HC Deb 20 February 1991 vol 186 cc401-2
Mr. Randall

I beg to move amendment No. 70, ill page 8, line 48, at end insert— '(2A) A court shall not make a combination Order unless it would have imposed a custodial sentence if it had not made such an Order.'. The amendment would require courts to use the new combined probation and community service order only when they would otherwise have imposed a custodial sentence. The aim of the new combination order is to provide the courts with a new, intensive and demanding penalty which would be a credible alternative to custody for many offenders who are currently in prison. However, there is no guidance to that effect in the Bill.

In the absence of such guidance, there is every possibility that the courts will use the new order for many offenders who would currently receive probation orders, community service orders or other existing community penalties. That has happened in the past with other new non-custodial penalties. For example, the community service order introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1972 was intended primarily as a alternative to custody, yet Home Office research a few years after its introduction found that only 45 to 50 per cent. of such orders were being passed on offenders who would otherwise have gone to prison. That was established by Home Office research study No. 39, entitled "Community Service Assessed in 1976" and printed in 1977.

The greatest risk lies in the fact that the more requirements are imposed on offenders, the greater the chance that the offender will break one of the conditions, will be returned to court for that breach and will be imprisoned. If the combination order were widely used, rather than the existing non-custodial penalities, it could lead to the imprisonment for breach of many offenders who would not otherwise have been at risk of custody. We feel that the Bill should stipulate that courts use the combination order only when they would otherwise have passed a custodial sentence.

12.30 am

When the amendment was debated in Committee on 13 December, the Minister said: The one thing that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I do not wish to see on the face of the Bill is the outmoded concept of a sentence as an alternative to a prison sentence. We want offenders—men and women, boys and girls—to be sentenced to the correct punishment and for them to get their just deserts".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 December 1990; c. 250.] There is, however, no contradiction between the amendment and the idea that the severity of the sentence should reflect the offender's just deserts. The combination order will be the more intensive community penalty available to the courts. We feel that reserving it for more serious cases that would currently receive a custodial sentence would reinforce the idea that the most intensive penalties should be for the offences that deserve them.

Mr. John Patten

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) that the combination order should not be used indiscriminately and, in particular, should not be used when an ordinary probation or community service order would be adequate. However, the yardstick for any community sentence, including a combination order, is set out very clearly in clause 5(2): under subsection (2)(b), the restrictions on liberty in an order are to be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence". Such a restriction on liberty is likely to be among the greatest of all community penalties, which is why it is appropriate for the more serious offences to be punished in that way. I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment.

Mr. Randall

It is with great disappointment that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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