HC Deb 23 July 1963 vol 681 cc1384-7
Mr. Ross

I beg to move, in page 14, line 20, to leave out paragraph (c).

In order to meet the possibility of people going to prison because of not being able to pay fines, the Clause enables the difficulty to be overcome by their being given time to pay, but it makes certain stipulations as to how and when the court may refuse time to pay. There are circumstances in which the court may refuse an offender time to pay the fine and if the offender fails to pay, may exercise its power to impose imprisonment… One case to which this applies is where the person fails to satisfy the court that he has a fixed abode". More than one hon. Member in Committee expressed the view that we were not entirely happy about this. The provision is not mandatory; the court "may" refuse time to pay. But we feel that this provision could have been left out of the Bill without any loss of discretion to the court. Even without it, we have subsection (d), the court is satisfied for any other special reason that no time should be allowed for payment". We feel that to particularise the reference to a fixed abode may well mean that the provision will apply to anyone who does not satisfy the court that he has a fixed abode. We can think of cases in which it would not be easy so to satisfy the court and yet there would be no disrepute on the person concerned. The provision does not strengthen the Clause and detracts from its original beneficial intention in providing for time in which to pay a fine.

Lady Tweedsmuir

When I first saw the Amendment I thought that it seemed very reasonable, because the words in paragraph (d) might to some extent cover paragraph (c). But I find that this is a re-enactment of existing provisions in Section 42(1) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1954.

It is necessary that the court should have power, where it considers its exercise necessary, to order the detention forthwith of a person with no fixed abode for non-payment of a fine instead of allowing him time to pay, because the orders of the criminal court must be carried out. Where an offender has a fixed abode, the authorities have a link with him which ensures that in most circumstances they can trace him and bring him before the court if he fails to pay by the due date. To avoid this he would have to take the much more serious step of bolting from his own home.

But with an offender of no fixed abode the position is different, because he can move on if he wishes to avoid payment of a fine, and it might well be impossible for the authorities to trace him again. The result could be that he successfully escaped the consequences of non-payment.

It is not the case that the court must order detention forthwith. If it thinks that the offender will make a sincere attempt to pay the fine, it can allow time to pay. It is the Government's view that it is necessary for the court to have this power in order to deal with cases in which an offender with no fixed abode is before them and they have reason to suspect that if they give him time to pay he will attempt to avoid the ends of justice. It is for that reason that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Millan

I beg to move, in page 16, line 30, to leave out "undesirable or".

This Amendment refers to the new provisions that are being introduced for supervision pending payment of fine. Subsection (4) provides that Where an offender under twenty-one years of age has been allowed time for payment of a fine… the court shall not send him to prison or order any other form of detention for him if he is default of the payment of that fine, unless he has been placed under supervision pending payment of it. There is a qualification to this provision that the supervision does not need to take place where …the court is satisfied that it is undesirable or impracticable… to place even a young person under supervision.

It must be difficult to find cases where it would be undesirable to place a person under twenty-one under supervision pending payment of a fine. Indeed, I cannot imagine the circumstances in which it might be undesirable. Acceptance of the Amendment would mean that where it was impracticable to place a young offender under supervision the court would not have to place him under supervision but, except in those circumstances, supervision pending payment of the fine would be compulsory for offenders under twenty-one years of age or, at least, compulsory in the sense that where the young person was in default of the payment of the fine it would not be possible to send him to prison or give him another appropriate sentence of detention until the supervision order had operated.

To some extent, this is a probing Amendment, as the noble Lady may produce very cogent arguments that there are circumstances in which it would be undesirable to place such a young person under supervision, but unless there are very strong reasons for the present wording I hope that she will accept the Amendment.

Lady Tweedsmuir

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) will, perhaps, be glad to hear that I am delighted to accept his Amendment. I agree that there is a difference between "undesirable" and "impracticable". The hon. Member may recall that in Committee I gave: various examples of where it would be impracticable, but I think that that is quite sufficient to give us the power we need here.

Mr. Millan

May I thank the Undersecretary for being so sensible as to accept this very sensible Amendment.

Amendment agreed to