HC Deb 15 March 1978 vol 946 cc428-30
11. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to introduce a Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I cannot give a specific date at present.

Mr. Cook

Will the Minister take note of the widespread anxiety mentioned in questions on the Business Statement recently about the prospects for such a Bill in a future Queen's Speech. Will he also bear in mind the fact that there is widespread interest in Scotland about the urgency for such a measure relating to the appropriateness of sentencing policy, and will he ensure that a Bill is laid this Session?

Mr. Ewing

It is not in my power to give the House that assurance that a Bill will be laid in this or any other Session. That is not within my remit of responsibility. I rest on what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said in business questions last Thursday, namely, that there is some legislation that we should like to introduce in all sorts of areas which it might not be possible to introduce this Session. We shall have to wait and see the outcome of any discussions that are taking place.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is the Minister aware that in dealing with younger offenders there is considerable scope for making much better use of the facility for much more appropriate sentences? Will he ensure that when a Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is introduced this aspect involving younger offenders will be given high priority?

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman mentions an important matter. We are at a stage when we must consider the kind of sentences given to youngsters under 21. We are considering whether we should group all three classes of sentence and leave it to the Prison Service to allocate offenders to various institutions, or whether we should continue as in the past. That is one of the matters that we are considering.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does the Minister accept that if this Bill is to be delayed it will create great concern in Scotland, since it is felt that there should be substantial changes in methods of dealing with offenders, and it would be regretted if such delay were to affect both law and order and penal reform in Scotland?

Mr. Ewing

It will be regretted if there is any delay in terms of law and order. That is why the Government are desperately anxious to increase respect for law and order and why, in a few weeks' time we shall be launching a major publicity and advertising campaign to attract more men to the police force.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Did not the Government give notice that this legislation would be introduced? If the Scottish Office is unable to persuade the Government to find time for it, is the Minister aware that this will be regretted in Scotland?

Mr. Ewing

I am not sure about the degree of regret in regard to this legislation, but the Government are desperately anxious to ensure that law and order have a proper place in the society. I must emphasise that a major amount of time on the Floor of the House has been concerned with Scottish legislation. I would not want the impression to go back to Scotland from this Question Time that Scotland has been starved of parliamentary time. That is simply not true.