HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc851-6

'(1) In subsection (3) of section 2 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 at the end there shall be added "and for those purposes the Court may in particular require of the offender one or more of the following requirements:—

  1. (a) to be of good behaviour, keep the peace and keep in touch with the supervising probation officer;
  2. (b) to report forthwith to his supervising probation officer any change of address or employment;
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  4. (c)to refrain from conduct and/or from associating with people and/or from visiting places specified in the order for such period of the order as shall be specified in the order provided that the conduct, association or visits specified relate to the facts of the offence for which the offender is being placed on probation.
  5. (d) to report in person to the supervising probation officer at such time and place as required by him, whether in the presence of third parties or not, so that he may pursue his duty to advise, assist and befriend the offender but such reporting shall not be required more than twice in any one week nor for more than one hour at any one time: provided that any instruction given in pursuance of any requirement under paragraphs (c) and (d) above shall so far as is practicable be such as to avoid any conflict with the offender's religious beliefs and any interference with the times at which he works or attends school or other educational establishments; and
  6. (e) to reside at an address to be specified in the order for such period of the order as shall be specified in the order, but before making an order containing any such requirement, the court shall consider the home surroundings of the offender."

(2) Subsection (5) of section 2 shall cease to have effect. '.—[Mr. Kilroy-Silk.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

With this, it will be convenient to take the following:

Amendment No. 38: In page 69, schedule 9, leave out line 34.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The new clauses would reverse the decision of the Divisional Court in Rogers v. Cullen, where it was held that courts could not include a condition in a probation order requiring an offender to attend a clay centre—other than a day training centre of the type that exists in only four probation areas.

In a judgment last Thursday, the other place upheld the Divisional Court's decision and also cast doubt on the court's power to include any conditions in a probation order that have not been specifically authorised by statute. The new clauses would make it clear that courts have i he power to require an offender to attend a day centre a3 a condition of a probation order, and that they also have l he power to include a range of other conditions in probation orders. If the courts do not clearly have those powers it will damage the credibility of probation orders as a viable alternative to custody. If the probation service is no longer in a position to recommend to courts in appropriate cases that they should make probation orders with suitable conditions, the service will be very seriously hampered in its attempts to provide positive options to custodial sentences. Therefore, the new clauses attempt to return that power to the courts.

The power to make a condition of attendance at a day centre is particularly important. The potential of thy centres to provide a direct alternative to custody has been recognised in two recent publications of the Home Office research unit. In Home Office research study No. 66, "Persistent Petty Offenders", the researchers stated that their discussions with magistrates emphasised that day centres are potentially useful resources in enabling homeless petty offenders to be diverted from prison … day centres appear to give the probation and after-care service a viable basis for containing persistent petty offenders in the community, one that they can present to the courts as a feasible way of substantially reducing the prison population". More recently, the Home Office research unit paper No. 4, "Day Centres and Probation", published in 1981, concluded: day centres can constitute a direct alternative to prison". It is clear from those two quotations that attendance at a day centre, combined with a probation order, can constitute a viable alternative to custody for a variety of offenders. At a time of high unemployment, when in many areas over 75 per cent. of those on probation officers' case loads are unemployed, day centres of various types—varying from those providing work, training and educational opportunities to those providing simpler forms of occupation and activity—are of particular value and importance in reinforcing probation supervision. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will either accept the new clauses or give an assurance that the Government will introduce new clauses along similar lines.

Amendment No. 38 seeks to retain the day training centre order. It is extremely important. As it stands, schedule 9 would repeal the power to make a day training centre order. The amendment would retain that power. The Criminal Justice Act 1972 empowered courts to include in a probation order a requirement that an offender should attend a day training centre, which would provide up to 60 days' intensive full-time training for socially inadequate offenders. That power was conslidated in section 4 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. Four day training centres exist, in London, Pontypridd, Sheffield and Liverpool.

10.45 pm

The current edition of the Home Office handbook on sentencing, "The Sentence of the Court", says: The centres are directed particularly to the needs of offenders whose criminal convictions seem to stem from an inability to cope with the demands of modern life, and they augment the support provided by a probation order with broad based social education. In 1978 the House of Commons Expenditure Committee commented favourably on day training centres in its report "The reduction of pressure on the prison system". It pointed out that the Sub-Committee had visited the day training centre at Grove Park in South London and that it had been greatly impressed. Paragraph 191 states: The offenders themselves expressed the view that, compared with prison, the experience was extremely demanding, though less disruptive of family ties and less destructive. It provides in some cases a breathing space in what has been a steady criminal career during which the offenders can take stock and look at what they are doing to their lives and to others. It is often a very painful process for such inadequate and withdrawn persons. It continued: The Sub-Committee believes that these are worthwhile experiments. It recommended that they should be continued and encouraged.

In their representations to the members of the Standing Committee, the Justices' Clerks' Society and the National Association of Probation Officers expressed the view that day training centre orders are a valuable option which should be retained, even though at present they can be made only in those few areas which have day training centres.

When the issue was briefly discussed in Committee on 9 March, the Minister, while acknowledging that very good work had been done in the day training centres, said: Because regimes have been directed towards a particular type of offender, the centres have been consistently under-used by the courts."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 9 March 1982; c. 475] I hope that the House will forgive me for spending some considerable time on the issue, but the Government's attempt to eliminate that particular facility has aroused a great deal of resentment and opposition amongst the people who run it. Although it is true that in the early days of day training centres the facility was under-used, when all four of them struggled to attract sufficient orders from the courts to maintain their maximum occupancy, that is no longer the case. The Sheffield and Liverpool centres are consistently full, although the Minister gave the opposite impression. Both have waiting lists. The London centre is running at a higher occupancy rate than at any time during the past seven years. The impression created by the Minister during the debate in Committee, that they have been consistently under-used by the courts, is not borne out by the evidence provided from those three areas.

The South Yorkshire and Merseyside probation services have provided detailed figures for the Sheffield and Liverpool centres. The original capacity of the Sheffield centre was 60 offenders a year. In 1980, the number of offenders dealt with had increased to 90. In 1981, 95 orders were made. In that year, because of the long waiting list, the centre increased the size of the groups of offenders going through the course. The current course is full, and there is a waiting list of 30 offenders on whom probation orders with a condition of attendance at a day training centre have been made.

The Liverpool centre has been consistently full throughout the past seven years. When it was opened it took 60 offenders in the course of a year. In the last two years it has increased the number it deals with at any one time and it is now starting groups of 40 offenders every 60 days. As one would expect, the cost per head has decreased considerably.

The Minister quoted the chief probation officer for Mid-Glamorgan as welcoming the opportunity to convert the Pontypridd centre into a day centre to be used on a more general basis for clients of the probation service. If in his judgment, in the light of local circumstances, a day centre would give greater value to the probation service than a day training centre, I see no reason why he should be prevented from altering the function of his centre accordingly.

The Minister did not mention that the chief probation officers for the other three areas with day training centres—inner London, South Yorkshire and Merseyside—all wish to retain the day training centre order and all have written to me expressing that view forcefully.

The Minister said that the facilities of the existing day training centres would not be lost but would instead be used as day centres operating for probation service clients on a more general basis. Day training centres, however, are a specific alternative to custody, whereas day centres, although valuable in their own right, are a more general adjunct to the work of the probation service and do not operate specifically or exclusively as an alternative to custody.

On 5 March, Colin Thomas, chief probation officer for South Yorkshire, wrote to me as follows: About 50 per cent. of the orders are made by the Crown Court. Our judges tell me that they regard the facility as an alternative to custody; I do not think they would regard attendance at a day centre in the same light … local opinion would argue the absurdity of throwing away one of the few alternatives to custody that we have". Again, Graham Smith, chief probation officer for inner London, wrote on 4 March: The London day training centre has been seen by the courts and by the probation service as an alternative to custody, and the fear at the moment is that without supportive legislation this may no longer be the case into the future". In Committee, the Minister argued that as a result of the Bill the day training centres would be freed from the present rather rigid and strict format."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 9 March 1982; c. 475.] As the deputy chief probation officer, Mr. R. T. Adams, wrote to me on 30 March, it is this very strict format that is appealing to the courts, and encourages the use of day training centres as an alternative to custody". I am conscious of the time that I have taken and I apologise, but this is an extremely important issue both to the probation areas concerned and as a matter of principle. At a time when the need for an extensive range of alternatives to custody is greater than ever and when both the Minister of State and the Home Secretary constantly acknowledge that we need more—and more credible—alternatives to custody, not fewer, there can be no justification for depriving the courts in those four areas of an option that they have found so valuable unless a suitable alternative provision is included in the Bill.

I hope, therefore, that the Government will look favourably on the new clauses and, in the light of the expressions of opinion from the four probation areas, will feel able to retain the day training centres and the day training order.

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful for the opportunity to deal with the consequences of the case of Rogers v. Cullen, to which the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) referred and the last stage of which was dealt with last week when the House of Lords decided that the courts did not have the power to include conditions in probation orders requiring attendance at a day centre.

The judgment plainly has substantial implications for the requirements that may be attached to a probation order, but we need a little more time to consider the speeches in the House of Lords before we have a clear idea of the action that we wish to take. I should make it clear that the Governmept are well aware of the importance of the judgment and we fully intend to make any legislative changes needed to restore to the courts the power to include certain types of requirement in probation orders. I should make it clear that both in the Divisional Court and in the House of Lords there was no doubt expressed as to the value of those measures. It was simply a matter of interpreting the existing statute to see whether the words that Parliament had used permitted those requirements to be attached to probation orders. To the Government's regret, it proved not to be the case.

The probation order is among the most important of our non-custodial disposals and I need not take time to explain why. Nor, within the ambit of this group of new clauses, is it necessary for me to explore the relative advantages and disadvantages of day training centres as opposed to day centres. The matter was touched upon in the brief debate in Committee. However, I must say, in support of what I then said about the general take-up of available places in day training centres, that in 1981 in Liverpool the average percentage of places available and occupied was 58 per cent., in London 65 per cent., in Pontypridd 63 per cent. and in Sheffield 62 per cent. I understand that there has been a recent improvement, but that is justification for the point that I made in Committee. However, I do not wish to take up the time of the House, nor would it be profitable to do so, in discussing the relative merits of those two sorts of centre.

The new clauses are intended to achieve the same purpose as the Government have achieved. I should be grateful if the Government could have further time to consider the matters. I undertake that we intend to carry the work forward as quickly as possible in order to introduce later any amendments that may be necessary. In the light of that explanation of the Government's intentions and with the assurance that we shall carefully take into consideration the new clauses with which we are dealing, I hope that the hon. Member for Ormskirk will withdraw his new clause.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

In the light of what the Minister has said, and especially his attitude towards new clause 16, clearly the loss of the day training centres, although regrettable, would not be quite as serious as would otherwise have been the case. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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