HC Deb 08 May 1975 vol 891 cc1593-5
6. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to empower courts to implement the Criminal Justice Act 1972 with regard to persons convicted of an offence being required to perform unpaid work in the community.

26. Mr. Tierney

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the extension of community service arrangements to all the probation and after-care areas in England and Wales to be completed.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

All courts in England and Wales may now make community service orders in the case of offenders who reside in any area where community service arrangements exist and who otherwise qualify to be dealt with in that way.

The pace at which these arrangements are introduced is for individual probation and after-care committees to decide in the light of the resources available. It seems likely that these arrangements will have been introduced by the end of the year by the great majority of probation and after-care committees in England and Wales in some part, at least, of their respective areas.

Mrs. Knight

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the belief in the West Midlands is that it has been stopped from going forward with plans for this excellent scheme? Does he accept that the scheme has a great deal of public support? The public feel that it is a good idea that people who are convicted should do unpaid work for the community. Will the hon. Gentleman please unscramble the obvious misunderstanding between the Home Office and the West Midlands probation officer service?

Mr. Lyon

There is no misunderstanding by the Home Office, although I accept that there is a degree of concern by the probation committee to which the hon. Lady refers. By 1st December, 42 of the 55 areas will already have started such systems. Another 11 hope to start by 1st April 1976. Only in Cornwall and the West Midlands does doubt still exist about the capacity to undertake a scheme in the current financial year. It may be that the West Midlands is exaggerating its difficulties, although I accept that there are considerable difficulties in that area.

Mr. Tierney

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In view of the good response to the pilot schemes in various parts of the country, I am sure that the Department is aware of the urgent need to extend such schemes nation-wide. Whether in the West Midlands or anywhere else where there are financial restrictions or staff shortages, will the Department give probation and after-care service committees all the help that it can muster?

Mr. Lyon

Yes, Sir. We are anxious to extend the scheme throughout the country at the earliest possible moment. We are sensitive to the needs of the West Midlands and shall do all that we can to help.

Mr. Hooson

Will the Minister confirm that the minimal arrangements which exist at present in most areas are pilot schemes? On the question of financial stringency, since present policies are bound to affect the service, will the Home Office carry out a study to see whether money spent on this service would be much more beneficially expended than would money spent on alternative arrangements involving custodial sentences for young people?

Mr. Lyon

We have to try to balance the public expenditure for which we are responsible, and we bear in mind that part of the argument. We are anxious to extend the scheme of community service arrangements at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Lane

In the programme for other improvements in the system of criminal justice, will the Government keep in mind one matter that is causing great public concern, particularly in my constituency: will he give the highest priority to a review of the law on rape?

Mr. Lyon

I do not think that matter arises out of the present Question. We have it in mind that the whole of the law on rape should be considered by the Criminal Law Revision Committee at the earliest possible moment.