained if the centre is overcrowded, and it is therefore necessary to request courts to ascertain from the warden in each case whether there is a vacancy in the centre before passing a sentence of detention. But local prisons have to cape, whatever the consequences of the sentencing policy.

In West Rhine Westphalia, a judicial decision has declared that it is illegal to place prisoners more than one to a cell. That cannot be done in this country because of Parliament's reluctance, advised by lawyers, to impinge on the freedom of sentencing. We must allow sentencers flexibility, even if the separate decisions of sentencers create an intolerable situation in total. We have here what I may call Maudling's Dilemma—perhaps it is Carlisle's Dilemma—the dilemma that leads the Home Secretary, in the Second Reading debate on the Criminal Justice Bill, to state in one column of HANSARD the two entirely contradictory principles on which he is acting, or on which he thinks he is acting. The right hon. Gentleman is reported as saying: My first principle, therefore, is that the courts must decide what to do with any person who is found gully of any offence. That is the flexibility principle. The right hon. Gentleman then continued: I would like to see tougher sentences passed on violent criminals. I should like to see other criminals dealt with in ways other than imprisonment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1971; Vol. 826, c. 967.] That statement is quite inconsistent with the flexibility principle, which sends to prison large numbers of people who are not violent criminals.

My principle would be that I would wish to confine imprisonment to offenders whose freedom is a danger to the public, and that other criminals should be dealt with in other ways. That statement, too, is inconsistent with the flexibility principle. But it is not just a matter that if Parliament wants to establish a certain sentencing policy, there would have to be a limit on the freedom of sentencers. Even if each individual sentence was defensible on some ground, of deterrence or suitability to the individual case—and I can think of some decisions which I cannot believe are defensible—what Government and Parliament have to decide is whether they can cope with the total result of a large number of separate decisions.

If Government and Parliament cannot cope, and an intolerable situation is created in our prisons, something drastic must be done about it. Surely there is some limit to the capacity of our prisons which we cannot allow to be exceeded at whatever sacrifice to the flexibility principle. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can tell us about the results of the study taking place about the maximum capacity of our prisons. One would like to think that there was some maximum capacity which could not be exceeded, even under current policies.

The Home Secretary is fortunate, at any rate to this extent. The problem is made much easier for him by the fact that he knows that under current sentencing policies many people are in prison whom he believes should not be in prison. So if he wishes to take action which relieves prison overcrowding, that action can be entirely consistent with his views on sentencing policy.

One thing he can do is to make sure the courts have the necessary information before sentencing. From answers to certain Parliamentary Questions which I put down and which the hon. and learned Gentleman answered, it is quite clear that the Home Office does not really know what influence Circulars 188 and 189 of 1968 have had in ensuring that social inquiries are made before custodial sentences are imposed. In one of these Answers the hon. and learned Gentleman said that …the arrangements …appear to be working satisfactorily. I am considering how a fuller assessment might be made of their operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1971; Vol 827, c. 320.] I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman considers that point and that he finds some way of making a fuller assessment of their operation. One thing he will clearly have to do is to get more information about the situation than he currently has.

The first area in which action is required is the deterrent sentence, that is, the sentence not fitted to the individual case. In the last Session of Parliament, in the other place, where they debate these matters more frequently, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, spoke on this subject and he made three points against deterrent sentences which seem to me sound and to which I will refer, with some comment. The first was that manifestly, and by definition, these are unfair to the individual. His second point was that they involve necessarily a longer sentence than the individual would otherwise receive.

According to the 1970 Prison Report, the average length of sentence is increasing, and this would be true, according to the Report, even when the effect of suspended sentences is allowed for. The table on page 4 shows that the index of average length of sentence has increased from 83.6 in 1965 to 129 in 1970 —an increase of 50 per cent. No doubt this is partly the effect of suspended sentences and partly the effect of the smaller number of short-term fine defaulters. However, this is a trend which is significantly increasing the prison population.

The third point made by Lord Foot was that injustice to the individual made the work of the prison department more difficult. In fact, there is no evidence to show that a so-called deterrent sentence is more deterrent than one suitable to the individual. "People in Prison" states on page 53: Slightly more than half the men who have served sentences of more than 18 months for an indictable offence are reconvicted within two years of release from prison. And "Sentences of the Court" shows on page 72, in table 5, the high reconviction rate of people sentenced to imprisonment. One is bound to ask "For what good?" —and one gets the answer on page 39, in paragraph 142, of "Sentence of the Court," where one reads: The reformative value of imprisonment is limited, and imprisonment often adds to an offender's problems of rehabilitation, rather than reduces them. Although there are cases where imprisonment is unavoidable, it is increasingly coming to be regarded as the sentence to be imposed only where other methods of treatment have failed or are considered inappropriate. In other words, wherever possible—and this is consistent with what the Home Secretary has said and what I think he is trying to do—people should be dealt with in the community. In fact, however, the position is very different. The numbers sentenced to imprisonment in 1970 compared with 1969 were up—men by 13 per cent. and women by 17 per cent.

Consider, next, remands in custody, many of which are unnecessary. The remands take place to local prisons, which are already overcrowded. More- over, they make quite disproportionate demands on staff time in local prisons because of the receptions, discharges and the various processes that are involved, including visits of solicitors and so on. Above all, the business of staff having to escort prisoners on remand to and from court is extremely time consuming. We read on page 67, paragraph 163, of "People in Prison": Workshops in many local prisons sometimes have to close for lack of staff on days on which the demands of court work are high. Yet the number of untried remands showed an increase in 1970 over 1969—men up by 6 per cent. and women up by 22 per cent. All convicted remands, including Section 26, were up in 1970 compared with 1969 by 7 per cent. for men and 7 per cent. for women. The numbers given in the statistical tables show untried prisoners at 19,429 and convicted prisoners at 9,607, which is only a slight improvement.

It is worth noting specifically the medical remands. These figures appear on page 21 in the statistical tables. In 1970 there were 12,505 men in this category, and 1,727 women—and again, the burden is on the local prisons. A sample of women investigated in 1967 showed that not more than 10 per cent. were subsequently given custodial sentences, and a Parliamentary Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) showed that taking men and women together, probably less than one-third got custodial sentences; there were 15,041 remands and 4,800 custodial sentences. The Answer related to all remands under Section 26—all medical remands—and Section 14 (3), some of which would have been probation report remands. It excluded medical untried remands, but it probably reflected the overall situation.

It is surely absurd to send people to prison to see a doctor if there is no other reason for sending them. Psychiatrists are now on record as saying that as a rule, better reports can be produced on bail because the patient is in his ordinary setting. There is a need to develop outpatient facilities, including forensic psychiatric facilities, outside prison, and to ensure that the courts use them.

There is the problem of bail. One reason why more people are not bailed is that courts are often ignorant of the relevant facts. The work of Zander and Keith Bottomley shows that the courts lack information and take the view of the police too uncritically. A recent Cobden Trust pamphlet "Bail or Custody" gives the figures of a study it conducted on this subject. The figures are given in page 90, and show that in 879 cases where bail was discussed the average time of discussion was three minutes. Only in 20 per cent. of cases did discussion exceed five minutes, and in almost 9 per cent. of cases where the defendant was detained there was no discussion at all.

There are interesting figures in page 67 of the same pamphlet which show the success rate over three years of appeals to a judge in chambers by people refused bail by magistrates. The success rate for Crown Office appeals—that is, those privately represented—was 38.5 per cent. For appeals via the Official Solicitor—that is, those not represented—the success rate was 8.4 per cent. If the success rate for the latter class was raised towards that of the former it would make a difference of thousands in the numbers of people received into prison each year.

In the Criminal Justice Bill we have a proposal for bail hostels. This is in a very experimental stage. If it develops, it will help and will, of course, be very welcome, but there is no evidence that it will help much. Why cannot we have a system similar to the Vera system operated in Manhattan? Why can we not do more to avoid the imprisonment of untried and unsentenced people?

Then there is the question referred to in a report published this year on habitual drunken offenders. This is another group where significant reductions can be made in the prison population. Some of these people go to prison for being drunk and disorderly, but large numbers go to prison as fine defaulters. Section 91 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, enabled the Secretary of State to abolish the liability for prison of drunken offenders when sufficient suitable accommodation was available: when will that be?

The Weiler Committee, which made the report, said in paragraph 4.28, page 29 '… the facilities required to enable Section 91 of the 1967 Act to be brought into force need to be adequate to cater from the first for 2,000 male offenders. That figure might well rise to 5,000. These figures make provision for all types of drunken cases now going to prison; that is to say, they include fine defaulters and alcoholics serving sentences for other types of offence. When will this accommodation be available? In Appendix P, page 238, a minority of the Weiler Committee propose the establishment of a Commission to provide a sense of urgency in dealing with the problem, and that seems to be a good idea. Urgency is certainly required. What is the Home Office attitude?

This problem of the provision of suitable accommodation raises the question of the balance of capital expenditure as revealed in page 44 of the White Paper, where we find vast sums for prisons, but very much smaller figures of capital expenditure for probation and after-care hostels. Accommodation for drunken offenders is one example of something more that is required. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary suggested in the Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill the other day that the proposed capital expenditure takes account of the trend of sentencing policy in the courts, but surely that trend could be changed, as, for example, by an Order under Section 91, following an urgent effort to provide suitable accommodation. We need to change the trend, and to make possible more treatment in the community in this case as in other cases.

Lastly, there is the problem of fine defaulters. People who have no means are fined and subsequently sent to prison for failure to pay. The Wootton Report in page 9, paragraph 26, deals with the committal of fine defaulters, and says that the numbers are disturbingly high.

They add: We are not satisfied that magistrates' courts are adequately equipped to carry out the thorough investigation of means which the law requires before a fine defaulter is committed to prison. A minority of the Committee, including Lady Wootton herself, said in Paragraph 27 that prison for fine defaulters was an anachronism, but the number committed to prison is increasing once again.

So, year by year, the situation is getting worse. Urgent action has become more urgently necessary. We have deplored the worsening situation and decided to accept it. We should stop accepting and deploring: we should deplore the situation and refuse to accept it. Far more radical action is required. Is there any indication that we will get it?

8.31 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) has drawn attention to what he rightly described as the very important report on the working of the Prison Department for 1970. He made a comprehensive, detailed and impressively researched speech. I will do my best to answer all his points, but I am sure that he would be the first to concede that there will be numerous opportunities in Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill on which I can be probed again on his more detailed points.

The report, of course, is a depressing picture of the facts of overcrowding which the Prison Department faces. It refers repeatedly to the effects of overcrowding, and I suppose that this was the major concern of those involved in the department during 1970. In view of the degree of overcrowding and the substantial increase in the prison population which occurred unexpectedly in the early months of 1970, it is a great tribute to those who work in the prison service that they coped as adequately as they did during that period.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to clarify the apparent contradiction between the figures in the report for the average population in prison during 1970 and the figures on page 45 of the Public Expenditure White Paper which are forecasts for the years from 1971–72 to 1975–76. There is a simple answer to this apparent discrepancy, as the right hon. Gentleman suspected. The responsibility of the Prison Department extends merely to England and Wales, whereas the Public Expenditure White Paper deals with the whole of Great Britain, and therefore the Scottish figures are added.

The forecast in the White Paper for 1971–72 is 47,850 and for 1975–76 59,350. The equivalent forecast for England and Wales would be 42,550 in 1971–72, rising to 52,950 for the financial year 1975–76.

Figures for these years were given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in HANSARD on 29th March this year, column 290, in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson), but they have the complication that they were based on the calendar year rather than the financial year. Taking those figures on which the Home Office has been making its assessments, as shown in column 290, for the year 1972 the figure was likely to be 44,500 rising to 52,000 for the calendar year 1975. I hope that that answers the question about the apparent discrepancy in the figures.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the actual number of people in prison during 1971 has been happily lower than the forecast which was made. The position at the most recent date that I can give, namely, 30th November this year, was that the number of those within the care or custody of the Prison Department was 39,354, whereas, if we go back to 15th July, 1970, 17 months ago, the figure was 40,137. So, for about 12 months, we seemed to be on a plateau concerning the size of the prison population.

It is always dangerous to take too much account of a merely short-term trend. This is perhaps clarified completely by what happened in the early months of 1970. The figure of 35,965 on 15th January, 1970, rose to 40,137 on 15th July that year, a rise of over 4,000 in six months. Indeed, that came about very shortly after the publication by the previous Government of a booklet, "People in Prison", which made the hopeful estimate that the prison population would increase by 1,000 a year and thus reach about 40,000 in the early 1970s. Within six months or so of publication of that booklet, that figure had already been reached.

Therefore, although we now appear to be in a situation where, for 18 months or so, the prison population has remained static in number, I am sure that we are right, in looking at the longer term, to base our forecasts on the trends which we have and to plan on the unfortunate position that the prison population is likely to expand in the future as it has in the past.

The plans set out and dealt with in the public expenditure document take into account the following factors; the rise in population, with reference to the age groups most at risk, the increase in criminality in the country, and sentencing policy as it has developed over the years allowing for a slightly greater use of non-custodial penalties in future; but do not allow in that calculation for any of the effects of the Criminal Justice Bill, because these calculations, for the purpose of providing statistics and fore-casts for the public expenditure document, had to be provided before the Criminal Justice Bill had been formed. Therefore, we have had to make those forecasts on the basis of the increasing size of the population, particularly the growth in the size of the population of those of the relevant age, the proportion of the population sentenced by courts and the sentencing practice of the courts.

As is argued in paragraph 8 of the Annual Report of the Prison Department, the most important of these factors, taken over a period of years, is the growth of criminality as measured in this instance by the number of persons convicted of indictable offences. The number of men aged 17 and over found guilty of indictable offences per 100,000 of the population was 610 in 1960.

This had risen to 1,038 in 1968 and 1,240 in 1970. The figures had doubled in 10 years. The forecasts in the Expenditure White Paper assumed a continuation of the growth in criminality in line with the trend over the past few years. If this seems a pessimistic picture, it must be borne in mind that anybody who in 1960 had predicted the doubling of the number of men convicted of indictable offences by 1970 would have been judged to be over-pessimistic.

I turn to the Government's approach and what we are doing about the present situation. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about our present building programme. It is right to say that if the forecasts turn out to be completely accurate, if in fact the number of additional places provided by 1975 is 9,000 and the increase in the prison population is slightly more than 9,000, the overcrowding will be such that there will be more people sharing cells, although there will be a lower proportion of the overall prison population living in overcrowded conditions. But if the present trend, as shown by the past year, continues, we are hopeful that the effect of this major prison building programme will be to start to make inroads into the overcrowding.

We are involved in a major prison building programme aimed at restoring the programme to its necessary size, to provide the present system with 20th century buildings and to reduce the proportion of offenders, especially young offenders, who spend periods in custody in obsolete and totally unsuitable Victorian prison buildings. The programme is designed to provide decent although austere living conditions and decent working conditions for the inmates and staff.

There are 13,800 people sleeping two or three in a cell. The aim is to increase the capacity of the system in England and Wales by 9,000 places by 1975–76, bringing capacity to about 44,000. If the provision of more places can keep pace with the rise in population, as now seems more likely, it will be possible therefore to make some inroads into the present deplorable level of overcrowding. If, happily the present population continued to remain constant. at least we should have the advantage of seeing the possibility at some stage of clearing away some of the Victorian prisons.

We have planning clearance for 10,000 prison places, which compares with a figure of 4,000–5,000 when the Government took office. We have planning permission for 14 major schemes and we are in negotiation with local authorities over a further dozen major schemes which would provide planning permission, if successful, for an additional 7,000 places.

I believe that a substantial advance has been made with the present building programme over the last 18 months. In the financial year 1969–70, only one scheme was started, providing 80 places; in 1970–71 work started on schemes to provide 1,500 places; in the current financial year it is hoped to reach a figure of about 3,000 places being started. On top of that, we are making considerably greater use of inmate labour, which, although I concede means that the individual prison perhaps takes slightly longer to build, means that one not only provides work for the skills of men in prison but reduces substantially the cost of construction.

Work has started on a new young offenders' complex at Glen Parva, in Leicestershire, designed to accommodate 800 male young offenders and comprising remand and allocation centres and a closed borstal. The greater part of it will be built by inmate labour.

But, of course, I would be the first to agree that building new prisons is only half of the problem, and the right hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised the need to look critically at alternatives to imprisonment. He particularly raised the question of overcrowding in local prisons. We have taken account of the fact that there are certain training prisons which we do not wish to get into the overcrowded state of many local prisons.

Part of the overcrowding in local prisons is, of course, caused by unsentenced population. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned remands in custody, the effects on staff doing court duty and the need for the greater use of bail. At the moment, over 10 per cent. of the prison population is unsentenced and he asked me what we were doing about it, referring particularly to medical reports.

In relation to medical reports, the Home Office has made arrangements for an experimental period with certain courts in the London area whereby women on whom the court requires medical reports are referred to Holloway for examination on an outpatient basis. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that merely because one requires a medical report does not seem the best reason for sending someone to prison. But I am afraid that disappointingly little use has been made of the scheme.

However, we are ready to provide in the early part of next year a similar experimental arrangement with Brixton, where it is hoped that outpatient ex-animations can be achieved of men on whom courts require medical reports during remand. So, we are attempting to have remands done on an outpatient basis.

Further, in May this year we sent out a circular to the courts saying that we had arranged that where people were remanded for a medical report the Governor of the prison should inform the court the moment the report was available so that the court could bring the person back before it at the earliest possible moment rather than wait for the full period of the original remand—say, 21 days—to elapse.

In general the Home Office wish to see the widest use of bail that can be made. It has always been my view that we are likely to achieve further success by reducing the period individuals spend on remand in custody by such methods as speeding up production of reports and getting them back to courts quicker and by the hope that the Courts Act will lead to a more efficient system in the Crown Court or higher courts so that there will be less delay in trials. There will be more success that way than actually reducing the number of people remanded in custody. It must be noted that while over 70 per cent. of people on remand are on bail already the percentage of people remanded on bail is increasing and the percentage of people remanded in custody is decreasing.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill providing for the possibility of a bail hostel. I was asked whether we were satisfied that the courts were getting adequate information before sentencing and it was said that from answers given about social inquiry reports it appeared that we did not know how well this was going. My belief is that social inquiry reports are widely used. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to Clause 13 of the Criminal Justice Bill, which, when we have removed the mandatory provisions of the suspended sentence will provide that no court shall pass a sentence of imprisonment on a person who has attained the age of 21 and has not previously been sentenced to imprisonment unless the court is satisfied, after considering reports, that no other method is available.

There is a clear statutory provision that the court must determine … whether any other method of dealing with any such person is appropriate; and for the purpose of determining whether any other method of dealing with any such person is appropriate the court shall obtain and consider information about the circumstances, and shall take into account any information before the court which is relevant to his character and his physical and mental condition. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about drunken offenders and when we proposed to implement the report. I draw to his attention that the Criminal Justice Bill provides that the police may take people to hospital centres rather than to a court when they are picked up for such offences as being drunk and disorderly. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that on Second Reading I said it was the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to provide, on an experimental basis, detoxification centres as recommended in the report.

I sum up by saying our aim is to meet the problems of overcrowding first by a substantially increased prison building programme, and secondly by providing alternatives to imprisonment, not only through the means I have mentioned but also by expansion of the probation service. There is provision in the expenditure White Paper for 1,600 adult probation hostel places where none existed last year and there is also provision for day training centres through the probation service and the new scheme of community service.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there was an inconsistency between the two principles which my right hon. Friend adumbrated during the Second Reading debate on the Criminal Justice Bill. The individual sentence passed by any court on an individual must be a matter for that court, with all the knowledge it has, in the framework of the law. I do not see that there is anything inconsistent with that if this House, by the maximum penalties and the variety of penalties it provides, hopes that the courts will exercise their power in a way which will ensure that those who can be dealt with in ways other than by imprisonment are so dealt with. It is surely the duty of this House to provide an adequate variety of penalties for the courts and to ensure that there is a climate of public opinion which enables them properly to carry out their sentencing.