Lords amendment: No. 40, in page 36, line 8, after "terms" insert
No. 41, in page 36, line 11, at end insert—
() The Secretary of State shall inform a person recalled under subsection (5) above of the reasons for his recall, so that the person may make representations in writing with respect to his recall to the Parole Board for Scotland; and the Board may, on receipt of such representations, require the Secretary of State to release him forthwith.
No. 42, in page 36, line 23, at end insert—
(2) In section 12 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1963 (supervision of persons released from young offenders' institution)—
(a) in subsection (7) after the word "above", where first occurring, there shall be inserted ("and either—
(a) the Parole Board for Scotland so recommends; or
(b) it appears to him to be in the public interest to do so before consultation with the Board is practicable,");
(b) after that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(7A) The Secretary of State shall inform a person recalled under subsection (7) above of the reasons for his recall, so that the person may make representations in writing with respect to his recall to the Parole Board for Scotland; and the Board may, on receipt of such representations, require the Secretary of State to release him forthwith."; and
((c) in subsection (9)—
(i) for the words "that person" there shall be substituted the words "a person released under subsection (7A) above or this subsection"; and
(ii) after the word "under", where secondly occurring, there shall be inserted the words "subsection (7A) above or".
§ Mr. MacKay
These amendments, which were prepared in response to points made in another place by Lord Morton of Shuna, seek to involve the Parole Board for Scotland in the recall procedure for children who have been released on supervision at the end of their sentence. The board is of course already involved, by virtue of section 206(5) and (6) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975, in those cases where release occurs before the end of sentence. These amendments provide for the board similarly to be involved in the case of children released at the end of sentence. The Secretary of State will thus recall children who have broken their supervision conditions only on the board's recommendation, or where he believes the public interest requires recall before it is practicable to consult the board. He must give reasons for the recall and the person recalled can make representations to the board. The board will have power on receiving such representations to order the Secretary of State to release the child immediately.
If we provide these safeguards for children released subject to supervision, it is only fair and consistent to provide similar safeguards for young offenders released under supervision under section 12 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1963. The amendments therefore provide for the board to be similarly involved in the procedure for the recall of these young offenders.
I would add that the board has similar functions already, under section 62 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967, in relation to recall of prisoners or young offenders released on licence. These amendments are thus applying well-established machinery and ensuring consistency of procedure.
§ Mr. Ewing
The Minister is right in saying that the amendments apply consistency of procedure, but they also widen the scope of the work of the parole board. At the moment its work is limited to young offenders and adult prisoners released on licence and subject to recall if they breach the licence conditions. I want to put down a marker with the Minister, because there is growing concern, which I share, about the length of time the parole board is taking to consider cases for parole—the main burden of its work. Evidence is emerging that the period is getting even longer.
I am strongly in favour of what the Minister has defined. If we put an additional burden on the parole board, we must will to it the means to carry out the duties imposed on it by the House. I hope that the Minister will 710 keep that firmly in mind. The Minister stressed the point about immediacy. There is little point in saying to a child or a young offender at the end of his sentence that he can appeal to the parole board if the power of the parole board to release him immediately is frustrated because of lack of facilities to consider cases urgently. We warmly welcome the amendments.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I, too, welcome the amendment. Given the structure and constitutional resources of the parole board, is the Minister in a position to predict how long it would take to assess representations and make an instruction to the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. John MacKay
I could not give to the House the kind of answer requested by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I will watch the matter carefully. In practice, only a few cases will be under consideration in each year because most offenders are released before the end of their sentence. Therefore, if they have to come before the parole board, they are doing so already, so to speak. There are only a few cases which come into the category of supervision after the end of their sentence. Having said that, I can assure the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that I will watch the matter carefully.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 41 and 42 agreed to.
§ Lords amendment: No. 43, after clause 54, insert the following new clause—
"Power of Commissioner for Local Administration to investigate Scottish Special Housing Association and new town development corporations
(1) In section 23 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 (authorities subject to investigation)—
(2) In section 24 of that Act (matters subject to investigation)—
(a) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(3A) Subsections (2) and (3) above do not apply in relation to the Scottish Special Housing Association or a new town development corporation."; and
(b) in subsection (4) after the word "concerned" there shall be inserted the words "or, in the case of the Scottish Special Housing Association or a new town development corporation, to the commissioner".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, we may take Lords amendment No. 59, in the Title, in line 4, after "children" insertthe functions of the Commissioner for Local Administration;
§ Mr. MacKay
The purpose of the new clause is to extend the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Local Administration to the Scottish Special Housing 711 Association and to the housing functions of the new town development corporations. Both the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), whom I see stirring in his seat, and Lord Morton of Shuna put forward similar proposals in the respective Committee stages. Those of us who were members of the Committee can recall the interesting debate on the subject.
My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I explained then that the Government were still considering various aspects of these innovations and undertook to bring forward, if at all possible, a new clause for inclusion at a later stage of the Bill's progress. This amendment fulfils that undertaking. Since this is a new subject, there is a consequential amendment to the Long Title of the Bill.
§ Mr. Dewar
This is indeed a small but welcome sign of flexibility by the Government. When Lord Cameron of Lochbroom came into our midst, I did not think that I would see him as the wind of change in person— a radical reformer storming the ramparts on behalf of open government. I guess— I base this purely on objective memories of the speeches made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) in Committee—that the Lord Advocate has turned out to be a persuasive and formidable ally.
There is a long history to the amendment. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) who, many months ago, first tried to persuade the Government of the value of the change. I remember an exchange during the passage of the New Towns Act 1980 in which he attempted to persuade the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that an extension of the powers of the local government ombudsman would be welcome and sensible. Understandably, he was told by the English Minister that it should be brought up when an appropriate occasion arose. Of course, an appropriate occasion arose with the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.
I think that I am entitled to be vaguely curious as to why my amendment, which was straighforward, was formidably and persistently opposed by Ministers earlier. There was no suggestion that there was a minor drafting error that required a new version of the amendment; we were told that it was not on. When my noble Friend Lord Morton of Shuna introduced a similar amendment in another place, again it was opposed. Therefore, it came as something of a surprise to us when this popped up at a very late stage, the Report stage in another place, and has now found its way to us.
However, it is not for me to be ungracious. [Interruption.] The Solicitor-General for Scotland had better wait. Anticipating the coming Session. I think that we may have another law reform Bill, so he had better not encourage me too much at this stage.
This is a minor but useful change. There is no conceivable reason why the ombudsman's powers should not apply to housing complaints about the Scottish Special Housing Association and new town development corporations. That has been the view for a long time of myself and my colleagues. I know that it is also the view of the ombudsman, because he was courteous enough to explain that not just to Labour Members of Parliament but to the Members of Parliament from other parties. It is good 712 that the little anomaly has been overcome with the introduction of this logical extension to the ombudsman's powers.
It leaves other ends which are perhaps more difficult of solution. The most outstanding, with which the Minister will be familiar, is the need, in the opinion of the ombudsman and of some other people, to consider problems of enforcement and the relationship between a local authority and the ombudsman in the implementation of his decision. In one or two worrying cases in recent years authorities have begged to differ from the ombudsman, and no action has followed a definitive ruling by that official. That is a much more prickly and sensitive area which will have to be considered soon.
The simple amendment before us is a matter for comment because it has taken so long and because it pops up at this stage as a Government amendment, unexplained and unheralded at earlier stages, despite the best efforts of Opposition Members. However, sinners repent. That may be overstating it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute is spotless in—I was about to say his personal habits, but that might be misinterpreted. No doubt he is well intentioned in all things. I am glad that he has worked his way round to agreeing with me and my hon. Friends on this matter.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that he was surprised that the amendment had come before the House, but the House is full of surprises, and the events of last week make me something of an authority on surprises.
I welcome the Lords amendment which comes a long time after the press release in which the Scottish Office said that it would be presenting the amendment. I note the pleasure on the face of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who had a difficult time explaining to me why it was not appropriate to introduce such a provision into the New Towns Act 1980. However, we have finally got there, and I am glad that the Government accepted the advice of my noble Friend Lord Morton of Shuna.
The amendment will be particularly welcome in new towns where the development corporations are the largest housing authorities, and it will be very welcome in my constituency. I do not expect there to be many complaints to the ombudsman, because the housing authorities in the new towns are generally well run, but some people fall out of the system and the amendment will give tenants a right to go to the ombudsman. It is proper that tenants' rights should be extended.
§ Question put and agreed to.