HC Deb 19 June 1975 vol 893 cc1658-61
11. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he is making in reducing the number of children on remand in prison establishments.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

There is no legal provision for the remand of children—persons under the age of 14 years—to prison. We have already made clear our desire to phase out the remand to prison of young people under unruly certificates. We are looking, as a matter of urgency, at the possibility of phasing out the remand of girls aged 14.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer is not good enough, and that there are far too many children between the ages of 14 and 16 in prison establishments who have not yet been convicted of any offence, and who in the main have been charged with relatively trivial offences? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will give particular consideration to the situation of 14-year-old girls who should not be in prison establishments? Will my right hon. Friend now give a commitment to phase out certificates of unruliness? What we want is action and not sympathy.

Mr. Jenkins

If I may say so, with respect, I think that my hon. Friend's question is a little confused. The legal definition of a child is someone under the age of 14. A young person is someone aged between 14 and 16. My hon. Friend used the two terms alternately in a slightly contradictory manner. I understand that my hon. Friend's question related to children, but there is no question of children being in prison. A young person may be remanded to a prison establishment only if the court certifies that he is of so unruly a character that he cannot safely be committed to the care of the local authority. Where that applies must depend to a considerable extent on the facilities for safe custody which can be provided by the local authorities. The matter becomes a question of resources, to which, as I have indicated previously, we attach considerable importance. I would like this matter to be dealt with as soon as pos- sible. I have stated that we are considering with great urgency the possibility of phasing out the remand of girls aged between 14 and 15.

Mr. Burden

When does the right hon. Gentleman think that that phasing out will be completed? Does he not agree that there is a stigma associated with prison for a young person which must bring additional stress upon the parents? When does the right hon. Gentleman hope to see other facilities made available so that young persons are not committed on remand to prison in any case?

Mr. Jenkins

I agree with the thought behind the hon. Gentleman's question as, indeed, I do with the thought behind the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). I do not wish this system to continue any longer than is necessary. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definite date in either case, but we are looking at the position of 14-year-old girls with the greatest urgency. The general question of secure local authority accommodation for young persons of both sexes is primarily the departmental responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. However, I share responsibility as a member of the Government. So far as resources are possible, we shall endeavour to deal with that matter as soon as we can.

Mr. John Garrett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, invariably, at any one time there are two or three juvenile girls remanded to Holloway Prison from Norfolk because of the inadequacy of secure remand facilities throughout East Anglia? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the proposed remand centre at Peterborough, with six secure places to serve the whole of East Anglia, is far too small and remote from the centres of population in the East of England?

Mr. Jenkins

I take note of what my hon. Friend says and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to what he has said. I do not wish to escape responsibility in any way. Clearly, responsibility in the general sense is shared. However, the actual responsibility for local authority homes must be that of my right hon. Friend and not me.

Mr. Charles Irving

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a disgraceful and scandalous situation that young children are in prison in part because of insufficient resources being made available to social services committees to provide secure accommodation? In view of the present reductions in local authority spending the situation may deteriorate fairly rapidly. Would it not be possible to consider reopening one of the open prisons solely for this purpose?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware that the 1969 Act has never been given a chance to work properly, because of lack of resources. That is a responsibility which, clearly, must to some extent be borne by successive administrations, some of which have operated in periods of relative economic, financial and budgetary ease. It is no good pretending that we face such a position at present. Further, it is no good the Opposition—whether it be the Leader of the Opposition or other Conservative Members—calling for the utmost financial stringency and reductions in public expenditure in general accompanied by demands for increases in particular.

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