HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc914-5
Mr. Stevens

I beg to move amendment No. 85, in page 69. line 34, leave out sub-paragraph (a).

This is a slightly more complex issue than some of the others that have been raised. It relates in particular to the four day training centres at Sheffield, Pontypridd, Liverpool and London which were introduced in 1972. They were introduced in order to provide specifically an alternative to custody for petty persistent offenders who had become recidivists. Unlike many attempts at providing such alternatives, they appear to have been successful. They enjoy the respect of the National Association of Probation Officers.

The proposal in the schedule would have the effect of including these four day training centres with others in a more flexible way, and in such a way that they would lose the status which now distinguishes them. They provide an alternative to custody which hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see.

In Committee, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister suggested that one reason why these four day training centres should be rationalised within other day training centres operating in a different way is that they have been under-used. During 1981, 59 out of the 60 maximum places at Pontypridd were used. In a more recent letter to me, the Minister seemed to suggest that attendance figures were not available for the four special day centres and, therefore, it was not possible to establish a comparison of occupancy with the other centres to which this schedule refers.

I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that to change the status of the four special day centres would be a retrograde step because they provide—I say it again because it is important—an alternative to a custodial sentence, as should community service orders.

In Committee the Minister stated that the chief probation officer of Mid-Glamorgan supported his view in respect of Pontypridd. It is fair to remind the Minister that the South Wales branch of the National Association of Probation Officers supports my view. It fears that the use of the centre by the surrounding probation areas would decline and the centre would not survive if it ceased to fulfil its original purpose.

Mr. Mayhew

The amendment has already been debated, when it was grouped with new clause 15, but I am grateful for a further opportunity, if it is in order, to say something on the same subject and would wish to do so out of courtesy to my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). I appreciate that the amendment is intended to retain in use the four existing day training centres. I assure my hon. Friend that arrangements have been made with the four probation areas concerned for the centres to continue in use as an alternative to a custodial disposal by the courts. In other words, that role will continue.

Repeal of section 4 will enable the centres to be used more flexibly as day centres and for a wider range of offenders. Section 4 limits attendance to 60 days. It will also enable the facilities of the centres to be available to courts from a wider area. Our intention is that the courts will have the power to require offenders to attend the day centres, with their consent, including the four existing day training centres as a condition in a probation order. I explained that new clauses 15 to 18 are to ensure that the courts have that power. When examining the judgment of the House of Lords in the Cullen case the Government are aware of the concern that has been expressed to the effect that the courts will be less inclined to make use of these centres when they become day centres. However, the Government do not share that view. Until the Cullen case arose, courts in 11 probation areas had been making probation orders with a requirement to attend a day centre. Once it is clear that courts have the power to require offenders to attend day centres, there should be no difficulty.

There is nothing to be read into the proposal that is intended to be slighting in any way of those who serve in the day training centres. They have been invaluable. It has been the case that they have not been as fully used as the day centres have, and that may owe something to the restrictions on their use that I have tried to describe. If we have them as day centres they will be more flexible and should be more widely used. We are grateful for the work that they have done and they are an important asset. They will continue to be used as non-custodial alternatives and I do not doubt that their work will be extremely valuable. I hope that that is something of an assurance for my hon. Friend.

Mr. Stevens

I am sorry that, owing to the way in which the new clauses and the amendments to the Bill have been selected for debate, my hon. and learned Friend should have been obliged to refer twice today to the topic that I raised in my amendment.

I take my hon. and learned Friend's point that the Government have had to introduce their own new clauses following the Cullen case in the House of Lords the other day. However, there seems to be an extraordinary element of doubt as to whether these four day centres are now being fully used.

3 am

To discuss and decide on the changing of their status without knowing the level of occupancy of the four centres seems to me to touch on the bizarre. However, as other hon. Members who have brought cherished propositions before the house at a time that is subsequent to the witching hour have not troubled the House by dividing it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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