§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 7.12 pm
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill gives legislative effect to a most important section of the Conservative manifesto. We said in that section:For violent criminals and thugs really tough sentences are essential. But in other cases long prison terms are not always the best deterrent. So we want to see a wider variety of sentences available to the courts.The Bill received its Second Reading with no Division. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) who is sitting in lone splendour on the Opposition Front Bench, gave it what she described as "a cautious welcome".
In Committee, for over 60 hours, our debates were marked by the concern of everyone to grapple with the absorbing problems of crime and criminality. If there were observers who had expected stereotyped conflict across the Committee, they will not have found it. As I have cause to remember, it was a Committee of singularly independent minds.
We were greatly helped by the enormous volume of comment from outside and inside Parliament. I should like to thank all right hon. and hon. Members on the Committee, and those who spoke on Report, for the care which they addressed to the Bill—even though many Labour members of the Committee are not in the Chamber today. I especially thank my hon. Friends for their support in carrying the Bill through to Third Reading. Nor can I in fairness withhold a tribute from the stamina and learning of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk).
I acknowledge that when we have to sentence someone for a criminal offence we are in a sense already too late, because someone else has already suffered a wrong through the commission of the crime, a wrong which will seldom be remedied, whatever happens to the criminal.
We are, and we ought to be, primarily interested in preventing crime, not simply in securing detection and punishment when it occurs. Whatever is needed to diminish criminality is certainly not confined to legislation, and the Government recognise that. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is now reviewing, with other colleagues in the Government, the great potential that exists, quite separately from direct police action, for local initiatives to diminish crime, to reduce the opportunities for it, and to increase awareness among the public of what can and should be done.
I agree with those who hold that it is the standards of mutual care and mutual thoughtfulness that are established in a child's home in his early life, and the discipline that he also learns at school that will deeply influence his behaviour towards others in later life. No Criminal Justice Bill can legislate for that.
There is, however, much that sensible legislation can do. We have not been divided in the House by the contention that no Criminal Justice Bill is needed. On the contrary, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said on Second Reading:We certainly do not propose to divide against the Bill, as it contains good aspects on which we believe it is possible to build.On the same occasion my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said: 407We must have a sentencing structure which, while recognising that custody may be essential, secures that it be used only where necessary."—[Official Report, 20 January 1982, Vol. 16, c. 294–303.]That has proved to be common ground.
It is natural that part 1 of the Bill is devoted to young offenders. Most crime is committed by young offenders, and it is among young people that the offending rate is highest. I do not believe that many hon. Members will distance themselves from the unequivocal assertion of principle in clause 1 thatno court shall pass a sentence of imprisonment on a person under 21 years of age … unless…no other method of dealing with him is appropriate.We all want, if it is possible consistently with the safety
of the public, to keep young people out of custody, albeit if necessary under some well-judged restrictions on the use they can make of their time, rather than send them inside an establishment where, it must be admitted, the chances of rehabilitation are so far not encouraging.
As the result of discussion in Committee, we have been able to accede to Opposition requests to give that key-note provision a sharper focus. A new clause has therefore been inserted which will ensure no court shall pass a custodial sentence on a young offender who has not been legally represented. The Government have also accepted the principle that unless there are special reasons, which it should state, a court shall consider a social inquiry report about a young offender and his behaviour before passing a custodial sentence on him. These are but two of a number of instances where we have felt able to move in the direction generally sought by the Opposition.
But another aspect of our duty—the provision of greater discretion to sentence sternly in a proper case—has been fulfilled by providing for the repeal of section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. This will bear on the relatively small number of young criminals committing serious offences for whom it is appropriate not only that they should go into custody, but that they should go inside for a substantial time.
In future, it will be possible for most of such young offenders to be sent inside for terms as long as if they were over 21—at present, sentences falling between six months and three years are in most cases excluded. That was a specific manifesto commitment and it has not been controversial, although we pressed for it in vain for years when the Labour Party was in power. It was welcomed by the hon. Member for Ormskirk on behalf of the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group.
Not only does the provision restore much-needed flexibility to the courts' sentencing powers; it is also a corollary of our belief that all custodial sentences for young offenders should be determinate, save for life sentences. How long a youngster stays in custody, subject to parole and remission for good conduct, should be decided by the court and known from the beginning. That policy—it is a prime mover in the Bill's machinery—was also universally approved in our discussions. On Second Reading the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that he was in favour of the amalgamation of prisons and borstal and the introduction of determinate sentences. That is what the Bill achieves. Again, I am happy to be able to report further wide areas of common ground on the Bill.
One of the most important and interesting debates that took place in Committee was about whether there should be statutory guidelines for the courts on the circumstances in which a custodial sentence should be regarded as 408 unavoidable. Many hon. Members believe that that can be so only when the offender appears unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties, when a custodial sentence is necessary for the protection of the public, or when the offence is so serious that a non-custodial sentence cannot be justified. Those principles are unexceptionable. We accept them and there is no judicial disagreement about their correctness. They are considerations which the courts should and do have in mind.
There is real doubt about the value, and indeed the wisdom, of principles statutorily expressed at that level of generality, which nonetheless will come to form the subject of minute textual analysis as the cases come be fore the courts. We have come to the firm conclusion, following consultations, and after careful thought, that the type of guidelines in that context which are really helpful and effective are those which in its judgments the Court of Appeal lays down.
I noted that in Standing Committee the hon. Member for Ormskirk said:perhaps a great deal could be done if there was an authoritative statement by the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord Chancellor on unnecessary use, as distinct from unnecessary length. of prison sentences."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 9 February 1982; c. 49–50.]We agree.
The Court of Appeal can explain the principles, and get them across in language much less restricted and more readily grasped than the language of statute. It can use language that can call in aid examples of illustrations, delivered perhaps in judgments which are grouped together, to present a variety of circumstances, as when the Court of Appeal followed up the Upton judgment with the judgments in Bibi and other cases in 1980. Those judgments are now acknowledged to have been highly influential in the shortening of certain sentences.
I can assure the House that we can expect the Court of Appeal to take suitable and early opportunities to lay down guidelines of that nature on the proper use of the sentencing powers which the Bill will give the courts in respect of young offenders. I am certain that that is the right way to provide the safeguards against unnecessary custody for young offenders that we would all like. However, when there has to be a custodial sentence, obviously there is a strong case for a power to let it be a very short sentence. It makes sense to keep the detention centres, the regimes of which are geared to shorter sentences, but to reduce the minimum sentence to three weeks, or two weeks with remission. The Bill does that, since there is good reason to believe that the earliest weeks are the most influential.
It is now well understood by th judiciary at all levels that the shorter sentence must not be used to give a taste of custody to an offender who would at present not even be given a suspended sentence, let alone an immediate prison sentence.
There is further common ground. The stronger supervision order provided by the Bill will help to enhance the courts' confidence in supervision orders. For the first time the courts will be given power to control the regime that the supervision order will impose—of course, consulting the supervisor. For the first time they can say what the young offender shall do and what he shall refrain from doing.
We are considering amending the clause in another place so that the central principle of the curfew order 409 proposed in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) may be incorporated into a supervision order as a condition of it. We are advised that that would go a long way to meet many of the reservations expressed about my hon. and learned Friend's new clause which he withdrew after debate, and would be seen to be of real value. The strengthening of the supervision order in the Bill as drafted has again attracted much support.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)
May we have an absolute commitment that an amendment will be made in another place to provide a curfew order? Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the strong support for the idea, not only on the Government Benches but throughout the country? May we have an assurance that something will be in the Bill when it returns from the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Mayhew
We are looking closely to see whether the relevant clause can be adapted to provide for the principle of a curfew order to be incorporated in a supervision order as part and parcel of it. We are hopeful that that will be possible, but I cannot go further than that. I hope that it will be possible because I am sympathetic to the broad idea of a curfew order. We have to pay attention to the strong reservations and misgivings about enforceability if such an order were free standing and able to be imposed by itself as a penalty by the courts. I tried to make that clear in the debate on Report.
There is grave overcrowding in our prisons. That has been fed by the increased volume of serious crime. Our aim, not least in the interests of the dedicated prison service, is for prison occupancy to come down as soon as possible to a tolerable level. The prisons exist to serve the criminal justice system, not the other way round.
The demand for prison places depends on sentencing decisions taken by a properly independent judiciary. It takes into account the present overcrowding. It needs the insistent guidance of the Court of Appeal that custodial sentences should be imposed only when absolutely necessary, and then for no longer than necessary. We believe that it is right that serious offences of violence should generally lead to substantial prison sentences. They will, of course, continue to be available. Most such offences carry maximum sentences of 14 years, or even life. Fortunately, the movement towards shorter prison sentences for non-violent offences imposed by Crown courts and magistrates' courts—a movement since the lead first given by the Court of Appeal in 1980—is being maintained. Analysis of the prison population through 1981 shows that the number of offenders serving terms of over 18 months has declined significantly.
We are absolutely clear that it would be right for Governments to interfere directly with the exercise of judicial discretion only in circumstances of overriding prison emergency, and then, wherever possible, subject to prior parliamentary approval. Should exceptional circumstances arise in which it is not possible to obtain Parliament's prior approval we have provided that the power be limited so that only prisoners in the last month of their sentences can be released under it, and again, not if their convictions are for violent offences.
Naturally, however, overcrowding in the prisons has spurred us to examine every means by which changes in the law could bring relief, especially if they bring 410 penalogical advantages in their own right, as is the case with each of the measures that we have added to the Bill. Among those proposed, and overwhelmingly supported on all sides in Committee and accepted by us, are measures to abolish imprisonment for the offences of begging, sleeping rough and soliciting as a prostitute; a measure to remove the anomaly that time spent in custody on remand simultaneous to a detention order under the Immigration Act 1979 should not be taken into account in calculating the release date; a measure to allow a court to order the release, subject to conditions, of a person that recommended for deportation; a measure to limit the periods of imprisonment that can be imposed by the Crown court for fine default. We have undertaken to provide in another place for a legally aided appeal to the Crown court against refusal of bail and to give magistrates the power to commit to the Crown court following an initial deferment of sentence.
We have undertaken to take powers in the Bill to lower the threshold for parole, it being understood that at present we can give no commitment. In addition, the Bill will significantly relieve pressure on the prison service by another reform which is supported by the all-party penal affairs group. A remanded prisoner will need to attend court—of course, under escort—only once in four weeks, provided that he consents and is legally represented throughout, instead of every eight days as at present. However, it will still be every eight days that the courts must consider afresh whether to renew the remand.
The greatest aid to reducing the prison population is a measure for which the Advisory Council on the Penal System gave its support as long ago as 1978. I refer to partial suspension of sentences, with the first part served in prison and the second part suspended. Of this, the advisory council said:It enables the court to pronounce a sentence commensurate with the nature and gravity of the offence but which does not need to be fully executed;…there is a double deterrent effect, consisting of an initial period of custody, with the balance of the sentence providing postponed deterrence during the suspension period.Later, the council added:Partial suspension provides an opportunity for the court to impose a shorter custody than it otherwise might, knowing that on release from prison a specific contingent liability to imprisonment will remain.I acknowledge that there was a subsequent time when there was anxiety that this sentence would be used to give a taste of prison to a person who at present would not be given a custodial sentence at all. We expressed that anxiety in the review of parole last year. Of course it is a possibility. However, our consultations among the judiciary last summer established a wide awareness of the way in which the partially suspended sentence should be used. In consequence we do not think that it will be misapplied.
The virtue of partial review is that it is discretionary. It preserves the discretion of the courts and is not a general gaol delivery taking effect after one third of every sentence has been served. That was the great defect that was perceived in our earlier suggestion for supervised release, which we said we put forward expressly for consultation.
In support of partially suspended sentences I am happy to rely on two further statements of high authority. The first is from my predessor, as Minister of State, Home Office, who had charge of the Criminal Law Bill in 1977, 411 the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). In considering that Bill on Report he said of the partially suspended sentence:Fears have been expressed that the new form of sentence will lead not to a diminution in the prison population but to an expansion. [strongly believe that the opposite will be true…The courts are being given maximum flexibility in the type of sentence they may pass, and I hope that they will use it in such a way that the prison population, which is, alas, too high, will be reduced without a significant diminution of the deterrent effect.On the same day the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said:I, too, congratulate the Government on New Clause 4… the new clause does not have just the motive of reducing the prison population—although that is important—but is intended to give the courts greater flexibility and discretion in their sentencing processes which, in company with the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells… I hope they will use imaginatively. The courts should use the powers available in the new clause to obtain a reduction in the prison population and a far more sensible attitude to sentencing."—[Official Report, 13 July 1977; Vol. 935, c. 462, 475.]On that occasion I put it only slightly better myself.
The Bill will contribute massively to the aptitude of our criminal justice system—
§ Mr. Mayhew
—and its ability to respond with intelligence and flexibility, as well as with stern strength, to the challenge of modern crime. It rightly received its Second Reading without a Division, and that is the basis on which—responsibly amended as it has been in Committee—it deserves its Third Reading tonight.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
Consideration of the Bill has provided us with a valuable opportunity to introduce changes in the sentencing and treatment of offenders, especially of young people who are appearing before the courts in increasing numbers. The changes should be designed to deter as well as to punish criminals. The Bill provides the the courts with a range of powers to deal with offenders, the aim being more flexible sentencing. However, unless each of these powers can be shown to be effective and a deterrent to further crime, it will be hard to justify them. Indeed, they could even be counter-productive. The quality of sentences is obviously more important than the range of sentences which is on offer.
The Minister has listed the areas of common ground between the Government and the opposition. We welcome the many valuable and important additions and changes in the Bill that were agreed to in Committee and on Report. These included the removal of the penalty of imprisonment for soliciting, sleeping rough and begging and involve attendance centre orders, Immigration Act prisoners, discretionary parole for short-term prisoners and bail applications by remand prisoners. However, there are major aspects of the Bill which we cannot support and which we tried unsuccessfully to alter in Committee. There were 25 sittings of the Committee, including a sittings motion that was designed to speed up the proceedings.
We are opposed to the imposition of a custodial sentence on any offender under 17 years of age, be that offender a boy or a girl. A valuable opportunity has been lost to move from custody of very young offenders towards the concept of their care and control within the 412 community. For young offenders over 17 an opportunity has been lost to introduce one sentence of youth custody and supervision of indeterminate length with the chance of full educative and rehabilitative treatment for all.
If a young person has to be given a custodial sentence, the emphasis should be upon opportunities for training, education and preparation for a return to life outside. The sentence of youth custody, which we proposed in Committee, would have been exactly the same for boys and girls. It would have replaced the undesirable manifestation of sex discrimination in the Bill as it stands, for which there can be no justification. Boys and girls should be liable to the same type of sentence and regimes.
Existing regimes have manifestly failed. In 1977, 83 per cent. of all youths leaving borstal training were re-convicted within two years, and 76 per cent. of youths leaving detention centres were re-convicted within two years. The continuation of detention centres, with their notoriously high reconviction rate, is one of the most retrogressive features of the Bill. There can be no justification for supporting a regime which has manifestly failed to deter or to reform.
Detention centres have become totally discredited among the people who work with young offenders. They can even alienate young offenders and make them wish to re-offend. The present short, sharp shock experiment is unnecessary. The 1970 Advisory Council on the Penal System has already reported on the effects of detention centres. We are given no justification for the Bill's endorsement of the centres and for their indefinite continuation. On the contrary, the regimes have been tried and found wanting. Only the punitive elements of the Conservative Party will welcome their perpetuation.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. Lady draws attention to the fact that the recidivism rate is extremely high. Perhaps the treatment was not strong enough. Does she have an alternative system to reduce the rate?
§ Dr. Summerskill
We do not have the results of the experiment from the Government. That is another reason why it is difficult to justify continuation of the centres. There is no evidence that the present regime is different from that examined by the advisory council.
§ Dr. Summerskill
We are told something of the regime but not of the results. There is no difference between the present regime and that reported on by the advisory council in 1970. Everyone who has worked with offenders or examined the evidence on recidivism states that the centres are ineffective and can be counter-productive.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Can the hon. Lady advance evidence to show that the kindness alternative approach would have a recidivism rate of less than 76 per cent?
§ Dr. Summerskill
If Conservative Members wish to experiment, perhaps they should shut detention centres. Givern an alternative regime, people may not re-offend in such large numbers.
The size of the prison population is uppermost in the mind of anyone interested in the criminal justice system. 413 At Question Time tomorrow we shall hear from the Government what the latest prison population is. I understand that it is nearly 44,000. In many prisons conditions are degrading, inhuman and totally unacceptable. On Second Reading the Home Secretary stated:We must have a sentencing structure which, while recognising that custody may be essential, secures that it be used only where necessary.The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Bill by reinforcing the movement towards shorter sentences, would relieve the pressures on our under-provisioned prison system. That was one of his aims. He was again advocating the use of custody only where necessary. On another occasion he stated that its use should be reserved for offenders who were a danger to society. He repeated his exhortation for shorter sentences, in which he was joined by the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor.
We were led to believe that both objectives would be promoted in the Bill, with a consequent reduction in the prison population. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) stated:It is against the belief that the prison population should be reduced and that the Home Secretary can act to reduce it that we must judge the Bill."—[Official Report, 20 January 1982; Vol. 16, c. 294–303.]That is why I gave the Bill only a cautious welcome.
In Committee we sought to amend the Bill with the two central objectives of reducing the numbers given custodial sentences and reducing the length of sentence with a view significantly and permanently to reducing the prison population. Due to the resistance of the Government and their supporters we are left with a Bill which contains measures that could increase the prison population and the number on residential care orders and which totally lacks a major positive measure significantly and permanently to reduce the prison population.
Three measures could lead to an increase in the prison population, prison establishments and people in residential care. The major one is the introduction of the partially suspended sentence. By its nature, the measure is a shot in the dark. It might be used to give an offender a short taste of imprisonment in cases where at present courts would impose a fully suspended or non-custodial sentence. The Minister of State has described it as a "gamble". He said that only an informed guess tells him that the new power will be properly used.
The Parole Board opposed the provision. Last year its report stated thatthere can be no certainty that implementing the section would achieve any reduction in the numbers in custody".Most informed opinion agrees, and also agrees that the measure could gravely increase the number in custody. Bodies such as NACRO, the Justices Clerks Society, the probation officers and the Advisory Council on the Penal System support that view.
Is it right to gamble with the prison population? The Government may lose, which would be a disaster. The success or failure of the measure depends on the courts. If they do not respond to the exhortation, there could be a serious rise in the prison population. We need a positive measure to reduce it.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that we should let people off because our prisons are full? Is not the answer to build more prisons?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman did not suggest to the Minister that we should build more prisons. He is entitled to his view, but I do not believe that it has much support.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
When I tried to intervene my hon. and learned Friend looked the other way.
In my county, the court telephones the prison to discover how many places are available before deciding whether to impose a prison sentence. In her anxiety and enthusiasm to reduce the prison population, the hon. Lady may give comfort to criminals. Should she not support the Home Secretary in his keen attempt to build more prisons and increase the number of places available for people committed to prison?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter. I shall be coming later to the relationship between the courts, when they sentence, and the number of prison places available. We dealt with the issue in Committee.
A further measure in the Bill that could increase the prison population is the shorter detention centre sentence. Although shorter sentences are to be welcomed both by the Government, I understand, and by the Opposition, the reduction of the minimum sentence at detention centres from three months to three weeks could mean this form of sentence, which is not used at present, being used by courts to give offenders a very short experience of a detention centre. That is the firm belief of probation officers and of many others.
In Committee, the Opposition asked that no custodial sentence should be imposed on a young offender unless he had shown himself unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties or a custodial sentence was necessary for the protection of the public. The Minister agreed to consider whether some additional guidance on criteria for custodial sentences might be included in the Bill. As this did not appear on Report, I wonder whether the Minister has considered the matter, as he undertook to do, and what is the result of his consideration.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The great penalty of being tied to every word that one has prepared for one's speech is that one is unable to respond to a speech made immediately before one's own. I spent quite a lot of time dealing with this issue. I endeavored to explain that we had come to the firm conclusion, following consultation, that the kind of guidance that is helpful is that which comes from the judgments of the Court of Appeal, as in the case of Upton and Bibi, because the court can group cases together and illustrate their principles by references to varying circumstances. I spent quite a long time on the matter. The hon. Lady will perhaps be able to read my remarks tomorrow.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I appreciate that. It means that the Minister has not accepted the specific proposals made by the Opposition in Committee. We are still left with the real possibility—probation officers believe it is a certainty—that more young people will be sent to detention centres than are now being sent because of the availability of this much shorter sentence.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
The hon. Lady suggests that probation officers believe that the shorter sentence will result in increased use of imprisonment. That can only be a subjective opinion. Does she have any 415 knowledge of the views of the Magistrates' Association? Has the association suggested that it believes that its members, who impose the shorter range of sentences, will make greater use of the custodial sentence? Is there any indication from the association that its members are thinking in that way?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I have no such evidence from the magistrates. I can only quote the views of people who are working in the courts with offenders day by day. Much emphasis is given to the people who impose sentences. We tend not to give enough consideration to the views of people who are working with offenders and who are in court throughout their working lives. I believe that the views of probation officers are extremely important and should be seriously considered by the House.
I come now to the new care orders. The Opposition unsuccessfully opposed clause 21 in Committee. Here, again, it will mean, according to people working in this sphere that 500 to 900 additional children a year will be kept in community homes away from their own homes at an estimated cost of £6 million. It has been said that the power in clause 21 could represent simply another non-custodial provision. But the probation officers and the young people involved frequently disagreed with this interpretation. They see it as another form of custodial sentence involving loss of liberty. If that argument does not persuade Conservative Members, I hope that the £6 million will. There is evidence that recidivism among children committed to care orders is over 50 per cent.
I come now to the measures proposed by the Opposition which would have the effect of reducing the prison population. All were rejected by the Government. The most significant and effective proposal was automatic supervised release for prisoners sentenced to less than three years. This would reduce the prison population dramatically and continually. In that sense, it is incomparable to the partially suspended sentence proposal. At one time, it was enthusiastically canvassed by the Home Secretary inside and outside the House. It was then dropped, apparently after he had listened to the views of the judiciary.
In Committee, hon. Members were told that there had been a sentencing seminar in Roehampton last autumn which was apparently a decisive event. It opposed this proposal, the main reason being, we were told, that it was not selective. I feel that the Government are allowing themselves to be controlled too much by the views of magistrates, judges, recorders and other members of the judiciary. The duty of the judiciary is to impose sentences within the limits set by Parliament. The duty of Parliament is to decide what those limits should be. The judiciary, because it sentences people, is not necessarily the fount of all wisdom, even on sentencing.
Lord Justice Lawton, interviewed on television, said that, in his view, all first-time burglars should be locked up, apparently without the need for explanation and without taking any mitigating factors into consideration. There was to be no difference between one burglar and another. His view was simply that all first-time burglars should be locked up. That is an extremely dogmatic attitude to sentencing. It would be wrong for the House to take the views of the judiciary on sentencing as being the first and last word on the matter.
Regardless of the explosion in our prison population and regardless of the views of many of those who work 416 with offenders, the Government are opposing this reasonable measure of automatic supervised release which they themselves canvassed. They are throwing away a great opportunity to bring about a dramatic and continued reduction in the prison population.
The Government have also rejected other measures suggested by the Opposition to reduce the prison population. These included the proposal to take out of custody the under 17-year-olds and the proposal to make some offences non-imprisonable. The proposal to make male soliciting non-imprisonable was rejected by the Government, although they were prepared to make female soliciting non-imprisonable. The possession of cannabis for personal use is still to be imprisonable. Maintenance defaulters are still to be imprisoned. It has to be borne in mind that the Home Secretary's view is that the only people who should be put in prison are those who are a danger to the public. The right hon. Gentleman obviously thinks that all those people that I have mentioned fall into that category.
We also proposed that drunks, who are fine defaulters, should be taken out of prison. Again, that was rejected. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the confusion that still seems to exist between himself and the Home Secretary on the question of drunks in prison. The Times reported the Home Secretary's speech to a conference of the Conservative Central Council in Bournemouth. The headline was:Mr Whitelaw to stop jail terms for drunks.The report stated:Mr. Whitelaw said it was no use continuing to overburden staff, too often working in antiquated and inadequate buildings, with petty offenders such as persistent drunks who could not pay their fines".We were assured by the Minister in Committee that the drunks who are imprisoned are not those who cannot pay their fines but those who will not pay them. Apparently there is all the difference in the world between a drunk who cannot pay and a drunk who will not pay his fine. They are still drunks and they are still in prison. It may have been a misprint, but of course it is The Times.Although the Home Secretary believes that the drunks in prisons cannot pay their fines, whereas the Minister of State believes that they will not, the Opposition believe that they should not be in prison at all.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
Is the hon. Lady suggesting to the House that if the categories of prisoners that she has just described—drunks and those convicted of drug offences—are removed from the prisons, it will make any significant difference to the prison population?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The number of people who would be removed from prison by all the measures that we proposed—automatic supervised release, the taking out of custody of those aged under 17, the four remaining offences that we wished to be made non-imprisonable, plus those that I shall now list—would add up ro thousands, especially with the emphasis on automatic supervised release.
The introduction of a 110-day limit on custodial remand, which exists in Scotland, was discussed in Committee. I hope that it will be raised in another place, because the Government's answer was not at all satisfactory.
In Committee, we proposed the establishment of guidelines for imposing custodial sentences. I now come 417 to the provision of information to courts about vacancies in penal establishments. This matter was raised by Conservative Members, and we also proposed it as a measure that would require courts to think long and hard before sending anyone to prison. Surely that cannot be a bad thing for the courts to do. Lord Harris, the chairman of the Parole Board, said that the board considers that factor when deciding whether to release a prisoner.It is far more sensible to take that into consideration before someone is sent to prison than when he is already there.
On Second Reading, the Opposition stressed the major difficulties in and omissions from the Bill. Our efforts to correct them in Committee were opposed. The Bill fails to introduce a new single custodial sentence for all young offenders aged over 17 with early release to supervision in the community and it fails to introduce a measure, or measures, to bring about both a significant and a permanent reduction in the prison population.
On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook said of the Bill:Our continued support depends on the Government's cooperating with us when we make what we hope are entirely creative suggestions for ensuring that the new sentences and powers are used in the way that I believe the Home Secretary and the Government intend."—[Official Report, 20 January 1982; Vol. 16, c. 303.]A golden opportunity for radical change has been lost. A chance to tackle decisively a crisis in our prisons has been thrown away. For those reasons, we shall oppose the Third Reading tonight.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)
I welcome the Bill, and I was privileged to serve on the Standing Committee for a short time. Combined with the policy of strengthening the police force and the proposed building of new prisons, the Bill should help to stem the increasing tide of lawlessness in our society.
I am especially interested in the new shorter detention centre sentences and the stricter regime, because last September Foston Hall, a junior detention centre in my constituency, began a pilot scheme for the new short, sharp shock treatment. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Halifax, (Dr. Summerskill) that detention centres are of no use and never achieve results. Magistrates have given assurances that they will not use detention centres as a sentence unless a custodial sentence is deemed suitable.
I have also had the opportunity of witnessing the frustration of judges in Crown courts over the restriction on the length of imprisonment for young offenders, because no sentence was allowed to be imposed of between six months and three years. I am glad that that restriction is to be removed. I know that magistrates who deal with juveniles have been worried about the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 and will be glad to know that it has been revised. I welcome the fact that parents must bear in mind the fact that they may have to pay the fines imposed upon their children.
I have no wish to find fault with the Bill, but I am concerned about clause 54. My concern is shared by the Magistrates' Association, which has asked me to state its concern on the Floor of the House. Magistrates are worried that soliciting by prostitutes on the streets of London and other large cities could again become a serious public 418 nuisance with the removal of imprisonment as a final sanction. They believe, therefore, that the possibility of imprisonment is the only real deterrent.
The Magistrates' Association states:It would seem that Parliament should consider whether there is any good purpose in retaining this law if, in the last resort, the sanction of imprisonment is not retained. To fine women in such a situation is merely an invitation to the offender to repeat the offence in order to pay the fine and, on the other hand, if the fine is not paid, they are liable to be imprisoned in default. To argue, as some do, that in the latter case a distinction can be made because they are then being imprisoned for disobedience to the order of a court does not seem to be either logical or helpful bearing in mind the likely source of any money to pay fines and the fact that the commission of an offence during the currency of a suspended sentence of imprisonment equally amounts to such disobedience.The association continues:Many magistrates, therefore, are not attracted to the idea of fining women for such offences. The options of discharge or probation, of course, remain open for use in appropriate circumstances and the fact that, on third conviction, the offence is imprisonable means that it is possible to make a community service order. Strange though it may seem such orders have been made successfully. This power would be lost if the offence ceased to be imprisonable.Not all magistrates would agree with the views of the association, but whenever this matter has been debated by the association, proposals to remove the possibility of imprisonment for soliciting have been heavily defeated.
Unlike other members of the Standing Committee who voted in favour of the new clause, I am old enough to remember what it was like in our cities before the Street Offences Act 1959 became law. Prostitution was very much in evidence in all areas of the West End of London and in the centres of our larger cities. However, I have received strong support from other hon. Members of my own generation.
I know that my hon. Friends on the Committee were motivated by the most humane considerations when they voted for the new clause. I am sure that they were bearing in mind that conditions in our prisons are disgusting, overcrowded as they are. However, in trying to reduce the prison population in this way they are chasing rainbows. Since the early 1960s, only 300 prostitutes per year have been imprisoned, and then only for short periods. Therefore, we are not dealing with large numbers and the impact on the prison population will be small. Indeed, the women's prisons are not so crowded.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
I remind my hon. Friend that probably the greatest offenders are not the women concerned, but those behind them. Does she not agree that it is unfair that the offenders whom we are trying to keep out of prison are those who commit the less serious offence? Should not my hon. Friend turn her attention to those behind the women, who are financing them, and who have the most to gain financially?
§ Mrs. Faith
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. I shall come to that issue.
The number of people apprehended for soliciting dropped dramatically from a peak of 19,000 in 1959 to 3,000 in 1960. The 1959 Act worked very efficiently. The effect was immediate and spectacular. It would be a grave mistake to disturb that measure.
It is the duty of the House to uphold the moral climate in our cities. I pay tribute to the Indecent Displays (Control) Act, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I was privileged to serve on the 419 Standing Committee that considered that Bill and all the political parties represented were agreed on the value of the measure. If the clause is allowed to remain in the Bill there will be a real deterioration in standards. Many people who voted Conservative at the last general election will be surprised that the Government are allowing this to happen. I am sure that my constituents did not elect me to allow a situation to develop where they will not be able to visit London, or even Derby, without being aware of the effects of the new clause.
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend suggests that some parts of our big cities—I refer to my constituency, which is within the area of London where these matters are of some consequence—will be worsened by the -removal of the power to imprison the more inadequate type of prostitute who is arrested and taken before the courts. That is not the view of my residents' association, nor is it the view of magistrates like myself who have served in inner London, or that of many other people who have given a great deal of thought to this problem. I ask my hon. Friend to think carefully before she makes sweeping generalisations about what she believes to be the views and opinions of people in inner London.
§ Mrs. Faith
I am happy to say that I am not judging by experiences in my constituency, but looking back to several years ago when I was a magistrate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which, unfortunately, is no stranger to this type of problem. I am putting forward the views not of all magistrates of course, but of the Magistrates' Association.
I am not attempting to pass a moral judgment on the rights and wrongs of prostitution, and it is certainly not illegal. However, I should like to draw attention to an article in the News of the World on 14 March, in which prostitutes themselves denounced the move to end jail sentences for soliciting. They said:Pimps would have a field day and the streets will be flooded with 16 and 17 year old girls.It may not be the duty of the House to moralise, but it is our duty to protect the safety of those girls.
Before 1959 our cities were still relatively peaceful places. Since then we have had an alarming increase in violence, robbery, muggings and gangs of youths roaming the streets, as well as in indecent displays. If we add to that an increase in the number of prostitutes, often with their attendant pimps, even if to a lesser degree than in the 1940s and 1950s, it will cause a further deterioration in the moral atmosphere of our cities. I hope that before the Bill returns from another place it will have been amended so that new clause 54 is no longer part of an otherwise excellent measure.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
I thank the Minister of State for his kind remarks about me and for, even at this late stage—in a move that may be unprecedented on a Third Reading—fulfilling a commitment that he gave to me in Committee and which he was not able to fulfil on Report because the appropriate new clause was not selected by Mr. Speaker.
We were not able to debate on Report an amendment to ensure that more stringent criteria were imposed before a custodial sentence could be passed on a young offender. Those criteria were that the offender was a danger to himself or the public, or that he had shown himself unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial alternatives, or 420 that he had committed so serious an offence that a non-custodial sentence was clearly inappropriate. Although those safeguards are not written into the Bill, they will form the basis of the guidelines that the Court of Appeal will lay down for the lower courts on a suitable occasion, and I am grateful to the Minister of State for that.
I said on Second Reading that I warmly welcomed several provisions in the Bill, but that it was a major disappointment for two main reasons. The first was that it did nothing to reverse the trend of the past decade or more towards an increasing number of young offenders and juveniles being incarcerated in penal establishments and residential institutions. Indeed, many aspects of the Bill may exacerbate, rather than reduce, that trend.
The second major disappointment was that the Bill did not address itself to the crisis of overcrowding in the prison system and the appalling conditions in most of our local remand prisons. The Home Secretary has attested to that situation and has conceded that it is incompatible with minimum standards of human decency. [Interruption.]
May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to suggest that the hon. Members behind me who are carrying on a conversation should do so outside and not in the Chamber? I have tolerated it for some time and I would not normally object, but one of the hon. Gentlemen has a very resonant voice which makes it difficult for me to concentrate.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
The hon. Gentleman could not do that even if he tried.
Although the Bill was improved in Committee, mainly because the Government accepted amendments tabled on behalf of the all-party parliamentary penal affairs group, the criticisms that I and several other hon. Members made on Second Reading are still valid.
The Bill contains several proposals, particularly in part I, that should be welcomed, including the merging of the borstal training sentence and imprisonment into a new youth custody sentence and the enshrinement of the principle of determinacy of prison sentences for young people. That is a milestone on the road to a more sensible sentencing practice. Again, the Bill makes provision for time spent on remand to be counted for all custodial sentences for young offenders. That should be welcomed by everyone.
Then there are the alternatives to custody which are now enshrined in the Bill, be they the supervised activity schemes, the long-awaited extension of community service orders to 16-year-olds, or the extension of the Crown courts' ability to pass attendance centre orders. Those are all highly desirable reforms, although the Government must acknowledge that, unless and until sufficient financial resources are made available to ensure that those alternatives become a reality, they will not achieve their objectives, which are shared by Labour Members.
Part I of the Bill has been substantially improved by amendments tabled in Committee—reference was made to them but the provenance was not given—by the parliamentary penal affairs group. In particular, there is the provision for imposing statutory criteria for the imposition of a secure care order on children placed in secure care in community homes.
There was the amendment tabled by the parliamentary penal affairs group to relax the prohibition on an 421 attendance centre order being passed on those who had a previous custodial sentence. There was the amendment tabled by the official Opposition requiring that social inquiry reports should be undertaken—except in exceptional circumstances—before a custodial sentence is imposed. There was the improvement—proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) and accepted—that legal representation should be mandatory before a custodial sentence is imposed upon a young offender. There was the Minister's announcement to me in correspondence that the Government will amend the Bill in another place to provide that juveniles given a youth custody sentence will not usually be held in adult prisons, except on a temporary basis. All those are substantial and important improvements made in Committee, yet there are two major drawbacks, in spite of those improvements to part I of the Bill.
The first is undoubtedly the irrelevance and absurdity of the retention of the residential care order. Admittedly, the Government seem to be as embarrassed by that manifesto commitment as we are assured that it will not achieve any of its objectives, and that it will be counterproductive to the underlying philosophy of the Bill. It is a major and monumental irrelevance at a time when the Government acknowledge that far too many young people are held in residential institutions, and are held for too long, and when it is acknowledged that it damages the majority of them rather than helping them in any constructive way; when the Government accept that the recidivist rate in community homes is 76 per cent. higher than that in penal establishments, and when the Government acknowledge that all informed professional opinion is of the view that there should be a shift in emphasis away from custodial residential placements to treatment to care within the community. Having accepted all those factors, the Government nevertheless produce the ill-conceived, ill-thought-out and mischievous proposal to impose a residential care order.
The Government have advanced £6 million for the residential care order when only £2 million can be found for intermediate treatment, even though the Secretary of State for Social Services and his junior Minister have said repeatedly that it is intermediate treatment that should be encouraged and behind which resources should be placed, and that residential treatment and residential care should be diminished. In this case in practice the exact opposite is happening to what the Government said they wanted.
The hon. and l earned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) says that residential care orders are important. That was the implication of his rejection of my earlier comments. There is no way that he or his right hon. and hon. Friends can show that those orders will contribute towards dealing with the needs of delinquent juveniles or towards creating a more sensible, humane and efficient penal and criminal justice system. They will not reduce the level of juvenile crime. I hope that the Government may be persuaded in another place—not least by their own supporters—that even this watered-down version of what we find in the manifesto will do a great deal of damage to young people and the penal system. It is better lost now, before that damage happens.
The consequences that may flow from the ability of the courts to impose shorter detention centre sentences are another drawback to part I. I approve of the power given 422 to courts to pass shorter sentences wherever possible. I accept that the Government share my intention of wanting to ensure that young people spend less time in custody. The Government must also accept that there are considerable misgivings on the part of those who administer the system, whether they be governors, prison officers or probation officers. They fear that the power given to the courts will result in a larger number of young boys being given the taste of imprisonment who would not otherwise have been given a custodial sentence. It is important to establish statutory safeguards to ensure that a prison sentence is passed only as a last resort on an individual who actually needs it, and to whom it would be of benefit.
The part of the Bill that deals with adults has been substantially improved, almost exclusively as a result of amendments tabled by the parliamentary penal affairs group in Committee. We have ended, rightly and properly, the absurdity and irrelevence—whatever the hon. Lady the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) may say, who seems to speak without her customary information—of the imprisonment of prostitutes for soliciting and those vulnerable, inarticulate and disadvantaged members of the community who commit the previously imprisonable offences of begging and sleeping rough. Those decisions were taken by members of all parties. They are welcome improvements.
We have given remand prisoners the right to apply to the Crown court for bail. We have empowered the courts to release on bail those recommended for deportation. We have reversed the judgments in the Gilby case and the Rogers v. Cullen case. We have reduced the period for which the Crown court can imprison fine defaulters. We have introduced the possibility of the implementation of discretionary parole for short-term prisoners. Those improvements all resulted from amendments tabled by the parliamentary penal affairs group.
I should like to congratulate the Minister on having accepted those amendments and on having shown a facility—both in Committee and on Report, and even at this late hour—for being receptive to arguments, flexible in adapting those arguments and reasonably open-minded in an attempt to improve the Bill. It is fair to record that amendments tabled by the Oppostition or on an all-party basis found a receptive, willing and sympathetic ear in the Minister.
I am not suggesting that the Minister of State is perfect. No Tory is perfect, by definition. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not perfect and, unfortunately, he was not prepared to listen to the cogent arguments advanced by the Opposition in favour of amendments which would have reduced the prison population substantially. The Bill contains no major provision, regretfully, which would deal with the crisis with which we are confronted. There are, of course, many sensible and desirable proposals in the Bill, and I do not gainsay that, but as a Bill it is irrelevant to the more than 44,000 people in our prisons today.
The partially suspended sentence provided for in clause 25 will apparently—and, on all the evidence available to us, is likely to—increase the prison population rather than reduce it. I accept that it is a gamble. I accept that there may be a fine balance between whether there will be more or fewer people in prison as a result of the activation of partially suspended sentences, but we all know that had the Minister of State been prepared to accept amendments designed to introduce automatic release on parole after the 423 expiry of one third of a sentence through the Bill, we could have reduced the prison population by a significant 7,000. We all know, too, that if the Government had been prepared to accept amendments, again tabled by the parliamentary penal affairs group, to introduce a conditional release scheme of the kind that has been operating successfully in Northern Ireland since 1976, we could have reduced the prison population by about 4,000.
Neither method would be enough to achieve the objectives set for us by the Government, the Prison and Borstal Governors' Association and the new chief inspector of prisons, all of whom want to get the prison population down to the middle 30,000 figure. Neither of the two suggested amendments would have achieved that, but they would have made a substantial march on the road towards a more humane level of prison population.
I accept that the Government responded positively to our amendments proposing to provide that short-term prisoners should be eligible for parole and that parole eligibility should be reduced from 12 to six months, and we have amended the Bill so that the Minister may by order introduce that if at the end of his review he finds the system to be practicable. If the hon. and learned Gentleman succeeds in catching your eye a second time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will say how long he expects the review to take.
The most important feature of the Bill is the way in which it addresses itself to the two fundamental problems that I outlined at the beginning of my remarks. It does not really relate to the very serious problems of our juvenile system, and clearly it is irrelevant to the real, fundamental and deep-seated problems of overcrowding in our prisons.
The Home Secretary has gone up and down the country telling everyone that there is no need for the large number of people to be kept in our prisons who are there today. He has argued convincingly, articulately and with great sincerity that many thousands of prisoners could be released without any danger to the public or to public order. He has argued cogently and vehemently in the House and outside that we must reduce the lengths of prison sentences and that we must reduce significantly the number of people in prison.
In the Bill, the Home Secretary had the major—probably the only—opportunity in the lifetime of this Parliament to carry those reforms into legislation. Unfortunately and regrettably he has funked the issue. For whatever reason, he has not had the political courage or the political will to address himself to the fundamental problems in our prisons and to do what he says is right and knows to be right, which is to amend our legislation to ensure that significantly and permanently we can reduce the prison population. It is, therefore, a great disappointment, given the amendments that have been made, that we must give a Third Reading to a Bill which is half-complete and at best irrelevant to the real needs with which we are confronted.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
The debate is remarkable, if only because, if one looks around the Chamber, one sees that few hon. Members are present. The hon. Members for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) complained about the chattering of two SDP Members sitting behind him. One immediately fled the Chamber, leaving but one with us. On the Opposition Benches, apart from the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), 424 there is only the hon. Member for Ormskirk and the Whip who is on duty. That is remarkable when we are debating a measure that deals with—
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Social Democratic Party. Is he aware that in proportion to the overall number of Conservative Members, the number of alliance Members present is far higher?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. We really ought to get on with the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Dr. Summerskill
For the benefit of the record, which I know hon. Members who are not present will read, will the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) enumerate the Conservative Members in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am afraid that I was too generous in giving way as I did. I was about to say that we are debating an extremely important Bill, which deals with the criminal justice system.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I shall. After the management of the economy, the issue that now concerns British people most is that of crime and law and order. That is my point. That is why I pointed out that so few hon. Members are present. That is surprising, as the Bill contains many important clauses.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The way in which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has guided the Bill through Committee and the House has been an object lesson in itself. I congratulate him on the way in which he has considered the details and presented the measure both in Committee and on the Floor of the House.
I am a strong friend of the Bill. I understand that in the early days of the Committee my name was mentioned several times in connection with many of the measures being examined. I understand that my statements were being prayed in support of proposals to reform, change or improve some of the clauses that were under consideration.
It is worth considering, however, what the Bill attempts to achieve. Most of the provisions relate in one way or another to the sentencing of offenders. The principal purpose of the Bill is to provide the courts with flexibility and effective powers to deal with the range of offenders who appear before the courts. In that connection, we must remember that the group in society who contribute most to crime are, unfortunately, young offenders. The Metropolitan Police arrest rate for 1981 shows that one-quarter of the arrests in London were of children aged between 10 and 16. The next quarter of arrests were of young persons between the ages of 17 and 21. The balance consisted of persons over the age of 21, although most of them were in their twenties or early thirties.
It is in that context that we must examine what the Bill seeks to achieve. The new system of youth custody, for example, provides for replacement of the existing borstal sentence and ends the existing sentence of imprisonment 425 for those under the age of 21. I think that everyone who knows the criminal justice system will agree that the old borstal system was not effective. It did not meet the conditions of this age or provide the kind of sentence required by the courts. Instead, offenders aged 15 to 21 for whom a sentence of more than four months is appropriate will now be committed to youth custody and proper training facilities will be made available for them. Restrictions on sentencing 17 to 21-year-olds to between six months and three years in custody will, as promised, be removed, as is appropriate in view of the nature of the arrest rate, particularly in our big cities.
I welcome especially the fact that more community service orders will be made possible and that such orders will be available for 16-year-olds as well as for older offenders. That, too, is particularly appropriate.
The extension of detention centres is also to be welcomed, especially the relaxation of the sentence itself so that the courts may, if they wish, impose a sentence of three weeks. The whole of modern penological thinking, based on all the research available from the Home Office research unit and institutes of criminology in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America, shows that a shorter sentence is just as effective as a longer sentence in deterring and controlling the young offender. For that reason, especially, I welcome the proposal. I do not share the fear that it is likely to lead to an increase in the use of the custodial sentence. I believe that the judiciary, and especially the magistrates, understand that it is essential that the custodial sentence should be used only as a port of last resort and that the other disposals available to the courts should be used in the first instance.
Other aspects of the Bill are perhaps not yet understood by the House as a whole or by the public. For example, the parents and guardians of young offenders will be required to pay any fine or compensation. That is extremely important and long overdue. It is high time that the parents of young offenders were told that they must become responsible for the wrongdoing of their children. The arrest rate in London alone demonstrates beyond argument the urgency of parents becoming more responsible for the conduct of their children if we are to have any control over the increase in crime, particularly in the great cities.
I welcome also the new standard scale of fines provided in the Bill, although I am disappointed that my own attempts to improve the fines in the housing legislation to deal with bad landlords have not yet found favour. I live in hope, however, that my hon. and learned Friend may be able to use his influence in another place in a constructive and helpful manner.
The other part of the Bill that is of great importance is that dealing with compensation for the victims of crime. The improvements that are to be made under the Bill are especially welcome. We often talk about the problems of the criminal justice system, overcrowded prisons and crime in general. However, we fail to talk about the victims, those who suffer as a consequence of the wrongdoing of young people in our society. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Bill makes it possible for courts to make a compensation order instead of another penalty, such as a fine.
Where both compensation and a fine are levied, the payment of the compensation is to have priority. In the Bill 426 we are reversing hundreds of years of history. We are saying that the victim shall have priority over the State when it comes to the collection of money through the criminal justice system. That is very much to be welcomed. The House should endorse it and tell the country about it.
At present, only the whole of a sentence can be suspended, otherwise a full prison term has to be imposed. The Bill enables the courts, to suspend part of a sentence so that a short period of imprisonment can be given in cases where, after careful consideration, the court believes that it is sufficient to encourage the deterring of crime.
That is a very welcome measure, because I agree with many hon. Members that, on the whole, we send people to prison for far too long. We could often use a shorter sentence, especially for crimes where no violence has been used. That must be the purpose behind the measure. Therefore, I welcome it.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Ormskirk suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was lacking in courage in what he was proposing in the measure. When one looks at the record of my right hon. Friend, one is bound to say that in the short period that he has been in office he has faced with great courage and determination a whole range of problems.
My right hon. Friend began by looking at the state of the police service in England and Wales. He did not hesitate to ensure that the police were properly paid. He has seen the strength of the police force build up in all constabulary districts so that, with the exception of the Metropolitan Police, those districts are up to the authorised establishment. Even in London we are within about 1,300 of the authorised establishment. That has resulted in more police officers being available for duty on the streets. That is an important contribution to the prevention of crime, which is the first responsibility of the police. That is very much to my right hon. Friend's credit. When we look at the clauses, we should remember that the strength of the police force is essential if we are to fight the growing crime problem.
My right hon. Friend looked at the problems of the prison service. He took on board many of the recommendations of the May committee. He has revitalised the prison service under a new board of management, with a director general who is more accessible to the media and to the public. He can talk about the problems of the prison service. Many other commendable measures have been taken and again that is to the credit of my right hon. Friend.
Whatever measures the House may take to control crime, there is no absolute guarantee that the measures that are made available to the courts will inevitably result in the control of crime or the reduction of the number of persons going to prison. There is no simple solution that we can examine and apply to a complex human problem.
By its flexibility and approach to the sentencing problems of the courts, the Bill makes an important contribution to the general control of crime. Too many people are sent to prison. I hope that the courts will recognise the importance of using the shorter sentence, especially for those who commit property crimes, small theft crimes and non-violent crimes. For such persons, the shorter sentence is just as effective and in no way imperils the well-being of society.
The Government must soon direct their attention, with a great deal more enthusiasm than has been shown so far 427 to the prevention of crime in the first instance. Over the past 20 or 30 years we have failed to control crime because we have not examined the possibility of preventing it from occurring, particularly with regard to property. The time is coming when we must provide the new larger police force with the measures to enable them to do more by way of crime prevention than has been the case.
Perhaps I might offer some suggestions. Most of the crimes committed by young offenders are to do with property—burglaries or theft of property from cars or buildings. Surely it must be sensible to try to prevent the entry of such young people into buildings. The police crime prevention service should be greatly strengthened from within the resources of the existing police establishment, with a view to encouraging programmes of crime prevention, especially in the cities. Our large housing estates and mansion blocks should be equipped with entry phones, toughened glass, decent locks and door frames that can withstand a kick from a child wanting to enter the building to steal property. Those measures would inevitably prevent crime and stop these young people appearing before the courts.
The next stage in the control of crime is to look more eagerly at how it may be prevented. That must be one of the essential duties of the police service, if the measures in the Bill that are concerned with widening the powers and the flexibility of the courts are to be successful in the long run.
I welcome the Bill. It makes an important contribution to the criminal justice system. It will not result in more people going to prison, as some hon. Members have suggested. On the contrary, I believe that it will equip the courts with a range of long overdue powers. I again congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the way in which he has piloted the measure through the Committee and the House.
§ Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)
On Second Reading I said that the Bill was a curate's egg, and I called for a reduction in crime and in the prison population. I am sad to say that I still believe the Bill to be a curate's egg. It is good in parts, but it is not good in as many parts as it should be. I should like it to contain more definite measures for the proper training of youngsters in custody. I should like it to provide that no custodial sentences be imposed on young offenders under the age of 17, unless they need to be detained for the protection of society or themselves. We fail if we use imprisonment, save to ensure the protection of the community and of some persons from themselves.
I am worried about clause 21. It provides for another form of custodial sentence. I hope that the Government will seek in another place to amend the clause.
We discussed at length in Committee and on Report the possibility of a curfew to deter young offenders and to keep unruly young people and hooligans off the streets. Although most hon. Members agreed on Report that a curfew could be effective as a deterrent, they were worried as to whether such a scheme could be operated. I suggested that the only way to use the curfew was as part of a supervision order. Therefore, I welcome the fact that such a scheme will be considered in another place. We must weigh the burdens that may be put on the police, the courts, the social services and people who may be involved in ensuring that young offenders adhere to the curfew.
428 I firmly believe that young offenders should not be allowed to get away scot-free. Contrary to what many Government Members may think, I do not believe in the "pat on the head" treatment. Being patted on the head and told to be a good person is not effective. However, we do not necessarily deter by imposing custodial sentences.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
The hon. Member probably knew that I would seek to intervene at this stage, because I normally do. I take the hon. Gentleman back to his dislike of supervision orders and his desire for a creative method of correcting young offenders. Does he agree that offenders are probably better candidates and easier to handle if they are under some form of supervision than if they are not? Lack of supervision makes it difficult to use the creative methods that the hon. Gentleman advocates.
§ Mr. Pitt
I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. I thought that he would refer to the curfew. I agree that young offenders should be under some form of supervision. I do not think that young people should be allowed to go scot-free, but, save for a number of specific offences involving violence or which are so dreadful that the young offender should be kept in custody for his own protection, there should be greater emphasis on supervision in the community. If a person has started to climb the ladder of various forms of custodial sentence, at a certain level a custodial sentence will not be much of a deterrent. It will not be of much use in protecting the community from him or in expiating his crime.
I am glad that in some respects the Bill will provide forms of sentencing and treatment of young offenders that will mean them to take their place in society while paying their debt to it. I have reservations about embodying curfews in supervision orders because of the administrative burdens that will fall on so many in ensuring that the curfews are obeyed, but in general I welcome the provisions. Undoubtedly, it will be difficult to enforce curfews.
§ Mr. Pitt
There is sufficient in the Bill for me to that the Liberal Party will not oppose it. The Bill takes us a small step forward, and we should welcome any such step that serves to make criminal justice work more efficiently and effectively.
On Second Reading the spokesman for the Liberal Party, in concert with the spokesman for the official Opposition, said that Liberal Members would not oppose Second Reading and that we looked forward to amending the Bill in Committee and on Report. The Liberal Party will not be opposing the Third Reading because we feel that it is a minor step forward to the more effective and efficient administration of criminal justice. However, it is not such a significant step as to obviate the need for much deeper discussion and a more careful examination of potentially better provisions in subsequent Criminal Justice Bills.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I shall concentrate my brief remarks on a small and relatively unimportant part of the Bill with which I had something to do in Committee. I refer to the control of street soliciting. I do not have the advantage of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), who has been the architect 429 of 99 per cent. of the modest hints that have been dropped to the Government at various times. The Government have responded by fulfilling certain commitments.
I wish to support a corner of the Bill against my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith). Before doing so, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the able and courageous way in which she spoke about street prostitution. I cannot understand the ribaldry that greeted her remarks. She is worried about the rise in street prostitution, and there is no reason why she should not view it with some concern.
The step which those who considered the Bill in Committee wanted the Government to take was not an obvious one, and the previous Labour Government did not make any alteration to the penalties for street soliciting. It would not be an obvious step and, to use a phrase that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister used in another context, it would be something of a gamble. If it were taken, the outcome might not be what we desire.
I draw the attention of the House to an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on the attitude of the Magistrates' Association towards street prostitution. First, it contended—this argument was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper—that there was no point in having offences on the statute book for which prison is not the ultimate sanction. That is a strong argument that would wreak havoc with many planning laws, parking laws and motoring laws. There is no reason why fines should not be the ultimate sanction for some crimes.
A second argument that both the association and my hon. Friend put forward was that, by fining people, we simply invite offenders to repeat offences to pay the fines. We have many similar pieces of legislation on the statute book for which fines are the only ultimate sanction. Examples include the Shops Act, particularly those parts dealing with Sunday trading, and some of the street trading legislation concerned with trading from barrows. In all those cases, fines are the ultimate sanction. In all those cases it could be said that to fine the offender is simply to invite him to repeat the offence to pay for the crime but it seems common sense to me that, by depriving the offender of the profit that he may have made from the commission of the crime, a repetition of the crime is discouraged. That may be the case with prostitution.
The point was also made that community service orders can be given only for imprisonable offences. It is important that street soliciting should be imprisonable so that magistrates can, if they wish, impose community service orders. With 3,336 convictions relating to prostitution in 1980, only 116 community service orders were made. That is a negligible proportion. I cannot see that as an argument for retaining imprisonment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belper mentioned the 1959 Act and the improvement that has taken place since that time. That improvement has continued after further legislation in the late 1960s. The legislation has provided both a carrot and a stick. Prostitution has been made easier to practise indoors and more difficult to pursue on the pavement. The effect has been not to stop prostitution or necessarily to reduce its incidence, but simply to drive it off the streets. Part of the purpose in driving prostitution off the streets is to enable it to be continued in a way that is not illegal. By and large, most of the people left 430 soliciting on the streets are the inadequate offenders for whom imprisonment is a punishment for inadequacy and is not in any way appropriate
The Magistrates' Association suggested that the argument on this subject has gone by default. It has not. During two and a half hours of discussion in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Belper ably and fully put forward the views of the Magistrates' Association. No new or determinant conclusion is likely to be reached through the submission of further evidence. The only evidence that we now await, if the Bill becomes law, is evidence from the streets. We want to see whether the provisions will lead to a great increase in street prostitution. I do not think that they will; I do not know that they will not.
In another context, my hon. Friend the Member for Belper was brave and right to talk of an element of gambling. There is such an element in the proposed changes. It may prove that we are wrong, but I do not think so. I hope that the Bill will make little difference. It seems a humane and sensible little reform.
This is not a sensational Bill. It is imaginative and intelligent and it requires a certain amount of courage. At the same time, it is hard-headed and liberal. I have always admired men and measures who and which succeed in combining hard-headedness with liberalism. There is no reason why those two qualities should not go together. I wish the Bill a safe passage in another place.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)
Over the years there has been argument about the extent to which judges should have absolute discretion in imposing sentences. The Bill celebrates the return to judges in all offences except murder of the discretion broadly to impose the sentence that they consider fit. As the years go by we shall see the way in which they use the discretion.
The custodial sentence imposed on a young person for the first time is usually either three or six months in a detention centre. In imposing a sentence of borstal training the judge does not determine the length. The authorities decide when to release the young person. Section 3 of the 1961 Act imposed severe restrictions on sentencing to prison young people between the ages of 17 and 21. They will be swept away.
Under the Bill for the first time a magistrate may impose a detention centre sentence of between 21 days and four months. The lower limit of 21 days may encourage magistrates to send more young people to a detention centre for a short, sharp shock. But we shall never reduce sentences if it is always argued that to reduce the minimum sentence will increase the number of people in custody. It has been the prime motive of reformers to reduce sentences. We must take a chance although I fear that more youngsters may be sent to prison. We must hope that the judiciary at all levels will use the new power responsibly and not see it as an easy way to give people a taste of custody. We must hope that the new power will reduce the number of days spent in prison by young people.
I am not sure what the outcome of scrapping borstal will be. Owing to the pressure on the number of places, young people are normally released from borstal after six to eight months. They do not normally stay for a year. Judges will now be able to sentence an 18-year-old to youth custody for 18 months, which with one-third remission means 12 months. That would be a longer sentence than the normal current borstal sentence, so young people could be in 431 prison for longer. That is the danger of scrapping borstal and giving the judiciary the discretion to sentence young persons over 17 to any term up to the maximum laid down by statute for the offence. It is a good idea to get rid of the concept of borstal but we wait with trepidation to see what the judiciary will do with the new power.
Judges will be able to impose whatever sentence they wish up to the maximum for the offence, with the exception of offenders under 17, where they are limited to 12 months, and the sentence for murder. The Government are worried about the reaction of the public were they to restore to judges the right to give what sentence they think is proper after a person is found guilty of or has pleaded guilty to murder. The automatic sentence is life imprisonment. Everyone knows that the great bulk of murder cases are domestic. They are not robbery charges. Judges who would prefer to give sentences of six years, eight years or whatever they think appropriate must simply say "Life". The whole question of the appropriate sentence is pushed away from the judges to the executive and administrative authorities. They are concerned that anyone released from prison after committing a murder who offends again will get them into hot water. There is therefore a tendency to keep people convicted of murder imprisoned for a long time even though the authorities know that it was a domestic murder without any real likelihood of repetition.
The judges want to have the power restored to them to give the sentence that they think fit. It would save an enormous amount of court time. Many trials are simply designed to reduce a possible murder conviction to manslaughter to enable the judge to give the sentence that he thinks appropriate. It might be life; it might be less. Now we have a glaring exception to the general trend of restoring judicial discretion. Murder is left in a category of its own even when, as sometimes happens, the person convicted of murder is found not to have intended to kill but to have intended serious bodily harm. In those cases, a heavy sentence is required. It seems odd, however, that judges are to be trusted with discretion in all areas, but that for murder, officials operating in private should decide the true sentence. It is they who decide when a person convicted of murder is released.
An oddity of the Bill is that it enshrines in statute a difference of approach towards women and men. I give two examples. There is no detention centre provision for girls whereas there is for boys up to the age of 17. The second example of the Government's attitude is that for youth custody for those over the age of 15, the sentence normally for males must be four months or more but for females it can be 21 days or more. Just because the offender is female, the minimum for youth custody is 21 days. I do not argue that there must be equality and that there must therefore be heavier sentences for women. It is, however, a curiosity. I believe that the Government have acted on the basis that they want to keep as small as possible the need for custodial accommodation for women. They are prepared to take a calculated chance to see that women are treated more lightly than men because of the great pressure on accommodation.
There are other examples in the Bill to show that the Government are being forced to do things simply because of the pressure of prisoners on the available accommodation. What are the pressures for reform? There are those who, because of their view of society and humanity, want reductions in sentences and a different approach to our 432 penal system. There is then the Home Office approach, which may have about it something of the attitude that I have just described. However, the Home Office is understandably obsessed and at its wits' end over the need to reduce the number of people going into custody when the prisons are simply not available. The prison building programme is not really big enough even to replace our nineteenth century prisons, let alone to add to that accommodation.
To counteract that, the Home Office has come up with a brand new proposal in English law, which is that prisoners can be released by a special procedure up to six months before their sentence expires, including remission, where there is not enough accommodation in the prisons. The Bill is disappointing because the Government have not taken every opportunity to reduce the numbers of prisoners entering the prisons. While they wish to give the impression that they are tough nonetheless when the numbers in prison become too high they have taken the power of early release. The prison system is breaking down and the Home Secretary knows that three prisoners to a cell is not acceptable.
The Government have chosen that option possibly in the hope that the public will not notice it. Judges will sentence convicted persons as normal and everything will continue in the same way, but suddenly the Home Secretary will announce that the "class of '81" can be released six months earlier because there is not enough space for them. The fact that that provision is in the Bill is an admission by the Government that they know that, if present trends continue, there will be totally insufficient prison accommodation. It means that the Home Office has managed to persuade the Home Secretary that the position in our prisons is desperate.
We accept that there must be continual investigation to find ways in which people can spend less time in prison without damage to public security. The police have been mentioned this evening with doubtful relevance to the Bill. More policemen mean higher detection rates, which is what we wish. However, we must face the fact that a higher detection rate means more pressure on our prisons. I support the call for more police officers, because the rate of detection of middle-grade crime is very low. The detection rate for murder is 97 per cent. and the murder rate is going down. There are fewer rape cases, for example, but middle-grade crimes are increasing by leaps and bounds.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean that the provision of more policemen, which as he says would improve the detection rate, would cause such pressure on the prisons that he could possibly question whether we should provide more policemen?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) will not respond to that, because we are now going wide of the matters that may be discussed on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lyons
That is not what I was suggesting. We need more policemen to increase the detection rate.
Some provisions of the Bill are retrograde. The 28-day remand period in place of the present eight-day period will keep people in prison for longer and in practice will deprive accused persons of access to their lawyers for longer.
433 The partially suspended sentence is another retrograde step. It will increase the number of persons who are sent to prison. The previous Minister of State, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was opposed to that provision. I have opposed that provision since it was introduced in 1977. It lay dormant on the statute book for four years and it is now being reintroduced to a chorus of condemnation.
The proposal for a curfew is not, happily, in the Bill. I hope that the Government will think again before introducing in the House of Lords, curfews for youngsters. A curfew will result in even more people going to prison. It will make people appear criminal unnecessarily. If a young person who is subject to a curfew order runs out of the house because of a family quarrel, or his father tells him to get out, and a policeman calls to see him when he is out he will be guilty of breaking the curfew. A youngster who is deaf might not hear the doorbell. He would be assumed to be out and later be hauled off to court for breaking the curfew. That is not a measure we need in this country.
This is a curate's egg of a Bill. The Government have not taken the opportunities open to them. There are both bad and good parts. There are also parts where it is impossible to know whether they will turn out to be good or bad.
However, I do not believe that we should oppose the Bill. The House did not divide on Second Reading. It is not good enough to wreck a Bill simply because it does not go far enough. The criterion is whether the Bill is an improvement on the existing legislation. The improvement may be only marginal, but, on balance, I believe that the Bill should be given a Third Reading.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
I welcome the Bill. I served on the Standing Committee, and I believe that the Bill will be welcomed throughout the country.
There is no doubt that people are worried about law and order. That is evidenced in articles, in opinion polls and in everyday life. Crime and violence have drastically increased over the past decade.
I strongly supported the abolition of imprisonment for soliciting, for vagrancy and for begging. In this latter half of the century, with the number of people in our prisons and with society holding the views that it does, those are not the sort of crimes that worry people.
I make one point about soliciting. There is a big difference between the types of soliciting. If one is solicited by a female and there is a refusal, one is not pestered. However, it is right that the provisions affecting "kerb crawlers" and others should remain in the Bill. The problem has been encountered recently and has increased with the advent of greater car ownership.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) spoke at length about clauses 24 and 25. Clause 24 puts the onus for the payment of fines on parents. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe that many of the problems facing our society emanate from a lack of discipline in the home, which is often the result of a lack of parental interest. Making parents more responsible for the payment of fines may restore their sense of responsibility for the guidance of their children.
Criminals who commit acts of extreme violence have not reached that stage overnight. They have been through 434 a process that continues over many years. Had corrective action been taken in their formative years, many of the problems facing society might have been avoided.
It is right that a person on the receiving end of violence should have preferential treatment for compensation. That will put a responsibility on the individual committing the act, and will make him realise not only that it is wrong to commit acts of violence, but that he has a debt to pay to the person on the receiving end. The provisions in that regard will bring about a change of thinking among young people.
I was greatly concerned about clause 28 in its original form. It provided for up to three months' early release from prison and that only those who had committed murder would not be eligible for early release. I am glad that the period has been reduced to one month, but I was concerned that even those who had committed crimes of violence could be released early.
Therefore, I was delighted that, after I had moved an amendment in Committee, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who has done an excellent job in steering the Bill through, introduced on Report a comprehensive schedule providing that those who had committed crimes of violence would not be eligible for early release. That is in accord with the views of the vast majority of the public. It would have been a retrograde step to allow the early release of those who had committed violent crimes.
I also welcome most other parts of the Bill. It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve on the Committee with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and I wish the Bill well in another place.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), who did so much about the omissions in the Bill when he introduced on Report new clauses for the return of capital punishment for certain offences. Together with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and one or two Opposition Members, I regret that his proposals did not find favour. I supported the new clauses and I pay tribute to the vigorous support and encouragement that my hon. Friend has given to the Bill.
Like my hon. Friend, I was privileged to sit on the Committee. It began, if slightly superficially, to tackle one of the greatest problems facing this country, which is rising crime, particularly among young people. If the Bill helps to lessen that rising tide and to bring home to young offenders the need to have a proper respect for society, it will have been well worth while.
It is very sad and regrettable that Parliament, in its customary way, should be considering a Criminal Justice Bill—necessary though it is—against a backcloth of rising crime, particularly among young people. It is particularly regrettable for those who represent urban areas and have knowledge of that crime day after day and week after week, together with increasing tides of vandalism. Such acts of crime and violence were unheard of not many years ago. Many of those acts are attributed to the type of society in which we live, with high rates of unemployment. If the Bill can make a small dent in the crime figures, our time will not have been wasted.
I add my tribute to those already given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) who has guided us through the Bill with great aplomb. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for 435 Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and to the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson)—who is not in the Chamber this evening—for their great co-operation. It has been a worthwhile Bill and one of which we should all be proud.
I am rather disturbed that some Opposition Members have given the impression that the Bill was designed to reduce the prison population. I do not think it befits this House, or those of us who purport to be legislators, to bring in any legislation or statutory instruments simply because the prisons happen to be severely overcrowded.
Bedford prison, which serves my county, is probably one of the most severely overcrowded prisons in Britain. Certainly the conditions in that establishment are disgraceful. Those who fall foul of the law and have to go to such an establishment obviously suffer a very real punishment, but, that having been said, I hope that this House will not pass legislation which will restrict the deterrent effect of imprisonment, or the effect of punishment, which is necessary for some of the heinous crimes being committed today, particularly by young people. I hope that legislation will not be passed simply on the ground that our prisons are overpopulated.
There have been siren voices on the Opposition Benches suggesting that we should pass virtually any measure which will reduce the prison population. Some of the provisions that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) would like to introduce would reduce the prison population but would at the same time reduce the protection available to our society. Obviously, overcrowded prisons and bad prison conditions should not be a feature of a decent society. They present great difficulties for those who have to administer the prisons. Those hon. Members who have visited such establishments will fully understand what I mean. But let it never be forgotten that the people in those establishments are there because they have committed crimes against society. They are there because society needs to be protected from such people. If life happens to be unpleasant for them, so be it. We must be as humane as possible but do not let us go overboard in reducing numbers for the sake of expediency. There are one or two omissions with which I will deal.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Member is not dealing with omissions. On Third Reading we deal with what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I respect you and your judgment, Sir. I took my line from the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax who talked about the fact that no regulations had been introduced for drug offences. I thought that I might follow a similar line.
I will continue wth the clauses that are in the Bill. I support the new clause that was tabled in Committee to provide that tramps and vagrants should no longer be imprisoned. I support the initiative of those who brought that clause forward. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for giving it fair wind and including it in the Bill. It is right that those who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances—many of them not minutes from the House under the arches of Charing Cross railway station—should not have to suffer imprisonment because of their misfortune. Their misfortunes may have occurred for various reasons. In the majority of cases, and certainly in rural areas, they are those who do not commit offences and from whom society 436 needs no protection. It is absolutely ludicrous that certain persons should be put behind bars to punish them for the misfortunes that they endure. Many of us hope we shall never have to endure those misfortunes ourselves.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) is not here, because I welcome the clause that provides that prostitutes should no longer be imprisoned. It seems a nonsense that the poor unfortunates—one can describe them in no other way—should be punished for offences into which they are pushed. The unfortunate women were well described by the hon. Lady the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). They are often forced to turn to obtaining remuneration in a way which is against any form of decency. It is absolutely right that those people should seek and gain compassion from the legislators. I fully support that clause.
The main thrust of the Bill is that it makes parents more responsible for the sins and offences of their children. The Minister will know that since the White Paper on young offenders was introduced, many representations have been made to him that parents should bear a far greater responsibility for the sins of their children. For far too long schools, social workers, local councils, society itself and even the House have been blamed for the sins of the children. The clauses make the parents responsible for paying the fine. There is probably nothing that hurts more than when a man's pocket is hit. I know that the argument was put forward in Committee that several parents might find themselves in such impecunious circumstances that they would not be able to pay the fine and might possibly face a prison sentence because of their childrens' sins. However sad that is, if those parents find themselves in that position they must look to their lives and those of their children and at the way that those children behave.
The Bill has the support of the vast majority of the people. It gives effect to the proposition that parents must bear the responsibility for the sins of their children. For too long we have heard the voices of those who say that if the parents are in unfortunate circumstances, there is no way in which they can take that responsibility. We heard that said many times in Committee. I disagree totally, and I support new clauses 24 and 25 which put the onus back on parents.
Furthermore, I also support the idea of a curfew which was put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell). This is yet another deterrent and another weapon for magistrates to employ against children who offend against society. I appreciate that there are obvious problems of enforcement and that the machinery of that enforcement will be difficult. We do not envisage an army of snoopers either from the court or from the police knocking on doors every night to discover whether offending youths or girls are at home. To my mind, that machinery is irrelevant. The fact that children can be brought under the control of a curfew order should be enough to act as a deterrent. It may deter only one or two—it may be more—but it should be enough to deter them from going to places where they habitually go, and it will be yet another weapon that magistrates will have against them.
I hope sincerely that my hon. and learned Friend will prepare the machinery of government in another place so that under the supervision order arrangements this idea of a curfew will be adopted. If it proves successful it can be widened. It is a method which must be available to magistrates. There is no compulsion. The offenders 437 themselves are given a choice, and the parents are given a choice. That being so, I am rather perplexed by many of the voices raised in opposition to it.
I am sure that everyone wishes the Bill a very fair wind. I know that my constituents do. It may just touch on the greatest problem before us today—undoubtedly the greatest problem with which we may have to face the electorate. It is an attempt to make some progress in the fight against the rising crime rate. It will give some comfort to those who believe that government is about protection—in this case the protection of the individual from those who habitually offend against society, regrettably, these days, in an extremely violent way. We may have taken one small step towards correcting the sadly rising crime rate. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the way that he has conducted the Bill through all its stages so far, and I hope that it receives the full support of the House.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I found the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) extremely interesting and extremely rich in content. We heard a whole catalogue of evils which had not been remedied, of opportunities which had been missed and of magic palliatives and potions which had not been applied. The question is, what did the hon. Lady do when she was in power between 1974 and 1979? What did her Government do to improve our penal system, other than produce one Green Paper? If she carries out her declared intention and leads any Opposition hon. Member who may come into the House during the vote into the Division Lobby against the Bill, it will be opposition for opposition's sake.
What are the main criticisms? What do people say about law and order? The answer that we hear repeatedly is that we are letting off too many villains too lightly and that they might almost be said to be getting away with murder. We also hear that not enough is being done to frighten people away from the consequences of their wrong-doing. The Bill is essential and important. It arms the courts with new and extended powers to deal with crime. Although I completely endorse the wonderful things that have been said about my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for both the wisdom and the panache with which he carries off the almost un-carry-offable, he should not go away in a fit of euphoria thinking that the Conservative Government have done all that needs to be done to remedy crime and lawlessness. Much remains to be done. I hope that in due course we shall do it.
There are three stages to the reduction of crime. First, one must catch the villain. We have made a substantial step towards that by increasing the number of police, by paying them more and by getting them on to the beat and out of their panda cars. I expect that we shall witness a rise in the detection rate. Having caught the villains, they must be convicted. We must do something about the criminal legal process which acquits too many people. Either they should never have been charged in the first place or they are guilty.
The Royal Commission which examined the matter has advanced some proposals. I accept some and reject others. We must urgently consider some of them and do something about it. Having caught and convicted villains, it is no good then to pat them on the head, give them 438 tuppence out of the poor box and then cast them loose onto society again. That is not what pleases the people who send us here. They believe that villains who are caught and properly convicted should be properly punished.
One of the important steps in the Bill which I strongly welcome is the reflection of public opinion which says that we are fed up with letting sentences be decided by social workers rather than the courts—encouraged by wet Socialist intellectuals from all over the place. I quite understand that there would be some impatience if we had never let them have a go at all. But we let them have a go in the 1960s and the mid-1970s when the Labour Government were in power. All those wonderful tender palliatives were tried. The result was that the crime rate has shot up to alarming proportions—so alarming that it is extremely difficult, even for a Conservative Government, to do anything about it.
An important part of the Bill is that we have restored to the courts the powers to impose proper sentences. We have abolished the six months or three years distinction which has long been a thorn in the flesh of the courts. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) in his criticisms of the residential care order. It cannot be realistic to suggest that we should have nowhere to put a young person who is living at a home where his parents do not give a damn and who is mixing every night with gangs and is going onto the streets at night and repeatedly committing crimes. It must be sensible to say that we will take such a young person away from that environment and give him a given quantity of supervision and care in a prescribed regime. Criticism such as that of the hon. Member for Ormskirk is misguided. It is sensible to have more determinate sentences and fewer indeterminate ones. The extension of the community service orders by lowering the age level is good, in view of the relatively low recidivism rate among juvenile offenders that measure has achieved.
I do not understand the Opposition's criticisms of detention centres. With what would they fill that gap for the persistent offender who is no longer a juvenile? If they could advance some choice other than taking such people into some form of guiding custody, I would understand. They even prejudge the results of the new regime. Why remove something if one does not know whether it can be replaced by something that is more beneficial and before one has the results of the existing scheme? If it is argued that only 24 per cent. do not re-offend, one must accept that that is 24 per cent. who would probably re-offend if one allowed the try-a-little-tenderness lobby to work its way through the 1980s as it worked through the 1960s.
All those measures are admirable in transferring the burden back to the courts and away from those who wish to engage in their rather more subtle but quite unsuccessful schemes of gentle treatment for almost everyone in almost any circumstances.
With regard to the partially suspended sentence, I am somewhat less of one mind with the Government. Incidentally, my hon. and learned Friend may be interested to know that somebody told me today that some courts had been operating these sentences for some time, apparently in the belief that the 1977 Act had already taken effect.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I thought that the purpose of this legislation was to give a more refined effect to something that had not yet been brought into operation.
My view of the value of the partially suspended sentence may well mean that I shall never be a judge. I believe that it meets a great need in our penal system. I am not talking about reducing the number of people in prison. That will never be acceptable to the public. If more offenders are caught and convicted and there is nowhere to send them, we shall have not just to replace the prisons that are falling down but actually to build more prisons. The partially suspended sentence must not be used as an excuse to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons.
To me, the value of the partially suspended sentence is precisely the value that the Minister does not wish to see. Very often, what is wrong with the criminal fraternity is that offenders can commit goodness knows how many offences before they are caught. When they are caught and fight the case in court by pleading not guilty, there is a fifty-fifty chance of acquittal. When they are eventually convicted, nothing much happens on the first one or two offences. Therefore, by the time anyone sees the inside of a penal establishment he may have been offending for half his life and not only have an enormous criminal experience but have fallen into a regular pattern of criminality.
That is not just a lawyer's view. It is the view of many people in the prison service and of many people with knowledge of the workings of these matters. Surely, if we can manage it, we should show some people—perhaps the worst offenders, or perhaps not the worst—a glimpse of what life in prison will be like if they carry on down the slippery slope. That means showing them a glimpse of the inside of a prison far earlier in their history of offending. If it is only for a few weeks, rather than for months or years, that is all right by me, but let us show it to them.
Any prison officer will confirm that the effective result of imprisonment occurs in the first few weeks of the prison sentence. After that, prisoners become institutionalised cabbages, there is very little deterrent effect and the criminal education department gets to work on them. The early stage—the stage of shock—is the time at which to hit them, and we must consider doing that to more offenders at an earlier stage. The partially suspended sentence provides just such an opportunity.
I mention briefly a few other small but important points. The Bill abolishes imprisonment for vagrancy, showing once again that the Conservative Party has a human face. Moreover, any Opposition Member who laughs can laugh on the other side of his inhuman face, because in all their years in power the Labour Goverment did nothing to remove the inhuman blot of imprisonment for vagrancy when they had the opportunity to do so.
I do not agree with those of my hon. Friends who have supported the abolition of imprisonment for repeated prostitution. It does not seem sensible to remove a barrier to incessant criminality. To make it unnecessary for prostitutes ever to stop plying their wares in the street and to remove all deterrents—small fines are no deterrent to those who can earn £200 or £300 per week on the streets—does not seem remotely sensible. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) has presented the case so persuasively. I am only sorry that the situation does not remain as it was.
I shall not dwell on the subject of the lower threshold for parole. I repeat my belief that the parole system should be reinvestigated. During the debate, we heard about 440 parole and its problems. We heard about the way in which people felt an injustice when their parole was refused. We discussed whether it was necessary to give reasons. I am positive that it is not necessary. It would be highly undesirable to do so. The fact is that, if we did not have a parole system—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Mr. Lawrence
As I was saying before I was so politely interrupted, if we did not have a parole system but instead had a points system whereby someone who was sent to prison could work his way out of prison by notching up a requisite number of good points for devotion to studies, trying hard and producing good work, we would be able to get rid of a large number of people in our prisons at the same time as instilling into them the work ethic.
It is regrettable that the House did not decide to restore capital punishment. Few other measures—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that subject should not be discussed during the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that the Third Reading deals with what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Lawrence
What is in the Bill is good. I wish that there had been more of it.
The Bill is a move towards a better sentencing arrangement for our courts. It improves the adequacy of sentences, but it is not the whole answer. It is up to the judges to make proper and full use, whether they are High Court judges, circuit judges or magistrates, of the powers that are available to sentence. It is necessary for the Government to consider for the future the construction of more prisons, if that should be necessary. If we catch and convict more villains, more prisons are inevitable.
I hope that the members of the Government will appreciate that this is not the end of the saga. There may have to be other Criminal Justice Bills so that we get our legal and penal system on to the level that is wanted by the people. They want a safe and peaceful Britain. They want to be able to go out on to the streets secure in the knowledge that they will not be attacked. Until we get our sentencing right, I am afraid that the level of crime will remain high. The people expect a Conservative Government to do something about it. We have done something. We must do more. I hope that my hon. Friends will bear that in mind for the future.
§ 10.3 pm
§ Mr. Mayhew
With the leave of the House, I should like to say a few words at the conclusion of this interesting debate. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said kind things about me, much to my surprise. I came into the Chamber after an indigestible sandwich to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) saying something kind. Others have made such remarks, too. I am grateful for them.
I am sorry that the Opposition have failed to observe, or at any rate to avoid, the absurdity of voting against a 441 Bill on Third Reading that has been substantially amended in Committee in the direction that they wanted. They not only did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading; they welcomed it. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) has succeeded in communicating the decision to vote against the Bill to her troops. I doubt it, judging by the consistently empty Opposition Benches throughout the debate. That decision was frivolous and a mistake.
It has been disappointing that there has been a sustained drizzle of criticism from the Opposition Front Bench of the provisions of the Bill. Such criticism is the lot of anyone who tries to tackle a problem in politics. The previous Labour Government, of which the hon. Lady was a member in the Home Office, took great care not to run that risk. Although the Labour Government were in office for nearly five years, they did nothing about sentencing except to produce a Green Paper in December 1978. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has treated his Front Bench with such scorn. The hon. Member for Halifax would have been proud to introduce such a Bill, but the Labour Government did nothing in this connection.
We have heard much tonight about prison over-crowding. No Home Secretary has done more than my right hon. Friend to draw attention to the problem, and he has done a great deal about it. Not only did the Labour Government do nothing to change sentencing options, but they weakened the ability of the prison service to cope by year after year cutting thousands of new prison places from the building programme.
I cannot muster much patience when I listen to attacks on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for having consulted the judiciary and for refusing to distort our criminal justice system to secure relief in the prisons from what, in part, resulted from the Labour Government's neglect. Overcrowding will not reduce suddenly, but the best agents for reducing overcrowding are the discriminating sentencing policies of the judges and the partially suspended sentences which the Bill introduces.
Necessarily, the Bill is something of a miscellany, as are all criminal justice Bills. We have not even mentioned tonight several measures which, with the measures about which we have talked, will help to restore respect for the law. That remains the Government's objective, as it was when we sought election, and is the principal purpose of the Bill.
§ Question put, That the Bill be read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 62.443
|Division No. 164]||[10.6 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Bright, Graham|
|Ancram, Michael||Brinton, Tim|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Brotherton, Michael|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E)||Budgen, Nick|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Cadbury, Jocelyn|
|Beith, A. J.||Carlisle, John (Luton West)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Blackburn, John||Cockeram, Eric|
|Body, Richard||Cope, John|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Costain, Sir Albert|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Murphy, Christopher|
|Crouch, David||Myles, David|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Neale, Gerrard|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Needham, Richard|
|Dover, Denshore||Nelson, Anthony|
|Dunlop, John||Newton, Tony|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Dykes, Hugh||Osborn, John|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Parris, Matthew|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Pitt, William Henry|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Pollock, Alexander|
|Greenway, Harry||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)||Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)|
|Grist, Ian||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Hampson, DrKeith||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Rossi, Hugh|
|Hawksley, Warren||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Heddle, John||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Henderson, Barry||Silvester, Fred|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Sims, Roger|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Knox, David||Speed, Keith|
|Lang, Ian||Speller, Tony|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Spence, John|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Squire, Robin|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stanley, John|
|Luce, Richard||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|McCrindle, Robert||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|McNair-Wilson, M.(N'bury)||Thompson, Donald|
|Madel, David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Major, John||Trippier, David|
|Marlow, Antony||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Viggers, Peter|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Waddington, David|
|Mates, Michael||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Mather, Carol||Waller, Gary|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||Watson, John|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Wheeler, John|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Wickenden, Keith|
|Mellor, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Mr. Peter Brooke and Mr. David Hunt.|
|Anderson, Donald||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Ashton, Joe||Hardy, Peter|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Home Robertson, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)||Homewood, William|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Howell, Rt Hon D.|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||John, Brynmor|
|Cryer, Bob||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Leighton, Ronald|
|Cunningham, Dr J.(W'h'n)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Dalyell, Tam||McCartney, Hugh|
|Davidson, Arthur||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Davis, Terry (B 'ham, Stechf'd)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Dormand, Jack||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Eadie, Alex||Morton, George|
|Eastham, Ken||Palmer, Arthur|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Parry, Robert|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Pavitt, Laurie|
|George, Bruce||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Graham, Ted||Race, Reg|
|Richardson, Jo||Welsh, Michael|
|Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Sever, John||Winnick, David|
|Skinner, Dennis||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Snape, Peter||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Stott, Roger||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Frank Haynes.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time and passed.