HL Deb 02 December 1970 vol 313 cc548-638

4.12 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, if I may resume the earlier discussion, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for having initiated this debate. I say that not as a matter of formality, but because there is probably nobody in this House better equipped or better informed to initiate a debate on this subject than the noble Lord. Not only that, but, as I think everybody will know, there is nobody whose sympathies have been more deeply engaged over a lifetime on behalf of the people who lie in gaol and indeed on behalf of the people who have the unenviable task of looking after them. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this matter.

I propose to be quite brief. I certainly do not intend to attempt any general review of this whole desperate situation. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the over crowded situation in our prisons is so desperate that we are reaching the point of explosion, a point where the situation may no longer be manageable. I do not think that anybody who reads the Report on the work of the Prison Department for 1969 could be left with any other understanding than that. If I may quote just one extract from the Report to illuminate the desperation of the situation in which we find ourselves, it is a quotation of a comment by a governor of one of our local prisons. He said: Overcrowding throws extreme pressure on the services provided in the wings and on the landings, designed to accommodate, in all, less than half the number of inmates. It is perhaps fortunate that mankind is so adaptable to enforced environment, and staff and inmates have learned to live with the squalid conditions resulting from these circumstances which are beyond our means to remedy. There has been no actual breakdown in the daily processes of administering this large population, but there have been occasions when the organisation to clothe, feed and bath everyone has been strained to the limit"— and the words with which he concludes, and to which I direct particular attention, are these— and nothing but patience and goodwill on the part of the staff and inmates has usually averted more serious consequences. So that the ironic position is this: that in the year 1970 we are able to make our prisons work only by the kind permission of the inmates, and, let it be said, by the patience and the devotion, beyond the call of duty, of the prison staff. That seems to me to illustrate the desperation of the situation in which we find ourselves

It is no use thinking that a solution to these difficulties is to be found by an increase in the accommodation. That is not on the cards. Indeed, far from being a possible solution, this Report—and preceding Reports that we have had in years past upon the prisons—illustrates that the gap between the accommodation and the number of people for whom the accommodation is required is progressively increasing and that the situation is progressively deteriorating. The tragic dilemma in which we find ourselves in trying to run the prison system seems to me to be best illustrated by reminding ourselves of what is supposed to be the purpose of prisons, the prison system and the administration of justice in prison. Your Lordships will remember that under the Criminal Justice Act 1948 we had the famous definition of what is the main purpose of the prison system: The purpose of training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to establish in them the will to lead a good and useful life on discharge and to fit them to do so. There are some of us—and I am certainly one—who have always believed that that was an empty dream, for the reason which has been so often expressed, that it may be (and I think is) impossible to train people for freedom in conditions of captivity. But what cannot be disputed, whatever view one may take as to the possibility of turning that dream into a reality, is that with the overcrowding that exists in our prisons to-day that declaration of purpose is a pure mockery. It cannot possibly work; the conditions do not exist in which it could work.

Therefore, my Lords—and it may be a platitude to say this—there are three lines of approach, as I think, in trying to solve this problem. The first is whether we can devise ways to send fewer people to prison than we are sending to-day. The second line of approach is whether we can devise ways, when we have to send people to prison, to send them for shorter periods than we do now. The third line of approach is whether there are ways in which, when people have gone into prison, we can get them out prudently and practicably as soon as possible, and before the expiration of the term for which they have been sentenced.

I will not say anything to-day, except possibly one sentence, about sending fewer people to prison, because there are many others in this House who will be speaking later on, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who are far more competent than I am to talk about devising ways of sending fewer people to prison. My reading of the figures about the experiment of the suspended sentence leads me to believe that it has been a considerable disappointment, and that some of the hopes some of us had for that experiment have not been realised.

With regard to the problem of getting people out of prison as soon as we can safely and prudently do so, I do not propose to say anything about that, because I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be speaking later in the debate, and he will speak on that matter with much greater authority than I can. I should like to add my tribute to that paid by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the administration of the parole system. This was a system upon which many of us who have for a long time been interested in penal reform have pinned our hopes, and it is because of the administration of the system by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that this experiment has worked apparently on the basis of the figures that we have. I am sure that that is very largely attributable to the good judgment with which Lord Hunt has presided over the Parole Board.

I want to limit my comments to the second line of approach; whether there are ways and means in which we can arrange to send people into prison for shorter periods than we are sending them now. I should like to make a suggestion which I hope will be a practicable contribution to this problem. The matter I want to speak about is what is known as the "deterrent sentence" or, sometimes, the "exemplary sentence". It is to my mind one of the unhappy facts of life that the Judiciary in this country—particularly the judges who sit in criminal matters—appear to be wedded to a belief in the efficiency and value of the deterrent sentence; that is to say, the sentence which is pronounced upon somebody, not because the judge thinks it is what the man deserves, or because it would be appropriate for him—or indeed because it would do him any good—but simply as a general warning to the public not to commit that type of offence.

I say this from nearly forty years' experience of practising in the criminal courts. I am persuaded that the deterrent penalty does not achieve the purpose it is intended to achieve, but I do not propose to argue that. What I propose to say seems to me indisputable. The deterrent penalty has three obvious faults. The first is that it is manifestly, and almost by definition, unfair to the person upon whom it is imposed: because, by the nature of things, what is imposed upon him is not a sentence such as he deserves, or such as is good for him or appropriate to him, but a sentence which it is thought may deter other people from committing that same kind of offence. Therefore, by definition, the sentence is unjust.

The second matter which I believe is beyond dispute is that in the great majority of cases where a deterrent sentence is imposed it is necessarily a longer sentence than would otherwise be imposed, thereby exacerbating the problem of the overcrowding in prisons. The problem of overcrowding in prisons does not depend simply upon the number of people who are sent there; it depends also upon the time for which they are sent there.

The third indisputable objection to the deterrent sentence is that it confronts the prison staff—the people who have to look after these matters—with a contradiction and a dilemma. When you send a man to prison under deterrent or exemplary sentence, you are saying to the prison administration: "You look after this chap, train him and treat him so as to turn him into a good citizen and send him back into society so that he can play a fit and suitable part in it. Regrettably we have had to impose a sentence upon him which is wholly inappropriate for that purpose. Nevertheless, you have to get on with it, and the best of luck to you!" That is the implication of every deterrent sentence that is passed. It presents the prison administration with an insoluble conundrum.

The deterrent penalty might be justified if it could be demonstrated that it achieves its purpose: that it deters the generality of mankind from engaging in that type of offence; that it persuades any individual who is minded to commit that type of offence to hold back and withdraw from it. I have said before, from my own experience, that I do not think the deterrent penalty ever works; but that is of little consequence. What is of more consequence is something that I should like the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham to consider. I do not know—and I should like to know if he knows—of any independent research which has ever been undertaken by anybody into the question of whether the deterrent penalty achieves the purpose for which it is intended. If he can help me and enlighten me on that I should be greatly assisted.

If the efficacy of the deterrent sentence has never been proved, and if, on the other hand, there are these manifest disadvantages in the deterrent penalty (as I have hoped to persuade the House) then surely this is a persuasive argument for removing the deterrent penalty from our penal armoury? That could be easily achieved, because all that would be necessary would be to pass an Act of Parliament which would say that from now on and henceforth any court, in considering whether they are going to send somebody to prison, shall have regard only to what sentence is appropriate to the offender. If Parliament passed an Act to that effect it would not be in breach of precedent. We already have various Acts of Parliament—for example, the Act which says that magistrates cannot send to prison anybody under the age of 21, unless there is no other course open to them. If Parliament passed such an Act, saying that no court should bear in mind any other consideration than what penalty was appropriate to the offender, it would not preclude the court from considering either the gravity of the offence, the offender's degree of responsibility of the offence, or what treatment might be most beneficial for the offender. The only matter the court would be precluded from considering would be whether the sentence was useful to impose as a warning to other people.

What will be the resultant contribution if we abolish and abandon the deterrent penalty to this problem of overcrowding? I suggest that it will, first of all, tend to reduce the total number of people going to prison. Secondly, it will clearly tend to reduce the period of incarceration to which people are sentenced. In the third place it will bring some harmony into the policy of the sentencing by the courts and the administration of the prison system. It will be said—and in particular, I have no doubt, by members of the Judiciary—that there are risks. They will say: "This is not the time, when we are so much concerned with law and order, to take the risk with public stability and safety which such a course would involve". My answer is that no one knows, because we do not have the information and statistics to show whether in fact the deterrent penalty achieves any purpose in keeping down the amount of crime. We know for certain that it has the unfortunate consequences Ito which I have drawn attention.

May I add this comment, my Lords? Has there ever been an occasion when someone has proposed that there should be some mitigation in the level of penalties, or when somebody has proposed some penal reform that would reduce the amount of punishment imposed upon people, and there have not been those who have come forward with their dread prognostications that the proposed change would lead to the collapse of law and order? On how many occasions have those dread prognostications proved to be right? If we were to decide to abandon the deterrent sentence, not only would it make a marked contribution to solving this problem which we are discussing here to-day, but it would not be the first time that boldness paid off and that boldness proved the true course of wisdom.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, over a fair period of years now we have had a series of debates on prisons which have established your Lordships' House as one of the most informed and thoughtful assemblies for the discussion of penal policy and practice in this country. To-day our thanks are due to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for giving us another opportunity to turn our attention to what is certainly the most pressing problem faced by the penal system: the grave strains imposed by severe overcrowding in the prisons. It would not be possible for me to express in a few words the admiration and affection we feel for the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, resulting from the personal contribution he has made over very many years on this subject. For five years he spoke from this Dispatch Box; but before that, as President of the Prison Reform Council, as a Member of Parliament and, most important of all, as a private citizen, the noble Lord has been known as an ardent and effective champion of prisoners in their attempts to re-enter society in a useful and constructive way. I will not embarrass him any further to-day, beyond saying that his speech showed all the qualities that have earned him that reputation in the past.

In contrast with the noble Lord, this is the first time that I have taken part in a major debate on prisons in your Lordships' House, and I do so with some humility and with an open mind. Many noble Lords (and I include several noble Ladies in that description) who have contributed so much wise advice in the past are intending to speak, and I can assure them that the Government will study very closely indeed what they have to say in the course of the debate. The range of experience is formidable, and while I have no doubt that differences will emerge, I am sure we can all share at any rate the same objective, which is a prison system which effectively detains those committed to custody and one which, in the words of the Prison Rules, encourages and assists them to lead a good and useful life". I shall try to cover some of the points that have been raised so far, particularly those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who was good enough to give me notice of some of them; and my noble friend Lord Sandford will wind up for the Government. If I may say so, I am especially grateful to him for doing so. Noble Lords will know that he has plenty on his plate at the Department of the Environment, but his previous experience as a member of the Advisory Council on the Penal System, and other reasons, too, particularly qualify him for this task.

Let me begin by saying that the Government do not wish to attempt to minimise the gravity of the situation confronting the penal system to-day and in the years ahead. There are signs of an increasing public awareness, at any rate as regards informed opinion, that the standards of penal treatment are those that society is prepared to provide. This goes way beyond mere financial provision for accommodation and for services. It comes down to the readiness of a local community to have a prison, or a borstal, or a hostel in its midst; it comes down to the readiness of employers to give a man with convictions a chance to get back on the rails again; it comes down to the readiness of fellow workers to accept him and support him in his attempts to make good. Any wider discussion of the penal system in these terms would quickly exceed the wording of the noble Lord's Motion. I think that, very properly, he sought to guide the discussion to-day on practical lines. We have another Motion on the Order Paper in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham which may enable us before too long to debate some of the broader issues of penal policy, but to-day I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that our feet should be firmly on the ground.

The present position is that on November 15, 1970 (the date of the most recent count), there was a total prison population of 40,231. This was made up of 5,029 unsentenced male prisoners, including civil prisoners; 25,951 adult sentenced men and young prisoners 6,478 sentenced to borstal training; 1,720 serving sentences in detention centres; and 1,053 women and girls, sentenced and unsentenced, in prisons and borstals. This total of 40,231 compares with 36,199 a year ago. For the first four months of this year the rate of increase was about 1,000 a month, although fortunately this frighteningly high rate of increase did not continue for long. Overcrowding has risen correspondingly, so that earlier this year there were times when over 14,000 men were sleeping two or three in a cell; there are now over 13,500.

More recently, as the noble Lord pointed out, the prison population has levelled off at about 40,000. There is no simple explanation for what looks like a plateau on the graph, but if one looks back at the prison population figures for the previous decade it is clear that the trend has been steadily upwards. There have been some fluctuations, and the most substantial was the sharp drop in 1968 following the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. It has been suggested by some that the effects of suspended sentences are responsible for part of the increase; others argue that the reverse is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred to suspended sentences in his speech. While undoubtedly they have had some effect on the pattern, the conclusion of the statisticians who have studied this matter is that the initial drop following the introduction of suspended sentences in 1968 is roughly balanced by the increase following the reactivation of such sentences once another offence has been committed. Consequently, we believe that the size of the prison population now is much the same as it would have been had the suspended sentence not been introduced.

There are a number of factors affecting the size of the prison population. These include the growth in the outside population as well as the sentencing practice of the courts. But the largest single factor is the rise in crime. This can be measured in different ways, but one indicator is the number of persons found guilty of indictable offences per 100,000 of the population. For males aged 17 and over that figure doubled between 1959 and 1969—from 546 to 1,079 per 100,000. It would take the debate even wider if we sought to discuss now the causes of this increase in lawlessness, which incidentally is not one that is limited to this country alone. But I will content myself now with the obvious point that, if all other things are equal, an annual increase in crime produces an equivalent increase in the prison population.

Much of this debate will be devoted to showing ways in which other things might not be equal—by the greater use of non-custodial penalties, for example. I must say, however, that important as experiments on these lines may be, it would be wrong to pin all our hopes on the extent to which they might arrest the increase in the prison population. If we are to plan realistically for the future it must be on the assumption that the prison population will continue to increase, and probably increase markedly, and we cannot count on the present plateau being more than a short but welcome pause. To plan for an increase in the prison population is not to abandon the search for alternative forms of treatment, but to complement that search.

A large building programme must therefore form an essential part of the Government's measures to meet this situation, and let me say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the programme has not been affected by recent Government decisions on public expenditure. I can give him that assurance, and I can give him also a second assurance. The programme is planned on a five-year rolling basis, enabling us to get ahead with all the preliminary work required, to seek suitable sites and to obtain planning clearance before work can be started on the particular site concerned. We have given a great deal of thought to the question of suitable sites. As some noble Lords will know, in seeking sites for penal institutions and for houses for prison staff, it has been the practice of the Home Office in recent years to look first to land in Government ownership, including land which other Departments are able to release. There are many advantages in this practice: it is economical and it reduces disturbance to a minimum. This method, together with some purchases of land by agreement, has met our needs in the past and will continue to be the main source of supply of land for new prisons.

But it is essential to maintain a steady supply of suitable sites to sustain the long-term building programme which is so necessary to meet the increase in the number of people in custody. It has been represented to us, in discussions we have been having with local planning authorities, that too much reliance on land already in Government ownership and unwillingness to use compulsory purchase powers may sometimes prevent the use of the site which is the best on planning grounds. And we are of course concerned to be sure that the sites which are chosen are acceptable from a planning point of view. There is clearly a difficult balance to be struck here between the public and the private interest; and, as I have said, we shall in future continue to look in the first place, and for most of our needs, to land in public ownership. In the last resort, however, we shall be prepared to use the powers of Section 36 of the Prison Act 1952 to buy land compulsorily. In all cases there will continue to be full consultation with the local planning authority.

So far as new places are concerned, one way of measuring progress is the number of places to be provided in projects started each year. Unfortunately no major scheme was started in the financial year 1969-70, but in the current financial year work is starting on a large young offender complex at Glen Parva in Leicestershire; on a Category C prison at a former Army Camp at Ranby, near Retford; and other smaller schemes. In all, these will provide over 1,500 places. Work is also proceeding on the new Holloway project, which will at last provide suitable accommodation for the principal prison for women. A start will be made in the next financial year on two further large schemes: the new prisons at Lockwood, near Oxford, and Wrabness, near Harwich; and, subject to early agreement with the planning authorities, on work to adapt camps at Acklington, in Northumberland, and West Mailing, in Kent. There are currently 24 major schemes in the prison building programme and our aim is to start 2,000 places a year from 1971–72 onwards.

I should also emphasise how much of the current building effort and of the £10 million or so of capital expenditure incurred this year is being spent to improve the facilities and capacity of existing establishments, including new cell blocks and such things as workshops, boiler-houses and better kitchens. These alone total nearly £6 million out of the £10 million. We are pressing on with the refurbishing programme started by the previous Administration, and spending money to keep the essential services going. I might mention in particular that a new purpose-built prison is under construction at Long Lartin in Worcestershire which will shortly be brought into use. This has been designed as a high security closed prison for prisoners in the two highest security categories—categories A and B. But since it will not be ready for that purpose until 1972, we shall be using parts of it from early next year to house up to 320 prisoners in the lower security category, C.

The immediate problem is how to maintain a tolerable standard of living for staff and prisoners in the next five years before the long-term building programme begins to produce results. We are doing what we can to supplement and accelerate the building programme by trying to find redundant service camps which can be quickly converted for immediate use. We are planning to add new accommodation and services also where possible within the existing establishments and we are making sure that there is no spare capacity without good reason in either open or closed training prisons. The Prison Department is applying a great deal of effort to this unspectacular work, which is essential if we are to get through the next few years tolerably. One result is that on the young offender side the training borstals are now accommodating over 500 more trainees than a year ago, and the average time spent by some trainees in local prisons and remand centres waiting for transfer to allocation centres has been reduced from as much as two or three months earlier this year to about four weeks. Prison staff are bearing a heavy burden as a result of overcrowding, and prison officers in particular are working very long hours. The response by all grades of staff to the pressures of the past year has been outstanding, and I think noble Lords would wish to acknowledge that.

One of the effects of overcrowding is the very understandable risk that staff and prisoners alike will concentrate on just getting through the sheer physical and material needs of the prison and its routine at the expense of the personal, informal human contacts between staff and prisoners which ought to exist. Our aim, therefore, even in conditions of extreme overcrowding must be to maintain a sense of purpose and a coherent programme of activities. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, hopes to refer to the experiments in Norwich and Bristol prisons in the course of her speech, and my noble friend Lord Sandford will have something to say about the progress of those experiments when he winds up the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to prison industries, and we would accept the importance of prison industries and share the spirit in which he spoke. It would not be right to suggest that the position is less satisfactory to-day than it has been during the past five or six years, but of course the immediate problem is to prevent the quality and quantity of work that is being attained in the prisons from being seriously affected by overcrowding. It is a measure of achievement that, in dealing with a situation of overcrowding in a period when the average population of prison establishments rose from nearly 34,000 to some 40,000, prison industries continued to absorb almost the same proportion—about 43 per cent.—of the total prison population. The number employed rose from about 14,700 to about 17,000, and because 150,000 sq. ft. of additional workshop space became available, there was only a marginal reduction in the average amount of working space for each person. The number of prisoners employed on prison farms and gardens went up from 1,250 in March, 1969, to just over 1,800 in June, 1970. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I can confirm that there are still approximately 3,000 prisoners, despite the pressure caused by overcrowding, on the top rate of pay, and we hope nearly to treble this number, to something nearer 9,000, over the next two or three years.

My Lords, so far I have concentrated on measures designed to provide more accommodation and to make maximum use of the existing stock of places. But of course we must not overlook the possibility of reducing the number of people held in custody.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? In dealing with accommodation he mentioned the use of ex-Army camps and said it is hoped to have one in commission at Retford in the next year. Unless the position has got very much more favourable, I think it would be wrong to allow the impression to go out of the House that we get a significant contribution to the problem from this source. I do not think there are any more possibles in the Army camps. If I am wrong about that I should very much like to know.


My Lords, we have to try to find all possible sources of supply. I have not an immediate answer to the noble Lord, but I will try to give one in the course of the debate, or my noble friend will do so in winding up.

I was going on to deal with the possibility of reducing the numbers of people who are held in custody. The Government are looking at various possibilities, and my noble friend Lord Sandford and I will refer to some of them in the course of what we have to say. But before doing so I must stress one point that I made earlier. That is that if existing trends continue we shall not only need a building programme of at least the size we have at present, but shall also need to exploit to the full any possibilities of reducing the number of people in custody.

One suggestion made by the noble Lord was that we might re-negotiate some of the local undertakings that have been given about the types of prisoner who can be sent to an open prison, with a view to extending the categories of prisoners for which they are available. I ought to say straight away that the open prisons are now 95 per cent. full. There has been a significant change here since the beginning of the year, when there were about a thousand vacancies; so that changes on these lines might not do a great deal to relieve overcrowding.

It is true that the current restrictions sometimes prevent men from going to an open prison where they might benefit from it and would not, in our judgment, present any risk to the local people. This is particularly true, perhaps, when a man is nearing the end of his sentence and there has been ample opportunity to assess him. We believe there are some prisoners who at that stage could benefit from a period in an open prison, but who may now he excluded because of the type of offence for which they have been convicted. In making plans for the future we have this point in mind, and I am sure that any approach we make to a particular local authority for some modification of the current restrictions will be considered in a way which shows under-standing of our problem. For the fears expressed of a proposed new prison, as the noble Lord knows very well, whether open or closed, are largely fears of the unknown. Once a prison has become established, local anxieties diminish and the staff of the prison, and even to some extent the prisoner, become an accepted part of the local community.

The noble Lord referred in the course of his speech to the need to reduce the numbers remanded in custody. We share his concern that people should not be remanded in custody where this can be avoided, and consequently a special study is being made to assess the scone for possible reductions. In the light of the findings of this study, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will consider whether he might usefully consult the Magistrates' Association and whether any changes might be necessary in the circulars issued to magistrates.

Extension of the parole scheme is another subject which has already been mentioned in the debate and I am sure will be referred to by other speakers. One possibility, favoured by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in a Question that he asked last week, is that the threshold might be reduced, enabling prisoners serving sentences of eighteen months or less to be considered for parole. The present scheme is limited to those serving a period of over eighteen months. Any change of this kind would require legislation and would necessitate getting adequate assessments of prisoners within a few months of their arrival in prison. This is something that will require careful study.

We also have to realise that the parole scheme is still new, and we must be careful, in particular, not to jeopardise in the early stages of the scheme the confidence which is being built up by the careful work of the Parole Board. The record so far is pretty good. From April, 1968, when the scheme started, until the end of October this year, over 4,700 prisoners had been recommended by the Parole Board for early release. Of these, only 230 had been recalled to prison, including those who were recalled for failing to observe their licence conditions. Last week the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, asked me how many prisoners convicted of crimes of violence who had been released on parole had committed other crimes of violence. The answer is that over a 2½-year period only 15 out of 4,718 prisoners released on parole have committed further offences of a violent or sexual nature while on licence. The statisticians have been at work, and they calculate that this represents 0.3 per cent. of the total. I suggest that it is still too early to pronounce definitively on the success of the scheme, but research is now being conducted which can be evaluated later. In the meantime we can note that about 1,300 men and women who would otherwise be in prison are currently in the community on licence under the supervision of the Probation and After-Care Service, and that over 2,800 others have completed their licence periods successfully.

Parole has been one of the most encouraging developments in the penal field for many years, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said in his speech; and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, expressed a similar opinion. I should like to add my tribute to the dedication of the members of the Parole Board, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord. Lord Hunt, who is to speak in our debate later this afternoon: they have carried a very heavy burden. Even without any increase in the scope of the scheme, the number of cases the Board has to consider will go on increasing in line with the increase in the prison population, and for that reason the Home Secretary has decided, after consulting the Board, to establish additional panels in Birmingham and Manchester.

Two other extremely important alternatives to custody which have been mentioned are the treatment of alcoholics outside a prison setting and the provision of approved hostels or homes, supervised by the Probation Service, to which mainly young offenders can be sent if they are likely to benefit from a stable supportive environment. The Rathcoole House project and the Bridgehead Housing Association have been mentioned, and, since I know that other noble Lords are going to refer to this subject in the course of the debate, my noble friend will reply at the end of the debate.

I now turn to the proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and her colleagues on non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties. The report of the sub-committee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System was published in September. The Government have not previously expressed a view on the recommendation it contains, but I shall now do so. Let me begin by thanking the members of the Advisory Council, particularly the noble Baroness and the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Kenneth Younger, for the report. It manages to be both painstaking and imaginative at the same time, and these are two qualities that are seldom easily combined.

Devising alternatives to imprisonment, as I am sure the members of the subcommittee would agree, is not easy. Enlarging the powers of the courts may get us some of the way; but often this approach will not get very far without a commitment of resources—though conversely, an expansion of resources for existing powers may accomplish a great deal. In this field, the resources required are often those of the Probation and After-Care Service, and I shall be saying later something about the Government's plan for achieving an expansion. Directly or indirectly, a number of the sub-committee's proposals would involve the Probation and After-Care Service.

This is particularly true of what the sub-committee describe as their "most ambitious proposal"; that the courts should be given the power to require offenders to perform part-time service to the community. The Probation Service would be responsible for administering a scheme, in close co-operation with voluntary agencies. The various attractions of this approach need no stressing. However, the proposal gives rise to a number of practical issues which will need to be resolved before the Government can decide whether to accept this recommendation and to introduce the necessary legislation. To this end, a development group, including representatives of the Probation Service, the magistrates and voluntary bodies, is being set up in the Home Office to make a detailed study of this proposal.

Secondly, the Government accept in principle the Advisory Council's recommendation that the courts should be given a specific power to defer sentence on a convicted offender. Our impression is that a number of judges and magistrates would find this a useful power in certain circumstances—for example, where there is ground to believe that, given a little time, circumstances will change in an offender's favour. He may marry a good woman, or get and keep a job, or of his own volition make good the loss or damage which his offence has caused. It is understandable that a court, faced with that situation, feels frustrated at the lack of any specific power to put the case back to see whether the promised event occurs in practice. We are doubtful, however, whether it is right to attach formal conditions to a deferment of sentence.

Thirdly, the sub-committee's report makes a number of recommendations for adding to the powers of the courts to make orders of disqualification and of forfeiture. We accept the recommendation that the criminal courts should be given power to disqualify from driving an offender who has used a vehicle for the commission of crime. Chief constables have told us that they would welcome this additional power. They are, of course, under no illusion that a person set on committing a burglary will be deterred from driving to the scene of the crime because he has no licence. However, it is only reasonable to suppose that those who use vehicles in the pursuit of criminal objectives should have life made as difficult as possible for them. The chief constables do not think that enforcement problems should be a serious objection in this instance.

The same is not true, however, of the next recommendation in the series, that the courts should have power to order driving disqualification confined to weekends. This is another proposal which has its attractions. However, we are advised, contrary to what is said in the Report, that the level of enforcement of disqualification orders confined to weekends would be so low, and so uncertain, as to make this a provision with very little power which could bring disqualification generally into disrepute. The police are particularly stretched at weekends anyway, and, moreover, the chances of a police officer spotting a disqualified driver will be less because weekend driving routes follow a less regular pattern than those of working days. We therefore do not accept this recommendation, for which we have found little support either in the courts or among the police.

The Report also recommended that the courts should be given a general power to order the forfeiture of property in the possession of an offender which is evidently intended for use in the commission of crime. The courts have various specific provisions authorising forfeiture, and there is some force in the argument that the power should be generalised. The Government have no strong view on this recommendation, but on balance are disposed to accept it.

Finally under this heading, we are not able to accept the Council's proposal that where a person has been convicted of a sexual offence, or an offence of violence involving a child, the courts should be enabled to make an order prohibiting him from taking employment in occupations involving contact with children. We have found very little enthusiasm for this proposal among those whom we have consulted who sit in the courts, or among the Departments concerned with the relevant services. The machinery that would be required to give effect to this kind of prohibition—the maintenance, distribution and keeping up to date of a list of persons—would be fairly costly. We recognise that in a few cases a court prohibition might deter undesirable persons from seeking employment that brought them into contact with children. But in our view there would be a very real risk that a scheme based on court orders might detract from the responsibility of employers for making sure, through a careful check of references, that those whom they take on for employment are suitable.

Fourthly, on the point concerning intermittent custody, the sub-committee were attracted to week-end imprisonment as an alternative to continuous custody for certain offenders, but recognised that the development of this penalty would have to wait until the pressure on prison resources was reduced. I am afraid that what I have said earlier this afternoon indicates how far off that time is likely to be. Your Lordships will therefore not expect me to make any predictions now about the possible introduction of a form of week-end imprisonment. Whatever may be the advantages of a form of custodial treatment that does not involve continuous custody, it is very difficult to see how it could avoid increasing demand on prison places and staff by spreading over a number of week-ends a demand which would otherwise be concentrated into a shorter continuous period.

But, my Lords, leaving aside these considerations of resources, there are considerations of merit which need to be kept in mind. The argument for week-end imprisonment is that it enables the penalty of deprivation of liberty to be imposed without the complete disruption of employment, social ties and family life which a continuous period of imprisonment brings. That is a strong argument. But it is difficult to believe that, in our system of treatment of offenders, weekend imprisonment would be used by the courts as a substitute for continuous imprisonment and not as a substitute for non-custodial penalties. We have recent experience in the suspended sentence of how powers conferred on the courts can be used in a way not foreseen by Parliament.

Week-end imprisonment would not be an adequate substitute for any but very short continuous sentences. It would be suitable only for offenders from a stable environment and with a capacity for cooperation, and in these cases it might be thought that probation or a fine would usually be a more suitable penalty. For these reasons, and while recognising the attractions of the idea of week-end imprisonment, the Government think it best at this stage to avoid any commitment in principle, even if the time came—which it is at present difficult to foresee—when adequate resources might be made available.

My Lords, this has been a compressed and an incomplete discussion of the Report, and I should not like the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, to feel that I have done less than justice to what was three years' work. There is, of course, a great deal more in the Report which could justify much further discussion on another occasion; but what I have tried to do, as briefly as possible in the context of this debate, is to give an indication of those matters on which the Government have, after consultation, already formed a definite view. I thought that it would be helpful for noble Lords to be informed of these decisions at the earliest possible moment. There are, however, several other recommendations which I have not mentioned. These include the power to order offenders to report to police stations; a proposal that an experimental traffic attendance centre should be established; a proposal that we should set up periodic work detention centres on the New Zealand model; and that the courts should have a power to combine compulsory supervision with a fine or suspended sentence. All of these are extremely important matters. They are matters on which we have not yet reached a conclusion, but of course they will all continue to receive the most careful study.

I had intended to speak about the expansion of the Probation Service, but I am extremely conscious that I have already spoken for a very long time. This is the longest speech that I have ever made in your Lordships' House. I did it deliberately, because I think it is very easy to come along here (the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who was himself at the Despatch Box for a number of years will appreciate this) and give a general answer to a critical Motion of this kind. But we do regard this as a matter of the first importance. There is no one simple solution. If there was it would have been adopted long ago.

My final word, my Lords, is this—it is an old refrain, but is none the less valid for that. The wider use of treatment in the community is not going to empty the prisons, although it should help to relieve some of the pressure on them. What we must hope it will do is to change the climate of opinion in this country. Just as we now see mental illness as something to be treated, so far as possible, in the community, rather than behind locked doors, so perhaps we can look forward to the day when, to a greater degree, certain forms of delinquency or social illness are regarded as neeeding treatment and support in the community rather than in prison. It is not going to be accomplished at all easily, but I hope that what I have said shows that the Government have a grasp on this problem; we have identified what needs to be done and we have already begun to act.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, it would be otiose to repeat at length our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for introducing this debate. His concern with these matters, whether in Government or in Opposition, is well known. I recall that it was a Motion of his on a similar subject that gave me the opportunity to make my own maiden speech in this House many years ago. Since then we have seen him dealing with the same questions from the Government Front Bench, and now he is back in his old place, but filled with the same idealism and concern for those who have very few to care about them. I was pleased to see that he had written a warm foreword to the pamphlet Cast the First Stone by Ben Harrison, which is one of the most pungent indictments of our commonly accepted methods of dealing with criminals that has appeared from Church sources for many years.

Of course, the noble Lord is by no means alone in his concern about overcrowding. Victor Hugo said, "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose hour has come", and it seems to me that the idea really has now taken hold of many in our society that we must look at our whole system of imprisonment with new eyes. I see evidence of this in the speech of the Under-Secretary at the Home Office to the Howard League for Penal Reform, with its declaration of intent to raise the Probation Service, by stages, to at least 4,700 by 1975. I see evidence of it, too, in the setting up of the Committee on Prison Reform by the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

The problem that confronts society may at first sight appear to be just a straight forward problem of overcrowding. I will not go through all the figures again, because we have had them several times this afternoon, but I merely mention the concluding point in the paragraph I had prepared on this matter, that the numbers sleeping two or three in a cell now reach 13,000, which is about a third of the total inmates of our prisons. In other words, we are not dealing with an isolated problem; we are really dealing with the whole general condition under which a large number of our prisoners are living.

Last Friday I was visiting Leicester Gaol to check up on how these figures affect one local prison. It is in the local prisons that the worst overcrowding occurs. They are the bottlenecks, bound to receive all who are sent to them by the courts but unable to pass men on to the training prisons, of which we have only one in my diocese, which is at Gartree. Gartree is an old ecclesiastical name. We had to allow the Home Office to call that prison Gartree Prison because none of the surrounding towns and villages was willing for its name to be associated with it, which is an indication of the difficulty in getting the community to co-operate in this whole realm of prison work.

In our Leicester Prison, in 125 cells planned for one man each, we have 406 men. That was the number unlocked on Friday morning last; roughly three per cell over the whole prison. Each cell has approximately 1,000 cubic feet of air. For those not familiar with prison cells—and I imagine that there may be some in your Lordships' House who are not—I may mention that the impression is not one of inordinate gloom or terror; it is not exactly the dungeon that one has in mind when one thinks about a prison cell. The light is not bad and walls are gay with pin-ups of feminine beauty—of which the interest is not in the clothing. The impression is more like that of a rather slummy air raid shelter with three bunks; one double, one up and one down, and one single. Dressing and undressing can be miserable enough, as we all know, in a small two-berth cabin on a Channel ship; so one can imagine what it is like to be three in a similar space for 18 hours out of every 24—sometimes for even more than that.

The only toilet arrangements are the covered chamber pots, which have to be used for all purposes during the long night hours. This overcrowding spills over into all aspects of the prison life; into workshops, bathing facilities and the kitchen. It increases the difficulty of arranging supervised visits, of providing for recreation and training and of separating old and young, new and hardened offenders. The total effect on many prisoners cannot be other than degrading. If this is so, a responsible society must ask what can be done about it. One answer is, "Hurry up with the new prisons". I do not want to underrate the importance of what was said by the Minister about the efforts that are being made (and obviously with some success) to increase the provision of prison space, but it just cannot be done sufficiently quickly, or so I believe, to be effective. It is rather like trying to get help to the Pakistani disaster area in 24 hours; it just cannot be done. I understand that in 1969 two new establishments were opened and that one is under construction. Many are in the pipeline—but it is a very long pipeline.

In my view, the only answer is a radical change in sentencing policy. As I am going to recommend such a change, let me emphasise that I am not in the least concerned about suggesting soft options for offenders. Being a Bishop, I find it is necessary to stress that point. There is a great deal of feeling that, if anything is suggested to reduce sentences, one is really supporting soft options. The Times leader, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred, stated: There is an obvious danger that a large section of the general public would regard it as a sign of weakness and misplaced idealism to treat within the community men who would otherwise have been sent to prison. In that case the courts might be reluctant to use the alternative sentences available to them. We are one organ through which public opinion can be expressed, and when the Under-Secretary stated in the speech to which I referred that the Government would increase the probation officer strength in a large way only if public opinion was in agreement with a new method for treating offenders, I hope that he was not meaning that he was going to take the most ignorant and uninformed public opinion as his guide, but that he would take informed public opinion.

I ask myself therefore: why is anybody sent to prison? Society is still very confused about the answer to that question. Clearly, some are sent because they are too dangerous to have about. These include what, in the old days, we used to call criminal lunatics—perhaps even then we should have called them lunatic criminals. Then there are those whose crimes so shock the community that anything less than banishment, short or long, would not adequately express society's condemnation of the crime committed. May I mention the well-known case of the McKay abduction and murder. Whether or not a repetition of a crime like that by those responsible would be likely, society could not tolerate the continued presence in its midst of men with such a crime recently on their hands.

If I have a difference with Mr. Ben Harrison's thesis in Cast the First Stone, it is his suggestion that all steps by society to protect itself from crime are selfish and pharisaical. That is not true. It is for the protection of the weak and helpless that society has to take drastic steps to make clear its rejection of certain types of crime. Here I want to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Foot.

I could not quite follow him in the line he took about deterrent sentences, because in my view there is a deterrent element in all sentences of every kind, not only custodial sentences. It is society's way of saying, "This is something which cannot be tolerated."

But I come to the same conclusion as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that these very long sentences should be avoided, and I think we might be able to avoid them if custodial sentences of any kind became very much rarer. We have already seen this to a certain extent with the life sentence coming in as an alternative to capital punishment, because now when the Press wishes to draw attention to the severity of a sentence it prints the word "life" in headlines. If all sentences were less, then it might be that some of these very long sentences could be modified, but by comparison would continue to have the same effect on the community.

But how many offenders come into the class that should be treated in this way? I think only a small proportion. Some 20 per cent. of our prisoners are "inadequate", those who cannot survive as wage-earners and who drift back to prison, either because they want to get back or because they cannot sustain themselves outside. Then there are those who have failed to pay their fines; those who have offended while a suspended sentence hung over them; sexual offenders of the most varied kinds, until at last the whole 40,000 of our prison population has been counted.

Here are all these misfits. What do we do with them? We say, first of all, We will keep you from now on at £22 a week. If necessary, we will keep your wife and children. We will disrupt your marital life, giving you an excuse for any improprieties by which you may be tempted. We will deprive the community of any advantage from your services. We will make it much more difficult for you to earn your living in the future than it was in the past." Could anything be more stupid? Can we believe that it is necessary to treat more than a fraction of these people in that way for the protection of the rest of us? Is it not merely a habit that we have got into, like standing a child in the corner because it is the shortest and simplest way of expressing some irritation, anger or rejection of the behaviour concerned?

I believe that Her Majesty's Government now have an opportunity which may not recur, to make a drastic change in the whole policy of sentencing in this country. It is amazing how practical the British people are and, whereas you might never persuade them—I was going to say "in a month of Sundays"—that the present policy of sentencing was wrong in itself, they can understand the overcrowding of the prisons. So I hope that Her Majesty's Government will make the very most of their opportunity to bring about a real change.

We have to develop or invent a whole range of non-custodial penalties, perhaps on the lines of those adumbrated in the Wootton Report. I should very much like to think that the proposal in that Report of community service could be an answer, or a partial answer, to this problem. But I am very much afraid that it might turn out to be rather like Lloyd George's scheme for public works during the unemployment of the 'thirties, in that you would never find the right work available at the right time and in the right place. That is the danger. I do not know whether it is possible to find an answer to that.

I am much more attracted by other proposals, such as weekend custody and the hostel system. I thought that the noble Lord. Lord Windlesham, in speaking for the Government, turned aside a little too hurriedly from the weekend system. He seemed to be assuming that, if the weekend system was used, you would have to give as many weekends as made up the total sentence which would otherwise have been given. I do not think that is so at all. Instead of telling a man that he would be in prison for a month, you would tell him that he would work in the ordinary way for a month but that his weekends would be spent in prison. I know that there would be difficulties about the staffing of the prisons if that suggestion were adopted, but if we made a really radical change we might be able to find room for those people.

An element of restitution to those wronged should be incorporated where possible. The hostel system should be developed, especially for the inadequate and the weak-willed. The note of discipline and punishment need not be altogether omitted, especially in the case of the younger offender. A big demand will be made of the whole community, not only to provide the money for a vastly larger and more satisfied Probation Service, but to welcome the setting up of hostels in their own areas. There is a sad tale of objection by prosperous communities to the setting up of any probation or after-care hostels in their midst. It is partly an hysterical fear, brought on by the image of an actual house that they can visualise being filled with ex-offenders more or less at large. If they knew it, the country is already full of such people, and not even under probationary care. The Churches ought to be in the forefront of a campaign to counteract objections of this sort, in the interest of a real step forward in the treatment of offenders. We could hardly do worse than we are doing at present. In this country we have 80 prisoners per 100,000 of the population, while Holland has only 20—and our two countries are not so dissimilar as to take the sting out of those figures. Short sentences are one way in which the proportion of people in custody in Holland has been reduced to that small number. We know that this is against recent theory in this country, but I think we must consider it among other solutions.

We know from the speech from the Government Front Bench that Her Majesty's Government are very much in sympathy with many of the aims which I have mentioned, but as those responsible for action in the matter they will of course be aware, perhaps more than the rest of us, of the practical difficulties which lie in the way. I hope, however, that they will not be deterred by the difficulties but will take advantage of the opportunity and make some progress along these lines. I have to end by repeating the sincere apology I have already expressed in writing to the Minister for my quite unavoidable absence during the later part of the evening.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, up to the present moment this debate has been of a very high order, and I feel sure that, from the time I sit down, it will continue to be. I fancy it may also prove to be an epoch-making one in the history of penal development. For the first time in my experience Parliament, in speech after speech, has been declaring that simple imprisonment as a penalty for an offence is just not good enough. A somewhat similar situation arose about 130 years ago, when transportation was the standard penalty for crime if that crime did not actually carry the death penalty. Then, with the growing reluctance of our friends in Australia and New Zealand to accept more convicts, the Government of the day had to think again, and the outcome of their thought was the building of a new model prison, which was of course magnificently beyond the standard of the hulks in which so many convicts had spent their confinement till then. That new model prison was Pentonville—still standing, and nowadays condemned, and rightly condemned, as antagonistic to all that we now wish to do by way of penal treatment.

None of us can foresee what will come out of the present prison crisis, but let us all adjust our minds to the likelihood that drastic changes which a few years ago would not have been willingly visualised by many may have to be adopted. May I say in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that it is a pleasure to see him once again standing at a Dispatch Box, and that we all feel grateful to him for having initiated this debate, and for having initiated it with a speech of such wide range based on his great knowledge. I hope he will not be angry with me for saying that I was a little surprised that after five years at the Home Office he pronounced the prison system to be "a costly waste" and "a scandalous misuse of public money". I am not wholly in disagreement with him, but he certainly had some opportunities to try to lessen that outright condemnation of the system—and I know, indeed, that he used many of those opportunities. I hope he will grant me that I, too, used my opportunities in earlier years. For it was not only after 1964 that improvements started to come about: the real improvement in the second half of the 20th century dated from the White Paper of my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden in 1959, and the prison building programme which that initiated.

My Lords, if we are to find our way through this present crisis which has been so dramatically described, then, as I think my noble friend Lord Windlesham said, in a splendid speech which fully justified its length, we have got to work on public opinion. We have got to ensure that public opinion is prepared to support the taking of risks which have hitherto seemed to many to be unacceptable. It is significant that there appears to be nobody wishing to take part in this debate to voice the old view that one should make prisons as uncomfortable and as horrible as possible because that would deter people from ever risking coming back to them. That is a view, current in the 19th century, which has now been rejected. It was found that the effect of that kind of régime was to brutalise rather than to deter.

The theory was that this kind of prison treatment would make men more responsible in their actions when they came out of prison. The truth was found to be that it simply rendered them more irresponsible. We have to recognise that the prison population is a relatively young one, and most of them are there because of irresponsibility, though some of them are there because of real criminal intent. But if a man is sent to prison for ten years at the age of thirty, he will be discharged to freedom at the age of forty, if not before, and he will still have an expectation of thirty years' life or more as a free man in the community. If his experience in prison has actually harmed the man's personality, that is going to worsen the prospects for the nation of the subsequent thirty years of his life. That being so, it is essential to go on moulding and remoulding the prison system so that it has whatever chance can be given to it of helping the man to lead an honest and useful life when he comes out of prison.

Now I think that in our hearts we all accept that there is a great deal in the verdict of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that our present prison system does sadly little towards that end. Nevertheless, with some men and women it does something; there is something to build upon. I would not accept the sweeping condemnation of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in that context any more than I would accept the outright condemnation by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, of prison as a deterrent. I believe that long prison sentences, and sometimes shorter prison sentences, do act as an effective deterrent with some people and in some circumstances, and I am quite sure that there has to be a deterrent element in all penalties. But if we are trying to devise and improve a prison sentence that will lead a man, or will have some hope of leading a man, to live an honest life when he comes out, we cannot possibly acquiesce in a situation in which 14,000 out of a prison population of 40,000 live two or three to a cell. We cannot possibly acquiesce in a situation where shortage of space, shortage of facilities, and shortage of staff render it impossible to put a very large part of the prison population to work for more than, say, half a normal working week. What use is work for eighteen, twenty or twenty-five hours a week as a means of preparing a man for freedom?

When I visited Wandsworth Prison in 1962, nothing shocked me more than the discovery that those men there capable of work were working only an 18-hour or 19-hour week. I feel sure that if the public realised that this was what was happening inside prisons they would be deeply shocked, and would demand action. I issued a directive at that time that steps were to be taken to increase the number of working hours a week throughout the Prison Service as quickly as possible to 30 hours as a step on the road to getting it up to a full working week. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, knows the difficulties which have frustrated that effort; and still there are many prisons—though not by any means all—where men are not getting the hours of work they should get.

My Lords, in these rather gloomy circumstances, where had we better start? I am quite sure that we need to start, first of all, by thinking about the young. Just as the policy of Home Secretaries in the 1950s was correct in concentrating on providing proper borstal accommodation as a first priority, going on from that to the building of new prisons, so I believe that at the present time we have got to think first (and I should like to be sure that every Home Office Minister was thinking of this) how our prison arrangements are affecting for good or bad the young. I should like Home Office Ministers particularly to consider conditions in the allocation wings to which young men go. Indeed, all kinds of prisoners go to them, but I am thinking now of the young.

A young man may be going to prison for the first time. He may have had an unblemished record until committing the offence which brought him a prison sentence. He will find himself in the allocation wing at Wormwood Scrubs or elsewhere, sleeping three in a cell, along with other young men who, quite unlike him, have had a long record leading them to approved schools and then to borstal, and now to prison. These young people will be cooped up together for some weeks under a régime which provides them with no work at all; and until they are sent to another prison they will spend 23 hours out of 24 in their cell. They will go out, supposedly for an hour's exercise, but often, I am afraid, for less. Otherwise, they will go out only for the purpose of slopping-out or fetching their meals and then taking them back to their cells to eat them. This régime is bound to ensure that any man who has not been in prison before will get the very worst impression of prison from the outset, so that he probably will be determined not to co-operate. He may go on from this to an excellent modern prison, but by that time the damage may have been done. I believe that this pressure of numbers in the allocation wings is one of the most damaging features of the present situation.

Obviously, as previous speakers have said, we need more prisons and fewer prisoners. As to more prisons, the Government have inherited an extensive prison building programme—most of the new prisons, unfortunately, being only in the design stage. I do not know whether it is that the building programme has got out of phase, but it seems to me odd that at the present time, when the need for new prisons is so glaring, there is, according to the Prison Department's Report, only one new prison, at Long Lartin, actually under construction. Something must have gone wrong. I know of the difficulties and hold-ups through lack of planning permission. Nevertheless, we must not allow the situation to arise again when only one new prison is under construction. I can only hope that the Home Office will press ahead by all possible means with the big programme which is at present on paper.

We have got in these immediate years, even in these immediate weeks, to see that the possibilities override the difficulties. Anybody can cite difficulties in the way of new prison building, or in the way of new ideas as set out in the valuable Report of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. But difficulties must be overcome. I, for one, would not be prepared to be turned aside from following up some of these new ideas simply through the pointing out of difficulties. My noble friend Lord Windlesham referred to my Question in your Lordships' House last week about extending the scope of the Parole Board. At present a man can be released on parole only after he has served at least one year of his sentence. I suggested that the minimum period should be reduced to eight months. It was pointed out to me that it may be difficult to get an assessment on his progress in prison in time for the Parole Board to consider it. Of course it will be difficult; but that is exactly the sort of difficulty which needs to be overcome.

I should like to see a decision taken here and now that the Parole Board, which at present is considering, I believe, some 8,000 cases a year, should be in a position as rapidly as possible to be able to consider 10,000 cases a year. Whether or not it would recommend the same percentage to be released on licence, I have no idea. But the Parole Board has justified its creation. We must all express great gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues; but I suggest that we should now go further. We have these new panels of the Board in Manchester and Birmingham, but we should also urge the Government to take a decision without delay that by one means or another—not necessarily according to my suggestion—the through-put of the Parole Board should be increased.

As to the Report of the noble Baroness, which I found a fascinating document, I was glad to hear that at any rate some of her proposals already have received the approval of the Government. I had already gathered something of what my noble friend said from the admirable speech which his colleague Mr. Mark Carlisle made to the Howard League a week or two ago; a speech which, in itself, would be an answer to the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that this Government were marking time. I was very pleased to hear my noble friend say—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I spoke of marking time only in respect of prison industries. I do not think that Mr. Carlisle discussed prison industries.


My Lords, perhaps I have misinterpreted the noble Lord, and in that case I am sorry. If it is prison industries with which he is concerned, he may count on me as an ally in pressing that the intelligent development of work in prison shall go forward as rapidly as possible. Indeed, that is one of my reasons for having become convinced that we must develop quickly alternatives to prison, because I do not think we can tolerate the economic waste involved in keeping 40,000 people in custody. The value of their total production at work in prison is no more than about £6 million a year. That is gross production; actually we make a loss on our prison industries. For that reason, and others, I trust that the Government will be ready to press ahead with those recommendations in the Wootton Report which they are prepared to accept, and in due time to reconsider those recommendations which have been negatived.

My Lords, I am quite sure that something can be made of the idea of community service. May I offer a practical suggestion to Her Majesty's Government? When they set up a development group, or a working party, or a study group, on any of these matters, will they give that body a time limit by which it must report? I am sure that such a group would get ahead, but I am so conscious of the time which has already been wasted, not through malice but through failure to recognise the urgency.

I shall always regret that the Royal Commission, which I recommended Mr. Macmillan to set up in 1964, was later disbanded by our successors. I believe that had that Royal Commission completed its work, we should by now have in our hands a comprehensive and deep study of the whole of the penal system. The information is now becoming available to us bit by bit with Reports such as this one from the Advisory Council. Time has been lost, and we cannot afford to lose any more, for the figures given to us today about overcrowding in the prisons make that too serious.

My Lords, I will not go into detail over the Wootton Report recommendations, because I feel sure that the noble Baroness will be able to do that with much closer knowledge than mine. But I feel certain that one of our tasks must be to extend the possible range of sentences which magistrates are able to impose. I have never been a magistrate, but there are few magistrates who have not told me that they have felt restricted by the law—that is by Parliament; by us—in not being permitted as wide or as imaginative a range of penalties to impose as they would have wished to have. There lies a duty on Parliament to review all this, and to ensure that the courts are given as extensive powers as will help them to find the right penalty in each case.

In this, my Lords, we must be prepared to take risks. A particular question which I should like to put to my noble friend Lord Sandford, who is to reply for the Government, is how the Government contemplate their legislative programme in relation to those pioneering proposals included in the Wootton Report which the Government may be willing to accept. I have a fear that we may reach a situation in which the Government decide that some new steps should be taken, but the law does not allow it; and pressure on the Parliamentary time-table may delay any further step for 12 or 18 months. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will agree, there is little more that the Parole Board can do to extend its range unless there is further legislation, because it is limited by legislation. I should like to see the Government considering the passing of enabling legislation in advance on some of these matters; legislation which would come into force by Ministerial Order only when the facilities to make it practicable had become available.

My Lords, I hope that this debate will lead to the spreading throughout the country of the general opinion that prison is an excessively costly remedy. It means, as the Wootton Report points out, an expenditure from public funds of £22 per week per prisoner, not counting the supplementary benefit which will very likely have to be claimed by the prisoner's family. Therefore every man who is sent to prison for a year means an additional expenditure of £1,000 by the taxpayer. All this needs to be taken into account in the courts. I say that, in the future, prison sentences should be imposed only on those men or women who are a danger to society. That should be our aim, and we must work towards achieving it as rapidly as we can.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, naturally I share the delight of your Lordships at seeing my noble friend Lord Stonham back in his proper place and fulfilling his proper role as defender of penal reform. I should also like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for the care with which he has announced the Government's provisional reaction to the various recommendations of the subcommittee over which I had the honour to preside.

The noble Lord will not expect me to comment in detail on the Government's conclusions at this stage. I may not have got the record right; but, so far as I can make out, the score is two positive, three negative and the rest of the recommendations under consideration; the two positives being deferred sentence and the disqualification following the use of a motor vehicle in the course of crime; and the three negatives being intermittent custody, week-end disqualification from driving and disqualification of people with a record of serious offences against children from employment in children's institutions. May I tell the noble Lord that on the three negatives I think that he may be hearing further from us, but that must necessarily be at a later stage. We are extremely grateful that some of our main proposals are still under consideration. I shall, therefore, devote the few remarks I make to-night chiefly to the main proposals on which the Government's mind, we understand, is still open.

I would say at the outset that in making these proposals, we have been criticised for omission as well as for commission. We have been criticised for not having paid sufficient attention to the importance of developing the work of the Probation Service, as it is now understood. That was because we were led to believe that this was not our business. Our business was not to propose developments of existing potentialities but to find new possible treatments of offenders. I should like to say, and I am sure that my colleagues would wish to be associated with me, that we have the greatest admiration of the work that the Probation and After-Care Service does now, that we have the greatest anxiety to see it extended and that we welcome, so far as it goes, the recent announcement of the Government that they propose to increase the strength of the Probation and After-Care Service. The only criticism that I would make, and I think that my colleagues would agree, is that in my view this extension is by no means commensurate with the demands that we think will be made and ought to be made upon the Probation Service. We should particularly like to hear whether the Government are looking into the practice, which is spreading in the United States, of using as auxiliaries in the Probation Service people who themselves have been offenders.

Our principal recommendation was the one on community service. May I put a little detail on the bare bones of that proposal? We propose that an offender should be liable to be sentenced by the court to spend not more than 120 hours of his leisure time in a period of six months in certain forms of community service. This might be in evenings and non-residential weekends, but it might be combined with residential weekend service of the kind that has been successful in New Zealand. Let me say at once that we would not have gone on with this proposal if we had not had remarkable co-operation from two vital sources. The first was the Probation and After-Care Service. Their representatives, through their organisations, told us that they would welcome an opportunity to take part in this kind of work, always with the understanding that they had the resources to do so. We had an equally cordial reception from the voluntary organisations, such as Task Force and the Community Service Volunteers, who are already engaged in this kind of work.

This emboldened us to go on with what in many senses is a pretty radical proposal. We attach to it two conditions: that nobody should be required to perform community service work without his own consent, in the same way as no adult can be put upon probation without his own consent; and, secondly, that nobody should be required to perform this service unless there had previously been full inquiries, which would give the court a full picture of his background and enable the court to judge whether he was a suitable person to be so engaged.

We were concerned, as the right reverend Prelate has said, with the difficulty of finding suitable work, and on that topic we were remarkably encouraged by the reaction of the community service organisations which are already engaged on this type of work. They said that they had no shortage of work. They instanced the kind of things they do: making adventure playgrounds, helping in hospital gardens and kitchens, delivering meals on wheels at weekends, and other outdoor work, such as clearing canals and clearing away snow, sometimes on premises of people to whom the local authority does not provide this service, perhaps people not able to do it themselves, and so on. They gave us a long list of their activities and said that they had more work than they could cope with, rather than that they were being reduced to searching for work.

We are anxious that the work should not be degrading. We have no wish to humiliate people publicly. Our basic idea was that people might get good reactions from having something sensible to do. We know that many people in prison have never had anything sensible to do and might be dissatisfied. I do not know whether this is sentimental optimism, but the idea was present in our minds. We did not want to set an age limit. Obviously young people might be the first candidates, but we could see opportunities also for some older people in this field. We did not want to confine it to any particular type of offender. We thought that that was a matter for the judgment of the court. We thought that some of the young men who were ardent takers and drivers away might be suitable; a number of people guilty of offences against property might be suitable and some people guilty of assault of a not too serious character—the kind of thing that happens in exasperating situations in contemporary life in which somebody loses his temper, but is not a vicious character.

We were relieved to hear from the voluntary organisations that they never had any trade union trouble. They always took pains to participate in local councils on which the local trade unions were represented, so that they were in contact with the unions and were assured that they were not treading on union toes. The work they do, they told us repeatedly, is work which if they did not do it, would not he done—certainly it would not be paid for.

In the simplest terms, the practical administrative procedure we envisage was like this. An offender is ordered to do so many hours of community service at a time to be arranged. He is ordered to report to a probation officer, in the case of some particular job. The probation officer is in touch with the local community service organisation and learns from them where there is a suitable opportunity and instructs the offender to turn up, let us say, at a certain hospital at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning, where he is to be employed working in the gardens. This would be done either as a condition in the probation order or by a separate order of the court.

On the job, the offender would be supervised by whoever was in charge of the job. Somebody is in charge of the volunteers doing that kind of work and he would work side by side with the volunteers under the general supervision If he slackened or failed to turn up, the supervisor on the spot would report him back to the probation officer, who then, if he thought fit, would bring the offender back to court. The court would either treat this as a breach of probation, if it was a condition of the order, or if directly under a court order the court would deal with it as a breach of that order, and would have the right to impose a fine or any penalty that would have been available in the case of the original offence.

I do not think that this would make very serious new demands on the Probation Service. Obviously, in the larger urban centres, if the community service developed on a big scale it might be necessary to appoint one or two specialist officers who would cencentrate part of their time—not all of it—on this area, which of course would involve largely administrative duties. But in so far as some of these people would not be on probation under supervision in the ordinary way, it would not add to the number of cases in that sense. In any case, it is clear that this kind of activity would have to be introduced experimentally in certain localities in the first instance, because voluntary organisations are not acting throughout the whole country and because it is a radical experiment, and we should not want to lay out a vast amount of money on it before we had experience of its working.

If it is necessary for this reason alone to strengthen the resources of the Probation and After-care Service—and I think from every point of view it is desirable—I can only quote again the fact that one man out of prison under the care of the Service costs less than one-twentieth of one man inside. Therefore, if we are at all successful, there should be considerable resources available. That is the kind of approach—experimental and local in the first instance, and I think it ties in with the intermediate treatment proposed under the Children and Young Persons Act. I believe that all this reflects a changing attitude in the community to possible ways in which offenders may be treated within the community.

I should like to say one or two words about other proposals in the Report. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, did not refer to our proposals about the people who are in prison for non-payment of fines—and there are still people in prison for non-payment of civil debts, although I believe that after the Payne Committee Report it is the intention (certainly it was the intention of the Labour Government, and I hope it is the intention of the present Government) that imprisonment for civil debt should come to an end. We regretted very much that the Payne Committee's proposals for a central enforcement office, with full powers to collect civil debts, was not included by the late Government in the Administration of Justice Act 1970. We should have liked it to be so included, and we should also have liked it to apply to the collection of unpaid fines.

Some of us—a minority of the Committee—felt that the present procedure under which a person who does not pay his fine is badgered and badgered, and rather ineffectual inquiries are made as to his means, until he is finally thrown into prison, is very unsatisfactory. We should like the non-payment of a fine to be an offence in itself, for which a person would be prosecuted and a conviction recorded, instead of the semiautomatic committal on default. But I understand that in one area, at least, the Probation Service—I think perhaps with dubious legality—has been involved in assisting in the collection of civil debts, and may be even in the collection of unpaid fines. I also understand, with great pleasure, that, whatever the legality, the Home Office are not frowning upon the extension of this procedure into one or two other districts. In the district that I mentioned first I believe it has been so successful that nobody has been sent to prison for non-payment of debts for a considerable time.

One other proposal on which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, did not comment was that relating to hostels. We are somewhat concerned that for adults hostels are normally probation hostels and therefore an offender can only be required to reside in a hostel under a probation order. We should like hostel accommodation to be available in certain cases without a probation order. We do not want there to be an age limit. And we should like them to be hostels where people, particularly elderly recidivists with no homes, might be allowed to stay on even after, if there is an order, the order has expired.

I now turn to one or two points outside the purview of the Committee on Non-Custodial Penalties. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred to length of sentence. This seems to me to be an important matter. Sentences are getting longer. Whether this is due to activated suspended sentences being tagged on to new sentences I do not know but I doubt it. However, sentences are getting longer. In 1960, 17.6 per cent. of the committals were for periods of over twelve months. In 1965 the figure had dropped to 14.3 per cent. In 1970 it had reached 24.7 per cent.—nearly a quarter. Twelve months is a long time to be in prison, even if it is only really eight months. The prospect of it, I should have thought, was a deterrent. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, will admit that perhaps some of us are deterred by the prospect of imprisonment, and I should have thought that it was a fairly considerable deterrent, if deterrance has any effect at all.

But nobody, I think, can argue, in the present state of our prisons, that the effect of staying in prison for five, six, seven, eight or ten years is likely to produce a better result than the effect of staying in prison for perhaps one year. Continued imprisonment in far more cases than otherwise effects deterioration and not improvement, and it can be justified for long periods only in those cases of very dangerous people whom we simply cannot have at large in the community. The right reverend Prelate quoted the fact and nobody as yet has explained it—that the Dutch can get away with 21 per 100,000 population, and we have to have 80 in prison.

There is one other point. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, referred to the people who are in prison on remand, and I understand, with satisfaction, that the Government are going to look into this question. I hope that they will look into the Manhattan Scheme, in which it is claimed, I think with justification, that a great reduction has been successfully made in New York State and in some other American States by remanding people on bail and not getting in a higher proportion of people who default.

One of the saddest features of overcrowding is not only the physical miseries that it creates but the effect upon the whole prison régime. In any kind of institution that is totally isolated from the community, it is extraordinarily difficult to evolve a régime which will fit the inmate to adjust himself better to the community when he is released. The old-fashioned authoritarian prison was hopeless in this respect, because it deprived the prisoner of any opportunity of making decisions for himself: and life consists of making decisions for oneself. Even the more modern progressive prison has its difficulties in this respect, because the prisoner is shielded from all the domestic and financial worries of everyday life, and he is also shielded from temptations and opportunities of committing new offences. It is, as I say, extremely difficult to devise a satisfactory régime.

In our prisons there is still a kind of Victorian hangover, which comes from the Victorians who would, I think, have thought of prisons as suitable places for what they would have called the more degraded members of the labouring classes. This is totally inappropriate today. We were making some progress. Group counselling and individual counselling is at least a great advance upon sewing mail bags. I should like to know whether these are total casualties of overcrowding: whether the Bristol Scheme and the Norwich Scheme (I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is going to tell us about this) have been sunk without trace. One is acutely conscious of the gap in existing penal institutions between the aims of so many of those in the Prison Service who genuinely want to fulfil the objectives that, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, pointed out, sound ironic when they are read to-day and the realities of what they can do. I hope that even now, in present conditions, every effort will be made to prevent that gap from being widened and to ensure that the primary objective of the prison régime shall be, not to provide a modicum of rather dreary occupations, scrubbing ancient stone floors and dismantling old radio sets, but focusing the attention of the prisoner upon his own problems and upon the problems that he creates for society.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, nobody can deny that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to whom we are so grateful for having opened this debate, is the great protagonist of the day of the whole matter that we are discussing. I am grateful that an earlier speaker paid such a nice tribute to him, not only with regard to the respect that we all hold for him, but for the affection which he has developed from his own assiduous attention to every detail in this sphere of life. The experiments to which the noble Lord referred—and I am talking merely in the field of after-care—have taught all those who took part in them a great deal. I should like to reiterate once more, as I have done before, that none of this work could have been done had it not been for the foresight and understanding of the Carnegie Trustees, under their able Chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who for two years financed each one of the experimental units as to their deficits, and through whose vision and understanding the whole undertaking was made possible. If noble Lords are anxious to see the Report which resulted, it is available in the Printed Paper Office.

The whole field of after-care is so vast and of such infinite importance to the individuals concerned that, although I am tempted to elaborate on the work that is taking place, and the variety of different activities that are being carried out in order to try to help, I feel it would be a mistake to do so. I realise the danger of confusion if one diversifies too much, and I will therefore restrict myself to one of the facets of after-care: the care for alcoholics. In this field it is very possible we may have a chance of beginning to do something useful and achieve a break-through. We all know that the problem is urgent because of the facts of overcrowding in prisons and especially because of the dehumanising process inherent in our present treatment of the chronic drunk. Do we want to treat alcoholism inhumanly? Yet putting men into prison over and over again for short sentences, or imposing small fines over and over again, is surely in no way a constructive treatment of them.

It has been shown in the Report, Homeless From Prison, that a hostel, if certain fundamental rules are observed, may be a real alternative to prison. But the lessons learned by those who have been the protagonists in such experiments had to be acquired in a very hard school indeed, and the many frustrations and obstacles which had to be faced have certainly taught every one of us many signs that have to be watched, things that have to be recognised and methods to be observed. We have come to realise that hostels cannot function adequately unless they are part of a whole, integrated into the community, where other organisations can play their part and share rehabilitative services, whether statutory or voluntary, all working together and being helpful to one another.

We all know that integration is not easy at any time, and in this particular connotation it is more difficult than in any other. Statements of this kind are easy to make, but it is laboriously painful to live through the different stages of an experiment of this type and to profit from them, and the knowledge acquired in the working of these experimental hostels which have achieved their aims should be capitalised and used to save other people, embarking on the same endeavour, and used so as to help them avoid encountering similar troubles.

Many of us believe that unless definite priority is given to this subject the enthusiasm generated by groups of people working on the problem will wane. The hard work and strength that might have been generated in consequence will be lost for all time to the whole country.

Hostels are totally essential, although they are not the whole answer. They cannot function adequately unless sited with foresight and deep understanding. In the case of Rathcoole, which has been mentioned, the hostel itself has set the prime lesson that such a hostel must be in the setting of an integrated community, and that the problems and possibilities which result are varied and it is important to learn from them. Taking eight of the great cities in England, the metropolitan district of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Durham, Newcastle and Sheffield, in 1967 the figures for drunkenness arrests were 49,000—a figure which gives just over two-thirds of the total national arrests for that year of 75,544. Outside London there is little knowledge of how to treat the chronic drunk. I believe we ought to envisage immediately how we can expedite the advance that must be made in the means of avoiding the repetition of mistakes and the establishing of treatment for these people. I am sure that experience must be put to good advantage.

I will not burden your Lordships with figures or data—you have had plenty of them already to-day. But those who know something of this particular aspect of alcoholics have laboured long and hard to try to achieve some success. Their regret is that the man who was primarily responsible for the success of the Rathcoole experiment is at present still restricted to the one local effort. This man has done a stupendous piece of work. He is a genius in his own field. Again and again, when we meet men of this type, if we do not use them to advantage we are restricting our own national output. I have watched this man work right through the night in order to retrieve a man who has gone back to his bomb site, I have seen him do things which no man in the world could possibly be paid to do. His dedication is supreme, but he is human and I think he has proved himself. He is at present not only doing the work of the hostel itself, but is travelling around the country at the request of those who are anxious to imitate him, to do the same job that he has done, to reproduce the same type of hostel that he has produced. He is doing all this on his own and with no backing. I am a great believer in this country and I think it is sad that we never take up advantages that are offered to us by these good experiments and make them even better, and that an extension of the work that has been done already is not visualised now, as it should be.

I have acted as midwife at the birth of three experiments: the hospital car service, the home-helps service and the meals-on-wheels service. Although it may sound conceited I feel this gives me a right to speak with some degree of experience. I beg Her Majesty's Government to have the courage and the enterprise to embark on this scheme in relation to alcoholism on a large scale which would supply a break-through in the whole field. As citizens we should feel ashamed at the paucity of our own participation in the work of reintegrating men into the community. As responsible human beings, we have shown little courage in allowing the delay, the indecision and the constant frustration that has occurred to deflect us from a course we have often meant and sometimes even started to pursue. I know that good men, great men, have had their spirit broken by the magnitude of the problems confronting them and their inability to extract themselves from the morass of confusion that the whole subject presents.

I entreat Her Majesty's Government to institute a courageous attack on this whole subject of alcoholics. I do not ask for great grants of expenditure or for a mighty hierarchy. I would suggest that three "good men and true" be appointed to undertake and fashion a spearhead of endeavour. They would of necessity have to be very specially dedicated to the task, which would have to be entirely entrusted to them; and they should be able to set up the machinery that would be needed and get the financial backing of great national trusts. They must quite obviously be conversant with the workings of related Government Departments, and must know as much as is humanly possible—and perhaps even a little more—of the hazards of running specialised hostels. They must essentially have central backing as strong as possible, and in no way at any time niggardly. The question of cash would come into it, but not on a formidable scale.

In a long life I have found that optimism is a valuable asset, and I am confident the men do exist and would be available, and could most probably be seconded from their present work for a term of, say, three years. They could, with central backing, make a great impact on the problem. But courage is necessary; courage in undertaking could give mighty results, and the country itself should benefit.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I hope to follow the suggestions of the noble Baroness, which show such good sense. The object of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Stonham which is before the House, which he deployed in such fascinating detail at the beginning of this debate, was to make sure that the axe which the Government are boasting of in so many Departments is not going to be wielded in this Department. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and his colleague Mr. Mark Carlisle the other day, before the Howard League, have given us some comfort that at any rate there is not the kind of immediate withdrawal from interference with this kind of thing that we are seeing in some other quarters. This has been going on for a long time. I have been saying the same thing, and so have most of the other speakers to-day, because we have all been in this movement for a long time—I suppose between us for 12 or 15 years. The situation got steadily worse under our Government, and now perhaps under the present Government. But we have all known what had to be done and we had none of us done it. I want to address myself to this part of the problem.

We all know that we must have more prisons, but this is something already in the pipe-line. The noble Lord has disclosed no reduction, and I do not think that anything we say to-night will have very much effect on him. The only other way of dealing with this situation is this. It is a situation where 45 per cent. overcrowding exists for over half the male population in prison, and it is worth noting that those hard-liners who want to see prison made more disagreeable need go no further than to leave it as it is: the frustration and the misery and the discomfort are really not very different from those for the old political prisoner who was chained to the wall under the Hapsburgs. The only difference is that the governor and his staff feel equally frustrated. Nobody defends this situation. Nobody in this House defends it to-day; nor did they defend it ten years ago. So really we are all together. There is very little difference between us, except that the Government have the power to do rather more than we can, so I am bound more or less to be getting at them. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, did this very effectively. We have got at him in our time, and I was very glad to see him getting at somebody else, and this is as it should always be.

The last Administration had the good sense to set up a Committee, which we have been discussing to-day, under my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger, and she has examined the only way that this problem can be dealt with. She has advisedly not discussed in great detail the ways that already were in existence, but she has thought up a lot of new ones. The noble Baroness has described these better than I can, so I want to make only two references to this. First, I was delighted to see her recommendation for enforcement officers in courts. This was a recommendation which was left out of the Administration of Justice Act by the late Administration. It was in the Payne Report. I battled bitterly in this House to get that recommendation put in that Act, and failed—and more's the pity. I hope that this is a recommendation which the noble Lord can take a Party pleasure in enforcing, as we on this side failed completely to do so.

The second point I must refer to very briefly is the main new idea of getting offenders to spend some of their time doing things for other people. There is an element of therapy in this which everybody who has dealt with difficult children or difficult adults knows about. If you can get somebody to think of something else than himself you are doing some good. There are plenty of examples of this happening already in borstals and elsewhere. It is an absolutely splendid idea, and I beg the Government to jump such obstacles as there are.

There is one other point I should like to raise of a similar kind. It was put forward recently at a Howard League conference by one of our NACRO regional organisers, Philip Priestley. He proposed that community training centres should be set up using cheap housing in dense urban areas, which offenders who would normally be given short prison sentences might be required to attend as a condition of a probation order—some for full time if they were out of work; others, who are in work, for evenings or at weekends. There would be a full-time staff and specialists from outside could work together with the clients, who would be people normally with long histories of failure and troubled behaviour, to try, as it were, to re-create their personalities, finding new career openings and correcting existing handicaps such as alcoholism, gambling, illiteracy, or indeed reading and writing, which is more often absent than one would expect, and teaching some simple skills such as using a telephone or even talking calmly to an official. This is a development of the normal technique of a hostel warden, but of course a fairly considerable development. The hostel warden normally looks at each man's personal problems and tries to help to get round them.

The new kind of centre would be run as a non-residential centre, as an out-clinic as it were. It would be not frightfully expensive. It could deal with quite a large number of people. It would, like all the solutions, cost a certain amount of money and time, both of the Probation Service, under whom clearly it should be located, and of the voluntary movement. This is the point to which I particularly wish to draw your Lordships' attention.

In the Minister's speech to the Howard League recently, he told us that all these remedies must add to the need for probation officers, and he offered some improvement. Other speakers have said that this is not enough. I think this is clearly true, but any is better than none. But the Probation Service will not be able to do its job, even if it is doubled, unless there is a similar increase in the voluntary movement which has to work with it. This, again, is more or less common ground. Five years ago one would have had to argue this point. One does not any more; it is generally accepted.

We have nothing to be ashamed of in the voluntary movement. Most penal innovations have been started by individual volunteers. But nobody seems ever to ask the movement to do anything; it always has to thrust itself forward, sometimes with modest encouragement and sometimes without, and until recently the modest encouragement has seldom been of a financial kind. In the last years of the Labour Government, due certainly in some part to my noble friend Lord Stonham, there was a change. A number of voluntary organisations have been directly helped by the Home Office, and I want to be sure that this will continue. I believe it will, but I should like a reassurance to that effect.

The result of the parsimony in the past is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, said, there has been no proliferation of those voluntary schemes which have given good results. There is no money, so there is no expansion. A single experiment is thought worth preserving and ranks for Home Office grant; but if it is worth preserving it should be worth multiplying, and this never seems to happen. It happened on a limited scale with half way houses, but that is all. I am conscious of this as chairman of NAcRo—the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—which has 124 voluntary organisations among its members. My business is to look after them and to help them to proliferate. I think the time has come, as the noble Baroness said in relation to one particular kind of hostel, for us to spread our work much more widely and as quickly as we can afford it. We are appointing regional organisers in different parts of the country, and very successful they are, although once again instead of having eight we have three, which is all we can afford.

Behind the new ideas in the Report of my noble friend Lady Wootton there is a number of schemes which have been pioneered by the voluntary movement. For example, there are 110 hostels specifically for offenders, with 1,500 beds. If we are to lower the prison population from the present level of 22,000 adult males to the kind of figure that Society really needs protection from, which might be 10,000 or 12,000, we must find somewhere to put those people. That gives one some idea of the size of the problem.

There is no danger of having too many of these schemes. We could go on for quite a long time without any danger of overdoing any of the solutions that have been put forward. Sometimes they do not work too well, but that is the fault of the organisers; and when we get a scheme that does work well, like Rathcoole, it works without much difficulty. There are all sorts of schemes, and I really feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, has put her finger on the point. Let us concentrate on one thing which we can do. The noble Baroness quoted some figures, but I knew fifteen years ago that 30 per cent. of the discharges each week from Pentonville were regular drunks who would be in again within a fortnight. The figures are not very different to-day. They are very large and the removal of this group of people would do more to relieve the congestion than anything else. Could we not take Rathcoole as a model, as the noble Baroness has suggested? It has one very modern and interesting feature, in that it is now 100 per cent. participating. In other words, it did not go very well at the beginning and now, because the men choose the people who are allowed to come in, and run the place themselves, it is giving no difficulty at all. So we have a working model there.

I have not yet seen the report of the Working Party on drunken offenders, but I have no doubt that it asks that things of this kind should be done. The noble Baroness suggested a number of places where it should be done. I would say this: if you come to us in the voluntary movement and give us the money to do it, we will do it, if the noble Baroness wants three wise men—good luck, but they will not do anything unless they are given the money. It will take time and it will need help, but I do not see any great difficulty. We have the help of the Bridgehead Association to get the houses. Although we shall face opposition from every single council, we look to your Lordships to help us. If when this Report comes out in a month, or whatever it is, you say to us, "We want first of all two, then another two in London; and we want one in Liverpool", our organisation of 124 bodies is perfectly capable of finding the people. We will do it. We will do it first under the Probation Service, which is where it should be. We shall have the trio of the noble Baroness; but, above all, give us the money.

I have spoken long enough, and I want to end by asking the Government once again whether they are aware that there is no room for Mr. Barber's axe in this field. Are they aware that they must spend money? If they do, are they aware that there is a large voluntary movement: ready and waiting to be put to use? I believe that if they are aware of these things, and if they will concentrate their resources and ours in a fairly narrow field, as the noble Baroness suggested, we can make real progress.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for this important debate, and I wish to bring to your Lordships' notice some of the problems relating to the overcrowding of borstals and to probation and aftercare of these young men. In the Notices and Orders of the Day the word "borstal" is not printed, but as the definition of that word in the Oxford Dictionary is "system of imprisonment for young criminals" I hope I am in order in speaking on this section of the Prison Service. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, stressed the importance of the young offender.

For the past nine years I have served on the board of visitors of an open borstal and I have also been on a committee running summer camps with borstal boys and boys from open and closed institutions, and also undergraduates from Oxford. Moreover I have had groups of borstal boys in our home. They have had lunch and spent the day. On one occasion three boys visited—all very difficult cases. One young man, the father of two children, fed our baby for me. Another of the boys had not opened his mouth all day. For him, the most difficult thing was to communicate with people. When it came to the time for the baby's next feed suddenly he said, "It's my turn", and he took the baby and the bottle. From that moment he was able to talk, but it had been very difficult for him to break the barrier. It needed a small baby, something he could show his affection to, which showed us how he longed to love and be loved. That, my Lords, is so often the problem. At borstal the other day 1 was interviewing a very glum young man and I said to him, "Who have you got at home?" He said, "Mum and my sister"—there was a long pause, and he continued, "and the bloke mum's living with".

In these cases of borstal trainees there are numerous causes behind the reasons why they have been committed to borstal. Anti-social acts which they have committed reflect equally anti-social deeds which have been done to them. Sometimes their lives have been rent apart through death in the family, or made unbearable by such disharmony that they felt they must break away. Many of them are living away from home and drifting about the country when they are picked up by the police. I have never considered these lads I have met from borstal to be thugs, doomed to a life of crime, but young men who have a lot of life in front of them. Many of these boys are capable of becoming useful members of society. Inmates from many borstals help in the surrounding district to their institutions, doing such things as pensioners' gardens at weekends and helping in Cheshire Homes. The boys from one borstal were once named the "Blue Angels" for work they did for the community.

We used volunteer borstal boys for taking badly disabled men from a hospital for a holiday. The patients were too disabled to be accepted by any holiday home and no other help was forthcoming. Borstal lads were the only people who would do this job. The patients and boys camped under canvas in the Lake District, and I cannot praise the lads enough for the way they did everything for these helpless people—feeding, dressing and taking them out. Members of the public praised the lads, not knowing that they were borstal boys. One boy said he used previously to "take the mickey" out of badly disabled and disfigured people, but after this camp he said he would never do it again because he had learnt to respect them as people. Respect for self and other people is perhaps the most important lesson for a so-called delinquent to learn. Maybe for the first time in their lives, these boys knew they were wanted and needed. All too often they come from the areas in large towns and cities where housing problems are common. Many also have educational difficulties. Recently we had three boys who could not tell the time, and several who could not read and write. Opportunities for their development seem scarce in these areas.

My Lords, at the moment a very worrying fact presents itself: that the success rate at an open borstal is only about 30 per cent.; the remaining 70 per cent. of the boys discharged are going to be back in some sort of trouble. Due to this situation, I feel, as do many others, that the system needs full investigation. On paper the overcrowding in borstals does not look as bad as it really is. An incredible situation in the last few years has arisen. Boys who are more disturbed, and who have committed worse crimes and have been sent to closed institutions, are being discharged at seven to eight months, while the less inadequate boys from open institutions are doing longer—an average of from 10 to 11 months. To these trainees this seems quite absurd. It is not surprising that boys from open borstals abscond in the hope that they will be reallocated to a closed borstal and thus get home sooner.

In recent years there seems to be a very marked increase of lads fit only for closed borstals and less capable of responding to open conditions. Perhaps this is the trend of the more insecure society we live in. I feel it is important to try to find the cause of the increase in the numbers of offenders who are being committed. It would be interesting to know how numbers in borstals have increased since conscription ceased. I am not suggesting that the modern young man of to-day would want conscription brought back; nor do I think the Army would want them. But perhaps there could be some form of compulsory youth service, as has been suggested, for people not otherwise employed, which might lessen the increasing flow to borstal. It might also help in alleviating pollution. There does not seem a very wide choice of places for dealing with these increasing numbers.

It could make life easier for judges and magistrates if they had more scope. Week-end detention centres could be beneficial to young people who had steady jobs. When people are taken out of society, it is often more difficult to get them settled back again; and the finding of a job, which was difficult before, is generally more difficult when the added handicap of a criminal record has to be taken into consideration.

There is a great need to reduce the number of recalls and recidivists. If each borstal had a hostel attached to which trainees could be seconded, working outside as part of their training, this might be a helpful way of weaning them more slowly. Also perhaps there could be a parole system by permitting the institution to release boys whenever they felt it appropriate, but empowering the Probation and After-Care Service to instigate a return to institutional life at any moment they considered it desirable, whether or not an offence had been committed.

My Lords, it is very encouraging to hear that the Government intend to extend the Probation Service. So often I have heard of hard-worked probation officers who get bogged down writing reports for the courts when they feel they should be dealing with urgent cases, with problems that cannot wait. Perhaps day centres, with training such as is carried out in borstals, could be set up for boys guilty of minor offences. Very often, placing a lad in an institution does not help him to face up to the problems that will still have to be overcome when he comes out. The crimes are many and varied, but a great many borstal, boys are involved in taking and driving away cars. I should think that if a boy could be taught to overcome this tempting desire when surrounded by cars in his own environment it would have a more lasting effect than shutting him away.

There is no doubt in my mind, from what I have seen over the years, that the homeless borstal boy is one of the most deprived, insecure and inadequate members of our society. If one looks too closely and delves too deeply, some of these cases could break one's heart. Many of these boys are products of children's homes and approved schools; and they are used to institutional life. When these homeless adolescents are released from institutions they have shown that they need a great deal of support. On average, a homeless boy stays out of trouble for about six weeks. There is a pressing need for provision of accommodation with support. The disturbing fact is that the lad can literally belong to no-one.

A boy I knew well from borstal, who had graduated from a children's home in Glasgow to borstal, and after discharge had fallen into difficulties, was luckily saved by meeting a girl whom he married. At the wedding the church was full with the bride's relatives. Her brother was best man. But the only guests the boy had were the governor from the borstal, the matron and myself. That young man is now a proud father, but without his wife he could so easily now have been back in prison. The ethic, my Lords, is that human beings are vital. A Bishop who visited the borstal said to me, after he had met some of the boys, that he had no idea they were so likeable and presentable. I often think the Church should remember the parable about the one sheep who strayed away. Boys with delinquent tendencies are usually gullible and easily led. There seems to be a lack of people to lead them in the right direction.

If in the future more residential hostels or homes are made available for the disestablished adolescent, I hope that great care will be taken in the selection and training of the staff for such places. For people are needed whose level of commitment is very great and whose understanding is very great, too. As the care and resettlement of offenders is such a vast and demanding task, there seems to be a need for statutory and voluntary organisations to work together with a flexible outlook. NACRO—the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—seems to be accomplishing this. Encouragement and support can be given to local groups whose aim is to provide services for the homeless. Useful help could also be given by approved volunteers within closed institutions to assist in alleviating boredom and to promote new interests and hobbies, especially at week-ends.

My Lords, one strong, good looking young man of 21 in a prison said to me, when I was taking a pre-release course, that life to him was "the same if he was inside or out". Apathy and institutionalism must be one of the greatest enemies of rehabilitation. If prisons could teach stickability, and that working a 40 hour week was worth while, then they would be doing a good job. There is clearly a need for action to be taken now in providing more specialising places of treatment for these young people to try to break this cycle of crime which infects a large part of the community and is shown by our overcrowded penal institutions.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, notwithstanding the fact that your Lordships have been over this ground many times before in recent years the subject of this debate is still a most important one for our society. I was sorry to have seen only one of the learned Law Lords present to-day, and that for a short period, because this is surely a matter on which they could have made an important contribution. I should have preferred to direct my remarks along the lines taken by my noble friends Lady Wootton of Abinger, Lady Swanborough and Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, but as these particular fields have been so well and adequately covered I wish, with your Lordships' permission, to deal with one aspect that so far has not been touched upon.

I am hoping that in the not-too-distant future we shall have an opportunity of discussing some of the implications of some things that we have heard mentioned this afternoon. I think we are in danger of turning necessities into virtues. We have heard of the apparent failure of the suspended sentence. We know of the success of the parole system. We are now considering all kinds of non-custodial treatment. But whether we have really thought out the implications involved I doubt very much. These things have been forced upon us. Because of the overcrowding in our prisons we have had to do something, and we have done these things very quickly, without, as I say, thinking of all the implications involved.

As I said a moment or two ago, there has been a tendency to turn certain necessities into virtues. But behind the whole of the discussion that we have had to-day there has been the Probation Service and what is still expected in the future from the Probation Service. It is about the Probation Service, and in particular the probation officer, that I want to talk for a short while. These various things which we are considering for the welfare of the delinquent, and in turn the welfare of society, must revolve around the kinds of treatment we intend to give, or try to give, the delinquent. So far as I can see, whatever expansion we, as a society, embark upon, whatever new methods of noncustodial treatment we try, the person who will do this will be the probation officer. It is about him that I want to say a word or two.

First I want to refer to the speech made by Mr. Mark Carlisle, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, when addressing the Annual Meeting of the Howard League for Penal Reform on November 24. May I say straight away that it was a speech that I welcomed very much indeed, for it gave the Probation Service a position of major importance in the matter of dealing with delinquents. He was reported as saying: It might be necessary to improve the service from its present strength of 3,400 probation officers, a figure which is below the needs of society at the present moment, to something like 4,400 probation officers by 1975, in order to cope with the expansion of its present tasks. If, in the future, society decides to deal with more offenders on a non-custodial basis, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary recognises that an extra 300 probation officers, making a total of 4,700, will be required by 1975.

I gather that these figures have been accepted by the Government. I do not want my noble friends (and I will use the word "friends") on the Government Front Bench to misunderstand what I am going to say now. I must say that I think the figures given will be quite inadequate to deal with the normal commitments of the Probation Service, and the additional work envisaged and the future situation which the Minister had had in mind. I do not honestly think that the figure of 4,700 is going to meet the situation in any way. We have failed to reach the promised figure of 3,500 probation officers by 1970. It is true that we have not fallen far short of that figure—it is something like 3,300 or 3,400. But we now know that that number would not been sufficient to meet the current needs of the Service; and 4,400 will not be enough in 1975. If the Minister's intentions (with which I agree) are carried into effect, the additional 300 will prove to be a ridiculously small increase.

I feel that the Minister has yet to realise the extent to which it will be necessary to expand the Service, not only to deal with present-day duties and responsibilities, but to make possible the extension of non-custodial treatment and of the parole system, which I think every one of us wants to see because it is so successful. If the present methods and future schemes are to be successful, then probation officers must be given all the skills and tools possible to enable them to do a really good job of work. This means a considerable reduction in the case-load.

My only point of disagreement with my noble friend Lord Stonham is that I think the case-load ought to be less than 35; and if we contemplate at any stage introducing into this country the California scheme, which has been highly successful in keeping delinquents out of prison at much lower cost to society, the number will have to be reduced to something like 10 or 12 probationers per officer. This means a considerable reduction in the case-load, to make possible better supervision and more time for concentrated individual case work. I would say that my noble friend Lord Stonham was perfectly right when he said that, to do the job properly and to the real advantage of the community, we should contemplate twice the number of probation officers than the Minister has in mind at present. At the moment it costs about £22 per week to keep a man in prison: it costs only £1 per week to keep him under the supervision of a probation officer.

Again I ask my noble friend Lord Windlesham not to take this amiss, but it frightens me to hear the Government say that they are planning for more and more prisons. I should have liked a much more positive approach: that we plan for fewer prisons and spend the money on (shall I say?) extending non-custodial treatment. But this is just how I feel. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was making. What I found of particular interest in Mr. Mark Carlisle's forthright speech was his firm statement—I quote: The Government is firmly resolved that the necessary money will be made available to meet the cost of training more probation officers and to pay for the expanded service which will result. I feel rather strongly on the whole question of probation officer training. I believe that we have to provide a far better basic training than we are providing at the present moment. I believe that the Minister, from what he said about training, recognises this and accepts it; but I think also that there must be provision for a better and continuous in-service training, and further training for many more officers than at the present moment. We must have a system of continuous in-service training, and perhaps selective further training. The demands on the Probation Service, and the difficulty in getting recruits, have resulted in letting loose in the delinquent field a number of ill-equipped, limited, and untrained people; and this must stop.

The Minister, as I understood his statement, made no reference, so far as I know, to probation officers' salaries, and that is what I want to talk about. Adequate salaries and a career structure are essential if the right kind of person is to be attracted to the Service in the future. On April 7 this year in your Lordships' House I drew attention to the fact that in the immediate past five years from 1965 to 1969 734 probation officers resigned from the Probation Service. Over 40 per cent. of them were graduates or holders of university social work qualifications. This figure of 734 did not include deaths or normal retirements. In the same period, 1,812 persons entered the Probation Service.

I hope the Government will read the valuable contribution to the debate on that day made by the noble Lord. Lord Sandford. I hope that they will do so, because it was a most magnificent contribution to the understanding of the problems that we are facing in the Probation Service. What he said on April 7 holds good to-day on December 2. To some extent it is pointless to talk about the expansion of the Service, of recruiting the right people. of improving training, and make no mention of realistic salary scales and the career structure. I do not know how many of your Lordships read New Society, but if you go into the Library and look at this week's New Society you will find that on page 940 it draws attention to a married man of 32 years of age, with two children. who resigned from the Probation Service on Monday of this week because he could not afford to remain a probation officer. Probation officers cannot get a large enough mortgage on their salary to buy a house; nor could they make the repayments if they could. For them there is no rent allowance or accommodation, as one finds sometimes in other fields.

In the last eight years the salaries of probation officers have failed to keep pace with those in comparable fields of social work. To-day it is commonplace to see local authority advertisements for qualified social workers starting around £1,650, and many probation officers have to wait 11 years before they reach that figure. There is a good deal of anger and frustration in the Probation Service to-day, and a good deal of family financial anxiety. Answers to a questionnaire sent recently—and I mean recently; it was within the last few weeks—to all serving officers in the Inner London probation area, to which 45 per cent. Replied. show that 80 per cent. of the wives of probation officers went to work through sheer financial necessity. I ask the Government to take notice of the next bit: 17 per cent. of the married men probation officers—one in six—have second jobs, ranging from barman to office cleaner, from security guard to gardener. It is not necessary for me to add further comment on a situation of that kind; I hope it speaks for itself. It certainly is not good for creating the right kind of relationship, which professional social workers have to create in dealing with their charges.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, may well be tempted to tell me that salaries are a matter for the joint negotiating committee. If he is so tempted, I would remind him that, in the last analysis, salaries are determined by the Secretary of State. At the last round of negotiations on salaries of principal probation officers, the Secretary of State completely disregarded the recommendations of the joint negotiating committee. All I want to say is that I hope he will do so in the case of basic grade officers, if the next award for them is as inadequate as the last one. I want to press this matter of salaries, because if the Government are proposing to make a sincere and sustained effort to increase the number of probation officers—and I believe they are, and I very much enjoyed and welcomed Mr. Mark Carlisle's speech—I want to impress on them the importance of providing a salary scale really commensurate with the duties, the responsibilities and the long hours which they are bound to work. I want to make it clear to the Government that the right type of person will not be attracted to the work of probation unless these realistic scales are forthcoming.

One noble Lord—I think it was my noble friend Lord Stonham—made reference to a leading article which appeared last Wednesday in The Times, and he quoted one sentence. Perhaps he, and your Lordships, will forgive me if I quote a little more. I call to my aid part of that leading article which was headed "Alternatives to prison", and this should give the Government an admirable let out, if I may say so. It talks about probation officers, and continues: But to improve their salaries and prospects would not in this instance be to surrender to sectional interests. It would be to pay the necessary price for a policy that is in fact cheaper than any other that stands a chance of success.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say very little at this late stage in the debate, partly because so much that badly needed to be said about the situation in our prisons has already been said so clearly and forcibly by other speakers, partly because there are so few of your Lordships left to weary, and partly because I doubt whether it would be appropriate for myself, as Chairman of the National Board of Parole, to give my views on matters of penal policy. Therefore there is no need for me to rub into the Government, from the position of particular advantage enjoyed by myself and members of the Parole Board, by our frequent visits to prisons all over the country, by our meetings with prison staffs and by our meetings with inmates, what that situation is.

If I may say so, it certainly struck myself, as it must have struck your Lordships, how quickly the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has grasped the gravity of the situation; how genuinely concerned he is about it and, if it does not sound too presumptuous, how competent I feel he is to deal with the situation which the Government have inherited. It would be surprising if members of the Parole Board did not at least share from our vantage point the concern which has been expressed this afternoon; and, indeed, if we did not feel the admiration which has also been expressed for members of the prison staff and the Prison Department, who are coping with this quite desperate situation.

I was very glad to hear another credit given by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, to the prisoners in this situation. I wonder how generally it is appreciated by those who have not spent a little time looking at prisons in general, or in particular, to what an extent the day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month administration of any prisons depends on co-operation between staffs and inmates. This is as it is, as it should be, and as it will have to go on being, and the remarkable thing is that there is such co-operation in nearly all our prisons, nearly all the time, in the appalling circumstances of which we are now quite aware.

I feel it is right to emphasise one point: the Parole Board has referred to it in both its annual reports, and therefore I think I can state it again. I refer to the influence which prison treatment is bound to exert, for better or for worse, on the parole system as it is and on its prospects of further development. I should like to stress the effect of gross overcrowding, superimposed on the well-known existing limitations in most of our prisons, which reduces the prospects of more offenders being favourably recommended for parole.

One of the criteria which the Board considers most carefully is the response to prison treatment, with a view to forming some impression of the man, of his attitudes to crime, to his particular offences, to society in general, to authority and to his family; as well as his social behaviour inside and his efforts to prepare for eventual release. I do not wish to overstress this aspect of our considerations; it is weighed along with a number of other criteria before we make a decision. Nor do I wish to imply that evidence of good conduct inside is in itself necessarily any indication of future behaviour outside prison.

What I am saying is that if parole is to function as beneficially as possible for everyone (and here I have in mind preeminently the public and also, of course, the offenders); if, as everyone would like to happen and as some of us believe could be the case, it is to hold out a real prospect of reducing recidivist crime, then positive preparation should begin with committal and continue from that time onwards. There should be on-going preparation through the programme of work, through the classes, through the leisure activities and through the training schemes, so that prisoners can be assessed in the light of this kind of active and constructive régime.

Even before the prison population began to rise to its present level, this kind of progressive régime had been realised in only a few of our prisons, and it is now in danger of being stultified everywhere and for a considerable time to come. I feel, to some extent, reassured as to the long-term by the information which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave us about the future prospects of more opportunities, more prisons, more places to carry on this kind of training, and preparation for the eventuality of parole or for release into the community and rehabilitation. But, of course, that is all in the future. The situation we face now, and shall face for some time to come, is a serious one.

I am not saying with certainty that even under better conditions inside a great many more offenders would be deemed worthy of parole, or whether we should think it in the best interests of society that they should serve the remainder of their sentence outside prison under the terms of the 1967 Act, although I personally believe that this might be the case if there were a significant advance in the training and treatment available in every prison—which at the moment is asking for the moon. What I am saying is that the chances would be enhanced of prisoners going straight after release from prison, and that that is the more likely to be the case when the Probation and After-Care Service has been strengthened.

May I add a word in comment on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that the threshold for parole might be lowered? It is clearly not appropriate that I should express any view as to the policy involved in this, and I hope that your Lordships, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, if he reads what I have to say, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will not take it as an indication of my views for or against this suggestion if I reiterate three practical points bearing on the work of the Parole Board, which have been made already by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and which we have set out in our annual reports.

First, I should like to make it even clearer than perhaps has been done that even with the increase in the size of the Board forecast by Mr. Carlisle, in his speech to the Howard League—a speech which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and which was misinterpreted in at least one daily newspaper to mean that significantly greater numbers of prisoners, including "lifers", would be paroled—we simply could not cope with increased numbers of cases to consider. The Board has been enlarged specifically and quite simply to carry on the work load as it is under the present Statute, and that load is barely tolerable as it is. I say this in no sense of self-pity or complaint. We do the job because we thoroughly enjoy it and, more important, because we deeply believe in it. That is a simple fact of the situation as it is.

Secondly, I should like to allude again to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, about the minimum period which must be served inside, during which an inmate can be under the observation of prison staff from a variety of angles, in order to provide the local review committees and the Board with information upon which we may or may not recommend early release. Under current conditions, and under the present Statute, this assessment period is sometimes insufficient, even with the threshold at twelve months. This is particularly the case where a prisoner is moved, as happens not too infrequently, from one prison to another, and each prison has only a very short look at him; this despite the very great efforts being made by the Home Office and everyone concerned to reduce to a minimum the delays in administration.

Thirdly, I should like to explain (and I was a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who must have had it in mind did not explain this) that there is another minimum period which is highly desirable if parole supervision and support are to be effective, although I admit that there are exceptions to this. I refer to the period of the licence itself. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, when he reads what I have to say, that while expressing no view as to policy, and speaking strictly for myself, without committing members of my Board, I recognise that his proposal might, provided that other conditions were satisfied, contribute to the desired effect of increasing the period of licence available, particularly for those prisoners who are serving short sentences.

In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of other speakers in congratulating and thanking my noble friend Lord Stonham for bringing this vitally important and dangerous situation to the attention of your Lordships and, I hope, of a wider public outside. The noble Lord was good enough, as were one or two other speakers, to make some very felicitous and generous remarks about the Parole Board. These I shall pass on to my colleagues and to our Secretariat. I am sure he intended them to apply also to officials in the Probation and Aftercare Department, who do the donkey work. I should like to say, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that his experience and his example have been a shining light for us all.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and with all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, in deploring the really appalling state of affairs which is developing in our prisons. What I think is particularly alarming is that if the forecasts which one reads are correct, the situation is likely to become much worse before any remedy can have effect, whether by providing more prisons or by new methods of treatment of offenders.

Before I start on the particular aspect of this subject with which I propose to deal, I must say how strongly I support my noble friend Lady Reading in what she said, not merely because I had the honour to serve on her Working Party at the Home Office and then on her Special After-care Trust, but also because of the frustration I feel, as a magistrate, in trying to deal with alcoholics. The Criminal Justice Act 1967 said that hostels for treating alcoholics would be set up, after which imprisonment for drunkenness would be abolished. Nothing has happened yet, and it really is time that something did. Rathcoole has shown what can be done, and for heaven's sake let us get on and do something!

However, my Lords, this evening I want to concentrate on the contribution which the Probation Service can make to the solution of the general problem of crime. The Service itself is convinced that it could make a real impact on recidivism if it were given the necessary numbers and resources. At present, probation officers are far too thinly spread, and the amount of attention they can give to any one client is quite inadequate in all but the most responsive cases. It has been shown that more intensive treatment is effective, and one feature of it which some noble Lords have mentioned and which must appeal to everyone, whatever their views of penology, is that it saves money. The cost of keeping a man in prison is so high that an enormous increase in the intensity of supervision in the community would still be cheaper.

I have no doubt that many of your Lordships will have read about that most interesting project in California which has given a practical demonstration of this. It was reported by Mr. Hugh Klare, of the Howard League, and the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, referred to it. It seems that in California the State pays for the prisons and the counties for the Probation Service. The scheme introduced is that the counties are given subsidies in proportion to the reduction in the number of people they commit to the State institutions, and these subsidies must be spent on improving the Probation Service. In the first two years of the scheme the subsidies paid out to the counties came to over 5 million dollars, but the saving to the State through the reduction in the numbers sent to institutions was over 15 million dollars—a net saving of 10 million dollars. I do not know whether a similar scheme could be worked here, but surely it must be worth looking at.

To provide a Service in this country on the same scale as that in California would mean an increase here to 12,000 officers, and it is interesting to note that this is broadly in line with the present call of the Probation Service for a fourfold expansion in the Service. The Government's proposals which were announced last week are of course most welcome, and give encouragement to everyone concerned in these matters; but, obviously, when they speak of 4,400 probation officers by 1975, or 4,700 if additional types of treatment are adopted, they are still not thinking in the same terms as the Service at all. It may be that they take the view that the figures they have announced are as many as can be achieved in practical terms. But may I remind the noble Lords, Lord Windlesham and Lord Sandford, that there is always a tendency to fall short of targets and that a more ambitious target might evoke a greater response. After all, there can be no doubt that considerable expansion is needed to enable the Service to cope even with present demands. In the last year or two many new tasks have been laid on the Service. There has been the considerable and very exacting burden caused by the introduction of parole; there has been the addition of welfare in prisons and other institutions; divorce court work has greatly increased, and there is an ever-growing demand for social inquiry reports. On the other side of the balance, it seems that the expected reduction in the Service's work with juveniles may at any rate be delayed.

Now, my Lords, we have the possibility of still further demands on the Service if any of the proposals of the Committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, are adopted. I personally welcomed that Report, as I am sure did all those concerned with sentencing, as offering some hope of alternatives to prison sentences. But many probation officers saw it simply as the last straw, as a threat to impose further burdens on them when they were already carrying more than they could cope with. Indeed, the first reaction of their National Association was to decline to take any part in any discussion of the proposals until the Government showed that they accepted the need to provide the Service with extra resources. The Association now recognises that the Government have accepted expansion in principle, and are taking the first steps in that direction, and it is therefore co-operating in the Working Groups which are being set up. But it still seems to me that if all, or even any one, of the three groups come up with a positive recommendation—and one naturally hopes that they will—there is a danger that either probation officers will again be called on to do more than can reasonably be asked of them, or the introduction of reforms which have been accepted in principle will have to be deferred.

Of course I realise that probation officers cannot be produced out of a hat. First, people have to want to join the Service, then they have to be trained, and then they must get enough satisfaction out of the job they are doing to want to stay in it. The vital thing is that any increase in numbers should be achieved without any lowering of standards. We ask a great deal of probation officers, but we must do so, for they are dealing with very difficult people and great harm can be done by a probation officer who is not up to the job. So the first necessity is to encourage the idea that the career of a probation officer is important and rewarding, and that it is a good career for high-grade people. We who work with them know this already, but many of the public still look on them as rather woolly "do-gooders" who spend their time having cosy chats with people who ought to be in prison. I have no doubt that as the scope of the Service develops, and as expansion is shown to bring with it better results, so it will become more attractive to those who are looking for a worthwhile career. But I feel that something in the nature of a public relations operation will be needed to get expansion off the ground.

Assuming, then, that the recruits can be found, a rapid expansion will involve a corresponding increase in training facilities, and the Government have recognised this. The Service itself is, and has been for some time, strongly in favour of ending direct entry, and it stresses the need for at least two years' training. Whatever the urgency to build up manpower, I am sure it must be right to resist the temptation to lower standards of training, or to increase direct entry. But it seems to me that every possible source of suitable entrants must be exploited. One of the strengths of the Service is that it attracts mature people, people who are not normally accepted for the local authority services, and it can make good use of them. The Government are apparently, very sensibly, laying emphasis on the recruitment of this group. But there are potential mature entrants with family or other commitments which prevent them from moving their home for training courses or on subsequent appointment. The Association suggests that, in addition to the expansion of existing training facilities, a new regional scheme should be set up aimed particularly at these people. They would be appointed locally and would receive their theoretical training at local universities or polytechnics; they would do their practical training within the Service and at the end of their course they would qualify for a post still in the same area. If a scheme like this were adopted, it would follow that direct entry as it now exists should cease.

I have given only the bare outline of a proposal which the Association has worked out in some detail since I understand that the Government may, in fact, be thinking on the same lines; but I believe that a scheme of this sort would open up a source, now untapped, of valuable potential entrants, without any lowering of standards, and that it would make a useful contribution to the expansion of the Service.

Finally, my Lords, I must come to the question of salaries—although the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has already covered this quite fully, and I realise that this is not a very popular subject at the moment and that, in any case, whatever I say will be suspect as coming from a partisan source. I should like to start by reminding your Lordships of the final words of the excellent leading article in The Times last Wednesday which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has already quoted. Encouraged by those words, I would ask the Government to give careful consideration to this matter. Probation officers, dedicated though they are, are still interested in their salaries, and it seems to me obvious if the right sort of people are to be attracted to the Service that in the first place the basic salary must be good and there must then be prospects of a rewarding career to follow.

The last revision of salaries took place in April, and it was then agreed that a further revision would be considered next January if—and I am quoting the words then used— "any significant changes have occurred relative to the Service and its salary scale". I very much hope that it will be recognised that such changes have occurred. Apart from anything else, the local authority officers have had a further increase since then, putting them ahead of the Probation Service; but this is only one part of the case. In the first place, probation officers are not the same sort of people or doing the same sort of jobs. I was told the other day that children's officers often say to probation officers, "How lucky you are; you can make your own decisions. We have to refer, everything to our superiors." But making one's own decisions implies greater responsibility. Probation officers attach great importance to their independence, and rightly so. No one would want to change that. But the exercise of this responsibility requires quite a different sort of person from his opposite number at the bottom of the other social welfare services—and a more highly trained one.

And then the Probation Service salary scales are rigid, and virtually no discretion is allowed to probation committees. The local authorities enjoy much greater flexibility and are exercising it on an increasing scale in their efforts to recruit people for their new services. Entrants are fitted in at points on the scales to which they are not really entitled; low grade posts are given fancy names and salaries to match; and so on. I heard recently of a newly-joined probation officer who was found to be unsatisfactory, and whose appointment was therefore not confirmed at the end of his probationary first year. He walked straight into a local authority post at £300 a year more. Probation officers not considered fit for senior posts in the Service are being snapped up for equivalent posts in other services. One hears stories like this all the time.

I know that the standard answer to this is that things cannot be as bad as all that because the wastage is no worse than in the other services. To that I would say that in fact the wastage has been getting worse during the past few months as the bidding from other sources hots up. The most serious aspect is the quality of those who are leaving. I have seen a list of 129 probation officers who left the Service during the year ended last September. Of those, almost three-quarters left in the second half of the year; and I understand that this acceleration has continued since. Over 70 of the 129 went to local authority posts. Many of those who left were the very people that we shall need for promotion in the expanded Service. Of them, 49 had degrees or diplomas; all but 18 had more than two years' service and over half had four years' service or more. They included one principal probation officer and eight senior probation officers. Seven of those, including the principal probation officer, went to local authority posts.

Last, I would mention one case not included in these figures, and in this connection I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, of a point about relative salaries which he made to the noble Baroness, Lady Scrota, in our debate on April 7. The present case is that one of the most experienced young principal probation officers in the Service is leaving to become Director of Social Services in Southampton at more than double his present salary. I should be interested to see whether the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are going to pursue that topic to-day. It is true that many probation officers really are dedicated and are prepared to soldier on even if they could do better elsewhere. But that is no reason why we should take advantage of them; and, furthermore, it is no basis from which to plan an expanding and increasingly professional Service.

For these reasons, I urge the Government to consider whether they should not re-assess the relative value of a probation officer to the community and accept a solution which reflects it more truly. I am sorry if I seem to be carping and ungrateful; I recognise that what the Government have announced represents quite a long step forward—longer than many people expected. But now that at last it seems to have been accepted that an expanded Probation Service is essential, and can help to bring under control the rising tide of delinquency, I am anxious that we give the Service all the support and encouragement that we can. I am sure that it is in the national interest that we should do so.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, this constructive and compassionate debate, initiated in such comprehensive terms by my noble friend Lord Stonham, has ranged over the whole penal system, over the concept and purpose of punishment, the causes of crime, the methods of punishment available to the courts, sentencing policy, the administration of the Prison Service, and the tasks that now face the Probation and After-car Service as the major statutory agency concerned with assisting offenders in the community, acting as a bridge between prison and the outside world and, in co-operation with voluntary organisations and individual volunteers, providing after-care for ex-offenders. I believe it has fairly reflected current developments and thought in penal policy, and, above all, has served to highlight the ever-widening gap between such policies and the stark deficiencies of our grossly overcrowded prison system. Indeed, the contrast between objective and reality is physically greater than ever before. All noble Lords have agreed that the potentially explosive "three-in-a-cell" situation, which is a general feature particularly of our local prisons to-day, is a complete disgrace to any modern penal system and vitiates the genuine attempts by over-extended staff to develop progressive treatment and training programmes.

My Lords, we are agreed that imprisonment is expensive in both economic and social terms and that we may have our priorities wrong when we spend the sum of £35 million a year on the Prison Service and only £8 million on the Probation and After-Care Service. We are also, all agreed that some imprisonment is necessary, but at last, after many years of pioneering work by many people, it is being recognised that a good deal of imprisonment, especially in the present state of overcrowding, is no more effective in preventing a return to crime than other forms of treatment.

There are occasions when we seem to be in danger of forgetting that people go to prison because they are sent there, and I was delighted that at the outset of our debate the noble Lord, Lord Foot, gave us his valuable views on sentencing policy, particularly on the deterrent sentence.

The one feature of our prison system which distinguishes it from all the other services that provide institutional care and treatment—with the possible exception of certain areas of the child care service—is that, unlike the mental health services for example, those who administer our penal system have no control whatsoever over the numbers committed to their custody. Nor, with the exception of remission or parole, which operate within very rigid legislative boundaries, do they have any control over the time for which offenders are sent. There is, for example, no kind of sentence in the adult penal system that compares in any way with the Fit Person order, shortly to become the Care Order, which is available to the juvenile courts, whereby a child or a young person is committed to the care of a local authority who can then decide, flexibly and in the light of their progress and development and general social situation, whether the girl or boy needs treatment in a residential setting, either secure or open, in a hostel or at home, or in a foster home with supervision at different periods of time.

Apart from the need to develop much closer working relationships between the courts and penal administrators and prison staff, I wonder whether, it is too much to hope that our present differential sentencing arrangements, tied to different kinds of custodial institutions, will one day be replaced by a single determinate sentence to a penal authority who will then have the responsibility of devising flexible programmes of treatment and training, based on a proper diagnosis and assessment and ranging over a great variety of placements, from the secure residential institution through to trial in the community with supervision and support.

Several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, have stressed the need to consider the problem of young offenders, and I join with them in welcoming the fact that the Advisory Council on the Penal System is now undertaking what I regard to be a long overdue inquiry to consider replacing the different and overlapping systems of borstal detention centres and senior approved schools with an up-to-date and more comprehensive range of custodial treatment facilities for the very important 17 to 23 age group. My only regret, my Lords, is that this inquiry is going to take some two or three years; and in these days of rapid and urgently needed changes in the penal system one must question whether an Advisory Council (composed, as I know only too well from my own experience of it, of most able and eminent persons heavily engaged in other occupations and unable to devote much of their time to such work) is necessarily the right way to-day for us to consider major changes in policy.

One would always need an independent group of persons who would carry public weight in submitting the report on the result of their deliberations. But if we are to speed up this kind of inquiry, they need far more help than our present system offers, possibly in the form of a number of ad hoc expert, full-time working groups, assisted by an adequate secretariat and not hampered by lack of funds.

One might consider the kind of arrangements that were introduced by the Presidential Commission on Crime in the United States; the speed of the report, the quality of the report, the resources on which they drew, not only from their own country but from experts brought in from this country and other countries outside their own boundaries. I am glad, however, that in the case of this particular inquiry where, as we all know from experience, much of the so-called "evidence" they receive will really be opinion, rather than hard evidence, there will be valuable research studies available to assist them in making sound recommendations for the future treatment and training of this very important group of offenders.

I turn now, my Lords, to the more immediate measures which noble Lords have mentioned to relieve the pressures on our prison system, which has constantly passing through it a continuous flow of social inadequates with a record of pettty offences. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, at the outset of our debate stressed the need to urge courts to be more sparing in their use of remand in custody. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that there is to be a special study now to assess the scope for the reduction of remands in custody, and that its findings will be discussed with magistrates.

I know only too well from personal experience the difficulties that face magistrates in this regard, but I hope that they will make full use of the powers in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, which extended the period of bail from three to four weeks, and allow remand on bail in the case of some of those 11,000 who annually are remanded in custody for medical reports. Surely, in co-operation with the National Health Service, we could have more people on remand outside prison, with defendants attending at remand centres or local hospitals for medical and psychiatric reports; thus reducing the pressures on our present penal system where remand centres and some of our local prisons are more reminiscent of Euston Station than anything we would care to see in a modern prison.

I share the doubts that several noble Lords have raised about the long-term investment value of the prison building programme. We naturally accept that there must be some increase in the current building situation for emergency purposes and to enable us eventually to close the older prisons; but all experience, both in this and in all other social services, can only lead one to the conclusion that the more places one provided, the greater the population which will be found to fill them. Moreover, if current sentencing policy continues it is, in my view, unlikely that any Government—let alone this Government, which is committed to a policy of reducing public expenditure —could ever find sufficient money to provide up-to-date modern prisons at the rate required for the projected prison population in the next five years.

For these reasons I agree with those who have concentrated the attention of your Lordships' House to-day on the inadequacy of our present services for the treatment of offenders in the community either to prevent this continued increase in prison population or to rehabilitate ex-prisoners successfully back into society, and on the need to develop new forms of alternatives to imprisonment. Everyone has welcomed the statement of the Under-Secretary of State that the number of probation officers will be increased by 1,000 by 1975, although several noble Lords have indicated that in the light of the additional tasks the officers are now being asked to undertake, this total will not be sufficient. I will not at this late hour weary the House by going over that ground again, but I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell on the impact this is going to have on the training programme—and I will say a word about this, in a moment.

I should also like to add my voice to those who have thanked the noble Lord for making the statement to-day on the Government's attitude to the recommendations of the Wootton Report, and particularly to welcome the acceptance of the recommendation on the deferred sentence. Like my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger herself, I would urge that the discusisons and studies now proceeding should be acted on speedily. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and I have identical views on this subject.

I also welcome the Home Secretary's decision to establish additional panels in Birmingham and Manchester to assist the work of the Parole Board, on which we all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Having heard this afternoon that he himself could not cope with the proposed increase on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I wish to ask the Government what consideration they are giving to increasing the scope of parole. No one could call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a backslider or a lazy man, and I know that he and his Parole Board, the staff of the Home Office and our Prison Service are working all-out to operate the parole system successfully. But when he himself tells the House that at present he cannot visualise an increase on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I must ask the Government whether they will put their minds to considering ways and means of achieving this.

Perhaps I might say a few words about the training of the Probation and After-Care Service, because the decision of the Government to expand the Service comes at a moment when under the Local Authorities Social Services Act, the Probation and After-Care Council, the Council for Training in Social Work and the Central Council for Training in Child Care are being brought together in one united Council for Education and Training in Social Work, thus recognising, I think rightly, the common generic basis for training for the social work services as a whole. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is to reply for the Government at the end of this debate, how far the Government have progressed in setting up this Council. I know that discussions with professional organisations on this matter were started on the day the Local Authorities Bill was published last February; and I know, too, that these have been proceeding well. But at the moment they appear to be in limbo, and I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he can tell us when the Government intend to announce the setting up of the Council and the names of its Chairman and members, in order to remove the present uncertainties. For in addition to its heavy responsibilities for providing pre-service and in-service training over the range of local authority social services, this Council will also be responsible for the major increase now needed in the probation and after-care training programme.

In this context, and particularly in relation to the training of mature students, I believe that a great deal can be learnt from the successful courses running at the North-West Polytechnic, in conjunction with the Central Council for Training in Child Care, for students with a minimum age of 35: which is a two-year course combining theory and practice. When I visited the first graduates of this course, comprising some 90 qualified students in September, I was delighted to see the range and scope and quality of the individuals who had taken this difficult decision to undertake a professional training at that stage in their life. If the Probation and After-Care Service could draw on similar resources for their further development, they could undoubtedly be of great benefit to all of our services for the treatment of offenders.

We all accept and understand that, with the additional burdens they have undertaken in recent years, the Probation and After-Care Service have been passing through a period of great strain and stress, particularly as ideas in this field are changing so rapidly, and when we are moving away from what I always found to be a too psycho-analytically dominated approach to a situation in which more and more people are recognising that the statutory social services need to develop new forms of group and community work in active partnership with those voluntary service organisations and groups which are fulfilling their traditional role of experimentation and innovation.

The scheme that my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge mentioned, of a pilot community training centre, and the great work of the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, in developing these five different hostels have brightened this debate and encouraged us. Having listened to the noble Baroness, I feel that I must again ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, what the difficulty is. If these five projects—and we have all read the excellent Carnegie Trust account of the work that has been undertaken—have been so successful, particularly that for the treatment of alcoholics, what is holding up the expansion and extension of this scheme to other parts of the country? Frankly I was somewhat puzzled when the noble Baroness, in talking of the great success that had been achieved, seemed to imply that there was some block in the pipeline that was preventing further development in this admittedly very difficult field.

I cannot conclude without mentioning one more matter. Although our debate to-day has properly focused on the adult penal system, many young offenders who enter prison have a long and weary record of approved schools, detention centre and borstal already behind them. I must take this opportunity to deplore the failure of the Government to implement Section 5 of the Children and Young Persons Act. An announcement was made on this matter by the Under-Secretary of State at the Annual Conference of Children's Officers in September, though I do not believe that it has been repeated in either House. I may have missed it in Hansard of another place, but it has not so far been mentioned in this House. Although on January 1 the new provision for care proceedings will come into force, the age for criminal prosecution of children will not be changed, which means that children from 10 upwards will still be liable to criminal prosecution. So we are really back to the 1963 position, when my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger managed, by a majority of one in this House, to raise the age from 8 (as it was then) to 12, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in another place compromised and made it 10. That was some seven years ago.

I also deeply regret the decision of the Government that courts are to retain their powers to order borstal training, to commit to junior detention centres and to order attendance at junior detention centres. One of the effects of this decision, which will have a direct effect on the Probation Service—some may welcome it, and others will not—is that, even though probation orders will be replaced by supervision orders for those under 17, courts will be free to select probation officers as supervisors of children from 10 upwards in both care and criminal proceedings.

I know that there was great division about this at the time when legislation was under discussion, but I believe that, with the increasingly heavy pressures that we all recognise are falling on the Probation Service, this would have been the occasion to allow the continuity of care and treatment that the Seebohm Committee so stressed in their Report to be carried forward into this younger age group by the local authority social services department with the Probation and After Care Service concentrating on the adult field.

It appears that the decision of the Government on whether or not to retain the present age for borstal training is now to wait on the Report of the Advisory Council. That is a disappointing and depressing outlook, because it will not assist the developments for which many have worked for so long. I must therefore ask for an assurance that this decision not to implement at any time legislation which is already on the Statute Book—which amounts to virtual repeal—does not mean that the schemes now being designed to provide intermediate treatment will be slowed down, or that the brake will be put on those developments that involve additional expenditure. In saying this, I appreciate that the Under-Secretary of State in another place was opposed to certain sections of the then Young Persons and Children's Bill; but I was under the impression that in this House, apart from the difficult question of double test, there was general agreement on all sides on the general principles on which this particular piece of legislation was based.

I very much regret the decision of the Government not to raise the age of criminal responsibility and not to change the borstal procedure, because as long as society continues to be frightened of its young offenders and continues to stigmatise its children in trouble by dealing with them on legalistic lines and in segregated services, there is really no hope of arresting the gravitation of institutionalised young offenders through the tariff system into our adult prisons.

Finally, my Lords, this debate has made clear that none of us in this House suffers from any dangerous illusion that there is a simple and comprehensive solution to the problem of crime simply waiting round the corner for a Home Secretary, a Commission or a council to find and to enunciate. In this sense, the debate has been extremely realistic. Most of us would also agree that the range of solutions needed will be discovered only as the result of long, painstaking and even painful experiment and research, and perhaps most of all by changes in public attitudes, and particularly towards those offenders who are merely failures, who are suffering from social or physical handicap and who should be sustained in the community, leaving an effective penal system to be devised for those relatively few who are genuinely deviant and who must be removed from the community in the interests of society as a whole.

My Lords, I am sure we all join in hoping that my noble friend Lord Stonham will feel that the initiative he took in putting down this Motion has justified itself. We have had a typical House of Lords debate on this subject, and I hope that in replying to it the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to answer some of our questions and reassure us on the many points we have raised.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House has been delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, back at the Dispatch Box, and we are all grateful to him for initiating this interesting and, for the Government, valuable debate. I personally have been glad to hear him advocating so many things that I myself have been advocating from the Dispatch Box: urging him to provide more hostels; to get more probation officers, to raise his target above 3,500, and to try to reach it sooner. I am glad to think that my noble friend Lord Windlesham and I are in a position to give really positive answers to the noble Lord and to his colleagues.

I should like to thank all noble Lords and Ladies who have taken part in the debate, whose views will be so valuable to Her Majesty's Government in the application and development of their policies. I shall not attempt to deal with every aspect that has been raised, or to answer every question that has been asked, because it would be extremely tedious for me to try to do that. But I can assure noble Lords that every point that has been raised will be considered, and that all the questions that have been asked which I am unable to answer will be answered in due course.

As a background to this debate we have to face the fact that our population is growing steadily in numbers. But what is more sombre and sad is that it is growing rapidly in criminality. Despite its affluence, despite its fine education service, despite the Welfare State, despite our mature culture and our Christian civilisation, we now have to face the fact, as my noble friend Lord Windlesham reminded us, that we are now producing twice as many convicted criminals as we were ten years ago. To dwell on the cause of this terrible increase in crime would now be untimely; it is not apt to the noble Lord's Motion. But we do need to ponder this while we are considering the practical steps for dealing with these criminals.

The second point is that discussion of what it is that deters men from embarking on and continuing with a life of crime is also extremely important, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was right to remind us. I would feel that this, too, opens fields too wide for further consideration in a debate on this Motion. But it is also something that we must ponder and probe if we are to arrive at the right solution. However, I leave those two important issues on one side now, though I personally very much share the view of those who feel that the most powerful deterrent factor is the fear of getting caught, and not anything that is part of our penal system.

I propose, my Lords, to treat the subject which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has introduced, in two parts. First of all, I should like to consider what is to be done about providing more space for the effective treatment of those who really must be incarcerated. It is essential to do this, for, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us from his unique position as head of the Parole Board, the present overcrowding really stultifies completely any constructive and effective régime designed to rehabilitate people who are in our prisons. Because of this we are now embarking on a greatly increased programme of new prison buildings: projects started this year will provide 1,500 places and starts will be made from 1971–72 onwards on projects providing 2,000 extra places a year. This is in contrast to the rather curious position which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, drew to our attention, where nothing new has been opened in the current year, and only one prison has been under construction. I would not want to lose this opportunity of paying tribute and giving our thanks to noble Lords opposite from whom we have inherited a programme amounting to no fewer than 24 major schemes.

So far as capital expenditure under this programme goes, this year the programme amounts to £10 million; and this figure will be substantially increased over the course of the next four or five years. There are considerable problems in addition to finding the capital for this programme, but I would confirm that there are eight sites, including Ranby which was one which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, particularly mentioned, on which planning clearance has already been obtained. There are fifteen further sites under which planning clearance has to be negotiated. As a Minister in the Department of the Environment, having to find the right places for such things as reservoirs and breweries, I am a little daunted by the fact that there may be other things for which the process is even more difficult. The kind of speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, showing how some communities can come to appreciate a positive value of having a borstal in their midst, are extremely helpful, and I hope we shall hear more of that kind of remark.

In addition to finding the capital for new building and new sites for them, there is the further necessity to make the best use of what we have already. There is a possibility of expansion of various kinds of no fewer than twenty existing prison sites. The spare space, which shows rather clearly in the Report of the Prison Department for the year 1969, amounting to nearly 1,500 places in the training prisons, has now been taken up because in the present circumstances of overcrowding it really is not sensible to have spare billets in our training prisons. There is also the question of making the best use of the manpower we have already. If men have to be kept in crowded custody, let them at least be engaged themselves in tackling the problem by building and becoming engaged themselves in the building of new prison accommodation. This is something which has been appreciated, and I am glad to say that there are no fewer than thirty projects, amounting in total to a contract value of about £28 million, in which inmate labour is being used.

I should like at this point to deal with the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, asked about the experiments going on at Norwich and Bristol prisons designed to develop more positive staff/inmate relationships—particularly at local prisons, which are the ones in which the crowding is greatest. The White Paper Penal Practice in a Changing Society, published in 1959, showed that the objects of the experiments at Norwich had been achieved with no loss of fundamental discipline and control, and looked forward to this approach being extended throughout the system. There is no doubt that there has been a marked change for the better in relationships between staff and prisoners since the Norwich and Bristol experiments were begun in 1956 and 1958 respectively.

The essence of the experiments was the readiness and availability of a prison officer to discuss a prisoner's personal problems with him, and to help him adjust to his situation as a prisoner and think about his future. This is maintained at Norwich and Bristol. Despite the pressures of overcrowding, this is reflected in the approach of prison staff to their work throughout the system. In 1963, the annual conference of the Prison Officers' Association endorsed a resolution which rejected the "turnkey" image of the prison officer and called for him to play a positive role in the rehabilitative aspects of a prisoner's treatment and training. This objective is now reflected in the training given to prison officers, and regular consultations are held between the Department and representatives of staff associations.


My Lords, before the Minister leaves that subject, can be say whether the Bristol and Norwich experiments have been carried out in other prisons?


No, I think not, My Lords. What I am saying indicates that the lessons have been learned and are being applied throughout the system. As I was saying, consultations are held between the Department and staff associations to watch progress and consider what further development of the prison officer's role in this respect might be possible, and that is also included in the training programme.

I should like to turn from custody in prisons to what Her Majesty's Government have in mind (my noble friend Lord Windlesham did not mention this) about more effective treatment outside prisons for those who need not be incarcerated. In this field, as has already been made clear several times, the latest and most comprehensive review on new possibilities (of course, there are a number of other non-custodial forms of treatment already) has been provided by the Advisory Council on the penal system and the sub-committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. As one who served on that Council, I should like to say how grateful we are for the work of the subcommittee, and how full of admiration I was for the noble Baroness for her wisdom and all the work that she put into that sub-committee. I should like to confirm that consideration is continuing on all the recommendations made, and the noble Baroness has already confirmed that she will ensure that consideration continues on those matters on which my noble friend indicated that Her Majesty's Government were taking a somewhat negative attitude. I also confirm that the American practice of support for offenders by volunteers who were themselves offenders has been noted in the Home Office.


My Lords, has anything further been done than just noting?


My Lords, I am not in a position to say so. When we are considering the treatment of offenders in the community—and that is what the Report was considering—it is important to bear in mind that every month there are discharged from our prisons 3,000 adults, and there is no particular guarantee that they have abandoned for good their criminal tendencies. Prisoners under 21 who are discharged are subject to compulsory after-care, and prisoners who are discharged early on parole are subject to a certain amount of supervision. When we are considering the hazards of treatment in the community, it is as well to remember that we have 3,000 adults coming out of our prisons every month, and they are being pitched into society without any supervision or guarantee at all that they will continue to behave. It is important to say this in order to keep this matter in perspective.

In addition to the particular points that were raised and suggested by the noble Baroness in her Report, and in her own speech upon the Report to-day, I should like to say a little more about two things which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, left for me to answer. The first is to deal with the question of the treatment of habitual drunken offenders who, as we all agree, are not best treated in the overcrowded conditions of a local or training prison. A question about them was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Swan-borough, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.

The Report of the Working Party on Habitual Drunken Offenders has now been presented to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Social Services and is being considered by them, and it should be published in January. The Government accept that it is desirable to treat alcoholics outside the prison setting, but, as the noble Lord is aware, Section 91 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 cannot be implemented until sufficient suitable accommodation is available. Here I ought perhaps to say that the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made about introducing it by one locality at a time has been considered, but our advice is that it cannot be done under the existing legislation. The noble Lord will also know that there has been no lack of effort in this field, but that available resources tend to have been devoted more towards increasing the provision of general-purpose after-care hostels than to meeting the demand for more specialised facilities which present more difficulties to the voluntary organisations.

To encourage voluntary organisations to provide for more specialised needs, such as alcoholics, a higher annual rate of grant is provided, as the noble Lord will know. The position now—and several noble Lords asked me about this—is that grant has been approved and promised for 15 hostels, providing 168 places for alcoholics. The current rate of expansion is geared to providing an additional 200 after-care hostel places a year, of which about 80 to 100 will be for alcoholics or drug offenders. We are considering in the light of the Report of the Working Party whether the voluntary organisations should be encouraged to provide a higher proportion of places for alcoholics. The Home Office is in close consultation with the Department of Health and Social Security about the Report, and about the way in which medical and penal treatment and community care can all be integrated, and how the additional funds made available for the treatment of alcoholism, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced on November 11, can be used. Before I leave the question of the treatment of alcoholics, I should perhaps mention that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office will be visiting Rathcoole this evening.

I was asked a question about the volunteers who work in close co-operation with probation officers, and perhaps I may say a word about this now. Some volunteers, called "associates", take a personal interest in individual prisoners and provide long-term personal support. Other volunteers help by taking prisoners' wives to visit the prison, looking after children while the mothers visit, and so on. These volunteers came into being at the end of 1965. They are recruited by the eighty or so probation committees, which make periodic reviews of the use of volunteers. The latest review is currently in progress. At the end of December, 1966, there were 794 volunteers; at the end of December, 1968, there were 1,200 or so volunteers. It is hoped and expected that the current review will show that there are over 2,000. As the above figures show, the number of volunteers is increasing rapidly and the evidence from the field is that they are having a considerable impact and that their work is greatly appreciated. Perhaps here I may also add that it is not only their impact on the rehabilitation of prisoners that is valuable, but also their impact in influencing the opinion of the public among whom these associates work and live and have their ordinary being every day of the week.

My Lords, may I turn now from the special question, the question of hostels for alcoholics, to the general provision of hostels, about which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was so rightly concerned? This is something with which I have myself been concerned in the past. We have already had some experience of hostels in the community in the shape of approved probation hostels and aftercare hostels. In the case of the former, a court may include in a probation order a requirement that the offender shall reside in an approved probation hostel or a home for a maximum period of 12 months. These hostels are intended for immature, inadequate and irresponsible people who are socially disorganised and have lacked appropriate community and family support. The object of sending them to hostels is to help them respond to probation by being given a stable and supportive environment. There are now 44 such hostels providing 691 places. They cater mainly for offenders under the age of 21, but the system has been extended this year on an experimental basis to cater for male offenders up to 30 years of age; and it will be further extended next year to take in men up to 35.

Four hostels, providing 58 places, are already taking part in this experiment. It is already clear that courts are using these hostels as an alternative to custodial sentences. Of the first 50 men admitted, more than half had five or more previous convictions, and 22 had already served borstal or prison sentences, several on more than one occasion. It seems that the hostels are at least capable of containing men who would otherwise have gone to prison, and the proportion of breakdowns will be within acceptable limits. I agree with the noble Lord that there is a case for extension of this probation.

After-care hostels, too, have an important rôle to play by offering a measure of social support in addition to board and lodging to men with no home or family to return to when they are released from prison. There are now over 1,000 places in these voluntary hostels catering for discharged offenders, and the most recent survey suggests that some 3,000 men will spent some time in one of them this year. Approximately half of the men will be under some form of statutory supervision and about a third of them will be on probation. Very few will be under a specific requirement such as a probation order to reside in a hostel. The length of stay in after-care hostels varies from a few days to several months, and in so far as the facilities they provide enable men to adjust to normal life in the community they make a positive contribution to the reduction of recidivism.

Perhaps before I leave this subject I may deal with the question of financial support for the Bridgehead Association, which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, asked me about. The position is that an annual grant of £24,000 has been made available to the Association towards the capital cost of providing after-care hostels. The whole of the grant for the current financial year has already been spent, and the Association has applied for additional grant in order to bring forward, as he said, some five or six additional projects. It is not a question of holding up a grant earmarked for the Association, but whether additional funds can be provided to produce places over and above the budgeted Bridgehead programme.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He said it is not a case of holding up funds; but in effect it is, because this organisation has got on well and has got the houses. It wants to anticipate next year's capital grant. Well, why not? You say you want the hostels; they have them. Let us get on with it!


But, my Lords, as the noble Lord knows, there is always the Treasury to deal with, and I regret that there are no uncommitted funds which can be diverted to Bridgehead projects this financial year.

May I now turn to the question of the expansion of the Probation Service, which has been mentioned a good deal. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary at the Home Office has announced the Government's intentions, but in the context of this debate perhaps I ought to confirm them. We are contemplating a strength of 4,700 by the end of 1975 and increasing training output from 350 to 550 per annum. This is in order that the Probation Service can continue to do all they are doing but more intensively, with lower case-loads, to shoulder the extra roles that have been recently assigned to them, and to take on the new roles that are now being proposed. In that connection I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Scrota, said: that the training and the quality of the training provided for the Probation Service—and indeed all the social services—will be of the greatest importance. I should like to confirm that the announcement about the Central Council for Training will be made very shortly, and the intention is that the new Council shall come into being in the spring.

Finally, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I would sum up by saying that we fully intend to put a great deal more money to better use in a strategy which falls into two complementary parts. First, a greatly increased prison building programme, for the main reason that under the present overcrowded conditions offenders are more than likely to emerge from prison in a worse state than when they went in—and what does society gain from that? So that here there is a substantially enlarged capital expenditure.

Secondly, and complementary to that, there will be a considerable development of the Probation Service to take a still greater share in the treatment of offenders, nearly doubling the training output—and for three reasons. First, because treatment under the Probation Service in the various forms that it takes is more humane. I know that that is something which perhaps does not commend itself to everyone, but it certainly commends itself to me. Secondly, because it is far less expensive—something between a tenth and a twentieth of what it costs to treat an offender in prison; and, thirdly, because for the very large number of offenders it is the most effective system in turning men from a life and course of crime: and this must commend itself to everyone, for surely that is the main aim of any penal system.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him a question? He has avoided any reference to a salary structure. I do not want to put him in any difficulty, but could I ask whether the Government recognise the need for consideration in that respect?


My Lords, I said that everything that had been mentioned would be considered, and I think the noble Lord will agree that there is no danger whatever of that particular point having been overlooked. But I do not wish to comment upon it, and I deliberately did not do so.


I am much obliged, my Lords.

8.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said this might well prove to be an epoch-making debate. Having listened to the end, I am not sure that I entirely agree with that; but it has been a very good debate and I do not intend to spoil it now by making a speech. However, I am allowed to thank all those who have taken part, and as I look down the list of speakers I find it quite impossible to single out individuals, because everyone has made a splendid speech, based on actual knowledge. Every noble Lord and noble Baroness who has taken part has been an expert in a particular section of this subject, and I can only say that I am extremely grateful for all that has been said.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in one respect. I have had the feeling, while I have been sitting here through this debate, that this was at least a new beginning. But when noble Lords go through the debate they will find many points to write about, and I feel we shall come back again in a little while to see how things have gone. But, my Lords, that does not alter the fact that it has been a very good debate. It has entirely achieved its objective, and because of that I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.