Orders of the Day — Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1960.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick 12:00 am, 17th November 1960

That interruption seems to me to be clear proof that the hon. Gentleman has not read the Report, where the whole matter is dealt with absolutely clearly. I shall not go into all the statistics now, because I take it that those interested have read the Report. I would only say, first, that "crimes of violence" is a very curious expression, and includes and excludes offences that it should not. Secondly, there is no doubt that there has been no relation between the removal of flogging and the incidence of these offences.

The analogy that is often drawn between judicial corporal punishment and corporal punishment in schools and in the home breaks down because there is an inevitable delay in judicial flogging; it can rarely be imposed under several weeks. Further, as the Report says, there is a cold-blooded brutal formality about it that totally differentiates it from corporal punishment in the school or in the home.

The advocates of this form of punishment have to answer the further question: who is to administer the punishment? The police are unanimously against having this duty—if that is the word—thrust on them. The probation officers are unanimously against it. All the senior members of the prison service are against it. If this punishment were reintroduced, who would administer it?

It is, of course, absolutely necessary to deter criminals and to protect society against them. The real deterrent, as the Report makes clear and as we all know, is a high probability of being caught. That is one reason why it is so important to bring the police to full strength where they are at present below strength. The protection of society was provided by the introduction and availability of the full range of punishments that were originally foreseen in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, which were designed both to reform the criminal and to protect society against him.

I believe that much of our present problem arises because neither of these things has been achieved under this Government. The police force is gravely under strength in the Metropolitan area, and we are still very far from having built the buildings and built up the services that were foreseen as long ago as 1948. The Government must bear their share of the blame for the very grave crisis of crime that we are facing.

It is characteristic of the Government that they do not really like public expenditure and regard it as a bad thing. It is because of that that every public service is short of staff, whether it be the Metropolitan Police, the prison officers or the probation officers. Prison building is extremely short. Office blocks can go up all over the place, but in the course of nine years of office of this Government it has been impossible to build one new prison. The failure to build enough detention centres—although I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman said that 10 are being planned—and the total failure to build a single remand centre very greatly reduces the effectiveness of this Bill.

First, there is the stopping of the imprisonment of those under 21 years of age. The present position is really scandalous, and a blot on the national conscience. If we look at the 1959 Report of the Prison Commissioners, we find that in one year the number between 16 and 21 who were received into prison under a sentence of imprisonment was 2,660. What is much worse, the number under 21 who were received into prison on remand and not subsequently sentenced to imprisonment—just held in remand for various reasons—was no less than 4,585. Those were young people who should not have been in prison, but were held there because we have not the remand centres that we ought to have. Because we have not those remand centres, the Bill will do very little to remedy this grave scandal.

Clause 3 retains the imprisonment of the under-21s for up to six months specifically because, as is explained in the later part of the Clause, there are not the detention centres. The right hon. Gentleman said that 10 of these are planned. When those 10 are in being, will they be enough to bring this part of the Bill into operation?