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Criminal Justice Bill

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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3.5 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Lord Elton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [ General restriction on custodial sentences]:

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page I, line 8, leave out (" Subject to subsection (2) below,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the first amendment on this long Bill with a great number of amendments, I want to explain that the purpose of these amendments—which I think are important amendments as they get to the root of the problems in the Bill: that is, who should be in prison, how many should be in prison and what should be the different categories—if enacted, is to ensure that young offenders are not remanded or committed into custody with adult prisoners. Clause 10 gives the Home Secretary power to provide remand centres for young offenders aged 14 to 21, but, as Clause 1 stands at present, young people can and will continue to be remanded in adult prisons. I cannot believe that anyone considers this to be right for young people. On the contrary, an adult prison, however carefully segregation is attempted, is an evil finishing school for youngsters and an introduction to adult crime and to a series of antiheroes.

I remember many years ago, when I was a prison visitor at Holloway Prison, finding there a number of young people—and I was also lecturing there at the same time and so had considerable personal contact with them. Although there was a very brave attempt to try to segregate them, and the officials and warders wore plain clothes, contact with the adults in the adult prison and the amount that was speedily learned from one category to the other was nevertheless very considerable.

Such contact means also that the deterrent effect of prison is quickly lost. Several of those young women told to me that for the first day or so the idea of being sent to prison is terrible but after a few days people get used to it and then the whole deterrent effect has gone. I find it sad that I am now talking of something like 10 to 15 years ago and still the situation remains the same: that it is still not only possible but is happening all the time that young people are sent to adult prisons.

Secondly, it adds to what is one of the central points running through this Bill; and that is the question of prison overcrowding. By sending young people to prison, one is adding to the strain upon the population in that particular prison. In another place, in Committee, the Minister conceded that the object of the amendment (a similar amendment was moved there) was desirable but argued that practicalities prevented any real progress. The National Association of Probation Officers feel very strongly about this and about the particular amendment. They are naturally well able to judge the disastrous effects of the continuation of the present system. 1 agree that all Governments have been dilatory over this, and that this is not something which has suddenly happened. However, it is about time that it was brought to an end. The critical overcrowding of prisons, together with the recognition of the importance of young offenders being treated in a way which will not help to turn them into recidivists, should certainly give an impetus of urgency to what we are trying to achieve by means of this amendment.

I do not for one moment expect the Minister to stand up and say that he will accept the amendment as it is, because I understand the practical problems. But what we want to hear from the Government is not just that there is agreement on the principle, but that they believe this has a high priority and that they hope to be able to give a timetable of possible and highly probable implementation. If the Minister cannot give that today I hope that he will come back on Report, so that we do have some record and some indication that this really is being treated seriously now, when we are becoming more and more aware, in matters both of theory and of research, of what is happening in penology. Unfortunately, the distance between theory and practice is growing wider rather than narrower. I beg to move.

I should like to associate myself very strongly with my noble friend's amendment, and to emphasise that, while it may be possible occasionally in a large central prison like Holloway to achieve some sort of segregation of young people, in local prisons where so many of them go, the conditions are particularly bad—worse than they are in central prisons—and the overcrowding is intense. There is really no possibility of proper segregation.

May I add support from these Benches for this amendment. The time comes when Governments have to accept that things that they have been saying for 15 years ought to be done and will now say that they shall be done. I would ask for approximately that which the noble Baroness has asked for—that the Government agreeing that this should be done, the noble Lord on behalf of the Government will now give us a timetable showing how it is going to be done and even saying: "It shall be done except in certain circumstances."

I do not think that the Government can be asked to legislate for something which they simply cannot do, and I think that they are really in that position—more shame to them and to all the other Governments before them—but I believe that we want something positive. The noble Baroness has put forward an unanswerable case. I am sure the noble Lord the Minister in fact agrees with it, and I hope that we get something out of it.

May I emphasise what my noble friend Lady Wootton has said? There is overcrowding in nearly every prison in the country, but the overcrowding in the local prisons, such as Leeds, is very much worse than in the training prisons, such as Wakefield. This is so because the local prisons have to take everybody who is sent to them by the courts, whereas to some extent the training prisons can say which prisoners shall come to them. But it is precisely to the local prisons that, with very few exceptions, young people are sent on remand. Therefore the likelihood of their being in the worst possible conditions is much greater than applies in some of the other prisons. I hope that the noble Lord will look at this question and make sure that the local prisons are not made worse than they otherwise might be by the influx of these under-21s.

I can say at the outset that I have the greatest sympathy with the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness and with the proposition on which it rests: that young people remanded for trial and young people committed pending sentence should be kept apart from the general run of the prison population and held in young offender establishments rather than in prisons which, as all your Lordships are aware, are overcrowded.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, referred to Leeds, which I recently visited myself at a very early hour in the day, so that I saw it at its worst; and I take the point. I only wish, however, that I could translate that sympathy into acceptance of the noble Baroness's amendment, although she was kind enough to say that she did not expect that. That would certainly get our proceedings off in a friendly and accommodating atmosphere in which we all work at our best. Sadly, however, I cannot; and that is in part because things are not entirely as they seem.

What seems to be the case is that we have two distinct sorts of institution—prisons on the one hand and remand centres on the other—and that we are free to allocate remanded prisoners to one or the other as we choose. We can allocate them as we choose, and I quite see why the noble Baroness would like us always to choose remand centres rather than prisons, in particular for young offenders. But the fact so far as the law is concerned is that there is no distinction between the two categories of establishments. Both are prisons in law, and on the face of it the effect of the amendment would be to exclude something like 2,100 unsentenced under-21s from that accommodation; and we would have nowhere else to put them.

We do not regard this lack of distinction between remand centres and other prison establishments as satisfactory. Indeed, in Clause 10 of the Bill we shall, if your Lordships agree—and the noble Baroness has drawn attention to our intentions here—take power to do something about it. Under those powers, we intend to designate remand centres as such, and as being distinct from prisons. We shall be doing the same for detention and youth custody centres.

Why then, your Lordships may ask, can we not anticipate your Lordships' approval of those powers, accept a restriction preventing our sending young people under 21 to prison at any stage and not just after sentence, and agree to the noble Baroness's amendments? In the first place, it will take some time to achieve the recategorisation, and not every establishment will be redesignated at the same time. That perhaps could be overcome by transitional arrangements of one sort or another, cumbersome though that procedure doubtless would be; but I regret to tell your Lordships that even then we would still be in a difficulty. At present we already, wherever possible, follow a policy of detaining unsentenced young people in what we call remand centres, and we detain such people in ordinary local prisons only when no remand centre place is available for them in that part of the country. Even so, about 700 of them are in prison at any one time; and it is to them that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, all referred.

The noble Baroness's amendments would therefore result in there being nowhere (other than police cells, I suppose) in which any of those people could be detained and, given the crying need of almost every other part of the prison system for copious resources, I am afraid there is no prospect of my being able to undertake to run up sufficient accommodation in time to contain these young people.

Following the debate in this House on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, a few weeks ago, your Lordships will be only too well aware of the great range of heavy and conflicting demands now facing the resources of the prison service and you would not, I think, expect me to commit a significant part of those on one requirement, even if I could. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was most specific in the desire that I should give a timetable to your Lordships. The fact is that, again, things are not as simple as they look. Improvements in one sector of the prison provision relieve pressure upon others, and I am not able to say with what rapidity this will affect a particular sector, especially when we remember that in many cases remand centres are in some sense attached to existing prisons.

The noble Baroness and the rest of your Lordships can be very well assured of the Government's intention to keep young people, including unsentenced young people, separate from the more mature criminal population in local and other prisons. This we are already doing to a substantial, if limited, extent by administrative means. As our building programme progresses and as other provisions in this Bill begin to bite, we shall be able to do so for increasing numbers of them.

I hope the noble Baroness will accept our commitment to this policy as being a genuine one and that she will not feel the need to try it further.

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I get his figures right? Did he say that there were 2,200 under-21s in remand centres and 700 in local prisons, or was it a total of 2,200?

This amendment touches on a very important question; namely, the sense of grievance of those who are kept in prison on remand, and who are then either acquitted or not sentenced to any form of incarceration at all. Therefore, it is very important indeed to remedy that rightly felt sense of injustice on the part of those who come within that classification. I wonder whether the Minister can help us about the percentage of those who are imprisoned on remand and who, ultimately, are found guilty or are sent to prison. I do not ask for an answer off the cuff, but I suspect that quite a large proportion do not have subsequently to face terms of imprisonment. Therefore, there is an element of urgency in this. I confess that we have not found a great deal of satisfaction in the answer of the Minister, but no doubt my noble friend Lady Birk will be able to cross-examine with some particularity about the nature of the unsatisfactory answer.

I wonder whether I may very briefly support my noble friend. We are dealing here with young people under the age of 21. That incorporates those who come before the juvenile benches and, also, the young people who come before the adult benches. Therefore, one has to see where one can send the worst of the possible offenders on remand. I have had the privilege of being in an area, PSD, where we had two very good remand homes. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to Holloway, where they are all girls and women, and, although I am well aware that there are, unfortunately, an increasing number of girls who are getting into trouble with the law, I suppose that we are really thinking of young men.

From the noble Baroness's knowledge of the bench, which is extensive, she will know that there are many ways of dealing with young people, if one wants them to come back to court having had social services reports in, perhaps, three weeks. One can put them on bail, one can put them in a remand centre, one can send them back to their homes or one can remand them in custody. In custody, in my courts, always meant—perhaps I was lucky—a remand home. At this moment, I am talking of the juvenile courts and the under-17s, but I do not think one would ever have sent one to prison.

But when we take into consideration the increasing number of violent crimes that are committed at this time by the 16 to 21s in this country, it seems that any court must be able to remand a young person under that age to prison. If we were dealing with the under 17s, I would be entirely with the noble Baroness. But, as we are dealing with up to 21s, it is very important that courts should still be able to remand whenever they see fit. So I support my noble friend.

May I come back to the basis of the question that arises from the amendment? What we are dealing with are the 700 young people who are in local prisons, and surely the Minister would agree with the Prison and Borstal Governors' Association, who have described that situation as being a national scandal. I should like to ask the Minister not whether things are not as simple as they appear, but why some effort cannot be made immediately to build into the prison programme remand centres which are suitable for the type of person whom the noble Baroness has just mentioned—the person who needs to be locked up, but is not requiring, in any shape or form, the kind of security which is provided in a local prison? This national scandal should be brought to an end, and I should like to ask the Minister whether there are any plans for building such premises, which could be done very quickly without any major security.

I should like first to say that I am very much obliged to my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve for explaining more fully than I had both the pressures on this part of the system and the reasons for wishing to continue with a custodial remand. As to what primarily concerns your Lordships, it is clear that there is an agreed inordinate pressure of bodies upon places throughout the prison system, and we have debated this at length on a number of occasions. What your Lordships are saying is that not only should there be an application of our finite resources to reducing pressure by increasing the places —and also, I hope your Lordships will agree, by reducing the number of bodies or the duration of their imprisonment, which is one of the principal objects of this Bill—but the young offender should go to the head of the queue for those resources in the prison system which extend to the need for more staff to oversee the activities of prisoners when they are out of their cells, more accommodation for prisoners to engage in manufacturing and other activities out of their cells, more resources for the education of prisoners in education centres, more cells, more washing facilities, better reception facilities and better processing all the way to the courts.

What I am trying to say, first, is that a programme of specific capital investment directed to that point, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, has suggested, could not be implemented as swiftly as he suspects. The time range of introducing a new prison establishment is very long. It is a good deal longer than a hospital, or certainly as long, with the planning requirements and so on. It is not an overnight waving of the wand. But, given that, and before the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, leaps up to put me right, saying that that does not alter anything, I go on to say that a lot of the accommodation that we have is suitable, and that it will become available in the process of our modernisation programme, not necessarily in buildings designed to take young offenders, but in buildings designed to take those who are now in the accommodation which the young offenders could better be occupying.

I have sought to arrive at the percentage of acquittals of young persons received on remand. This is the question about the numbers who subsequently receive or do not receive, sentences, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked me. I understand that, in very round figures, it is about 50/50. That underlines the understandable feeling of resentment of those who have been incarcerated and who have subsequently been told on their release that they need not have been. I accept that, but I do not think that it is the principal reason for trying to improve the conditions in which they are kept. The two points that I want to put before your Lordships are, first, that we are committed to listening and, finally, to resolving this problem; and, secondly, that it must be part of an overall programme for the whole of the prison population. The rest of the programme cannot be deferred in order to favour this part of the population, about which we feel very strongly.

The noble Lord anticipated my interrupting him, but he has not altogether prevented me. I take exception to the view that it takes years to build a prison, when it is not that that we are talking about. We are talking about the kind of country house which can be bought almost anywhere, putting a fence around it and installing a few telephones. Half the people who will be remanded there will not be sentenced to custodial service, anyway, so it is in no way parallel to building a prison.

From the point of view of the outsider who is not an expert on this, I must confess that what the Minister has said seems to be very unsatisfactory, for two reasons. He gave us a list of important things which have got to be done for the prison service, which is absolutely right, but some of us believe that these particular people ought to go to the top of the queue for two reasons: first because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has said, the whole business of remand in custody is a very suspect business indeed, and secondly, and much more importantly, because these young people are at the very age when, if we send them into the environment of an adult prison, we shall breed lifelong prisoners. For those two reasons, particularly the second, I feel that this must be an absolute priority over all the other desirable things which the Minister mentioned. If the Minister has been told that it takes longer to build a fairly secure remand centre than it does to build a hospital, I suggest that it is time he consulted another architect.

Perhaps I shall not want to hear what the last seven words of the noble Lord's interjection were, but I did not hear them. Was he telling me to tell it to the marines?

No, the marines have got their hands fairly full at the moment. What I was doing was telling the noble Lord to consult other architects than the ones who told him that it takes longer to build a remand centre than it does to build a hospital, because it cannot be true.

I was interested in what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. At one point, however, she confused remand homes and remand centres. She also said that her court is able to send the most serious offenders to prison. In our part of the world, and in other parts too, maybe, it does not happen like that. There is a remand centre some 15 miles out of Leeds which is on the same site as an open prison. The reason why young people are sent into the most appalling conditions in Leeds Prison—I am pleased that the noble Lord the Minister has seen the appalling conditions there—is not because they are the most severe offenders but because the remand centre is full and there is nowhere else to send them, so they have to go into Leeds Prison on remand.

To return to the amendment, I have tremendous sympathy for what all noble Lords have said about the obvious long-term need to get the balance right. I am a little suspicious of instant remand homes at the waving of a wand, but it can happen. Nevertheless, in the nature of things they take time. Surely the question, though, is whether it is right for this House to put the amendment into the Bill at this point. It seems to me that in due course it would be right to have the sense of the amendment included in the Bill. However, it is too early to do so now because there will be insufficient resources and time to allow us to obey the law if the amendment is included now. Perhaps we can come back to it in two or three years' time when other things have been done.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Mottistone is right. Architecture and what is practically desirable on the one hand are one thing. Legal necessity and the problem of having to cope with young offenders, many of whom have committed very serious offences, within the framework of the present system are another. We have to take things as they are, not as we should like them to be. Taking things as they are, it seems to me that it would be folly to leave out subsection (2) of the clause.

I am grateful to my two noble friends for bringing us back to a consideration of the amendment in the context of the Bill. As a finale to my response to what noble Lords have said about this, I would say that I have tried to make our concern clear. It is not a question of a country house being done over, with a few inexpensive additions. The people who could live there could be sent home on bail. We have to provide secure accommodation. That accommodation is expensive. I thought I retracted that it took longer than a hospital—I said it took a very long time, commensurate with that, and I stand by that—to provide prison accommodation, which is not always the most welcome new neighbour in a community. There are many planning difficulties. However, the state of the prison service as it now is—the noble Baroness has been generous enough to accept that this is not the fault only of this Government; the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has attributed it to many Governments, and I would endorse both speakers—means that to include the amendment in the Bill at this stage would leave us with nowhere to send a large number of remand cases, a considerable number of whom would subsequently be convicted, and convicted of violent misdemeanours, which means that they ought not to he left free to roam the streets. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept the earnest assurance I have given her of the fact that my perception of this very nearly coincides with hers.

One of the things which the Bill proposes is to do away with borstal training. No doubt the youth custody centres will be largely located in the borstal institutions, but it seems likely that the length of sentences and the number of persons so committed will be less than the total man-woman population, over time, in the borstal centres. Could not some use be made of the borstal centres to relieve this problem? Could not some spare accommodation be found in that way?

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving an instance of the principle which I sought to adduce: that the improvements which we are making both in the capital programme and in the Bill will reduce pressure on accommodation and allow young people to go into it. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment The Minister—and I agree with him—said that he agreed with the principle behind the amendment, as did the Minister in another place. He also pointed to the defects in the amendment as it stands at present. However, I think the Minister will agree with me that that is not the important part of it. If we are to enter into a discussion of remand centres in prisons and the fact that although they are used they are not remand centres in law, there is a danger that we shall get bogged down in semantics. That is not the principle which we are discussing.

I did not intend to divide the Committee when moving the amendment. However, having listened to what other noble Lords have said, and also to what the Minister has said, 1 am extremely worried—and I think other noble Lords who have spoken feel the same —that there does not seem to be the sense of urgency and impetus behind what the Minister said which I was hoping to hear. We on this side of the Committee are also extremely worried about the wording of the subsection. The subsection which we are trying to remove is written in such a way that it is a complete endorsement of the present system. It is not written in a way which gives an indication that this is going to be temporary and that we shall get rid of a wretched system which has gone on for too long.

My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones made a telling point when he referred to the numbers of young people who are sent to prison. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, is quite right when she says that there are alternatives which all of us certainly try to use. I do, as I am sure the noble Baroness does. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there are still far too many young people in prisons—and not only in the prisons I was talking about. My noble friends have pointed out the even worse state in local prisons. Because there is no indication of any hope of trying to remedy or starting to remedy what is an atrocious system at the present time, I feel that I must test the temperature of the Committee.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness does that, may I ask her whether she will consider the terms of the amendment very carefully, because she is in fact throwing 2,100 people out on the street. I cannot imagine that many people would wish to vote for that.

I am dividing on this amendment because of the whole principle involved and the approach put forward by the Government. Unless a miracle occurs, I do not believe that we are going to win this Division; but it will at least make the Government think and come back with something they themselves have drafted for the Bill, which would at least meet the very strong feeling expressed around the Committee. Then we would feel that we had achieved something.

The amendment does not say that the 2,000 people who are already there are to be turned out. It just says that further people are not to be put in.

3.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 108.

DIVISION NO. 1

CONTENTS

Allen of Fallowfield, L.Kilmarnock, L.
Ardwick, L.Kirkhill, L.
Aylestone, L.Listowel, E.
Bacon, B.Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. B.
Balogh, L.Longford, E.
Birk, B.McCarthy, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.]MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Blease, L.Milford, L.
Blyton, L.Mishcon, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.Molloy, L.
Brockway, L.Onslow, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.Oram, L.
Caradon, L.Peart, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B.Rhodes, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L.Sainsbury, L.
Denington, B.Saltoun, Ly.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.Shinwell, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L.Stamp, L.
Elystan-Morgan, L.Stedman, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B.Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Faithfull, B.Stewart of Fulham, L.
Gardiner, L.Stone, L.
Glenamara, L.Strabolgi, L.
Gore-Booth, L.Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hanworth, V.Underhill, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L.Wallace of Coslany, L.
Howie of Troon, L.Walston, L.
Hunt, L.Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L.Wells-Pestell, L.
Ingleby, V.Whaddon, L.
Jacques, L.White, B.
James of Rusholme, L.Wilson of Langside, L.
Jeger, B.Wootton of Abinger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.Wynne-Jones, L.
Kagan, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Adeane, L.Digby, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.Dilhorne, V.
Allen of Abbeydale, L.Drumalbyn, L.
Allerton, L.Ebbisham, L.
Auckland, L.Eccles, V.
Avon, E.Effingham, E.
Bathurst, E.Ellenborough, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.Elton, L.
Beloff, L.Ferrers, E.
Berkeley, B.Fortescue, E.
Bessborough, E.Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Cairns, E.Gainford, L.
Cathcart, E.Garner, L.
Cawley, L.Gibson-Watt, L.
Chelwood, L.Glenarthur, L.
Clitheroe, L.Glenkinglas, L.
Colyton, L.Grimston of Westbury, L.
Cork and Orrery, E.Harvey of Prestbury, L.
Cottesloe, L.Hatherton, L.
Daventry, V.Hawke, L.
Davidson, V.Henley, L.
De La Warr, E.Hives, L.
De L'Isle, V.Home of the Hirsel, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.]Hylton-Foster, B.
Derwent, L.Ilchester, E.

Inglewood, L.Reigate, L.
Killearn, L.Reilly, L.
Lane-Fox, B.Renton, L.
Long, V.Richardson, L.
Lovat, L.Rochdale, V.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.Rugby, L.
Lyell, L.St. Davids, V.
Mackay of Clashfern, L.St. John of Bletso, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.Sandford, L.
Mancroft, L.Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Mar, C.Selkirk, E.
Marley, L.Sharples, B.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.Skelmersdale, L.
Merrivale, L.Spens, L.
Mersey, V.Stodart of Leaston, L.
Mills, V.Strathclyde, L.
Milverton, L.Terrington, L.
Monk Bretton, L.Teviot, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.Tollemache, L.
Mottistone, L.Torphichen, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.Trefgarne, L.
Newall, L.Trumpington, B.
Northchurch, B.Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L.Vivian, L.
Orr-Ewing, L.Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Porritt, L.Waldegrave, E.
Radnor, E.Westbury, L.
Reay, L.Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

I think your Lordships would agree that it might now be appropriate for the Statement to be repeated. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.