HC Deb 20 February 1991 vol 186 cc402-3
Mr. Sheerman

I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 9, line 10, leave out 'sixteen' and insert 'eighteen'.

At this time of night, an hon. Member hopes that someone will immediately sentence him to bed! The Whip has been talking to me very sternly, and I shall speak very briefly; I have only four pages of notes.

The amendment gives me the opportunity to raise our real concern about, and fundamental opposition to, the proposals for curfews enforced by electronic monitoring, especially when they are applied to young people. In this, the Opposition have the support of the Penal Affairs Consortium and many organisations involved with the criminal justice system.

We consider the curfew order a negative system: it neither involves the offender in socially useful activity nor engages professionals to encourage him away from a criminal path. We believe that alternatives to custody should be interactive, giving people a positive activity to change their lives.

Since 1982, the courts have had power to impose night restriction orders on juveniles as a condition of supervision orders, but very little use has been made of that power. In 1988, in the whole of England and Wales, fewer than 10 such requirements were imposed as conditions of supervision orders. During the same period, the courts made enormous use of constructive community measures, such as community service and supervised activity programmes for young offenders.

Hon. Members who were on the Standing Committee know my arguments reasonably well. We dislike this whole group of proposals. In Committee, we opposed them root and branch, and we have continued to do so on Report. We shall be very surprised if the Government, in response to our case, say anything that will make us anything other than very disappointed, but at this time of the night we shall not push the matter to a vote.

Mr. John Patten

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), by saying that the Opposition will not push this matter to a vote, has already got his retaliation—or his lack of retaliation—in. However, I want to say one or two things about this matter.

The suggestion that people of 16 or 17 cannot accept responsibility for their behaviour is nonsense. People of that age—especially young men—who cause mayhem should be treated as adults. On the other hand, I should like to see a wimpish 18-year-old who is not grown-up treated as a child. We must develop a much more sophisticated means of dealing with young offenders, so that their maturity may be judged as objectively as possible. I happen to believe that, by making available to the courts a range of penalties which are tough and demanding, and which take account of different patterns of offending, we shall help to minimise the use of custody. I have no doubt at all that curfew orders in respect of people of 16 or 17 will make a very valuable contribution to the sentencing arrangements.

On this matter, there is a very wide difference between the hon. Member for Huddersfield and myself. At this stage, I cannot say anything to persuade him. He has said that he will not press the amendment to a vote. I happen to be in a position to tell him that, should the matter be pursued in another place, mighty battalions, led by my noble Friend Lord Waddington, will be able to repeat the punishment.

Mr. Sheerman

Following the Minister's concluding remark, the Whip is urging me to press the matter to a vote.

I am very disappointed that the Minister has not responded to the case made by the Home Office research and planning unit's evaluation of the recent electronic monitoring experiments at three magistrates courts. All the research has shown that electronic monitoring has been a disaster and is not cost-effective. Indeed, it is enormously expensive, and the reports on it suggest that it would be very difficult to make it a cost-effective alternative.

On practical grounds, moral grounds and grounds of pragmatism, this is the wrong kind of measure. We believe that it will be a Home Office white elephant. Magistrates will not use it, and probation officers will have difficulty with it. We believe that benign neglect will result in its death.

In view of the lateness of the hour, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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