HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc541-8

3.20 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before I refer to this Bill at all there are one or two things I should say. First, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for agreeing to participate in the later stages of the Bill, should his authoritative voice be essential. I am also looking forward to some assistance from my noble friend Lord Lothian, who is now available to speak on Scottish affairs, and who took some part in the deliberations which resulted in the three Reports on which so much of this Bill is founded. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who speaks for the Opposition on Scottish affairs, regrets that he cannot be with us to-day. He is, as your Lordships know, Chairman of Glenrothes New Town, and he has an important appointment there which he and I both feel, in view of current Scottish industrial difficulties, he should not break.

Before talking about the details of this Bill, I should like to look briefly at the intentions underlying so many of its clauses. The Bill is designed to help in the fulfilment of two of the main purposes of penal policy: deterrence of potential offenders, and the reformation of those who have been found out. The deterrence provisions cover only a limited field, and the reformation provisions refer almost exclusively to offenders between the ages of 17 and 21.

The provisions in the Bill follow very closely the three Reports made by the Scottish Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders—which in the rest of my speech I will refer to as SACTO. SACTO is a group of people, under the chairmanship of Sheriff Harald Leslie, with wide experience of social questions, and especially of the problems of delinquency. The Government are deeply indebted to their skilled and devoted labours which have produced these three Reports, and are producing others still in the pipe-line. Many of the other provisions in the Bill follow those already made for England and Wales in the Criminal Justice Act, 1961. All this skilled advice and experience represents the best advice we can get on a subject on which human knowledge is admittedly still most inexact. On many points many learned individuals hold differing opinions, but I am sure that all agree that we are working always towards a better solution to the problem of the prevention of crime.

First, then, a word on deterrence. I know your Lordships will not fall into the trap of supposing that the sentencing powers of the courts and the amount of crime are in some sort of inverse arithmetical proportion. It would seem rather that, in the case of deliberate crime, at least, the main thing that deters the potential wrongdoer in every one of us is his place in society. What keeps most of us straight is our personal relationships with family, friends, neighbours and others whose respect we value, and the knowledge that detection in a crime would lose us these relationships. In this sense, as has been so often and truly said, detection is the best deterrent. But if a man has lost the personal relationships of normal society—and this is the tragedy of the recidivist prisoner—then the prospect of deterring him from further crime is relatively low. On the other hand, though we know very little about how much connection there is between penal powers and the prevention of crime, we certainly cannot accept that there is no connection at all.

Now a word on the treatment of offenders. In recent years the accent has been turning steadily away from retribution towards rehabilitation, and here the most fruitful ground is among the young. The treatment of youngsters up to 17 is still being examined by the Kilbrandon Committee. This Bill gives a new look in the treatment of those from 17 to 21. It enables the court to direct the young offender not only where his offence is best paid for, but where, on the best advice, his particular personality has the best chance of rehabilitation.

It takes time physically to build new penal institutions and reorganise old ones, but let me for a moment give your Lordships the ultimate pattern that this Bill will produce. The young offender has been found guilty. Before sentence, if he is to be remanded in custody, he will no longer be lodged in prison to mix with adult offenders. He will go to a remand centre. Here the most careful dossier will be prepared about his background, and an assessment of him will be made. This will be conveyed to the court before it passes sentence. There is nothing in the Bill about remand centres, but the first one is already operating satisfactorily at Polmont, and another is being got ready, near Airdrie.

In pronouncing sentence, if the court is satisfied that the offender must be detained in custody, it has three courses open to it under this Bill. First, there is the short, sharp shock of three months at a detention centre, followed by six months supervision after release. The first detention centre is already operating in Perth, and a second will open soon, also in Perth. Alternatively, the offender can be sent to borstal for a longer course of rehabilitation and training—normally 15 to 18 months, followed by 12 months' supervision after release. The Bill frees the borstal authorities from the disruption caused by returned inmates. Personally, I am sorry that borstal has such a bad name. Though much structural work has still to be done, our borstal institutions are, on the whole, adequate, and great effort is made in them to give boys of very varied types a chance of returning home as normal members of society I hope that both industry and the trade unions will play a greater part than they do now in helping ex-borstal boys to find permanent employment.

Thirdly, and alternatively, the court can send the offender to a new type of establishment, to be known as a young offenders' institution. This is a new type of establishment created by the Bill. This will in fact be a youth prison, able to deal with short or long sentences without contact with mature criminals. The sentence, except for the shortest, will be followed by 12 months supervision after release. We hope to open the first young offenders institution in Dumfries at the end of next year.

Part I of the Bill, except for the last two clauses, brings all this into effect Clause 1 deals with the circumstances in which the court may, after due investigation, decide that detention in one of these institutions is the only possible course. Where neither detention centre nor borstal is appropriate it empowers the court to impose detention in a young offenders institution. Clause 2, as it were, creates the young offenders institution. Clauses 3 to 6 lay down one year's supervision as part of a borstal sentence, prevent the offender from doing a second term in borstal, and provide for a recalled borstal inmate to be detained in a young offenders' institution, instead of borstal. The clauses also follow England in reducing the maximum period of borstal training from three to two years.

Clauses 7 to 9 deal with detention centres. Clause 7 differs from the English provision. In view of the availability in Scotland of the young offenders institution, SACTO considered, and we agree, that the short, sharp shock of a fixed period of three months in a detention centre is most likely to achieve the best result. The only exception, in Clause 9, is an extension of that term where an inmate is later sentenced in default of payment of a fine. Clauses 10 to 11 deal with transfers between penal institutions.

Clauses 12 to 15 deal with supervision and after-care. I cannot go into details on how this will all be done. In view of the importance of the subject, the Secretary of State has asked SACTO—just as the Home Secretary has asked the Advisory Council for England and Wales—to examine the existing arrangements for providing after-care and to make recommendations for its extension and improvement. The Government must await the Advisory Council's Report, but I should say that, once it has been published, the Government will press on with the admittedly difficult task of providing an after-care service adequate for this new commitment. While we cannot foresee what administrative arrangements the Council may recommend, existing legislation enables us to adopt one or another of a number of different methods, and there is every reason to believe that an improved service can be introduced without the need for further legislation. Clause 15 extends the after-care provision to certain classes of adults, on lines recommended by SACTO.

Now, my Lords, we come to the, we hope, increased deterrent effect of Clause 16. This again follows a SACTO recommendation. Section 8 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1954, increased the sheriff's summary powers of imprisonment from three months to six months where an offender convicted of a crime of dishonesty or violence has two previous convictions of an offence of the same kind. SACTO had two criticisms to make of this provision. The first was that six months itself was not long enough to ensure effective treatment and that the extension of powers should be to one year. The second was that the turning point—the time for the heavier sentence to turn the offender away from a criminal career—lay rather at the second conviction than at the third. The Government accept this view, and Clause 16 makes the necessary amendments to the 1954 Act provision.

Your Lordships will welcome Clause 18 and the Second Schedule, which bring the provisions relating to supervision following release from approved schools into line with the provisions in the English Criminal Justice Act, 1961. Clauses 19 to 22 derive originally from the Report by Mr. Victor Durand. Q.C., on the disturbances at the Carlton Approved School. While we have been fortunate enough to have had no similar incidents in Scotland, the Government feel it wise to have similar provisions for the immediate removal of troublemakers from approved schools and for increasing the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to approved school management.

Now we come to Part III of the Bill. On the advice of SACTO, limits of fine—fixed in 1908 and since whittled away by the decrease in the value of money—are drastically increased in Clause 23; not only for that reason, but also to increase the effectiveness of fines as part of penal policy. Here the deterrent is strengthened. Clause 25, dealing with the enforcement of fines, introduces into Scots law some provisions of English law, particularly the "means inquiry" procedure, which we learn have been found of value in reducing the number of imprisonments in default.

Part IV is headed "Miscellaneous Provisions". The clauses cover points where practical experience has shown that the administration of the law could be improved. I will mention only a few. Clause 30 deals with informing the court of the previous convictions of an offender after conviction and before sentence. This is a rehabilitation clause. In the past, when the prime purpose of the court was to punish in accordance with the gravity of the offence, it was a concept of Scots law that an offence could be aggravated by previous convictions. However, it limited the previous convictions which could be quoted "in aggravation" to convictions for like offences. But it is now recognised that it is mot enough to "make the punishment fit the crime": the court has to find the treatment that will fit the offender. For this purpose the court must have full information about the offender's background. The Government feel that the time has come to remove any inhibition on the provision of full information to the count. Clause 30 therefore abolishes the concept of quoting previous convictions "in aggravation of the offence" and permits the prosecutor to inform the court of previous convictions for any offence, and, what may be more important, what treatment the offender has already received whether in custody or not, as a result of his previous convictions. It will be for the court—and the Government are sure that this is right—to consider what effect, if any, the information it receives should have on the disposal of the case.

I hope that none of your Lordships will ask me exactly what happens now, and before Clause 39 becomes law, to one of your Lordships who commits a serious crime in the Isle of Man and flees to Scotland, but I am assured that it is not worth the risk: we will assuredly pick him up. All that Clauses 39 and 40 and Clause 26 (to which I have not previously referred) do, is to simplify the machinery of reciprocity between countries in the British Islands. Clauses 32 and 33 improve appeal procedure and the remaining eleven clauses of Part IV are all machinery.

Part V and the Fourth Schedule deal with legal aid. Because of doubts whether the Criminal Legal Aid provisions of the 1949 Act would prove practicable, if brought into force, a Committee was set up under Lord Guthrie to examine the question. The Guthrie Committee, which reported in 1960, found that the existing non-statutory arrangements operated by the legal profession did not cover all needs and, furthermore, that they were too great a burden on the profession. The Committee accordingly reaffirmed the need for an Exchequer-financed scheme and made fresh proposals, both on the arrangements for establishing financial eligibility and on the extent to which legal aid should be made available. In so far as they require legislation, the Guthrie recommendations, with some modifications, are implemented in Clause 47 and the Fourth Schedule.

Finally, I refer to Clause 48, which allows the appointment of two more Judges of the Court of Session, who also sit as Judges in the High Court of Justiciary. There are now 16 Judges, the maximum number for which provision is made in existing legislation. With the present work of the Court of Session and the High Court, these Judges are already fully occupied, and there is certainly no reason to expect any substantial decrease in the amount of judicial work in these Courts. Furthermore, the introduction of criminal legal aid may well involve the court in some extra work. So this provision is fully justified.

My Lords, this is the sort of Bill that should start in your Lordships' House. There can be nothing Party-political in it or in your Lordships' views on it. All we want to do, and I ask your Lordships' help, is to send it on its way as the best and most effective instrument we can devise for achieving its laudable and far-sighted intentions. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Craigton.)