asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many persons under the age of 21 years were in prison on Christmas Day, 1961, for reasons connected with their part in the anti-nuclear arms demonstrations of 9th December, 1961 and how many of them are still in prison.
Three youths and one girl were in prison on Christmas Day; one youth and one girl were still in custody yesterday.
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman regard this as an extremely distressing thing in view of the fact that the maximum penalty for the offences with which these people were charged was a fine of 40s. and that comparatively recently this House enacted legislation which directed the courts not to send people under the age of 21 to prison if there was any other way of dealing with them? Is it not the case that these people in prison were in default of the payment of fines of 40s.? Is not there the greatest possible disparity between the maximum fine laid down by the Statute and the fact that some of them are still in gaol for not having paid it?
A very simple way of getting out of gaol is to pay the fine.
I think that the House will be grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining the last point, which no doubt had escaped everyone's attention up to the time that he communicated the information to the House. I should like to ask him whether there are methods of compelling defaulters to pay fines other than by keeping them in gaol for three or four months in default of the payment of a fine of 40s.?
This sanction is that which the law courts have imposed, and, of course, my right hon. Friend has no power to interfere with it save for the question of remission, which comes under statutory powers. He has no other power in the matter at all.
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman further—
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to ask the next Question. Perhaps I should have specified it.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many persons were in prison on Christmas Day, 1961, for refusing to be bound over to keep the peace under the Act of 1361 or otherwise; how many of these were under 21 years of age; and how many are still in prison.
Twelve males and six females, of whom three youths and one girl were under 21 years of age. Four males and two females were in custody yesterday.
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman consider this a complete abuse of this antiquated Statute? Does he consider that we ought in these cases to send people to prison for refusing to promise not to do things for which the maximum penalty, if they had done them, would have been a fine of 40s.? Is not the practice becoming absurd? Has it not become an administrative endeavour by the Home Office and the police authorities to prevent the expression of opinion?
The hon. Member is trying to repeal this law. If he succeeds in that, a new situation will arise. Until the law is repealed, it will be enforced.
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, although it is true that while an Act is in force it should be enforced, this is no good reason for abusing it or for misusing it for political purposes?
There is no question of abusing it for political purposes. The responsibility for these sentences is that of the magistrates and not of my right hon. Friend.
In view of the unsatisfactory Answers to Questions No. 28 and 29, I would like to give notice that I will take an early opportunity of raising them again.