Orders of the Day — Criminal Justice Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Richard Bingham Mr Richard Bingham , Liverpool, Garston 12:00 am, 17th November 1960

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) mentioned, and I respectfully agree with what he said, that it is in the urban areas of this country where public disquiet at the current crisis of crime is greatest.

I welcome this opportunity of speaking on this subject as a representative of one of the cities which is gravely affected by this problem, namely, Liverpool. I have little doubt that the citizens of Liverpool, and probably of other urban areas, will assume from what has been said by many hon. Members in the course of the debate that this is a small Bill which attempts to deal in a minor way with what is a major and pressing problem. No doubt the Bill makes a number of much-needed modifications and it is welcome to that extent, but the impression it gives, and will undoubtedly give, to many—particularly in urban areas—is that the existing system is perfectly adequate in major respects and merely needs embellishment and improvement.

That is not the view of the country, at least in the densely populated urban areas. Whatever one may think of it, the recent Report of the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders makes clear that something like 75 per cent. of the people in the country are so dissatisfied with the failure under the existing system that they are anxious to see the reintroduction of judicial corporal punishment, on a scale unparalleled in the last one hundred years. If we ask people why they are so dissatisfied as to put that forward, I think the answer is clear, that present methods are quite inadequate to protect them, their children, their parents, their families, their neighbours and those whom they know from criminal injury.

It is not an exaggeration to say that in Liverpool, and I have no doubt the same is true of other areas, residents fear, and with good reason, that the danger to old persons, young girls and those who in any event have no self-defence of being insulted—which is bad enough—or molested—which is worse—or assaulted in the streets at night by youths and young adults is such that it is not safe for them to go abroad. It is noticeable that those who do not own motor cars and therefore have to proceed abroad on foot speak with much added emphasis on this subject.

On behalf of those whom I represent, I have to ask what this Bill does to ally their fears? I fear that it will do very little, although it is very good in its way. There is no urgency, or insufficient urgency, shown on the problem regarding urban areas. To take a short illustration, the Ingleby Committee sat for four years considering this problem. It made recommendations at the end of those four years, but it cannot have thought the problem very urgent because, according to my calculations, it managed to sit on an average only one day each month. That does not imply a great sense of urgency.

The two things which above all prevent crime are certainty of detection and certainty of punishment. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) appears to be shaking his head. We must agree to differ. The first is outside the scope of this Bill. The second is the one to which I wish to address myself. The only penalties which today mean anything to the youth or young adult is the approved school or borstal. Detention centres are almost non-existent, and I doubt whether they are really effective for toughened offenders with whom I and my constituents are mainly concerned, and conditional discharge or unconditional discharge is treated as a let-off. They have very little effect and value for the toughened offender. They certainly have a proper place in our system but they do not touch the hardened offender at all.

I am not at all happy that the system at present prevailing for approved schools and borstals is best suited for us. The reason, which I will state very briefly, is that they are inconsistent. In the eyes of authority both institutions are reformatory, but in the eyes of the offender they are penal, and magistrates convict and sentence to borstal and approved schools for two mutually inconsistent reasons.

One is that it is the ultimate punishment for the incorrigible and the other is that it is the best form of reformation for the corrigible. I should like to see in the Bill more attention to better systems of fining and particularly of introducing parental responsibility. I should also like to see a system for making better provision for the payment of compensation over an extended period by the offender to the victim.

Finally—I have to curtail what I should like to say very much—if the present vacuum which appears to the public, certainly in the urban areas, to exist in their protection continues we shall have to face the widespread demand for corporal punishment. I personally deplore the idea of meeting criminal violence with official violence. I appreciate everything that has been said so forcefully against it by the Advisory Council. But the public must be protected, and one must recognise that if the existing methods are failing—and everyone throughout the debate today has agreed that they are failing—then on those who refuse to accept corporal punishment as the ultimate form of punishment lies the heavy onus of providing some remedy which will give protection.

With these reservations and qualifications, I recognise that the Bill marks an advance in methods of treatment, though not as great as one would have hoped.