HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc860-1
3. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will give details of his proposals for a new regime of short, sharp custodial experience in a number of detention centres.

26. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will give details of his proposals for a severe regime in detention centres for persistent and serious young offenders.

Mr. Brittan

We shall announce our proposals for a more vigorous regime in certain detention centres as soon as we are ready to do so.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that he will not be ready to do so during the recess and that he will make this announcement to Parliament before the experimental regimes are instituted? There is considerable opposition to these harsh new regimes, particularly among people with long experience of working with young offenders.

Mr. Brittan

I recognise that the announcement of the details of these regimes will not be wholly free from controversy. However, I assure the hon. Lady that it will not be possible to commence the operation of any such regime before the recess is concluded.

Mr. Latham

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that though there might be considerable criticism of these regimes there is also considerable public support for the idea? Many of us hope that he will proceed with them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Britton

I am aware of, and welcome, that support. I assure my hon. Friend that we are proceeding as rapidly as possible to give reality to the idea of these regimes.

Mr. Soley

Does the Minister agree that the only short, sharp custodial treatment that makes any sense is one that lasts for not more than 48 hours, because after that institutionalisation sets in, followed by recidivism, followed by an increase in the crime rate, ad nauseam?

Mr. Brittan

I agree that a short sentence is probably more beneficial for this purpose, but the idea that 48 hours is the appropriate period is a gross exaggeration.

Mr. Nelson

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the genuine concern that some of us feel about these proposals? Will he also bear in mind that similar experiments in the 1960s were not only an abject failure but showed that there was substantial resistance among those in charge of young people to adopting the necessary disciplinarian attitudes? What makes my hon. and learned Friend think that it would be any different this time?

Mr. Brittan

I do not accept that what occurred in the past was a failure, and to the extent that the changes in the regime have come about since those days, that was largely because the wrong people were sent to those regimes. I am surprised that those whom one would assume would regard it as sensible to provide the right sort of treatment for the right sort of people should find that to be so humorous a proposition. In all seriousness, it is important to ensure that a regime of this kind is made available for the right sort of person—the person who is most likely to respond. They are people who, early in their criminal careers, have committed a rather serious offence of violence, vandalism, or something of that character. I believe that for those people a regime of this nature has a useful and, indeed, important contribution to make to our penal policies.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

As the Minister admitted in an earlier answer to me that there was no evidence to support the notion that short, sharp sentences would be effective, why is he proceeding with the proposal?

Mr. Brittan

I made no such admission.

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