HC Deb 18 March 1982 vol 20 cc464-5
3. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement of his policy towards the statement issued on 22 February by a conference of chief probation officers relating to the treatment of young offenders who may further overcrowd prisons.

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

We were glad to receive the chief probation officers' views on the Criminal Justice Bill. They will be taken into account as the Bill progresses.

Mr. Bidwell

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the officers certainly have a legitimate fear that there may be a tendency, under the new measures and proposals, to impose prison sentences, thereby adding to the prison population instead of decreasing it? If so, the probation officers' duties will seem to be declining.

Mr. Mayhew

The chief probation officers warned against what they called "over use" of very short detention centre orders. We agree that, by definition, that would be wrong. However, I am sure that the courts will be alert to these matters.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the Minister of State bear in mind that chief probation officers are extremely concerned to ensure that any extension of non-custodial measures for young offenders is adequately financed? What extra financial provision will be available for the probation and after-care service following the enactment of the Criminal Justice Bill?

Mr. Mayhew

My right hon. Friend has already announced that provision for the equivalent of a further 150 probation officers will be made available.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Minister of State recall that the fear expressed by the conference of chief probation officers—a fear shared by many other individuals and organisations—is that the new power given to the courts to impose shorter detention centre sentences will lead to an increase in the number of young boys going to those centres? If the Government do not want that to happen, will the hon. and learned Gentleman look favourably at amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill which are designed to impose stricter criteria before a custodial sentence is passed?

Mr. Mayhew

I have in mind what was said by the chairman of the conference, Mr. Gerald Bevis. He said that if these proposals were followed through and carefully implemented they could help society to cope more effectively with the problems presented by young offenders. I agree with him. I am sure that the courts will be alert to the need to do that.

Mrs. Kellet-Bowman

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that the object of penal policy is to curb crime and protect the public, not simply to fit people into such accommodation as may be available?

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. I am sure that she will agree that the Criminal Justice Bill, now in Committee, adequately meets that requirement.