HL Deb 29 June 1977 vol 384 cc1147-211

4.25 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps we may now turn from this important subject to that of the crisis in our penal system, which of course refers mainly to the state of our prisons, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Longford for enabling us to discuss this subject this afternoon. It is indeed an appropriate week because this week is being widely celebrated as the John Howard bicentenary. On Monday, I took the chair at the start of a four day international conference on the state of the prisons, organised by the Howard League and held in the University of Kent. If it be a matter of interest, the conference was attended by criminologists and judges from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

That brings me to the first point that I wish to make, which is that while it is indeed lamentable that in this country crime has increased since the war—as it markedly has—this is not a peculiarly British phenomenon; it has occurred in virtually all the developed countries of the world. I will not take up time discussing the reasons for it but I think we are all quite familiar with them.

I was wondering, and my wonder arose out of a similar thought expressed recently by the Home Secretary, whether I could remember a time—a halcyon day—when there was no criminal problem and no crisis in our penal system. I am not sure that I can remember such a time. It is true that there has been a grave increase and it is still continuing. To keep it in proportion, we should perhaps bear in mind that in 1964 indictable offences increased by 16 per cent. over the previous year; in 1975 they increased by 9 per cent., and in 1976 they increased by 4 per cent. So it is something to note that the rate of increase appears at least to be decreasing.

My noble friend Lord Longford was mainly condemnatory of the powers-that-be. I should like to start by congratulating the Government on several points. The first is the degree to which the Home Secretary has been able to afford out of his resources the amount of money necessary to increase the police force. Nowadays, the one fact which nobody can challenge, because it has been established over and over again, is the simple fact that, if the conviction rate—that is to say, the proportion of convictions to all the crimes known to the police—goes up, crime goes down; if the conviction rate goes down, crime goes up. And whereas, before the war, the conviction rate for indictable offences in this country was always over 50 per cent., so that if you committed a serious crime in England the probability was that you would be caught and punished, during the war the figure went down and down. I remember that I enquired when I took office what was the position in London. The position then was that, if you committed a robbery with violence, there was a three to one chance that you would not be caught or punished at all; if you did a housebreaking job, it was a six to one chance that you would not he caught or punished at all; if you stole something from a stationary car, it was a 12 to one chance that you would not be caught or punished at all. Well, what do your Lordships suppose had happened and what was the reason for it? The reason was simply that on the day when we took office there were fewer police in the Metropolitan Police Force than there had been when the war broke out. Some crimes had increased by 100 per cent., some by 200 per cent. and some by 400 per cent. But we have never increased the police force to cope with the increase in crime.

In this country, the police have three functions, whereas they have two functions in every other country. The first is crime prevention. I am a Londoner; when I was a boy in London you never knew when you were going to meet a local bobby coming round the corner and the local bobby knew his customers. The second function is, when a crime has been committed, ascertaining who has committed that crime. Thirdly, alone in Western Europe, the police of England and Wales also prosecute, though that, of course, is another subject. So I am very glad that the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary has been able, in the lifetime of this Government, to add 9,000 to the police force, although it is still 9,000 under establishment.

Secondly, if, as I understand it, the Government support the report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System, of which my noble friend Lady Scrota is the distinguished chairman, I should like to ask—and I think that my noble friend Lord Longford raised the point—what action the Government intend to take in the matter? This, no doubt, is primarily a matter for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. But I should like to ask whether he proposes—in the proper way, of course; that is, through the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice —irrespective of whether the judges agree with the proposal, that for the ordinary small offence (not talking about the kind of case Lord Balerno has in mind, but in the general run of the mill of small and medium-term cases) sentences can be safely substantially reduced without any harm to the offenders or to the community. It will inevitably depend on the lead given by the judges, and therefore I should like to know whether they agree or do not agree.

I would also congratulate the Home Secretary on an announcement which he would have made on Monday in opening this international conference if he had not been detained by a certain strike of which some of your Lordships may possibly have read something in the newspapers. Sir Arthur Peterson made the speech the Home Secretary would have made. Sir Arthur is retiring tomorrow after a long and distinguished career, and I am sure we all wish him well. The announcement was that the Home Secretary hopes to obtain in Parliament the abolition of the need to send many drunk and disorderlies to prison. This, at least, is one category in which there will be relief, though, of course, many of us would like to see the same principle extended, as I hope and believe it may be, to a first cannabis possession offence and to those who merely owe other people money.

Also, I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on what I detect as the first break in one of the extraordinary features of the English prison system; that is, the extraordinary secrecy in which it is all enveloped. A few years ago I took part in a conference on detention in London, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, was chairman, and the committees were chaired by Sir Leslie Scarman, Sir Kenneth Younger and myself. In our report we said: We hope that the Government will implement the recommendations of the Franks Committee on the Official Secrets Act and so diminish the extraordinary degree to which secrecy is maintained by the Home Office about everything which goes on in our prisons". It is not so in other countries. I am sure it is not a good thing.

Consider John Howard. John Howard was not interested in this subject at all until in his thirties he was appointed sheriff and so he had to inspect the local prison. The first thing he found was that, when a man on remand stood his trial and was acquitted, he went straight hack to his prison cell, and he did not leave until he had paid such fees as the gaoler could get out of him before he left. He went to other prisons. He talked everywhere to prisoners; he talked to governors and gaolers. He went to some three or four hundred in this country, some once, some twice, three times, four times. He then went to the Continent and visited prisons in every country from Portugal to Russia. There were only three prisons he was not allowed into: one was the one alongside the Doge's Palace in Venice, the second was the Prison of the Inquisition at the Vatican and the third was the Bastille in Paris. Everywhere else he was welcomed. Prisons were almost open places in those days. He did all this without aeroplanes, motor cars, or trains. He did not like the stagecoach, so he did it mostly on horseback and mainly at night. He represented nobody and formed no association; it was entirely a one-man show. He is reported to have spent £30,000 altogether, which economists tell us is equivalent to about £500,000 today. He was his own Ford Foundation. This remarkable man undoubtedly had a very charming personality. He simply went into prisons and talked to everybody.

Now, of course, the secrecy in prisons is terrible. It particularly affects people like lawyers. In many Western European democracies the prisoner's right to see a lawyer is exactly the same as the right of any ordinary citizen. He is not, because he is in prison, deprived of his right to see a lawyer when he wants to see a lawyer. Here he may have to wait months. The lawyer is given instructions as to what he may discuss with him and as to what he may not discuss.

I have no doubt that the change made in depriving local authorities of their prisons and putting them under central Government was wise. But we have gone much too far the other way. No ordinary inhabitant of a town has an dea of what is going on inside the local prison. I am very encouraged, therefore, to see that quite recently the Home Secretary has allowed one or two television films to be made, to show the public not just Porridge but what really happens inside prisons, whether or not prisoners really are cosseted, and what kind of places they really are. I have read—my noble friend Lord Harris will correct me if I am wrong —that he has assured a local councillor that if he was made a prison visitor he would be entitled to tell his council what is going on in the local prison. Whether that is because my noble friend has a kind of dispensing power over the Official Secrets Act I do not know. This, of course, has always been the great difficulty. The welfare officer who sees something very wrong going on in prison is liable to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if he tells anybody except the prison governor or the Home Office. So I welcome those things.

Of course, my Lords, the overwhelming problem is the overcrowding. I hope and believe that we should all bear in mind what it means—16,000 sleeping two or three to a cell—and that is just as hard on the prison officers as it is on the prisoners themselves; it is hard on both of them. This very much increases the tension between them. Being a prison officer is not an easy job; it is not a rewarding job; it is long hours, long overtime. This degree of overcrowding going on, I feel, is having—as a recent statement by prison governors and officers has made clear—an appalling effect on prison officers as well as on prisoners.

I would associate myself with what my noble friend said about intermediate treatment. It does seem to me extraordinary that a higher proportion of such resources as the Government have should not be devoted to intermediate treatment, rather than, as we have been told, 5,000 new prison places being built by 1980 at a cost of some millions of pounds, while Birmingham courts, having a metropolitan area of one million people, cannot make a community service order because the Home Office say they cannot afford it. In the new Holloway the cells are apparently now being made for 10, four double bunks and two single. What happens if all ten barricade themselves in I do not know. I should not have thought it the kind of thing likely to lessen tension. I would hope very much that the Government will apply their minds to the question whether a greater degree of traffic cannot exist between the inhabitants of a prison, the prisoners and the prison officers, and the local community, because undoubtedly this excessive centralisation means that there is not really any contact of any kind at all between the prison and the local community.

There is one other question that I should like to ask. It is, in a sense, related to something that we discussed at Question Time this afternoon. Many of us, having spent a long time discussing it, had great hopes that the Bail Act would do a great deal to reduce the number of prisoners on remand. It is some months since the Royal Assent was obtained to it. Not one section of the Bail Act is in force because the Minister has not made a commencement order about any part of it whatever. Can my noble friend tell us when the different sections of the Bail Act are likely to be brought into force?

We are now to have a Royal Commission on a great many matters to do with the penal system. I understand that it will cover pre-trial procedure and the question whether we should have an independent prosecution service. Personally, I do not know whether to welcome or deplore that. In some respects I am sorry. It is now seven years since Justice produced its report on the prosecution process. England and Wales are the only parts of Western democratic Europe where the police prosecute; everywhere else there is an independent prosecuting authority which stands between the police and the public. In Scotland, of course, the police have never at any time been allowed to prosecute; it is all done by the Procurator Fiscal. As a result of the recommendation of the Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, except for minor traffic cases, and so on, the same is now true in Northern Ireland. So we remain alone.

At first the Government were disposed to say that this would cost some vast sum of money. Fortunately, the Association of Prosecuting Solicitors—because in most of our counties, though not all, prosecutions have their own service and a county prosecuting solicitor —knows what the costs are, and both Justice and that Association are adamantly of the opinion that to implement the proposals of the Justice Committee would not only not in the end cost anything but provide us with a substantial annual saving.

At the last Labour Party Conference a motion in favour of the report of the Justice Committee was remitted to the national executive committee which has approved it, so it is now Labour Party policy. According to The Times, the Liberal Party recently announced that this was also its policy. On the Second Reading of the Criminal Law Bill in the Commons Sir Peter Rawlinson intimated considerable sympathy with that view. If this matter is to be left wholly to a Royal Commission, it means another three years. So I rather regret it because I believe that we should have achieved it more quickly without a Royal Commission. But there is a sentence in the Prime Minister's Statement which indicates that some steps in this direction at least may be taken pending the report from the Royal Commission, and perhaps my noble friend can tell us which.

I should like to know the effect of the Royal Commission on matters in this field which have been under discussion for a long time. There is no doubt at all that, from the point of view of human rights, the most important single question in that whole field to the ordinary citizen is: What is the law when a man goes to a police station to be interrogated by the police? This appears to be part of the pre-trial procedure with which the Royal Commission may be concerned, but I am not sure. What is the law about whether or not he should be cautioned? What is the law as to how long he can be kept at a police station? What is the law as to whether he can have access to a solicitor and as to the way in which statements made are to be taken down? What is the law as to whether he can demand an identification parade?

The extraordinary thing is that in England of all countries in the world the answer is that there is no law at all. It is all a question of the Judges' Rules, which are not law and which are not, in fact, enforced. That is why for such a long time everyone concerned with human rights and civil liberties in this country has been pressing for citizens to be governed by law in this matter. No one really knows the position, even as to access to a solicitor. There is a very vague Judges' Rule which the police can always get round because it says that a person should have access to a solicitor unless it would delay proceedings or, in effect, embarrass the prosecution. We really need laws in this field. What is the effect of the appointment of the Royal Commission on questions such as those?

In the area of the criminal process there are many points with which Justice, whose annual report appeared this week, has been concerned for a long time. As reported in the Press, there is in the Prime Minister's Statement a very odd statement. He said that recently changes had been made in the criminal procedure which are in favour of the accused. I cannot think of one. The only two substantial changes made in recent years are, first, that if a person sets up an alibi he must give notice to the prosecution. That is a change in favour of the prosecution, not the defence. Although I agree with it, it is adverse to the defence. The second change was the introduction of majority verdicts, so that a man can be convicted by only 10 jurors instead of 12. That is a change in favour of the prosecution and against the defence. I cannot think to what the Prime Minister referred.

However, when we agreed to the prosecution having to receive advance notice of alibi defences, a specific undertaking was given that the prosecution would not use the information to go to see the witnesses for the defence behind the backs of their solicitors. Every day that undertaking is being flagrantly broken all over the country. Justice has repeated examples of it. Is this something which must wait for the Royal Commission to consider it? Alternatively, when will the Government take some action in this field?

Lastly, as my noble friend Lord Longford asked me to say something about it, perhaps I may refer to the question of boards of visitors. The London Conference, to which I referred, comprised almost entirely judges, probation officers, magistrates, prison visitors and so on. That conference unanimously said: We invite the Home Office to appoint a body to inquire into the present system of boards of visitors; we are of the opinion that their two functions of (1) inquiring into the administration of a prison and hearing complaints and (2) hearing and determining disciplinary proceedings ought to be performed by different bodies. We think that such inquiry should also cover the questions: whether disciplinary proceedings should not be on oath; whether prisoners and prison officers should not be entitled to be represented, with legal aid, and to subpoena witnesses; whether such proceedings should not be open to the press and whether, in the more serious cases, there should not be a right of appeal". It remains as true today as it was before that the two functions are entirely in conflict. The visitors alone are people to whom prisoners can make complaints, but when they sit to hear breaches of disciplinary procedure their powers are great, because if they order the loss of three or six months' remission, it is the equivalent of sending the man to prison for an additional three or six months. Their proceedings as at present are most unsatisfactory.

When the Government took no notice of that recommendation Justice, the Howard League and NACRO formed a committee, of which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was chairman. That Committee's report emphasises and confirms everything which that conference said and makes specific proposals for reform. I should like to ask the Minister about the position with regard to that. It affects the penal process. So far none of us has been able to understand why the Government are completely silent about this, except for saying that they will not do it. But they have not really argued the case at ail. I can only assure them that those three bodies, and many other people, will go on and on pressing until the present discredited system is changed.

I am sorry to have spoken for so long but it is a subject with which I have been greatly concerned most of my life. The main problem, of course, is the overcrowding of the prisons. I regard the report of the Advisory Committee as being of the foremost importance. I see the last thing that we said in our report of that conference was that the only way in the short term to cope with the appalling degree of overcrowding in our prisons is by a reduction in the average length of sentences. I know that it meets with the approval of many judges, but whether it meets with the approval of the judges as a whole I shall be most anxious to hear.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, may I say that there is one point he might be willing to clarify. In the course of his altogether impressive and, as always, interesting speech he said that the position in this country was that a man might be in prison for many months without having the right of access to his solicitor. Would he be willing to say that by "this country" he meant England and Wales?—for it is not the position in the Northern part of this country known, I believe, as Scotland.


My Lords, I should be very willing to do that. I have always been brought up to believe that the Scottish legal system as a whole, just as their education, is much better than ours, and certainly that is so in so far as anything to do with the prosecution process is concerned.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I find it difficult to follow such an eloquent speech as has been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, particularly when he has mentioned one or two of the points which I had hoped to mention myself. However, I hope your Lordships will bear with me as I want to base my remarks on the premise that there are too many persons held in prison at present for too long. I believe that this is one of the main causes of the present crisis in the prisons, and it is one that could be resolved, I think, fairly easily. It is not possible to prove such a premise, but I hope to show a reasonable presumption of proof that the premise is right.

Before I come to that, I should like to add a word to those that have been used by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, about the Prison Service. I have a great respect for the Prison Service as a result of my own experiences, and particularly as to the way it can operate in the present very difficult position. But I also want to stress the fact that they are not at all well paid and have to work what, in these enlightened days, are called unsocial hours. Moreover, many of them have to live in isolated communities with little opportunity of joining in the local social life, and their lot is very difficult.

Having said that, there is one point that I feel I must make; that is, that at present many prison officers find it necessary to encourage overtime working in the prisons as a means of supplementing their incomes. Sometimes they do this even at the expense of withholding work available for the normal work periods in order to build up a sufficient stock to be able to call for overtime work. One can imagine what the opinions of the prisoners are about this practice. It does nothing to encourage the respect for the prison staff among the prisoners involved in this subterfuge. Overtime work in the prisons is not mandatory. It is voluntary, but of course it depends a great deal on the way that the question is put by the prison officer to the prisoner. I would therefore ask that the case for higher pay for the Prison Service should be given as urgent a priority as the Government can give once they move away from Phase 2 of the present pay policy. I hope that something will be done about this fairly soon.

I now want to try to prove, or produce the reasonable presumption of proof, of my premise that at the moment there are too many persons in prison for too long. Before doing this, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, that I am not talking about crimes of violence—murder, rape, grievous bodily harm, and the other crimes that he mentioned. I shall confine my remarks entirely to the normal smaller run-of-the-mill crimes which are the subject of this excellent interim report of Lady Serota's Advisory Council on the Penal System.

In the report she refers to sentences of imprisonment in the lower and middle ranges as being too long. I entirely agree with everything that is said in this report, but I am surprised at one omission. It is an omission which—I may be going to put my foot in it—I should have thought ought to have been included in the report. That is the question of what degree of importance is given to the parole situation by judges in their sentencing policy. I am quite certain that since parole was introduced 10 years ago, judges must have taken into account the possible effect on the person that they are going to sentence being given parole; and to that extent I would suggest that judges' sentences are longer now than they used to be.

Let us look at the arithmetic of it. Before 1967, if a judge wanted to ensure that the person he was going to sentence would stay in prison for two years he gave him a three-year sentence. Now, in order to ensure that that person stays in prison for two years he has to give him a six-year sentence. The actual sentence has to be doubled in order to get the same assurance of the minimum period to be served in prison. In the case of a judge wanting the person to stay in prison for three years, formerly a four and a half year sentence would do; now a nine-year sentence has to be given. I am not saying that judges are automatically doubling all their sentences. That would be a nonsense, but I am suggesting that they are now all adding a little to their sentences in order to take account of the effects of possible parole being granted to the person that they are sentencing.

Having dealt with that, I want to turn to the parole situation. In the latest report of the Parole Board for 1976, which came out about a fortnight ago, Appendix 3, tables 2(a) and 2(b) give the details of determinate sentence cases considered for parole during the year. I have done an analysis of those statistics, and in doing so I have excluded crimes of violence as set out in that appendix. They make rather startling reading. Of prisoners sentenced to less than four years' imprisonment, only 57 per cent. got parole on first review. The figures were: 5,219 cases considered, 2,987 got parole and 2,232 refused parole. Only 67 per cent. of these short-term prisoners got parole on subsequent reviews, the figures being 522 cases considered, 350 got parole, leaving 172 rejected. Thus, out of 5,741 cases considered in 1976 for sentences excluding crimes of violence and for sentences of less than four years, only 3,337 got parole while 2,404 were refused it.

If we go on to what I describe as medium-term sentences, four years to less than seven years—I have deliberately excluded the seven year sentence because that is a maximum in many cases—less than 24 per cent. got parole on first review, the figures being 1,267 cases considered, 299 got parole while 968 were rejected. And less than 54 per cent. got parole at second or subsequent reviews; 1,039 cases were considered, 557 got parole, leaving 482 rejected. Adding all those totals together, we get the situation that in 1976, 8,047 cases were considered of persons serving sentences for nonviolent crimes who were eligible to be considered for parole. Of that 8,047, only 4,193 got parole, leaving 3,854 rejected.

I believe that a large number of that figure of 3,854 who at the end of 1976 were in prison were serving a sentence longer than they should because they probably received a longer sentence than they should have received from judges and they did not get parole. If one were to halve that figure and say that 2,000 out of that 3,850 should have been released, that would have gone a very long way towards relieving the present crisis, and I urge the Government to take a strong look at this situation in the light of the fact that we must assume that judges are taking the possible effects of parole into account when sentencing.

I am sure that the present burden on the prison staff would be considerably reduced if the suggestions made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for a semi-automatic situation for parole were introduced I should like to cut out the innumerable reports which have to be written. Paragraph 8 of the 1976 Report talks about dossiers on parole candidates containing over 50 pages. Fifty pages of what?—reports from various prison officers who know very little about the persons on whom they are writing and most of those reports probably amounting to nothing. It would be much better if those reports did not have to be written and if only bad reports were put forward.

I conclude with a point I made last year. I cannot understand why prisoners who have been classified as safe enough to serve in open prisons do not get parole straight away when their time come for consideration. It seems completely illogical that anyone in an open prison should be refused parole unless that person has misbehaved himself in some way. Yet I have an example of a case, about which I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, at the beginning of the year, of someone who I believe at the time had spent 21 months in an open prison and had had his parole turned down. The best that Lord Harris could do for us in that case was to say that his next review would be advanced from next November to August. It seems quite wrong that anyone should have to serve in an open prison for so long.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I was very pleased to accede to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Longford that I should take part in this debate which he has initiated. He reminded us of the beginnings of these debates, years ago, when we used to have a general review of the penal situation every year, often under his leadership and on other occasions under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I regret that Lord Mancroft has not favoured us with his presence this afternoon, and on other occasions, with his wise and usually witty counsel.

Today's debate has to some extent centred round the recent report of the Home Office Committee on the over-lengthy character of terms of imprisonment. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Longford rubbed that in, as I feel that it is something which will be acceptable to everyone who has ever taken a conscientious part in the sentencing of prisoners. After a comparatively short period as chairman of quarter sessions I made myself a rule that terms of imprisonment should be avoided if possible. That worked out very well indeed and I believe it echoed the view taken by the Home Office Commission, although it was a decision taken many years ago.

Especially at courts like quarter sessions, which of course no longer exist, one had a large proportion of cases involving people who had committed semi-serious crimes and often the same man would appear at the same court time and again. I found from the records provided by the police or probation officers that such men, when not in trouble, were often good workers and would work for months at a time to the satisfaction of their employers but would suddenly give way to a temptation to pick something up—to "win", as we used to say in the First World War. It is fairly safe not to send a man of that kind to prison and, on the whole, I think nowadays that most judges use the probation officer rather than do so.

On the other hand, there are very many cases, as the Home Office report shows, where offenders of this kind are in fact sent to prison, and that is absolutely useless as a solution. Prison is really a very crude punishment, and people who think about these matters, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, have, over the past years, put forward quite a number of alternatives. They are not always easy to apply. They sometimes involve a considerable amount of work, and sometimes expense, but I am sure that they are very well worth attempting much more than they have been. I trust that the Home Office Committee will continue on these lines, because it is in this direction that the number of prison sentences can be reduced.

One must face up to difficulties in this kind of situation, and it may well be that what we do will lead to an increase in the number of offences on the register of indictable offences. The criminal population is very sensitive to fashion, so to speak, in the judicial world, whether it is from judges of the High Court, or from magistrates or recorders who officiate in the lower courts. Undoubtedly, the increase in the rate of indictments for rape and similar crimes of sexual violence, as suggested by one of your Lordships this afternoon, is, I should say, to a large extent due to the fact that, in my experience, rape cases attracted lower and lower sentences. It was interesting in connection with the recent case which has been so much in the papers over the last fortnight or so, in which the man was given a suspended sentence, to see the reaction to this of almost all the sophisticated friends who mentioned the matter to me, as an old practising criminal lawyer. These were friends who were not of course lawyers at all, and who just could not understand why this incident had happened. I should think that it has caused more worry among that section of the population than almost anything that has happened for a very long time.

It is not that my friends blame the judges, who were misled by evidence of a kind which is only too common in criminal courts, given by an officer who does not know anything personally about the man of whom he is speaking, and merely repeats something which is put into his hands at the battalion headquaters, after which he is sent off, often for hundreds of miles, at great expense, to read it out to the court. It is a very unsatisfactory system, and on this occasion it led to what was a farcical decision by the Court of Appeal. As I say, I do not think that my friends blame the judges who were acting on the evidence, which was the only evidence that was brought before them. But what they do feel is that a system which allows this kind of thing to happen must be a bad system, and it is not easy to see how it can he put right. If the man has once been put on a sentence of this kind, how is one to say, "Now we know that the thing was wrongly based we will bring you back and sentence you again"? That would be a common-sense way of doing it, but it would be exceedingly difficult to get a Bill through Parliament which enabled that course of conduct to be taken. There are very many ways in which what is done is dangerous in the sense that it may lead to members of the criminal class in the community saying, "This kind of thing doesn't get very heavily punished, and therefore if I do get caught I am not going to get more than a very small sentence"—and so they go on with their nefarious plan.

Much has been said this afternoon on the subject of parole with which I agree very strongly. I thought that every word of my noble friend Lord Hunt was true and full of wisdom. (Incidentally, I may have to ask for the same favour from your Lordships, for leaving before the end of the debate.) We are in need of a further full debate on the subject of parole. It has figured very largely in this afternoon's debate, and there are many points which have not been touched upon which I feel are very well worth debating. I came across one very recently. One of the wonderful situations in our prisons is the number of men with very long sentences—often life sentences—who occupy themselves by taking degrees in the Open University. Having come across a case of that kind, I was very encouraged to find that it is by no means a rare one, and that there are quite a number of these men.

In a particular case which I have in mind the man is almost through. He needs only one more credit, and, unless the Parole Board acts fairly rapidly, he may find that he has got the qualifications for a degree from the Open University while he is still in prison. I said, "Surely you will allow him, even if a policeman has to go with him, to go to the degree ceremony to accept the degree that he has earned by such intensive study and devotion to his work" But the reply was, "Oh, no, not at all. If he gets his certificate before the degree comes through he will be all right, he can go and take his degree, but if he hasn't got the certificate, he will have to wait until afterwards" This is a direct disincentive to the man to go on with his studies. It is just one of a number of cases in connection with parole which have come to my notice in very recent times, and I think it would be useful if we could have another debate, such as the one we had a year or so ago, devoted to the subject of parole. There are very many matters, some of which were raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt in the debate a year ago, which have not been put right and which, I think, 99 people out of 100 would have called to have put right without further delay.

Again, I say it has been a great pleasure to find that debates on these problems affecting the lives of so many of our fellow citizens, are now being initiated again by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I hope he will go forward and see that we have such debates, not just now and again, but ever year.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I should like to say that I am sure he will appreciate that the Home Office have been most helpful throughout about Open University prisoners, of whom there are some few hundred who always obtained their degree in absentia.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, my contribution to the debate is on a very practical issue which greatly concerns both probation officers and social workers. In the debate on the prison population, initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on 5th July 1976, I made a plea—and I see the Minister laughing; he knows what is coming—for more hostel accommodation in this country as one means at least of preventing borderline cases from entering prison, and also as a means of providing accommodation, as part of the after-care system, for those prisoners discharged from prison.

Following that debate, the noble Lord. Lord Harris of Greenwich, chided me, first, because regarding financial stringency a scheme for a network of hostels throughout the country would be an expensive venture; and, secondly, because in the setting up of hostels local authorities and voluntary organisations had to contend with the resistance and the positive opposition of local residents in local authority areas. I agreed with both these points. However, such is the interest of Her Majesty's Government that, after that debate in 1976, the Home Office after-care grant system to voluntary organisations running after-care hostels for offenders altered its policy, in April 1977, and is both more generous and more flexible. One would wish to pay tribute to Her Majesty's Government, and in particular to Lord Harris of Greenwich, who has, I know, a great interest in the hostel system. It is therefore evident that the hostel system is approved of in principle, and we are grateful for this help and encouragement. Sadly, the more flexible policy has applied only to existing hostels, and not to the setting up of new hostels except in special circumstances.

This plea today for more hostel accommodation is tied up with the plea made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, when she brought before your Lordships House on Monday of this week the Working Party report which covered vagrancy. In his reply to the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, said: It may be that we have to do something in this field"— that is, the setting up of hostels for vagrants— and I presume that if we do, it will be the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Security".—(Official Report, 26/6/77; col. 990.) I beg leave to ask the Minister that the two departments may work closely together in this matter.

The cost of keeping a man in prison is £78 per week. This figure covers the running costs only, and excludes the maintenance of the buildings. It is difficult to cost out accurately the running of a hostel because the figures vary in different areas according to the rates, but I am told on very good authority—and I am myself responsible for a hostel —that one can be run with the cost being between £20 and £30 per week. However, this change of direction in policy over a long term is what I think is necessary. I appreciate that one could not set up a network here and now, but it is a question of changing direction and working towards the right end. In support of this plea, may I point out that research has shown that, in London and the South-East, 58 per cent. of the men coming out of prison are homeless. From three prisons in Yorkshire, the figures varied from 25 per cent. to 38 per cent. Approximately one-third of the men and women discharged from prison in this country are homeless. Research has also shown that, if these men had somewhere to go, only 26 per cent. of them committed further offences, whereas if they had nowhere to go 66 per cent. committed further offences. Therefore, in my very small contribution today, may I ask the Minister if he will again consider a change of direction in this policy for a network of hostels, both for vagrants and for prisoners coming out of prison, and also in the hope that we may prevent some men going into prison.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House if I leave before the debate ends, and I feel the more embarrassed in so doing because I happen to be the fourth so to make this request, but that august body the Methodist Conference is in session. I returned from it this morning, and it is required of me that I should go back tonight. I hope your Lordships will understand that it was the sense of obligation to support the general substance of what my noble friend has been arguing for today which caused me to make the journey. I do not regret it: I regret only that I cannot stay for the full complement of the speeches, in which I have already noticed—and it is one of the few advantages, perhaps, of speaking fairly low down the list—a radical differentiation between two approaches to this most serious problem. The one is represented by almost the penultimate words I heard a little over a week ago in a programme about Scotland Yard, in which the voice said, "The important thing is to put away the criminal". That I believe to be an insufferable system; and, inasmuch as I further believe that the penal system, with all its modifications, is still committed in principle to the imprisonment of the offender, in which there can be variations of incarceration and exceptions, it has to be distinguished very clearly, I think, from the kind of improvements which I recognise and, as a prison chaplain of many years, am most glad to recognise, have taken place in that system.

It was Mark Twain who said: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it". In one sense, of course, he was wrong. Golfers can water greens, cricketers can cover pitches and pedestrians can defend themselves with umbrellas. But they are not in fact altering the weather, they are making the best of it; and there is a root difference between trying to make the best of a system and repudiating in principle that system, however long and protracted may be the efforts to place a better one in its stead. I recognise that that is a long and arduous programme and cannot be immediately undertaken with any prospect of proximate success; but I would commit to your Lordships my own conviction—and it comes out of a fairly long, if not very wide, experience—that the prison system is intolerable because it is still ultimately vested in the attitude to the prisoner that if you put him away you will have conducted the right sort of programme for, first, the safety of the community in which he lives and, secondly, some kind of rehabilitation which you hope he himself will enjoy.

My Lords, I do not agree. I know that there are some prisoners who have to be severely treated, and I entirely join with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his recognition that there is a world of difference between the occasional and fairly innocuous criminal and the dangerous, homicidal psychopath. Therefore, it is in no sentimentality that I would seek to repudiate the whole concept of prison as the answer. I believe that incarceration in some cases, segregation in many cases and the most rigorous application of penalties must be required by a professing Christian, as I would claim to be, if the true process of reformation is to take preference over all the other considerations included in the criminal code, and its prosecution.

My Lords, I would venture to comment on some of the immediate programmes which are necessary if we are to make the best of a system which ultimately, I hope, can be replaced. The present overcrowding is intolerable; and, though I have no stomach for talking about homosexuality at this stage, yet I would remind your Lordships, if I may, that if you put two men in a cell you are inciting those who might not be homosexual to homosexual practices—and it is not very much better if you put three men in a cell. When you think of the thousands who are, in fact, so incarcerated, can you or can anybody wonder at the increase in that form of sexuality or sexual deviance which, by any standards, must be regretted and condemned, whatever may be other reasons which might be put forward for a permissive attitude towards adult homosexuals in private? The fact is—and I know it to be true and I can say this without fear of contradiction—that there are many who would not be disposed towards homosexual practices unless they were incarcerated in overcrowded prisons with the kind of attitude to life in general and the miserable general psychological environment which prison induces.

I believe also—and I say this, once again out of conviction, as I have said it before —that you cannot continue for a period of six years with the unvaried kind of imprisonment that is common in prisons even today without permanently impairing not only the dimension of moral capacity in the prisoner but any ultimate prospect of his recovery. I do not ask that at the end of six years he should be released and that bygones should be regarded as bygones. No; but I would insist, if I had the opportunity to insist, on a variation so that, however dark the tunnel, a man can see the light at the end of six years. He should be able to look forward to a variation in his treatment and to the opportunity of an increase, in at least, the availability of the normal attitudes to life which are denied him in that long process. I do not believe that those who have become hardened criminals and hardened inmates of prisons for a period longer than six years are likely to recover. This is no question of being over-sympathetic; it is that the one thing that you dare not do to any criminal is to take away hope.

I am quite sure that there are many other immediate programmes of amelioration which have already been adverted to in this discussion today and which are of immense value; and I am sure that the Minister will take due regard to them. I would invite him and the House to consider a number of rather larger-scale and more ultimate concepts. I do not believe that it is right to make the punishment fit the crime. I am satisfied that the only punishment commendable is that which fits the criminal. We need to pay far greater attention to the various projects in the minds of those who ultimately turn to crime.

It is in that regard that I will beg to mention three institutions for which I am responsible. How glad I am that the Government have now seen fit to make a definite and practical move so that those who are delinquents because of alchohol are not sent to prison! It is absolutely ridiculous and futile to imagine that you can do any alcoholic or near-alcoholic any permanent good by putting him in prison. You can do something good for him if he can be persuaded to enter a hostel —if you like under custodial obligations —for rehabilitation and if he can then be invited, as a third stage after elementary detoxification or whatever is immediately needed, to a programme of sheltered housing. For no alcoholic, no man with this degree of an alcoholic problem ever fully recovers. The best that he can expect is a permanent convalescence.

This, I believe, is part of the programme of taking as many people out of prison as are now unsatisfactorily in prison and providing the opportunities to which the noble Baroness who has just sat down has made reference: there is a need for hostels which can take the place of the prison régime.

The Minister will be interested to know that we have already set up one of his bail hostels. He will be interested, although I pass this on as a piece of information and I do not rationalise it, that those who are on short-term bail are thoroughly unsatisfactory and those who are on longterm bail provide a very much greater opportunity and are much more amenable. I leave it to him. These are early days in the experiment; but it is worth while that this piece of information coming from one of these hostels should be available.

With regard to the hostels for homeless youngsters, your Lordships will not object if I remind myself how difficult and dangerous life in such hostels is. I ventured to say when this matter was last discussed, that the life expectancy of a television set in one of our hostels is about six weeks. The crime rate, the thieving rate, is alarming; and I will indulge for a moment in a piece of theology. I am more committed than ever to the doctrine of original sin. I am more than ever satisfied that there is a vast increase not so much in criminality as in moral indisposition. This is the attitude of many youngsters today who do not see a sufficient reason for the moral code. I should be hesitant to say that they have lost the dimension of moral responsibility; but I should not be fair to my experience (nor to that of the Church as a whole) if I did not record our grievous distress at the ever-increasing amount of irresponsibility in moral matters. I take a view which would not be commendable to all of your Lordships: that is that a great deal of this has an economic and political background. However, the fact of it is beyond dispute.

My Lords, I finish with two other observations about that which can take the place of a system which I believe is irrecoverable. It is that one day there may be a total elimination of what we now regard as prison. In its place there may he set up institutions which endeavour to recover the criminal within the framework of the normal society which he has abused rather than within an artificial society in which he becomes all the more remote from those trends, tendencies and, indeed, conditions, within which, sooner or later, he will have to recover himself, if he does recover. It is hard to know how to make the opportunity available; but in the field of reparation and restitution, in the commitment to social service and in the working together with social groups which are competent and not sentimental, there is the opportunity of semi-custodial treatment which can help to remedy many faults which are only exacerbated in the man or youngster who spends his time in prison.

Finally—and I believe that this is of supreme importance—if only a greater number of people, young and old, were satisfied that they lived in a just community, there would be an immense decline in the element of cynicism which, I believe, is one of the prime causes of a great deal of the moral distress from which we suffer. I ask that the Government should do everything in their power to establish the principles upon which they would operate the penal system so as to purge it of those things which I believe are irreparable and so as to give it the appearance of a system which is not class-ridden or privilege-directed but which belongs to a sense of community. I believe that, sooner or later, people will respond to a sense of community if that community is fairly and honestly presented to them.

5.38 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, we are in debt to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us all the opportunity to listen as well as to speak. If I may say so, my own interest in prisons started when I was for 10 years the vicar and rural dean of Islington with both Pentonville and Holloway in my deanery area. Now, in Norwich, I have both Blundeston prison and Norwich jail in my diocese. I think it would comfort the noble Lord, Lord Soper, if he knew that the Ten Commandments are gradually coming back to the scene in Blundeston as the true, right and proper way of living by a very simple and wonderful thing. We are a rather forward-looking prison and a number of our prisoners have been busy growing strawberries. These are now coming along nicely, ripening and reddening beautifully; but my parishioners in that part of my diocese are discovering that because of the Commandment against stealing they have to sit over and watch their strawberries right through their free time until they are back in their cells lest another prisoner should steal them. So there is a movement of reform going on around the strawberry beds which I thought should be a comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, to know. And what happens in East Anglia today may happen throughout the country. Who knows?

I should like to pay tribute not only to our very able, compassionate and sensible chaplains, but to governors and prison officers, one or two of whom are actually lay readers in our diocese and work in our prisons. My wife and I visit the prisons quite often, and since the passing of the enlightened Sex Discrimination Act, the men in the Chaplain's Church of England Men's Society discussion group have elected her as their president, which we are rather delighted about. She is the first lady president of a Church of England men's society. We find that local church people of different denominations and others of general good will are—rather along the lines about which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, spoke—seeking to care for the wives and families, especially of our short-term local prisoners. This underlines the first major point that I want to make, and also ties in with what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, was saying about the place of the family and the travel warrants.

Near the end of his speech, the noble Earl. Lord Longford, made the point that developments in the penal system require a sufficient degree of support from the public. The public must grasp that what can and should take place is far greater frankness by those responsible for our penal system concerning their problems and the real choices open to us. I suppose the Home Office is always a little secretive (under the general English aphorism that a man, or a Minister's, home is his castle), but it needs to open its doors and share its problems rather as the noble and learned Lord, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, was saying earlier in this debate. This is an area where enlightened and educated public opinion is vital, and unenlightened and ignorant opinion can harm not only the prisoner but also the prison officer and ultimately the public itself.

Let me illustrate—and I draw on the actual experience of my own prison chaplains, all of whom do a fine priestly and shepherdly job with great good sense and much compassion. They receive real co-operation from our prison authorities and much good humoured affection from their black and white sheep, for whom they care day by day. For instance, your Lordships are aware that the Pre-Release Employment Scheme (PRES) is devised as one of the best ways of helping a long-timer to be reintegrated into society; it gets him into employment under a release order, and so under supervision, six months before his sentence is completed. "George" (shall we call him?) is in for a serious offence against the person, and so the PRES Board at the local prison is tempted not to release him into employment because perhaps some popular newspaper might bring the wrath of public opinion down on the heads of the Home Office, writing, "What idiot allowed this dangerous criminal to be let out six months too soon?"

But George is going to be let out anyway in six months. I believe it is for the good of the public that he be released via the PRES Board; he is less likely to offend again if pre-released through this channel, and very few men offend during the six months' PRES period. Because of uninformed public opinion, we can deny George the help of PRES. He is therefore released six months later without any supervision, and bitter, because, as he sees it, the prison department is punishing him twice for the same offence. His chance of reoffending may thus be increased—(1) no help; (2) bitterness; (3) no supervision—and the public can therefore be at greater risk. Let us in this House therefore encourage the Home Office and the prison department to share their problems with the nation and build up an informed public opinion, which I am sure underlines what is in the mind of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in initiating this debate.

My chaplains, and a wonderful and elderly Anglican nun, who sits at a place called King's Cross at Blundeston—and all the prisoners come and talk with her—share with me the need for an adventurous approach which accepts the risk that total safety-first is an impossible standard, but that unless governors and prison officers are able to experiment adventurously, 20 prisoners will not be rehabilitated and 20 young prison officers will not be encouraged in humane experiments for fear of one escape or one prison officer's failure.

The second main point I want to make concerns punishment and rehabilitation. I leave aside for the moment the 5 or 10 per cent. of violent criminals and dangerous psychopaths for whom special treatment is obviously needed and from whom the public must be protected and about whom there is little or no real argument. For instance, on Christmas morning I gave Holy Communion to about 50 prisoners and spoke to many more afterwards, and as I went among them I was reminded of the very large number of friendly, rather inadequate, rather confused and often very young prisoners, many of whom, particularly those on short sentences, are still willing and able to respond to help and advice and to recognise the rightness of punishment, however sharp, if short, and who desire to be better and to start again. We listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, on the sentencing issue and to the alternative plans of the noble Viscount, Lord Han-worth.

I wonder whether prison sentences in two clear parts could be increasingly devised? First, a short, sharp, imaginative but real punishment which in open justice was seen by public and prisoner alike to fit either the crime or, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has reminded us, the criminal, without resentment on the prisoner's part, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has reminded us, with an element of reparation in it. Secondly, a rehabilitation period, not all of which need be spent behind bars when the length of sentence is more directly related to the prisoner's own response and growing determination to reform and, where it is possible, to make some reparation.

I believe that punishment, forgiveness and restoration are practical Christian principles to be boldly applied in any reform of our penal system. I am always delighted when I meet African bishops who are doing the same sort of job. A few years ago I met the chief police commissioner of one of the more enlightened African countries and found him a very convinced Christian. I asked: "What is your main way of working among your prisoners?", and in the direct way of the African Christian he said: "Our first job is to convert them to Christ. We find that unless a person is truly converted to Christ the other areas of rehabilitation are not so easy," I think that sometimes in our respectable England there is no harm in hearing such a direct comment.

Certainly the public, and Christian people already working in this area whether as social workers or visitors or in prisoner family support groups or in hostel work, should be invited to be more fully involved in the work. As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has reminded us, the realistic Christian approach, which has informed and led in penal reform for many years, must recognise the sinfulness of the human heart on the one hand but the power of God's grace on the other to change and transform people.

When I took Cliff Richard to Norwich Prison to sing and speak as a committed Christian, he was rather nervous and we were a little late. Facing a packed chapel of prisoners, Cliff said: "I am sorry that the Bishop and I are late. We had a bit of difficulty getting in". Immediately a voice from the back said: "And we have a lot of difficulty getting out!" The "ice" happily broken, Cliff sang and spoke of the reality of his Christian faith in a very wonderful way to a wonderfully quiet audience.

Later, on another visit to that same prison, a man said to me: "Bishop, could I be prepared for Confirmation? If the Christian faith helped Cliff, I believe it could help me". Against this background of hope, I support very much all that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has been encouraging us to think about and rethink about in seeking reform of our penal system.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, 60 years ago I would have had some claim to speak in this debate: I underwent a prison sentence of three years with hard labour. In those conditions I probably experienced the most severe circumstances. I had eight months in solitary confinement; I had one month on a bread and water diet until the doctor would allow no more. Those of us who went through that experience as conscientious objectors in the First World War came out of prison obsessed with one determination: that we would seek to end the present system on behalf of all of those who were left behind.

At that time, no prisoner was allowed to speak. Not only was he not allowed to speak to his fellow prisoners, he was not allowed to speak to an officer except on official business. Of course we did speak; but if we were found out, it was bread and water. I think it is a great case for women's liberation that it was never possible to apply the silence rule in women's prisons in this country. In those days, one was shut in one's cell from four o'clock in the afternoon until seven o'clock the next morning. There was no association of a social character; there was no association in games.

On coming out of prison, I was very fortunate indeed to be appointed a joint secretary of the Prisons System Inquiry Committee. May I lighten the sombreness of this debate: we asked Mr. Bernard Shaw to write the introduction to our report. He concluded that there was only one way to deal with incurable criminals, and that was to put them into lethal chambers. My Quaker joint secretary, the distinguished Stephen Hobhouse, could not accept this, whereupon Mr. Bernard Shaw re-wrote the passage. He said: There are two ways to deal with incurable criminals: one is to put them into lethal chambers; the other is to find Quakers who will look after them for the rest of their lives". That report in 1922 led to great reforms in the prison system. The silence rule was abolished; social association began in the long hours; classes began in education. But I was not satisfied even then, and I wrote a book, A New Way with Crime. Many of my proposals have since been accepted; but many have not. I want to turn my mind to the proposals which have not been accepted.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, was absolutely right when he said that there is a crisis now in our present system. Sixty years ago, at the invitation of Mr. Phillip Snowden, I wrote a pamphlet entitled Prisons as crime factories. Prisons today are more crime factories, are more destructive of good human character than they were sixty years ago. The prison governors, in their memorandum to the Home Secretary, to which much reference has been made, said that the present conditions in prison are so appalling that there is even a premium on achieving survival. They went on to say that even a survival today would be at a relatively primitive level. The governor of Maidstone Prison remarks: Once you get overcrowding you have to lock people up for as much as 23 hours a day —that is to say, because of the present overcrowding in prison, a large number of those who have never been sentenced to solitary confinement have to undergo it.

I have undergone solitary confinement. My sanity was only retained during that period because Mr. De Valéra and the Sinn Feiners, who were under detention in the same prison, were able to smuggle newspapers through to me. It is not merely the mental effect of confinement. I ask Members of this House to consider the present situation of two or three people in a cell. I am not going to add to the point, as my noble friend Lord Soper has already refrained from doing so. What are the physical consequences of keeping two men in a cell 13 feet by 8 feet, 23 hours of the 24 alone together, year after year, only seeing a woman on a visitor's day? What are going to be the physical consequences of that? Our present prison system is destroying character rather than rehabilitating it for the benefit of mankind.

The only way to deal with this problem is to keep people out of prison. The Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, in his statement which was read to the Howard League, acknowledged this. He said: The most important way of tackling overcrowding is to keep people out of prison. The question we have to face tonight is: who and how?

I want to express appreciation of the fact that the Home Secretary has now decided to keep drunks and disorderlies out of prison. They number nearly 3,000. The next essential step which has been mentioned in this debate concerns shorter sentences. When one is thinking of prison as a deterrent, it is the short sentence—even the first week—which is effective: shut in your cell, treated the whole time as though you are inferior, being disciplined and ordered about. Anyone going through that for a week is deterred, but let him go through it for six months: he adjusts himself to it and the deterrent effect of prison is entirely lost. The governors make this remarkable statement in their memorandum to the Home Secretary: they say that if the practice of short sentences carried out in the Netherlands were adopted, it would almost halve—I repeat, almost halve—the present prison population of 41,000.

I turn next to the scandal that boys and girls are still sent to prison. Four thousand under 17 years of age were remanded last year. I welcome the fact that the Home Office has now decided to issue new guidance and regulations to magistrates, the social service departments and the police, to deter the sending to prison of boys and girls. I sympathise with magistrates: they have been given no alternative, because local government authorities are not establishing alternative accommodation.

The next class of people who are now in prison and who could be kept out of prison are those who default on fines and maintenance orders. In 1975, the last year for which I have figures, 13,600 were sentenced to imprisonment. The governors in their memorandum again say there is clear evidence that only rarely are these defaulters prepared to pay at the end of their prison terms. They remark that these people are often unstable and poor, and they make the most interesting suggestion that while the people concerned should be allowed to continue to work in order to obtain the money to pay for their defaults, there should be weekend imprisonment. From personal experience, I can say that weekends in prison are the main deterrent.

There are also the prostitutes. I am not going to add to the very courageous and splendid speech which the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, delivered to your Lordships' House on the matter this week. There are the vagrants. The vagrancy Acts should be repealed. A Home Office Working Party has said that vagrancy is often a social rather than a criminal problem. There are also those who should be released on parole, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Spens, has spoken. More than 40 per cent. who were entitled to parole are now refused, and they are refused when magistrates very often have given longer sentences, thinking that they will be paroled and therefore will not serve the full sentence. I would have them liberated and I would have the probation officers given responsibility for them. If these sections of those who are now in prison were kept out, nearly two-thirds of the 41,000 now in prison would be outside and being dealt with in other ways, and the present problem of overcrowding would be removed. Oh, how the prison system has failed us! The recidivism of many young male offenders, after some form of custody, is such that nearly 60 per cent. return to prison. The system completely fails to prevent the repetition of crime.

Finally, I want to raise a point which is a little difficult to express. Those in prison can be divided into those who are individually inadequate and those who are a danger to society. It is obviously necessary to keep in lengthy custody those who are a danger to society, although I hope that would be done in conditions very different from those existing in the present prison system. But for the individual inadequates we must find ways of discipline and treatment outside prison. For example, taking the alcoholics, what value is prison to them, except to let them sleep it off on the first night? Obviously, if they are alcoholics of a continuing nature, medical treatment is required for their disease. I appreciated enormously the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, which contained such constructive suggestions about alternative methods for dealing with inadequates.

May I say this to the Government: We have the Royal Commission, and we have the admirable council of which my noble friend Lady Serota is the chairman; but what we want more than anything else at this moment is a Working Party which will elaborate on the alternative methods for these individual inadequates, so that magistrates may be able to deal with them without sending them to prison.

My Lords, prisons are supposed to safeguard us from crime. I would say that one of the greatest crimes today is to send a person to prison. Inevitably, it means destruction of individuality and of character and it brings with it association, which means a continuation of crime. It is impossible to describe the failure of our present prison system. I would have every magistrate required to state in court his reasons for sending anyone to prison. It should be the exception, rather than the normal sentence. I am just delighted to find that, again, these enlightened governors, in their memorandum to the Home Secretary, have urged that all courts should state their reasons for passing custodial sentences. NACRO—the organisation for the care of offenders and the prevention of crime—defines this proposal in these words: Every court should be required at the time of passing a sentence of imprisonment to state that, in its opinion, it is essential for the protection of the public that the offender should go to prison, and to give reasons for this judgment which would serve as a ground of appeal". I do not blame magistrates; they have no alternatives. We have to find those alternatives. But in this period of time, if we go on living with our present prison system, we are denying the very basis of civilisation of which we are proud.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I have a deep interest in the whole of this wide-ranging debate. A good many points have been made, with some of which I disagree, on which I should have liked to comment had time permitted.

But I am particularly conscious, at this stage of the debate, of the fact that I was for a time a Prison Commissioner and, so far as I am aware, this is the first occasion on which any member of that body, now defunct, has had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships. So I should like to limit what I have to say to prison administration, rather than puruse the fascinating discussion which we have been having about who should be sent to prison and who should not.

Prisons have to keep going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. They cannot decline to take any fresh arrivals. As well as places to sleep and eat, they have to provide workshops, hospitals, libraries, chapels, facilities for exercise, for visits, for association, and all this has to be done with due regard to security. I sometimes wonder whether the viewers of the two very entertaining TV programmes which are based on prison life ever pause to think what is involved in providing within one establishment a micro-copy of most of the provisions which have to be made for citizens in the outside world. There is certainly no shortage of problems. We have naturally heard a good deal about the over-crowding and the appalling sanitary conditions, but these are by no means all.

Reference has been made to the alternatives to imprisonment which have become increasingly available to the courts during the past decade, the result of which has been just about to halve the proportion of convicted offenders who are sent to prison. The particular significance of this, in the present context that I am talking about, is that prisons have more and more been filled by people who have been through the gamut of non-custodial penalties, by the failures of the penal system. No wonder that the prison system itself has a high proportion of failures.

Then there are the special categories of prisoners, who present quite special problems to the Prison Service. In particular, there are now in England and Wales—and I do not speak this evening about Scotland—over 1,200 prisoners who are serving sentences of life imprisonment. How often I am met with the confident assertion that "life" really means nine years, and how rarely when figures are cited in support do they include those who are still in prison. Some little time ago the noble Lord the Minister was good enough to inform me that there were some 200 prisoners, at the end of last year, who had already been detained for over nine years and, of those, 29 had been detained for over 14 years. I am aware from my own knowledge that some of them have been detained for a good deal longer than 14 years. Nor will your Lordships fall into the trap of equating actual detention for 14 years with a sentence of that length passed by a court. Then, as well as life sentence prisoners, there are those convicted of terrorist offences and those who are rejected by their fellow prisoners.

But even leaving aside these special groups, the fact remains that there is no such person as the average offender. How could there be, when all human beings are different? The Prison Service in England and Wales has, I suppose, some 120 establishments of various kinds—prisons of varying degrees of security, borstals, detention centres and remand centres—to cope with people of widely varying backgrounds, ages and characters; some of them tough criminals, some of them social inadequates, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has just said, and some of them afflicted by emotional and personality disturbances.

The buildings certainly include too many which were designed for a totally different regime, and which are now completely out of date, but are nevertheless here to stay for quite a long time to come. It has often been suggested to me that it would be easy to sell, say, Armley Gaol in Leeds and build a new prison some way away from the city with the proceeds, to which I can only say that my own rather amateur calculations suggest that, with a little luck, one might be able to raise 1 per cent. of the total cost by selling the site, leaving a mere 99 per cent. to be met by the taxpayer!

Of course, imprisonment is a comparatively recent development in this country as a means of punishment and, indeed, I still regard transportation as a form of punishment and not as an American polysyllabic word for transport. In general, imprisonment is now justified as a measure of retribution, as a warning and a deterrent to others—nebulous though this factor is—and as a protection against the offender's continued depredations. But the prison rules still call on the service to do all it can to encourage and assist those within its care to lead a good and useful life. These are high-flown words, but it would be a very poor outlook if the service were regarded as simply made up of warders and turnkeys. Although, as I say, the Prison Service ends up by failing with many of the failures of the penal system who end up in its care, it does not fail with them all and perhaps we should sometimes remember the one sinner who repenteth, and not think solely of the ninety and nine unjust persons.

One of the crucial facts about imprisonment is that, with very few exceptions, the period in custody is but an interval in the individual's life and that at the end of it he or she returns to society. We hear a lot about Myra Hindley's walk on Hampstead Heath, or about exactly what the Kray brothers are up to, but we hear very little about the humdrum fact that every week some 1,500 persons are released from custody and go back into society. Do we want them to have been embittered by deliberate humiliations and encouraged to anti-social behaviour by resentment against their treatment? They have suffered loss of liberty and have had to endure some rather awful living conditions into the bargain. Are they not also human beings, entitled to some measure of dignity and self-respect?

As my noble friend Lord Spens has said, I know perfectly well that there have been difficulties in the Prison Service about pay and overtime. The Prison Service is, I think, not entirely unique in that respect. But what concerns me more this evening is the fact that these 22,000 men and women do have some cause for thinking themselves insufficiently appreciated by the community. I have worked with them. I am not speaking just about prison and borstal officers; there are doctors and psychiatrists, after-care workers, chaplains, instructors, teachers, governors—all of them liable to be criticised and none of them able to answer back. We have been speaking this evening about a crisis in the penal system. I am very glad that one of the messages which go out from the debate is some feeling of appreciation for the way in which during this crisis the prison staffs in one way or another have kept things going.

Before I sit down, like other noble Lords perhaps I may trot out my own little list of suggestions. There are, however, two preliminary points which I should like to make. The first, following up a point made by the noble Earl when he introduced this debate, is that it is often objected that we speak a great deal about the offender but not so much about the victim. I know perfectly well that there can be no adequate compensation for the person who is the victim of, say, a serious assault, even though we can claim that the financial recompense which is available in this country does now compare favourably with anything that is provided anywhere else. It may be that more should be done, and I was interested to hear about the discussions to which the noble Earl referred. This is also one of the many matters which the Royal Commission on Compensation for Personal Injury has been looking at.

The point I am making, though, is that although one can understand perfectly well the feeling of a victim that the criminal, when caught, should suffer condign punishment, nevertheless the fact is that all experience, all history, has shown that cruel treatment in custody has achieved nothing. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, about the kind of régime which still persisted when he had some personal experience of these matters. It is just worth bearing in mind that in our own gaols in the mid-19th century the prisoner had to do useless work in solitude, that floggings were frequent and that food was kept to a monotonous minimum. The results were that recidivism grew on such a scale that the whole process broke down.

My second point is that we have to keep an eye on what is going on in the rest of the world. Sir Leon Radzinowicz's latest book shows that when we speak of a crisis in our penal system, this is all relative. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, compared our prison population figures, to our disadvantage, with those in Europe. My own calculations suggest that our prison population is just a little higher than he suggested. But be that as it may, it is a solemn thought that whereas we have 82 people in prison (as I calculate it) for every 100,000 inhabitants, the United States have 189. It may not be of much comfort, but we are not alone in the world with our problems.

Finally, my very brief shopping list is this. I certainly go along with all noble Lords who have spoken who welcome the Advisory Council's report about shorter sentences for the less grave offences, although I do not altogether share their doubts about the practical consequences which are likely to follow. Secondly, I hope that the time will not be too far off when there will be some increase in resources. In this context, I particularly regret that, of all the services with which the Home Office is concerned, the Prison Service is the worst off for a staff college. Thirdly, although I know the difficulties, I would not myself be averse to steps being taken to involve the local community more with the local establishments. I know that this is a matter upon which the chairman of the Howard League feels strongly, and these views have been echoed today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner.

Next, I get the impression, but it is a subjective impression, that there are already signs of fewer unconvicted people being committed in custody, and that although the legislation is not in force there is some reason for thinking that the underlying principle is already having some practical effect. I go along with others in hoping that there will be more progress here, the fears of the police notwithstanding, when so many of those who are eventually convicted are then found not to merit custodial sentences.

Then I should like to see rather more effective means of translating the results of research, when there are any—and there are sometimes—into practical guidance for those concerned with sentencing. I believe, although I hope I am wrong about this, that there is still some scope for increasing the dialogue between the Home Office and the Judiciary. Like other noble Lords, naturally I welcome the statement of the Home Secretary about amending the Criminal Law Bill to secure that drunks will at last be dealt with otherwise than by way of imprisonment. We took powers in the hope of achieving this some years ago, but I had better not remind the noble Earl that this is one of the sections which has remained uselessly on the Statute Book.

Finally, I hope that there will be more news soon of steps being taken to carry out some of the findings of the Butler Committee about the mentally disturbed offender. This is an area in which the Department of Health and Social Security are much involved, as they are also in an area mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. It would be of some comfort to find that the Department are becoming rather more closely involved with problems of this kind than has hitherto appeared likely.

That is the end of my little list which, I would point out in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, does not include the Mountbatten recommendation about an island fortress of some kind. This idea was not invented by the noble Earl but it was endorsed by him when it was put to him by, I think, the Prison Department. Certainly my own views on that recommendation have changed completely. This is merely to illustrate the fact that a good many issues have been raised today which could themselves be made the subject of later and rather more specialised debates.

We have heard a good deal about the various other suggestions aired by the governors, in particular for reducing the numbers of those sent to prison; and we have also heard a good deal about the usual criticisms of the authorities for being so secretive, as was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. I think these criticisms are really rather unfair in view of what has been done in the last few years, and I have no doubt that when he winds up this debate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will have some words of wisdom to say about them.

One rather gets the impression that there are people who would like to see Wormwood Scrubs added to the list of popular attractions, like the Tower. But all these ideas for nibbling away at the numbers of those sent to prison—with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—are really only palliatives, and at the end we are left with the realisation that imprisonment forms only part of the complex of dilemmas relating to the handling of crime and criminals which society as a whole, and not in this country alone, has been unable to solve. We have heard very little today about the causes of crime and the possible prevention of crime.

I suppose a debate like this will not make the headlines, unlike quite a minor prison disturbance, but it can point to the need for society to face some of the issues involved. In the dictatorships and the countries of autocratic government the prisons are a dark and impenetratable area. In a democracy like ours, with a strong social conscience, it is right that there should be free discussion, but discussion. I hope on the basis of knowledge rather than the sentiment and emotion which tend so often to colour the discussion of penal matters.

My Lords, we must not despair of humanity, and although the picture is a sombre one, it is fitting that we should look at it and talk about it and consider what should be done, rather than that we should hurry by on the other side.

6.33 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, the Minister will have had so many words of advice from so many experienced and distinguished Members of your Lordships' House that even speaking for my noble friends I hesitate to address your Lordships on a subject of which—at one end at any rate—I have had little experience. I have never been a prison commissioner, I have never been a Lord Chancellor, I have never been a director of social services: the only thing I can claim to have been was a care committee worker for 15 years, and very many of the children with whom I was concerned regrettably ultimately went to the prisons about which we are talking today. Speaking of Lord Chancellors I should like to apologise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that I was unable to hear the first part of his speech, although listened most carefully to everybody else during the course of the debate.

I will not attempt to cover all the many aspects of the subject that have been covered today because some of them have been gone into so deeply and so fully that it would be quite useless and unnecessary for me to do so. However, I should like to draw attention to some of the details which perhaps have not been brought out because noble Lords have concentrated more on major issues and on principles.

The figures for prison accommodation available which were revealed in a debate in another place on 18th March are relevant to this debate today. They were quoted, having appeared in answer to a Question for Written Answer, in the Official Report of another place on the 14th December 1976. The prison accommodation available was 36,709 places; the population of prisons was 42,270. That means there are over 5,000 prisoners for whom there is really no room in the prisons being provided by Her Majesty's Government; and when we look at the Report on Public Expenditure for 1979/80 to see how the Government are going to be able to deal with this situation, regrettably we read on page 79 at paragraph 12 that the 1979/80 assumed figures for prisoners will be something like 47,900 but the number of places being built and provided by Her Majesty's Government will of course do nothing to meet that particular figure.

So although I would hesitate to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that there is a crisis in the penal system, undoubtedly there is a crisis in the state of Her Majesty's prisons, particularly as has been brought out so vividly by many noble Lords, and notably by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. There are at least 5,000 cases of two or three prisoners living in one cell, and obviously for a certain length of time, not just for a week or two weeks. One can imagine the effect of being shut up in a cell over a long period of time with another person who was hitherto completely unknown and a stranger.

Whatever one may say about sentencing, whether it is for a long term or a short term, that does not give any Government permission to subject a prisoner to inhuman conditions, which is what is happening at the moment. Also, it is not necessarily a reason for shortening sentences because prisoners are living in inhuman conditions. Regrettably or not, judges have their job to do. Acts of Parliament lay down certain penalties for certain crimes. The discretion which is now given to judges is possibly not wide enough when they are deciding on a prison sentence. This is something that the Government should look at and which Parliament should have the opportunity of deciding. It was Parliament that decided originally the prison sentences for a particular crime, and it is surely both the right and the duty of Parliament to look at Acts relevant to crime to see that the prison sentences are relevant to the needs and demands of today's society.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness for a moment, she is talking, is she not, about the maximum sentences fixed by Parliament? But there is no reason why the judges should impose those maximum sentences, is there?

Baroness ELLES

No, my Lords, the noble Earl is quite right; but there has to be a certain equality of sentencing throughout the country. If there is a maximum and the judge in different situations is given some discretion, if that discretion is used in a different way by other judges, there is an inequity in the sentencing for certain crimes. That is undoubtedly the case. If you are going to accept that sentences should be shortened, I believe it is for Parliament to look at the sentences which are now included in Acts of Parliament. I believe that many of the maximum sentences are too long. In that case they should not be in the Act. It should be for Parliament to decide whether these sentences are too long and they should be changed by the will of Parliament. It is on that basis that I make my comment.

The same comment would apply to the role of the Parole Board. I do not doubt that the Parole Board does excellent work and takes into account every conceivable consideration; but I think the noble Lord, Lord Spens, most movingly pointed to the fact that the Parole Board's activities and remissions may have an effect on the length of sentence given by judges because, willingly or unwillingly, they are taking into account the fact that the Parole Board may take an action in a particular case. This again is something which, should be discussed by Parliament and possibly taken into account if a revision of sentences is to be included in Acts of Parliament relating to crimes which are considered to need prison sentences. I say immediately that I have no experience of how the Parole Board operates in practice. I do, of course, know the background, and I have read certain documents about it. But what the noble Lord said led me to believe that this should be reviewed when you are considering how you are going to treat the problem of sentencing and including sentences in Acts of Parliament.

What I have regretted more than anything in today's debate is that we have heard remarkably little about the victims of crime. We all know, of course, that the criminal is a human being like anybody else; he has to be considered, his background, his individual circumstances and so on. I am not saying that the subject has been completely omitted, but rather more should be heard about the compensation that should be paid to the victims of crime. People who have had to deal in social work—and I am sure my noble friend Lady Faithful! will bear this out—know that elderly ladies living alone who have just had their homes robbed, everything in the house turned upside down, very seldom recover from this terrible experience. You might almost call it a prison sentence in reverse, because it is something that never leaves them. They will always be afraid to go into that house again because they are afraid to meet somebody behind the door. I do not want to over-dramatise this, but I do think when we are considering the question of prison sentences we should remember what that person has done to an individual who may be marked for life by the effect of their action. In this connection, I would very much like to see a much more personal form of retribution, very much more than a prison sentence, in order that the perpetrators of such acts should realise what they have done and the effect of his action on another individual. This would be one way of contributing, at any rate, to some form of rehabilitation.

Quite a lot has been said about the question of alternatives to prison sentences. There is no doubt at all that the changes in our society over the last few years have not been matched by changes in the criminal law. There are at least four categories—two of which have been mentioned today—which should in no case have a prison sentence. The first of these is defaulters on fines. I can see no reason why somebody who does not pay his fine should have no alternative other than a prison sentence. Why is there not the idea, possibly, of suspension of a licence or non-registration of his car? I will not continue on this theme, but I think the noble Lord the Minister will see the kind of direction in which I am going. There are very many alternatives to a prison sentence for somebody who has failed to pay a fine for some criminal offence. In connection with that particular comment, I would add that in 1976 over 13,000 people in prison were precisely those who had defaulted on fines. So this suggestion, if implemented, would of course have an immediate effect on reducing the prison population.

Another aspect of this particular point concerns those who default on payment of maintenance. I am sure noble Lords will know that nobody would believe more strongly than I that a husband should pay maintenance owing to his wife and children. But I have always thought that prison was the most useless and futile way of making him pay, because while he is in prison he is completely stopped from earning a living. It is neither an encouragement to him nor a solution for his wife, or the woman he has left, or his children. I think this is an area where community service, where he can earn a living and money is deducted from earnings and sent to his wife or whoever it might be, should be considered as an alternative. Certainly I believe that to put a man in prison because he has defaulted on maintenance payments is both futile and unproductive.

The third area has been mentioned, and I welcome, personally anyway, the statement of Mr. Rees that cases of drunkenness would no longer be sent to prison. That again seemed to be an area where a prison sentence is not the right answer. The fourth category is vagrancy, the fifth the inadequates, and the sixth the mentally subnormal. None of these cases should have a prison sentence. These are people you could hardy call responsible for their actions or for the state they are in. Very often vagrants, as we know, are not criminals in the sense that they have committed violence or injured anybody else. The people they injure most are themselves, and I do not think when you injure yourself to that extent you should be condemned to a prison sentence. There are, surely, better ways of treating and dealing with these people. Again I would support very much what my noble friend Lady Faithfull said when she spoke about the need for assistance to voluntary organisations and the hostel system, where people could be dealt with individually on that basis.

There is one aspect to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister, and on which I think nobody has touched so far. That is the alarming growth we are now facing in this country in administrative penal law and without effective legal sanctions in relation to the crime committed. Many of the fines imposed perhaps ending, in default of payment, in prison, could, surely, be enforced by alternative methods. I think this is an area where very much more attention should be paid by lawyers to the administrative penal law as opposed to the criminal law affecting crimes of violence. I think here there are such aspects as compensation in cash payments, or even personal service, which would be equally or even more effective as an alternative to prison.

One more point I would mention is the question of young offenders. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and I very seldom agree on most matters, but I certainly agree with him wholeheartedly in what he said about young offenders being sent to prisons, particularly, of course, adult prisons.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment? As a matter of fact, for the last 20 minutes I have agreed with everything the noble Baroness has said.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, in that case, I must say I am wondering what I have said. I certainly will not withdraw it, but I shall have to read it very carefully tomorrow. There was a report in The Times on the 24th of this month showing that on 31st March there were 369 boys between 14 and 16 and 19 girls in adult prisons. This, surely, cannot be right. I suppose it is perhaps irresponsible of me to say it, and I say it entirely on my own personal responsibility, but I would far rather see these children being kept out and free than put in adult prisons, because I do not believe it will have contributed at all either to their safety or to the improvement of their future.

I turn to the question of remand. I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, will agree with me that you are innocent until you are proved guilty. Can it really be right that people are sometimes on remand for four months? The other day I came across the case of somebody who had been in prison for four months, under full prison conditions, and had not even been found guilty. This is not something for which one can blame the Government, but it is something that is happening. I would ask the Minister most earnestly to look at this to see what proposals can be made to put it right. I think this is a terrible indictment of Great Britain. As many noble Lords have pointed out, we always imagine ourselves to be the country of the free and with the best system of justice, but when one knows what goes on in other European countries, regrettably there is a big question mark hanging over one's original thoughts on this matter.

This is not, of course, to condemn individuals who do their best in very difficult conditions. I would here say a word about the Prison Service. Many noble Lords have spoken of their admiration of the work of the prison services and the police. I think that the prisons would not even be in their present condition—and I speak of the good conditions which exist in the prisons—if it were not for the devoted and dedicated service that these people give. When we see the kind of work they do, we have to realise that they must have a very high motivation to undertake such work which they do so well—as the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Abbeydale, pointed out—throughout 52 weeks a year.

I should like to raise two points. Thanks to the good offices of the Minister, I was enabled to visit Wandsworth Prison, and two points arose from that visit which I should like to raise with him and which T would ask him to look at—I think that he will already know what they are. If a prison service is to perform a good service, it must be properly treated. To quote a common phrase, "the fish stinks from the head", and if those who run the Prison Service are not satisfied with their own conditions, that goes right the way through the prison system.

One of the points I wish to raise concerns the question of the rating of the governor level. There are eight governor-level officers in the Prison Service who do not receive London weighting. I understand that there was some difficulty because they had not been so graded when they were put on a level with the Civil Service in 1974, and then Phase 1 was introduced. I cannot believe that anybody would not agree that this is something that should be put right regardless of whether it fits into a pay code, a phase 1 or a phase 2. If people feel dissatisfied or discriminated against for some technical reason, the matter should be put right.

I should also like to raise the question of the housing of prison officers. I was given to understand that prison officers are now encouraged to buy houses outside the prison, and that they buy them in the locality round about. There is certainly a feeling of unfairness about the allowances that are received for decoration and repair and as regards tax liability on mortgage interest. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord would look at that, because I do not consider that these things should be allowed to continue because of a technical reason when these people are doing good service in extremely difficult conditions.

In very much the same context I should like to remind noble Lords that when we speak of the Prison Service we must also think of the police, who have the hardest job in this area of our national life. I should like to quote from the last annual report of Sir Robert Mark before he retired as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He reported that 3,550 police were injured in the Metropolitan area in 1976; this was nearly 800 more than in 1975. We must bear that in mind when considering how to deal with criminals today, taking into account, of course, the enormous increase in criminal violence over the last year. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone tabled a Question for Written Answer. This he received on 15th June this year and it shows that the annual average of crimes of violence—that is, offences of homicide, attempted murder, wounding or other acts endangering life—recorded as known to the police was as follows. The average for 1957 to 1966 was about 2,300 but by 1975 it was about 5,300. So these are quite dramatic figures when one is dealing with criminals and the question of the kind of sentences they are to be given. One must bear in mind that not only do the public have to be safeguarded and protected, but at the present rate of striking the crime figures are certainly anything but encouraging.

I should like to conclude, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, concluded. When we speak of the penal system we should think not only of what prison sentences criminals are to receive for having perpetrated acts of violence or whatever it might be, but also of what is being done to prepare the young for the kind of world in which they will live when they grow up. Are they being taught the difference between right and wrong or honesty and dishonesty? As a society if we do not try to encourage our young to live in a world where they can keep out of prison, we shall only have ourselves to blame.

One point which has not been mentioned is the question of whether the giving of a short or a long sentence encourages a person to commit another crime. I am not certain—because I do not know enough about it, and I admit it—whether it is the actual length of the sentence that makes the difference. It is the kind of society that a prisoner, having completed his sentence, re-enters which has a much more serious effect on his chances of going back to prison. To appreciate the difficulties we have only to look at the kind of opportunities that an ex-prisoner has to earn his living in a world of unemployment—he has to go through the manifold and multiple applications for social benefits, and he has to declare what his position has been every time. If one has been in hospital one knows the kind of feeling one has when one returns home—it is the difference between living in an institution and returning to the homes of today. I believe that these also are very largely, contributory factors to the kind of thing that is happening in society. Although there is overcrowding in the prisons, regrettably I do not necessarily believe that simply to shorten sentences will solve our problems, but it is a very much wider issue.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford has in recent years given the House a number of opportunities of discussing this issue, and we are all grateful to him for having done so today. I think we would all agree that a number of powerful speeches have been made in the course of this debate, and we have just had the opportunity of hearing a most notable one by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, speaking as the last Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office. I can say that only today because I believe that his successor is retiring either today or tomorrow. Nevertheless, it was of enormous value to the House in a debate of this character to have the wisdom of the noble Lord at our disposal. I am sure that I speak for all in the House when I say that.

The situation confronting us in the prisons today is sombre. The prison population is at an exceptionally high level. It is showing no disposition to fall and our resources to deal with this problem are harshly restricted. We are clearly facing one of the most daunting periods in the history of the Prison Service. This evening I propose to discuss how the Government intend to tackle this situation.

Our central problem—and I think that this has been common in virtually every speech made in the debate—is one of numbers. Pressure of demand on the prison system has been rising since the war, but particularly since 1975. The daily average population last year was around 12 per cent. higher than it was in 1975 and an all-time peak of 42,419 was reached in October last year. In the middle of this month—and these are the latest figures which are available—the prison population was a little below that, totalling 41,990.

Last year the average number of sentenced young male prisoners increased by over 22 per cent.—22 per cent. in a single year—and most other groups in the sentenced population also increased in numbers, many appreciably so. On the other hand, the number of men awaiting trial or sentence fell by about 10 per cent., largely, I believe, as a result of the Government's measures to improve the quality of bail decisions. I hope that that process will be speeded up when the Bail Act comes into force, as it will at the end of this year. I hope that that deals with a point put to me by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner.

The pressure of numbers has inevitably led to overcrowded conditions. At present the uncrowded capacity of the system is about 37,250 places, which means that there is a crude deficit against the current population of rather under 5,000 places. But that, unhappily, is not the real index. The situation is rather worse than that, for it is necessary to make an allowance for refurbishing unserviceable cells and for the inevitable gap between local demand and the availability of accommodation.

In the women's establishments there are nearly 12,000 prisoners—1,200, I am delighted to say, not 12,000; that would be an altogether alarming prospect—and they are being held in accommodation designed for about 925. The situation here is a great deal worse because of the rebuilding programme which is going on at Holloway at the moment. We dealt with this when my noble friend and I had a slight disagreement at Question Time the other day about the problems at Durham prison. I would say only one thing about that: I have, as I undertook on that occasion, written to my noble friend Lady Bacon outlining the changes which have taken place at Durham prison since women prisoners were returned and the men's special security wing closed down. There have obviously been quite a number of changes.

I said on that occasion at Question Time that the prison maintains a number of women, some of whom have committed most serious acts of terrorist violence in this country. My noble friend Lord Longford referred to some of these people as "so-called dangerous women". I think it only right to tell the House the character of the problem facing us in this area. Five of these prisoners at Durham have been involved in IRA terrorist attacks in this country. Two of them have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murders carried out during IRA attacks; two others have received 14 years for conspiracy to cause explosions, and another received 14 years' imprisonment for handling explosive substances. I think it right to say that, in view of the reference made to the Durham situation by my noble friend.

Last July, on the wider problem which is confronting us today, my right honourable friend's predecessor said that a prison population of more than 42,000 would mean that, conditions in the prison system would approach the intolerable". It is only right to say that since then some 1,500 extra places have been added to the system, and, as a result of building projects already completed or those under way, another 1,100 additional places will become available within the next 12 months.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is leaving the question of the women's wing at Durham, or is he going to say any more about that? He has not dealt with the position of the other 30 prisoners who were moved, in some cases at least, from Holloway.


My Lords, the reason why they are in Durham is because of the overcrowding situation in Holloway. The situation is quite inescapable. There is simply no place to put these women. As a result of that, changes were made to the physical arrangements at Durham and women prisoners returned. There have been women prisoners on a previous occasion at Durham. I had left the point so far as Durham is concerned. What I was attempting to rebut was my noble friend's suggestion that the people I referred to last week were, as he described them, "so-called dangerous women". What I have indicated in the reply that I have given to my noble friend Lady Bacon are the physical changes which have been made in the prison in order to prepare the way for the return of women prisoners, and that I have done. I will gladly let my noble friend have that letter if it would be of any interest to him.

Let me return to the point I was making about the extra places which are coming into the system. As I mentioned a moment ago, 1,100 extra places will become available within the next 12 months. About 800 of these will be at a new Category C prison at Wymott in Lancashire; 180 others at two young offender establishments (and I emphasise again that this is a particularly important problem because of the tremendous pressure so far as young offender establishments are concerned); and another 100 or so at a Category C prison at Northeye in Sussex. Then in the 12 months from July 1978 to June 1979 there will be another 1,100 places which will come into operation from schemes at four establishments for young offenders and four extensions to Category C prisons.

But even with these welcome additions to the stock of accommodation, the problems of overcrowding will remain acute. However, it is certainly necessary in a debate of this character to make a balanced judgment about the extent of our difficulties. In the 15 months or so that I have been responsible to the Home Secretary for the prison system, I have had the opportunity of visiting 39 prison establishments. It would certainly be untrue to suggest that overcrowding affected all of them. It did not. The problem is largely confined, though not exclusively, to local prisons and remand centres. The situation in many of these is profoundly unsatisfactory, with men packed two or three to a cell, often in crumbling old Victorian prisons.

The problem facing us at the moment, which is a serious one as I have just indicated, does not just relate to numbers. The House should be in no doubt about the increasingly difficult character of the prison population as a whole and the strains to which this subjects the staff. I am certainly glad that, while my noble friend urged a drastic reduction in the numbers held in prison, he devoted part of his speech, as did the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Allen, and indeed others too, to urging better provision to help staff as well as prisoners. New and heavier demands have been made of our prison staff in recent years, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Allen—I do not believe that the public adequately recognises the pressures to which they are often subjected.

Let me make one additional point, although I have moved off the question of numbers. I am reminded of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, when he said that the prison system has no choice; it has to accept the prisoners who are delivered to its door. Last September I was in the United States looking at the prison situation there, which in some respects is even more forbidding than our own. On going round a new and rather impressive prison in Georgia, I asked the warden how it was that they did not suffer from an overcrowding problem, because they obviously did not; it was one to a cell. I looked for some guidance and some instruction from him on this matter, and he gave me an altogether convincing answer. His answer was: "Well, if the prison is full we just turn them away. They go straight back to the county jails". That is a very agreeable situation if you are cunning a State Prison Service in Georgia, but of course the British Prison Service has no such choice; if the van drives up they have to accept them, and as I indicated, it is in the local prisons that this particular phenomenon is most serious.

On the particular point which I am now dealing with, the quality of the difficulties which are being faced at the moment by the Service, I think it only right to outline what some of these problems amount to. First—and this is an obvious point—there is the relatively new problem of a significant number of prisoners who have connections with Irish Republican organisations, and who have been particularly active in their harassment and provocation of staff. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave some account of this in another place on 16th February when he drew particular attention to the assaults, to the demonstrations, disturbances and provocations in which people in this group have indulged.

These people have of course clear-cut political objectives. But there is also, in addition to this group, a significant number of sophisticated gangsters who have been sent to prison in recent years. Many of them are highly dangerous men. Many of them are serving extremely long sentences, including in some cases sentences of life imprisonment with recommendations by the trial judge for lengthy detention. Such men may well feel that they have little or nothing to lose by using any methods in attempting to escape.

Dangerous prisoners are of course hardly a new phenomenon in the prison system. However, the dimensions of the problem have grown at a remarkably rapid rate in the last few years and this imposes a major new burden on our prison staff. So, to deal with a different problem, do some of the wilder allegations about the use of drugs by the Prison Medical Service. I think it is right to deal with this issue in some detail because it relates to one of the more difficult and sensitive problems facing the Prison Medical Service and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, touched on this in his speech. Rule 17 of the Prison Rules 1964 makes it clear that the medical officer of a prison shall have the care, mental and physical, of its prisoners, and requires that he shall pay special attention to any prisoner whose mental condition appears to require it. But I must emphasise that all registered medical practitioners—including those in the Prison Medical Service—are bound by the same ethical code of practice in their relationship with their patients. Who employs them does not affect the issue.

The basis on which the medical treatment of prisoners is given is therefore in essence no different from that which applies to the community at large. There is, and could be, no set of instructions to prison doctors on how to treat their patients. Although there are some people who are able to control their feelings and behaviour only with the help of drugs—whether they are in prison or at liberty—and some are habitually used to taking drugs, such drugs are prescribed and offered to prisoners in the same way as in the National Health Service.

However, prison doctors practise in a closed community and among their patients are many people who are mentally ill, emotionally or behaviourally disturbed or mentally handicapped. There are many hundreds of such prisoners, something which causes the Home Secretary and I a great deal of anxiety. The decision as to what to prescribe and when, and in what amounts, is one of the duties facing prison medical officers, and them alone. I am satisfied that prison doctors attend to their difficult duties with care and humanity. Drugs are not prescribed or given to give the staff a quiet life; they are given to try to restore a prisoner's health or to relieve his distress.

Our objective must of course be to get many of these people out of the prison system altogether. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to obtain suitable hospital places for mentally disordered prisoners who may need them. As a result, numbers of prisoners spend much of their sentences in prison hospitals, which are neither designed nor staffed to deal with the long-term treatment of the mentally disordered.

I wish at this stage to deal with an additional point which was raised by among others, my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich; that is, the question of secretiveness so far as the Home Office is concerned. I think that at times in the past this allegation has been wholly justified. It is of course easy for me to say, speaking from this Bench, that it has been true in the past but is not true now, which is the point at which I am about to arrive because my right honourable friend and I are anxious to open up the prisons as much as that can be done. First of all, I must make it clear that prisoners, like everybody else, have rights of privacy; they are not animals in a zoo.

But having said that, we have given facilities to television companies to come into the prisons, and it is right that we should have done so; it is right that members of our society should be aware of what is going on in the prison system. It is a great error to create an atmosphere of mystery about it. It is not just a question of the recent "Panorama" programme; there have been other occasions when television camera crews have come in, and we will do nothing to discourage this. We want serious and informed debate of the real problems which face us in the prison system at the moment, and we will certainly make facilities available in the future, as we have in the past, not only to representatives of the television companies, both the independent companies and the BBC, but also to the writing Press.

I have dealt at some length with some of the pressures at the moment on the prison system. I turn now to the steps we are taking to relieve that pressure. First, I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the interim report on the length of prison sentences recently submitted to my right honourable friend by the Advisory Council on the Penal System, and to welcome the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, is with us today and has spoken in the debate. Having looked at the Official Report of last year's debate I see that I welcomed the announcement of her appointment on the day of the last debate, so this is an anniversary of sorts for the noble Baroness. It is an important document and we are grateful to her and her colleagues for the work they have carried out to produce such an important report.

The Lord Chancellor will take careful note of what has been said in this debate. In proposing that the courts should take direct action in reducing the length of prison sentences, the Advisory Council is suggesting that the courts and the prison system should work together in full awareness of each other's needs and constraints, and certainly that is an objective which we wholeheartedly support. The Lord Chancellor does discuss these matters, as Lord Gardiner pointed out, with the Lord Chief Justice and he will draw attention in particular to what Lord Gardiner said.

I should like to draw attention to two areas in which the Government propose to make changes which should help to alleviate the overcrowding of our prisons. These relate, first, to the extent to which imprisonment may become available in cases of fine default, and, second, to the issue of drunkenness, which was touched on by a number of speakers. It is often said—and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has just said it—that fine defaulters should not be sent to prison. Unhappily, no other solution to this problem has yet been found. However, the Government recognise that the table which lays down levels of fine for default of which varying terms of imprisonment may be imposed, has been rendered out of date by the processes of inflation. We propose therefore, by way of amendment to the Criminal Law Bill, to introduce a new table of equivalents by raising the monetary levels at each step. As a consequence, the liability to suffer imprisonment for default of any given amount will be considerably reduced.

Then there is the problem of public drunkenness. Many speakers have referred to it today and to the announcement made by the Home Secretary on Monday. Not all those found guilty of drunkenness offences are habitual drinkers or alcoholics. However, the number of offences has been increasing, and a disproportionate number of this type of offence has been committed by young people. The police and the courts need effective powers to deal with the effects of excessive drinking, but it would be pointless, even in a debate such as this, to pretend that there is not here a real problem. I think we all acknowledge that. But the problem facing the Government is that penalties which are sufficient to deter the irresponsible younger offenders, could have the effect of increasing the likelihood that habitual offenders—I have in mind, in particular, the vagrant alcoholic—will find themselves in prison in default of payment of fines.

As my right honourable friend indicated in his speech on Monday, we have decided to use the Criminal Law Bill to give effect to a number of measures which should provide a comprehensive alleviation of these problems. First, we propose to remove imprisonment as a penalty for the offence of being drunk and disorderly. Next, we intend to increase the fines for both simple drunkenness, and for being drunk and disorderly, to a level which we hope will deter the younger casual drinkers from committing these offences. But because of the consequential effects of changes which I have just indicated in the fine default system, which we are making to the Bill, this will be done in such a way that those who are imprisoned in default of payment of fines—and, as I have indicated, these are in the main the older habitual offenders—will be liable to a shorter period of imprisonment than is the case at the moment. I believe that these are significant reforms, and I believe that they will have a useful impact on the size of the prison population.

I turn now to community service. Undoubtedly this has already had an important effect on the size of the prison population. Without its introduction, the situation in the prisons would now be a great deal worse. Community service arrangements now exist in 53 of our 56 probation and after-care areas; in 31 of these the schemes operate throughout the entire area. Last year there were over 9,000 orders made, and I expect the figure to be a great deal higher this year. Of course there is room for argument—and my noble friend Lord Longford and I had just such an argument last year—about how many of these people would have found their way into prison had it not been for the existence of community service. Frankly, it is wholly impossible to make any accurate calculation on this matter. But there can be no doubt that a substantial number who have been able to perform useful work for the benefit of the whole community would otherwise, if not for the existence of community service, have spent a substantial amount of their time in prison cells.

Then there is parole. My noble friend Lord Longford had a good deal to say on this very important subject of parole, and gave as his view that there was a strong case for making parole automatic instead of discretionary, for shorter sentences—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I had in mind making parole quasi-automatic.


My Lords, it would require almost another debate to define precisely what "quasi-automatic" might mean. But I should like to deal with this point on parole, because I do not think that there is an enormous amount between my noble friend and myself on, at least, the question of definition. There is a danger that those who advocate this development—and there are many other than my noble friend who believe that this is the right way to proceed—pay too little attention to the problems that would be caused by granting automatic or quasi-automatic parole. Supervision of people released on parole licences is, as the House will be aware, entrusted to the Probation Service. But it is one thing to ask the service to supervise people who have been specially selected as being suitable and likely to be co-operative, and quite another to ask the service to supervise people who have been released on licence regardless of their attitude to being supervised.

The success of the parole scheme has undoubtedly been attributable, to a very substantial extent, to the process of selection. These successful results would not continue if parole became no longer a privilege but a right, and the enforcement of licence conditions would, in my view, be extremely difficult to sustain. It has been suggested that the Parole Board should be less sensitive to public opinion in dealing with well-known criminals, and that it should not concern itself with the seriousness of the original crime. I must say that I disagree with these criticisms. The Parole Board recognised from the outset that the success of the parole scheme is entirely dependent on its acceptability to public opinion. I am in no doubt that the Board would behave irresponsibly and foolishly if it did not ask itself what was the seriousness of the offence committed by every prospective parolee, and whether, by and large, enough of the sentence has been served to justify the view that justice has been done.

My noble friend Lord Longford made a charge of timidity against the Board. I believe that the figures provide an emphatic repudiation of this argument, because the rate of increase in the use of parole has been striking. In 1974, 40 per cent. of eligible prisoners received parole at some point during their sentence. In 1975, the figure had gone up from 40 per cent. to 49 per cent., and last year it had gone up from 49 per cent. to 54 per cent. In my view that hardly justifies the suggestion that the Board is dragging its feet—

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, will the Minister allow me to interrupt to ask one question for information? Is the problem also one of timing? This is a point which I have faced. Because it is a central board and the matter cannot be dealt with at local level, it takes a very long time, and sometimes a man is almost ready to be discharged before he is ready for parole.


My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate has suggested, it is perfectly true that some people who get parole get it for a very short period indeed. Sometimes that is a deliberate decision by the Board, but it is not the situation that the matter is centralised to the degree that he has suggested, because as a result of changes which were made by my right honourable friend's predecessor, local review committees had much of this responsibility passed on to them towards the end of 1975. In my view that explains to some extent the increase in the rate of parole. Local review committees have far greater authority in particular types of cases. Four years tends to be the level at which cases have to go to the Board, but there are some exceptions so far as that matter is concerned.

In view of the size of the prison population I should be the last to argue that parole should not be given to still more offenders, if that can be done without damage to the parole system itself, or without undue risk to the public. I have no doubt that further progress will be made and that the Board is using every endeavour to select all those prisoners who can properly be recommended. The fact is that today some 2,500 offenders are on licence who would otherwise be in prison, and that is a most substantial contribution to the easement of this very difficult problem which we are facing in the prisons today.

Having spoken for altogether too long a period, I should like to deal very briefly with three other points which were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, spoke to us for, I think, two minutes and gave what was one of the more impressive speeches in the debate. She gave us all an inspiring example of what speeches should be like. She raised a particular question relating to prisoners' families. I think that this is a most important problem. One of the most difficult and painful tasks which confronts me as a Minister is refusing to allow the transfer of a prisoner in order to make visits from his family easier. It cannot be done because of the crowding in the system. One finds that a man has to stay in Dartmoor, whereas his family may live many hundreds of miles away. The noble Baroness has identified a real problem, and I should like to look into it. I fear that there would be some possibly significant public expenditure implications, but I should prefer not to make any judgment of the matter now. I should like to look at it, and I will write to her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised the question of hostels, as she did last year—again a most important matter. We have done our best, as she indicated, to help the voluntary bodies so far as the Home Office contribution is concerned. I think they have a most important part to play. She identified one particular problem: the situation of the homeless man leaving prison. There are many others. If one goes to a prison like Pentonville and sees these rows of sad, old gentlemen who have spent most of their lives in and out of prison, one has this point rammed home in one's consciousness. We have got to think of some way to provide some form of facility to gentlemen of this sort, who really do not know how to live outside an institutional atmosphere.

My noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner raised a question on the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. No, there will be no reason for any delay, so far as this is concerned, to any Government action on the Jellicoe and Weiler Reports. This does not relate to the work of the Royal Commission, but we have in fact sent out a booklet to members of boards of visitors as a result of our considerations of these reports, and I will gladly send copies to my noble and learned friend so that he can see the action that we have now recommended to members of the boards. The problem of interrogation at police stations is indeed being considered by the Royal Commission. It is in my view almost central to its activities, and I would be surprised if the Government would think it appropriate to make any recommendations to Parliament until we have the views of the Royal Commission on this particular matter.

It would be absurd, following a debate of the character we have had today, in any way to minimise the problems now confronting us. Our prison system is under extreme pressure, and with the level of crime continuing to move upwards there is no prospect of early relief. In such a situation, it is inevitable—all the more so at a time of harsh restraints on public expenditure—that there are sometimes demands for a major switch of resources from our prisons to non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Longford has made just such a proposal today. However, I do not believe that this is the real choice. Any savings on prisons could be achieved only by a further reduction of the place-producing programme and a reduction in staff costs.

Expenditure on prison buildings has already been drastically cut; only one new prison has been added to the place-producing and redevelopment projects already under way, and our available funds are being now used to complete them. If all prison building operations were terminated at once, today, leaving a number of them half or two-thirds built, the practical effect would be a continuing and rapid deterioration of accommodation for both inmates and staff so far as the rest of the system is concerned, an extension of overcrowding and increasingly adverse effects on prison industries—a most important area of activity in the Prison Service and to prison regimes as a whole. I do not believe that a policy of this character would commend itself to the House or, in my view, to public opinion as a whole.

Today I think we have analysed our differences with one another with some vigour, and rightly so, for this is a formidable problem with no easy or painless solutions. Yet I believe that we today share a common aim: to develop a more rational, a more civilised and a more humane penal system—and that is what the Government are determined to achieve.

7.35 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my gratitude to all who have taken part in this debate; particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has taken such care, as he always does, to answer our points and who has replied so courteously and with so even a temper, and altogether in a most skilful way. If I have anything at all unpleasant to say about the messages delivered, it is not in any sense a personal criticism of him. I am sure that in his place I could not have done half so well. But I would just point out that we have had, of course, as I said at the beginning we were going to have, an exceptional deployment of talent: a former Lord Chancellor, a president of the Howard League, a chairman of the Advisory Council, an ex-chairman of the Parole Board, a former head of the Home Office and a prison commissioner; and we have had two spiritual leaders. I am not saying that all spiritual leadership is to be found among the Bishops or even the non-conformist clergy, but at any rate I am referring to the Bishop and Lord Soper. We have also had two ex-prisoners; we have had a director of social services, a great champion of prisoners' wives; and many others, like Lord Balerno, who defies categorisation.

The only person lacking was someone who had actually served as a prison officer. I hope that in time to come we shall see first, perhaps, a governor, and then one of the uniformed staff. But governors, I am afraid, are not greatly honoured. No governor, I am informed, has even been made a knight, let alone a Peer; so we are still some way from that happy consummation. However, we have had an exceptional list of speakers, and I am not going to try to underline their points, which would indeed be an impertinence. I would say one thing to the noble Baroness who made an interesting speech from the Opposition Front Bench. She regretted that we were not saying more about victims. In my notes I had a lot drafted about victims, but she may or may not know, as I think I just had time to say before I passed from the subject, that I am promoting a meeting next week which looks like being extremely well attended. Now I do not mind disclosing it: it will be at five o'clock in a committee room here next Thursday. So I am showing personally, at any rate, a great interest in victims.

Coming to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, there is just one matter I will touch on yet again. I am afraid I am not going to let him off the hook at all easily about the women's wing in Durham. Whatever he says, the fact is that it is under conditions of maximum security; and, whatever he may say, however grave a view he may take of some of these Category A women—and I know two of them, at least, who are, by general consent, harmless now, anyway—there are 30 women in Durham who, if they were in an ordinary prison, would not be under conditions of maximum security. They are under these conditions there. I think the only defence that the noble Lord could put up is that they made such a muddle over the new Holloway that they had nowhere else to put them.


My Lords—

The Earl of LONGFORD

May finish the sentence? I repeat that they made such a muddle that they did not know what to do with these 30 women.


My Lords, I will say this. There was always going to be a most serious difficulty of rebuilding a prison while the prison continued to operate. That happened at Holloway. That is one element of the situation. The other is the substantial increase in the number of women who have been sent to prison; and there is, unhappily, no way of dealing with this problem other than by reopening Durham. I propose to visit Durham as part of my general programme of visits to prison establishments and I will look at the various points which have been made during the debate.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I have visited it six times: twice in the old days when there were men and four times when there were women there. So far as I am concerned, there was not much difference. When the noble Lord goes there, I hope that he will plant the first flower and turn the first sod. There is no grass or flowers anywhere in that living tomb, as it has been called, and as it still might be described.

Since we are talking about throwing open the prisons, what about one or two journalists going with the noble Lord, or one or two journalists going on their own to see whether or not it is a scandal? That should be easy to arrange. I do not mind the noble Lord selecting the journalists. I can trust him; he is an old journalist himself. Let us find some way of throwing open this question to the public so that it does not remain a personal argument between me and the noble Lord. On the question of parole, I found him very disappointing, but I will take up one phrase that he used and then pass on from it. He said that the Parole Board must remain sensitive to public opinion. I can see that in the sense that the judges must pursue some general course commending itself to the public just as Ministers are compelled to do. So far as the individuals are concerned, I should regard it as positively wicked if a doctrine went out that people who know nothing about the individual prisoners are going to establish such a sort of mob rule that they are going to have the deciding voice. That is totally different from saying that the public in general should be allowed to approve or not to approve the general arrangements. I must put that formally because the phrase, "sensitive to public opinion" is a dangerous one.

My Lords, let us come to the main issue. I will not go on to talk about alternatives to prison. I do not accept the noble Lord's argument and he does not accept mine. We have both tabled our views and others have been inclined to favour mine. The question of sentencing is, of course, the crucial question. Here I am disappointed; but I do not despair. Perhaps it was too much to expect that the noble Lord would announce overnight a completely new approach, but all that he could say about the Lord Chancellor—and he had 24 hours' notice and the noble Lord must have had more— was that he would take careful note of everything that was said. We all know that that is the minimum promise that can be made by any politician. I do not know what the alternative is: to take a careless note, perhaps, or not to take a note at all. So if anybody asks: is any real guidance to be given to the Judiciary as a result of this debate, are we nearer to some guidance in accordance with the spirit of the Advisory Council and the governors? I can only say in answer that I have no idea. I hope so; but there was no sign of it today.

For that reason, I regard the reply as disappointing. That is not the noble Lord's fault. He is an able servant of this House and he takes a great deal of trouble to deal with these points and visits a great number of prisons. I do not say that we should blame him. I am grateful to him and to all who took part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.