HC Deb 23 July 1980 vol 989 cc699-725 12.48 am
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Alison)

I beg to move,

That the draft Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 3 July, be approved.

It may be for the convenience of the House if we take at the same time the next motion—

That the draft Criminal Justice and Armed Forces (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 3 July, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Is it for the convenience of the House that the two orders be taken together? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] So be it.

Mr. Alison

With the opening of the young offenders centre last June, courts in Northern Ireland have the power to sentence a young person between 17 and 21 to a period of detention of less than three years in the young offenders centre. If they consider that a custodial sentence of three years or more is necessary they can sentence the offender to prison. The court also has to decide whether a sentence of borstal training would be appropriate.

When I looked at the choice the courts have to make between the sentence of detention in a young offenders centre and borstal training I came to the conclusion that there was little justification for keeping borstal as a separate sentence.

The factors that led me to take this view were, first, that both sentences apply to young people in a broadly similar age group and provide for a broadly similar programme of activities. Thus, the regime in the young offenders centre is disciplined and brisk, with an emphasis on physical exercise plus remedial education and training, and is therefore virtually indistinguishable from what goes on in borstal. Indeed, the modern buildings at the young offenders centre have allowed the regime there to combine the best elements of the more traditional borstal practice with some additional features arising from improved facilities.

The second factor is financial. Thus, as well as rationalising the present sentencing powers of the courts, the flexibility that this change will bring in our use of prison accommodation in Northern Ireland will enable a more cost-effective use to be made of the available facilities.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the element of indeterminacy in borstal training has been justified by results. The impression that borstal is particularly effective in reforming young offenders is, alas, not borne out by our figures on reconvictions. It is right that a young offender should know when he can expect to be released, given good behaviour.

The penal principles on which the order is based are exactly those that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, outlined recently when he addressed a meeting of magistrates about Government proposals for young adult offenders in England and Wales. These were that the power to decide the appropriate length of sentence should rest with the courts and that our penal establishments should be used in the most constructive and effective way. In this sense there is really no difference in approach between the different parts of the United Kingdom.

In detail, the order provides that at the date of abolition the present borstal institution will become a young offenders centre, and trainees serving a sentence of borstal training will be deemed to be serving a two-year sentence of detention in a young offenders centre, running from the date when they were sentenced to borstal training. Remission will apply to these sentences of detention, and as this is at the rate of 50 per cent. some youngsters will be released immediately. For those young offenders who were responding well to the borstal regime that is being superseded and who would have earned early borstal release—earlier than half the notional two-year sentence—the Secretary of State will have powers of discretionary release for a transitional period.

The order also provides that there will be no statutory supervision on release. However, I agree that there are benefits that result from voluntary after care, and the probation service will offer help and advice on a voluntary basis to all young offenders on release.

Finally, the order amends certain Acts so that juveniles who cannot be adequately contained within training schools may be transferred to a young offenders centre instead of to a borstal institution as at present.

The Criminal Justice and Armed Forces (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1980—which, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have allowed us to take at the same time—will provide amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1961, the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957, so that young offenders may be transferred between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Where the transfer is from a borstal in Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the young offender will serve in the young offenders centre a determinate sentence with a maximum of two years from the date of sentence.

Transfers from Northern Ireland will be to young offenders institutes in Scotland or to a young prisoners centre in England and Wales, and the sentences served in those cases will be for the same maximum period as imposed by the court in Northern Ireland from the date of sentence. The rules regarding remission and other conditions of service will be those of the jurisdiction receiving the young offender.

I believe that the provisions that I have outlined will be for the benefit of the whole of the community in Northern Ireland, including those convicted as offenders there.

12.55 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Together with a number of colleagues, I visited the centre at Hydebank to which the Minister referred. We were extremely impressed by the staff, the buildings and the work that was done at Hydebank. If such places have to exist—as they do—we could find no fault with the way in which that establishment was run. We were very impressed.

Anyone who visits that centre must naturally ask how the young offenders of the two communities get on with each other. The answer to that question, as I understood it from all members of staff, was that after a very short initial period there was virtually no trouble.

I do not wish to abuse the scope of the order, but there is a lesson to be learnt—a lesson to which some hon. Members have referred in previous speeches on Northern Ireland affairs. If potentially hard youngsters at Hydebank can see the differences of the divide after a short time, why cannot that happen to a greater extent outside? Some hon. Members begin to wonder what on earth 11 years of trouble will do to a generation that has known little else. Youngsters are growing up, having known nothing but conflict. In North Antrim there is an unemployment rate of 15 per cent. which is probably higher among young people, and in Cookstown and Strabane I dread to think what a 40 per cent. unemployment rate among school leavers will do. There is a potential cauldron.

How can we be constructive? The Minister will not be surprised if once again some hon. Members say that the nettle must be grasped on the basis of experience of Hydebank and elsewhere and that some sort of programme should be put forward for the integration of pupils at school, on the old basis that those who have gone to school with each other tend not to fight each other. That is the lesson that I learnt at Hydebank. I do not presume to speak for my colleagues. They must speak for themselves. I gained a strong impression that, unpopular though it may be—I understand the 1918 Act, and because of personal circumstances I know what I am saying—the time has come when this nettle must be grasped.

Although I do not doubt that there will be great resistance from the Roman Catholic Church, after 11 years some people are entitled to ask what it has proposed to alleviate the situation. Harold Macmillan said that in British politics there are three groups that wise politicians should not take on—the Brigade of Guards, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Roman Catholic Church.

We have been in this mess for over a decade. I say "we", because it affects all of us in Britain. I speak as one who has never thought of the so-called Ulster problem as an Irish problem. It is a problem of Great Britain. It affects all of us. That is why some of us spend so much time in these debates. Experience at Hydebank, where, if anywhere, one would imagine there would be the troubles of the divide, has shown that it can be done if people start sufficiently young.

Doubtless there will be great resistance. It may be said "You are urging the Government to do something that possibly the Labour Government should have done'. Some of us gently asked them to do it. The gentle requests are mounting into a demand.

I repeat in one sentence what I said in the previous debate. There should be no misunderstanding by Northern Ireland Members that the patience of those on this side of the water, with our own cascade of problems—unemployment and many other matters—is wearing very thin. There is a developing mood: A plague o' both your houses! Regardless of the merits of the case, we shall find an overwhelming demand by Opposition Members to take a different view on Northern Ireland. At the Wembley conference of the Labour Party—it is easy to sneer at this or that proposal by the national executive—when Northern Ireland was mentioned, there was a spontaneous, unartificial roar of approval for policies that so far have not been the policies of the Opposition Front Bench. This came from a growing impatience not of extremists, not of people who were grinding some political axe, but of many people who have not taken much of a view so far, that after 11 years, with insurance rates going up, those pictures night after night on television, this endless business of the Birtish Army going back for tour after tour, explaining to mothers and fathers in villages why their sons have died in Northern Ireland—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is well outside the terms of the order. I did not stop him, but he must now draw his remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not wish to go too wide of the order. I hope that there is no misunderstanding of the power of feeling about this matter. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) may smile, but those who have sown a whirlwind may reap a great deal of trouble. Those who call themselves Unionists and say that above all other things they are concerned about the Union had better understand that it ill-behoves them to challenge the views of the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On education.

Mr. Dalyell

On education and on other matters. We have been on this subject before. I do not want to stray out of order. Strong feelings are welling up. and I am speaking for many others who are voicing these thoughts.

1.3 am

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

Time is short. Therefore, I shall not be tempted to follow too closely the argument put forward by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). But he managed to introduce into two debates a quite foreign matter, and we in the Unionist family are growing tired of it.

First, Northern Ireland's economic situation is at times regarded as unique, which it is not. Secondly, we are treated to the thought that the problem in Northern Ireland is somehow of the making of the Ulster people right across the Province, when much of the security problem referred to by the hon. Gentleman is the result of the ineptitude of a number of Governments and of the House. It will not do to introduce into these debates that type of foreign matter. The hon. Gentleman may have his view on the desirability of the United Kingdom's continued involvement in Northern Ireland, but that is foreign to the matters that we are now debating.

Lest the hon. Gentleman gets the wrong impression, I say at the outset that we appreciate the numerous visits that he and his colleagues make to Ulster. We welcome the attempts that he and others have made to acquaint themselves with the situation in Northern Ireland in respect of matters that come within the remit of these orders. I should not like the hon. Gentleman to misunderstand my first comments. We appreciate the effort that has been made to understand the problems and to try to make constructive comments.

We in the Official Unionist Party welcome the order. We appreciate the need for it, and its value. Any attempt to simplify and to render more logical the complicated, complex, conflicting and counter-productive legislation that existed heretofore on young offenders is to be welcomed, and we welcome it tonight.

I have a strong word of censure. The order should not have been introduced before the House had the opportunity to consider the Black report in detail. I think that the Minister will accept that the order impinges upon the report. One illustration of overlap is the treatment of 17-year olds, who are involved in the training schools in schedule 2, in borstal training and the young offenders centre. There is at least that degree of overlap. There is a greater impingement upon the Black report by the order than meets the eye on first reading. I shall address most of my comments to the important features of the report, which we should have debated before we turned our attention to the order. The two are undoubtedly inextricably bound together.

On 16 June the Northern Ireland civil servants met members of the trade union groups. I think that members of NUPE and the NAS were present. They stated clearly to the trade unionists that the eighth chapter of the Black report would be implemented by January 1980. There was no attempt to involve the training school staff or board of management either from Rathgael, St. Patrick's or Middletown. However a statement was made that was a fait accompli. It was stated that the section dealing with the probation package would be implemented in January 1980.

It is the more serious because we, as Members of Parliament, have not had the opportunity of considering that section or any other part of the Black report in the House. When the civil servants told the trade unionists that they were going ahead with the chapter and that the probation package was to be the essence of legislation it was a slight on Members of Parliament in Northern Ireland.

We are unhappy with much of the Black report, including chapter 8. It is not enough to inform trade unionists that certain actions will be taken without first having debated the consequences of those actions in the House and without first involving the other professional bodies, the staff, and the boards of management of the training schools.

I hope that the Minister will tell us why a civil servant took it upon himself to make that statement at the meeting on 16 June 1980. We deplore such an approach to an important subject. I hope that the Minister will confirm that nothing has become fait accompli. In addition, I hope that he will assure us that the House will have an opportunity to debate the Northern Ireland Office's proposals and to change them, if that is the mood and feeling of the House.

I wish to deal with the philosophy of the Black report and the difficulties involved. The Black report is both too weak and too strong. It is too weak, because the so-called welfare approach demands that the community should accept responsibility for at least 240 persistent offenders. That approach will not work. Given England's experience as a result of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, it has little chance of working. There is insufficient manpower available, and there are insufficient ideas and resources within the community.

Throughout the Black report there is a clash between the welfare approach and the judicial approach. Black seems to have come down in favour of the welfare approach, but in a way that augurs ill for the 240 persistent young offenders. There is a dubious division in the Black report about the categorisation of offenders. The report states that there are infrequent minor offenders, and persistent and serious offenders. By the former, the report means truants, and so on. Such children probably make up one-quarter of those attending training schools in Northern Ireland. By the latter, the report means those who continue with a particular form of rebellion, or who continue to react against their environment.

The division of the courts envisaged in the report will have dubious consequences. Difficulty will arise in deciding what constitutes a minor or serious offence. In one family, the environment may make one child react in a particular way. For example, he may refuse to go to school. Another child in the family who is exposed to exactly the same conditions may want to draw attention to himself and his needs by persistently doing something that is regarded as more serious. Different treatments will be required in different contexts. Two such young people are the result of a common environment although they react in different ways. It is important to anticipate the dangers.

Black is too weak in suggesting that 240 persistent—I do not use the word "serious"—offenders should be put back in their home environment. That does not seem to be wise. If such young people are returned to the environment that caused them to be what they are and that reduced them to commit the offending behaviour, what are the chances of radical change?

Where shall we find the probation officers to deal with the 240 persistent young offenders? The probation staff already has grave difficulty in coping with the young people under care. One young person who was brought before the court recently was asked "Who is your probation officer?" The young fellow did not know—not because he was stupid but because his probation officer was not able to contact him often and was taken off the case to do a more important job. The young fellow did not know under whose care he had been placed.

If many extra probation officers are recruited they will be unskilled at the outset. The skilled, experienced officers will be given the administrative and technical jobs and the unskilled officers will be exposed to the field work. That does not augur well for the 240 persistent young offenders.

Difficulties have been experienced with the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The difficulty is illustrated in the conflict between social workers and magistrates. It began with the idea that approved schools were not necessary. The idea was to place children with social workers and not put them in residential care. Rather than risk sending the children to the social workers who were not able to cope, the magistrates began to put them into residential care. There was a pretence that the approved schools were not playing a part, but the magistates were depending on them. That will be experienced in Northern Ireland if we persist in the idea of returning the 240 or more young people to their environments, hoping that sufficient numbers of probation officers will suddenly emerge and that they will be of such calibre as to be able to cope with young people who persistently offend.

Such young people need an environment that is different from that which helped to create the problem. That environment can be provided by training schools which are open and flexible and where educational possibilities and compassion combine with authority. The admission by the probation staff and social workers that there is need for residential homes leads me to believe that we should not dispense with the training schools at this juncture.

I am concerned that the philosophy is too strong. A 120-bed mixed sex, interdenominational custodial unit is proposed in the Black report. It is argued that there is nothing like it in the remainder of the United Kingdom or Southern Ireland. I question the latter contention. It is an experiment, and therein lies its weakness. Northern Ireland suffers from unprecedented delinquency, vandalism and terrorism, and it is no place for an experiment. We need tried and tested schemes. It is right to mix denominations in State schools, but I doubt whether we should commence the process in a custodial unit.

The age of criminal responsibility has not changed. The unit will therefore have to cover the age range from 10 to 17. The secure units in the remainder of the United Kingdom are on a much smaller scale, usually for less than 40 young people. The length of stay, usually two to three years, is determined by the staff and not by court order. I question whether the proposed system of sentencing is appropriate to juvenile offenders. Will the young people regard themselves as doing time? How often could a young person be released and return to the unit between the age of 11 or 12 and 17?

Short-term sentencing will rule out the concept of care. It invites abuse from those who wish to be classed as offenders in order to receive a short, determinate sentence. It is doubtful whether training school programmes could be applied. We are talking of short, sharp, shock treatment. It cannot be a lengthy stay. Where will the educational aspects of rehabilitation come in? Where is the rapport of rehabilitation and the flexibility of approach? There will not be time to build up the empathy that is required for rehabilitation.

I do not believe that the custodial unit, which I would call a child's prison, is what we need in Northern Ireland at present. The only similar experiment is in the South of Ireland, which has a unit for about 90 young people and which holds no more than 24 young people at present. There have been three riots since its inception, and the remainder of the accommodation is taken up by wardens trained to cope with riots. It costs about £ 24,000 per young person in the unit, which is a colossal sum. I do not believe that the experiment in the South gives us much hope that the one we are discussing will be any better.

It is of paramount importance that we consider the difference between the serious and the persistent offender. About one-quarter of the inmates of training schools in Northern Ireland are reckoned to be non-offenders, or guilty of contraventions rather than crimes. The remaining three-quarters—about 240—are persistent offenders, though they are not necessarily serious or depraved. Yet under the terms of the Black report they will all be eligible for the custodial unit. The difference between "persistent" and "serious" has not been adequately defined.

Few in the training schools can be defined as depraved or serious offenders, but many are classed as persistent offenders and they could all be eligible as inmates of the new custodial unit.

We require a mix of the welfare and the judicial approaches. There is compatible ground. We need an emphasis on care by the probation service, with a residential recommendation in the case of many persistent offenders. The recommendation would relate to the training schools and not to the custodial unit.

There could be an approach involving the social workers, probation officers and training schools working in co-operation and not in isolation. The Black report would result in the probation service trying to take on all the responsibility, because that had been done in the past by the training schools. The training school, the probation service and the social worker all have a place, but there must be a co-ordinated approach by all three.

Of course there is a need to provide for the small number of serious or depraved offenders. I believe that the borstal institution is the place for them. The custodial unit is not the way forward, and I hope that the House will be given every opportunity to look closely at the proposal before it becomes law.

I turn to the financial implications. How much was spent on the inner sanctum of the borstal institution that was refurbished, certainly not more than two years ago? I have a figure of £ 1 million. Can the Minister confirm that? Having spent £ 1 million on the institution two years ago, we are not going to use it.

The young offenders centre has accommodation for about 300, though there are only about 150 young people there at present. We are dealing with a different age group in the main, though there is an overlap of 17-year-olds. We cannot fill the places in the YOC, even with some of the 17-year-olds who could go to training schools. What is the point of creating a new custodial unit? Why do we not use the existing system of the YOC and the training schools, with the borstal being used for the depraved or serious young offenders?

No professional body outside the probation package has recommended a change in the training school set-up. Can the Minister tell me whether the Association of Lay Magistrates and Juvenile Court Magistrates recommended a change? Did the resident magistrates recommend it? Did the Association of Directors of Social Services recommend it? Which professional group or body has recommended a change in the function and role of the training school to a welfare, probation service orientated approach?

It is conceded by those who espouse the welfare approach that to keep a child in preventive care in the community is as expensive as keeping a child in residential care. Another factor is the expense of appointing extra probation staff. Where are they to be found? When found, where is the money to pay them? Two separate courts have to be created for the contraveners, as opposed to the serious offenders. All these matters have implications in terms of expenditure.

I ask the Minister not to accept an approach as weak as Black in some respects but as judicial and over-strong in others. We recognise the tremendous work of the probation service. We applaud the service. I know many of those involved in its work. I am not criticising the probation service in making my comments on the Black report, but I ask the Minister to take on board all the reports by the professional bodies and not simply to lean heavily on one report from the probation service.

1.32 am
Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) began by welcoming the order on his own behalf and on behalf of the Official Unionist Party. The hon. Gentleman then read the brief kindly supplied to him by Rathgael and all the arguments were against it.

Mr. Bradford

That is not true.

Mr. Kilfedder

I disagree with the order. I hope to explain why I take that view. I do not intend to read the Rathgael brief, not even in a non-clerical voice. I would only say to the Minister that all those intimately involved in dealing with juvenile delinquency in Northern Ireland are concerned about the manner in which the order has been introduced in the House.

There should have been a debate on the Black report. It would then have become clear to hon. Members that the Black committee was lop-sided. It lacked membership that would have provided a point of view that has not been taken into account. The Minister would perform a great service to the community and those dealing with juvenile delinquents in Northern Ireland if he were to withdraw the order.

Mr. Alison

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I apologise for doing so. I should like to reassure him about the inter-relationship of the Black report and the order we are discussing. The report covers only the age range up to 17. The order is concerned with those aged over 17. Thus, the report and the order take into account different groups of youngsters. There will be ample time, I am sure, to debate the Black report before any irrevocable decisions are taken.

Mr. Kildfedder

I gave way readily to the Minister because he is always courteous in giving way to hon. Members. There is no doubt that the Black report has coloured the mind of the Minister in regard to the introduction of the order.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) earlier castigated the people of Northern Ireland, saying that England, Wales and Scotland were sick of the Ulster people and the problems in Northern Ireland. He is unfair on the great majority of Ulster people, no matter what their religion may be. The majority of Protestants and Roman Catholics are fighting for a decent way of life, fighting for the preservation of law and order. They are not responsible for the continuation of the conflict. I do not think that it was right for the hon. Gentleman to castigate people who have for 11 long years not responded to some terrible provocation.

In case the hon. Gentleman thinks that crime is the monopoly of the Ulster people, perhaps he will bear in mind the figures that have been given frequently in regard to crime rates in England, Scotland and Wales. The crime rate in England is proportionately far in advance—

Mr. Dalyell

And in Scotland, too.

Mr. Kilfedder

—of the crime rate in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that.

Throughout the United Kingdom juvenile crime is on the increase. The last figures that I was able to get were for 1976. Those for England and Wales show that one-third of detected robberies, half the detected burglaries and a quarter of detected thefts were committed by young people under the age of 17. I have no doubt that those proportions have now increased. It is appalling that so many young people are caught up in crime. This is common throughout the world, and not only the United Kingdom. It is not surprising that Northern Ireland should be no exception to that national and international trend.

Sadly, in Ulster children and young people have the added difficulty of growing up against a background of obscene and violent terrorism. Naturally I admire, as I think every hon. Member would admire, those youngsters who, despite everything, can lead exemplary lives in the Province today. No tribute to them can be too glowing.

However, I do not reject those young people who have fallen into trouble in Northern Ireland. They deserve the sympathy and support of the Ulster community. A great many of them will grow out of their present delinquency and become good citizens. I am certain that in a few years they will put their delinquency behind them. What they need now is guidance and support. I am not satisfied that what is proposed in the order is the best arrangement that can be made for dealing with offenders in Northern Ireland.

That is why I resent the way in which some self-appointed experts in the treatment of juvenile crime pontificate in Northern Ireland on the immorality or the lawlessness of the present young generation, without any proper understanding of the complexity of the subject and what those young people have to bear, the pressures to which they are subjected. The subject of the treatment of young offenders is so vast that it cannot be dealt with adequately in this debate at 1.40 am. This is not the time and place to deal with a subject so serious and important as this.

Therefore, I urge the Government to withhold the order, which seeks to experiment in Northern Ireland, where the existing system, while not perfect—as most people will recognise—is better than what is proposed. If we are to replace the present system, everyone should be reasonably satisfied that the new system will be to the benefit of young people who are caught up in crime.

Young people engage in criminal behaviour, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, for many and conflicting reasons. Some are prompted to crime by temptation or example which is often projected from the television or cinema screen or by the lifestyle of their pop group heroes. Other young people get involved in crime because of problems that arise at school or at home in the family or elsewhere in the community. The question is how does one deal with delinquents, because the great majority of them will, eventually, given the right guidance and help, lead perfectly normal lives and become good and perhaps valuable citizens.

Some people advocate punishment, discipline and strict custodial care. The Home Secretary advocates the short, sharp shock treatment. He is wrong in emphasising that approach. No doubt it is good for some youngsters, but I do not believe that it provides the answer for all young people who get involved in trouble. There are some who advocate strict custodial care where certain standards—usually of the person in authority—will be instilled into the young offender without any recognition that per- haps that young offender needs to be given standards that he will appreciate and be glad to follow—standards of which many in the community will be glad to approve.

Others adopt a social welfare approach and urge that delinquency is a symptom of the problems to which the offender is subjected in his environment. They advocate social and psychological treatment by social workers, probation officers and other professional people. It is possible that they may be right on many occasions. But one cannot adopt a simplistic approach, whichever of those two schools one supports.

Whichever system is adopted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, it must recognise that every young person who gets involved in crime is an individual and needs special attention. The ideal arrangement in Northern Ireland is to have the social worker or probation officer immediately behind the young offender. Of course, that is impossible, so we have to work for the closest possible alternative, and that is to make sure that each person who has been involved in trouble is given expert guidance.

I have no doubt that the proposed abolition of borstal training in Northern Ireland is due to the low standard of borstals in England and Wales. It is a long time since I practised at the Bar in London, but even then borstal was not regarded too highly, and it has further deteriorated in the intervening years. The Millisle borstal has been singularly effective. The Minister criticised the borstal results, but I think that he is unfair to the work of those involved in the Woburn borstal. The figures of those who have been through the borstal compare more than favourably with those who have been through borstals in England and Wales.

A film is currently on release in Northern Ireland—it has been shown in England—called "Scum". I have only heard of what is in it, but it is supposed to portray brutal activities in borstals in England. The House should realise that the borstal at Millisle has done valuable work in helping to rehabilitate youngsters sent there. No doubt the trouble with borstals in England is that they are overcrowded, the staff are unable to cope with the inmates, and the standards have fallen. The question asked by people in the borstals at Millisle and Rathgael is "Why is the experiment being introduced in Northern Ireland when so many people disagree with it?" Surely it is due to the lack of knowledge by senior civil servants of borstal training. They do not know very much. They have not communicated with the people in the Millisle borstal, and they have not consulted the staff. The existence of the young offenders centre, which was built at Hydebank at a cost of £ 7 million to meet a need that did not exist, prompted the embarrassed civil servants who had demanded that centre to justify the squandering of public money. That must be the true reason. Having forced through Hyde-bank against the wishes of local people, the civil servants and the Government must now justify its existence.

Instead of a period of borstal training, juvenile offenders will receive a fixed prison sentence. The courts will have no option between a training school and a prison. I do not believe that proper consideration has been given to the stigma of a prison sentence. It is argued that boys prefer a fixed term even though it is a prison sentence. I do not know about the wishes of potential delinquents, but experience has shown that an indeterminate sentence creates the most important incentive for a youngster receiving custodial treatment. The work of rehabilitation carried on at Millisle, Rathgael and Whiteabbey has demonstrated the value of indeterminate sentences which enable the care programme to be geared to the needs of the individual child.

I have spoken to the staff at Rathgael training school which has done such good work for youngsters over a great many years. It is right to pay tribute to their dedicated work, as well as to the work of the staff at the Millisle borstal. Perhaps the Minister will say what will happen to that staff. The Rathgael staff share the aim of reducing the number of children in care, and of enabling children who might otherwise be taken into care to mature and come to terms with life as far as possible in their own communities. If that is to happen successfully, professionals in the areas of education, social and fieldwork must be recruited in large numbers and trained. Has the Minister estimated the number required for that work? Has he estimated the total cost involved? How long will it take before an adequate staff is trained?

With regard to the proposals for care and offence juvenile courts, how many new magistrates will be recruited to the juvenile benches? Is the Minister satisfied that there is an adequate number of trained and sensitive persons available for that work?

Finally, what does the Minister suggest where a juvenile offender is in court because of problems in the family? How will the new system help in that situation?

I ask the Minister to bear in mind the valuable service provided by Rathgael. It acts as a remand home; it acts as an assessment centre and as a place of safety; and it has a traditional role in dealing with offenders in a residential setting. I urge the Minister to review the whole situation and reconsider his approach to it and the introduction of this order.

1.50 am
Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I propose to make the shortest speech that I have ever made in the House or ever intend to make.

I had not suspected that this order would be in any way controversial, which I suppose only goes to show my ignorance of the subject being debated. I know that the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) has a constituency interest, but on looking at the order and seeing that it would abolish borstal training as such I regarded it as something of an advance, because it will take the term "borstal" out of the vocabulary. An awful stigma is attached to the word, and any youngster who is unfortunate enough to have undergone borstal training carries that stigma with him for the rest of his life. I am delighted that the term is to be taken out of use.

Last week I received written representations from some of the prison authorities. I think that they were protesting against the changes envisaged in the order. I wonder whether the Minister has had any meetings with those people, and whether their protests were valid. Did the Minister have any discussions with them before embarking on the new system? Is he satisfied that there will be no redundancies? Are there adequate facilities to cater for the change that is envisaged?

I ought to say a few words to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I think that he is right to say—and he said with a good deal of honesty what others have not said on the Floor of the House—that a good deal of frustration is building up in the House and in the United Kingdom over what is happening in Northern Ireland. I think that people would be foolish to ignore what has been said by my hon. Friend.

Having said that, I must go on to say that I feel that my hon. Friend has taken a simplistic view of what he saw at Hyde-bank training centre. I do not think that that is the place to choose to measure whether community relations can be bettered in Northern Ireland. The reasons for the troubles in Northern Ireland are extremely complex. They are all about the existence of the State; whether one wants to remain within the United Kingdom; whether one wants to abolish the border; whether one wants to become a citizen of the Republic or of any united Ireland.

It is not only religious differences that have caused the present turmoil and tragedy in Northern Ireland. Many young people of the same age as borstal detainees are in Long Kesh. They come from the Protestant side and from the Catholic side, having been convicted of scheduled terrorist offences. It was not religious motivation that brought them into conflict with the other side. It was due to a complex set of reasons, and even if integrated education were introduced tomorrow we should still have the awful problem of Ireland's history—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman heard me say to another hon. Member that we were not dealing with that aspect of Northern Ireland. We are dealing solely with the order relating to borstal and whether it should be approved. I know that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to answer a point that had been made. I should have stopped him earlier, but I hope that he will not persist with his argument, because it is out of order.

Mr. Fitt

I was relating my remarks to Hydebank, which is an educational institution. My hon. Friend was right to say what he did.

Finally, I say to my hon. Friend with a great deal of sincerity that, in his comments about Northern Ireland and the situation that has prevailed there over the past five years, he gave the impression that he thought that some of the political leaders had revelled or relished in the situation that obtained there. I can only say that, if 11 years have seemed to be a long time on this side of the Irish Sea, to me it has been an absolute eternity; and the sooner we bring the troubles to an end the happier I shall be.

1.56 am
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I did not intend to speak in this debate, but some remarks that have been made in the debate deserve to be answered by a Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency. I tried to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but he sat down before I could make my intervention. I assure him that I was not smiling at what he was saying. I was smiling at what you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were saying in calling the hon. Gentleman to order. I was saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) that on other occasions you had been just as quick to call my hon. Friend and myself to order when we had strayed beyond the rules of order.

I believe that what the hon. Member for West Lothian said was said with great sincerity and that he was reflecting what has been said and felt on this side of the water. However, I say to him that the people of Northern Ireland have not asked that soldiers from this side of the water should bear the heat and burden of the day. For many years, the people of Northern Ireland and the Ulster Special Constabulary lost lives; funerals had to be attended, and so on. We have never said to anyone on this side of the water "Come and fight our battles for us and we will wash our hands of it."

I assure the House tonight that the people of Northern Ireland do not count anyone who has lost his life from this side of the water as someone to be forgotten. I have seen letters written by mothers in Northern Ireland to mothers on this side of the water. They feel just as deeply about what is happening. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will keep that in mind and take on board the fact that we appreciate what is happening, but we did not ask the House to do what it did.

As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) has rightly said, when I was a lone figure in this House I warned successive Governments that, if they put their hands to certain actions, there would be a sorry reaping. There has been that sorry reaping.

I am sure the Minister has listened carefully to the hon. Members for Belfast, South and for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). It would have been far better, before the order was laid, if there had been a thorough discussion of the Black report. Although the report and the order deal with different age groups, they interlock. We should have a thorough discussion of this matter before we proceed along these lines.

In regard to integration of people at Hydebank, the House should remember that there is no such thing in Northern Ireland as a twofold religious system of education. There is a Roman Catholic system of education and the State system. There are few independent Protestant schools. There is no large Protestant school system today. I have always held the view that the State system should be a fully integrated system and that parents should be encouraged to send their children to that particular school of education. But if for religious reasons and for strongly held convictions people want to have religious schools in which their own principles may be taught, they should not be banned from having them but they should pay for them and look after them. That position cannot at present be achieved in Northern Ireland because of the past. It is not as easy as some hon. Members may think—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that I have often had to intervene to call him to order. When any hon. Gentleman gets outside the rules of order, every other hon. Member then wants to try to answer what has been said. We are not now dealing with general education. We are dealing with borstals and with the criminal aspect.

Rev. Ian Paisley

May I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that the replacement for the borstal institution is Hydebank, which is an integrated centre. It is from that standpoint that I have been seeking to put my argument.

It might be very popular among Unionist people if we were to say "Take all grants from Roman Catholic schools and face up to what is involved", but in my opinion that would be a recipe for far greater turmoil in the Province. We have to look at the position realistically. My views on the subject are very well known. When hon. Members express views about taking on the Roman Catholic Church, again my views are well known in this House. We should try to keep the matter in perspective. I would rather see a good debate on the Black report and all that flows from it and then after that have the laying of orders. The order that we are now discussing is completely out of context and has been drawn up before we have had the opportunity to deal with these other matters.

2.2 am

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

The orders are unexceptionable and deserve to be passed, but there is a wider truth in what most hon. Members have said. It is correct to say that we are fatally ambiguous in our approach to young people, whether we want to punish them or to try to reform them. It is surely when people are young that they are most capable of redemption or of turning away from a life of crime.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) decries experiments and says that what we need is a tried and trusted system. The truth is that in dealing with young offenders we have no system that is tried and trusted. All systems save the untried and largely un-financed provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 have proved to be unworkable. The approved school system was a total failure by reason of the fact that people kept returning to the penal system as a result of having been in approved schools. They certainly failed in their reformative effort.

Mr. Bradford

Not the training schools in Northern Ireland.

Mr. John

That would probably be very difficult to assess. Many of these results are difficult to assess.

I echo the call for a general debate on the Black report. The Minister of State, Home Office—who does the job that I used to do—made a speech in which he said that the courts would henceforth fix the disposition of young offenders. We ought to discuss the matter before such a priori assumptions—which really border on the nonsense about the short, sharp shock—are put into operation. There is an optimum time for detention, and when that time is exceeded the offender is hardened rather than redeemed. The magistrates who dispose of young offenders are very largely concerned to punish rather than to avoid a recurrence of the young offenders' crimes. They may well fill the custodial accommodation that is available with people whom they wish to punish, rather than with the most suitable people for such treatment. There is a difference. Therefore, the suggestion that the length of the sentence should be left to assessing authorities rather than to magistrates is powerful, and cannot be displaced by mere attempts to give back to the magistrates powers that they had in the nineteenth century.

2.5 am

Mr. Alison

I shall do my best, in a short time, to cover the points that have been raised.

On behalf of the Government and on behalf of the Province, may I say that we appreciate the compliments paid by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) to the young offenders centre at Hydebank, and we echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). We are pleased that the hon. Member for West Lothian finds time to visit the Province in such a constructive frame of mind. He is right about the effect of penal establishments in the Province, not least the young offenders centre at Hydebank, in integrating the communities. I thought for a moment that he would prove too much by demonstrating that result. One's mind is led inexorably to the implications of that way of solving problems in Northern Ireland. I am not sure that it is entirely practicable, but it is true that that is one way of sinking differences.

I remind the hon. Member for Belfast, South at the outset, because I dare not follow him down the full avenue of debate into which he launched us by his reference to the Black report, that this order is strictly related to youngsters over the age of 17, and the Black report is exclusively concerned with youngsters under the age of 17. So there is an overlap only in a limited sense. I must ask the hon. Gentleman's indulgence in not following him on a general debate on the Black report on this occasion, save only to make a few points in that context.

I take as the first hook on which to hang a "Black" comment his query about the trade union meeting with probation officers. The meeting that took place in June this year dealt with the proposals concerning the probation service. It was said at that meeting that the proposals contained in the Black report concerning the probation service could be published in January 1981, on the lines recommended by Black and accepted in principle by the Government. But, before any of the Black report recommendations can be implemented, legislation will be required. Many hon. Members will have an opportunity, as and when we implement the Black proposals, to debate them in the House. I hope that the opportunity will be seized to discuss the Black proposals informally in the Northern Ireland Committee long before legislation is brought forward. Nothing will be done in a hurry. The implementation of the proposals in the Black report will take place over a number of years, and will involve a transfer of resources primarily in the long run from residential settings to field work. That does not necessarily imply that there will be a loss of jobs, but simply a shift in emphasis.

I said that I could not be too deeply drawn into Black because there will have to be legislation. There is not an overlap between the order and the Black recommendations. I hope that we shall have an opportunity in the Northern Ireland Committee to discuss the matter, but I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is an unsatisfactory position vis-à-vis some of the youngsters. In present circumstances, young offenders are often punished with long custodial sentences in training schools when the offences do not warrant such severity, but the courts simply feel that home conditions are unfavourable. Looking at the matter from the point of view of the youngster, who should be the primary consideration, the situation results in his being taken away from home for a long residential indeterminate spell. It is by no means certain that this is the fairest or best way of dealing with such youngsters.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South also mentioned the cost aspect. The cost of the original Millisle borstal was approximately £ 1 million. But the changes envisaged in the order will produce a more economic use of facilities and a saving of about £ 1.3 million over two years. That is one reason why, in the light of what I said about the future possibility of discussing the Black report and having legislation on it, I am able to assure the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that we are justified in bringing forward the order on the older age group because there will be economic benefits in the Province apart from the penal improvements which we think will flow from it.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) made a helpful speech about the way in which many youngsters in the Province, where the incidence of crime is undoubtedly high, make a recovery and take advantage of the facilities provided in the borstals. But, in the context of his criticisms of the order, I remind him that there will be no deterioration in the facilities available as a result of the order. The YOC at Hydebank exists. As soon as the order is implemented, the Millisle borstal will continue to be a penal establishment offering the same facilities. It will be called a young offenders centre instead of a borstal. There will be no detriment to youngsters in being sent to a young offenders centre—they are not being sent to prison; there is a distinction between a YOC and a borstal—rather than to a borstal. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) pointed out, there may be some advantage in a youngster being referred to such a place because of the bad name that borstal has.

That leads me to comment briefly on what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, South about the effectiveness of borstal. I pay the fullest possible tribute to the staff at Millisle in dealing with the problems of those committed there. But 74 per cent. of borstal trainees are recommitted within two years. That is similar to the reconviction rate for England and Wales. Indeed, if anything, it is marginally higher. This is no reflection on the staff of the borstal; rather, it is a reflection on the youngsters and the trouble into which they get in the Province.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Minister taking into account those who go to closed units?

Mr. Alison


The hon. Member for Belfast, West wanted to know whether, in the context of the order, we had proper consultations. The answer is an unequivocal "Yes". My Department has consulted the prison officers on a number of occasions from at least July last year to this month. There will be no redundancies of prison officers as a result of the order.

The points made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North have been broadly covered by my pointing out the difference between the Black implications and what we are doing tonight. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's misgivings on the Black report will find expression when we come either to legislation or perhaps to a discussion in the Northern Ireland Committee.

I noted the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). I echo his expression of the current tendency for there to be ambiguity in our approach to reform or punishment. The fact that the two aspects tend to be blurred often results in those in the 17- to 21-year age group serving indeterminate sentences. That sometimes results in youngsters with a genuine welfare background finding themselves serving a longish indeterminate detention in a borstal, for example, for a misdemeanour, crime or act of delinquency which if they had been over 21 years would have probably resulted in a prison sentence of no more than six months. However, they probably end up spending 12 or even 18 months in borstal. It will be to the benefit of the community and to those who are the subjects of the various orders if the proposed change is made.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 3 July, be approved.