HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc891-4
Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 19, line 10, leave out 'paragraph' and insert `subsection'. This is a drafting amendment. Its purpose is self-evident.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 20, line 19, at end insert 'and—

  • (d) it is satisfied, after considering a report by a probation officer or by a social worker of a local authority social services department about the offender and his circumstances and, if the court thinks it necessary, hearing a probation officer or a social worker of a local authority social services department, that provision can be made for the offender to participate in any activities specified in the requirements '
This amendment would require a court, before imposing supervised activities requirements on a young person, to satisfy itself in the light of a report either by a probation officer or a social worker that provision could be made for the offender to participate in those activities. The power to include supervised activity requirements in supervision orders, which is contained in clause 19, is designed to increase the courts' confidence in intermediate treatment schemes as a constructive alternative to custody or residential care for juvenile offenders. The Opposition strongly support that aim. However, if the arrangements are to work well, that will depend greatly on good cooperation and communication between the courts, the probation service and the social service departments which will be supervising young people's activities.

This was recognised in the White Paper "Young Offenders", which was published in 1980. In paragraph 50, it states: The Government proposes to give the courts a specific power to order a juvenile offender under supervision to undertake a programme of specified activities … which has been agreed between the supervising probation officer or social worker and the court as being suitable for that particular child or young person". The clause as it stands merely requires courts to consult the supervisor before including the supervised activities requirements, and not to agree the programme with him as the White Paper proposed. The reasons for that are understandable. The Minister said in Committee on 28 February, that to require a supervisory agreement would be to place the supervising officer over and above the courts."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 25 Febn ary 1982; c. 289.] That seems fairly reasonable and acceptable. Nevertheless, if the provisions are to work successfully, it is clearly essential to ensure that the partnership between the courts on the one hand and the supervising officers on the other in drawing up the programmes of specified activities is in practice effective.

Doubtless, the consultation between the courts and the supervising officers will generally be realistic and effective, but it is important that we should now take the opportunity to do everything that we can to ensure that that is always the case, since if 'the consultations are merely of a token kind, and if the supervisor's recommendation; as to the desirability or practicality of imposing certain requirements are unreasonably disregarded by the court, it would seriously detract from the effectiveness of these powers.

To implement a supervision order effectively and with enthusiasm, the supervisor must be committed to the nature of the order. If not, there is a danger that the requirements might be implemented in a half-hearted way; the supervisor might not be inclined to teach juveniles who do not comply with the requirements; or if the supervisor considers the requirements impractical, he may make: no serious effort to implement them at all.

If that happened, even if only in a small, limited number of cases, it would seriously undermine the confidence of magistrates in the ability of the probation officers and social workers to provide effective supervision for juvenile offenders in the community. Labour Members do not want that to happen, and I am sure that the Minister and the Government share our concern.

Therefore, the amendment would require the court to consider a report from a probation officer or social worker before imposing supervised activities requirements, and in the light of that report to satisfy itself that it is practical to make arrangements for the young offender to participate in the particular activities specified.

Similar provision already exists in the case of community service orders and is contained in section 14 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. The wording of the amendment is similar to that provision. I believe that the amendment reduces the risk of the undesirable circumstances that I have mentioned and would reinforce the intention of the clause, which I support, to increase the confidence of the courts in community-based alternatives to custody.

I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to extend his common sense and the co-operation that has been evident in our proceedings so far and again accept the amendment.

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am able to accept the amendment in principle. He rightly said that the purpose of clause 19 is to try to restore the confidence of courts in the supervision order in areas where there is some evidence that it has sagged in recent years.

Accordingly, the purpose of the clause is to give the courts some say in what will happen to the offender under supervision. One of the reasons why the clause is already very complicated is that we have built into it all sorts of safeguards. There are limits on various things, including the number of days on which requirements can be imposed, the facilities that can be used and so on. Of course, the court must consult whoever will be the supervisor before settling upon the package that will form the supervision order.

The court must be satisfied that the requirements are necessary for specific purposes. There is, therefore, a wide area of overlap between what is proposed in the amendment and the existing provision.

I appreciate that the purpose of the amendment is to make quite sure that a supervision order will not be made which will, for example, require the offender to do something for which provision does not exist in the area in which he will live or work so that it would either be a nullity or a great difficulty, thereby detracting from the quality of the supervision he receives and the effect of the supervision order generally.

Therefore, I am happy to accept the principle of the amendment. However, there are defects in its drafting that prevent me from accepting the clause in toto. We are anxious to get clause 19 right, and in accepting the spirit of the amendment we undertake to amend the clause to incorporate a provision that will give affect to its purpose. I hope that that assurance will enable the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

It is marvellous what one can get done at this time of night. There seems to be a prevailing attitude of co-operation and of a well intentioned spirit. In the light of what the Minister has said, and the assurances that he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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