HC Deb 07 June 1989 vol 154 cc323-42 10.15 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart)

I beg to move, That the draft Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved. This is the first of two orders before the House tonight. With the agreement of the House, it will be convenient to discuss also the second motion: That the draft Community Service Orders (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved. That order is purely consequential on the first. I appreciate that it will have to be moved separately.

The first draft order comprises a package of measures which primarily concern the powers of the courts to deal with offenders and which, I am glad to say, have been generally welcomed. While some relate chiefly to juveniles, there are others which have implications for adults. A number of the changes are designed to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with that of England and Wales. Experience of the operation of existing law in the Province has led to other changes which I shall describe.

In the case of the measures concerning juvenile justice, I remind the House that these arise from the report of the children and young persons review group published in 1979 which came to be known as the Black report, after its chairman. These measures introduce a number of new non-custodial options which should lead to a decrease in the number of juveniles in custody.

Article 3 will extend the powers of the courts to attach what are commonly known as "fourth conditions" to probation orders so as to provide greater flexibility in their use. The changes to the Probation Act (Northern Ireland) 1950 are similar to those provided for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1982 and will enable the court to make it a condition of a probation order that the offender attends an activity centre or a day centre for a maximum of 60 days.

Article 4 provides that, where a juvenile is jointly charged with an adult, he or she may be referred to the juvenile court for both trial and sentence if the adult defendant pleads guilty and the juvenile pleads not guilty. Under existing law, a juvenile charged jointly with an adult must be tried in an adult court and may be referred to the juvenile court only for sentence. I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is more desirable that juveniles should attend a court which is constituted to meet their needs.

Article 5 provides for the extended use of attendance centre orders, which can often be a useful alternative to custody. In Northern Ireland, these orders may be imposed only on persons under 17 years of age, and indeed the latest available figures indicate that about 70 per cent. of attendance centre orders are imposed on persons aged 15 or under. In view of the young age of the majority of persons who are ordered to attend an attendance centre, it is proposed to place a responsibility on the parents to produce their children at the centre at the specified time. This is important, because failure by the child to attend the centre could lead to a more serious disposal.

Articles 6 and 7 deal with custodial sentences. In Northern Ireland, young persons under 17 may be sent to a training school where the child or young person is found guilty of an offence, which, in the case of an adult, is punishable by imprisonment. Under present law, a training school order gives authority to detain the child or young person for a period of up to three years. However, he or she may be released on licence at any time after committal, except that if this is proposed within 12 months of committal, the consent of the Secretary of State is required. Article 6 of the order will reduce the maximum period of detention from three to two years. It will also reduce the period within which the consent of the Secretary of State is required from 12 months to six months. These changes should help to reassure those who expressed concern about the length of time that young persons might have to spend in custody.

Article 7 will increase the maximum period of detention in a young offenders centre from three years to four years. This is not intended to increase the length of the term of detention in individual cases. Instead, it will mean that a number of young offenders who are given a term of detention of between three and four years will be eligible for admission to a young offenders centre rather than to prison, a facility much better suited to their needs.

Articles 8 and 9 deal with the abolition of the common law power of the courts to record sentences and its replacement by an enhanced power to suspend sentences. Recorded sentences, which are peculiar to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, are similar to suspended sentences, in that sentence can be deferred while the convicted person enters into an obligation to be of good behaviour during a specified period.

However, in the case of the recorded sentence, there is no limit on either the sentence or the period during which the person may be bound over. In addition, it lacks the flexibility of a suspended sentence as it must be reactivated in full if the person reoffends within the operational period. Because of that inflexibility, injustices can arise if, for example, there is a subsequent conviction for a trivial and quite unrelated offence which automatically reactivates the recorded sentence. We therefore consider that the power to suspend sentences is more satisfactory and that the new provisions will achieve this.

I referred earlier to the provisions of articles 3 and 5, which aim to provide alternatives to custodial sentences. The aim of article 10 is similar. That will reduce the age for community service from 17 to 16 and, again, that corresponds to a change introduced for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1982. Because the age for community service in Northern Ireland at that time was 17, the 1982 Act imposed a restriction on courts elsewhere in the United Kingdom to ensure that a community service order was not imposed on a person under 17 who intended to reside in Northern Ireland. As the effect of the treatment of offenders order will be to make 16 the age for community service throughout the United Kingdom, that restriction is no longer necessary and is removed by the Community Service Orders (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order.

I return now to the treatment of offenders order. Article 11 will amend the powers of the courts to defer sentence and provides that the period of deferment will run from the date on which it is announced rather than, as at present, from the date of conviction. That change will ensure that the defendant will obtain the benefit of a full six months period to enable him or her to demonstrate to the court, either by making reparation for the offence or by a change in circumstances—for example, by finding a job or getting married—that he or she has both the desire and the ability to stay out of trouble. Again, that mirrors present law in England and Wales.

Article 12 will increase the maximum penalty for a number of offences to bring them into line with similar penalties that are available in England and Wales. The maximum penalty for indecent assault on a female will be increased from two to 10 years, and the maximum term of imprisonment for attempted rape or assault with intent to commit rape is to be increased from seven years to life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for child cruelty, which was increased recently for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, is to be increased from two years to 10 years. Although I am glad to say that the evidence does not suggest that such crimes are widespread in Northern Ireland, the House rightly regards them as very serious offences for which substantial terms of imprisonment may often be appropriate.

Finally, article 13 will, for the first time, enable a number of young offenders who are remanded in custody to be held at the young offenders centre. Under present arrangements, all male persons over 17 who are remanded in custody are held in Her Majesty's prison, Belfast. As some spare capacity exists in the young offenders centre, it is sensible and much more suited to their needs to allow a number of young persons to be held there while on remand.

Taken as a whole, this package of proposals should provide the criminal courts in Northern Ireland with useful additions to their powers to determine the most satisfactory disposal for both young and adult offenders and offer greater scope for the use of alternatives to custody.

I commend the order to the House.

10.23 pm
Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

We welcome this opportunity to consider young offenders in Northern Ireland. Sadly, such offenders are not focused upon often, as we spend so much of our time discussing the sentencing and treatment of terrorists.

There are few surprises in the orders, but we consider that they are a further example of the Government's piecemeal approach to young offenders. There is no clear overall strategy and no coherent plan to deal with young offenders in Northern Ireland. We had hoped that the Government would use the orders as a means to introduce such coherence, but, instead, we have been presented with the piecemeal approach tonight.

We would like to see provisions that were more rational and relevant and that would strike a balance between punishment, reform and rehabilitation. The Government have not offered us that recipe tonight.

The orders try to tackle the problems of young offenders in Northern Ireland. We had hoped that a clearer, twin-track approach would have been adopted by the Minister. We would have liked the provisions to deal in a sensitive and constructive manner with offenders and, at the same time, give more emphasis to preventing those crimes from taking place. If we attempt to take preventive action it is necessary to study the crimes that are common among young people, including theft, burglary, vandalism or the particular problem that has developed in Belfast, of which I am sure the Minister is aware—joy-riding. That has grown in popularity in recent months. We must understand the rationale behind such crimes if we are to prevent them and we must understand why young people commit them.

We would like to think that, among other things, the Government would address the problems of frustration, boredom, despair bred from unemployment, lack of decent housing and lack of money. The preventive framework set down by the Government is not impressive.

In Northern Ireland, unemployment among young people is above 16 per cent. The Minister should also consider the implications of the 1987 decision to take away the funding for the education service, which is targeted directly on young offenders. That service represented preventive action against crime and the Minister should have left it intact. Another important consideration is the fact that benefit has been taken away from 16 and 17-year-olds. That age group now has no link with the society. If they are not in full-time education or not in a job they have no reason to connect with society. The Minister should consider the implications of that decision carefully when studying preventive action against crimes committed by young offenders.

The preventive work that has taken place has occurred not because of the Government, but despite them. I am sure that other hon. Members would like to give credit to the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, which has done so much work with young offenders. We are not merely thinking of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—NIACRO—and its employment initiatives, particularly the after schools.

It would be useful if the Minister clarified some of the implications of the orders as they do little to help to deal with young offenders. It is clear that a court will be able to stipulate, as part of a probation order, that an offender attend certain places or activities. It would be useful to know whether the Minister has had any planning or funding discussions with the voluntary sector about that provision. I am sure he is aware that day centres in Northern Ireland, unlike those in England and Wales, are not funded by local authorities but lie within the voluntary sector. There is a greater need for communication and planning in Northern Ireland than there is in England and Wales.

It would also be useful if the Minister were to give us more details about the community service orders. In his introduction he stated that they are an "alternative to custody," but I am sure that he is aware, as are other hon. Members, that they often become an alternative to non-custodial options.

It would be useful to know what discussions the Minister has had, particularly with probation officers, about the compulsory nature of the orders. We appreciate the rationale for the compulsion, but I am sure that if the Minister has talked to probation officers about this he will have found that problems arise when compulsion is built into a relationship between a young offender and a probation officer, because developing that relationship is largely based on trust. I have talked to many probation officers across the water and in England and Wales, and the compulsory element of the legislation, as it matches up to legislation this side of the water, worries them.

We would appreciate the Minister's comments on attendance centre orders, which the Opposition greatly welcome. The creation and use of attendance centre orders will be useful. However, we are greatly concerned that only one centre is open in Belfast. Under the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1968, as I understand it, a young offender can attend one of the centres only if he or she lives within 10 miles of it. Therefore, although they will be useful, their use will be limited to certain groups within the Province. What plans, if any, has the Minister for further development of attendance centre orders?

Two parts of the provisions particularly disappoint me, and the first concerns the training school orders. The Opposition are keen for them to be done away with, because the money and staffing could be used for community projects which, in the long run, would be much more useful for young people. Much of the informed opinion in the Province acknowledges that the training schools have failed to work for many young offenders.

We would be grateful if the Minister would comment on the increase in the maximum terms that he outlined when referring to article 7. It represents a classic example of the Government's belief that, by definition, stiffer penalties result in success. There is very little evidence to prove that long sentences reduce the likelihood of sex attackers reoffending. It would be useful if the Minister could bring some to the House tonight. The assumption that a more punitive measure will produce success needs substantiation. It seems to be the ideology, or prejudice, behind much of the Government's thinking on young offenders.

The orders have offered the Government an opportunity to make a radical overhaul of the young offender system in Northern Ireland. Sadly, they have not taken that option, but have produced piecemeal provisions, lacking in coherence and clear planning. We hoped that they would take the chance to outline much more clearly the preventive action that they would like to take to reduce the number of young people sentenced to custody and, most importantly, to encourage and develop new, innovative methods for dealing with offenders. Sadly, the Government have missed the opportunity to develop such initiatives, and have merely introduced the orders which reveal the same stubborn, misguided beliefs of previous legislation and the belief that punitive sentencing deters crime.

That is the basis of the policy which we have seen fail in Northern Ireland since the Black report. Tonight, we hoped that the Government would have listened more carefully to the united advice of informed opinion in the Province that would have asked for a much more radical cutting edge to the legislation which has been introduced this evening.

10.34 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), whose thoughtful and caring speech is to be commended. I hope to be able to refer to some of her points later in the short time available.

It is a sad comment on our times in Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland business comes on so late in the evening. We were fortunate that it started just before 10.30 pm today, but it has been much later on other occasions.

I want to refer to two parts of the legislation'. First, I welcome the increase in the penalty for indecent assaults on females, bringing Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales, where the maximum penalty is now 10 years. Making life imprisonment the maximum penalty for attempted rape or assault with intent to commit rape is belated recognition of the increasing number of such attacks, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that the courts will use their new sentencing powers in Northern Ireland to protect women, who often feel so vulnerable. The media recount many such assaults, often committed in frightening circumstances.

I also welcome the increase from two to 10 years in the maximum penalty for cruelty to children. Sad to say, we live in an age in which children can be treated with appalling cruelty by sadistic or uncaring parents, and every effort must be made to curb such ill treatment.

It is impossible in this limited time to debate the order in its entirety. As the hon. Member for Redcar said, this is a rare opportunity to debate the needs of children and young offenders, and it is sad that our time is so limited. I shall therefore restrict myself to some observations on the treatment of young offenders.

I must concur with NIACRO, which criticised the order. The hon. Member for Redcar followed that body in saying that this is another example of the piecemeal approach adopted by the Northern Ireland Office. There is no comprehensive policy for children and young persons in Northern Ireland, nor any overall plan or coherent strategy. NIACRO referred to the Black report and alternatives to custody. I cannot go into the recommendations of that report now. Suffice it to say that there is tremendous anxiety in Northern Ireland about the amount of juvenile crime. It is often prompted by drink or drug abuse, a disturbed family background or inadequate discipline, although I hasten to add that those are not the only reasons for delinquency.

The primary responsibility for the care and control of children and young persons must lie with the parents, but they should not stand alone. Standards must be established for the youth of today, as in years gone by, and the school and church have a central role to play in providing the child or young person with guidelines as well as discipline and support.

In this age of unemployment, to which the hon. Lady also referred, and of drink and drugs, the insidious undermining of society by television programmes, and the craving for money to feed into slot machines and to purchase items with which to keep up with someone else's lifestyle in the pop world, it is not surprising that delinquency is on the increase. That is why Northern Ireland needs good schools, with classes of reasonable size and proper discipline.

We also need an adequate police force. After all, the police are the representatives of law and order and should command respect. Police officers need to be seen walking about our housing estates and the streets of our towns.

The police must have the support of the public. It is no use if, when the police call at the home of a young person about his misconduct, the parents automatically side with their son.

More needs to be spent on facilities for young people, so that they have every chance to make good use of their leisure time. It is a shame that in parts of North Down proper facilities are not available. One such area is Holywood, but it is not unique. Many areas in the Province lack proper facilities for young people. The Government should set up an inquiry to find out which areas suffer from such deprivation and then ensure that the local authority in conjunction with Stormont makes money available. More also needs to be spent on the probation service.

All those things require expenditure, but I think I am taking up the theme put forward by the hon. Member for Redcar when I stress the prevention of delinquency as much as treating those who offend against the law. We need money if we are to deal with the problems. Who would deny that which may prevent young people from falling into delinquency or assist them back to the straight and narrow path? Needs must be balanced against cost. What is the present cost of residential care in Northern Ireland and what success has such care achieved? We need to know the cost of custodial treatment, whether the taxpayer is getting value for money and whether the treatment is helping children and young persons in Northern Ireland.

It is generally agreed by experts that the re-conviction rate for young people placed in institutions is extremely high. That may also be the experience in Great Britain. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) nods in agreement. He above all hon. Members present knows about such matters. The Howard League for Penal Reform has emphasised that a spell in custodial care can easily confirm a young person in a delinquent way of life. Of course, in some cases young people must be placed in custody, in restraint in a home, because they have refused all other treatment, defied the treatment offered or have committed an offence which merits custodial treatment.

There is certainly a need for effective sanctions which reflect the condemnation of the entire community and the grief that the crime has caused to the victim. Such sanctions must also provide a reasonable prospect of correcting the offender and turning him from delinquency. Sadly, custodial sentences are sometimes given to young people who might benefit from a different type of treatment. We must consider the cost of custodial treatment. If the Minister cannot give that information now, I hope that he will write to me.

More and more crimes are being committed without anyone being found guilty and many such crimes are committed by children and young persons. That is why there is a need for more police officers, whose presence will deter potential offenders. They may also be able to catch offenders. I have complained many times that there are not enough police officers in North Down, which has a large and ever increasing population. Why has the number of community police officers been reduced in North Down? They carried out a useful job in Bangor and in other parts of my constituency.

Whether an adult or a young offender commits an offence when drunk, the public house or off licence which sold the drink to him should also have to face some financial penalty. Public houses and off licences make large profits out of drink, the pubs often staying open until late hours and then spewing their patrons on to the streets. I see people in Bangor late at night and in the early hours of the morning engaging in what I can only describe as anti-social behaviour. Before long they may commit some crime, such as smashing a window or threatening someone, in the vicinity of the public house where they have spent a great deal of time and money consuming alcohol. A disgraceful situation exists in Bangor, which I am sure is typical of many towns in Northern Ireland.

We must bear that in mind when discussing the treatment of offenders because that situation cannot be tolerated much longer. There must be some sanction on public house owners, who are only too delighted to welcome people in but do not care tuppence what those people do when they leave the premises.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

How on earth can anyone prove who sold a person too much alcohol, whether it be in a pub or an off licence, or whether it was the responsibility of the last licensee who sold the person alcohol? How on earth can that be made an offence? There would never be a conviction.

Mr. Kilfedder

I do not share my hon. and learned Friend's pessimism. He may have sat too long on the bench. I view the matter from the point of view of the public. Something must be done. Those who sell drink make vast profits out of the people who buy it but they do not care what happens to those people when they leave the public house.

Police officers may see someone leaving a public house and they often go into public houses to watch what the patrons are up to. If such a police officer says that somebody drank alcohol in certain premises it should be possible to apply a sanction against the owner of that public house. That is the only way in which we shall ever stop the vile behaviour of people who drink in public houses in Bangor and elsewhere. I should add that many people who frequent public houses behave in a decent and sociable way, but I am talking about those who have no regard for other people or their property.

How many of the 14 to 17-year-old males who appeared before juvenile courts were sent to borstal or detention centres in the last year for which figures are available compared with 10 or 20 years ago when the Northern Ireland treatment of offenders legislation was enacted? The treatment of young people is a precise science. A study was carried out in conjunction with magistrates in Leeds where 50 per cent. of young truants were given supervision orders and 50 per cent. had their cases adjourned periodically and were given a magisterial wigging but nothing else. Those truants whose cases were adjourned and to whom the magistrates addressed a few remarks did much better than those who were given supervision orders, in terms both of school attendance and delinquency rates.

That study contains a lesson for all of us and the experts in this precise science. We need to spend more time considering why young people in particular engage in deviant behaviour and studying how to deal with that situation, for the benefit not only of the public but of those guilty of delinquency.

10.49 pm.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

As usual, we find ourselves considering late at night Northern Ireland legislation under the Order in Council procedure. I make my now traditional protest because this matter is one that should be dealt with by a Bill, not by an Order in Council late at night. Later, I shall say why I believe that a Bill is required in this particular case.

Reference has been made to the Black report published in 1979, yet the jigsaw picture is still being built up bit by bit, though perhaps not in quite so an unrelated way as the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) would have us believe. We are taking far too long. The Black report was comprehensive and detailed, and most of its recommendations should have been dealt with in a far shorter time scale than that which we are currently observing. I remember the Black report debates, which were fairly thorough, and I see no reason for such delay before all of its recommendations are made law.

The argument as to how one reforms criminals has waged much longer than the 10 years that have elapsed since the Black report, and will probably continue for many a day yet if we are to strike the right balance between a punishment that fits the crime and reform—especially in relation to the young criminal, guilty of the loutish vandalism that so besmirches many towns and villages throughout Britain, never mind Northern Ireland. We must make such offenders face the consequences of their crimes.

It is easy to smash something or to cause difficulty, pain, terror and hardship. But many of those who commit such crimes seem to live their lives with no sense of personal conscience or discipline. Anything that we can do to instil a sense of responsibility for their own actions and towards the welfare of others and of society in general must be welcomed. However, I am not certain that we shall get all the answers from the legislation that is now before the House.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said that much of the responsibility for people's action lies in the home, the churches and the schools. I believe that it is in the home that an individual's sense of personal responsibility begins to develop and is nurtured to rule his life and his actions. Far too many cases of bad parenting bring out evil in young people.

The hon. Member for Redcar said that one reason for bad behaviour was lack of money. However, most young people complain that they lack enough money. We all like to have money when we are young. From what I have seen of the well-off yobboes in the south of England, I do not think that money would help to improve their behaviour at all. Bad behaviour has nothing to do with money, or the lack of it, but with the personal discipline that is instilled in young people in their own homes. Far too many parents throughout the United Kingdom do not take their responsibilities seriously enough.

The Minister remarked that parents will have to take their children to an attendance centre, which is a good thing. Perhaps it would be better if parents had to bring their children into school every day, as they would have responsibility for the children they bring into the world, and the children would not grow up to be quite so nasty.

As many of the problems that we are discussing are the consequence of loutish, yobbish behaviour by young adults, I welcome the reduction from 17 to 16 in the age at which they are forced to face the consequences of their action in court. Our object should be to prevent reoffending as far as possible. Like the hon. Lady, the Member for Redcar, I commend the efforts already made by voluntary and community groups. They do a tremendous job, but they need to be carefully monitored in case undesirable individuals take control, and that is an ever-present threat in Northern Ireland. If they are carefully monitored and properly run, those organisations have a great part to play, provided that the Government give them the funding to do their job.

A number of interesting factors emerge from a brief examination of the crime profile in Northern Ireland. An excellent publication by the probation board in Northern Ireland reveals that at approximately 3,800 offences per 100,000 population, the crime rate is less than in 40 of the 42 police force areas of England and Wales. Either Northern Ireland is still a much more law-abiding place than most of the rest of the United Kingdom, or a much higher percentage of crime is reported in England and Wales than in Northern Ireland. I do not know whether that is so, but I find it astonishing that the crime rate in Northern Ireland is lower than it is in 40 of the police force areas in England and Wales.

Clearly, the root cause of many of the problems in Northern Ireland is the terrorist campaign. It is not surprising that armed robbery is much higher on the list of crimes in Northern Ireland than it is in the rest of Britain.

The profile of the prison population starkly reveals the effect of terrorism in Northern Ireland. It reveals that 25 per cent. of the prison population in Northern Ireland are serving life sentences, compared with 6 per cent. in England and Wales. That is a direct result of the terrorist campaign. If it were not for the terrorist campaign, prisoners serving life sentences would represent a lower percentage of the prison population in Northern Ireland than they do in England and Wales as there is much less really violent crime. Without the terrorist life sentences, I suspect that there would be very few prisoners serving life sentences in Northern Ireland.

In April this year, 7 per cent. of sentenced prisoners were aged between 16 and 20, and 72 per cent. of those over 21 were convicted of scheduled offences—or terrorist crimes. In other words, seven out of 10 of the people in prison in Northern Ireland are there as a result of the activities of terrorist organisations. That is a huge proportion. If that is taken out of the equation, Northern Ireland is clearly a peaceful, law-abiding society, strange as it may seem.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), who mentioned what happened in Bangor, was referring to quite unacceptable behaviour that should be stopped. But the police cannot stamp it out because they are so tied up in solving terrorist crime, and we all appreciate that.

Mr. John Taylor (Strangford)

Because there are a lot of Conservative voters there.

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman is correct, there are a lot of Conservative electors there; perhaps the wealthy section of the community is committing all the offences along the sea front and wherever else. It is apparent from the south-east of England that it is not poor kids who are committing offences in the area.

An interesting statistic appears in the probation service's report, and it astonished me when I first learned of it 18 months ago. Fine defaulters represent more than half the sentenced receptions in prison in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister find that a disquieting as well as an amazing fact? Is the figure for this side of the Irish sea the same? If so, it is about time we stopped putting people in prison for not paying their fines. They should be made to do community service. What sort of unpaid work does an offender have to do under a community service order? An offender has to do gardening, labouring, painting and decorating, work with senior citizens and to help with youth clubs and voluntary organisations. Such tasks are tailormade for people who do not pay their fines.

If someone is sentenced to imprisonment for about a fortnight they can be released after only two days, or, if they are fortunate, only one day.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman could write a book about it.

Mr. Ross

I assure the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that there is nothing like personal experience for discovering facts. He should try it some time and show whether he has the courage of his convictions, which he so often proclaims in the House.

If someone who takes home £70 or £80 a week is fined £150 or seven days' imprisonment, he will take the seven days, as he will probably serve only two and a half anyway. The cost of keeping such a person in prison must be astronomical. We should consider this issue sensibly and try to do something about it.

Community service orders should be made on folk for whom they will be effective. I am sure that many old people need their hedges or grass cut. I would sooner send out a chap who has not paid his fine to do community work than some young thug who may case the old person's house and return the following week and clean up. This is a fruitful sector for reassessment of sentencing policy.

I remember the creation of the probation service in Northern Ireland, which is different from the service throughout the rest of Britain.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

It is more efficient.

Mr. Ross

Is it a more efficient service? If it is doing as well as it appears to be, why has it not been tried over here? Given the crime rate here, it appears to be more necessary. Some hon. Members are fond of saying how bad things are in Northern Ireland and what a terrible place it is, but the service is doing well and the Government are sitting on their hands and refusing to modernise it. I should have thought that this modernising, efficient, privatising Government would have wanted to introduce this successful system in the rest of Britain so that it can benefit from the experiment that has been so successful on the other side of the Irish sea.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the excellent probation service in Northern Ireland could be improved if the case burden on each officer were further reduced?

Mr. Ross

That possibility had not occurred to me. No doubt the case work is heavy but if it is paying such rich dividends, more expenditure on the service might be a good investment. If we can reform these young people and improve their behaviour, it will be time and effort well spent.

Other factors should be taken into consideration. The courts should make full use of community service orders. I have suggested one area where their use could be extended. As well as making good use of the orders, the authorities in Northern Ireland ensure that they are carried out in full. I confess that Northern Ireland is a very different place from central London, if only because of the size of the population. In smaller towns and villages individuals are more easily located and can be made to do the work.

If a sentence is passed and if someone is told that he must do certain things to discharge his liability, the end is much worse than the beginning if the authorities do not ensure that the liability is discharged. The service would become a laughing stock. If community service orders are used, the Government should make sure that the system is carried out properly.

It is sad that some 60 per cent. of those who are given community service have four or more previous convictions. There may be good reasons. Perhaps the Minister could tell us why there is such a high level of repeat performances.

On the structure of the probation board, we are told that it will consist of (a) a chairman, deputy chairman, and not less than 10 or more than 18 other members, appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; (b) not more than 5 members co-opted by the board with the approval of the Secretary of State. (This power has not been used?. Why is there such a wide range of 10 to 18 members and why is the power referred to in paragraph (b) provided if it is not being used?

The subject is of great interest to everyone who is concerned about getting rid of loutish behaviour in the community. There are critical factors about the implementation of the orders. The probation board draws attention to one: There is some evidence in England and Wales to suggest that the growth in Probation Orders has replaced lower tariff disposals of the Court such as a fine. It is therefore vital in the operation of this new legislation in Northern Ireland that the new intensive Probation Supervision is not used as a substitute for lesser penalties but is used instead of a custodial sentence. That is important. I should like an assurance from the Minister that that advice is being accepted.

NIACRO expressed considerable concern about the level of funding for day centres. Perhaps the Minister will tell us about that. How many day centres will there be, where will they be sited, and how widely does he intend that they should be used?

On paper, there are quite a few staff, but keeping a check on young offenders, making sure that they behave themselves and keeping a close eye on their out-of-school activities, so to speak, is difficult. I do not think that it can be done cheaply, but it pays rich dividends. Staffing should be examined again.

It seems that there was a call in the Black report for an integrated strategy. The hon. Member for Redcar made a complaint. I do not believe that a complaint is fully justified. I am complaining not about the development as such, but about the long time that it has taken for that development to happen. As I said earlier, I would like the structure to be created and put in place very soon. Adding bits and pieces is not good enough. We need a comprehensive set of proposals to be brought forward to deal with other matters concerning young people. There is much work going on in that area. Can we be given a time scale for its completion?

I have a quibble about article 12, which is the tiddly bit that was slipped in, I believe. The article deals with the increasing of maximum terms of imprisonment for offenders in cases of child cruelty and assaults on and rapes of women. We are told that the maximum penalty for indecent assault on a female will rise from two to 10 years imprisonment. That brings the penalty for assault on a female into line with that for assault on a male. That is the only reason we are given for the increase. There is no explanation of why 10 years rather than two years is right for offences against either sex. Can we be given those reasons? Why should the penalty not be 15 years, or remain at two years?

The Government say that the increase in the penalty for child cruelty reflects the concern arising from a number of recent cases. I thought that one of the basic precepts was that hard cases make bad law. Hard cases probably make good law in this instance, but that is by the way. Is public concern the best reason the Government can give for multiplying the possible sentence by five? Why do we not have a more detailed explanation of why the Government decide on certain levels of sentencing, rather than the Government just saying what they have about these?

The reason given for increasing the penalty for attempted rape is that it is similar to the increase in England and Wales brought about by the Sexual Offences Act 1985. That brings me back to my first point. If these matters were being dealt with by Bill instead of by order, the Minister could not get away with the bland statement that the penalties were being increased to bring them into line with what happens in England and Wales. He would have to give a full and clear explanation in the House and in Committee of the Government's reasons for deciding on those periods of imprisonment.

I am not saying that those periods are wrong; I just want to be told why they are right. I want to be told in detail and through the Bill procedure. I want to be told in Committee and I want to be able to question the Minister in a way that I can never question him in this nonsense that we go through here, night after night. We are not able to question, not able to obtain answers and not able to dot an i or cross a t. That is not good enough and it has been going on for almost 20 years too long.

11.13 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I regard these orders as important pieces of legislation, not so much for what is in them—although there is much substance and much good in them—as for the implications of the elements that are not included and the limit of the scope of the orders. It is almost impossible to seek a solution to the problems about which other hon. Members have spoken, without considering the context in which the problems exist. I do not see how we can discuss these orders unless we discuss the context in which young people find themselves.

I am not talking about the people with money who behave in a loutish way in places such as Bangor on a Saturday night. Such behaviour occurs in every other village and town and probably in every country in the world. I am talking about young people from deprived backgrounds, who have never worked, whose fathers and grandfathers have never worked and who, in their own hearts, know that they will never work. They do not have a stake in society. They have been thrown into the trap of despair before they are even adults. If we are ever to get to the root of the problem, we must tackle that aspect.

During today's excellent debate on the economy, it struck me forcefully that if one of the young people to whom I spoke last night when canvassing in a deprived area had been sitting here today he would have heard about a different world. His economy is not the economy of today's debate. He will never see it, because he will not be employed. He sees around him not just financial deprivation but terrible social and environmental deprivation. From the hour he is born, he lives in that deprivation, which in the North of Ireland is exacerbated by many factors, not the least of which is violence. Many young people fall into that trap early in their lives. They are the people whom we should consider, not the people in the flashy cars who screech around the town late at night, having had a skinful of drink.

The issues are compassion and concern for people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a difficult position. That is why the legislation is so important. It could be improved, but only by looking at the scope of the problem. We have heard that 16 to 19-year-olds constitute a higher percentage of the prison population in Northern Ireland than in any other European country. The figures are exaggerated by the number of young people who have been convicted of scheduled offences, but that is not the whole story. Under legislation, imprisoning people has been an easier option than the constructive approach of rehabilitating them. That is one reason why the prison figures are so unbalanced. Unless we aim at rehabilitation, custodial sentences will continue to be the norm, not for the right reason but because it is an easy option which gives less trouble to the judicial bench and everyone else involved.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred to fine defaulters. We should consider that valid point because there are alternatives to imposing fines which will not be paid anyway, but the options have been reduced by this legislation. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that a person in England and Wales who defaults is arrested and brought before the courts, which can exercise options. That does not happen in the North of Ireland. A person who defaults is immediately sent to prison and the courts do not have the discretion to try another approach. That, too, contributes to the prison figures in the north of Ireland. It makes no sense to have such a difference between England and Wales and the north of Ireland. From one point of view, it is careless, and from another it is extremely punitive.

Our thrust must be towards rehabilitation rather than punishment and towards creating an alternative to imprisonment for fine defaulters.

Mr. William Ross

I made the point that that is an economic benefit for those, especially the unemployed, who are prepared to spend two or three nights in prison rather than pay the fine. Surely it would far better if they did something useful for the community.

Mr. Mallon

I readily take the hon. Gentleman's point. If I may be anecdotal for a moment, I started my career working in a training school for young offenders. At that time such schools were called reformatories. One person, whom I shall call Joe, went to the city centre in Belfast each time he was released and threw a brick through the biggest window that he could find so that he would be sent back to the reformatory. It was the only place of stability that he had known during his poor life. It would be no use talking to that kid about a fine because it would be irrelevant. It would be no use talking to the people mentioned by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) because they would not have the money to pay a fine. We must find a constructive way of showing such people that the sort of offences that they have committed are not just bad for society but bad for their own lives and those of their children. That might go some way towards solving the problem.

I wish now to discuss a sensitive part of the problem. I do not think that this sort of legislation, in its totality, will work without two factors. First, it must be worked properly by magistrates and judges. I have my doubts about that. I have the highest regard for those who sit as magistrates and judges, but there are some people who should not sit as magistrates and judges. Anyone dealing with young people in the North of Ireland recognises that fact.

I cite another personal experience. One of the ways in which the Black report has not been accommodated is by not removing non-attendance at school from this legislation and putting it into the education sphere. I dealt with the case of a young boy who was not attending school. His father did not attend the court hearing. It is true that that young boy should have attended school and that the father should have appeared at the court. The bench gave the order for the police to arrest the young boy on the school bus and take him to a training school. There was no reference to the family. There were no options. I do not blame the police, because they did not have any options. That was a most insensitive approach, but it has been repeated time and again by the same magistrate. That is a matter of record.

Unless the magistrates and judges operate this legislation in the spirit in which it is written, working towards the aims that it embodies, it will fall down. If they perceive the easy options to be imposing a fine or putting a young person in prison, some of them will do that, because some of them do not have the humanitarian approach that is required if we are ever to solve the problems of young offenders.

The second factor, which has already been mentioned, is a comprehensive approach to the problem. You will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are all using the same terminology. I readily admit that the good briefings that we have received from concerned people in the north of Ireland have rightly stressed that problem. There is an a la carte approach not only to this legislation but to the whole of Northern Ireland legislation. To mix a metaphor, it is like choosing dolly mixtures—a piece of this legislation and a consequential amendment to tie it in with another piece of legislation, and so on. Anyone who has ever dealt with the Emergency Provisions Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the public order legislation and this legislation knows that he needs about six Acts to cross-reference.

We do not want any sleight of hand, such as the reference in the explanatory document to the Black report and the children and young persons review group. That is sleight of hand because it implies that the measure is in accord with what was proposed. We want a complete children and young persons measure for Northern Ireland in its totality, a measure which will deal with all the problems on the basis of the Black report. The Government must not pick bits out of the report when it suits them, leaving other bits out when it does not suit, thereby creating a bag of dolly mixtures, so to speak, with a great deal of cross-referencing having to be done. That cannot lead to efficiency, effectiveness and justice.

Mr. William Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman join the Ulster Unionist party in asking that this matter be dealt with by way of a Bill? That would enable us to show a degree of cross-community support in the interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. That is the only means by which we will achieve the kind of investigation that the hon. Gentleman is seeking.

Mr. Mallon

For a moment I thought that the hon. Gentleman was inviting me to join the Ulster Unionist party—an offer which I appreciate but must decline. However, I willingly join Ulster Unionist Members in making the demand to which he refers. Having deliberated for many long hours on the emergency provisions and the prevention of terrorism legislation, I have no hesitation in joining those Members in trying to obtain children and young offenders legislation which is comprehensive and strategic and deals with all the problems in one measure. Indeed, I would join anybody in seeking that end. Unless we can examine such a measure line by line, we shall end up with a bit of this, a bit of that, with consequential amendments here and there, and everything in the garden will be rosy except the net result.

I do not propose to discuss the detail of the orders, much of which has been covered, but will the fourth conditions be used and, if so, how? How can they most effectively contribute to the welfare of society and of the young people involved? Will there be enough funding for day centres? I gather that there will be just one day centre and that it will be in Belfast. There will not be one west of the Bann, so there will not be the reasonable accessibility that will be required if the bench is to have the option of pursuing that course rather than imposing a fine or custodial sentence.

I take it as a compliment to those of us west of the Bann when it is implied that we do not have the same degree of law-breaking by young people. It would be nice if that were the case. Even so, are we to throw on to the voluntary groups the onus, and on an ad hoc basis and almost weekly, the task of setting up a day centre situation—not a day centre—which will be able to cope adequately? I have discussed this with various people, who say that they are confident of being able to deal with the problem by means of existing funding and their own structures. I hope that they are right, but I fear that we shall have to tackle the joint problems of the number of centres and the siting of them.

I welcome in this legislation the removal of the negative conditions which have applied, and which I believe still apply, in England and Wales. They are unenforceable and in most cases they make no sense. Generally, they cost more time, money and energy than they are worth. I compliment the Minister on having had the good sense to leave that aspect out this legislation. It shows that he and his advisers listened to those with experience of this in England and Wales.

I welcome article 6, which relates to training schools. The term of the order is to be reduced from three years to two years or until he attains the age of nineteen". The period during which a detained person may not be placed out under licence without reference to the Secretary of State is to be reduced from one year to six months. These reductions are improvements. They represent an act of faith in the legislative approach.

Article 7 deals with the extension of the maximum term of detention in young offenders centres from two years and 364 days, as I understand it, to four years. If that means that fewer young people will go to prison, that is grand. That would be a positive step forward. However, if young offenders' centres are to be turned into alternative prisons, that is bad. Such a move would confuse the issue and substantially change the complexion and context of young offenders centres. Such a change should be monitored. We must at least question the possible consequences. An increase in non-custodial sentences could ensue.

Will magistrates and benches generally take these provisions in the spirit in which they are written? If they do, we are on the way to solving the problem. If they do not, we shall be moving away from a solution.

The minimum age for a community service order causes a problem. I am confused about this, and I think that the same can be said for the proposed legislation. We are talking of young people who reoffend and increase the tariff for themselves. In effect, there is a postponement of the custodial sentence. That does not benefit the system or the circumstances of the individual. There is an inherent danger which must be reconsidered. Is there an alternative? I think that there is. There must be a clear separation between the ages of 16 years and 17 to 21 years. If the domino effect is to start at 16 years and continue through to 21 years, the result will be immensely counter-productive and unintended.

Article 13 provides for an option to remand young people to young offenders centres. Will the option be exercised by magistrates and judges? I would much prefer a mandatory provision that young people should be remanded to young offenders centres for non-scheduled offences. Better still, they should be remanded to the type of centre which could have been established under the Treatment of Offenders Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. I am talking not of Risley but of a properly staffed, run and thought out remand centre for young people. There is a danger that in the end the easy option will be taken.

Some young offenders are imprisoned for long periods at the Secretary of State's pleasure, having been convicted of scheduled offences, and in many cases having committed horrific crimes. Nethertheless, they are still young offenders. I shall not dwell on the matter, because there will be other opportunities to ask again and again that the review procedure for those young offenders be overhauled quickly, dramatically, and in a way which demonstrates, as I think everyone agrees, that the present system is unjust, unfair and, in many ways, unworkable. Surely we must include in our consideration young offenders who remain in prison at the Secretary of State's pleasure.

I pay tribute to the Probation Board, which has an onerous task. It is funded by the Secretary of State but it is then left to do its job. There is nothing between the board and its funding. It is the board to which the voluntary groups have to be responsible. The members of the board deserve tremendous credit. They have done a magnificent job in difficult circumstances. I should love to think that the Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State and the Minister would do those people the greatest courtesy by listening intently when they ask for a comprehensive and strategic approach to the problem rather than the dolly mixture approach adopted so far.

11.34 pm
Mr. Ian Stewart

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.

During the past hour, we have had a wide-ranging debate. Some of it has been related specifically to the contents of the orders, but much of it, for perfectly understandable and justifiable reasons, has dealt with young offenders, their offences and general sentencing policy. I hope that the House will understand if I concentrate on those matters directly related to the orders. I shall not, however, overlook what has been said tonight about the wider matters.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) suggested that the proprietors of public houses should carry some responsibility for drunkenness. He also spoke about sentencing policy, but that is a question for all of the United Kingdom. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the general matters discussed.

I am not an expert on the law in England and Wales, but some of the suggestions given tonight appear to involve some practical problems of implementation, as pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell). Some interesting comments have been made about judicial and sentencing policy that applies throughout the United Kingdom in addition to the policy directly related to Northern Ireland. I have taken note of what has been said.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) asked about the timing of the Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order. He pointed out, quite fairly, that it is a number of years since the Black report was completed and originally discussed. It has taken many years to bring forward the proposals because the question of training schools proved an extremely contentious one on which a wide range of views were expressed by those reacting to the proposals. It was not until 1986 that a decision was eventually taken that training schools should continue, but that the terms should be reduced. That decision has been implemented under article 6 of the order. In a sense that decision represented a compromise, but it was also a reflection of the consensus, which contained widely different views about the possible role of the training schools.

In the context of the Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order and the general debate on sentencing, training schools have been considered in the light of their use by and for offenders. Hon. Members will be aware, however, that such schools are also used for care cases. One cannot take a simple view of such schools based on the care of offenders; we must remember the other role of those institutions.

A number of hon. Members have spoken about the co-ordination of particular measures and our decision to put the measures dealing with the treatment of offenders in one parcel even though it does not cover the range of issues that are relevant to the behaviour of young people or the non-offence aspects of the problem. In many ways it would be convenient to draw more legislation together, but the House should recognise that a number of the matters fall under the responsibility of different Departments in Northern Ireland, just as they do in the rest of Great Britain. Whereas the general law relating to children is a matter for the DSS or the Home Office, issues relating to offenders in Northern Ireland fall under my responsibility and are solely a Home Office concern in the rest of the United Kingdom.

There are practical problems in relating those two issues in the legislation, but I assure hon. Members that great care is taken. I should like to pay tribute to my officials and others who have played a part in drawing up these measures and ensured that the wider picture is carefully assessed.

We intend to produce a children and young persons order for Northern Ireland in the next Session of Parliament. It will deal with a range of matters—

Mr. John D. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Stewart

I shall give way in a moment if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my comments. The order will deal with a range of matters which were also covered in Black report and are certainly in need of attention in the House. It will parallel developments which are taking place in England and Wales through the Children Bill.

Mr. Taylor

I welcome the Minister's statement that new comprehensive legislation on this subject will be introduced, but I regret the fact that he referred to an order. In light of the views expressed by the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and, of course, by Ulster Unionist Members, will he consider introducing a proper Bill, with rights for full parliamentary debate and amendments?

Mr. Ian Stewart

I noted the comments of the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland who have raised this point this evening. As they will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he will be willing to consider the procedures by which we take Northern Ireland business through the House, particularly the possibility of having debate through a Northern Ireland Committee. He remains open to discuss those possibilities with representatives from Northern Ireland.

I cannot undertake, and it would be irresponsible of me to do so, that the House is likely to be able to provide—

Mr. Mallon

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Stewart

If the hon. Gentleman will possess himself, and if other hon. Members will allow me even to complete my sentences, of course I shall give way.

I cannot foresee a time when the House will have the available capacity to deal, in full primary legislation through Bills and Acts, with all legislation for Northern Ireland, much of which substantially replicates that which is enacted in England, Wales or the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Mallon

I welcome the Minister's confirmation that there will be some form of legislation for Northern Ireland for children and young offenders. Will he go further and say that it will be fresh legislation, which will supersede existing legislation and will not be consequential either on that which we are discussing tonight or on an Act dealing with children and young offenders which might be introduced for England and Wales?

Mr. Stewart

As the hon. Gentleman will know, all Northern Ireland legislation is considered in relation to the particular circumstances of that Province. I am not the Minister responsible for this particular legislative proposal, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.

I wish to illustrate not merely that we need to tackle the recommendations of the Black report, and other discussions on this matter, consistently over a period, but to emphasise that none of our decisions are taken in the sort of isolation which the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) unfairly suggested.

It being one and a half hours after the motion was entered upon, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [26 May].

Resolved, That the draft Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved.