HC Deb 20 January 1982 vol 16 cc294-365
Mr. Teddy Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned people who are in prison for offences such as drunkenness and soliciting. Can he tell the House how many are in prison for such offences?

Mr. Hattersley

Not only could I tell the House that, but I told the House on 2 December. I said that I did not for a moment suggest that that would make a massive difference to the prison population—it would be between 4 per cent. and 5 per cent. However, at a time of gross overcrowding, a small percentage is a benefit as it is a move in the right direction.

Overcrowding is not the only issue. Those people should not have been sent to prison in the first place. If the Home Secretary has the power to release them, as I understand from the Bill, I hope that he will do so as soon as practicable. If that is not what he has in mind, I hope that he will tell us what clause 26 is for.

Clause 26 does not concern me half as much as clause 25. I can imagine circumstances in which I might welcome the existence of clause 26, but clause 25 is a different matter. It raises a dilemma that is similar to that which I described about the alternative ways in which the detention centre procedures could be operated. Clause 25 introduces powers envisaged under section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. In the Home Secretary's words, the clause makes those powers "more flexible".

I know that the Minister of State will be able to answer these questions in detail as he is the true begetter of that part of the Act. As a humble Back Bencher, faced in Committee by a Government with no majority, he proposed and carried that clause. That is to his credit. I do not criticise him in any way. Substantial problems may arise from the permanent introduction of the proposal. The House knows well what they amount to. Sentences of over three months may in part be suspended by the courts. All but 28 days of those sentences may be suspended by the courts.

It may be that persons previously in prison for long periods will, as a result of the proposal, be in prison for 28 days, chastened by their brief and unhappy experience, and will sin no more. If that is the way in which the provision operates, no one will be more happy to acknowledge the wisdom of the Minister of State than me.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will.

Mr. Hattersley

We will all join in our mutual congratulations. There will be a triumphant triumvirate. The Secretary of State, the Minister of State and I will be delighted that the provision is operating in that way. However, one of us will be more surprised than the other two because the possibility again arises that the 28-day provision may be used where in previous years a non-custodial sentence was imposed.

I offer to the Home Secretary a quotation that he knows well: There is reason to believe that it"— that is, this proposal— would increase the numbers of prisoners detained for short periods. Those are not my words but those of the previous Minister of State in the Home Office who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury. His fears about the proposals now advanced by his Government were expressed in starker terms in the Home Office review for last year. Referring to section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, it stated that it has not been activated because of the fear that the new sentence would be used to give a taste of imprisonment in cases, where, at present the courts would impose a fully suspended, or non-custodial sentence. According to the Home Office, the prospect becomes worse: Inevitably, too, in a proportion of cases the suspended part of the sentence would be subsequently activated. According to the Home Office, the prospect becomes worse still: Thus there can be no certainty that implementing section 47 would achieve any reduction of numbers in custody and would not confer any advantage in the treatment of individual offenders. We need a better explanation than the one that we received today about why the Home Office, as personified—not simply represented—by the Home Secretary, has changed its mind over these two years. The Home Secretary has said that that was the result of consultation. I may be wrong, but it is my recollection that consultation did not so much endorse and support the implementation and continuation of section 47 as object to and, as some people would say, prevent the implementation of the alternative scheme.

No doubt the Minister of State will tell me if I am right to say that the consultation process did not produce support for that theory, but simply opposition to the alternative that until a year ago the Government supported with enthusiasm. That was the supervised release scheme. A sentence would be divided into three equal parts—one in custody, one under supervision and one on full parole. That scheme undoubtedly would have reduced the prison population dramatically and continually. The Government have changed from initial support of the scheme to strong opposition. Mythology blames the judges for that change, with the Titanic battle of old Etonians in another place on whether the Government had accepted the advice of the judges or whether they had been blackmailed by the judges. It is clear from judges' letters to The Times that had the Government chosen to introduce the scheme—we should not be surprised by this—the judges would have done their best to operate it, as is their duty.

The supervised release scheme was destroyed not by the judges but by the Conservative Party conference. On the other hand, the Labour Party has remained constant in its support of the scheme. The Home Secretary, as a consistent man, will be pleased to know that we propose to table an amendment in Committee to reintroduce the scheme which he has advocated in the House and outside. We look forward to hearing a convincing explanation of why the scheme has been superseded by something nearer to the Government's heart.

In the meantime, before we table these important—one might argue, fundamental—amendments we propose, at least at this stage, to give the Bill an unopposed passage. However, for that spirit to continue and for the agreement to prevail, the Government must respond to the wholly constructive suggestions that we propose to make in Committee. I hope that they will.

5.31 pm
Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I do not intend to go into Committee particulars in reviewing the Bill, but it is one of the most important of its kind to come before Parliament for a long time. It reflects the work of many Committees on which some of us, including my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, have served. The aim of the Bill is to arm the courts with new powers to deal more effectively with the increase in crime and thereby to reduce the figures for both adult and juvenile crime.

The Bill provides for penal reform and for changes in the law. I welcome most the fact that the Bill also recognises that the protection of the public and help for the victims of crime are as important as the punishment of offenders. The anxiety of the whole House, in common, I like to think, with that of the whole country, has been aroused in a most unusual way by the appalling number of crimes of violence.

Whatever the statistics may suggest—sexual offences are not classified as offences of violence against the person—rape is undoubtedly a crime of violence. It is a mindless, frightening form of violence which needed, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the good sense of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal last week to remind the country that, except in wholly exceptional circumstances rape must be punished by imprisonment.

For such crimes, in contrast to non-violent crimes for which alternatives to imprisonment are proposed in the Bill, no one will be over-worried if the result is that the cost of our prisons becomes greater than the cost of our police force. Most people believe that for violent crime, even for first offenders, the only proper sentence is one that includes a loss of personal liberty. It is not just a question of punishing the offender. It is also a question of giving the public the maximum protection that the law can afford.

With that question arises another which has been brought to the surface of debate by the fact that recently for the offence of rape a heavy fine was imposed instead of a sentence of imprisonment. I do not wish to suggest whether that sentence was right or wrong. The question which I should like to deal with, and which affects the future of the Bill, is whether, where a sentence is manifestly mistaken in its leniency or in its character, we should allow the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) to have power to increase a sentence. A Bill as wide as this one would seem to be the proper vehicle for such a power to be introduced in the law.

Arguments about a power to increase sentence have been thoroughly rehearsed in the past, especially by the Donovan committee in 1965. The House will remember that in those days the Court of Criminal Appeal had a power to increase a sentence of imprisonment or the severity of any other sentence. It was rarely exercised, but it could be exercised when the appellant asked the Court of Criminal Appeal to reduce his sentence.

Mr. Grieve

My hon. and learned Friend will perhaps remind the House that the power then exercised by the Court of Criminal Appeal could be exercised only when the sentenced person had himself appealed against sentence. He appears to be suggesting that we should consider allowing the Crown to appeal against sentence in certain cases.

Mr. Gardner

No. I am suggesting that the question of any power to increase sentence, whether it comes from an initiative by the Crown or from the court, should be rejected as thoroughly unsatisfactory. I rely for my authority on what the Donovan committee found and concluded in 1965—that the power to increase sentence had undesirable features, inseparable from the existence of the power, although in those days the power was rarely used. I believe that that was the right conclusion. We should be guided by it. We should not allow hard cases—if, indeed, the recent sentence was a hard case—to make bad law.

It remains a sad truth, of which all right hon. and hon. Members are continually reminded when they return to their constituencies, that the fear of violence is a daily fear with which the elderly all too frequently live. It is a fear of rape, robbery, assault and murder. It is a fear, unhappily, which is not confined to cities and towns, but which has spread into the countryside.

This week I was invited to a village in my constituency where an elderly woman died of a heart attack after her house had been raided at midnight by intruders. The cry from that village is, "Come and save us from the fear of this thing happening again." Apparently, there is nearby a probation hostel. I do not think that I shall be saying anything improper if I disclose to the House, as has been disclosed publicly, that the police are looking for two men who escaped from that probation hostel.

We hardly need statistics to underline the growing use of violence in crime. Perhaps the most disturbing of all features of violent crime is that more and more young people are responsible for that violence. The most chilling statistics about juvenile crime are contained in the criminal statistics for 1980. The document is written in a language that I can only suppose is intended to discourage anyone from reading it or certainly from reading it to others. Even so, I take the risk of doing so, since it is brief. It says: Throughout the 10-year period 1970 to 1980 the highest rate of known offending per 100,000 population was among males aged 14 and under 17, for whom the rate in 1980 was 7½ per 100,000 population. I assume that that means that there are more offenders aged 14 and under 17 per 100,000 population than there are in any other age group. The other statistics—one becomes rather dazzled if one presents the whole list—which are equally chilling, are the percentages of serious offences involving violence committed by children between 10 and 14 and between 14 and 17 years.

For years the Children and Young Persons Act has been under criticism from magistrates and others who have the duty to deal with these children and young offenders. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has explained how difficult it is to come to the right decision. I am perfectly satisfied, and I believe that many others are equally content, with the view that where one has persistent offenders of a very young age, from 14 to 17, or even from 10 to 14 years, one must look at the need to give the courts powers which enable them to deal effectively with that sort of crime and with that class of offender.

In this respect, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seems to display a somewhat negative attitude to the new powers introduced in the Bill. He seems to have very little faith in the courts' ability to make up their minds about the appropriate remedy when these people—these children—repeatedly return. It is no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to say that if we deal with them in any way other than, for example, by a care order, which, as he knows, is the usual method, we shall increase local expenditure, which could otherwise be focused on their treatment under such an order.

It is a tragedy that it happens, but there comes a time when the courts and the public have to say to young criminals, "Enough is enough. We want protection".

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

While the need for immediate imprisonment may, unhappily, be justified by the facts of a particular case and the antecedents of the, defendant, is not the harm in the present law that the Bill seeks to remedy to some extent the fact that the judges' hands are tied and that they have no discretion in imposing a sentence of imprisonment on a young person because under the existing legislation they must impose either a relatively lenient sentence or one that may be far too excessive? There is no discretion under the present legislation to give a sentence of between six months and three years, discretion which the facts of the case may justify.

Mr. Gardner

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is one of the purposes of the Bill to iron out that anomaly and to ensure that in future the judges do not have their hands tied in this intolerable way.

Finally, I shall make a few comments about the way in which the new powers will, in my view, affect the children and young offenders who come before the courts. I believe—and I think that this is generally accepted—that the Children and Young Persons Act, fortunately for most young offenders, works. It is really only for those persistent offenders who come back to the courts and for whom there is no other remedy that it becomes necessary to discover and, indeed, to give the courts, powers that the Bill will undoubtedly give them.

In spite of the obvious difficulties that surround the clause, I particularly like the power that is given the courts to fine the parent or guardian of a child and, furthermore, to order compensation from that parent or guardian. However, this matter disturbs me. It was also raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) in a short intervention. I must tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that, as far as I am able to discover, there has been a loss of faith, certainly within the judiciary, in the effectiveness of fines because so many fines are not paid or recovered. No doubt, these are matters for the Committee to consider.

As a whole, the Bill is an excellent piece of legislation aimed at putting right something that up to now has been very wrong. I wish it well.

5.50 pm
Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I begin by taking up what the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said at the beginning of his speech about the recent publicity surrounding rape cases. I say "cases" because, when one is revealed, as happened recently in the Ipswich case, others are revealed where the women concerned have found it difficult to come forward. In many respects, it is good that women are gaining courage, coming forward and revealing what has happened to them.

I was glad to hear the Home Secretary discuss the problem of sentencing in rape cases. I hope it means that he will use the Bill to ensure that rapists are given custodial sentences. After all, they have committed crimes of violence, and that must not be forgotten. Women must be able to walk our streets unaccosted. They ought not to see those who rape or otherwise abuse them given absurdly light sentences—to say nothing of the derogatory remarks likely to be levelled against women making allegations about rape—because these are an offence to the dignity of women.

I want also to comment on the information that has been coming out in our newspapers about the Scottish rape case in 1980, where a woman was raped and very badly cut about, with the result that she required nearly 200 stitches in her face and body, but where, because it was considered that she could not give evidence, those who confessed to the crime got away scot-free.

I am not and do not profess to be an expert in Scottish law. What is more, I am not sure whether the same is true of English law, but it seems to me that we should be able to use a Bill of this kind—after all, it is entitled the Criminal Justice Bill—to clarify these matters and to ensure that such people are brought to justice in the proper way. I do not know, for instance, now that the woman has said that she would have been willing to come forward, whether it is possible for the youths concerned to be recharged. These are matters upon which I hope we shall have some clarification. In any event, I feel that we should use the opportunity of this Bill to clarify the law if that proves to be necessary.

In general, there is much that is wrong with the Bill, and there is relatively little in it that is welcome. It is this Government's major piece of criminal justice legislation. As such, it reflects not only a lack of vision and hope but, I am sorry to say, the Home Secretary's loss of courage. It does not go to the root of the problem to see how we can ensure that our prisons are not overcrowded. Nor does it explore other ways of dealing with offenders and improving our penal system.

I am not surprised that those who are involved in trying to reform the penal system—social workers, probation officers, prison governors, and so on—view this legislation with sinking hearts. The Bill has not grasped the opportunity that people hoped it would.

The Bill covers a number of areas. I concentrate briefly on two of them. The first is the likely effect of the legislation on the state of our prisons and the likely impact of its provisions on young people who get into trouble and on the communities from which they come. It is important to remember the effect on the community of young people and the way that they behave.

At the end of last Session, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which at the time I was a member, produced a report on the prison service. Members of the Select Committee went through sitting after sitting hearing a great deal of evidence about the dreadful conditions in our prisons, the overcrowding, the impossibility of doing anything constructive with prisoners in our squalid local prisons, the difficulty of keeping workshops open, and the low morale of staff in the face of deteriorating conditions. All the main groups involved in giving evidence, including the Magistrates Association and the Justices Clerks' Society, told the Select Committee that the use of imprisonment should be kept to a minimum. The Home Secretary himself told the Committee: on the evidence it would appear that there could be a substantial fall in our use of imprisonment without any significant rise in the threat to individual safety. The Select Committee produced a unanimous report, making a number of recommendations about ways of reducing the prison population without endangering the public. The Government's reply to that report gave no encouragement to us or to others working in our hard-pressed prison system. Now we have a Bill that contains nothing to suggest that the Government are even basically aware that there is a crisis of overcrowding in our prisons, that we still require many prison staff to work in conditions that would be outlawed if the prisons were not immune from the health and safety at work legislation, that we submit many prisoners to conditions that can only make them more anti-social and criminally inclined, and that we are disrupting the lives of the families of prisoners, because we should never forget the effect on the families of people committed to prison.

The only part of the Bill that even addresses the question of prison overcrowding—a problem that has been identified as a priority in numerous official reports, even before the Select Committee studied the matter and endorsed that view—is clause 25 on partly suspended sentences. I describe the clause as addressing the problem because it is certain that the provision will not solve it. All the evidence available to us suggests that this half-hearted compromise measure either will have no effect on the overall prison population or could even lead to a slight increase in it.

The Bill is irrelevant to the problem that is at the centre of the prison system, and that is our over-reliance on prison sentences. I am sure that every hon. Member could think of different ways of dealing with some people who at present are committed to prison. I happen to believe, for example, that it is absurd to continue sending prostitute s to prison again and again. In my view, we should take the opportunity—I know that it has been done before by one of our Select Committees—to look into the treatment of women in prison, especially of young women offenders.

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

Unlike the hon. Lady, I think that this is an excellent Bill, but I agree with her about imprisonment for prostitution. Is she aware that the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill, which is at present in another place, abolishes imprisonment for soliciting in that part of the Kingdom? Does she agree that that is an added reason for considering in Committee whether we should not do the same in England?

Miss Richardson

I agree, and I hope that in Committee it will be possible to insert a suitable provision. If I am fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee, I shall try to do so. That is only one example—there are others—of where we should follow Scotland's lead.

The Bill is also irrelevant to the problems faced by young people who get into trouble with the law, to say nothing of the problems facing their families and the difficulties presented to local authorities which have to provide services for them. We know of plenty of evidence of the connection between juvenile delinquency and unemployment, overcrowded housing, the lack of facilities for young people, educational disadvantage, and so on. I should not expect those problems to be tackled in a Criminal Justice Bill, but we cannot go ahead as though they do not exist. The youth custody sentence, the shorter detention centre order, the residential care order, the supervised activity order and the stiffened sanctions against parents who do not pay their fines will not have much effect on the reality facing families in areas such as my own constituency of Barking where there are cuts in social services, cuts affecting people who need housing, cuts in education involving a worsening of conditions, especially for very young children, and cuts in the youth services.

It is little consolation to a hard-pressed family to be told that the social services do not have sufficient resources to support them in their troubles with their difficult teenage children, or that if the children appear in court and are fined, they will be required to find the money. It is little consolation to local authorities to read of the Government's earnest wish to reduce the numbers in custody, and to listen to their exhortations that local authorities should develop other methods of dealing with youngsters, such as intermediate treatment, but to be given no money to do so.

Mr. John Carlisle

Does not the hon. Lady agree that it is little consolation to the victims of crimes perpetrated by youngsters, possibly in circumstances that she has outlined, to know that those young offenders will get away with unpaid fines and that the court has little power to enforce them?

Miss Richardson

I have every sympathy with the victims of crimes of violence—not only rape, but other cases. I said so at the beginning of my speech. However, I cannot believe that someone whose attacker has been given a heavy prison sentence or a heavy fine feels very much better. That does not get to the bottom of the problem with which we are trying to deal.

Even those parts of the Bill that show an intention to move forward in penal practice and keep youngsters out of custody for as long and as often as possible, do not go far enough. It is widely accepted that custody does little good, and may do harm. When the Bill is passed we must educate people about why sentences are being reduced. If the Bill had gone further in trying to revise the penal system we would have had to explain why that should be done, and then many people would have understood.

Although it is widely accepted that custody does little good and may do harm, and although the Bill contains the proper words, there is nothing to back them in provisions for local authorities or the probation service. Therefore, there will be no growth in intermediate treatment, community facilities, or in experimenting with ways to keep youngsters out of trouble. The prisons, education centres and new youth custody centres will be filled to bursting.

The Bill is irrelevant to the main issues of the real problem. It will not help our prisons. One prison governor called them penal dustbins. That expression applies now, and will continue to apply even after the Bill becomes law. It will not reduce or prevent crime among youngsters. It will lead to a generation of youngsters from disadvantaged areas for whom the prison and detention centres will be finishing schools. A criminal career is all that lies before them.

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

The hon. Lady spoke of social deprivation. Why is that, despite the increase of the Welfare State since the war, crimes of violence among youngsters have increased drastically?

Miss Richardson

The hon. Gentleman should produce figures to back his glib statement. I agree that during the past two or three years crime has increased, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that there is a large and growing number of unemployed youngsters who will never have a job. They have been cast on to the streets and on to their own devices. The better the Welfare State the greater the employment and the better the education, the less crime there will be because there will be more to occupy people's minds. The sharp decrease in the Welfare State that we have seen during the past two years tempts people to vandalism and the other acts carried out by young offenders

The Bill will leave the prison population exactly as it is. I hope that the Opposition will offer many improvements to the Bill so that it will be used as it should be used, that is, a vehicle genuinely to improve the penal system. That will be a hard job because the Bill is limited.

I hope that the Opposition will attempt to improve it and I hope that the Government will be sympathetic and listen to what we say.

6.6 pm

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

I hope that the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) will forgive me if I say that she left me with the clear impression that prison was an appropriate way to deal with rapists—

Miss Richardson

I said that it was appropriate to deal with crimes of violence.

Mr. Grieve

I am in complete agreement with the hon. Lady, but she left me with the impression that she did not think prison an appropriate way to deal with anything else. If I understood her accurately, she said that the centre of our problem was to empty the prisons. I believe that the centre of our problem is to catch criminals, to deter them from their evil acts and, if possible, to reform them.

The first duty of the Home Secretary and the Government is to defend us from our enemies abroad. Their second duty is to maintain the Queen's peace on the streets of our cities, the lanes of our countryside and in our homes. No sensible person could controvert my view that the Bill is a positive step forward in dealing with the centre of our problem. It has my full and almost unreserved support.

I wish to deal with one other point made by the hon. Lady. She was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall). She said that all the evils of crime stem from social deprivation, unemployment and so on. That is rubbish. I am older than the hon. Lady, and I must not speculate on her age. However, those of my age who saw the unemployment and grim poverty in our cities in the 1930s know that crime then did not compare in scale, violence or quantity with that which we are seeing in society today—and not only in our society, but worldwide. There has been a breakdown in the elementary disciplines that, at one time, helped society. I fear that one of the root causes is the breakdown of discipline in the family and the lack of responsibility of parents. I shall return to that point when I deal with the clause in the Bill that places some responsibility on parents. I felt bound to make those points having listened attentively to the hon. Lady.

I believe that the Bill is a step forward in a grim situation. The Government took office in 1979 having pledged themselves to do their best to restore a greater measure of law and order in our country. The Bill implements a great many of those promises. Yet, as was shown by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), the crime statistics in 1980 make grim reading.

The report of her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary for 1980, dealing with crimes outside the Metropolis, showed that the number of recorded offences had risen from 1,979,000 in 1970 to 2,104,000 in 1980. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde said, the involvement of young people in crime is one of the most serious problems besetting society. Half of those found guilty or cautioned for crimes outside the metropolis between 1970 and 1980 were under 21. Among the crimes that most affect a citizen, apart from sexual crimes, burglary—the ravishing of his dwelling house—increased by 15 per cent. and robbery by 18 per cent.

The London figures are no better. The report of the Commissioner of Police of the metropolis shows robberies up from 6,232 in 1979 to 7,585 in 1980. Burglaries increased from 116,873 in 1979 to 125,806 in 1980. A total of 60 per cent. of those arrested for robbery and 67 per cent. of those arrested for burglary were under 21.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

What are you going to do about it?

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has been making a lot of noise from a seated position. Perhaps he would like me to give way to him. It appears that he does not. Therefore, I gladly give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight).

Mrs. Knight

In my hon. and learned Friend's collection of statistics, has he looked at the rate of detection, particularly in burglary cases, because that is a part of the statistics?

Mr. Grieve

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I was moving on to that very topic and as she has led the way I shall do so without the preliminaries that I had planned. In London last year—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grieve

No. I am embarked on a passage. I am dealing with a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I shall give way to him later.

Outside London only 179,165 of the 495,336 burglaries were cleared up. Only 2,795 of the 7,421 robberies were solved. The percentage is very low and the London figures are even worse. Only 7,162 of the 75,043 burglaries—less that 10 per cent.—were cleared up and only 1,527 of the 7,585 robberies were solved.

I realise the appalling problems of overcrowding in our prisons. I am the first to admit that our nineteenth century prisons are a blot on our society, and it is time that we started a major programme of prison building. What would be the state of our prisons if the police were more efficacious in bringing criminals to book? It hardly bears contemplation. If the police cleared up not 10 per cent., but 20 or 30, 40 or 50 per cent., our prisons could not hold all the offenders.

I am not criticising the police. I admire and support the Government's policy of upholding the morale and strength of the police. We have done all that we can to support them, but we have to face the fact that, as the figures show, the police are not winning the war against crime.

The Bill is concerned not so much with the war against crime—the Government are dealing with that by supporting the police—as with the ways of dealing with criminals, especially juveniles whose contribution to criminal activity has been underlined by me and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde and will, no doubt, be underlined by my colleagues throughout the debate.

The courts have been hemmed about by restrictions in dealing with juveniles. One of the most welcome provisions of the Bill is the repeal of section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. I have the honour to sit as a recorder and I have seen case after case in which the restriction of either under six months or over three years or—when a person has been in custody before—under six months or over 18 months has hamstrung the court in doing what it believes to be right.

When a court is dealing with those under 21 it seeks, above all, to give them a chance of reform, though one sometimes meets young people in their late teens who have appalling criminal records. Bearing in mind the number of cases cleared up, compared with the number committed, one is forced to conclude that many of those young people have offended on many occasions before being brought to justice.

Mr. Best

From my much more limited experience in the courts, I endorse what my hon. and learned Friend has said. Does he agree that another criticism of borstal is that it was a "school for scandal"? My hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the numbers who have been to borstal and reoffended within a short time. Does he agree that it is important that the new concept of youth custody should have a radically different regime from the borstals? It will be no good replacing borstals by youth custody if it means the same thing.

Mr. Grieve

I agree with my hon. Friend. I welcome the concept of youth custody. It is right that the courts should, in the light of all the matters brought to their attention—not only the crime committed, but the antecedents of offenders—be able to decide a determinate sentence for those under 21, just as they would for those over 21.

I hope that the Home Office is busy seeing that the buildings are ready to receive those who will be dealt with under the new scheme and that matters do not drag on for years. So often, when new ways of dealing with offenders have come into operation, the institutions and buildings to receive offenders have not been available. If that happened, the new concept would be an empty provision, and it must not be empty, because the situation is far too grave.

No doubt the Bill will be considered in great detail in Committee. I therefore shall not go into the particularity that it contains, but there are several other points to which I must refer. I unreservedly welcome clause 25, dealing with partly suspended sentences. I know that there has been a great argument about whether that will result in fewer or more people in prison. I think that there will be fewer.

A judge, either because the defendant has not been to prison before or for reasons of leniency, must ask himself "Shall I impose a prison sentence, and if so, shall I suspend it?" Sometimes the public is offended by what has happened. I always remember the phrase used by the late Lord Goddard, that one of the functions of justice was to salve the conscience of society. Therefore, a judge may feel obliged to send such a person to prison. This clause provides another option to make the sentence more lenient than the public might think merited by the length of sentence imposed. Far from increasing the prison population, I believe that this provision will diminish it. I certainly do not believe that it will increase it greatly.

Bearing in mind the way in which we must deal with crime today, this extra way of dealing with offenders is useful and valuable.

I also unreservedly welcome clause 22, which deals with sanctions against parents and guardians. A person is responsible for straying animals, such as his dog. Surely parents must accept some responsibility for their children—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Put them on a leash.

Mr. Grieve

That is the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, not mine.

Undoubtedly, one of the causes of crime is the breakdown in family discipline. If parents are made aware that they may be responsible financially, that may be a substantial deterrent against letting young people roam the streets in bands after dark, making a nuisance of themselves and sometimes much worse.

I am not wholly satisfied with the way in which the Bill deals with fines, but that is a Committee point. Generally speaking, it is right to update fines, but I am not sure whether they are updated quite enough.

Part of clause 27 appears to perpetrate gobbledegook, no doubt due to a misprint. Clause 27(2) states: Where this section applies, a person guilty of such an offence shall be liable on summary conviction—

  1. (a) to a maximum fine of an amount not exceeding the greatest amount;
  2. (b) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the longest or only term,
to which he would have been liable before this section came into force if his conviction had satisfied the conditions required for the imprisonment of a fine of that amount or imprisonment for that term. I suspect that the word "imposition" should appear, and no doubt that will be put right.

When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke about fines, I detected an extraordinary fallacy. He said that my right hon. Friend ought to empty the prisons of people who were there for non-payment of fines. As the only sanction against nonpayment of fines is to send people to prison, how on earth does the right hon. Gentleman think that the fines will be paid or that people will be compelled to pay them? Time and again, the courts do their best to fine rather than imprison, but there must be a sanction, such as three, six or nine months in default. If, as soon as a person goes to prison for default he is released, he will be cocking a snook at the law. I suspect that there would be even more crime than we have already, and heaven knows that is quite enough.

I give a wholehearted welcome to the Bill. I have not dealt with many other points that have my support, but I commend it to the House.

6.24 pm
Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) may have lived through the 1930s, but I remind him that unemployment is now at almost the same level. If he wants to see deprivation of a real kind, he should go to any of the inner London suburbs, possibly the South London suburb where I worked for six and a half years.

The Bill seeks to remedy a situation that does not exist. If the prisons are full, it appears that there is no crime, and if there is a massive amount of crime, the prisons should not be full. Yet we have an enormously high and growing crime rate and an enormously high and growing prison population.

Over a number of years since the war, the remedy that we have sought has been institutionalisation. I remind the House of the recidivism figures—84 per cent. for borstals and 75 per cent. for detention centres. Further institutionalisation is not the remedy for the growing crime rate, because as soon as people are taken into custody, they will probably learn the trade inside, come out, carry out the same offence and be reinstitutionalised. We are merely institutionalising recidivism.

In general, the Liberal Party welcomes certain parts of the Bill, but is critical of certain clauses. Having said that, it is not our intention to divide the House.

Clause 26 amounts to an amnesty in the hands of the Home Secretary, but that is starting at the wrong end of the scale in view of the prison population problem. If the prison population is so high that, effectively, we must exercise an amnesty, we are not using a creative measure to reduce that population. I suggest that the Home Secretary looks at this problem from the other end of the scale and tries to prevent people going to prison rather than cutting their sentences once they are inside.

Claue 42 allows for a remand in custody without an appearance in court. That has certain advantages, in that it saves the time of prison officers and the continual trekking to and fro of prison vans to courts to bring accused in front of magistrates for only two or three minutes while the remand is re-enforced.

A view to which I subscribe is that if people are not there to see justice being done, but are presented in vacuo week after week, that is not what our law is about. To a limited extent I can support the clause, but its provisions should be limited to only two or three weeks, after which—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] In that case, I have misread the Bill. We must avoid having people represented in vacuo without their being able to see justice being done.

The treatment of young offenders is perhaps the most important part of the Bill. In this case, provision should be sought principally within the community, and I do not believe that there is sufficient provision within the community to create an atmosphere in which crime among young persons can be reduced. As to the age of young people who will be sent to youth detention centres, I do not think that we have looked sufficiently at the age range of young people in relation to their experience. They change schools at 11, they leave school at 16, and they become adults at 18. Therefore, it puzzles me why the Bill should fix the arbitrary age of 17.

There is discrimination between male and female. Of the crimes committed by young men, 80 per cent. are theft or burglary. Of the crimes committed by young women, 81 per cent. are theft or burglary. Therefore, it is rather strange that there is specific discrimination between the age when a female enters youth custody—17—and the age when a male enters custody—between 14 and 17. The age should be the same for young men and young women, that is, 17 or, preferably, 18. That is the age when they reach adulthood and can be deemed to be responsible for their crimes.

With regard to detention centres and youth custody centres there should be a specific commitment—which there is not in this Bill—to training. Far too often young people go into prison or detention of whatever form and stay there and vegetate, either because it is decided that the custodial sentence is too short or because there are insufficient facilities for training. If we are to provide the proper and creative climate for young people to be trained, or purged of their crime, and enabled to come out and serve society usefully, they must be trained in the establishments in which they are put.

Furthermore, there should be a commitment to 30 hours a week of training in long-term cases of detention. The people involved in this training should not necessarily be prison service staff. It would do young people a power of good if they were trained by people for outside. There is far too much use of prison service staff in training when people from the local community could come in and train the young people in trades such as painting and decorating or in reading or commercial activities.

Mr. John Carlisle

In the rather nice establishment which the hon. Gentleman is describing, where young offenders are trained, would there be any time in the curriculum for some form of punishment for the offences that they have committed?

Mr. Pitt

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the beginning of my speech and to the recidivist rate of 84 per cent. We have had enough of straightforward punishment that does not work. If a creative attitude is adopted toward the detention of young people and they are trained to lead good, useful lives—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Send them on a trip round the world.

Mr. Pitt

That is a good idea. Perhaps the hon. Member would care to accompany them.

We should adopt a creative attitude and train these young people. One of the reasons for football hooliganism is that people are leading aimless lives, and they are leading aimless lives partly as the result of the policies of the Government and other Governments, who have failed—

Mr. Bendall

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that one of the greatest problems of violence at football matches comes from young people still at school? Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that they are leading aimless lives?

Mr. Pitt

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) was once a member of a council that is notorious for its appalling education facilities—the council for the London borough of Croydon.

The provisions for alternatives to custody for young offenders are welcomed by the Liberal Party because they are a small step in the right direction. Intermediate treatment schemes have a failure rate of 20 to 30 per cent. Those schemes should be emphasised in comparison with the recidivism figures for detention centres that I have already mentioned.

Clause 21, which deals with care of juveniles, is one of the most important clauses and should be looked at closely in Committee. It will place an increasingly heavy burden on local authorities. Recently, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have divorced their care procedures from criminal ones on the grounds that they are two different processes with different aims. To involve criminal proceedings with civil ones, which deal with the problems of children who have never even thought of committing a crime and who may be in care for no fault of their own, is considered appallingly wrong by many practitioners. Care and criminal proceeding will become inextricably one. Already, being branded "in care" is enough. To be branded in care on the basis proposed is to be branded a criminal. Families may be irrevocably broken as a result:, and local authority homes will find it difficult to cope with the problem of having two sorts of client. Courts may take advantage of the situation and put a child into care when a more useful and creative attitude towards the child's sentence may be required.

We must look carefully at the whole Bill and what facilities we are to provide for useful training and treatment of young offenders. Young people who have offended for the first time—or even for a fourth or fifth time—are at the moment on a promotion structure They may begin with probation, they may then have a detention sentence, such as a short sharp shock, after that they will have borstal training or its equivalent under the new Bill, and after that they will go to prison. This is a structure we have to stop and we have to make sure that these young people are not sent on the path of recidivism, which is a damning factor and one of the things that fills up our prisons. Our prisons are full of people who are completely institutionalised and who continually go in and out of prison.

Government funds should not be directed to custodial sentences but to provisions for young offenders within the community. We must look at the imposition of prison sentences on people who should not be in prison. It is worth repeating in the House—although it has already been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—that vagrants, prostitutes, alcoholics, the mentally ill and debtors—at least we have stopped the debtors' prison—should not be imprisoned.

I welcome the Bill. It is somewhat like the curate's egg, although unfortunately the good parts are not as large as those that need attention. It is not the intention of the Liberal Party to divide the House tonight but I ask the Government to look closely at the Bill in Committee so that we can, from the basic framework, have a creative attitude to the provision for young offenders that will give us a good basis on which to work.

6.37 pm
Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

At this stage I still have some misgivings about the Bill. I hope that in the course of the debate, particularly when the Minister replies, my misgivings will be wiped away.

I accept a number of the provisions in the Bill, and welcome them. For example, I accept the need to relieve the pressures on the prison system.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs has studied this matter with great care. We have been impressed, as has everyone who has looked at the problem, with the appalling overcrowding in our prisons. However, there is a need to recognise that we have to exert enormous care when we are trying to empty the prisons. There is one major reason for that. The crime may not be severe. For example, I do not know how one judges the crime of kleptomania. Is it a mental condition when the crime is committed under mental pressure? It is important to realise that when offenders are in prison the public are at least being protected, and I am anxious about how much more protection the public will be given when the Bill becomes law.

Mention has been made of mentally handicaped offenders, or people who offend because of their mental condition. If, instead of going to prison, they go to a hospital institution, it is not always easy to ensure that they are locked up and unable to commit crimes. However much we may feel that they could not help what they were doing because they were mentally ill at the time, we must remember that other people suffer gravely from crimes—particularly burglary—committed by such offenders.

In emptying the prisons we have to make absolutely certain that those who are released early will not be a danger to the public. That point has not yet been made in the debate, and it is important to bear it in mind. We do not, in a measure such as this, look only for the emptying of prisons and the different treatment of prisoners; we look for actions that will give the public greater protection.

Probably the protection that may lie within the Bill has not yet been properly explained. I have read the Bill carefully and I want to be assured that it contains some hope for the public, because there certainly has never been a time in this century when our people have been so frightened of the danger of personal attack.

I find it pathetic that the elderly should have to come to my surgeries, or write to me, explaining that they are frightened to leave their homes and that sometimes they have to lock themselves in them as though those homes were fortresses. There is a great deal of fear, and this House should turn its mind to how best we can relieve people of the fear of attack. Does the Bill meet the need and the right of the public to be protected?

I sometimes find it difficult to understand the way in which people's minds work when they draft legislation. I hope that too much publicity will not be given to clause 1, because I find the first two subsections of it almost impossible to understand. Clause 1(1) reads: Subject to subsection (2) below, no court shall pass a sentence of imprisonment on a person under 21 years of age or commit such a person to prison for any reason. Then subsection (2) reads: Nothing in subsection (1) above shall prevent the committal to prison of a person under 21 years of age who is remanded in custody or committed in custody for trial or sentence. That sort of wording is immensely confusing. If the main message of the Bill were to be contained in those subsections, I am sure that many people would be alarmed at the thought that there was to be no prison and no borstal training for those under 21. Instead of borstal training we have a training regime. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke of it, and I want to know precisely what is involved. Is it to be harder or easier than the present system?

It is all very well to talk about recidivism. I was recently visited by a constituent who complained—I think with some justification—that she could not afford to give her children as much pocket money as the youngsters had in the corrective establishment in which she worked. She spoke of the bad behaviour there, particularly at meal times. Is the new training regime to differ drastically from the present system? I want to know exactly what will happen to those subject to it. I am sure that the public will also want to know.

The Bill speaks of other methods of dealing with criminals. I realise that there can be several other methods, but I want to know what they are and how they will work.

Rape has been very much in the news recently. Clause 2(1) states that where a male offender under 21 but not less than 14 years of age is convicted of an offence which is punishable with imprisonment in the case of a person aged 21 or over … the term of such a sentence should be no more than 4 months". What does that mean? Some rapists are under 21, and even under 18. What will happen to them? Are they to be dealt with under one of the other clauses, such as clause 5, which states that a court may impose a sentence up to the maximum permitted for an adult for the same offence? That seems to contradict clause 2, and I should like to know exactly where the Bill stands in that respect.

The present level of juvenile crime is horrendous. Reference has been made to it and figures have been given. We are all aware of it. We have to face the fact that the more lenient we have become in dealing with offenders, the more crime we have suffered. No one can possibly pretend that, with all the enlightened ways in which young offenders are treated today, we have succeeded in preventing them from offending. Far from the system of less and less harsh treatment being a bright star of hope, the experience is that, the easier the treatment, the more certain it is that there will be a further rise in the rate of juvenile crime.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

There is no provision in clause 2 limiting imprisonment to four months. The Bill provides that if the sentence is no more than four months, it shall be in a detention centre. If it is more than four months, there is youth custody, which is another name for youth imprisonment. The hon. Lady is basing her argument on a complete misapprehension of what the Bill contains.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

That is not unusual.

Mrs. Knight

I have asked for clarification of the clause. I do not know what it means. We have not been told. Surely it is not unreasonable to seek clarification. Clause 2(2) reads: If the maximum term of imprisonment that a court could impose for an offence is less than 4 months, the maximum term of detention it may specify for that offence in a detention centre order is the same as the maximum term of imprisonment". The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) may well look baffled, because it is a baffling clause, and I am seeking clarification. At least I am pleased to note that he does not in any way seek to argue with my contention that with more leniency being shown we have had more crime.

I am neither a vindictive nor a revengeful woman, and I have always been against corporal punishment. My reason is that, with our appeal system, it is possible for a long time to elapse between a sentence of corporal punishment and the carrying out of that sentence. Corporal punishment is effective only if it is carried out within a very short time of the crime having been committed.

I have not been able to stomach the pictures and details of exactly what happens when a person has to undergo corporal punishment. However, I cannot stand either the pictures of pitiful, elderly people who are kicked, robbed and beaten outside their homes or, indeed, sometimes inside their homes. Although I would dislike the adoption of a sterner form of punishment, we must weigh the needs of those who suffer from such crimes.

Clause 44 refers to compensation. It is not enough to refer to compensation for the victims. Potential victims want protection, not compensation.

Clause 22 is to be very much welcomed because it is right to hold parents responsible for the actions of their children. Mention was made of this on the news this morning, and the standard line was trotted out; a hard case was brought to the attention of the public. We were told that social workers were against this because some people would not be able to pay for the crimes of their children. It has already been said that hard cases make bad law, but they are absolutely no excuse for doing nothing. In the past years we have taken responsibility away from parents time and again. We must find a way to reinstate that responsibility.

A lady interviewed on the news programme said that she could not control what her children did on the way home from school. But, if children are brought up correctly to understand that certain behaviour is not acceptable, they are much less likely to do anything bad. We are not just referring to youthful peccadillos. Any child can get up to those. However, to shrug off all the responsibility for a child's behaviour shows that the child has not been correctly brought up. One of the responsibilities of all parents is to teach their children that they have to live in a law-abiding manner and to keep the laws of the land. Clause 22 states clearly that that is the parents' responsibility. It is an excellent clause.

I welcome also clause 42 and schedule 8 on the alteration of remand rules. I do not know whether anyone has ever assessed the enormous amount of money that is wasted on bringing remand prisoners into court every eight days. There can be no doubt that the cost is absolutely fantastic. We could put that money to a better use than paying prison officers to take people all over the country. As the House will know, the distances involved can be very great. There are problems of escorts and transport. Therefore, I believe that we should do something about this. My worries are whether this clause is the best way of doing it or whether specifying a longer period between remand appearances would not have been better and, if the decision is to be left solely to the person involved, whether he or she will opt for turning up in court. We must seek to save money there. We need to build more prisons, and that is one way to get an enormous amount of money.

Will the Bill improve standards of law and order? That is the acid test. I recognise the need to make changes in court procedure. I support a great deal of the Bill, but I would be grateful to hear that there is, within the framework of the Bill, a gleam of hope for those who, these days, are extremely frightened people.

6.54 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Like other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill. However, my main feeling is that the Bill is a major disappointment, for two important reasons.

First, the Bill does nothing to prevent the present trend of the increasing incarceration of young people and juveniles. Secondly, the Bill does nothing to tackle the serious, increasing and continuing crisis of overcrowding in our adult prison system. Those are the two disappointments about which I wish to speak.

On the problem of young offenders, the House will know that the overwhelming opinion of those who are knowledgeable, informed and concerned, is that there should be a major shift of emphasis and resources—to use almost the words of the Expenditure Committee two years ago—away from custodial measures to treatment and care in the community, that is, to non-custodial alternatives.

That is also the message of the Government's White Paper entitled "Young Offenders", published in October 1980. However, that is not the actual practice today, nor has it been in the last decade. Over the last decade we have seen an increasing use of custodial measures for juveniles to the extent, for example, that the percentage of juveniles convicted of indictable offences subject to a term of imprisonment, borstal or detention centre treatment, has increased from 6 per cent. in 1970 to 12 per cent. in 1980.

In the White Paper the Government pointed to what they called the disturbing trend in sentencing practice in relation to young offenders over the previous 15 years. Even though the Government have pointed to this "disturbing trend", there is nothing in the Bill that will in any way help to alleviate the problem or to reverse the trend towards an increasing use of custodial sentence for a large number of young people.

There are, of course, some sensible and welcome proposals in the Bill. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I welcome the combining of the sentence of borstal training and the sentence of imprisonment for young adult offenders into the new determinate youth custody sentence. I welcome also the determinacy that is injected into all sentences for this age group. That is an important and extremely welcome step forward.

I also endorse and welcome, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the provision that the time spent on remand in custody shall be counted towards sentence, whether that be a new youth custody sentence or a detention centre sentence. That happens now in the adult prison system.

I welcome in principle the proposal that the courts should have the power to pass shorter sentences on those sent to detention centres, but I have one great fear, that is shared by my right hon. Friend and by professionals outside the House who are concerned intimately with this aspect of the welfare and care of young offenders. My fear is that the application by the courts of this provision will mean an increase in the number of those sent to detention centres above the number of those currently incarcerated.

This was a fear expressed by the conference of chief probation officers in their comments on the White Paper. They felt that if this provision was made available to the courts, the courts might start using it for those who, at the moment, are not given a custodial sentence of any kind. It is a fear that was echoed by the prison and borstal governors' branch of the Society of Civil and Public Servants in its comments on the White Paper. Both organisations have expressed the view that this proposal will be wrongly used by the courts, with the result that a larger number of juveniles, and at a younger age, will feel the taste of imprisonment that is now made available because of the shorter sentence.

I accept, as the Home Secretary has intimated, and as the Minister of State will no doubt say when he winds up, that this is a matter of judgment; the Government have made a decision; it is right—I agree in principle—to enable the courts, when they see fit, to pass shorter sentences. That is to be applauded and welcomed. Let us hope that the courts do not use the power to increase the number to whom it is applied. I hope that my fears and those of my right hon. Friend, which have been reiterated by the prison and borstal governors and by the probation officers, are not realised in practice. Of course, I know that that is not the Government's intention. Indeed, the Government, in paragraph 3 of their White Paper, put forward a very important statement of philosophy as to when imprisonment is appropriate when they said that a custodial sentence would be appropriate where the individual was a danger to the community or was unwilling or unable to respond to non-custodial penalties. This was a very important statement of principle, so important that the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group, of which I have the honour to be the chairman, took that as its starting point in consideration of policy for young offenders.

In our report published last year—"Young Offenders—A Strategy for the Future"—we laid down that future legislation should indicate that courts, when passing a custodial sentence, should be required to give reasons why such a sentence had been passed, either because the offender was a danger to the public or because it had been clearly demonstrated that all other alternatives had failed.

That seemed to us a reasonable suggestion, particularly in the light of Government's own comments, yet we do not find in this Bill any criteria of that kind that would prevent my fears and those of the governors and the probation officers from being realised. That is to be regretted. Nevertheless, it is something that will be rectified in Committee and I hope the Government will feel able to accept the amendments that will be put down at that stage.

Clause 21 of the Bill introduces what has become known as the residential care order—a very different order, fortunately, from that which was provided in the Conservative election manifesto. No doubt the watering-down of the provision has had a great deal to do with approaches made by the organisation. New approaches to Juvenile Crime, under its very distinguished chairman and my friend, Baroness Faithfull. It is, no doubt, the representations of that organisation and of that individual to the Government that have made this proposal slightly more sensible in the Bill than it was in the Tory Party manifesto.

What is now proposed is that courts will have the power, when a child is taken into care, to impose a provision that he shall not return home, when in care, for up to six months. What is important in the Bill now is that at least he can be located in a foster home and that legal representation is mandatory when the care proceedings are actually under way.

Nevertheless, having said all that and having accepted that it is now a watered-down version which is slightly different from, and certainly more welcome than, what was originally proposed, it is still true that this provision is a monumental irrelevance to the needs of juveniles and young offenders, that it will do nothing at all to prevent them re-offending, nothing at all for the recidivist or reconviction rate, nothing at all to deal with the frequently deep-rooted social problems that have to be solved in the community, and that it will do a great deal of damage to those increasing numbers of young people who will be incarcerated in uncaring, unhelpful, unconstructive institutions.

The Government say they are against the increasing use of custody for juveniles and young people. This proposal itself will lead to hundreds more young people being held in community homes with education, homes which, as the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt), speaking for the Liberal Party a moment ago pointed out—have a reconviction rate of about 76 per cent. It is nonsense for the Government to pretend that they are dealing with juvenile crime and with the problems of young offenders in a constructive and positive manner when their only response, in this context at least, is to put them in institutions which, as all the evidence has shown, do not deal with their problems and do not help us produce, as we all wish to do, law-abiding, decent, reliable citizens.

There are some proposals in the Bill for alternatives to custody, which themselves are welcome. The extension of the power of Crown courts to pass attendance centre orders is to be welcomed and encouraged; it is something that I and the penal affairs group have long called for and supported. We also welcome the long-awaited extension of community service orders to 16-year-olds, which has been argued for extensively. We certainly welcome the provision for supervised activities schemes, although I must point out to the Government, and particularly to the Home Secretary, that there is no point at all in passing legislation, however well intentioned, as this particular proposal is, to give greater confidence to the courts in passing non-custodial alternatives of supervised activities within the community unless, at the same time, sufficient money is given to those voluntary organisations providing schemes such as intermediate treatment, for example.

It really is rather silly for the Government to spend £5 million on the new residential care order, which everyone accepts—even the Government—is a nonsensical irrelevance and at the same time fail to give much-needed money for the intermediate treatment schemes, particularly when the evidence is that their reconviction rates are 25 to 35 per cent. as opposed to the 76 per cent. reconviction rate of the community homes and the 86 per cent. rate of detention centres and borstals. The Government, therefore, must be prepared to give far more resources nationally to the voluntary organisations, and also now to the probation service, so that they can provide proper, constructive, worthwhile intermediate treatment schemes.

If part I of the Bill dealing with young adult offenders is a disappointment, part II is extremely depressing, dealing as it does with overcrowding in the prison system. The Home Secretary will know very well that we have an enormous crisis in the prison system at the moment when, at one point last year, the figure of 45,000 was reached in accommodation that can only properly take, with even some notion of civilised conditions, 37,000. One third of those 45,000 are having to live two or three to a cell built for one in Victorian times, locked up for 23 hours out of 24, and with no access to even minimal standards of sanitation or decent civilised standards.

The Home Secretary has drawn attention on many occasions to this problem, not least in his speech on 21 September in Cumbria, when he spoke, not just of the existing scandal of overcrowding, but of his fear that, unless something was done to reduce the prison population, and done quickly, the crisis would get worse and we might have a figure of 46,000 by the spring of next year.

The Home Secretary also pointed out in that speech that there could be no hypocrisy—and it was his word, not mine—about conditions in British prisons. He said that it was not possible to provide minimum standards of human decency under present conditions.

Like the Home Secretary, the prison and borstal governors have frequently drawn attention to the conditions in prisons, most recently on 2 December, when the prison and borstal governors' branch of the Society of Civil and Public Servants drew attention to the serious position in a series of dramatic statements. It said: Prison conditions are actually getting worse. Governors, staff and prisoners are living and working in growing squalor as many prisons become festering slums. Human degradation on this totally unacceptable scale stokes up the fires of inmate discontent and may bring about a breakdown of the penal system. That was and is the opinion of the governors and of their staff who have to work, and often live, in those conditions.

In order to overcome this, the Home Secretary canvassed, in the document "Review of Parole in England and Wales", published in May of last year, a proposal for reducing the prison population. The proposed system of automatic supervised early release of short-term prisoners, which would have immediately reduced the prison population by up to about 7,000 and would have had a continuing impact on reducing the prison population.

The right hon. Gentleman canvassed that proposal avidly, and obtained the unanimous support of the all-party Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Parliamentary all-party penal affairs group, both of which said that they wanted the measure, not simply because of the contribution that it could make to reducing overcrowding in prisons but because of its intrinsic merit. Yet, regrettably, it is nowhere to be found in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has promised—perhaps threatened—that he will table an amendment, supported by the rest of the Opposition, to put the measure back into the Bill. I hope that those Conservative Members who signed the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) was one—and the report of the penal affairs group will feel able to support that amendment. Neither the Home Secretary nor his Minister of State has been able to give any good, solid reason why that sensible and constructive proposal should not be in the Bill.

It was suggested that perhaps the judiciary had torpedoed the proposal. However, as Lord Justice Lawton's letter in The Times said, while the judiciary was opposed to the proposal, it loyally agreed to abide by it if Parliament introduced it. In the debate on 2 December the Home Secretary—as reported at col. 291 of Hansard —reiterated that the judiciary had made it quite clear that while it was opposed to the proposal it would implement it loyally and properly should Parliament so decide. Therefore, that could not have been the reason.

Now a new reason has been put forward by the Minister of State. He told us on another occasion that the Government had gone back on the introduction of automatic parole on the basis of a strange, almost subtle—certainly tortuous—argument, that they wanted to give the voluntary approach a chance, that the average length of prison sentence had declined in the past year because of the voluntary measures that the Home Secretary had enjoined upon the judiciary. The Government say that any attempt to legislate a measure in the form proposed—the automatic review of parole—would in some mysterious way jeopardise the voluntary efforts.

It is true that the average length of sentence in 1980 went down compared with 1979. But it is also true, unfortunately, that the number of people sent to prison in 1980 was 4,000 more than in 1979. That completely wiped out any beneficial effect that a reduction in the average length of prison sentence might have had.

Moreover, whatever marginal effect—and it is only marginal—the reduction in average sentence length can have on the prison population, it is as nothing compared with the significant and profound effect of the reduction by 7,000 that would have resulted from the introduction of an automatic early supervised release of short-term prisoners. It is a cause for great regret that that is not in the Bill, and it is a cause for some joy that my right hon. Friend has committed himself and the official Opposition to table an amendment to put it back into the Bill.

The Government have come forward with a partly suspended sentence, the Minister of State's hobby horse, which he got on to the statute book during the passage of the Criminal Law Act in 1977, when the Government of the day did not have a majority. In principle, I support the partly suspended sentence. Any measure to reduce the number of people in prison or the length of sentence imposed is laudable and to be welcomed. But my fear is the same as that expressed by my right hon. Friend and many people outside the House—that it will be used in substitution for the suspended sentence or a non-custodial sentence. I fear that those who would now be given a non-custodial or suspended sentence will in future be given a partly suspended sentence, with the result that more people, will end up in prison and the numbers there will increase.

The Government know that very well, because exactly that point was made by the former Minister of State in the House on 13 December 1979. He said: there is reason to believe that it would increase the number of prisoners detained for short periods."—[Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1519.] Indeed, as recently as last May, paragraph 58 of the Home Office "Review of Parole in England and Wales" said of section 47 of the Criminal Law Act: That section has not been activated because of fears that the new sentence would be used to give a taste of imprisonment in cases where at present the courts would impose a fully suspended sentence or non-custodial sentence. Inevitably, too"— this was in a report penned by the Home Secretary— in a proportion of cases the suspended part of the sentence would be subsequently activated. Thus there can be no certainty that implementing section 47 would achieve any reduction in numbers in custody". Yet Ministers now talk about the same scheme as if it would reduce the prison population by 4,000. That was the figure quoted on another occasion by the Minister of State, the progenitor of the measure. In all honesty he should stress that, as he knows, the 4,000 is an ultra-optimistic figure and that the much more reasonable and sensible estimate is that the measure will increase the prison population by 8,000.

As the Home Secretary said, it is a matter of judgment either way. The Government have made their judgment. We shall have to live with it and find out what the consequences will be. What we know is that there is a risk. We may reduce the prison population by 4,000, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says and perhaps believes. We may also increase it by 8,000. We all know that if we had chosen the other option of the automatic early supervised release of short-term prisoners we should have reduced the prison population by 7,000, not increased it.

The only gesture that the Home Secretary and the Government have made towards reducing the prison population is the inclusion in the Bill of the emergency powers that were contained in the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980, to be used at an unspecified date for an unspecified reason.

It is only once in a Parliament that we have the opportunity of a Criminal Justice Bill of this kind. The present Home Secretary has perhaps been more highly regarded than many of his recent predecessors for the intimation that he has given that he is likely to do something effective to reduce the prison population. He has talked about it repeatedly, with knowledge and feeling, and he has said that he at least is prepared to take effective action.

The real test of the Home Secretary has come today with the Bill. It is his only lasting opportunity to be effective in penal reform and to reduce the prison population dramatically and immediately. The right hon. Gentleman has failed that test. There is nothing in the Bill that will help in any way to deal with the crisis that confronts us and prison staff. I must say with regret that there is nothing to deal with the intolerable and scandalous conditions in which remand prisoners are contained in our local prisons. They are people who perhaps are kept in the worst, most degrading and disgusting conditions. Yet they do not get even a mention, let alone any sympathy, in the Bill.

There is nothing in the Bill, either to remove altogether from the prison system or the criminal justice system those individuals to whom my right hon. Friend referred—people such as prostitutes, vagrants, drunks, drug addicts and the mentally ill and mentally disordered, none of whom should have entered prison in the first place, all of whom would be better catered for in, and should be treated in, the appropriate facilities in the community, and all of whom represent a glaring blot on an allegedly civilised community. Our only response to their problems and needs is to incarcerate them in institutions described as penal dustbins, rather than dealing with them as they should be dealt with—elsewhere.

There is a great deal in the Bill to be commended to the House. There is much that is extremely disappointing. On the two crucial issues that confront us and that the Bill confronts—removing from institutions the increasing number of young people that we put into them and dealing with the crisis of overcrowding in the adult prison system—the Bill fails, and the Home Secretary has failed.

With my right hon. Friend and hon. Members of all parties, I hope that we shall have the opportunity to put forward amendments along the lines of the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group's report, to improve the Bill, to make it an important, positive and constructive landmark in penal reform.

7.20 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

Hon. Members will forgive me if I do not take up the argument of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), for whom many on both sides of the House have a great deal of respect and who has done an enormous amount of work in this field. He is an old adversary of mine since November 1980 when he spoke against a Ten-Minute Bill which I attempted to introduce to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Unfortunately, the House declined to give me leave to bring in my Bill largely because of the eloquence of the hon. Member.

This Bill will be best dealt with in Committee because of the detailed matters to be discussed. Consequently I shall not detain the House for many minutes because I know that there are several hon. Members, certainly on this side of the House, who wish to speak. I am disappointed at the attendance on the Opposition Benches, and indeed on the Government Benches, because this is a very important subject which I and many of my hon. Friends feel we have been sent to the House to do something about.

I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) who referred to the fear in the hearts of many constituents that the streets of our towns and cities and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said, of some villages are not safe places to walk at any time. It is right that the House should be dealing with this subject and that a Bill of this type should be brought before us.

I support most of the Bill and welcome its provisions. The number of people in prison is a national disgrace for which we must all take some responsibility. If ways and means can be found of reducing the prison population, while the protection which it deserves and to which it has a right is still afforded to the public, that is the road that we should go down. I had an interesting experience before Christmas when I visited the penal dustbin, as it is described by the governor, of Wormwood Scrubs. The four hours which I spent there taught me a lot about the overcrowding in that prison and in other prisons.

I welcome the provision on additional detention centres. I hope my right hon. Friend will not take too much notice of the remarks of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt), who seemed to be putting forward the idea that detention centres should be almost holiday camps. When young offenders are brought before the courts there must be some form of punishment. I have listened carefully to the debate and at no time have I heard the word "deterrent" used. This must be an integral part of the Bill and of the policy which we put forward today.

The Conservative Party has fulfilled much of its manifesto pledge in supporting the police, in increasing the numbers, and in supporting community policing and policemen on the beat. That is to be welcomed. We are pleased that those numbers were such when we had the troubles last summer. This is the other half of the manifesto pledge that was left out; it is certainly needed and will be welcomed by constituents throughout the land. The people look to the Government and to the House to offer them protection. We have not provided that protection as we should have done in the past. The riots of the summer, both here and in my constituency, proved that. If the Bill goes some way to providing that protection, we will have done the work which we were sent to do.

Some 15 months ago, as I have already said, I attempted to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to put fairly and squarely upon parents the responsibility for the payment of fines. Therefore, I was delighted to see this in the White Paper on young offenders which came out in the autumn of 1980 and to see that it has been included in the Bill. It is significant that of all the clauses which have been discussed by various Members on both sides of the House clause 22 has probably had the most discussion. It will probably have most discussion in Committee.

I was particularly interested in clause 22 because my county council initiated a working party two years ago which considered the statistics of crime in the county. Sad to say, in my constituency the crime rate for a town of its type is the second highest in the country. That county council and many others were concerned about the various crimes being committed. They were also concerned that in many cases parents were not taking full responsibility for the offenders. The county council will certainly welcome this measure. I should like to quote what I said about the working party: Its report emphatically laid much of the blame upon poor parental control, public apathy and lack of co-operation with the police."—[Official Report, 11 November 1980; Vol. 991, c. 213.] It is that parental control to which I wish to speak briefly. One speaks about it from a sad background of vandalism increasing and some £100 million plus going out of the public purse to deal with it. In my constituency there are few schools where some form of vandalism has not occurred. I would guarantee that one could not find in Luton a tower block or any public building where the walls are not desecrated with some graffiti. New buildings seem to suffer more. As I said in the debate in November 1980, very few nights pass in Luton without the sound of breaking glass; very few public telephones work; and, of course, we have constant problems with football hooligans who come to the town in various ways, many by rail.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I am sorry that my hon. Friends always walk out when they have made their speeches because I should have liked them to have heard this. Is the hon. Member aware that some of my hon. Friends who claim to be do-gooders say that the cause of the trouble is the Government, the high unemployment, the social welfare conditions and so forth? I remember the days when we had 3½ million unemployed, no social security, no unemployment benefit and far worse conditions than now, yet anyone could find a telephone that worked or go on a train without any of this trouble. Would the hon. Member explain that it has nothing to do with social conditions, because if that were the case it would have been happening in the 1930s?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to the hon. Member, whose words are a breath of fresh air. He has said what many hon. Members on both sides think. He has had the courage to say it although he has had little support in this debate and in the past from members of his party. Social conditions in many towns are far better now than they were in the 1930s, of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken with experience and deep feeling. It is no excuse to say that because unemployment is high or because certain facilities are not available the only alternative is to break the law. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member, as the House will be, for his remarks.

The cost to the public purse of such offences and vandalism is horrific. Old people are being terrorised and Britain's streets are no longer the streets that they used to be, as many hon. Members know better than I. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) pointed out, the chief culprits are the 14 to 17-year-olds. I do not intend to produce any figures, but the statistics that have been given prove that.

We must never shrink from laying the blame, because it must be laid in certain areas, but the House has responsibility to take what measures are possible to correct such a terrible situation. Too many easy excuses, like those that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) described, are put forward. It is said that parents cannot cope with their children and that their children are beyond their control. It is even said that the social worker does not understand how a particular child behaves. Someone else is always to blame. The schools are an easy target for blame, although I accept that discipline in some schools leaves much to be desired. The environment and so-called poor housing conditions are also blamed. Of course, the police come in for some blame for carrying out a job that many hon. Members would shirk. The councils are blamed for not providing enough facilities.

The State is blamed for providing easy access to social benefits. I was well reminded of that by a West Indian constituent who came to me not a week ago and who said that he arrived in Britain in 1950, had fought his way through and bought a house. He said that he had built up a family but that he could not control his sons aged 17 and 18. He said that that was my fault, because I was a member of a State system that had given his sons no incentive to work or to keep within the law.

The important point is that, as a result of the Bill, blame can be laid at the parents' door. There is nothing old fashioned about saying that we regret the loss of the family unit and the fact that many parents have absolved themselves of their responsibility. The commitment that families—notably those from the Commonwealth, particularly Asians—show to their children is not being shown, as it used to be, by British families. Society's moral decay and the increase in the number of divorces, in the number of single-parent families and so on, are beginning to break down the family unit. That is the root of the trouble and that is why clauses 22 and 23 are right.

We must not be afraid of saying, as the Bill does, that magistrates have not used the existing powers to the extent that they should have done. I have spoken to many magistrates on this subject—

Mr. Ryman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but is he suggesting that the Executive should intervene in the imposition of sentences by the judiciary at any level, whether magistrates' court or Crown court level? Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that Parliament, through the Executive, should in some way seek to direct the judiciary about the sentences that should be imposed?

Mr. Carlisle

Parliament has a duty to suggest that certain powers available to magistrates should be used. The Bill tells magistrates that they should use the powers that they have but which many of them have not used. Perhaps it is to our shame as politicians that we must enact a Bill that gives magistrates such guidelines.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is it not a fact that only the other day, as a result of one case. the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice suggested what magistrates and judges should do?

Mr. Carlisle

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members have a duty to reflect their constituents' opinions and that has been borne out by several recent cases. As an Executive, our duty may sometimes have to extend to giving magistrates guidelines when we feel that they are not using the law to the full. That is why I welcome the spirit of clauses 22 and 23. They tell magistrates—with a small get-out provision—that they should use the law as it stands, and hopefully will stand, with parents bearing their responsibilities.

In the past few weeks I have been saddened to notice on the sports field—of all places—that the parental attitude towards children is beginning to reflect the violence and aggression that many hon. Members have mentioned.

Many hon. Members will know of my interest in sporting activities. I attended a mini-rugby match between some of my constituents and members of another club. Children of 10 and 11 years of age were playing rugby. Some of the behaviour of parents on the touchline and some of the "encouraging" words that they used—particularly when many team members from my constituency were black—were horrific. When people tell me that parents are not taking any responsibility for their children, I wonder whether they realise that it is not only 14 to 17-year-olds who are involved but 10 to 11-year-olds. If parents show aggression to children at that age, those children will begin to reflect such aggression in their late teens.

Let it be said that at least £25 million stands in unpaid fines and that compensation for the crime is often quite inadequate. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) is not in the Chamber, but it is understandable that victims are bitter when light sentences are imposed, particularly if a fine is not paid. The Bill is right to ensure that parents pay the fines and that responsibility is not shirked. Sympathy is no compensation to the old woman who has been mugged and who has had her handbag snatched by some thug.

I welcome the Bill, which is sensible and reasonable. Many of its provisions will directly benefit my constituents and the people of Britain. The Bill should be endorsed, and I am glad that the Opposition have said that they will give it a clear passage. I hope that it has a reasonably smooth passage in Committee. We need such a Bill, and I commend the Home Secretary for having introduced it.

7.38 pm
Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

In a short speech, I shall simply make several points that occurred to me after having listened to several speeches. I give the Bill a cautious welcome. To be fair, I feel that the Government have shown ingenuity and ability in dealing with a difficult subject in an interesting way.

I have detailed criticisms about certain clauses, but I shall not trouble the House with them because they will be considered in Committee. From some of the speeches made, I detect a total lack of realism from both sides of the House. This is not an easy subject, and it has been commented on by many people who know very little about it; they have talked at inordinate length without any practical experience of the difficulties that arise. I humbly suggest that there are many considerations that ought to exercise hon. Members' minds, and about which the Government should think before the Committee stage.

The majority of right-thinking people, of course, want to do everything reasonably possible to reduce the prison population, but an obsession with that is surely wrong. It is not right to say that each measure must be judged simply on that basis. On the other hand, some hon. Members seem to suggest that harsher sentences should be imposed in particular cases, especially those involving violence.

The principle that must pervade the administration of criminal law is that sentencing policy should be exclusively that of the judges. Parliament can by all means prescribe maximum sentences in legislation, but there should not be the insidious tendency by the Executive that has been evident in recent months and years to encroach on the judiciary's field and bring pressure on it to reduce prison sentences. That is a wrong departure and approach because experience has shown repeatedly that one must trust the judges.

If one seeks to impose legislation on the judiciary which ties its hands, the results can be very unfortunate. An example is the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. When a judge sentences a defendant within a set age group for a serious offence, he must impose a six-month or three-year prison sentence and has no power to impose a sentence in excess of six months or less than three years. That has troubled the courts for many years because, in the administration of justice, when the case facts and defendant's antecedents are considered, a longer sentence than six months but shorter than three years is shown to be required. Many judges have often said that to impose a six-month rather than a three-year sentence is far too lenient. Parliament has forced the judiciary into that position because the alternative would be to impose far too harsh a sentence. That difficulty has troubled the courts for many years.

The Bill is excellent in parts and is certainly a step in the right direction. However, it should not impose restrictions on the judiciary, but should act, broadly speaking, on the principle that one must trust the judges and give the courts sufficient discretion to impose the appropriate sentences, considering the case facts and defendant's antecedents. It is against that general principle that I shall examine—shortly the House will be relieved to hear—some of the points already made.

Obviously, the protection of the law must be equally if not more directed at the victims rather than the perpetrators of crimes. It goes without saying that under criminal law the paramount concern is the public's protection. We often hear platitudes from sincere but misguided people telling us how we should deal with those convicted of serious offences of violence. They show a total lack of realism, given the appalling injuries and shock inflicted on victims of crime.

It is idle to say that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board can, in appropriate cases, grant compensation. Those who have experience in these matters—I disclose an interest as my home has been burgled thrice in two years—know that the shock of burglaries and offences that do not involve violence being perpetrated on the victims, are very far-reaching. It is of paramount importance when considering cases of aggravated robbery or other offences of violence that the public must be protected. That is the proper criterion that should be behind the Bill.

While Parliament must do everything possible to encourage the Government to deal compassionately and fairly with young and disadvantaged persons, we should never lose sight of the fact that the law exists to protect everybody, irrespective of sex, colour or religion. It is against that background that the proposals must be examined and tested.

I have misgivings about any proposals that whittle away at the judiciary's full discretion when imposing sentences about mandatory obligations on courts to impose shorter sentences than a judge wishes to pass. For example, when the prison officers' industrial dispute occurred, the Home Secretary openly, honestly and frankly used language in the House which was tantamount to advising the judiciary to impose more lenient sentences because of the crisis faced by the prisons.

I fully understand why the Home Secretary made those speeches, and I know that he acted responsibly, sincerely and honestly. However, it is wrong for any Home Secretary to advise judges on what sentences to pass or to seek to influence the judiciary when imposing sentences. That may well be the function of senior judges, but it is certainly not the function for any member of the Executive.

The parole board's position has not yet been mentioned. It has a great role to play in the legitimate desire to reduce the prison population. There is much to be said for extending the parole board's powers and to make those subject to shorter sentences eligible for parole. My impression is that the board is doing a very good job but that the ambit of its activities could be vastly extended.

The House will know that parole is restricted to sentences of a certain length. When the Minister replies, I shall be interested to hear whether the Government contemplate extending the powers of the parole board—it could be done in the Bill—in a way that will make defendants serving shorter sentences eligible to make applications to the board after the appropriate period has elapsed.

The provisions that will order parents to pay fines for offences committed by their children are prima facie a good idea. I share the views that the breakdown of the home, the loss of family units, the breakdown of responsibility of the churches and other similar factors have contributed to juvenile delinquency. Although prima facie the proposals for parents are attractive, I suggest that in practice they will be difficult to implement and enforce. Are we spending a great deal of time discussing a concept which, if it reaches the statute book in the present form, will be unenforceable and of no practical value in the fight against juvenile crime?

In my constituency the average unemployment rate, taking the minimum and maximum figures, ranges between 12 and 17 per cent. The parent provisions will bring before the courts parents of children who have committed offences. Many of those parents will be unemployed and forced to live on public funding. They will receive fines that can only be paid out of public funds. Is it suggested that the provisions will influence parents to control their children more strictly to prevent them from committing further offences?

Mr. John Carlisle

I remind the hon. Gentleman that provisions already exist for children under the age of 10 years whereby their parents are obliged to pay fines. I remind him also that the Bill contains a clause that provides that in special circumstances a fine does not have to be levied on the parent. If that clause did not exist, the hon. Gentleman would be expressing a justifiable fear. As it does exist, perhaps his fear is groundless.

Mr. Ryman

I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for making the point. He is saying that a safeguard appears in the Bill to obviate the circumstances that I have been describing. Obviously we shall want to consider the safeguard. I am merely asking whether the provisions that will order parents to pay fines are enforceable in practice. Very often Parliament inserts attractive clauses in Bills and when the measures eventually appear on the statute book the courts find that in enforcing them there are practical difficulties that were not originally envisaged.

I give a cautious welcome to the Bill and to many of its provisions. I am attracted to the idea of parental responsibility in respect of children who commit crimes. However, I foresee genuine difficulties, despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle).

I deplore some of the emotional speeches that have been made on this subject. The administration of criminal law should not be a matter for emotion, nor should it be a matter for seeking to make cheap party political capital. It is a most serious issue that in the course of this excellent debate has attracted attention from hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the past, successive Governments, whatever their political colour, have dealt completely fairly with the administration of criminal law. The previous Labour Government enacted the Criminal Law Act 1977. Labour Government enacted a great deal of useful legislation in the realm of criminal law, including criminal law and criminal justice Acts in the late 1960s. We should get together, representing our constituents, to try to put on the statute book the best measure that we can to deal with the serious problems that face us.

I commend the Bill to the House. I have reservations about certain clauses that I hope we shall have the opportunity of discussing in Committee. I hope that the House will support the various measures in the Bill. When the Minister replies I hope that he will answer my specific questions.

I end my short speech by asking the Minister to give us the assurance—I know that he will do so if he can—that the tenor of the Government's policy on the administration of criminal justice will continue to be to safeguard the independence of the judiciary from any interferenceby the Executive. I hope that he will say also that the Government will not take any steps to seek to tie the hands of the judiciary in imposing sentences other than setting a maximum sentence in a particular clause. Finally, I hope that he will say that the Government will take steps to remove existing anomalies in the criminal law that tie the hands of the judiciary. The judiciary has often said in public that in many instances the anomalies have a counter-productive effect and force judges to impose sentences that ideally they would not have wished to pass. For example, a judge has no discretion within the six month and three year provision to impose a sentence of intervening period.

7.58 pm
Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

At the beginning of this Parliament, in 1979, the country faced something of a law and order crisis. Part of the crisis stemmed from extremely low police pay and police morale, especially in the Metropolitan area. It is all too easily forgotten that one of the first actions of the Government was to introduce the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies report and to deal with police pay. That has resulted in increasing numbers of police throughout the country. I am sure that the whole country, as well as the House, is indebted to the Home Secretary.

The second problem with which we were faced at the beginning of this Parliament was the increasing rise of crimes of violence, especially among young people. It seems that over the years the young people who commit crimes of violence have become younger. I wonder where we shall end up. Will 3 and 4-year-olds end up being as badly behaved as 8, 9 and 10-year-olds are now on the football terraces?

I should like to take up the theme that has been put forward continuously in the debate—many hon. Members have not referred to it directly, but it has been the underlying current all through the debate. If one is to have a democracy, two things are absolutely essential for the preservation of that democracy. The first is the defence of the land in which people live as a democracy. The second is law and order. If there is a breakdown of the second, the democracy could go to the wall. That is where I believe that the parent has a great responsibility.

I make no apology for echoing what has been said earlier. It is true to say that people often deserve what they get. If people in society are not prepared to accept responsibility, there will be problems. I regret that what has been happening in our society for a long time is that people are not prepared to accept responsibility. That responsibility should be taken on by parents when the children are at an early age. Unless we have discipline, guidance, kindness and understanding in our homes, there will be problems later on. I am sad to say that over the past 15 or 20 years we have been developing the society of the latch-key child, the child who has little guidance and for whom parents often have little time. It is against that background that the problems that society has today are bred.

I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) said earlier. He said clearly that he did not believe that some of the problems of today, such as housing and unemployment, were entirely or in part to blame for crime. If one examines what happened 30 years ago, when there were approximately the same unemployment figures, one sees that there was no comparison with people's standards of living today. Today there are not the Jarrow hunger marches. In those days there was not the concept of the Welfare State. We did not have today's education system or the Health Service. However, we did not have in those days as much extreme violence as we have today. That begs the question: "Why?"

The answer lies in three areas. It lies in the responsibility of the parents at home. It also lies in sensible discipline at school and in a proper form of punishment within the law. If those three are out of tune, there will be problems. What has eroded our society for a long time is that those three things have been getting out of balance and out of tune. If at school a teacher administers reasonable discipline, the parent will often complain. Often if a parent takes what he assumes to be reasonable disciplinary action, he will be reported. That is where our problems lie. Unless we tackle those problems at the roots, we shall never resolve the problem of increasing crime.

I find it strange to think that the crime of rape does not involve violence. Most of the cases of rape that we have heard about recently have involved extreme violence against the person who has been subjected to that crime.

One area of the Bill gives me a little concern. Before I move on to that, I wish to say something about parents being made responsible for the actions of their children. It is right that we should embark on that course. We must look at new areas and avenues, and new ways to resolve our problems in a changing social world. I accept the arguments about parents who are unemployed. However, if it will help to make 25 to 30 per cent. of parents responsible, that will have an effect on the present serious situation. Therefore, I welcome the Government's ideas in that direction.

I am a little disturbed about clause 26. I hope that when the Minister of State replies, he will satisfy me with some assurances. Clause 26 makes provision for the Secretary of State to take powers, by special order, to release people who are serving sentences of from six months to three years. The clause talks about not releasing those who are serving a life sentence. Where does it stand on those who have been convicted for crimes of violence, who are serving sentences that may be slightly less than three years? I am disturbed because I believe that on first-time offences, it is important that people should have a short, sharp shock. If they are not dealt with in that way, they may embark on a life of crime, whereas a short, sharp sentence may often give them second thoughts about going back to such a place.

I am concerned that the Home Secretary, or a future Home Secretary, might have powers to start releasing people who have committed violent crimes earlier than the judiciary, which sentenced them, would have wished. Like the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) I believe that that is a difficult area. I have always been led to believe that the place of Parliament is to make the laws and that it is the judiciary that administers the laws. That being so, I am a little concerned that we are beginning to move into the area where the judiciary should play the full role.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be kind enough to try to clear up those points for me. I am concerned because in certain circumstances we could release people who have committed violent crimes before they have served their full sentence. I would be quite against that in view of the serious rise of crimes of violence in recent years. Perhaps sentences for some crimes of violence could be heavier than they are now. However, having said what I did about the judiciary, I would believe it to be wrong to move into those areas. We must leave them to the judiciary.

When the Minister winds up I shall be interested to hear what he says about those areas because, other than having that concern, I fully support the Bill. I wish it well. I hope that it will start to bring a realisation to the British people that if they want to preserve their democracy they must take on the responsibility not only of their children but of the society in which they live.

8.9 pm

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

The debate takes place against a background of overcrowded prisons, increasing violent crime, particularly among young people, a shortage of resources and cuts in education and the social services.

The Bill is a five-year update of the criminal law as seen through the eyes of the Government. It is an opportunity for the Government to bring into effect measures that they believe will improve the penal system. The Bill tends to be a miscellany of measures. In a sense, it comprises a number of Committee points.

We are all aware of the need to ensure that people who commit violent crimes, and others who may be tempted to do so are deterred from terrifying their fellow citizens; but we cannot send those people to prison if there are no facilities to take them. In 1977 the Advisory Council on the Penal System unanimously declared that many sentences, especially in the short and medium band, were longer than they need be. In view of the unanimity, we should go further and agree with Lord Justice Waller, who said that prison spaces were in short supply and courts should be careful not to waste them. He did not believe that courts should disregard the availability of prison facilities. Whatever one's view about the length of sentences, we must bear in mind the capacity of the system to sustain the load. That factor has made the Home Office more responsive to the views of prison reformers.

There are good provisions in the Bill, such as the abolition of borstal sentences and the fact that sentences for detention and youth custody will take account of time spent in custody before sentence is passed. In addition, the early release power gives greater flexibility to the Secretary of State. The House has to approve by affirmative resolution the use of that power. I should like to know the circumstances in which the power might be used, but it is a helpful measure, because of the flexibility that it provides.

There are also bad provisions in the Bill. I criticised in a debate a few weeks ago the proposal to introduce partially suspended sentences and I make no apology for renewing my attack on the proposal, which will mean that more people will go to prison. It was never proposed at the outset to introduce such a measure in the Criminal Law Bill. It was introduced by the present Minister for State, Home Office, when he was in Opposition, and, inexplicably it was accepted off the cuff by the Labour Minister of State. I alone spoke against it, and what I said did not fall on deaf ears.

After the House passed the provision, the Home Office ensured from 1977 onwards that it did not come into effect. A Conservative Home Office Minister of State has sharply criticised the provision. The Home Office did not like it. It is on record as stating that it is likely to increase the number of people in prison, yet, hey presto, that view is reversed. We cannot have great confidence in the Government's views about how good the measure will be when the clause has not been implemented since it was introduced in 1977 and the Home Office has criticised it.

I am also disturbed about the proposal to increase the periods between pre-trial remands. In practice, half the people remanded are eventually either acquitted or given non-custodial sentences. They are kept in old prisons often in poor conditions. When they come up for remand they see their solicitor and are sometimes given bail. If they are brought up for remand only at intervals of three of four weeks, they will not get bail in the intervening period. The numbers in prison will increase and, in practice, the opportunities of accused people to see their lawyers will be diminished. I hope that the Government will think a little more about the matter.

Some of the opportunities lost in the Bill could be put right in Committee. No one has yet mentioned the subject of mandatory sentences for murder. It has been treated like a hot potato. Everyone has steered clear of it. Life sentences for murder were condemned in 1975 by the report of the Butler committee on mentally abnormal offenders. They were also condemned by the Advisory Council on the Penal System in 1978. The Criminal Law Revision Committee, in its fourteenth report, was evenly divided on the matter. It is, therefore, astonishing that no one has mentioned it.

We all know that a life sentence does not mean what it says. In every other case the judge decides the sentence. The Bill proposes to extend a judge's power to determine sentences for the young, instead of leaving them indeterminate—for instance, as in the old borstal sentence. The law is swinging into line to give judges the power to fix the term of nearly all sentences, but they have no power to fix the length of a sentence for murder. A life sentence merely passes the buck to the parole board.

The parole board has a primary sentencing role for murder cases because it takes over once the jury has convicted. When the judge says "life sentence", he really means "I am not allowed any discretion in this case". He may think that in a domestic case the person ought to serve four or five years, but he is not allowed to say so, and the parole board will decide in private what the sentence should be because it will decide when the person should be released.

It is true that judges are allowed to recommend—but not to impose—a sentence in cases which they consider to be particularly bad. It is a recommendation. It is not appealable, and it is a heavily criticised procedure. We need a much more rational approach to life sentencing.

About 1,500 people are now serving life sentences. Most of them are domestic murderers—not what we consider to be usual criminals, but husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, brothers and lovers. Judges would do something about that, but they are not allowed to do so. An enormous amount of time is wasted in the courts by people basing defences on provocation or diminished responsibility simply to get round the impossibility of judges exercising their discretion. The whole object of getting a manslaughter verdict by using such a defence, is to enable the judge to fix his own sentence.

It is time that the Government summoned up the courage to bring this kind of sentence into line with sentencing generally and to give judges the right to impose the sentences that they think appropriate. At a stroke, we should not only cut the length of some sentences for murder, although sometimes the judge would give a longer sentence than the parole board would have given. We should also bring the sentencing procedure for murder into the open, instead of leaving it to the back room in which the parole board operates.

An enormous amount of court time would be saved. All the doctors now called to testify against one another about diminished responsibility would not be needed. The trials on provocation which now take place because that defence must be a matter for the jury would not need to take place if the definition of the offence were changed to that of unlawful homicide. A House of Lords judge and the Law Commission are on record as recommending that we should define it as an offence of unlawful homicide. The charges of murder and manslaughter and all the special defences would go and there would be fewer ridiculously fought murder cases. People who were guilty would be more likely to plead guilty. Judges could consider the facts and say in open court why they were imposing particular sentences, which would then be open to appeal. It would be a far better system.

I hope that something will be done about that in Committee. If it is not, I propose to table an amendment along those lines.

Finally, the possibility of deferring the start of prison sentences, the reduction of the period of sentence after which parole can be given and the right of judges to give bail pending appeal do not appear anywhere in the Bill, so there are plenty of opportunities to improve it. Regrettably, the Government have so far not shown enough courage. In my view, the provisions as drafted will achieve no reduction in the prison population, a considerable amount of injustice will continue to be done and a considerable number of people will remain in prison longer than they need to remain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Before I call the next hon. Member, I should tell the House that five more hon. Members have intimated that they wish to take part in this important debate. I understand that the winding-up speeches will begin at 9 o'clock.

8.24 pm
Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)

I am pleased to speak after the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), and I hope that the House will heed his remarks about the indeterminate nature of life sentences.

I welcome the Bill because it will give better and more suitable powers over young offenders. I am sure that we all agree, however, that prevention is better than cure—I should say attempted cure, probably—or punishment and that the first principles of discipline must be given to young people when at school and in the family. Everything must be done to stop truancy, which is often the first step towards delinquency.

I welcome the provision that extends parental responsibility. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) that family discipline is most important and that the breakdown of family life a prime cause of crime.

I ask my right hon. Friend and the House to take note of a recent report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers on the future of marriage, which points out the dangers and the prevalence of delinquency among children who experience the breakdown of their parents' marriage. Special note should be taken of suggestions made to parents of young children to be more aware of the possible consequences to their children if they should divorce. The decision to divorce is taken far too lightly. If there were fewer one-parent families, fewer young people would be brought before the courts.

Because the Bill relates mainly to custodial sentences, I welcome the fact that the Government have made it clear that other measures such as supervision, attendance centres and intermediate treatment in general should always be the first choice of the courts. Like other hon. Members, I hope that the Government will see that sufficient funds are given to local authorities to improve these facilities. Community service has been of great value, and I welcome the fact that children under the age of 16 will be able to participate in this scheme in future.

Unfortunately, however, all young people do not fit into these—to be preferred—home-based schemes. Unfortunately, the courts, after complying with stringent conditions, still have to deprive young people of their liberty. I do not believe that the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was right to say that junior detention centres should be phased out, although admittedly they do not always cure or deter. But there are still many difficult boys from deprived homes for whom they are a suitable treatment.

I want to refer to Foston Hall, a detention centre in my constituency where a pilot scheme for the new short, sharp shock treatment regime started in September 1981. I visited the centre last year both before and after the introduction of the regime. I did not find it to be a finishing school for crime, as one hon. Member suggested these detention centres were. Unfortunately, these youngsters can always learn their tricks in their own schools and homes.

The original role of detention centres was to give people a short, sharp shock in the hope that it would stop them in their tracks and make them change course and live a more sensible life in the future. However, gradually the sharp lines were blurred and it was thought to be punishment enough to remove boys from their home environment. Although there is truth in that, it is important to take the opportunity to give some discipline to boys in the centres.

When I visited Foston Hall, the warden said that for many of the boys it was their first taste of discipline. Their schools had given them no work training and they had no way of applying themselves properly. He believed sincerely that their time at a detention centre was well used in encouraging an application to work. Even before the new regime commenced, I saw that sterner measures than when I had visited a detention centre in the early 1970s were being introduced gradually, and I was impressed by the way that the boys responded. Their bedding was laid out neatly and the ordered atmosphere was very impressive.

I arrived in time to see the boys participating in physical education. After watching their drill, I felt that they had a sense of achievement as their performance improved. I was about to say that my impression was that they gained a sense of satisfaction that they had never had before. I felt that they would be mentally as well as physically better for the stimulating exercises. The warden confirmed that many of the boys had said that they would continue to keep fit and that they would join sports clubs after leaving Foston Hall and therefore that there was some hope of developing in them a more healthy and constructive attitude to life.

I welcome the new shorter sentence of three weeks and a reduction in the maximum sentence. The warden told me that, as in prisons, the first few days in the centre had the maximum impact. I think that that is generally accepted.

I welcome the fact that magistrates have said that they will not increase the number of youngsters whom they send to these institutions and that shorter sentences will be given only where a longer term at a centre would have been ordered previously.

I believe judges and magistrates will not abuse the powers given to them. For some time, magistrates have realised the need for shorter sentences. However, when the Bill becomes law, its workings must be closely watched to ensure that more youngsters are not sent to centres than would have been the case previously. Courts cannot send to detention centres youngsters who appear before them a second time. The next stage is a prison sentence. Some consideration should be given to the possibility of a second term at a detention centre of more than a few weeks duration.

I do not believe that detention centres are degrading or demoralising in the same way as prisons undoubtedly are. The short, sharp shock treatment will make an important contribution to penal policy. I hope that it will be instrumental in deterring youngsters from a life of crime. I shall watch the pilot scheme in my constituency with great interest. I am glad that there will be no vote against the Bill on Second Reading. I wish it a speedy passage through the House.

8.31 pm
Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

I had not intended to participate in the debate until the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who reneged on the Labour Party, made his speech and was reluctant to give way. I note that he walked into the Chamber, was called, made his speech and then walked out. That now appears to be the practice of most hon. Members on both sides of the House. Is that not strange behaviour when we are discussing good customs and practices? It has been the good custom and practice of the House for many years that hon. Members should listen to at least the following speaker, and preferably the following two speakers, before leaving the Chamber. No one takes any notice of that rule now. Yet we decry those outside for not doing the normal, decent thing. If only hon. Members would occasionally set an example. There is a little law which says that we should not throw papers on the Floor. It was introduced by the House. Let hon. Members look around the Chamber and see the litter.

The House always finds good reasons for helping the poor prisoner, the poor offender who has committed a crime and the poor prisoners living three to a cell. All the do-gooders say what a terrible thing that is. They complain that the prisons are overcrowded and insist that we reduce their numbers. They make good speeches and then rush out of the Chamber, not waiting to hear anyone who might criticise them.

Of course it is not good to have overcrowded prisons, but instead of reducing the numbers we should take the advice of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) and keep people out of prison by preventing them from committing crimes. We can do that by making the penalty, punishment, deterrent, or whatever one wishes to call it, such that they will never commit the crime again.

The House sets up Committees to look into the matter. I gamble that, whatever the Committee, it will be filled with lawyers and do-gooders, and that few of those who have been mugged and attacked will be sitting on the Committee. The old lady who has been knocked down in her home will not be there. The Committee will be filled with well-paid, well-sinecured or well-expensed Members, often from the legal fraternity, telling us how to reduce the prison population. I do not want to see many people in prison, or prisoners living three to a cell. But I know that it will cost a great deal of money to improve existing prisons or build new ones. I know that old-age pensioners who have had to earn a living for 40 years, possibly being unemployed for part of that time, are living in deplorable conditions that are worse than those of prisoners living three to a cell.

I have seen some of our prisons—warm, relatively cosy, pictures on the walls, radio, television, lovely communal facilities, food—all the things that our pensioners do not have. The sick, the disabled and pensioners cannot afford these facilities.

I do not believe all that I read in the papers, but I read last week, and it is probably basically true, that it costs £7,000 a year to keep a person in prison. That is paid for by people such as the lady who was raped recently and by the Scottish lady who was raped. In that case the police are refusing to charge the three blokes who did it. There is talk about sympathy for such offenders. I would shoot them; I would willingly take the gun and do it if, as I am told, at least one of those involved in the Scottish case has confessed that he did it. We are, and have been, much too lenient with such people.

What I have to say is not based on what I have read or what I have been told by other people or by glorified committees. I shall say what I know from experience and I challenge any man or woman in Britain to deny it.

In the 1930s there was more unemployment than there is today, there were no social or welfare benefits, no community relations officers and little housing accommodation. Conditions were deplorable. It was normal to leave school at 14. There was no question of staying on to 16 or 18 or going to university.

Since then we have had the intervention of that renegade political crook, Roy Jenkins, who fled from this House to take up a sinecure in the Common Market at £60,000 a year tax-free—having spent most of his life saying that we should have an incomes policy. As the Home Secretary, he initiated the so-called easier society.

In the 1930s, my mother and father, my brother and sister, my uncle and aunt and I, could and did walk in any part of London, particularly the dock areas, at any time of the day or night without fear. Thanks mainly to Roy Jenkins' liberalisation there are many parts of London where people cannot walk in safety, even in daylight.

Not only old people are mugged. Mugging attempts are made almost daily and the muggers have had a so-called good education. They have certainly been at school until 16 and many had the chance to stay on or go to university—all paid for by the sick, the blind and the disabled.

We often say that things are paid for by the taxpayer. I wish that we did not refer to "the taxpayer", because every man and woman in Britain pays taxes. Some people think that only the rich pay taxes, but, in fact, the rich are relatively better off.

I am talking about the blind man or woman, or the man or woman with only one or no legs. Virtually every time they go out or buy anything, they pay tax, even if it is only VAT. If they buy a packet of cigarettes or a drink, they pay tax. They are the people who pay to give these youngsters a good education, good opportunities and good social welfare conditions. What happens? They bite the hand that feeds them. One cannot find a public telephone in working order virtually within a 10-mile walk of London. If someone has an accident or urgent need, he cannot find a telephone.

The Bill will not improve that. It will make it easier for the criminals and thugs to get away with it. Why should they? Lord Harris, the chairman of the parole board, is another one who has reneged. He gets about £20,000 a year and has several other sinecures. I do not object to discussions with him, but what discussions have been held with Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Black or Mrs. Blue who have been knocked about, raped or attacked? How many persons who have been robbed or knocked about have been consulted about the Bill?

We have heard about the length of trials. I am not being disrespectful to the Minister of State, but the lawyers do well out of it. They get well paid, and the longer a case continues the more money they make. Only recently, a judge said that he was disgusted at the length of time trials now take.

In the main, it is again the ordinary man or woman in the street who pays—the poor, the sick and the disabled. They will pay for the provisions of the Bill of which I am not enamoured. I look forward to the time when we can go back to the situation in the 1930s, when people could walk about without any trouble.

Two or three times on each day of the week I hear of people being knocked about, including children. That never used to happen. I know the toughest areas of London where in the 1930s the crooks and the thugs used to rob banks. They used to say "We are going on a job, but no shooters". I was told that by a professional burglar whom I could name. He told me "The first thing we did was to search one another to make sure that there were no shooters, but once they did away with capital punishment we decided to carry shooters because if we were caught or arrested by a policeman or anyone else, we shoot him, get away and stop him giving evidence. In any case, if we are then caught the sentence is the same."

The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West referred to life sentences. He ought to talk to some of these criminals. How many times have hon. Members picked up a newspaper and read that X bank or Y factory was robbed and sawn-off shotguns used? They are sawn-off because the pellets can spread wider and do the most damage to most people, but thanks to Mr. Roy Jenkins making it easier for them, if they are caught they will receive the same sentence.

If there were a death penalty, things would be different. Bill Sykes may not have worried about the death penalty but he had friends and relatives, and thugs had mothers, wives and relatives who warned them not to do this or that because "You may be topped". That was the expression that they used. However, now it does not matter, as there is only a prison sentence. Even if the sentence is for life, it never lasts for life. Now there is talk of cutting sentences further and easing off.

The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West spoke about remand, and I agree with him on that point. It is a scandal. I have had a constituent who has spent two years on remand in Wormwood Scrubs. Through no fault of his own he has been awaiting trial in prison, even though he has not yet been found guilty of any crime. He is still in prison, and even if he is found guilty of the crime with which he may be charged, his prison sentence will be shorter than the period for which he has been awaiting trial. Yet a self-confessed, convicted criminal who happens to be a friend of a peer, or of a top commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, may, if found guilty, not even go to prison. He will go to an open prison from which he can go home, and to which he can have his meals sent. He can do literally what he likes. If we want to save room in prisons, why do we not let those remanded in custody go to open prisons, and let people such as Lord Kagan and Commander Drury, who have been found guilty, go into the closed prisons? Why should not the convicted criminal go into the closed prison and the person who has not been found guilty go into the open prison? That would help to ease overcrowding.

That will not happen because there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor. There is one law for those who are in the Establishment and one law for those who are not. The Bill does not even attempt to deal with the ordinary person in the street. A dear old lady who steals a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread will have the full vigour of the law operated against her. There will be no mention of whether it will be a traumatic experience or whether giving evidence will upset her.

There was a case in Scotland where a woman was raped and slashed with a knife, so that she had to have 200 stitches, yet the authorities did not prosecute because they said the experience might upset her. They did not ask what she wanted or whether she would give evidence. I know that this is a mattter for the Scottish Office, not the Home Office, but the same principle applies. We are too easy on vicious thugs and criminals.

I have seen and heard thugs laugh at suspended sentences, which do not mean a thing. The proof is that criminals commit the same crimes again. Community service does not mean anything either—they do not do it. Fines are also useless. Millions of pounds worth of fines are outstanding and are never paid. A short while ago a constituent of mine showed me 65 parking fines that he had never paid and which go back five years. He said that he wanted to be sent to prison, and asked me to do something about it, to see that the police followed up the fines. No one worries.

My point is that these wicked professional criminals could not care less. What is more, the House sits late at night to see what can be done to make things easier for them. I am not enraptured by the Bill. I shall not support it, because I do not think we are doing enough to get at the criminal classes. We are encouraging them.

8.45 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I welcome the Bill as part of the Government's continuing efforts to fulfil the Conservative Party's manifesto pledges on law and order.

I should like to refer briefly to something said by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State when the House last debated law and order: It is always welcome to this Government that the House should debate questions relating to the maintenance of law and order, and the preservation of liberty. There is no subject to which this Government attach more importance. It ranks equally with the defence of the realm."—[Official Report, 26 November, 1981; Vol. 13, c. 1015.] I applaud that statement, which is a useful bit of background to the Bill.

I also applaud what the Government have done so far in increasing public spending on the police, in improving police pay and conditions, and in building more attendance centres, detention centres, and so on. The Government's record so far on law and order has been good and the Bill helps to complement that record.

The manifesto said that violent criminals and thugs require tough sentences, and that it is equally right that a wide variety of sentences should be available to the courts. Those are two of the purposes to which the Bill is directed, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for introducing it in this Session.

The first 24 clauses deal with young offenders, and I am particularly glad to see the new idea of youth custody, with powers for the courts to determine the length of sentences. I welcome the possibilities in clauses 2 and 3 for courts to give detention centre orders of as little as 21 days and four months for males between 14 and 17. The deterrent effect of custodial sentences is obviously greatest in the earliest stages of the sentence, and that is an argument for short sentences of that kind.

I also welcome the provision in clause 6 that the Government should be seeking to require the courts to pass life sentences on those between 17 and 21 years of age who have been convicted for offences which with adults lead to the imposition of life sentences. I do not think that the offence in such a case is any less serious, and the punishment should be no less just because the offenders are under 21.

I welcome the extended use of attendance centres, as proposed in clauses 15 to 18.

With regard to the stronger sanctions on parents and guardians of children, it is right that fines or compensation should be the responsibility of the parents, with whom so much of the responsibility lies. I am aware of the difficulties, and several of my hon. Friends have mentioned them today.

It is equally right that under clause 44, much later in the Bill, it should be made possible for courts to make, both instead of and in addition to other penalties, a compensation order on offenders in order to benefit the victims of crime. It is sensible for us to be seeking to amend the law on fines in general in part III of the Bill, and to be trying to improve the mechanisms for enforcing those fines.

I have some reservations concerning clauses 25 and 26, dealing with the partial suspension of sentences and the possibility of early release. Of course, there are people in prison who should not be there, as many hon. Members have said in the debate. Of course, the shock effect of a prison sentence can wear off with time. Of course, there will be circumstances in which it is right and safe to provide for early release. Nevertheless, none of those considerations means that it would be wise to encourage or require the courts to pass shorter sentences, especially for violent crime. In such cases sentences should, if anything, be longer, for the benefit of the law-abiding general community.

If there is a problem with overcrowding in our prisons, the answer is to build more new prison accommodation, as the Government are rightly intending to do, and I pay tribute to the Home Secretary's achievement in getting the decision to start six new prisons between now and 1984.

By all means let us give the courts greater flexibility in the sentencing options available to them, but let us make no changes in the law that would discourage long, salutary prison sentences where they are appropriate—for instance all the crimes of violence, including rape. Public opinion expects Parliament to give a lead in that direction for the greater protection and satisfaction of the community.

If we fulfil our side of the bargain, as lawmakers, by giving through the Bill a wider range of more flexible powers to the courts, and if the Government give a proper lead in encouraging a more disciplined approach to life in the family, in schools and in the community, and in the media, which have a special responsibility in these matters, we can reasonably ask for the full support of the public for the police, the courts and all who strive, under the leadership of the present Government, to make the maintenance of law and order once again a hallmark of our times.

8.56 pm
Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)

In the few minutes that are left of this debate, I should like to cover some of the commitments made by the Conservative Party in its 1979 election manifesto. In that document, we devoted four pages to the rule of law. We stated that that was a subject we believed to be very important. This Bill is the answer to those commitments.

It does not go far enough. In part, it answers some of our problems, but I fear that it echoes the Home Secretary's recent outburst against those of us who believe—I openly admit my belief—in capital and corporal punishment. It possibly shows a "sensitive and understanding way," to use the Home Secretary's word. However, I question whether the Bill goes far enough. I suggest that it does not.

The country expects the present Government to provide a very tough and hard line. The country believes that the current crime wave is a matter of great concern to most people. The people believe that they deserve protection by tough deterrents and tough penalties.

The Bill does not do enough to protect the elderly, the person who is robbed, beaten up or carved up—often merely for a few pounds. It is not as though we are talking about major criminals. Most of the increase has been in violent crime among young hooligans in particular.

In the few minutes available, I wish to confine my remarks to part I. There are four main reasons why a child becomes either a law-abiding citizen or a criminal. All these reasons supplement the Bi11 to some extent. First, the influence of the parents is very important, as is, secondly, the influence of the schools. The third reason—which the Bill directly affects—is the deterrent effect of any treatment given to young offenders, particularly on early occasions when they appear before the court. The fourth reason concerns the attitude of society and whether we accept mugging and vandalism as an inevitable way of life. I regret that many people are now moving towards that position.

The influence of parents is dealt with in the Bill. That is right, although the problems of collecting fines or compensation that may be awarded against parents have been pointed out. However, it is right that we should ensure that parents are responsible financially for the acts of their children and that they will take a financial interest by concerning themselves about the whereabouts of their children at all times.

I turn to the influence of our schools. We have heard criticism of a school which one hon. Member was known to be supporting. I regret that some schools do not teach the difference between right and wrong. We have teachers who believe that self-expression, on occasions, is desirable. They do not believe that children should be persuaded that to support the agencies of the law is the way to move forward. There are some teachers who take part in protests, who shout and march, and who commit illegal acts themselves. What kind of example is that? We need a more professional approach within our teaching profession.

We must also support those within our schools who wish to retain use of the cane. It is a deterrent. It probably does more within our schools to help to ensure that youngsters go down the right road than anything in the Bill will do.

I wish to comment mainly on the deterrent effect of sentences passed on youngsters, particularly in the early days of a life of crime. The Bill fails in this respect because it accepts the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, which moved away from punishment and deterrent towards the view that social workers should be involved to a greater extent and that the problem could possibly be dealt with in another way. That experiment has failed. I believe that a very small number of children benefit from being under the care of a social worker and yet many care orders are being made which result, on many occasions, in community service or possibly a person going into a community home. I believe that we should repeal the sections of the 1969 Act which do that, but unfortunately this Bill supports the principles of that Act.

As a county councillor in Shropshire, I spent some time as a member of the social services committee studying community homes and was frightened at what I saw. Admittedly we had in our county at that stage one of the worst. I claim some credit for having it closed. However, after visiting community homes from Lancashire in the North to Surrey in the South, I realised that the old approved schools had been changed into schools in which discipline was not retained. The community homes did not have the discipline that the old approved schools used to have.

In Borreatton community home in Shropshire, the school which was closed, the boys did exactly what they liked. Whether they got up in the morning was a decision they themselves made. They were not made to get up. If they absconded, they were not reprimanded. If they did not want to show respect to the agents of law and order, they were not encouraged to do so. When they appeared in court, not surprisingly, they begged to be sent back to the Borreatton community home because they enjoyed the life there. It was a life of luxury. I think it was the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) who said that these homes were like holiday camps. In the Borreatton community home none of the children was a waif or an orphan. All had been committed for criminal offences and all had fairly long records before the courts.

We should move to a tougher regime. The short, sharp shock treatment which the Home Secretary is introducing is correct, but I wish that we could do more to make sure that the community homes also instil in the people there the difference between right and wrong.

It is important that we should, as a party and as a Government, do everthing we can to support the agencies of law and order and toughen the Bill in Committee, because there will be no vote, I gather, tonight. I hope that we shall see in Committee a move to make sure that the requests of our constituents for tougher action are taken into account. The public have had enough of wishy-washiness in the Home Office. They want a tough policy to be implemented, and if the Bill is toughened in Committee I believe it will reflect people's views.

9.3 pm

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

In the few minutes that remain to me, I shall whittle down what I planned to say to two basic points. I am sorry, therefore, if I should sound a little staccato in my delivery.

The Bill provides for the setting up of youth custody centres. It also announces that borstals are to be abolished.

A somewhat unworthy thought has occurred to those of us of a slightly sceptical turn of mind. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to dispel it in his summing up, if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I welcome almost all of the Bill, so if I limit my remarks to a couple of unhappinesses it is simply because of the shortage of time.

I should like to follow up a point made by, I think, the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) about prostitution and soliciting. Nothing in the Bill abolishes the penalty for soliciting for the purposes of prostitution. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) moved a Ten-Minute Bill last year which was unopposed and which sought to do just that. I believe that there is a broad measure of support on both sides of the House and in the country for doing this. My hon. and learned Friend gave a sympathetic answer but said that he would prefer to await the Criminal Law Revision Committee's recommendations on this. I hope that he will not give us that answer tonight. Since then, for instance, homosexuality in certain circumstances has been made legal in Scotland without awaiting the findings of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. The Indecent Displays (Control) Act became law without the House awaiting the Government's final reactions to the Williams committee.

The change to which I am referring is a sensible and modest one about which there should be no further prevarication. There are in prison now 238 prostitutes, a quarter of them for non-payment of fines. I do not think that anyone suggests that the prison sentence for non-payment of fines should be abolished. Everybody agrees that there must be a final resort if people will not pay. But that leaves about 180 unfortunate women in prison for prostitution.

Everybody knows the effects of imprisonment on a family, and a prostitute is more than usually likely to have a family. There was a report recently of a most unfortunate case in Scotland of a woman who was breastfeeding her child being sent to prison.

What has been the Government's reaction as regards the Scottish law? The Civic Government (Scotland) Bill, now in another place, abolishes the penalty of imprisonment for prostitution in Scotland. It is a sensible measure, which we should now be prepared to follow in England.

I very much hope that this matter will be raised in Committee. If it is not, it should be raised on Report. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider it seriously and that we shall get further in Committee.

9.6 pm

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

At no time has it been so urgent and necessary for the House to consider a major Criminal Justice Bill and to grasp the opportunities that it presents for changes in sentencing and treatment of offenders. The Bill comes at a time when the incidence of crime is increasing and when we are locking up three times as many young people under the age of 17 as we did 20 years ago.

One of the many effects of the Bill should be to bring about both a significant and permanent reduction in the total prison population, in order to improve the uncivilised and degrading conditions of so many prisons. To do that would mean a shift of emphasis from custodial measures to treatment in the community, a shift that must be encouraged not only by the House but by the courts, which still show a lack of confidence in non-custodial methods.

That change of emphasis is justified by the conclusions of research over many years and by those who work with offenders, both young and old. They have shown that a short custodial sentence is as effective as, if not more effective than, a long one in the majority of cases and that the effect of any custodial sentence for the less severe crimes is questionable, because in the majority of cases a further offence is committed.

Does the Bill respond to those findings? Will its measures produce a significant and permanent reduction in the prison population? Regrettably, the answer must be "No", as has been confirmed by the speeches of several of my hon. Friends. An opportunity for radical change has, sadly, been missed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, the Bill shows a lack of vision. It misunderstands the nature of the offenders with which it deals and their needs. Instead of concentrating on an extension of probation and all forms of non-custodial sentencing, the Bill replaces one set of custodial sentences with another.

The proposals in the Bill represent a substantial and regrettable departure from the policy underlying the two Children and Young Persons Acts, with their emphasis on prevention and welfare. One of the Acts referred to young persons who, by committing criminal offences, showed themselves to be in need of care and control. There is now to be a move away from the concept of welfare for a young person in trouble.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) emphasised, the whole philosophy of the past 10 years has been to try to limit the use of custody for young offenders. The director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has rightly described the proposals as a leap into the past for our penal system.

The Advisory Council on the Penal System in 1974, after four years, reported that there should be a new sentence of custody and control with early release to supervision in the community. The suggestion was to replace the three sentences of detention centre, borstal and imprisonment with a single sentence of determinate length. This view was repeated in the 1978 Green Paper published by the Labour Government which suggested a single undifferentiated generic sentence of youth custody and supervision. This was generally welcomed.

As the Green Paper said, it would relinquish the existing nominal distinction between offenders on the basis of the regime to which the form of sentence directed them and would substitute a more realistic distinction based on the length of sentence considered appropriate by the court, taking account of all the circumstances of a case, including the seriousness of the offence and the need to deter others. Although we welcome a custodial sentence being imposed only when no other method of dealing with the case is appropriate, as is said in the Bill, we do not welcome the rejection of the single undifferentiated sentence, apparently on the grounds—so we have read but not heard in the debate—of the great differences of regime and conditions which mean that we need to have a range of penalties. This, surely, is an excuse for not implementing the one undifferentiated sentence.

The creation of a single sentence would remove the need to maintain three separate types of establishment, three different regimes. It would offer greater flexibility in the use of accommodation and a huge practical advantage in administration. More emphasis could be given to education and training for all young offenders at a critical time in their lives. This is the opportunity that has not been grasped in the Bill.

The White Paper made sympathetic noises in favour of non-custodial methods, yet the Bill has completely ignored the main recommendation of the independent Advisory Council on the Penal System. The Government have even disbanded the council, which shows what little respect they pay to its valuable contribution to penal affairs.

Probably one of the most retrogressive aspects of the Bill is the preservation of the detention centre order and all we know that implies. The only reason the Government must have for preserving detention centres is to retain a short, sharp shock treatment experiment to satisfy the punitive lusts of the Conservative Party conference. The so-called experiment was and is totally unnecessary. In 1970 the Advisory Council or the Penal System, which the Government clearly ignore, reported that it had analysed the effect of the short, sharp shock approach that accompanied the setting-up of detention centres in the fifties and sixties. It was totally discredited then as it is now.

It is a negative policy that is no good either to offenders or to the staff who are compelled to operate it. There is no statistical evidence to support either its deterrent effect on others or its effectiveness on offenders. Detention centres are notorious for their high conviction rates. Their regimes may even exacerbate the anti-authoritarian attitudes of young people and may be a factor in increasing their total alienation, with more crime as a result.

When he opened the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out that although superficially we might welcome the proposals to reduce the maximum sentence and the minimum period of detention this might well lead to magistrates sentencing more young people to detention centres and increasing custodial sentences. Have the Government consulted people who give these sentences as to their attitude to the reductions in the maximum and minimum sentences?

Before the Government ask the House to endorse detention centres and to allow them another long period in existence, they should justify their continuation. We have not been given any figures about the experiment taking place. Surely there are some preliminary figures. Some boys have gone through the short, sharp, shock experiment. What level of recidivism has there been among those who have undergone such treatment? The Minister has an obligation to justify continuing detention centres in the Bill and to give some figures showing why they are to be perpetuated. The three regimes do not seem to offer anything new. They are the same as before, but are being perpetuated under different names. The regimes, particularly the detention centre, have been tried and found wanting, having failed to cope with the increase in crime and more serious crimes, especially those committed by young offenders.

The Bill has not taken the opportunity to eliminate discrimination between boys and girls. At present, a boy can be sent to a detention centre, but a girl cannot. No custodial sentence under four months is available to a girl who is under 17 years of age, but such a sentence is available for a boy. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, ideally no boy or girl under the age of 17 should be placed in custody. The Bill provides for a 15-year-old girl to be placed in a youth custody centre with women aged over 21, although it ensures that boys do not mix with adult male prisoners. The opportunity should have been taken at least to treat boys and girls similarly.

The Bill's great omission is that it has failed to offer increased remission or reform of the parole system. We would have been sympathetic to automatic parole after, for instance, one third had been served of a sentence that was less than three years. The Government have not explained why they dropped such a provision like a hot cake. We have read only occasional articles in newspapers. Did the magistrates and judges tell the Government that they would not accept such a provision and that they would increase sentences? If not, why has it been dropped? What is the explanation and why have the Government backed down? Perhaps we could be told, instead of having to read a letter in The Times from Lord Chief Justice Lawton. Indeed, that letter has been cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk. We should like to hear the answer from the horse's mouth and we should like to know why the parole system has not been reformed.

We have a poor substitute. Instead of doing what they wished to do in the first place, the Government have resorted to a reduction of the prison population through partly suspended sentences. Yesterday's edition of The Guardian quoted the Minister as having said some most extraordinary things about the proposals. I doubt whether he will repeat them today, but he may have to agree that he said them. He said that he was taking a gamble and that it was an informed guess that the new power would be properly used. To say that the Bill is a "gamble" and an "informed guess" is an unsatisfactory way of trying to gain support for it in the House. I have never heard a proposal put forward with such certainty and conviction in the House. I must say that he is honest, but he does not give us great confidence in the proposal about partly suspended sentences.

The proposal is merely an exhortation to the courts not to give somebody a partly suspended sentence unless they are satisfied that a wholly suspended sentence would be inappropriate. It is hoped that the courts will obey that exhortation. However, will the clause result in a significant reduction in the prison population when it simply reminds the courts of the possibility of imposing partly suspended sentences?

The parole board opposed the measure when reviewing parole last year. It admitted to fears that the sentence would be used to give a short taste of imprisonment in cases where at present courts impose fully suspended or non-custodial sentences. The report states that there can be no certainty that implementing the clause will achieve any reduction in the numbers in custody and it seems that this measure is a shot in the dark by the Government.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Will my hon. Friend agree that the problem about partly suspended sentences is that courts use them in the belief that it will reduce the prison population? However, the evidence is that those who return to prison frequently are the least likely to think out the consequences of their actions before they commit them. They may, for example, be drunk before committing offences. Suspended sentences, partial or otherwise, are useful only for those who think out their actions in advance.

Dr. Summerskill

I agree with my hon. Friend. The onus is on the Government to persuade Parliament and the courts that the measure will reduce the numbers in custody.

There is a serious risk, as expressed by those who are informed, that the measure could have the effect of greatly increasing the numbers of those in custody. Why has the Home Secretary gone against the considered view of the parole board? It is not only the parole board or the Opposition who hold this view. It is shared by the previous Minister of State, probation officers, NACRO members, the Advisory Council on the Penal System and the Justices Clerks' Society. Therefore, it is only the Government who seem to have any confidence that the measure will reduce the prison populatiom.

If the Government have that confidence, whom have they consulted? Have they consulted those who will impose the sentences and who they hope will use the measure? We have so far heard of no basis for the Government's confidence.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Lady has dealt with the matter purely on the basis of the effect that it will have on the prison population. Does she not consider that the measure is valuable when dealing with those convicted of offences?

Dr. Summerskill

It is not a valuable measure when there are non-custodial measures that we and the Government are trying to urge. The Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice are trying vainly to urge this measure on the courts. We are all united in trying to reduce the prison population.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook mentioned "early release" and I ask the Home Secretary to deal with that when he replies. In his opening speech, the Home Secretary said that he would use "early release" only as a last resort. If that is so, what sort of resort will that be? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that he envisages using it only in the event of another industrial strike by the prison officers? Does he mean that it will be used when the prison population has risen to an even more unacceptable level than now? If that is so, to what level must the figures rise before early release is used?

If the early release aspect is to be included in the Bill, the House must know what the criteria are for its use. When is the last resort in which it will be used? If used only in a dire emergency—if prison figures are allowed to rise indefinitely—it will be a useless measure to include in the Bill because the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 was not used in that context.

There have been several criticisms about people remanded in custody. In another place Lord Elwyn-Jones argued that the regular appearances of unconvicted accused is an ancient and necessary safeguard against injustice and abuse.

An appearance every 22 days is not enough. There is no substitute for the regular appearance of a defendant in court, preferably with his legal representative. If the proposal takes hold, it will become the regular, general and normal procedure for a defendant to appear only every 22 days. There will be less of a sense of urgency by the courts to deal with cases if they know that an appearance every 22 days will beome the automatic procedure rather than the courts regularly and automatically seeing a defendant whenever they conduct remand proceedings. The Law Society and the National Association of Probation Officers are opposed to the abolition of appearances every eight days. This is an issue that we shall have to consider carefully in Committee.

Perhaps there should be a clear time limit to guarantee that detention before trial is not indefinite. In Scotland there is the 110-day rule. A time limit is another matter that I hope we shall have the opportunity to consider in Committee. The provisions in the Bill will lead to a longer procedure rather than a shorter one, when there are remands in custody. The excuse is that the cost of a different procedure would be too great. It will be a false economy if the process of justice is slowed when the Bill is enacted.

In clause 7 there is provision for the detention of young offenders of 17 to 21 years for the non-payment of fines. As has been said many times by my right hon. and hon. Friends, we want to reduce the prison population in general, and especially the number of fine defaulters who are in prison. The locking up of fine defaulters is the fastest growing sector of the prison population. Fines have the advantage of being flexible and cheap to administer. If a fine cannot be paid, the taxpayer incurs the cost of maintaining the offender. Therefore, the use of imprisonment for the defaulter is an admission of defeat.

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) said that prison is the only sanction against a fine defaulter. There are many other sanctions including non-custodial options, and those are the very ones that we are trying to encourage. A fine must be reasonable when related to the income of the offender and his ability to pay, as well as to the gravity of the offence. If the fine is so excessive that the offender cannot pay, the punishment is self-defeating because the taxpayer has to pay in the long run.

I draw the attention of the Minister of State to clause 21, which deals with offences committed by those who are subject to a care order because of previous offences. The clause has been welcomed by several hon. Members but it is strongly opposed by the British Association of Social Workers and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Those organisations have said that they expect between 500 and 1,000 more juvenile offenders a year will, as a result, have to be removed from their own homes. They have said that there is no evidence that this helps young people in trouble or protects society from their crimes. The removal of more children from their homes is surely a policy of despair.

The final part of the Bill deals with financial and manpower implications. If we are to bring about a shift from custodial measures to treatment in the community, there will clearly be increased pressure upon local authority social services, and especially upon the probation service. Bearing in mind that it costs £7,000 a year to keep an offender in prison, it would be economically wise to bring about a shift from custodial to non-custodial sentencing and increased training and educational facilities for young people. The Bill is extremely vague about its financial and manpower implications, which is a sad commentary upon its future effectiveness.

We are told that the amount of money needed for probation and after-care services cannot be quantified. That is in the explanatory and financial memorandum. We are told in regard to clause 25, the partly suspended sentence clause, that the extent of the reduction of the prison population is "uncertain". We are told that the increase in staff in local authorities and in probation and after-care services that will be needed to implement the Bill cannot be quantified.

We are told that £8 million a year or more will be needed for the local authorities to implement the Bill. I am glad to learn that, but I hope that the Department of the Environment has also been informed that £8 million a year will be spread between the local authorities because the probation officers are dependent to some extent upon the taxpayer and to some extent upon the ratepayer. Therefore, unless adequate finance is put into all those measures, they will not get off the ground. I should like to have seen more detail in the explanatory and financial memorandum about the financial and manpower effect.

We believe that the Bill will rely very much for its effectiveness upon the fullest possible co-operation of the courts in implementing its proposals. Otherwise, unfortunately, the proposals could have the reverse effect of that intended. The changes in the legislation or in the practices of the courts will not solve the problem of increased crime, but we hope that, when the Bill is implemented after it has been thoroughly changed in Committee, it will at least help to reduce crime among young people and in society in general.

Therefore, we give a cautious welcome to the Bill. I hope that the Minister of State can answer some of the extremely important questions that have been raised by the Opposition.

9.33 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I am extremely glad that the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) at the end identified her speech as representing a cautious welcome because, without that assistance, we should not have recognised it as such. It was about the only assistance that the hon. Lady gave in what has otherwise been a distinguished, instructive and helpful debate. Few matters worry our constituents more than the level of crime and the extent to which they are exposed to it.

Many hon. Members have spoken about that subject in the debate, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), my hon. Friends the Members for Belper (Mrs. Faith), Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) and Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). This has been one of the occasions when the House has spoken for its constituents.

The speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West had much more practical, down-to-earth good sense, although I did not agree with all of it, than the speech by the hon. Member for Halifax. There is less excuse for that on her part because she held office in the Home Office in the Labour Government. She should know of the intractable problems that face any Government dealing with crime and in particular of the especial need to provide forms of custodial sentences for offenders from whom the public requires to be protected.

The hon. Lady said that the detention orders should have been wound up. Here we are making further provision for detention orders. The Children and Young Persons Act 1969 made provision for the abolition of detention centres for juveniles. What happened from 1974 to 1979 when the hon. Lady held office?

Dr. Summerskill

The Green Paper.

Mr. Mayhew

When we have a Labour Government we have a Green Paper. One might have suspected that the Green Paper would have preceded the 1969 Act and the provision to abolish the detention centres. But after five years of a Labour Government, graced by the hon. Member for Halifax in the Home Office, all we had was a Green Paper.

The hon. Lady spoke at length on the need to deal with overcrowding. She said that the Bill must produce, above all, measures to reduce overcrowding in our prisons. I had to remind the House in our debate before Christmas of what happened under the Labour Government. They cancelled building project after building project in the prison service so that thousands of places were lost.

The hon. Lady then says today that we should have more non-custodial sentences and that more should be done for the probation service. In the debate before Christmas my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced that we had secured provision for another 150 probation officers in the next financial year. The difference between a Conservative Government who have to tackle these intractable problems and the previous Labour Government is that we get down to it.

The Bill establishes a fair balance between the need for the public to be protected by the provision, through the law, of custodial sentences—sometimes very long—and the need to keep offenders within the community where possible. At the same time we must try to rehabilitate them.

The Bill reflects three principles to which the Government firmly hold. The first is that severe prison sentences must always be available for the courts to use against really violent offenders—professional criminals and others who are a serious danger to the public—and that the use of prison accommodation must reflect that. Secondly, the courts must have a wide enough range of sentences available that do not involve sending the offender into custody so that, if in their discretion the courts consider that there is no need to do so, they shall not find themselves, nevertheless, obliged to send someone into custody simply because the range of sentences provided by Parliament is not wide enough. The third principle is that the victims of crime, too, have interests that should be served by the criminal law.

No one who seriously considers these grave problems can fail to subscribe to those principles. Naturally enough, therefore, they represent what the public—our constituents—expect from Parliament. The Government are committed to them by our manifesto and each of them is implemented by the Bill, which essentially fulfils the manifesto.

The manifesto stated that for violent criminals and thugs tough sentences "are essential". We are sure that that is so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) made a moving and practical speech. I shall come to the questions that she asked in more detail later. But I tell my hon. Friend that the Bill leaves untouched the present severe sentences available to the courts for dealing with such offenders as she described. That is why we have rejected arguments that maximum sentences should generally be reduced. We believe that they should not be reduced. The existing maximum terms are generally severe.

Naturally enough the subject of rape has featured widely in the debate. The maximum sentence for rape is life and I would not argue that that sentence as a maximum should be reduced. It is perfectly proper that for the small minority of people who commit that offence in really bad circumstances—it is hard to imagine any circumstance that cannot be a bad one for that offence—the life sentence should be available.

On the contrary, the Bill removes at long last the bar upon the courts passing certain custodial sentences for young adults between the ages of 17 and 21 which was imposed by section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. At present the courts can only generally award sentences of six months or less or three years or more for the young adult. The provision has been widely condemned for long enough, and the previous Government did nothing about it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Tories introduced it.

Mr. Mayhew

It came from a time when it was widely believed that the courts could not be trusted and should be given the benefit of Parliament's superior wisdom as to how each case should be dealt with. The Bill at last sweeps the provision away.

There is a hard core of young and generally violent offenders who, although they may not deserve three years in custody, should certainly get more than six months. Under the present law, however, only the indeterminate sentence of borstal training is available and, in practice, that is generally served for only eight to nine months. we promised that we would get rid of the provision and we have.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fyled condemned section 3 as intolerable. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) and others have particularly welcomed its abolition. We believe that questions of custody are, subject to parole procedures, best determined by the courts. The hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) asked whether we subscribed to that principle. We do. We do not believe that it is generally right to circumscribe the discretion, freedom and judgment of the courts in determining the right sentence, within, of course, the statutory maximum.

We believe that the courts rather than the executive determine those matters best. That belief has led us in the Bill to ensure that no young offender shall serve a custodial sentence, the length of which has not been fixed by the court. Life sentences and detention during Her Majesty's pleasure are the only substantial exceptions. I am glad that the proposal was welcomed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when he opened for the Opposition.

In the White Paper we said that the element of indeterminacy in borstal training has not been shown by experience to justify itself in providing a more flexible response to an offender's needs or a more effective alternative to fixed terms of imprisonment in diminishing further criminal behaviour. In the new youth custody sentence those serving terms of up to 18 months will be guaranteed training in a designated training establishment.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what the training would be and what would the resources be for young offenders who are outside the limits for the guarantee of training. Wherever possible they will go to youth custody centres, where they can take advantage of training regimes in the same way as other young offenders. It will he a question of priority, and that will be given to juveniles and those serving life or long determined sentences, especially if they have little or no previous criminal history. Others will for the present have to serve their sentences in young offenders' wings of local prisons. That is most likely to happen to 17 to 20-year-olds serving sentences of under four months, because they are not fit for detention centres for one reason or another. They will stay for only a relatively short period, especially if they have already been in custody or in remand.

Our ultimate objective is still to achieve a system of custodial establishments for sentenced young male offenders which will be self-contained and separate from the prison system for adults. The present building programme provides about 500 extra places for young offenders within the next year or so and a further 700 later in the decade.

I believe that the more flexible custodial sentences and the use of the wider non-custodial sentences resulting from the Bill should mean that the training resources of the custodial system are no longer so overburdened; indeed, not overburdened.

I should like to mention briefly some of the more general points made, before passing on to the subject of non-custodial sentences. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston spoke of the fear of the public. I entirely agree with her about that, as we all must.

My hon. Friend asked what hope there was for better protection for the public. I point her constituents to the fact that the courts will, in respect of that minority of young offenders who are hardened thugs, now be able to give longer youth custody sentences, with the sweeping away of the six months or less or three years or more barrier. I point also to the fact that the Bill must be seen against the background of the great increase in the police service which has resulted from my right hon. Friend's honouring of the Edmund-Davies award. There are now 7,500 more police officers in the service. No package of custodial or non-custodial sentences will avail the courts unless the police are able first to catch the criminals. That should be remembered.

The youth custody sentences that the Bill provides, with the ability for a court in a proper case to send a young offender for as long a sentence of youth custody as an adult would be sent to prison, if the court believes that that is right, should accord her constituents some reassurance.

My hon. Friend also asked what kind of training regime there would be. It will be designed to ensure that people are taught a worthwhile occupation and are trained in fairly hard circumstances to prepare themselves for release and, when they are released, to be decent and worthwhile members of the community. It will not be in the nature of a holiday.

My hon. Friend asked about the 14-year-olds, who cannot have youth custody. Regrettably, as she said, there are 14-year-olds who commit grave offences. The Bill expressly preserves the operation of section 53 of the Children and Young Person Act 1933, which allows a court when dealing, for example, with a 14-year-old guilty of a grave offence to send that young person into custody for as long as an adult may be sent to prison.

I hope that those points will reassure my hon. Friend. She spoke with characteristic self-effacement of those who suffer burglaries, without mentioning that, regrettably, she is one of them. Of course those people suffer gravely and it is the Government's determination to do as much as we can to protect them from crime.

I turn to the provisions that widen the range of non-custodial sentences. We believe that the security and protection of the pubic must always weigh very heavily in the balance. Subject to that, however, we believe that, wherever practicable, offenders should be dealt with out of custody and within the community. That is reflected in clause 1, which stipulates that no offender under 21 shall be sentenced to a detention centre, youth custody or life custody unless the court is of the opinion that no other method of dealing with him is appropriate", and the magistrates' courts must so certify in terms if they send somebody into costody.

If the courts are to make full use of these provisions, they must have full confidence in the non-custodial options that we provide for them. In the last decade, there has been a marked decline in the use of supervision orders and an increase in the use of custody. Lack of control over the supervision to which the young offender will be subject has too often led to loss of confidence in the supervision order and those who administer it. Therefore, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained today, clause 19 gives the court power, in consultation with the supervising officer, to make requirements which become part of the order itself. I was glad that the hon. Member for Ormskirk, who knows more about these matters than most hon. Members, welcomed that provision. If there is a breach, a fine or an attendance centre order are made available by the Bill. I believe that this provision will restore the confidence of the courts in the supervision. order.

I can tell the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that he is quite wrong when he describes the residential care order as representing a custodial measure. Its purpose is to give the courts, which are faced with young offenders already in care who have committed other serious offences and who have been living all the time at home, an alternative to sending them away into custody. They really have no alternative to that today. It enables them to make residential care orders so that offenders may be placed in the care of foster parents, boarded out or sent to some children's community home. It is in order to avoid sending them into custody that that provision is included in the Bill. It has long been asked for by the Magistrates Association, and we believe it to be right.

I am glad that there has been a general welcome to community service orders being extended to 16-year-olds and to the measure that we have taken in respect of attendance centres. All these are important and valuable measures.

I refer, a little out of context, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith). I was glad to hear what she said, and I was grateful for her comments about the staff of the detention centre at Foston Hall in her constituency. My hon. Friend has the experience of being a magistrate, and it is of great importance to us that she was able to form the favourable impression which she described.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) must know that no sufficient period of time has elapsed for any worthwhile figures showing reconviction rates. We shall not know them for at least another year following the experimental tougher regime in the detention centres.

I come to the provisions dealing with partly suspended sentences. They reflect the belief of the Government that generally it is better that the courts should have the say about what happens when they are dealing with offenders—and I speak here of adult offenders, because young offenders are exempt from these provisions by reason of their special characteristics.

Partly suspended sentences have long been Conservative policy. I do not accept the sole responsibility that has been very kindly pressed upon me for section 47. The then Conservative Opposition moved that amendment in 1977 because we believed that there were very strong penological arguments for it.

The hon. Member for Halifax spoke in glowing terms of the advisory council on the penal system. I remind her of the advantages that the council saw in partly suspended sentences. First, they enable a court to pronounce a sentence commensurate with the nature and gravity of the offence but one that does not need to be executed fully. Secondly, there is a double deterrent effect consisting of an initial period in custody with the balance of the sentence providing postponed deterrence during the suspension period. Thirdly, any deterrent effect in the suspended part of the sentence may be enhanced by the immediately preceding period of custody, which may well be more effective if that period is sufficiently short, at least for those who have not previously been sentenced to imprisonment, to avoid getting acclimatised to the conditions. Fourthly, partial suspension provides an opportunity for the court to impose a shorter period in custody than it might, knowing that on release from prison a specific contingent liability to imprisonment will remain. Fifthly, it fills a gap between full suspension, which in some cases may represent excessive leniency, and full immediate imprisonment, which may be unnecessary. Those are the views of the advisory council whose virtues the hon. Lady lauded.

I recognise that the partly suspended sentence can be misused. I hope that I shall never say that any proposal is a certainty when honesty compels me to admit that it is a probability or perhaps only a possibility. There is no doubt that it can be misused. There are those who say that it is likely to increase prison numbers. However, those with experience of the courts do not share that view. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Birmingham, Solihull (Mr. Grieve) said that in his opinion it would reduce the numbers. It is one more option once the decision is taken that a prison sentence is unavoidable.

The Opposition cannot have it both ways and say that the judges will use the partly suspended sentence to increase the numbers in prison and then reject the evidence of an hon. and learned Member who says that he is one of the judges.

Mr. Hattersley

Is it not true that until 18 months ago that was the view of the Home Office, as expressed in its annual report? When did the Home Office cease to hold that view, which is now derided by Ministers?

Mr. Mayhew

We take advice from those immediately affected in these matters. The House knows that during the summer we floated a proposal that would, without doubt, have saved 7,000 prison places on the best results. Having consulted widely, not least with the probation service, we found that there were grave risks with the supervision that could be given. The judiciary said that, of course, any provision made by Parliament would be loyally enforced. However, where there was so great a gap between what would be served and the sentence passed by the court there may have been cases where the courts, believing that it was their duty to local communities, passed a longer sentence. That would not be disloyal to Parliament as Parliament would have said only that one third of a sentence should be served. Therefore, it became clear that if the system was to work that there would have to be wide judicial discretion—but the wider the judicial discretion, the less would be the yield in prison places saved.

It also became clear that there was a wider understanding among magistrates and judiciary of the dangers of giving a taste of prison, through using such a device, than had previously been supposed. We were wrong in that matter. We are now satisfied that partly suspended sentences, to which we committed ourselves in 1977, are not only penologically wise for the reasons I have mentioned and recited from the report of the advisory council—to which the hon. Member for Halifax attaches such importance—but hold out good hope of a reasonable saving in prison places. That is why we have decided to introduce that system.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked me in what circumstances the reserve powers in clause 26 would be used. They will be used only as a last resort, if, for example, riots, a fire, or some other catastrophe means that the prison population becomes so great that it is unsustainable. At such a time, and under the close control of Parliament, the Home Secretary can say that he wishes to release a certain class of prisoner in a certain prison six months early.

That point also answers the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) who, understandably, was worried about when such a power would be used. It would be used only as a last resort. I doubt whether any Conservative Home Secretary would use it to release violent offenders.

I turn to fines and compensation orders. The public are rightly concerned about the position of parents whose children harm others. They believe that parents should feel a responsibility to do all that they reasonably can to influence their children's behaviour. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Halifax and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook do not agree with that, but most of our constituents feel that way. They believe that parents have a responsibility. Most parents acknowledge that, but some do not. The courts should have the power to bring home that responsibility by making parents pay their children's fines, if it were reasonable to do so. It would not be reasonable if they could not pay them or if they had done their level best to make their children behave properly.

Similarly, on the question of compensation orders, the victim is entitled to be compensated by the person who hurt him. There is a better chance that he will be compensated if the parent, again when it is reasonable, is made to pay. What is wrong with that? That principle has been established in law since 1933, but it has been decked out with such ancient language as "conducing" and so on, that it has not been used. We are strengthening that principle and making it simpler to apply.

The Government have introduced a Bill that the public expect and national circumstances demand. It makes severe sentences available for the violent and those who, for other reasons, constitute a danger to the public. It extends the range of non-custodial sentences for youngsters. It ensures that, except in the most exceptional cases, and then subject to the control of Parliament, options are left to the discretion of the courts. It offers good hope of reducing overcrowding in prisons. Those are worthy objectives which the country wishes to be achieved. It was failed by the Labour Government. It will not be failed by this Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No 40 (Committal of Bills).

  1. Criminal Justice Bill 8,011 words