§ Mr. Speaker
It might be convenient to discuss with this Amendment, the Amendment in page 18, line 16—leave out "£400" and insert "£300"—and the starred Amendment in line 17—leave out "One year or over" and insert "Over one year".
§ Mr. Ross
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think that it would be convenient to take the three Amendments together.
We are here dealing with increase in fine which imposed instead of imprisonment on conviction on indictment for statutory offence. Once again, we revert to 1908. Once again, we have £25 and now relate it to terms of imprisonment. We increase to £100 the fine alternative to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months. The three months to six months may be substituted by a fine of £200, but then there is a change of wording. We have the words:Exceeding six months but less than one yearand the fine is doubled and becomes not exceeding £400. In logic, to take the sum of money first, as the noble Lady has seen fit to reduce the original maximum in respect of the previous Clause I think that she could reduce this maximum from £400 to £300. If she wishes to stick to these words she must do something about it because "exceeding six months but less than one year" takes us into the realms of the sentencing policy of Scottish courts.
What is the kind of sentence we have between six months and one year? I have heard of people being sentenced to nine months but never to eleven months and ten more days, despite the song. Therefore it means that there is an element of considerable doubt as to what the new maximum of £400 will apply. There is no doubt about the first 1388 item because the period is not to exceed three months, and in the second item it is not to exceed six months. There has been some slipshod thinking on the part of the draftsmen here. In order to keep their "one year or over" in the last line they have slipped into a considerable realm of unjustifiable terms, which makes it much more difficult to determine what is included, and makes it much more difficult for the noble Lady to justify an increase to £400 in the discretionary maximum.
I sincerely hope that the noble Lady has appreciated the points, which were fairly obvious from the Amendments, after the nature of my argument, and I hope that she will be prepared to accept them. It is unfair to say that it was unusual to hear the noble Lady accept one of our Amendments. She has done very nobly today. I have almost forgotten what the Secretary of State looks like, although we saw him this moping. I do not know whether he is coming here at all tonight. This is the most important Scottish Measure we have had this Session. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to come along and spoil it now, though it would be only fair to the noble Lady if someone came in and allowed her to have a cup of tea. The Amendments are all reasonable and are put forward for a constructive purpose. I am sure that this will be a better Clause if the noble Lady accepts them.
§ Mr. Speaker
In suggesting that we should discuss these three Amendments together, I should have said that I would, of course, call the Amendment in page 18, line 16, for a Division, if required.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
I am not happy about the Amendment to reduce the figure from £400 to £300. I am always amazed to find that, in spite of the very detailed consideration which we give to Bills in the Scottish Standing Committee, there are very important matters which we never discuss at all. Clause 28 is a Clause which we did not discuss in Committee, yet it does something very important. It changes the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1908, which laid down that a fine not exceeding £25 could be substituted for imprisonment on conviction on indictment for a contravention of any enactment which provided no penalty other than imprisonment.
1389 The change made here, extending the alternative of being able to pay a fine in place of imprisonment, should have been examined closely in Standing Committee, and I am sorry that it was not. The effect of it is that a man with money convicted of this type of offence can escape imprisonment every time, whereas the man without money will have to go to prison. There might have been a case for substituting a fine of £25 in place of a short sentence of imprisonment and for offences which were not so serious, but when we come to substituting £200 for six months' imprisonment and, going even further, substituting monetary fines for a year's imprisonment, we make it possible for a person to buy himself out of going to prison if he happens to possess £400. I very much doubt the wisdom of the Amendment to alter the figure to £300, and on this I disagree with my colleagues.
I have never regarded this as a political Bill, although the Government have treated it as such. In fact, it is non-political; it deals mainly with the treatment of criminals. Nevertheless, these provisions undoubtedly favour the person with money. This is not a political point. It is the plain truth. I am sorry, therefore, that we did not consider it closely in Committee. I should certainly oppose any reduction of the amount to be paid as a fine in lieu of one year's imprisonment. I am all for the £400. If a person is to get off prison because he is well-to-do, then let him pay through the nose for it.
§ Mr. Willis
I do not mind making it £1,000. I am definitely against reducing it. Indeed, I am inclined to be against the principle of the Clause as a whole, namely, the extension of the payment of fines in lieu of imprisonment.
§ Mr. Manuel
I think that my hon. Friend is being too lenient in his criticism. It could be £400 for seven months' imprisonment, and it could be £1,000, £2,000 or £3,000 for a year.
§ Mr. Willis
I had in mind the other Amendment which we tabled to delete lines 17 to 19 which probably influenced my argument. It is true that the fine could be £400 in substitution of imprisonment for seven months, but I assumed that it would be graded up from £200 to £400 in respect of sentences of imprisonment between six months and one year.
We discussed earlier the facility with which St. Andrew's House appears to be able to draw up scales of payment for almost anything, but we did not notice that it was busily engaged in drawing up a scale of payments to enable people to escape imprisonment. I certainly do not agree with that. It is wrong in principle and is something which we should watch very carefully.
For the reasons which I have given, I must oppose my hon. Friends on these Amendments.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I support these Amendments on principle. It is entirely wrong that a malefactor should be able to buy himself out of prison by paying a sum of money. I only regret that my colleagues have not proposed to increase the amount which the malefactor should have to pay. Instead of the amount of fine not exceeding £100, it should be £1,000. If a malefactor is to be entitled to buy himself out of prison, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said, let him pay through the nose for it.
It is entirely wrong to emphasise the class system in this way by enabling people who have money to buy themselves out of prison. If the principle is accepted, the amount which the malefactor should have to pay should be extremely large.
§ Mr. Millan
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said. If the Amendment to leave out lines 17 to 19 had been selected, it would perhaps have been in order for us to discuss this question in greater detail. After all, we are in this Clause making a quite radical change in the law, because, if I understand it correctly, the offences with which we are dealing under it can be quite serious. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give us some idea of the kind of offences which may be dealt with under the Clause.
1391 If we have a situation in which the maximum fine does not exceed £25, what it means, in effect, is that if the offence for which a man is convicted is serious and justifies a substantial sentence of imprisonment, then imprisonment will be imposed because the maximum fine of £25 related to the sentence of imprisonment would be so low that it would not be reasonable to substitute a fine.
However, once one raises the level of the fines, one also raises the kind of offences for which it will be possible for an accused person with money to buy his way out of a sentence of imprisonment. Although in other parts of the Bill we have been trying to reduce the number of short sentences of imprisonment by the substitution of fines and other means, there is a difference between the substitution of a fine for a short sentence of imprisonment for a minor offence and the substitution of a substantial fine for what is an extremely serious crime.
For an offence for which it is possible to impose a sentence of a year or more, there is something inherently wrong in principle in allowing a fine in substitution for that sentence of imprisonment. Either the offence is so heinous that imprisonment for a year or more should be imposed, or it is a comparatively minor 1392 offence for which a fine should be appropriate. I cannot think that the making of this kind of choice for more serious offences is reasonable and it obviously does not give justice as between one offender and another.
If we have to accept the principle of the Clause—and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, I regret very much that we did not discuss it at length in Committee, we have to make the penalties, perhaps, high. Although the number of people who escape by paying fines would thereby be reduced, it would also mean that only the very wealthy would be able to buy their way out of a sentence of imprisonment. The whole thing is objectionable in principle and all we can do now is to try to make the best of a bad job, either to accept the Clause as it is or to accept my hon. Friend's Amendments.
I consider neither the Clause nor the Amendments to be particularly satisfactory. On balance, the Clause as it stands is probably slightly better than if the Amendments were accepted. Therefore, I would rather accept the Clause. I regret it very much, however, and I regret that at an earlier stage we did not take the opportunity of discussing the whole principle at far greater length.
§ Mr. Steele
I am in doubt where we are going on this argument. When my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) disagrees so violently with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan) then raises his voice in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, I feel that I must defend my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock.
There is a point of substance on which I should like the Under-Secretary to speak. In effect, the Clause increases the fines from £25 to the amounts specified in the Bill, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock takes exception. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East suggests that the sums are not high enough, because he thinks tht people should not pay the fines but should go to prison.
Nowadays, I understand, what we are trying to do is to prevent people from going to prison and to try to find another method by which they can be penalised, thus avoiding the State having the responsibility of handling them in those establishments. We are trying to ensure that when people go to prison, it is for the purpose of rehabilitation.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Edinbrugh, East, who says that the figures are not sufficiently high, would look at some of the White Papers and reports of some of the committees, he would see that too many people are in prison for failure to pay fines, low as they are.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
My argument was that it is no punishment for a Rachman to pay a fine, even if it is £1,000.
§ Mr. Steele
I hope that a court, when dealing with a man of that kind, would not give him the option.
§ Mr. Millan
If my hon. Friend considers offences of tax evasion—either Income Tax or Purchase Tax—he will find that it is quite common for serious offences to be dealt with in this way—which some of us think is very undesirable—whereas comparatively trivial offences are often, relatively speaking, dealt with extremely harshly.
§ Mr. Steele
My hon. Friend is now confusing the judgments made in the 1394 courts with the legislation which we pass in this Home. What we are attempting to do is to lower the penalties and hope for the best. As my hon. Friends and I have already said, there are sheriffs and sheriffs. My hon. Friend is now saying that we ought to pay some attention to the sheriffs, and I agree. I say to the noble Lady that if we are going to get the benefit of all the provisions, including this one, we have got to have some method whereby the sheriffs, magistrates, justices of the peace and others can be brought together and enabled to understand the implications of what we are trying to do.
On this issue I am with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. At least, he shows some indication of good sense in this respect. My fear is that by accepting the increases in fines in this Clause, we may be going against the Report of the other Committee. There are too many people in prison today because of failure to pay fines, and there are other provisions in the Bill whereby this situation might be eased. I must confess, however, that I support my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
In view of the fierce and savage attacks which have been made upon the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), I should like to say a few words in support of his case.
§ Mr. Walker
I was shocked to hear the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) say that he wishes to raise the fine so that only those who can afford £1,000 or £2,000 can avoid going to prison, whereas those with more modest incomes should have to go to prison. There is a contradiction in his argument when, in one breath, he says that the option between a fine and imprisonment is one which benefits the rich—with which I agree—
§ Mr. Willis
What I said was that it was a pity that we had not discussed the whole principle of the Clause.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the principle. Where I suggest he is completely wrong is in stating that the principle is benefited by raising the limits of the fine. In fact, 1395 this is to the disadvantage of those in the lower income groups.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) has participated in the debate. At least, it is one speech from the back benches opposite. I wish to pay this tribute to the hon. Gentleman, that it is noticeable how he attends Scottish debates and listens to them. I am sure that his stature will grow as a result of that exercise. I am pleased that tonight he has been impelled to his feet.
I must say I was intrigued by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). He wants to support something because somebody else supports it. I hope I am not approaching this Clause because of anything which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) or my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) or my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said. I want to approach the Clause to have a look at what it does.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, but I hope that the hon. Member will not go too far in his approach to the Clause because it is only the three Amendments with which we are concerned.
§ Mr. Manuel
I was coming to that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because all we can deal with is the substitution of the amounts specified in the Amendments for the amounts laid down in the Clause. That was what my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West was dealing with, but what in effect he was saying was that it was all right for a man to pay the sums mentioned in the Amendments, say £300 instead of £400, but he forgot the ordinary working-class fellow whose income is not such that he could pay any of these sums.
While my hon. Friends have been trying to improve the inequity of the Clause they have overlooked the difficulty of applying the law equitably because the man with plenty of money undoubtedly 1396 will be able to buy himself out of a pretty serious sentence while another fellow, earning a wage of £12 or £15 a week, will automatically go to prison. It is a serious business indeed where the sentence would be a year or more in prison, and the sum can be any amount which the court in its discretion may decide. It could be £2,000, if the offence were a serious one, but the court could decide he could escape imprisonment by paying a heavy fine.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
To follow out his argument, does not my hon. Friend think that this table should be combined with a provision for an investigation into the fortune, the income, of the malefactor, so that the amount he would have to pay would be graded according to his assets?
§ Mr. Manuel
While I appreciate what my hon. and learned Friend has said, I think that if I were to enter into that Mr. Deputy-Speaker would quickly pull me up, because that is not in the Amendments.
Although the Amendments lessen the severity of the Clause they do not give to the lower wage earners, in whom I am interested, any opportunity to escape imprisonment which those in the higher income groups can escape.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I have been interested in this debate. It was like fielding a football team. I was not sure which side anyone would be on. As I listened to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) I still could not decide which side he was going to be on, so I put him in the middle. I think that on balance he supports the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross).
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Oh, he does not. I apologise to him. It must be the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I think the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) were against the Amendments and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) and, I am glad to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who, alas, has left us, all supported the hon. Member for Kilmarnock.
1397 After listening to the debate and having considered these tables with some care beforehand, I have taken into account what has been said and also what I really think would make the best result of the table. I feel that the best solution would be to accept the first and third Amendments but not to accept the centre Amendment because it would distort the progress of the table. Perhaps I should explain this a little further.
The hon. Member for Craigton in particular asked me whether I would say a little more about the table as a whole. I realise that I cannot discuss the whole Clause, but it has been established law since 1908 that the court can substitute a fine for imprisonment, as it has subsequently been empowered to impose other sentences, such us probation. The rich man cannot buy himself out of a difficulty, because the court has to decide between the sentence and the fine. So the court can send the rich man to prison rather than let him buy himself out of his trouble, as one hon. Member seemed to think was possible.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely the hon. Lady is missing the point. Of course the court can decide. In fact, the court does decide whether it is to be a fine or prison sentence. What we are arguing is that the person who has not got the wherewithal cannot pay a fine of £500 and in that case it has to be prison. We do not believe in extending this principle.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
The third Amendment seeks to amend the last part of the table. If one accepted that—it says "Over one year", which normally, I am told, would in practice mean two years—then the court also would have the power to fine in its discretion.
Surprisingly, the maximum fine that can be imposed at the moment is the same as the existing limit on the power of the sheriff summary court in any common law offence—that is, £25. This is, clearly, inadequate if the higher courts are to have a real alternative in appropriate cases to impose imprisonment rather than a fine. Therefore, the table sets out the maximum powers of fine in relation to the relevant maximum periods of imprisonment.
The three Amendments propose two different adjustments to the table. The first and third propose that the last stage, 1398 the stage at which there is no limitation on the powers of the court, should apply to sentences of over one year instead of to sentences of one year or over. In practice, since it is almost unknown for Parliament to prescribe a maximum sentence intermediate between one and two years, this really means in effect that the last stage would start at two years. The second Amendment proposes to reduce the maximum fine for the second last stage from £400 to £300.
I am well aware that many arguments can be produced for or against the details of any scale, including the £300 or the £400, but if it is felt that the £400 maximum should apply to one year's imprisonment, then I think we should leave that as it is. But we could accept both the first and the last Amendments. We could not accept all three because they would rather distort the table. In view of the way in which the debate has gone and the different views expressed, I think that this would be a compromise between the varying views.
§ Mr. Ross
I want to express our gratitude to the hon. Lady. The Amendment she is not accepting was not intended to go along with the other two, but if she had turned down the one moved, I would have insisted on its application. This is a reasonable compromise, despite the confusion which arises from the fact that we did not get time properly to discuss this in Committee.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 18, line 17 leave out "One year or over" and insert "Over one year".—[Mr. Ross.]