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Penal Reform

Volume 928: debated on Wednesday 23 March 1977

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Before we take the Ten Minutes' Rule Bill, may I tell the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) that there is nothing in the rules of the House requiring him to take ten minutes?

3.33 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reduce the size of the prison population by providing for alternatives to custodial sentences and by limiting the offences for which custodial sentences may be awarded; and for connected purposes.
When I put down the motion three weeks ago I had no idea of the enormous interest that this House had in penal reform. I am delighted by the attendance today. I hope that, in fairness to subsequent speakers, hon. Members will be quiet when they leave the Chamber after I have finished speaking.

I shall make this Ten Minutes' Rule Bill a three minute rule Bill. The objectives of the Bill are simple and long standing for many bodies associated with penal reform. The objectives are simply to remove minor offences from the punishment of imprisonment.

First, the Bill will remove from the punishment of imprisonment offences under the Vagrancy Acts, which concern people who sleep rough or act as tramps. Most people will agree that imprisonment is not an appropriate way of dealing with such offences. Although only a few people are sent to prison for those offences, my Bill will help to reduce the prison population in a small way.

The second objective concerns acts of simple drunkenness—if that is the right word. It does not include offences that connect drunkenness with any other form of criminal behaviour. About 50,000 people appear before the courts each year for being drunk. I submit that the public at large does not consider that alcoholism is a criminal offence. It should be the subject of other forms of treatment. I commend that objective to the House.

The third proposal in the Bill concerns people who are imprisoned for the non-payment of fines when the original decision of the court was that a non-custodial sentence should be imposed. It is wrong that such people should be sent to prison for the non-payment of fines unless there is overwhelming evidence of an unwillingness to pay the fine. I commend this short Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. Ivor Clemitson, Mr. Joseph Dean, Mr. Geoff Edge, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Bruce George, Dr. Colin Phipps, Mr. George Rodgers, Mr. Brian Sedgemore, Mr. John Watkinson, Mr. Phillip Whitehead, and Mr. Ian Wriggles-worth.

Penal Reform

Mr. Bruce Grocott accordingly presented a Bill to reduce the size of the prison population by providing for alternatives to custodial sentences and by limiting the offences for which custodial sentences may be awarded; and for connected purposes; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20th May and to be printed. [Bill 91.]