HC Deb 01 February 1977 vol 925 cc138-40W
Mr. Moonman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, pursuant to his remarks during the Supply Day debate on crime, he will make a statement about the report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System on Young Adult Offenders.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he was Home Secretary, asked the Advisory Council on the Penal System to carry out a wide-ranging review of the arrangements for treatment of young adult offenders aged 17 and under 21. The results of the review were set out in a report published in 1974. My predecessor gave the report a welcome in broad terms and commended it for further discussion and consultation.

Against a background of a general policy of reducing reliance on custodial measures and more treatment of offenders within the community, the council recommended two new sentences. The first, the custody and control order, would replace the existing custodial sentences—borstal training, detention centres, and imprisonment. The second—the supervision and control order—would be essentially a non-custodial measure, with an emphasis on the control of those supervised and a wide range of associated powers and conditions.

Since I became Home Secretary I have been considering the council's report and the reaction to it, in the light of subsequent developments in particular as regards public expenditure.

As regards custodial sentences, I see a good deal of sense in a single sentence of broadly the kind recommended by the council. I do not favour the solution advocated by some—and embodied in an amendment tabled in the Criminal Law Bill in another place—of a return to the sentencing provisions that obtained before the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. That would mean once again asking the courts to select some offenders for a training sentence while relegating others—on a much larger scale than now—to serve a prison sentence.

I believe, therefore, that the eventual objective should be a single sentence which would give flexibility both to the courts and to the administration. This would not mean abandoning all classification of offenders. Nor would it imply acceptance of any particular solution of the problem of when and how to release offenders back into the community under supervision; here there are a number of options for consideration.

But while I see this as the direction of future policy, I must emphasise that I see no prospect of early changes in the law or developments in practice. To make a good job of the custody and control order would be costly in building and manpower. For the present we must hold to the custodial system that we have, accept its shortcomings and do our best to improve its performance.

The supervision and control order which the council proposed would also require substantial probation and other resources to make it a reality. But here there is not a sufficient measure of agreement over the policy—whether the line of advance should not rather be to develop the existing well-tried non-custodial orders and the resources devoted to them. In that situation I consider that, while the idea need not be discarded for all time, it should be put aside for the present.