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 Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North 12:00 am, 17th November 1960

The House naturally listens with great respect to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) because of his long experience and his position as vice-chairman of the council of the Magistrates' Association. I think he was a little hard in criticising the Bill as though it were the Government's prison building programme. Nonetheless, what he said was valuable in that it illuminated what the House would do well to take note of, namely, that this is primarily a machinery Bill and that the success of its provisions will depend largely on the implementation by the Government of the plans which it has initiated; and it is not a matter for debate here and now as to whether the balance of national resources applied in this year or that year or for this purpose or that purpose was rightly judged.

As we have heard today and on previous occasions, we have a programme of prison building which certainly must be put into effect before the provisions of this Bill bear fruit. I shall hope in a minute or two to follow the hon. Member in what was a very valuable and important point he made about the probation service. The House is in his debt for what he said about the importance of the public keeping a sense of proportion about crime, particularly juvenile crime, and that the impression should not be conveyed that this House regards the present generation as being singularly vicious or corrupt. We are debating crime; we are not debating youth; and because we are emphasising crime we are not condemning youth.

There was a great deal of wisdom in the hon. Member's statement that the present generation, which throws up a rather disquieting proportion, albeit still a small proportion, of vicious and criminal youths, is the generation which went through its vitally important formative years in the war. I would not follow his analysis of the effect of the war upon children at that time. I would not say that they were as sophisticated as he might imply. I would say rather that the war caused disruptions in family life which gave rise to emotional disturbances which, in weaker characters, have their results when children come to their maturity. I am quite sure that the generation with which we are dealing now, and with which we have been dealing for some time, is not one which ought to be judged on its own, because of the peculiarly unhappy circumstances of its genesis.

This Bill is one of the very greatest possible importance in so far as it touches upon the protection of the public and the maintenance of public order, and it is a question which involves something of a crisis of confidence for the Government, because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has envisaged, and is now in the process of carrying out, a scheme of social reform with the theme of freedom for a responsible society. There is a very great danger that the public may say, "It is all very well to sweep away the out-dated legislation of the Victorian age, but we would rather have our out-dated betting laws and licensing laws and so on, if, at the same time, we could have something of Victorian security and a rather more severe attitude towards crime."

I do not think that this is a just judgment on the part of the public, but I mention it as a danger of which my right hon. Friend should be particularly aware in giving the right emphasis in his social programme to his prime duty of maintaining public order and protecting law-abiding citizens. I have devoted some time and thought for the past year or more to this problem of delinquency, which is the most disturbing symptom of what is really the most disturbing fundamental weakness of modern society, but it is only fair to recognise—and this is one point which emerged clearly from the United Nations conference on crime in London recently—that it is a fundamental weakness, whatever its nature may be, in modern society all over the world. It is not confined to this country. It is found everywhere, with the possible exception of civilisations and cultures which are primarily agrarian and in which there is a social order established and buttressed by traditional and religious attitudes.

This great weakness is that material prosperity gives rise to surprising and rather disturbing proportions of moral destitution. The fundamental cure for this weakness is a universal responsibility of society as a whole. It is not a responsibility which can properly be put upon the Government or upon this legislature, but, for all that, the legislature and the Government have a responsibility for first aid, treatment and hygiene in dealing with the symptoms and more simple manifestations of these fundamental weaknesses.

This is a Bill in which details are all important, and, therefore, it is primarily a Committee stage Bill. What I think we ought to do on Second Reading is to make sure that we see it in the right perspective. I am sure that the perspective in which we should look at it is the perspective of the Government's penal policy as a whole. I am sure that the conception of the Government's penal policy is quite right, but it would be quite wrong if the public got the idea that this Bill is intended or envisaged as being some revolutionary wholesale change which will transform the whole penal system and have a dramatic effect upon crime. What the Bill has to do is to enable the present system to work more effectively, and even more, perhaps, to pave the way for results that can only come about when the Government's activity in other spheres, primarily in building more prisons, have taken effect.

If I may digress for a moment, I should like to pursue a heresy which handicaps the Government in its need for sympathy from the public in its struggle with the criminal element in society—the heresy which leads people to believe that, in some mysterious way, the penal system is a tap which controls the volume of crime and that legislation or administration can form the moral quality of society in the same way that discipline in a good home or school or family can form the moral quality of a family. I am afraid that governing a huge nation is not as simple a matter as all that. It is most unfortunate that the public so often compare the responsibilities of Government with the responsibilities of parents or schoolmasters, because the dynamics of the situation are entirely different.

I think that that perspective and that attitude perhaps help us to see how important it is to strengthen the police, who, I am sure, are the much more important element in actually keeping crime at the lowest possible level than anything we may do to the criminal when he has committed a crime, has been caught and is inside the penal system. It is the lack of this general perspective and the strength of the heresy that leads so many people to cry for so me single, flamboyant and dramatic gimmick of penal practice, such as corporal punishment, or whatever it may be, which they feel will put a stop to the whole thing and transform the situation. I am afraid it is not as simple as all that. But this is merely a digression in pursuit of a heresy, which is one which will be properly debated at length in later stages of the Bill.

I approach the penal system as a whole, and therefore this Bill, with the conception—and obviously the emphasis differs, and many people sincerely hold a different view—that the object of the penal system is primarily the protection of society. I think that, as a matter of fact, that the most effective means of protecting society is in the reformation of the individual offender once he has been caught. I do not think that reformation is an end in itself as a part of the penal system. In other capacities as, I hope, a humanitarian, and as one who puts high value on the individual human being, I can see reformation as having a value in itself, but as a Member of this House and as responsible to my constituents, I put the protection of society as the first priority, and I am only interested in reforming offenders in the context of a penal system in so far as I think it is the best way to protect my constituents from the harm which they may otherwise do.

In the last 18 months or more, I have been round a large number of prisons, courts, allocation centres, borstal, young persons' prisons, psychiatric units, detention centres and approved schools, and the question which I asked myself throughout this tour was "How far is this place"—whatever it might be—"doing its job in protecting society, apart from just keeping the offenders out of circulation for a while?" The answer seemed to me to depend primarily upon the men who were actually running the institutions themselves. I asked myself "What questions are these men asking themselves? What are they really trying to do, and are they asking the right questions?" I can say what question they are asking themselves, and I am sure it is the right question. The whole penal system is orientated to answering the question "What sort of man are we going to put back into society when we have finished with him?" I am sure that that is the right question and that it is right that the object of the system should be, as I think it is and as I have heard it expressed by the men who are responsible, to take the young criminal and, as far as one possibly can in the time at one's disposal, break him as a criminal but, at the same time—and this is much more important and much more constructive—make him as a man.

If one does the one without doing the other, one is really not protecting society because the young criminal is inside for only a few months and he has his whole life outside in society afterwards. It is a very high standard to set. Whether it is reached or not depends primarily on the quality and calibre of the individual officers of the prison service, the governors, the wardens, and, in the approved schools, the headmasters. To a large extent—I will qualify it in a minute—I think it is a matter of Kipling's maxim, Ships is all right. It's the men in 'em". I believe that, if we have the idea right, if we have the right conception of the penal system, and if we have the right man, properly trained, and if he is properly seized of the idea—here I entirely agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes)—and if we leave it to the right man and trust him to get on with the job, we shall not go far wrong.

Although I thought there was a great deal of interest in what they said, I was a little concerned by what struck me as a rather pessimistic fatalism in some of the notable speeches which came from the benches opposite, for instance, the speeches of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). There seemed to be a fatalistic and pessimistic assumption that one really cannot do anything about it; it is all ordained beforehand and, when we get somebody inside, we classify him according to Mannheim and Wilkins, and there we are. We might as well write him off. I believe that if we followed too far the idea of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East, we might be driven by logic to the position of sentencing an offender not according to either his needs or the enormity of his offence but according to the prediction table. That, I think, would be more an interesting philosophical exercise than an exercise in justice, and it is one which the public, which does its best to follow these rather sophisticated ideas, would find it difficult to follow and quite impossible to tolerate.

As I have mentioned what the hon. Member for Woolwich, East said, I will refer also to his remarks about the detention centre as it has been until now. I quite agree that it will be a different matter when everyone who goes inside for less than six months goes to a detention centre, but I thought that the hon. Member was wrong in dismissing the present detention centre as involving merely sterile "square-bashing".

There are only four detention centres now, and it might be invidious if I mentioned any one, but the detention centre to which I went struck me particularly favourably just because it was not concerned with mere sterile square-bashing. The warden said to me, "You cannot do anything by mere discipline. What you have to do to these boys is to put them on to something which they think they cannot do but they dare not fail to attempt". He took me to the gymnasium where he had arranged a sort of assault course around which all these boys had to go in three minutes if they were to qualify for the privileges which allowed them the things which are so very precious and important to someone in those circumstances. There were these—I think the popular phrase is—young thugs sweating their "guts" out trying to do something which authority had required them to do because they wanted to do it and were determined not to fail.

The warden said, "Once you have got them to the stage where they have tried and they have succeeded, you have brought them through a psychological barrier, and then it is possible to try to build up some kind of constructive achievement enabling them to make a constructive attempt to make something of their lives". The theme was that they should endeavour and that they should succeed. That seems to me, from my recollections of sterile square-bashing—and I have had my share—to be something very different.

In my view, we should be a little careful in putting too high a value on the detention centre as an alternative to the birch. The appeal of the birch is primarily to those who are horrified and disgusted by the viciousness and violence of the crimes which have been committed. By definition, a boy who goes to a detention centre is a boy who has committed a crime for which the sentence will be not more than six months. To my mind, this argues that we shall not, in fact, have in the detention centre the kind of boy who has committed the kind of crime which calls for a penalty of, say, up to fourteen years. Therefore, although I am sure that there will be a very valuable disciplinary element in the detention centres, we should not imagine that this will be the complete answer to the vicious young thug who has beaten up the old lady in the sweet shop, because he may well have to serve a rather longer sentence.

At this stage, I must tell my right hon. Friend how grateful I was for the co-operation of the Home Office in arranging for me to go and see these places and how profoundly impressed I was by the morale, spirit and sense of mission of the officers of the prison service. I sincerely hope that we shall never again reach a position in which these men—their wives and families come into it, too—are driven to wonder whether, perhaps, they will pursue their chosen profession or leave the service. In my view, we have absolutely first-class men. We are very lucky not to have lost them, or more of them, and I am sure that we should spare no expense to ensure that we keep them. We cannot do this kind of job in the right way with second-rate men, and, of course, it cannot be done in second-rate conditions. This is why I think that the building programme which my right hon. Friend has in mind and is pursuing must be adequate.

I do not consider that the building programme is so very important in the sense of giving improved physical conditions or even in eliminating overcrowding. In my view, what is important is that the whole merit of the borstal system, for example, which depends so much on allocation, depends in the final analysis upon the accommodation available. After all, we send these boys to allocation centres for up to a month, and they are seeded out very carefully. The whole success of the treatment of the individual offender depends upon sending him to the right kind of borstal. Time and again, it was brought home to me that an allocation was made not on the merits of the institution to which the boy was sent or on the particular needs of the boy but because, in fact, there was only one place available at the time to which he could go. We must, therefore, have enough borstals if we are to have sufficient flexibility in allocations.

For all that I praise the general conception of the penal system and the administration of it, I must admit that, in the result, it is far from satisfactory when one realises that at least half these boys will commit further crimes within three years of release after their first sentence. Why is this so? For my part, I do not think that it is the fault of the borstal, the detention centre or the approved school system inside. It goes a little beyond that. After all, in the case of both the approved school and borstal training, the sentence is a comparatively long one but a boy spends a comparatively short time inside. The rest he spends outside on licence. We are apt to lose sight of the enormous importance of the second part of the sentence which he spends outside on licence, when his training is put into effect. Then, in fact, he has to adapt himself, under supervision, to what he must do for the rest of his life, which is to live on tolerable terms with the rest of the community. Everything, therefore, depends upon the quality of the supervision during that period.

The whole idea of the borstal system is that the treatment cannot be considered completed by training inside until it has been proved and tested by the result outside. I do not think that the appalling figure of 50 per cent. failure is a reflection on borstals. It is a reflection on the system of after care and supervision on licence. I am not criticising the quality of the probation service. I am criticising its quantity. I should like to give my right hon. Friend some facts and figures on which he might well ponder in relation to the future of the probation service to which the hon. Member for Salford, West rightly drew attention.

Let us look for a few moments at the cost of the failures. My argument is based on figures given in answer to a Parliamentary Question which I tabled to my right hon. Friend on 27th October. The Answer was based on the figures for 1954 to 1956. Every year there are on average 900 failures from borstal, 315 failures from detention centres and 1,215 failures from approved schools, making a total of 2,430. By "failures" I mean boys who go back inside. They go back inside at a cost to the community of £10 a week on average. Therefore, as a result of the failure of the system, half of which is inside and half outside, the taxpayer is presented with a bill of £24,300 per week. Assuming that one failure means one year inside after the boy has failed, that is an annual cost to the country of about £1½ million. That is the cost in cash to the taxpayer, but we must not forget that these failures also represent another cost—the cost of 2,430 crimes and all the legal proceedings involved, to say nothing of the distress and lack of protection to the community which cannot be assessed in money.

Looking at the 2,430 failures in terms of after-care, this is the picture. About 5,000 boys are discharged every year. They are supervised by probation officers. I do not like generalising or talking about averages, but I am taking a statistical average. The average probation officer has a case load of 65, of which 10 per cent. are discharged borstal and approved school boys. Therefore, the average probation officer has six discharge boys to look after and 59 "other" cases. On the average, three of his boys will fail.

I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can feel satisfied that a probation officer so loaded can give to six boys at this critical juncture of their training and redemption the close supervision and support which the whole conception of borstal and the approved school system demands. May we not reasonably suggest that a less overloaded probation service would bring about some improvement in the failure rate? I do not assume that there will be a very dramatic improvement. I only ask for the assumption that we could, by improving the conditions of after care, cut the failure rate by one-fifth.

If we did that, we would save 500 crimes and at least £250,000 in a year, which would pay for 250 probation officers at £1,000 a year each. A precise estimate is impossible, but, however it is worked out, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that an increased expenditure on after-care—I have no doubt that this is on the way, but I am merely pointing out the economics and finance of it—must at least pay for itself, and, at the best, would actually represent an economy; to say nothing, again, of the reduction in crime and in the distress caused by the crimes of the failures, which would be a desirable end in itself.

I should like to go further into the background of the Bill. I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the great lack of hostels in which discharged approved school boys can be accommodated when they are going out to work for the first time and have no suitable homes to which to go. They have little idea about life. They have no idea how to manage their affairs. They do not know how to arrange their weekly income so that they do not get into trouble. They need help and guidance in facing the adventure of life. I am sure that many failures would be avoided if a little more money and care were spent on providing hostels in which they could be looked after during the first years in which they have to find their own feet.

I want to refer to the question of staffing of the approved schools. I was unfavourably impressed in the two excellent approved schools which I visited—I spent one day at each—by the desperate shortage of staff, not so much on the teaching side as on the housemaster side, to which my right hon. Friend referred. I hope that it will be possible to give better pay and conditions to people in these posts and to bring them into line with the Burnham scale, which is the obvious thing to do, so that we can recruit enough of the kind of persons we want for this highly responsible job in the approved school system.

I should like incidentally to refer to two things, one which I am sorry not to see in the Bill and one which I am glad to see in the Bill. I am sorry that it has not been possible to deal in the Bill with the problem of compensation for the victims of crimes of violence, either by the State or by the criminal through deduction from his prison wages or the attachment of wages after he has left prison, or both. I realise, as my right hon. Friend said, that this is a very thorny problem. It sounds easy and appealing when first mooted, but it raises formidable administrative questions involving the problem of the payment of wages to prisoners for work done either in or outside prison during their term of imprisonment. It also involves very difficult legal and constitutional questions. All that I can say is that I hope that my right hon. Friend will pursue this line of thought with vigour.

I welcome something in the Bill which has always seemed to me likely to inspire public confidence, and that is the move towards the closer association of parents, where there are parents—the trouble with many delinquents is that in the real sense they have not any parents—with the crimes of their children. There is a great deal of public feeling—it has often been expressed to me—that there is not enough responsibility on the part of parents and that many young criminals are the victims of the neglect and carelessness of those who should be responsible for them.

Finally, I should like to raise an important point, and I will deal with it as briefly as I can. It is relevant to raise it with reference to Clause 16. It concerns the problem of the criminal psychopath whom I isolate in my mind as a peculiar and particular problem to which this House and my right hon. Friend should give special consideration. I do not want to discuss what a psychopath is. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will recollect the discussions we had on Clause 4 of the Mental Health Bill. Broady speaking, a psychopath is now statutorily defined as someone who has three qualities—he is abnormally aggressive and abnormally irresponsible and is in need of medical treatment.

For the layman, the best introduction to the psychopath is the book by the American Dr. Cleckly, the title of which is in itself something of a revelation—"The Mask of Sanity". Although it has been something which it has been very difficult to grasp until quite recently, there is now an excellent book by Kurt Schneider called "Psychopathic Personalities". Recently, Dr. Peter Scott had an article on the criminal psychopath in the Lancet. The proceedings of the recent conference of the National Association of Mental Health dealt exhaustively with the medico-social problem. Therefore, there is no need for anyone to lack sources of information on the subject. When the Mental Health Act was before the House, I felt that the only way to gain any insight into what a psychopath is was to meet some—unless one has one in the family.

I therefore spent the day at Dr. Maxwell Jones's social rehabilitation unit attached to Belmont Hospital, and also a day with the group therapy unit working with criminal psychopaths from prisons in various parts of the country who have volunteered for treatment at Wormwood Scrubs. I think that I know what is meant now. I am convinced—though a great many people are not—that there is such a thing as the psychopath, and that many criminals are psychopathic. It is only fair to say that I started my investigations into this feeling very sceptical indeed about whether there is reality behind this conception. I am convinced now that the psychopath does exist, and that psychopaths are people totally incapable of forming any valid human relationship and incapable of compassion, remorse or guilt, and who are not what we may call "bad" men.

I believe that moral guilt and sin and badness are real things. But I recognise that one must recognise a certain class of humanity as coming into a different category. These people not infrequently get into bad trouble and come up against the criminal law. There are quite a few in approved schools and borstals, and my suggestion is that these should be carefully located and weeded out and given separate treatment, for the sake of the other offenders in the institution. It is a characteristic of these people that they have an appalling influence on weak characters with delinquent tendencies. They are the classic wreckers of any régime devised for the rehabilitation and reformation of other people.

If hon. Members go round to approved schools and borstals they will find many who will say to them "The whole disciplinary and security system of this institution is geared to the demands of three or four boys—no more—whose influence and behaviour is of a quite different order from the rest of the boys." They are those who, I believe, would be found to be psychopathic personalities, and it is unfair to the staff and the rest of the school, and damaging to their interests in the community at large, that they should be in reformative institutions at all.

What should one do with them? One must be on one's guard, because if one takes this too lightheartedly one will be open to the temptation of trying to get rid of recalcitrant or awkward young criminals by classing them as psychopaths because one cannot cope with their problems. What might provide a safeguard against that temptation and might be a better approach is that the Mental Health Act might be used to detain these offenders for medical treatment, which can be done compulsorily up to the age of 25.

This would, I am sure, do more than any other single act of policy, to assist the treatment of other offenders in approved schools and borstals, and would reduce the incidence of crime amongst young people outside. I recognise that this is a drastic suggestion. There are difficult questions to consider, not least the possibility that there are degrees of psychopathy. But I ask my right hon. Friend to allow his thoughts to be stimulated on the subject, and also ask him whether he has caused any study to be made by his Department on the means and methods and organisation of Dr. Sturup's famous institution of criminal psychopathy at Herstedvester in Denmark.

I met Dr. Sturup earlier this year and heard his ideas. Account should be taken of his example in planning the functions of the new prison psychiatric hospital at Grendon Hall, at Grendon Underwood. I suggest that his methods should be specially considered in any plans for further Grendon Halls which may be projected for the future.

There are profound and important considerations which students of the human mind—and soul—have hardly begun to consider. One of the most important, because of its direct link with so much that poisons human happiness, is what medical men call the aetiology—the scientific study of the cause and origin—of the psychopathic personality. Even more important, after that, there is the problem of successful treatment.

Perhaps the House may feel that we have strayed, in considering such things, some way from comparatively simple administrative problems, from simply saying that the Government's duty is to maintain public order, and from the workaday provisions of this Bill, but the House may also feel that we have perhaps come close to the start of the hidden path which leads to the heart of the mysteries of social order and the health of society.