Orders of the Day — Prisons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th January 1974.

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Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn 12:00 am, 16th January 1974

I do not find it disturbing because a debate on the prison report covers a potentially vast range of subjects. I have done my best to be in a position to answer the likely questions to be raised. I have never been responsible for the immigration side of the Home Office and it does not come directly within my day-to-day jurisdiction. I agree that some of my answers have been of that type. Clearly the basic criterion is the substantial risk that people will disappear if allowed bail. If the criteria are more exact than that, I will do my best to supply the right hon. Gentleman with detailed information.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we were not concerned about the number of fine defaulters who were in prison. However, the number of people going to prison for the non-payment of fines has remained constant, as has the length of time for which they remain in prison. The right hon. Gentleman takes the view that it is in some way inconsistent that people fined by the courts, especially for non-imprison able offences, should eventually find themselves in prison. I take the logic of his argument. But what is the sanction available other than imprisonment for the non-payment of fines? I cannot accept the argument that prison should not be the final deterrent in these cases.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that it was very unsatisfactory that people should be sent to prison for the nonpayment of maintenance. It is unsatisfactory that people should be in prison rather than carry out their liabilities and maintain their families. However, a maintenance defaulter may be sent to prison only if the court is satisfied that his failure to pay is due to culpable neglect or wilful default. A knowledge of human nature leads to the inevitable belief that certain people will pay the maintenance ordered by a court only under the threat of imprisonment if they choose to evade payment.

I am aware that I have not answered all the right hon. Gentleman's points. I conclude by saying that, like him, I welcome the indications of a reduction in the overall prison population shown by the 1972 Report of the Prison Department. The trend will be seen in the 1973 report to have continued and to have accelerated. This is encouraging evidence that that for which the Home Office has been striving is being achieved. More and more we look upon prison as the final means of dealing with those who offend against the law. Wherever possible and wherever appropriate for the safety of the public and the punishment of the individual, we believe that we should deal with people outside prison rather than by custodial sentences.