HC Deb 16 October 1990 vol 177 cc1155-60

'.—(1) A court may make a supervised attendance order in the circumstances specified in subsection (3) below.

(2) A supervised attendance order is an order made by a court with the consent of an offender requiring him—

  1. (a) to attend a place of supervision for such time, being 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 hours, as is specified in the order; and
  2. (b) during that time, to carry out such instructions as may be given to him by the supervising officer.

(3) The circumstances are where—

  1. (a) the offender is of or over 16 years of age; and
  2. (b) having been convicted of an offence, he has had imposed on him a fine which (or any part or instalment of which) he has failed to pay and either of the following sub-paragraphs applies—
    1. (i) the court, prior to the commencement of this section, has imposed on him a period of imprisonment under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 407 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 (power of court, when imposing a fine, to impose also imprisonment on default) but he has not served any of that period of imprisonment;
    2. (ii) the court, but for this section, would also have imposed on him a period of imprisonment under that paragraph or paragraph (b) of that subsection (power of court to impose imprisonment when a person fails to pay a fine or any part or instalment thereof); and
  3. (c) the court considers a supervised attendance order more appropriate than the serving of or, as the case may be, imposition of such a period of imprisonment.

(4) Where, in respect of an offender, a court makes a supervised attendance order in circumstances where sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (b) of subsection (3) above applies, the making of that order shall have the effect of discharging the sentence of imprisonment imposed on the offender.

(5) Schedule (Supervised attendance orders: further provisions) to this Act has effect for the purpose of making further and qualifying provision as to supervised attendance orders.

(6) In this section— local authority" means a regional or islands council; place of supervision" means such place as may be determined for the purposes of a supervised attendance order by the supervising officer; and supervising officer", in relation to a supervised attendance order, means a person appointed or assigned under Schedule (Supervised attendance orders: further provisions) to this Act by the local authority whose area includes the locality in which the offender resides or will be residing when the order comes into force.'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

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

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 95, 94 and 96.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The need for the new clause and the amendments arises as a consequence of clause 51(3), which restricts the use of community service orders to cases in which the court would otherwise have imposed a custodial sentence. Although cheaper than imprisonment, community service is still a relatively scarce resource and, if it is to make a real impact on the numbers sent to prison, it needs to be targeted effectively on more serious offenders. Research has shown that, in many cases, community service has been used in place of other non-custodial disposals in circumstances where imprisonment would have been unlikely.

Dr. Godman

What consultations have taken place with social work departments about the implementation of the proposal? Presumably social workers will play a key role. Do they need further training, or does the Minister believe that they are now entirely competent to perform the task that they will be called upon to perform?

9.45 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Consultation took place in April and there was strong support for the proposal. About 10,000 people go to prison for fine default and it was felt not only that it would be better if they paid, but that it would be better if those who could not pay had a supervised attendance order of this type.

One likely result of the restriction of the use of community service is an increase in the number of offenders who receive fines and hence in the number of fine defaulters. At present, imprisonment is the only penalty available to the courts for fine default. As I said, some 10,000 people are imprisoned every year in Scotland for that reason. If we are trying to encourage the use of non-custodial penalties, such as community service for offences serious enough to justify imprisonment, it would be inconsistent to countenance an increase in the numbers going to prison for fine default when the original offence did not merit custody.

We believe that the solution is to offer the courts a limited alternative to prison for use in fine default cases. We have called this a supervised attendance order, which would be used only for fine default and would be the only penalty other than imprisonment available to the courts in default cases.

The supervised attandance order is intended to punish by imposing a fine on the offenders' free time and by the imposition of regular discipline through punctual attandance and satisfactory behaviour with a sanction throughout of return to court and, ultimately, the possibility of imprisonment for non-compliance.

The new order has several features in common with community service orders and the schedule follows closely the procedures laid down in the Community Service by Offenders (Scotland) Act 1978, but there are important distinctions. Supervised attandance orders will be of short duration. They will last for between 10 and 60 hours rising in discrete units of 10 hours while community service orders have a minimum of 40 hours and a maximum of 240.

Offenders on community service perform unpaid work of benefit to the community often organised on an individual placement basis. The intention is that offenders on supervised attendance orders will be placed on group activity that can be provided at low cost. As well as unpaid work, sessions will be devoted to tackling anti-social behaviour such as alcohol misuse and to drug education and responsibilities to society.

It is intended to introduce supervised attandance orders on an incremental basis commencing with sheriff courts and subsequently to extend their availability to the stipendiary magistrates court and the district courts. We propose that the orders be supervised and managed by local authority social work departments in accordance with agreed national standards and that local authorities should be reimbursed in full for the agreed costs of provision. I can tell the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) that I have every confidence in social workers and that this is something that they will welcome and be able to implement with great efficiency and effectiveness.

Dr. Godman

Like the Minister, I have every confidence in social workers, although he might suggest that I have to say that, given that I am married to one. In each and every case, will the supervising officer mentioned in new clause 20(2)(b) he a fully qualified social worker?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall answer that when I reply to the debate. It is better that the hon. Gentleman should have a correct answer in a few minutes than that I should give an answer off the top of my head.

Dr. Godman

This is an important question.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Of course it is. I believe that in most cases it would be a social worker, but I want to confirm whether that will be so in all cases.

Mr. Ernie Ross

The Minister said that the cost of activities carried out under the supervised orders would be wholly reimbursed to the local authority. Will it get the money beforehand or will it have to claim it afterwards?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall check that, but I imagine that the authority will get the full funding beforehand. I shall let the hon. Gentleman know the answer.

In line with our present initiative in respect of other services such as probation, parole and social inquiry reports, we propose to form a consultative group, including representation from local authorities, the judicial and other relevant interests, to draw up guidelines to supervised attendance orders and to discuss the administrative and financial aspects involved. I should expect the point that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) mentioned to be looked at specifically by the group drawing up the guidelines.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

As an English Member, I am interested in the point that the Minister is making, in the sense that what happens in Scotland usually eventually finds its way to England. I do not think that the Minister adequately answered the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). Does the measure, for example, meet the needs of retraining or additional employment? A social work department in Scotland may require to employ one or two additional social workers to deal specifically with referrals under the system and, because of that, it will have revenue consequences for the employment or retraining of staff specifically to deal with the issues raised in the new clause. Will there be new resources to deal with that?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that specific point. That precise issue will be looked at by the consultative group that is discussing the financial aspects involved. It also bears on the question that I was asked by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, about whether the supervising officer would always be a social worker. The answer is, not necessarily. Community service supervision is provided by non-qualified staff under the general management and control of social workers.

During the passage of the Bill in another place, various amendments were tabled which were intended to simplify and standardise the level of proof in respect of breaches of probation and community service orders. At that time the Lord Advocate advised that he was in sympathy with the intention of the amendments and that the Government would consider bringing forward an amendment that would meet their objectives at a later stage. Our proposals for supervised attendance orders in corporate such intentions by specifying that the evidence of one witness shall be sufficient to prove failure to comply with an order. The proposed amendment to schedule 7 achieves the same effect in relation to the Community Service by Offenders (Scotland) Act 1978.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West asked whether 100 per cent. funding would be made before or after expenditure was incurred. I am informed that an allocation will be made in advance, based on the projected number of orders, and then adjusted in the light of outturn numbers. The answer is exactly what the hon. Gentleman would wish.

I commend the amendments to the House as a practical and humane alternative to the present provisions for dealing with fine default. I believe that they will be widely welcomed in Scotland.

Mr. Dewar

This is an important debate which fear, if no other arrangements for our business can be made, will take a considerable period. Therefore, I hope that the House will bear with me if I set out some of the considerations fairly fully. I am sure that arrangements could be made for a more sensible disposal of the business, but I am awaiting news about that.

Of course I appreciate the intentions behind the new clause as the Minister has explained them, but I am still a little surprised that we are facing the new clause. I discovered the proposals because I happened to be listening to early morning radio last Saturday when the ever efficient British Broadcasting Corporation's Scottish arm—I do not mention any particular individual—happened to comment upon the matter. That comment also included the suggestion that it was all part of the implementation of the thoroughly unpleasant speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) at the Conservative party conference—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

It was a splendid speech.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Lady may well think that it was a splendid speech, but she will not be surprised to know that that confirms all my prejudices. It is a happy state of affairs when we reinforce each other's prejudices so completely and with such enthusiasm.

I have read the speech that the Home Secretary made at the Conservative party conference. It does not seem to throw much light on this new clause. I therefore exonerate him from that charge.

In passing, however, I must add that the matter of the prison population which is, of course, connected with this new clause, is also bound up with the changes in parole that we shall presumably face as a result of the Kincraig report. When the Minister replies to the debate, I very much hope that he can say something about that. I further hope that we shall not see any legislation in the spirit of the Home Secretary's speech, and that the Kincraig report recommendations will not be a Scottish insert in the penny dreadful which is what I expect next Session's criminal justice Bill for England to be if the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley has his way. If there is to be a major piece of legislation on parole, with all the ramifications for the courts and the prison system, I shall expect it to be taken as a Scottish measure in a Scottish setting. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that point.

Having made those preliminary points, I now turn to the new clause in some detail. I was interested in what the Minister said. The notes that he was good enough to circulate to me two or three days ago referred to the research suggesting that community service orders, which are analogous to the supervised attendance orders that we are discussing, were often imposed where a fine would be the appropriate alternative. The point was made—and was reinforced in statutory form in this Bill—that the Government intend that community service orders should be imposed only where the alternative would be imprisonment. I do not for a moment dissent from the general value of that and believe that it is sensible that the community service orders should be used for the purpose for which they were designed.

The Minister's theory, as I understand it—I hope that I am not misrepresenting him—is that, because a number of community service orders were used where the proper alternative would have been a heavy fine and as, in future, that heavy fine will be imposed rather than a community service order, we shall have more heavy fines and more non-payments as a result of clause 51(3). As I understand it, that is the mainstream of the Minister's argument to justify the new clause.

Dr. Godman

I am concerned about something that the Minister said earlier—that those supervising such offenders when carrying out attendance duties may not be social workers. Given my hon. Friend's wide experience, where does he think that such supervisors will be found? Paragraph 3 of the Minister's explanatory memorandum states that such attendance would cover constructive use being made of time and activities, alcohol and drug education, employment seeking and application, and responsibility to society. Who on earth will supervise someone in those circumstances other than the social worker who has had some training and experience in probation work. I say that because it is important, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has not overlooked it.

Mr. Dewar

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have not overlooked the matter, and shall come to it later in my speech. I may say in passing that I have a voyeur's experience of social work. [Interruption.] It may be that, as someone who is married to one, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has had a voyeur's experience of social work as well.

Dr. Godman

My experience is legitimate.

Mr. Dewar

I will not go into that, but I was a professional observer—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That the debate be resumed tomorrow.