HC Deb 17 October 1990 vol 177 cc1214-25

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [16 October] on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in Standing Committee), That the clause (Supervised attendance orders as alternatives to imprisonment on fine default) be read a Second time.

'.—(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]

Question again proposed.

3.38 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I was going to say that I was in full flight—but perhaps that is a little grandiloquent, in view of what was happening at 10 o'clock last night—when these proceedings were brought to a close. However, I was certainly addressing the House, and I now rise with a certain feeling of nostalgia, because this is the last time that I shall start a session on the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which to me seems like an old friend. I cannot remember any other Bill to which the Opposition have made more changes or on which they have made more political progress. I doubt whether the Minister's memories of it will be quite so happy, but there we are.

The proposal that supervised attendance orders should be made is of real importance. As I explained last night, the new clause came as a surprise to me. I had not expected it, but I should be misleading the House if I were to suggest that I oppose it in principle.

I have some doubts—this is the point I had reached yesterday—about the basis of the Minister's argument. He explained that because, under clause 51(3), community service orders can be imposed only where the only genuine alternative would be a prison sentence, we will not reach the position that has commonly existed whereby community service orders were imposed in place of a large fine. With the new narrow interpretation of when it is appropriate to have a community service order, the number of large fines will increase, and therefore it is assumed that the number of non-payers will increase. As a result, there has to be some alternative to imprisonment for non-payment to stop our prisons being choked and clogged as they have been in the past.

I should have been happier if the Minister had said that the pressure—perhaps not spectacular pressure but in my case nagging pressure going back to the Criminal Justice Bill in 1981—to see whether there could be an alternative to imprisonment for non-payment of fines had been successful and was being adopted on its merits. The argument about clause 51(3) is esoteric and doubtful. After all, a high fine does not necessarily lead to high non-payment because, presumably, the instalments are set according to the payer's means. If the court is doing its business, there should be no greater risk of non-payment and the penalties that follow than for any other financial responsibility.

I take the view that supervised attendance orders as an alternative to imprisonment might be more appropriate for those who have failed to pay small fines. It is offensive and ridiculous for people who may have failed to pay a fine of £20 or £30 to find themselves doing seven or 14 days in prison to the disadvantage of the prison system. I am not impressed by the Minister's argument, but the reform he is introducing is useful in a modest way.

I have already said that I have argued for and still believe in the abolition of imprisonment as a punishment for non-payment of fines. I have done so for the past decade in this place. I was going to make a graceful reference to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) but, unusually, he is not in his place during a debate on this Bill. During the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill in 1981, he gave me very strong support but expressed a doubt because he thought that there had to be an alternative penalty to just debt collection and diligence. We are now providing that. The Government have suddenly found that it is practical to do something in this way, and we should be thankful for that.

I want to ask one or two questions which I am sure the Minister will be able to answer. I recognise that the cost is to be fully reimbursed. As I understand it, in the year ending 31 March 1989, local authorities spent £3.2 million on community service orders, at an average cost per order—according to a parliamentary question—of £920. In that year, there were 3,492 orders. I asked a further parliamentary question on 11 June and was told that the total number of orders made in 1989 was not under 3,500 but had increased in that short time to 4,190. In other words, the number of community service orders is on a steeply rising curve. Obviously, that raises questions about the Government's expectations for the number of supervised attendance orders that will be made and the cost that that will place on the Exchequer.

The Minister must not get me wrong: I believe that the cost should be met 100 per cent. I have a letter from Professor Fred Edwards, the director of the Strathclyde regional work and social department. He is talking about an agreement whereby local authorities had to meet agreed standards for the quality and quantity of the work—that is, of community service orders—before receiving increased funding. Clearly an incentive was being built in to raise standards in order to attract increased funding. I assume that the same system will apply here. Perhaps the Minister will say a word about that.

It is important that the Minister comments on the form of supervision—this point has been made by my hon. Friend the experienced Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who knows much about the social work world—and on how attendance sessions will be organised. We are told that they will be for between 10 and 60 hours, so, as an initial response to someone's conviction for a criminal offence, they will be shorter than community service orders. Of the 4,190 community service orders made in 1989, only 802 fell below 100 hours. I presume that some of the new supervised attendance orders will be as low as 10 or 20 hours, so clearly they will raise different practical problems.

I am not clear whether supervised attendance orders will be administered on a different basis from community service orders or whether people on attendance orders will mix and share activities with those performing community service. It may be a matter for the discretion of the local authority, but perhaps the Minister will say a word or two about that.

I notice that the briefing distributed by the Minister says that activities will be "provided in modular form". I am not clear what he means by that, but no doubt he will be able to wax earnest and learned on modular forms in supervised attendance orders.

Whom did the Minister consult? I have tried to find out from Strathclyde regional council—my regional council and social work authority—whether it was consulted before this innovation was introduced. I do not have a clear picture, but my impression is that, if there was consultation, it was cursory in the extreme, which suggests that it was introduced hurriedly. Was the Sheriffs Association consulted? Sheriffs will be involved in deciding supervised attendance orders. If it was consulted, what was its reaction and did it support the proposal?

Having asked these questions, I conclude briskly by making it clear that I welcome the proposal, so far as it goes. The prison system has been handicapped by the number of receptions of prisoners who were not sentenced to a custodial term but who ended up in prison because they failed to meet a monetary penalty. The figures for receptions are spectacular. In 1988, the last figures available to me and excluding remand prisoners, who would be a distorting factor, the number of admissions for default of payment of fines was 9,680, which is 47.1 per cent. of total admissions to the Scottish prison system.

That is a startling figure, but it probably will not startle many of my colleagues, because it is familiar to anyone who takes a passing interest in the prison system. I am aware that it is only just over 6 per cent. of the daily prison population, but the clogging of the system, the problems of reception, of administration and of processing the entry of a prisoner only for him or her to be discharged perhaps two or three weeks later causes enormous destruction to the proper work of the prison system.

I am concerned that the way in which the Minister presented this proposal was that its purpose is to stop the problem getting worse. He has argued that, because of the changes in the initial use of CSOs, which will lead to an increase in large fines, if we do nothing the number of receptions for non-payment, and the pressure on the prison system, will increase. I hope that he can be more positive. I hope that supervised attendance orders will have an impact that does not just stop the problem worsening but improves it. I hope that, after two or three years of experience, we might be in a position to say that that 47 per cent. figure of receptions for non-payment of fines had significantly decreased.

If the system works well, courts could be encouraged—I know that courts take individual decisions in individual cases—to use this alternative and to rid the prison system of at least a proportion of people, not just at the top of the fine scale but at the bottom end of this sad band of people who find themselves in prison for quite the wrong reason, to their distress, to the concern of their families and to the expense of the state. I am afraid that those people make it more difficult for the prison system to deal with those who, for reasons of public safety, must be imprisoned. It is a modest reform, but I hope that it is the start of better things.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The Bill has many aspects. We are dealing now with a major issue in a piecemeal fashion. That has been one of the features of this Bill. The imposition and collection of fines are major issues, meriting a major inquiry to see where the problem really lies. I know from my mailbag and experience that it is not popular to say that a fine should relate more to the offender's ability to pay than to the crime committed. For many years in the Scottish courts, the fine imposed has related to the offence, not to the offender's ability to pay.

Some years ago, I went to Sweden to study the Swedish penal system. If there was one aspect that impressed me, it was the fact that, throughout my period there, not one person was imprisoned for failure to pay a fine. The reason is simple. In Scotland, a fair amount of research is carried out into an offender's background before the court sentences him or her to a first custodial sentence. In Sweden, extensive research is carried out into an offender's ability to pay a fine. Before a case comes to court, the presiding judge or magistrate knows exactly what the person can pay should he be found guilty and a fine be imposed. Payment is based on earnings and other aspects.

Having taken the trouble to investigate an offender's ability to pay, the Swedish authorities claim the right to collect the fine—a system which I favour. In Sweden, there are no supervised attendance orders or alternatives to paying a fine. Research is carried out and the fine relates not to the offence but to the person's ability to pay.

I make no criticism of the Government or of the Minister, because successive Governments—I take my share of the responsibility—have paid little attention to this aspect of court work. It makes no sense to fine a person £1,000 if he or she is on income support or to impose a fine that is way beyond a person's ability to pay, in the certain knowledge that the fine will not be paid. It would be more honest of a court to impose a prison sentence, because that would be the outcome in any case.

It is time that we all agreed that there must be a major inquiry into the operation of fines in the Scottish judicial system. In many ways, Scotland has led in terms of judicial and law reform, and we should all be proud of that. I am convinced that we can do the same in terms of the levying and payment of fines.

I cannot give the new clause a wholehearted welcome, because I regard it as a piecemeal approach to a major problem. Instead, I want to give it a qualified welcome and to ask the Minister one or two questions about it.

At present, when an offender fails to pay his fine and is sent to prison, he can buy himself out before his sentence is complete. There is a scale governing the length of the custodial sentence that a fine defaulter should serve, and that is determined against the background of the level of the fine. A fine defaulter who has failed to pay a £1,000 fine will serve longer than a defaulter who has failed to pay a £50 fine.

The Minister knows from experience that it is quite common for a fine defaulter to be imprisoned on Monday and for someone to go along and pay his fine on Tuesday morning. All the paperwork surrounding his reception in prison then has to be gone through again and his release arranged. Will a fine defaulter now be able to buy himself out of a supervised attendance order? Suppose that the order requires him to attend for the maximum period of 60 hours. Will he be able to buy himself out when he has completed 20 hours, and what will be the scale used? Clearly, we are not talking about the payment of the total fine, because the offender will have served a third of the supervised attendance hours specified in the order. The Minister must have some sort of scale in mind.

Who will decide whether the offender may buy himself out of the arrangement? How will we decide whether a fine defaulter should be asked to attend for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 hours? Under the present arrangements under which a fine defaulter is sent to prison, scales are laid down. I may have missed the reference to such a scale in the new clause; that is not beyond me, I can assure the House. Is a scale to be specified for the proposed scheme? Unless we know what we are doing—unless social workers know in detail whether a fine defaulter can buy himself out—it seems inadvisable to proceed. We should not introduce the scheme until all the details have been put in place. If we introduce the scheme against a background of confusion, matters can only get worse and we shall find that we have added to the problem that we sought to solve.

My welcome for the new clause is qualified because, in my view, we are merely tinkering at the edges of what is now a major problem. We ought to consider other approaches. I urge the Minister to consider the establishment as soon as possible of a commission of inquiry to look into the whole question of levying fines according to the seriousness of the crime of which the offender has been found guilty rather than according to his ability to pay. If I were asked to choose, I would choose a system that related to the offender's ability to pay because if we had such a system, many of the other issues that we are discussing today would disappear.

4 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I promise to be brief, Mr. Speaker. Before asking the Minister a couple of questions about the new clause, may I, too, give it my qualified support? I recently attended a session of the sheriff court in Edinburgh when it was hearing a number of what are colloquially known as "means court" cases. One young man was sent down for 30 days for his failure to pay a fine, much to his deep dismay. Other young men—those appearing were mainly men—suffered the same fate. I should add that I was in good company—I was with Michael Clancy of the Scottish Law Society.

I thought that it was all a disgraceful waste and wondered why we should put that young man's family through such distress. He was bundled down below within 20 seconds of the sheriff making his nonchalant decision. Therefore, although I give the new clause some support, the Minister and his officials should further consider its implications.

I refer the Minister to subsection (2)(b), which states that the offender will carry out such instructions as may be given to him by the supervising officer. I believe that I am right in saying that, when answering an intervention from me yesterday evening, the Minister said that the supervising officer need not necessarily be a social worker. I am a little concerned about that. The Minister will recall that, in the explanatory memorandum that he sent to members of the Committee, he stated that, among others, we are referring to ex-drug abusers—those who have fallen by the wayside because of the misuse or abuse of drugs—and others. People who have unfortunately become addicted to drugs need to be supervised and need someone in the team who is highly experienced in such matters. As that rule must be applied to other offenders, I should like to hear the Minister offer a word or two about the non-social work supervisors, because I believe that he is straying into queer territory.

Similarly, the Minister needs to consult more comprehensively—or his officials need to consult more comprehensively—social work departments and voluntary associations whose main concern is the rehabilitation of offenders and those who have transgressed in terms of non-payment of minor fines. I should like to hear the Minister say something positive in response to my reservations on subsection (2)(b).

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am as concerned as my colleagues about some of the things that go on in the minor courts. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friends who have expressed some shock about the way in which young people are simply sent to prison casually and without much consideration.

I should like to ask the Minister a rather unpleasant question. I am not anti-lawyer, but I have a particular case in mind, which is known to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) because it concerns Bo'ness, which I represented for many years.

Will the Minister make it an obligation on sheriffs and temporary sheriffs not to take any alcohol during the lunch hour? I once brought a case to the attention of the House, in which a police career was ruined—that of Sergeant Jamieson—by a temporary sheriff who had taken drink during the lunch hour and then took decisions that could not be undone. That case has lived with me and I suspect that the same has happened on a number of other occasions.

As we are on the subject, it might be a good idea if those on the bench took no alcoholic drink during their lunch hours.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I have been encouraged to participate in the debate only following the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). For the record, I want to make it clear that I understand that there was an investigation by the then sheriff principal of the circumstances surrounding the case, and that no fault was found to attach to the sheriff concerned. The hon. Member for Linlithgow is perfectly entitled to raise the issue, but it is only right to put the record straight.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman deny that the temporary sheriff concerned had taken alcohol during his lunch hour before coming to his decision?

Mr. Campbell

That is not within my knowledge—

Mr. Dalyell

It is within mine.

Mr. Campbell

What is within my knowledge is that an investigation was effected and no fault was found to attach to the sheriff.

Mr. Dalyell

Some of us thought it unfortunate that the sheriff concerned came to the decision that he did, and that the investigation was a matter of lawyers all getting together.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I believe that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had an Adjournment debate on this subject some years ago—

Mr. Dalyell


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It would be rash of me to go into the case without researching all the facts, but I have heard what the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) has said, so I suspect that there are two sides to the issue, of which we have heard only one this afternoon. I shall look into the case.

I warmly welcome what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said—

Mr. Dalyell

Airline pilots, drivers, and many other people in skilled occupations are not supposed to drink alcohol in the course of their work, so is it unreasonable to suggest that those who take decisions affecting people's lives should do the same? Many other people are not supposed to drink at work; should not the same apply to those on the bench?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I approach the subject with some caution. If the hon. Gentleman were to table a motion suggesting that hon. Members should not take drinks before they participated in debates, I suspect that there would follow a heated debate in which different views would be expressed. I shall look at the facts of the case and come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course. It would certainly be wrong of me to give a judgment off the top of my head—

Mr. Dalyell

In my opinion, those who are going to take part in debates on the Floor of the House should not take alcohol before doing so.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I applaud the hon. Gentleman's high standards. All I am saying is that he would find this a contentious subject if he were to table a motion banning Members from drinking at lunchtime—

An Hon. Member

Or Speakers.

Mr. Speaker

Just for the record, I never do.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad to confirm that. I most certainly do not drink if I am about to speak in the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for Garscadden made a most positive speech; I agree with everyting that he said. The hon. Gentleman asked who was consulted. The Sheriffs Association, local authorities and other interested bodies were consulted. A letter was sent out in April and all the responses were in support of supervised attendance orders for fine default. The bodies consulted included the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Directors of Social Work in Scotland, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. I am glad to say that they strongly supported the measure.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked about modular form and the kind of supervision. The programmes will be organised in standard units. For example, there will be two-hour sessions on drug and alcohol misuse and two-hour blocks of unpaid work with groups of from eight to 12 offenders. There might be some sharing with people who do group placements on community service orders, but where practicable the two groups will be kept separate.

I was asked about national standards for supervised attendance orders. Standards will be drawn up in consultation with local authorities and others and funding will be conditional on standards being met. I was asked about the details. Guidelines will be drawn up and, as I said yesterday, a consultative group will be formed to look into these matters. It will include representation from local authorities, the judiciary and other relevant interests.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) asked whether fine defaulters could buy themselves out of supervised attendance orders. I am glad to confirm that the answer is no. Once the offender consents to a supervised attendance order, he will have to complete it. The hon. Gentleman also said that fines should be related to the means to pay and not to the severity of the offence.

Mr. Harry Ewing

The Minister says that an offender will not be able to buy himself out of a supervised attendance order. What sanction is available if the offender fails to complete the allocated number of hours? Is the sanction imprisonment? If that is the case, we are caught in the situation from which we are trying to escape.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes. What happens is broadly similar to that which occurs after non-co-operation with a community service order. I hope that that will not happen in more than a few cases. I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that section 395(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975—the hon. Gentleman may have played a part in getting that Act on to the statute book—states: A court … in determining the amount of any fine to be imposed on an offender shall take into consideration, amongst other things, the means of the offender so far as known to the court. The High Court has rightly emphasised that in appeal cases. In this connection, I agree with the hon. Member for Garscadden.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who has left the Chamber for a moment, said that there was a need to do more work on implementation. I agree. Detailed guidance for social work authorities on the operation will be drawn up in consultation with interested parties before the provisions of the Bill come into force. The hon. Gentleman also asked about non-social work supervisors. Their use is well precedented in bringing forward community service schemes. They always have access to support and advice from professional social workers.

Like the hon. Member for Garscadden, I think that it is important for there to be a range of community disposals in which the people of Scotland can have confidence. The hon. Gentleman asked me about this late last night, when he asked me to speak about probation. Fewer than 3 per cent. of offenders appearing before the High and sheriff courts are placed on probation. While probation is not suitable for all offenders, it has the potential to make a much bigger contribution. It has been somewhat neglected, so we saw 100 per cent. funding as important, not just for community service orders and supervised attendance orders, but also for probation.

When we gave 100 per cent. central funding for community service orders, it resulted in a 25 per cent. increase in the number of such orders in the first year. Obviously, that is an important consideration.

Mr. Dalyell

Why does the Minister think that the level of provision has fallen back like this? When I was first elected to the House, there was a tough probation officer in West Lothian who was a father figure and who sorted out a number of boys by using common sense and know-how. That sort of thing does not happen to such an extent these days, unfortunately.

4.15 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Our information is that local authority social workers are often reluctant to recommend this course of action in social inquiry reports, possibly because of the work load consequences for them, so 100 per cent. funding will assist.

Clause 51 makes other necessary changes to improve the effectiveness of the services. It ensures that community service orders are reserved for those offenders who would otherwise have been imprisoned. As the hon. Member for Garscadden said, the result would be to increase the number of fines. We believed it to be essential to do something about the problem of fine defaulters, or the Bill would inadvertently result in more people going to prison than was the intention of any hon. Member who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill, or the House as a whole.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Like others, I have been critical of the Minister from time to time during the passage of the Bill, but I warmly welcome what he has just said. It betokens an enlightened and sensible attitude from the Department. I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The effectiveness of the probation service before the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 was a watchword in penal circles. If we can, by a more generous allocation of funds, return to probation officers the stature that they enjoyed and the successes that they were able to achieve, that would be a good thing for many young people in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has just said. I think that this move will also be welcomed by prison officers, who have the duty of looking after those who are in prison because of serious crimes. If a young person who has committed a minor misdemeanour and finds difficulty in paying his fines—there are hundreds of such cases—can be dealt with in this way, that will help with the administration of the prisons.

Mr. Dewar

It seems to me that the drive of some of these comments is a move away from generic social workers and back to specialisation in the social work department. I should be interested to hear whether the Minister embraces that proposition.

I wish to clarify what the Minister has just said, because it is important. The thrust of his central argument is that there will be large fines, leading to fine defaults and the use of the new supervised attendance order, which is aimed at preventing a specific increase. Do the Government hope that the supervised attendance order will be widely used, perhaps for small defaulters—people who are fined under £50 but who have not paid, perhaps because they are on benefit or have a number of social pressures on them—who will benefit from the flexibility that this allows, with the result that there is a reduction? In other words, I want to know what part the Minister thinks that a supervised attendance order will play, and whether it will largely replace, over time, the imprisonment factor.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My view is that it will be seen as a lesser form of community service, shorter in scope and easier to carry out by those concerned. A range of disposals is important. The 100 per cent. funding for the probation community service order and supervised attendance orders will give the court a choice, which will depend on the seriousness of the case.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow also asked about the role of the social workers. Social workers should be deployed where their special skills can be used to the best effect. They will be responsible for the planning of supervised attendance orders and for generally overseeing their operation. The day-to-day supervision can be provided more cheaply by other local authority staff, and many of the components of the programme could be brought in from other providers, such as voluntary organisations. For example, local councils on alcohol could provide speakers on alcohol abuse.

It is important to distinguish supervised attendance from probation. In probation, the focus is on the individual offender and his offending behaviour. A probation order combines control of the offender with assistance to help him to solve his personal problems and stay out of trouble. Probation calls for the special skills of the social worker in one-to-one counselling and small group interaction. In contrast, supervised attandance will not be concerned with tailoring the approach to the individual offender. In essence, it is a fine on the offender's free time, and the supervisor's main function will be to ensure punctual attendance and good behaviour of a group of about eight to 12 offenders, whose activities will follow a standardised modular pattern.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow may have missed my earlier comment. In answer to his point, I can say that the Government do not believe that it would be a sensible use of scarce social work skills to have professional staff solely carry out this work. They will be much better employed in doing the things that only they can do—providing supervision and help to offenders on probation and parole, and preparing social inquiry reports to enable the courts to choose the most appropriate disposal.

Dr. Godman

I sincerely apologise to the Minister for the fact that I have been racing around for the past few minutes and therefore missed his comments.

It is essential that any activity-centred scheme is realistic and constructive, so that it helps such people to come back into the community. I know that ex-drug users at some centres spend many empty hours that could be more usefully spent preparing them to find jobs. That is why it is essential that the supervision is carried out by highly qualified and trained people.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but there are degrees of specialisation within the social work department. As the hon. Member for Garscadden suggested, we want to encourage greater specialisation in working with offenders.

In response to the point raised by the hon. Member for Garscadden, I confirm that supervised attendance orders will be widely used for defaulters of small fines. They will be highly appropriate in that category. The provision fulfils an important need.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I am carefully following the Minister's arguments, and I agree that there is a need for qualified, trained social workers to be involved. Will there be additional recruitment into social work, and will additional funding be made available to colleges and universities involved in the training of social workers? The necessary resources and back-up facilities must be provided, because social work departments are already under severe strain.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is obviously a matter for the consultative group, which will have representation from local authorities, the judiciary and other relevant, interested bodies. We shall keep closely in touch with the position.

We believe that the new penalty will be of great value in helping to reduce the pressure on the prisons, while continuing to provide a disincentive to fine default and enabling those who do default to make amends for their offence through loss of their free time, disciplined attendance and constructive activity.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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