§ Order for Second Reading read.5.42 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I move to the substance of the debate, I shall take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on his appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. It is a major achievement and I am sure that the House will wish to congratulate him on it. I hope that he will enjoy as long and distinguished a career in that position as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who will be missed at our deliberations. I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman's new Front-Bench colleagues and wish them everything that I wished their predecessors.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Is it the Secretary of State's intention to seek the creation of a Special Standing Committee under Standing Order No. 91? It seems that the Bill contains important measures on the management of our prisons, and such a Committee—which can meet on no more than four occasions—would be a useful way to allow Members to cross-examine witnesses and send for papers relating to this important legislation.
§ Mr. Lang
I certainly agree that the Bill is full of technical and detailed measures which it will be appropriate to scrutinise closely in Committee. Indeed, I fear that my speech today may become more detailed than I would normally wish in a Second Reading debate, but it flows from the fruits of the work of the Kincraig committee—an immensely distinguished and reasonably broadly based committee. That committee report was extensively consulted and applies to a specialist sector—the House already has the benefit of an enormous degree of scrutiny and careful consideration. That will inform our deliberations in Committee as well as any Standing Committee would. Therefore, I am not minded to accede to the hon. Gentleman's request for a Special Standing Committee on this occasion, although I acknowledge the potential role of such Committees in some circumstances.[Interruption.]
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
I have been here, and in my place, since 2.30 pm—unlike some Members who have just entered the Chamber.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread concern about the operation of clause 32(5), which was inserted in another place against the advice of the Government through an amendment tabled by Lord Campbell of Alloway? That clause will make it much more difficult to prosecute war criminals, who are among some of the most beastly men—if not the most beastly men—in this country. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will seek to reverse that decision of the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
There is at least one respect in which the Government have rejected the recommendations of the Kincraig report in a material matter that affects the terms of the Bill. Is not that, of itself, a compelling reason for hearing what Lord Kincraig and others with an interest in the matter have to say in a Special Standing Committee?
§ Mr. Lang
It is a more compelling reason for getting the Bill into Committee quickly so that the House can satisfy itself that the Government's attitude is right. The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that there are a number of points on which the Government disagreed with the Kincraig committee, for reasons which have been spelt out in another place—and which will be spelt out in Committee in this place. That is not a compelling reason to use the Special Standing Committee procedure.
As the short title suggests, the Bill serves two main purposes. The first is to reform existing arrangements for the early release of prisoners. The second is to make improvements in the law governing criminal evidence and criminal procedure in Scotland.
The Bill is limited in scope. It does not change the substantive criminal law or significantly affect the structure of penalties available to the court. The measures in part I are, however, designed to lead to greater fairness, consistency and openness in the administration of custodial sentences. They are long awaited, and I am confident in saying that in principle they command support across the political spectrum of the House.
As for part II, the measures will improve the administration of pre-trial and trial procedures, avoid unnecessary burdens being placed on witnesses, clarify the rights of accused persons and speed up the business of the courts. Those are highly desirable aims which I hope will be welcomed by hon. Members.
Most of the provisions in part I stem from the recommendations of the Kincraig committee. More formally, that was the committee of inquiry into parole and related issues in Scotland, the chairman of which was Lord Kincraig. I should like to acknowledge our indebtness to that committee. Its report was generally very well received and our proposals reflect the wide acceptability of most of its recommendations.
During the process of consultation, some reservations were expressed about what were essentially matters of detail. Where there is variation from what the committee recommended, it is largely to take account of such reservations. However, the committee established a framework of principles for a new early-release system, and the provisions in the Bill are built upon that framework.
Part of the purpose of the new early-release provisions is to toughen the deterrent effect of sentences for serious crime. There are those who argue that the sentence of the court should mean precisely what it says—a fixed number of years in custody. The Government believe, however, like the Kincraig committee, that a better approach is to allow, within the compass of the total sentence, for a period in custody, and a period in the community during which the offender will be encouraged to resettle under 239 supervision. The provisions of part I will ensure that those sentenced to four years or more will spend at least half the period in custody, and that all will have supervision on release, potentially to the end of the period determined by the court.
An even more important change made by the Bill is to provide for the full outstanding portion of any sentence to be served, should the offender commit another offence punishable by imprisonment after his release, but before the full period specified in the sentence has elapsed. It is this measure that restores meaning to the full sentence of the court, and ensures that the deterrent effect of the sentence lasts for the full period intended by the court which passed it.
The provisions of part I also iron out a number of anomalies in the existing law. An important flaw in the existing system is that parole makes release at one third of sentence possible only for those serving longer determinate sentences. A prisoner serving 18 months or less must always serve at least two thirds of the sentence. A person convicted of serious offences may therefore serve a smaller proportion of his sentence than one convicted of a relatively less serious offence.
The new provisions address the paradox whereby, under the existing law, compulsory supervision is only available for adults released on parole, who by definition pose a low risk. At present, those released at two thirds of sentence having failed to obtain parole receive no supervision whatever. Yet these are the offenders who, by definition, are considered high risk.
The system of remission of up to one third of sentence as it now operates rules out the possibility of post-release supervision for those not granted parole. It also automatically devalues by one third the sentence passed by the court. Under the Bill, the concept of remission is abolished. The proposed new arrangements replace remission with the new concept of early-release entitlements, and address the other disadvantages of the existing arrangements.
The fundamental elements of the new system are provided in clauses 1 and 16 of the Bill. Under clause 1, every determinate sentence prisoner will be required to serve at least half his or her sentence in custody. Long-term prisoners—defined in clause 27 as those serving sentences of four years or more—will be eligible for parole at half sentence. If not granted parole, they are to be released on licence—under supervision—after serving two thirds. All long-term prisoners will thus be subject to post-release supervision.
Short-term prisoners—those serving less than four years—are to be released at half sentence with no automatic provision for post-release supervision. However, there is provision—in clause 14—for the courts to impose such supervision in certain cases.
All prisoners serving determinate sentences, whatever the length of sentence, will be subject to the provisions in clause 16. Under those provisions, as I have already said, a person who commits a further imprisonable offence during the period between release from prison and the end of the full sentence will be liable to be returned to prison for the remainder of that sentence, regardless of any penalty which may be imposed for the new offence.
Clause 1 also re-enacts existing provisions applying to the release of life prisoners. Under these provisions, the Secretary of State may release a life prisoner provided he has consulted the judiciary and has a positive 240 recommendation from the parole board. This retains the Secretary of State's ultimate discretion over the release of mandatory life prisoners—namely, those who have committed murder. Thus the crime of murder continues to be marked as uniquely serious in our law. Before a murderer can be released, it will continue to be the case that not only the parole board but the judiciary must give their views and the Secretary of State must be personally satisfied that release is appropriate. That is the safeguard which the public rightly expects in these difficult and sensitive cases.
Clause 2, however, introduces a new system for consideration of release in cases where the sentence of life has been passed not as a mandatory sentence, but as a maximum, expressly for the purpose of protecting the public. That new provision meets, for Scotland, the United Kingdom's obligation to change the law in accordance with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell. A discretionary life prisoner is one on whom the court has imposed a life sentence partly as punishment for one or more offences and partly to protect the public. The ECHR judgment established that once the punitive grounds for the sentence no longer hold, the public risk ground is a matter which must be open to periodic review by a body having the status and constitution of a court.
Clause 2 provides for the court, when passing a discretionary life sentence, to determine by order the period for which the prisoner is to be detained on punitive grounds alone. At the end of that period, the prisoner will be entitled to periodic reviews of the continuing public risk grounds for his detention. For this purpose, we propose to bring forward rules under clause 20 whereby the parole board will be constituted and function as a court. If the board finds that it is no longer necessary for the safety of the public that the prisoner should continue to be detained, it will be able to direct his release on licence.
Having described at some length the main provisions in part I, I shall deal with the remainder.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
My attention is immediately attracted by the notion of the parole board operating as a court. Will it do so only in the limited respect made necessary by clause 2, or will the whole of the functions of the parole board be conducted as if it were a court? As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the latter would give rise to certain potential consequences with regard to the way in which the decisions of the parole board may be capable of review in another place.
§ Dr. Godman
Under clause 21, what kind of person will be appointed to the position of parole adviser? Will that be a voluntary position undertaken by, say, members of local review committees, or will the post be an additional role taken on by members of the social work departments in prisons?
§ Mr. Lang
Persons appointed as parole advisers will be appointed on merit, taking into account their experience and their suitability to give advice to the parole board. The hon. Gentleman may wish to pursue that point in Committee.
241 Clause 3 provides a new power to release a prisoner on licence at any stage of sentence if there are compassionate grounds for doing so. There are at present no satisfactory means of releasing, for example, a prisoner who becomes terminally ill or permanently disabled. If the case is very strong, I am able to exercise the royal prerogative of mercy on Her Majesty's behalf, but this is rarely appropriate. The parole board can intervene only if the prisoner is under parole review at the appropriate time, but it distorts the purpose of the board to expect it to recommend parole purely as a device to achieve release in these cases. The Kincraig committee, in highlighting the unsatisfactory nature of existing powers, recommended a new power, and clause 3 is based on its proposals. There will be consultation with the parole board about any proposal for compassionate release, provided time allows, but this will be designed to assist the Secretary of State to address the public risk. The initiative for compassionate release will remain with the Secretary of State and will not be delegated to the board.
Clauses 4 to 9 deal with the application of the new early-release arrangements in particular circumstances or to particular classes of prisoner or detainee, including prisoners who are transferred to mental hospitals; fine defaulters and those imprisoned for contempt of court; young offenders and children; and prisoners who are subject to deportation on release. So far as possible all classes of persons held in custody will have comparable early release entitlements, but there are certain important differences.
One particular difference which I should like to highlight is that the release of children sentenced by the courts will be possible at any time, on the positive recommendation of the parole board. They will not have to wait for any particular proportion of sentence to elapse before release can be considered. Even children sentenced to less than four years will be supervised on release, thus taking into account the particular need for social work support for those who have committed crimes at a very young age.
Clause 10 sets out the conditions under which a life prisoner transferred to Scotland from another jurisdiction is to be treated as a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of clause 2. Clauses 11, 12, 13 and 17 deal with the duration and conditions of licences—in particular, the condition of compulsory social work supervision which will attach to all licences at the point of release—and with revocation of licences.
Clauses 14, 15, 18 and 19 provide for a new supervised release order to be imposed at the discretion of the courts on certain short-term prisoners, for the variation of such orders, penalties for breach of supervision requirements, and appeals.
The Kincraig committee recommended that there should be no compulsory supervision for those released from sentences of five years or less, but that was one of the few recommendations that attracted adverse comment. Concern was expressed about the need for post-release supervision of some shorter-term prisoners, especially those convicted of violent offences or offences against children. The provision for supervised release orders is designed to meet that concern.
242 I shall describe a supervised release order as akin to a mini-probation order added to the end of the custodial part of a sentence. The order may be made by the sentencing court in passing a sentence of 12 months or more, but under four years. It will require the offender to comply with social work supervision on release from custody for a period not exceeding 12 months. The purpose of the order, as stated in the Bill, is to protect the public from serious harm. The circumstances in which a supervised release order should be made will be for the judicial discretion, but we envisage that it will be particularly appropriate in cases of sexual or violent offending. The offender who breaches the order will be dealt with by the court that made it, and may be returned to custody for the whole outstanding period of the order since the breach.
Clause 20 and schedule 2 provide for the continued existence of the Parole Board for Scotland. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has already, in another place, paid tribute to the sterling work of the parole board and in particular its chairman for the past 12 years, Mrs. Jean Morris. One cannot speak too highly of the dedication, experience and care with which she and the other members of the board carry out their onerous duties. In addition to the re-enactment—with some modifications—of existing provisions relating to the board, the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to delegate to the board, by order, the power to decide rather than advise on the release of specified classes of prisoner.
Clause 20 also empowers the Secretary of State to issue policy directions to the board which will clarify the basis for parole decisions. Expressly, the Bill provides that in giving his directions, the Secretary of State should have regard to the need to protect the public from serious harm from offenders, and the desirability of preventing the commission by offenders of further offences and of securing their rehabilitation. That provision gives public risk central prominence in the parole decision, as recommended by the Kincraig committee.
Clause 21 provides for the appointment of parole advisers, whose function—as recommended by the Kincraig committee—will be to assist prisoners who otherwise might have difficulty in understanding the parole system or in expressing adequately any representations that they may wish to make to the board. The purpose of clauses 22 and 23 is to provide the Secretary of State with adequate powers in relation to the assignment and transfer of prisoners, and the temporary holding of young offenders in prisons.
§ Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)
Clause 24 is the only one that refers to untried prisoners. As the Secretary of State is aware, a prison governor is responsible for the discipline of untried prisoners, but who is responsible for their safety? In Barlinnie prison in my constituency, two people have taken their lives and there has been one attempted suicide in the past nine months. Surely the Government are responsible for safety.
§ Mr. Lang
I am subject to later correction, but I anticipate that the governor is responsible for such matters within his prison. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about these sad cases in which, too often, young prisoners take their lives in trying and difficult circumstances.
243 As I said earlier, the provisions in part II of the Bill would make a number of useful improvements in the law relating to both evidence and procedure in criminal proceedings. Clause 28 gives effect to recommendations made by the Scottish Law Commission in its "Report on Evidence: Blood Group Tests, DNA Tests, and Other Related Matters". It provides a statutory framework for the taking during criminal investigations of fingerprints, impressions and other forensic samples.
Clause 29 and schedule 3 make provision for statements in business documents to be admissible in criminal proceedings. They also provide for copies of documents to be admissible as being equivalent to the originals. These provisions, which were moved in another place by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Lord Macaulay of Bragar, reflect work carried out by the Scottish Law Commission following publication of a discussion paper by the commission. It is thought that those provisions will serve to reduce the need for witnesses to attend court to give evidence which is otherwise contained in such documents.
Clause 30 makes provision to bring the law up to date in respect of the admissibility of evidence contained in audio or video recordings. Clause 31 provides, in effect, that the transcript of an interview between a customs officer and an accused person is to be received in evidence on the same basis as the transcript of an interview between a police officer and an accused person.
The purpose of clause 32 is to make it possible for evidence in solemn proceedings, whether in the High Court of Justiciary or before the sheriff, to be given from abroad by live television link, with appropriate safeguards. I should like to dispel any misunderstandings about the nature of this provision. It is not designed to enable video-taped evidence to be given in Scottish courts. The link would be live. The witness would be televised giving evidence in a courtroom abroad and the television monitor in Scotland would show live proceedings.
The provision could be used to benefit either the prosecution or the defence case. It is quite possible that the defence case could be reliant on testimony from a witness residing abroad, who could not be compelled to attend the court in Scotland. The provision is in no way biased towards the prosecution. Moreover, the provision embodies stringent safeguards for the rights of the accused. Either party may apply to the court for the use of a live television link, but if the application is by the prosecution, the court must be satisfied that it is not unfair to the accused. The court must also be satisfied that it is in the interest of justice, and that the evidence which the witness is able to give is necessary for the proper adjudication of the trial.
Similar provision has existed in England and Wales since the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The law of Scotland has fallen behind in this area. It is right that the parties to a trial and their witnesses should be able to benefit from the use of modern technology, where it is in the interests of justice for them to do so. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that, as the House is aware, subsection (5) of clause 32 was added to the provisions in this clause in another place against the Government's advice and policy. It would preclude the taking of evidence from abroad by live television link in any proceedings under the War Crimes Act 1991.
244 In the Government's view, which I suspect many hon. Members will share, it is unacceptable that there should be different evidential provision for trials under that Act. It creates anomalies in the law of Scotland purely to meet concerns in another place about war crimes legislation. The principle of war crimes legislation has, however, been established by this House, and we do not intend to allow that question to be reopened by an indirect route. We therefore intend to bring forward an amendment to clause 32 to remove subsection (5).
Many hon. Members hold strong views on the issues which arise in connection with clause 32 and will wish to take part in the debate on that amendment. Therefore, I propose to table the amendment on Report so that we may have a more open debate than would be possible in Committee. I trust that members of the Committee will feel able to exercise restraint so as not to anticipate or pre-empt debate on the amendment at a later stage. We hope and believe that, as a result of that debate, the message will go loud and clear to the other place that this House supports the clause in its original and unamended form.
Clauses 33 to 35 contain further provisions in relation to the giving of evidence by children in criminal proceedings. The broad aim of these provisions is to reduce the stress on children who are involved in such proceedings, while safeguarding—as we must—the rights of the accused.
§ Dr. Godman
The Secretary of State knows that I am keenly interested in clauses 32 to 35. Am I right in thinking that the whole of a child's evidence may be taken pre-trial? If such a procedure is followed, a child need not attend the criminal trial.
§ Mr. Lang
That is my understanding. It would involve not just a child giving evidence but a child being cross-examined by the defence and the prosecution precisely in order to avoid the kind of stress that would result from bringing him or her to the courtroom in what could be difficult and stressful circumstances.
Clause 36 gives effect to the provisions in schedule 4 to the Bill, which further extend existing law on certificate evidence. Clause 37 clarifies the procedures for adjournment for inquiry in summary proceedings. Clause 38 extends existing provisions which enable a court to order a preliminary diet so that agreement may be reached before a trial on matters of evidence or other issues. Clause 39 makes provision for a judge sitting in solemn proceedings to deal with other business while the jury are considering their verdict. Clause 40 amends existing legislation so as to require courts to specify the date of commencement of a sentence of imprisonment or detention, and to give reasons where such a sentence is not backdated to take account of time spent in custody before sentence. Clause 41, the last in part II, will enable the Crown to apply to the court to set aside a conviction where the prosecutor believes that the judgment on which that conviction is founded should not be maintained.
Provision for a number of additional procedural reforms is made in schedule 5 to the Bill.
I hope that this overview of the Bill has been helpful to the House. It is, as I say, a Bill whose basic intentions command cross-party support.
§ Dr. Godman
Will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that he will, by way of the Bill, set up a visiting 245 committee for the prison in Greenock? He will surely agree that visiting committees play an important part in managing tension and dealing with grievances within prisons and that the present circumstances in Greenock are wholly untenable. As Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said to me in a recent letter, that prison needs a visiting committee.
§ Mr. Lang
The Bill makes no provision for such matters because there is no need for a change in statutory arrangements to enable a visiting committee to be set up in Greenock. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to pursue that matter in Committee, where he will have the opportunity to table amendments and speak to them. I share his view on the value of such committees and the desirability of having them.
In conclusion, I believe that the basic intentions of the Bill command cross-party support. I look forward to constructive and helpful debate which concentrates on the detail rather than on the basic principles of what we are trying to achieve. I commend the Bill to the House. It embraces a considerable number of small but immensely worthwhile reforms.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for the kind comments that he made at the start of his speech. I think that it was Harold Macmillan who once said that a few kind words in politics go a long way. I appreciate what the Secretary of State said. Perhaps on reflection he will feel that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the Special Standing Committee is at least worthy of consideration, as there is a great deal of support for it. I know that he replied to that suggestion off the cuff.
I welcome, as my hon. Friends will, the firmness that the Secretary of State showed over clause 32. The House having made its view on principle absolutely plain, it is right and reasonable that modern technology should be made available to assist the courts in reaching their conclusions.
The Opposition are pleased that the Bill has finally arrived at Second Reading but I am appalled at the length of time it has taken to reach this stage. Hon. Members will recall the timescale. The Kincraig committee first met in January 1988 and published its report in March 1989. The Government's response was produced in September 1990—over two years ago. In England and Wales, the main recommendations of the Carlisle report were incorporated in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which came into force on 1 October 1992. However, in Scotland we are still discussing the Kincraig report.
As the Secretary of State will be aware, the Parole Board for Scotland, in its annual report for 1991, felt so strongly that itexpressed its concern that the delay in implementing the recommendations of the Kincraig Report, published in March 1989, would lead to anomalies between the Scottish and English judiciaries and create uncertainty for those involved in the parole process.The incompetence in the Government's administrative approach has left Scotland yet again following behind England and Wales. Not only that, but the Bill proposes reforms that would benefit the whole prison system but 246 that are left unimplemented. That cannot be good for our already overstretched prison system. I urge the Government to show considerably more vigilance on these important matters.
I find it surprising that, over this period, the Government have not found time for a debate on the report. The Opposition owe a great deal—we acknowledge it—to Lord Macaulay of Bragar, who had the matter raised in another place. We are thankful for his input in the Bill.
Before I examine in detail the issues addressed in the Bill, I must qualify my initial pleasure at the fact that we have at last reached Second Reading. I think that many organisations involved in this sector agree that an opportunity has been missed—the opportunity to introduce a new Prisons Act to replace existing legislation. As many hon. Members will be aware, the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 simply consolidated earlier amendments to the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1952, which was itself a consolidation of previous legislation. Therefore, we have a system operating on out-of-date legislation and one that is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul. The Secretary of State will know that there is much support for that view.
If the Government had taken the bold but necessary step of introducing a new Prisons Act, many wider issues of concern not included in this Bill could have been taken into consideration—issues such as prison legislation and prisoners' rights. The House will know that prison rules are, in the main, made by means of statutory instruments, which lack real heavyweight legislative status. Everyday life in prison for the prisoners is determined by prison administrators, without real public scrutiny. I was glad to read that the Government undertook to review the prison rules. I look forward to seeing a timetable for this, as this is clearly a much needed reform which would be greatly welcomed.
The basic principle of attempting to reduce the prison population in Scotland is highly desirable. This is all the more so because the prison population in Scotland is 5,350 as opposed to 4,750 some 12 months ago—a significant rise in such a short period. The considerable cost of imprisoning a person means that such a rise results in an expensive bill. It is interesting to note that the average sentence in 1950 was 30 days, but by 1985 this had increased to 241. The uneven distribution of population in Scottish prisons has caused the major problems of which we are all aware when we look at the incidents that have taken place over a long period and resulted in enormous strain on everyone concerned, not least prison staff.
It may interest hon. Members to know that 40 per cent. of the Scottish prison population consists of fine defaulters. When it is considered that on average it costs about £12,000 to keep someone in prison for 12 months, I am sure that the House will agree that there must be better ways of dealing with fine defaulters and that we should be looking for opportunities to introduce and implement them.
I welcome the attempts that have been made in framing the Bill to have a closer link between the length of sentence passed by the judge and the length of time spent in prison.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
Is it within the hon. Gentleman's experience that those who tend to default on fines tend also to be the poorest and most disadvantaged in the community? They are often people who are out of work or who suffer from a disability. Very often they are 247 female single parents. Does that not reinforce the notion that some alternative means should be found so that such people can pay a debt to the community that does not have to be expressed in pounds and pence?
§ Mr. Clarke
The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. I hope that the Bill will give us the opportunity to consider what we are doing as a society. Our present response in many instances is to imprison those who experience great poverty, people who in many cases are unable to pay their fines, and ask taxpayers to pay the bill. That seems to be an odd way of going about these matters.
The Secretary of State has suggested that the Bill has three main purposes. He explained that the first purpose is the fundamental reform of the parole system. Secondly, there is the new arrangement for dealing with life sentence prisoners, which will go some way to fulfilling Scotland's obligations under the European convention on human rights. Thirdly, the Bill seeks to make changes to the law of Scotland on criminal evidence and procedure.
I welcome the third purpose of the Bill, which is the change in criminal evidence procedure. I know that in so doing I speak for many of my hon. Friends and not least my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who has pursued the matter for many years. I hope that he will feel that there is at least some response to his representations as we discuss the Bill.
We are happy with many of the Bill's provisions, which we consider to be welcome developments. Among those that stand out is the use of evidence by live television link. It will be advantageous in a financial sense and in cases where the individual who is giving evidence is under 14 years of age and has been subject to a serious assault, in some cases sexual offences. The presence of the alleged perpetrator of such crimes—we discussed this when we debated the Children Act 1990—is often a horrifying ordeal for a young child. Many psychologists have long advocated the use of a television link or protective screens to protect a young person. Such provision is, thankfully, included in the Bill.
The provisions in clause 2 deal with discretionary life prisoners. The clause introduces new arrangements that go some way to meet obligations to change the law in accordance with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. I emphasise "some way" because there are aspects of the European court's thinking that we might have taken more meaningfully on board. I am sure that they will he discussed in Committee and when consideration of the Bill returns to the Floor of the House.
There are many issues to be addressed, including parole and the implications that possible changes will have on the activities of social workers. The House will recall that the introduction of parole as we know it stemmed from a Labour party initiative and the conclusions of a study group which was chaired by Long Longford. The study group produced a paper entitled "The Adult Offender", which paved the way for the relevant provisions that appeared in the Criminal Justice Act 1967.
Clause 14 introduces new supervisory release orders for short-term prisoners serving between 12 months and four years. What will the resource implications be—the question has been asked—if there is a dramatic use of such orders? I hope to hear from the Government whether they have allowed for such a use of the orders and have made arrangements accordingly for the necessary resources that will be needed to make such legislation meaningful.
248 Possibly of even more concern to social workers are the provisions in clauses 11 to 13, which concern the supervision of long-term prisoners and the conditions and duration of their licence. The provisions could produce many difficult and potentially dangerous situations. In reality, hardened and experienced criminals with the most difficult and chaotic lifestyles will be released after they have served two-thirds of their sentence with mandatory supervision, something in which they will be reluctant to participate. Previously, parole was something that prisoners opted into. They were, therefore, willing to participate in it. That did not present the difficulties that we are now addressing.
The longer the sentence the longer will be the supervision period. I shall emphasise the point. Someone who is sentenced to 30 years and who leaves prison after 20 years will remain under supervision for the next 10 years. That is a long period of supervision. Immense difficulties may be encountered and I offer no easy solution, except to encourage adequate funding and support for social workers whose responsibility it is to supervise long-term prisoners.
If the Bill and so much other legislation is to be effective, the role of social workers is crucial. We all know that there are times when social workers feel that they are under attack. They feel that they will be criticised no matter what decision they take and they are aware of their awesome responsibility. I wish, therefore, to go on record as supporting their role and to indicate that the Opposition do not believe, with the best will in the world, that the Bill can be as effective as we wish it to be without the good will that so many social workers have contributed to the system, for which we thank them.
Clause 3 covers the power to release prisoners on compassionate grounds. The clause highlights the important issue of the relevant roles of the judiciary and the Executive. At present, a prisoner who applies to the parole board—the executive for parole, as it were—has no right of appearance, no right of appeal if his application is rejected and no right to be given a reason for the rejection of his application.
Clause 17 covers a short-term, long-term or life prisoner who has been released on licence but has had his licence revoked on the recommendation of the parole board but makes no provision for any form of representation to be made by the prisoner to the parole board on the recall of the licence. This is a concern that has been expressed by the Law Society of Scotland. I am sure that the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues will consider that that is a heavyweight view and one that is worthy of a considered response.
If there is a belief in natural justice, parole cases should be heard in an open forum and not in secret. Secrecy allows for accusations that secret justice is being dispensed. I shall use some quotes to elaborate the argument. Rupert Cross, in "Punishment, Prison and the Public", said:There can be no doubt that the increase in the control of the Executive over the offender after he has been sentenced has been one of the major features of 20th century penal history in this country.Terrence Morris, in "Deviance and Control", wrote:The spectre of Executive justice casts deep shadows across the light of freedom under the law … For above all, justice which is done in private must always lie under the suspicion that its reasoning may be arbitrary and instrumental and such as would wither behind closed doors.249 Bad behaviour that offends the prison code should be dealt with by prison authorities in the normal way. A criminal act, however, is a matter for the law. The two ought not to be confused, as they often have been under the present system.
Although I am a long-term supporter of advocacy in community care, I have always believed that advisers must be trained and experienced in their individual disciplines. Although the creation of parole advisers is long overdue, and is most welcome, it is essential that they should be properly trained—and clause 21 makes no provision for that. In the debate in the other place, Lord Fraser stated that any long-term establishment would have between one and five advisers, who would be local to the prison and have a previous involvement in it. Will the Secretary of State say who those people will be and whether he will ensure that proper provision is made for their legal training?
Offender services are currently funded by the Scottish Office and regional councils under what has become known as 100 per cent. funding arrangements. I shall be interested to know, as will many agencies, what is the Government's estimate of the number of individuals concerned. One would expect an increase, but the Government's funding intentions are not clear.
If the Government believe that abolishing statutory supervision of 16 to 20-year-olds by social service departments is a quid pro quo in favour of the new system, that presumption may be fundamentally flawed. There are only 600 such cases in Scotland at present, which is far fewer than the expected increase, and suggests only a small potential offset. Those 600 individuals are mainly minor offenders, not hardened criminals.
The Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders states:To add the parole requirements contained in this Bill without providing funds for increased staffing levels would make a mockery of implementation.My experience has provided dreadful evidence of inadequate individuals in prison who ought not to be there. [Laughter.] Despite the response of my hon. Friends, today of all days the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has performed a valuable service. If he succeeds in removing the President of the Board of Trade from office, that is another reason why we should be grateful for his presence this evening.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
One of my main tasks is to ensure that the hon. Gentleman never gets into office.
§ Mr. Clarke
Despite my attempt to express a minority view from this side of the House in welcoming the hon. Gentleman, he is not likely to meet with great success. In fact, this afternoon showed that before very long we will be seated on the other side of the House. I look forward to implementing not only the Bill in an improved form but more important legislation.
Many of those who ought not to find themselves in prison are mentally ill or mentally handicapped, and are there only because shelters and other suitable accommodation have been closed and the courts have nowhere else to send them. Such people create petty crimes or create disturbances and are sent to prison, where at least they are looked after and fed.
250 That is a failing not of the prison system, but of society to make adequate provision for the mentally disturbed and mentally handicapped. I am aware that appropriate training and briefings for prison staff have begun, and hope that they will continue. However, the effect on prison staff must also be considered. They became prison officers to perform a public service in looking after ordinary inmates, but increasingly they are expected to supervise the special categories of prisoners that I mentioned. That is a gross misuse of the prison service's expensive resources, and the important needs of such prisoners in terms of care in the community ought to be met in more civilised ways.
The right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), when Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote:People should only go to prison when there is no reasonable alternative.We entirely agree. We thought that was the main thrust of the Bill and of the Government's thinking, as they previously explained it.
It cannot be right that prison staff who have been trained to deal with the problems of individual prisoners should be required to fulfil the role of the medical, hospital, or psychiatric services—yet that is a growing practice.
The Gunn report found that one third of a sample of male prisoners in England and Wales and 59 per cent. of female prisoners suffered some kind of psychiatric disorder. The Guardian commented on that report:At least one in five sentenced prisoners is thought to have a mental disorder. A study funded by the Home Office and published last October put the incidence as high as 14,000 of the 38,000 sentenced prison population, with 1,100 so ill that they required immediate treatment.Figures for England are readily available. Does the Secretary of State have comparable figures for Scotland? In the absence of relevant information, neither the House nor the Committee will be able to give the Bill the attention that it deserves, so I invite the Secretary of State to provide it.
Such revelations are extremely worrying to medical staff who seek to serve such prisoners, voluntary organisations, and the families of the individuals in question. In December 1991, the Health Service Journal reported at length on that problem under the headlinePrisoners who know not what they have done.That there should be such people in prison experiencing enormous difficulties, unable to cope with their environment, and who do not know why they are there, says a lot. Surely there are better ways of dealing with such citizens.
Colin McKay of the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped writes:There are no adequate alternatives to prison, particularly for people with a mild or moderate handicap who persistently offend … The police have little training in mental handicap and may fail to recognise it or not know what to do about it. There is a Scottish Office circular on interviewing mentally disordered suspects, but it is a long way short of the more rigorous English code of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.Owing to time constraints and the inadequacy of legal aid, defence lawyers may not pick up the fact that a person has a mental handicap. Clearly, we are dispensing with the law in such cases; I am sure that the Secretary of State will take that on board.
251 It is, and I believe that it always will be, the will of the House that justice should prevail at all times. With that in mind, let me remind the House of the view of the Woolf report:It is fundamental to the prison service's position as part of the criminal justice system that it should ensure that prisoners are treated with justice in prisons".I hope that the Bill will make certain that that is done; I also hope, fervently, that the necessary changes will be made in Committee, and I look forward to viewing the Bill at that stage.
My hon. Friends have no desire to obstruct the Bill's progress; quite the reverse. We shall, however, seek to improve it at every stage—if only because of our belief that a radical approach based on a coherent philosophy, incorporating social justice for all prisoners, prison staff and society in general, is pivotal to dealing with many of the problems that currently exist. An efficient and humanitarian criminal justice system can ensure that the needs of society are fully met, and we are determined to achieve that objective.
§ Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside)
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's introduction to this largely technical Bill. In the light of recent statistics relating, for example, to the dramatic increase in the use of firearms in robberies—from 246 cases in 1990 to 440 in 1991, an increase of some 79 per cent.—I welcome some of the parole proposals. Since 1979, there has been a massive 50 per cent. increase in expenditure on the police force, and, in the past three years, £41.4 million has been spent on prison building. It is, however, important to review parole procedure alongside those developments, and I think that the Bill is moving in the right direction.
If the parole system is to succeed, parole should be seen as an outcome that is far from automatic—an outcome that is earned through good behaviour. Proposals to ensure that no prisoner is released having served less than half his sentence are very welcome. I also consider it reasonable to distinguish between prisoners serving sentences longer than four years and those serving sentences shorter than four years, and the placing of emphasis on the recall to prison of those who reoffend on parole is clearly necessary.
With regard to the giving of evidence and the use of technology, I particularly welcome the introduction of pre-trial videos for cases involving children. Children giving evidence go through significant trauma, and anything that we can do to help them must be commended. I also welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance that he will seek an amendment in Committee to remove clause 32(5)—I was very surprised when it was introduced in the other place.
Another problem involving evidence does not appear to be covered by the Bill. I believe that it could be covered, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will incorporate the necessary change in Committee. During the recess, I spent an interesting day in the company of Ken Shaw of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, going up Royal Deeside. Throughout my business life, I never observed nature to the extent that I did that day. It was quite an experience, and I was particularly pleased to see a golden eagle: that was, perhaps, my objective.
252 At one point, the conversation turned to the problems faced by the RSPB, and by nature conservancy organisations, in prosecuting those who contravene laws relating to the protection of wildfowl. I was informed that, in Scotland, the evidence of two witnesses is required to bring about convictions under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I believe that they should be permitted on the evidence of a single witness. Under the present law, offenders frequently escape prosecution because their actions have been observed by only one person; that is understandable, given that many such offences occur in largely rural areas in constituencies similar to mine. The RSPB is aware of occasions on which offenders such as egg collectors or persons laying poisoned baits for unlawful predator control have been seen in the process of committing such offences. However, because the offences have tended to occur in remote and thinly populated areas, they have usually been recorded by only one witness. I urge my right hon. Friend and the Government—who have consistently encouraged good stewardship and protection of our rural heritage—to table an amendment or a new clause to the Bill in Committee to close the loophole and bring offenders to book.
As I understand it, the basic principle under Scottish law is that all evidence must be corroborated to be admissible. I believe, however, that various statutes allow conviction on the evidence of a single person, in particular those dealing with the protection of game. For example, section 25(4) of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 and section 30(2) of the Salmon Act 1986 permit courts to convict on the evidence of one witness for some of the offences created under those statutes. More recently, the Government have incorporated the single-witness exception in section 87(7) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, admitting single-witness evidence for the offence of dropping litter. There is, therefore, a clear precedent for the conviction of an individual on the basis of one person's evidence—notably, where the circumstances would not allow a conviction otherwise because of the remoteness of the scene of the crime.
Let me give an example, which I believe is still current in my constituency. An amateur field worker, while on his own, came across a failed hen harrier nest. He became suspicious: he could see from the condition of the nest that young had hatched, but they were now absent and he saw no sign of natural predation. Having examined the area closely, he found the bodies of the chicks buried nearby. He removed them, and the matter was duly reported to the local police. Detailed examination showed the bodies to be crushed—damage clearly inconsistent with the behaviour of an animal predator.
A thorough police investigation revealed further alleged offences by an identifiable individual; but, because of a lack of corroboration of the field worker's discoveries, evidence of the serious primary offence can never be put before a court. That is not right.
Another example outwith my constituency but just as relevant occurred earlier this year. An RSPB field worker saw three people—who were known to be egg collectors, all of whom had previous convictions for egg collecting, including several convictions for the taking of golden eagles' eggs in Scotland—rob a golden eagle's nest. Their car was stopped and searched some hours later by the police. They were unaware of any potential incident but they had recognised the men.
253 No eggs were found, although the climbing equipment that the men used to rob the nest was found in the car. It is, I believe, common practice for egg thieves not to take their booty with them. They hide the stolen eggs near the scene of the crime and return to collect the eggs out of season when they will not arouse suspicion. In view of past experience of attempting to prosecute in these circumstances, the RSPB agreed with the police that further action was pointless, despite the fact that a serious wildlife crime had taken place in full view of a witness.
I do not suggest that the Government should change the law in such a way as to allow an open-ended list of crimes to be included. There should, however, be a clear list of specified offences relating not just to the offence but to the species concerned so as to provide for the protection of those birds that are most at risk. If the Government included such a provision in the Bill, there would be further consistency regarding the protection of all wildlife in our rural habitats.
I am sure that such a provision would not be controversial and that it would be supported by all hon. Members. It is a necessary provision that could be included in the Bill as a means of tidying up the law relating to witnesses' evidence. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland seriously to consider moving an amendment or a new clause in Committee in order to bring that about.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) has raised the issue of corroboration regarding the protection of birds. Like other hon. Members, I have received briefing material, if one may so describe it. The difficulty inherent in the hon. Gentleman's proposal is that it is easy to make a special case, but every time that one makes a special case arguing for relaxation of the principle of corroboration in the law of Scotland, it is much easier on a subsequent occasion—perhaps less deserving—for another exception to be made. The hon. Gentleman referred to admissibility as though that were the same as corroboration, but he is mistaken. Evidence may be admissible, but there may be insufficient of it—that is, it is insufficiently corroborated—to justify a conviction.
The Committee may consider the hon. Gentleman's proposals in some detail, but I have an inherent reservation about the notion that the law of corroboration can simply be set aside whenever circumstances arise that appear, prima facie at least, to justify it. I well remember a debate in the House when a substantial review was made of the law of corroboration in civil actions. If I am not mistaken, the Minister who is to reply to this debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)—replied on that occasion. To some extent because of the prompting of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), he reiterated strongly the Government's commitment to the notion of corroboration in criminal cases. I hope that this evening he will once again say that the Government are committed to that principle, while not entirely setting aside the apparently persuasive arguments of the hon. Gentleman.
254 I believe, like the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), that the Bill might well have been an obvious candidate for consideration by a Special Standing Committee. When I read the Bill in detail, I thought that if ever there were a compelling argument for the devolution of legislative power to Edinburgh, it rested in the terms of this Bill. These are exactly the matters that ought to be considered by a Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh. They trench upon the nature of the administration of an important part of the Government's activities in Scotland. They could much more effectively and efficiently be dealt with in a legislature with delegated power, rather than here at Westminster.
§ Dr. Godman
I agree with everything that the hon. and learned Gentleman says about a Scottish Parliament. One reason why I suggested that the Bill should be considered by a Special Standing Committee was that we appear to be leapfrogging the English and Welsh legislation in terms of child care law reform. That, surely, is helpful for children on both sides of the border.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman, who has a distinguished record in the policy area to which he just referred, makes a powerful point, but, in the context of the Bill, some of the changes that it seeks to effect have been part of the legislative framework of England and Wales for a considerable time.
The tribute paid to the Kincraig committee was entirely justified. Lord Kincraig was a distinguished member of the Scottish Bench. He was Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. He came to the task that was allotted to him with a great deal of experience. He discharged that task very competently. His report, although it may not justify the description that it was a model of its kind, none the less ensured that our debate today is much better informed than it might have been.
Early release—for that is what we must now call it—is an essential part of the penal system. It recognises the possibility of reform. By its very existence it contributes to prison discipline and it will almost certainly have an influence on the nature of a prison regime. The issues with which we are concerned, as the two opening speeches made clear, are complicated in practice. It is significant that to some extent the speeches that have already been made had about them a Committee stage rather than a Second Reading flavour. I hope, however, that hon. Members will not regard this as lawyers' work. There is wide public interest in the way in which we deal with those who commit offences.
The numbers are relatively small. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said there were 5,500 people in prison, but any member of society may at any time find himself and, increasingly, herself propelled into the penal system. Public interest is, therefore, significant. We must endeavour to achieve a balance in which society properly reflects its distaste and condemnation of conduct that is contrary to the best interests of society while at the same time ensuring that the interests of those who are convicted and find themselves in custody are properly protected.
That is a difficult balance to justify. It is not always assisted by florid assertions that people who are sent to prison enjoy a good life. Hardly a Christmas goes past without a tabloid newspaper describing the pleasures that are enjoyed by those who happen to be in prison at that 255 time. I doubt very much whether the reporters who write these stories with such enthusiasm would willingly swap their own celebrations of the day for those enjoyed by people who are in Barlinnie prison or Saughton.
As I acknowledged in response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, experience in England has been different because of its different legislative framework. In 1987, 57.3 per cent. of those eligible were admitted to early release, whereas in Scotland the figure was only 28.4 per cent. The systems are different, but perhaps that shows that there is more sensitivity in England, to which we hope the Bill will direct us.
In the other place, when dealing with discretionary life sentences under clause 2, following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, to which the Secretary of State referred in his opening remarks, the noble Lord Advocate said—I think that the Secretary of State confirmed this—that the parole board was to act as a court. I asked the Secretary of State whether that was to be confined to its jurisdiction for clause 2 cases or whether it was to have wider significance. I hope that I do not do the Secretary of State an injustice, but it seems that he did not quite grasp my point. I understood him to say that the authority to establish the parole board as a court was to be found under clause 20. I think that is what I heard; if I am wrong, I stand corrected. I have read the clause with some care and find it difficult to see how the authority to establish the parole board as a court is to be derived from it. The noble Lord Advocate appeared to accept that that would require subordinate legislation.
There will be substantial questions about how the board operates, such as whether it will have rules that are to be published, by what form of subordinate legislation it will fall to be established and, perhaps more significantly, whether those who find themselves appearing before it will be eligible for legal aid. My reading of the legal aid scheme is that legal aid will not be available unless a specific amendment is made for that purpose.
Establishing the parole board as a court, even for the limited purpose of clause 2, carries substantial implications, which will have to be investigated in Committee.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
If the board is constituted as a court, what appeal rights will flow to those who are not satisfied with its findings? Would an appeal be made automatically to the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh? This may be a good proposal, but I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend agrees that it needs to be fleshed out more.
§ Mr. Campbell
If I may respectfully say so, my hon. Friend's suggestion about the High Court of Justiciary is inept. He has been away from practise at the Bar for some years. As an appeal would be probably of the nature of a civil appeal, it would go to the Court of Session. I suspect that the right to judicial review will be available under the normal rules of our law in Scotland, unless some express appeal provision is to be provided. My hon. Friend's intervention serves only to underline the uncertainty, which will have to be investigated in Committee.
There was some controversy in the other place about clause 23. When the matter was raised, substantially by Lord Macaulay of Bragar, to whom reference has already been made, the noble Lord Fraser was at some pains to say that it was likely to he used only for a temporary purpose. 256 The clause provides that in certain circumstances an offender who should be detained in a young offenders' institution—a specialised institution designed to deal expressly with young offenders—might find himself or herself transferred to prison or a remand centre. I imagine that a remand centre has a less rigorous regime than a young offenders' institution, so in that respect the individual might not suffer any damage, but to transfer a person who should be in a young offenders' institution to a prison represents a substantial difference in the nature of custodial treatment. Therefore, we shall have to consider carefully the protection that is available to people who may find themselves dealt with in this way. It would be a tragedy, to put it perhaps over-strongly, if someone of that category were to find himself or herself transferred to a prison for some administrative purpose or administrative convenience. The issues involved are obviously significant.
Clause 24 deals with what one might describe as governors' punishment. When that was being debated in the other place, the noble Lord Fraser said that changes in procedure were being contemplated as a result of an internal inquiry in the prison service. I hope that the results of the inquiry will be made available to us, because I have always felt some discomfort about the notion of governors' punishment. One is entitled to feel some discomfort about internal procedures, and I can say from such limited association as I have had with those who have been subject to it—always in a professional capacity—that there is great resentment about the nature of that punishment. I suppose that it is equivalent to service life where one takes the commanding officers' punishment, but many inmates resent the way in which it is administered.
I voted against the War Crimes Bill every time it came before the House, for reasons which I think were clear at the time. There was an issue of principle, and some took one view of that principle and others took a different view. I agree with the view expressed by the Secretary of State that it sits uneasily in our legal system to have an amendment of the nature of clause 32(5). The House determined against the position that I took, but that seems to be no justification, however strongly people may have felt in the other place, for including an amendment relating to crime of a very narrow category. I understand the motives for doing so, but I do not believe that it is right to have evidential procedures that vary from crime to crime. Like the issue of removing the need for corroboration, it will always be possible to make a special case, and every time one does so the general principle will be weakened and diluted. Therefore, if the Government's proposal is to remove that provision from the Bill, I certainly will not oppose it.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to what appears to be an error in clauses 6 and 7. It may simply be a misprint, but clause 6(2) provides thata child detained without limit of time under section 206 of the 1975 Act may, on the recommendation of the Parole Board made at any time, be released on licence by the Secretary of State.Section 206 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 provides not for detention without limit of time but for detention for a period which shall be "specified in the sentence". It appears to me that section 206 has been inserted, not section 205. Section 205(2) of the principal Act refers to people being detained without limit of time. On the face of it, it appears that there has been a misprint in clause 6. If I am wrong—I have no doubt that the 257 Minister has available to him resources which will enable him to determine whether I am right or wrong—obviously I will withdraw my remarks, but it appears that there has been an error of some kind.
We know, because the Secretary of State has told us and indeed careful perusal of the legislation makes it clear, that the right to what we must now call early release is to be available to children under 18 who may be convicted of murder or children who might not have been convicted of murder but who have been sentenced to a specified term under section 206 to which I have already referred. The Minister will know, because, along with a former Member, Mr. Dick Douglas, we had a very productive meeting at which we discussed the position of children convicted of murder. As a result of that meeting, the Minister was most constructive, and certain changes were made as a result of our representations on the way in which those children were cared for within the system.
There may be cases in which not to allow the early release of a child necessarily ensures that that child will graduate through the penal system, first from the place to which the child was sent as a result of the Secretary of State's direction, then to the young offenders' institution and then to prison. Anyone who knows about penal institutions knows that there is a sense of graduation and that part of the difficulty in ensuring that reform is a central part of penal policy is the fact that the mere association with criminals and those of criminal propensity is enough quite often to inform people about the best and most effective ways of committing some crimes.
It is often said that people learn how to open motor cars without keys because they happen to find themselves in a cell with someone else who has made a habit of doing that. The example that I used is perhaps not profound, but there is a more important principle to be found—that is, if it is possible to release a child without prejudice to the safety of the public before that individual has to go to the young offenders' institution or has to go to prison, that opportunity should be taken. To send the individual through the whole system is to expose him or her to the risk that he or she will acquire the institutionalisation which obviously goes with such a length of time spent in an institution and also an experience of crime by association with criminals which will make it difficult for him or her to adhere to the path of reform.
The next matter is not raised by the Bill but I hope that the Committee will be able to consider it in the form of a new clause. The Bill mentions mandatory life sentences for certain crimes, and indeed for the crime of murder. It is time to look again at that provision in our law. It would be radical in Scotland, and to that extent, picking up the point of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, we might put ourselves ahead of England and Wales. My professional experience has led me to believe that the range of culpability in the crime of murder is considerable. There are often cases in which the boundary between murder and what we in Scotland call culpable homicide is very narrow indeed, yet if a case falls on one side of that border, however narrowly, the trial judge has no discretion: he is obliged to send the person to prison for life. That point has arisen not yet controversially in 258 Scotland, but it has arisen in the context of the arguments principally in England and Wales about the defence of provocation.
It is clear that there have been circumstances in which English juries have been unwilling to accept—for instance, with regard to domestic murders when a woman has killed her husband—that provocation can be established by a course of conduct over a long period. There has been strict adherence, even in the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, to the notion that provocation necessarily involves some heat of the blood or a sudden response under the pressure of the provocative behaviour.
There are grave difficulties in attempting to change the law of provocation because of a range of issues with which we need not concern ourselves today. However, if, instead of a mandatory life sentence, we had the ability or the discretion to impose a sentence of any duration, the difficulties presently caused by the controversy over provocation might be substantially reduced. In essence, the distinction between culpable homicide in Scotland, which is the equivalent of manslaughter in England and Wales, and murder should be withdrawn and we should have a single crime, the crime of homicide, and in respect of the crime of homicide the High Court of Justiciary, the supreme criminal court in Scotland, should have the right, as it already has, to sentence a person to any sentence that it considers fit.
If that were so, the fine gradation which sometimes appears where life is taken as between culpable homicide and murder would be of no significance. Also, if that were the case, a judge could properly reflect in the sentence which he gave the extent to which he believed that a long course of conduct may have contributed to the act which culminated in a woman taking the life of her husband, for example. I hope that we will be able to discuss that issue in the form of a new clause in Committee. There was a Select Committee on this matter in the other place, and its deliberations might be of assistance.
With a Bill of this kind, one's speech necessarily has to consist of taking pieces from here and there, because there is no central theme other than that the law of Scotland should, as far as possible, be brought up to date, that we should deal with those who offend and who are convicted in a way that is consistent with justice and that we should continue to find measures that will adequately protect the public. The Bill gives us all those opportunities. The precise detail of how those opportunities can be achieved is obviously a matter for the Committee, but I am pleased—delighted, even—that the Government have found time to bring forward a measure which will allow for detailed consideration of several matters which the sceptics around me believe are to be regarded only as a stocking filler at Christmas. Whether that is so I do not know, but the Bill offers an opportunity for detailed consideration of several important matters, the determination of which will be an important measure of how a civilised society deals with those who offend.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on his promotion to the Opposition Front Bench. I also record my appreciation of his predecessor, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), for whom I have gained much respect in the short time that I have been in this place.
259 However, I am slightly disappointed. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Garscadden would serve in that position for many years to come. In any case, I welcome the hon. Member for Monklands, West. I am rather disappointed that no members of the Scottish National party have been present to consider such an important Bill. That is quite suprising.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West criticised the Government for following the English. Not too long ago, there was great criticism by Scottish Opposition Members of the Government when Scotland led and England had to follow. The Opposition should make up their minds about what they really want. I believe in Scotland leading and I do not apologise for that.
The Bill will be addressed line by line in Committee. It is a very detailed Bill and I want to set out a background that is very different from the comments which have been made so far in the Chamber. Because of other happenings in recent weeks, the media have lost sight of the Bill and its importance to the Scottish public. However, the public have not lost sight of the importance of law and order issues.
The public at large have grave concerns about law and order. The incidence of violent crime is rising and I believe that the steps which have been taken so far have done little to address the situation. To a degree, the Bill has failed to address those points. When the public consider the details of the Bill, they will raise even greater concerns.
I want to relate law and order matters to my constituency of Ayr. Over the past eight months, there have been four deaths as a result of violence in my constituency. They were horrific deaths. Three of those deaths involved young people who were going about lawful leisure pursuits. One middle-aged woman was murdered in her own home. That is frightening and it raises grave concerns in the mind of the public at large, particularly the elderly.
Ayr is not alone. From what I am led to believe, in the past eight months of this year there were 68 murders in Strathclyde. Over a similar period in Northern Ireland, there were 54 murders and Northern Ireland is in a state of emergency.
I must emphasise that the problems that we face in Ayr in relation to law and order are not unique. Ayr is not a no-go area. However, problems tend to arise late at night and at weekends. I am pleased to say that the new Conservative administration of Kyle and Carrick district council has attempted to address the situation in part, as far as opportunities allow, in tandem with the licence trade. There is a move towards a reduction in late licences.
§ Dr. Godman
With regard to the growing incidence of violent crimes, many of which take place late at night and at weekends as the hon. Gentleman suggested, is it not absolutely stupid to reduce the ambulance cover in our constituencies in the west of Scotland at those times and at the weekends? Should we not have a comprehensive and adequate ambulance cover at such times?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) continues, I hope that he will not be led down some byway far from the Bill.
§ Mr. Gallie
I take your point, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, I believe that it would be in order for me to answer the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have had no complaints about a lack of ambulance services in my constituency. However, I have received complaints about a lack of a police presence and I will address that point shortly.
Although a reduction in late licences may do something about the present situation and alleviate the problem a little, it will not solve the whole problem. We have a problem with youths who carry weapons. However, we cannot relate that to late licensing hours. Youths arm themselves when they are stone cold sober. They obtain weapons long before the pubs close. Indeed, they obtain them long before they go to the pubs. There is a problem there and——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has a more immediate problem and that is to relate what he is saying to the Bill.
§ Mr. Gallie
With the greatest respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I believe that the Bill addresses law and order matters which are of vital concern to my constituents who are suffering at the hands of people who are now in prison. The intention of the Bill is to reduce the number of people in prisons and to put people back on to the streets at an earlier stage. I believe that my points are very relevant to that issue.
I want now to consider the number of police on the streets of Ayr and to emphasise the difficulties that they have in apprehending criminals and solving crimes. I point to the——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I have tried to be gentle with the hon. Gentleman. However, I must make it clear to him that he must relate his remarks to the Second Reading of the Bill. This is not a general debate on law and order.
§ Mr. Gallie
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have some difficulty because I intended to cover the issues in a wider context. I understand that the Committee will take a line-by-line approach on such matters. Having said that, I am obliged to take note of the Chair's comments and I will attempt to confine myself to the Bill as closely as I can.
In doing that, I must point to the reasons why people are imprisoned. Why are they there? They are in prison because they have committed misdemeanours, sinned against society and because their crimes have created problems in society.
§ Mr. Gallie
I am here because the people of Ayr had the good sense to elect a Conservative Member who stood for the Union and I am grateful to them.
I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will show me some indulgence if I address one aspect of the present situation—the crime of housebreaking. Given the way in which housebreaking is treated in the courts, I believe that there is a problem. Housebreaking is treated in a manner which does not recognise the full implications of its effect on society.
Housebreaking can be a violation. It gets into the hearts and minds of the people against whom such deeds have 261 been perpetrated. There must surely be lengthy custodial sentences imposed on those who carry out such deeds. I believe that that does not happen at the moment. If the Bill were to be implemented, the situation for those who ultimately find their way into a custodial situation would be worsened because release would come sooner and the police would have greater problems.
When I consider housebreaking, I think of the pain and anguish that is suffered principally, once again, by the elderly. I have sat in courts recently and witnessed the sentencing policy of various sheriffs. It is unusual that a custodial sentence is passed for housebreaking. I am led to believe that it takes about 14 convictions before someone is put behind prison walls. I feel that much consideration is given to the minds and hearts of prisoners before such a step is taken. It would be entirely wrong to reduce the sentences given to such people in an effort rationally to reduce the number of custodial sentences.
I have to confess that in some matters I shall perhaps require your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman should sit when I stand. I was making the passing observation that the hon. Gentleman has had his full ration of indulgence. He should now stick to the Bill or sit down.
§ Mr. Gallie
As far as I am aware, it is possible to recommend to the Secretary of State and the Minister measures which could be added to the Bill. I suggest that my hon. Friend the Minister should consider the Conservative party manifesto pledge to give the prosecution the right of appeal against lenient sentences. Here we have an opportunity to inject that measure into a criminal proceedings Bill.
What does the Bill offer? It offers a means of reducing time spent in prison by short-term, long-term and life prisoners. I agree that prisoners must have an incentive, but I suggest that when the public hear that in future 12-year sentences will be six-year sentences, questions will be asked and will have to be answered.
I welcome the proposals in the Bill on supervision. Supervision is integral to the good management of the proposals that are on the table. However, I must ask: what is the purpose of imprisonment? We must not forget the punishment element. However, I also acknowledge the treatment aspect, which the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) highlighted. I do not demur, but the all-important point is that prisons exist to protect the public. That must be the first priority. Both actual and potential victims of crime must be the first priority.
I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Monklands, West on the rights of prisoners. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that the rights of the public at large must be his first consideration. There is cause for close scrutiny and amendment of the Bill in Committee. I look forward to participating in that. Part II of the Bill certainly has much to commend it. For example, it 262 increases police powers to a degree. I welcome the use of DNA tests and, above all, the changes in the procedures when children give evidence. They are of great value.
I also welcome the reduction in the need for witnesses to appear in court. That in itself has much to offer. The changes involving live television transmissions must be supported and welcomed by all hon. Members. They can help the cause of justice. The measures in part II give me good reason to support the Second Reading.
I welcome the comments by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on clause 32. He has suggested a vital amendment which I feel that the whole House will welcome.
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan)
I rise as the new Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Govan to speak for the first time, having spent a period listening to and watching the behaviour of the House with some interest. I recognise that becoming a Member of Parliament is a considerable transition from being a big fish in a small pool in local goverment—even though that pool is perhaps too large for some who are presently engaged in filling bits of it in and breaking the rest up into puddles. It is a difficult transition. I hope that I shall be able to manage it with the success that many of my predecessors from local government, especially on this side of the House, have managed it.
I should like to start by speaking briefly about my constituency. It has to be recognised that it is not homogeneous but is composed of a variety of villages and communities, each of which has its own local pride and characteristics and many of which fiercely argue for recognition in their own right. It is certainly my intention to ensure that I do that as their local Member of Parliament.
My constituency ranges from the very worst of underfunded public sector housing to the very best that Scotland has to offer. I shall turn to that subject in a moment. Govan is a community with which many people have a connection. There are Govanites in all worlds, ranging from sport and entertainment to the professions and industry. All those worlds have Govanites in prominent positions, to the advantage of all concerned.
I have met senior officers and Members of Parliament here who also have Govan connections. In particular, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) were at one time residents of Govan constituency. I believe that the hon. Member for Eastwood lived for some considerable time in the leafy suburb of Dumbreck before realising that it was not part of the Eastwood constituency. His subsequent move outwards shows the clear link that Govan has with its hinterland. That is why, as part of the local government reorganisation, consideration should be given to the recreation of the burgh of Govan in an expanded form, initially perhaps to include Govan, Pollok and Eastwood. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Eastwood is nodding. Already, G division of the police covers the area that I have mentioned. Indeed, the social work boundary is the same. So the recreation of the burgh is obviously worthy of consideration.
My area has suffered considerably from economic restructuring. It is now in the process of lifting itself up, 263 reforming and regenerating work for its people. It has recently had such successes as the Govan garden festival, which was visited by many Members of Parliament. The Mod has been held in Govan and was a great success. Govan Shipbuilders has been reborn. Many hon. Members will he aware of the great work undertaken by the Govan Initiative—a partnership of the local authorities and the private sector, with co-operation, which I recognise, from central Government. The Initiative has done so much to create jobs in that community. Of course, many hon. Members will be aware of the activities and successes of Govan Rangers.
Down the motorway a little distance is an airport which was built by the product of the merger of the burgh of Govan and Glasgow. That reorganisation resulted in a unity known as Glasgow. Therefore, the airport was named Glasgow airport. It seems relevant to me and to my constituents to say that, under the reorganisation, it should be renamed Govan airport, and the former small burghs within the Govan travel-to-work area should be drawn in as part of the greater Govan co-prosperity sphere. In that context, I am referring to Paisley and Renfrew, which would fit well into a new greater Govan area.
Given that we are taking in the constituency of the Member for Eastwood, it would seem appropriate that Linwood, the home of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, whom I also mentioned, should be drawn into the area too.
Having reorganised local government, I must make it clear that I have no further territorial demands at present and must move on to the history of the area. Many hon. Members here will be aware that at various times part or all of my constituency has been represented by nationalist Members, but it is not nearly as well known that in the not-too-distant past parts of it were represented by Conservative Members.
Some parts of my constituency were also represented by Conservative councillors in the not-too-distant past, and it is difficult for me and for many of my constituents to understand why the Conservatives have not managed to put up a candidate in the regional council by-election, which is being held a week on Thursday, after similarly failing to put up a candidate in the previous council elections in the Moss Park ward of my constituency. That shows how low the Tories have sunk in that area. Having previously held sway there, they are no longer able to put up someone for office. I am not certain whether that is simply incompetence or whether they intend to seek anti-Labour votes for the nationalist candidate. It would not be the first time that there had been such a dialogue between those two parties to attack the Labour party. Each needs the other in a symbiotic relationship designed to oppose Labour. I condemn that cynical alliance, and I am sure that many of my colleagues do likewise.
The previous Member for whom I have the greatest respect served the constituency for what seemed a considerable time but was, upon reflection, too short. His style and manner may have led some to underestimate a formidable intellect, one consistently applied in the interests of his constituents and his party. Now, as we all know, he has gone to work mainly abroad, where he continues to make a valuable contribution to the common good. I and his former constituents hold him in the highest possible regard. My only regret is that time does not allow me further to sing the praises of Bruce Milian.
264 My immediate predecessor also must command respect for his achievements. I have checked with the Library, which is unable to find any other Member in the recent past who played such a prominent role in three parties. I did not count Members who changed back to a party again or Liberals, with their various name changes. His is an achievement perhaps equalled but never surpassed. It was particularly noticeable that he was in the leadership of the Labour party when he left, went on to be the leader of the Scottish Labour party and was well on the way to being the leader of his third party before he left the House. He was a man of strong views. Even though the direction of those views changed from time to time, he none the less brought a fervour and passion of argument which was undiminished by the passage of time and which will be recognised by all here.
My predecessor was fortunate in his choice of staff in the constituency who worked hard on the caseload which is such an important part of the work of a Member of Parliament. I and those that they help would not want this opportunity to pass without recognising publicly the sterling work that the staff of the previous Member undertook on behalf of people in the area. I think my predecessor made a contribution to Scottish politics which should not be underestimated or overlooked even by those who disagree with his content or style, or both.
On a personal note, may I say how much I owe to my father Graham, my mother Betty, my sister Moira, my wife Morag and my son and daughter, Colin and Christine. They have given me invaluable support, and without it I do not believe that I would be here today. One person outside my family helped me a great deal, more than they know—a former teacher of Galashiels Academy, who was politically active in the Liberal party. She was a teacher of modern studies who demonstrated to me teaching at its best. Isabel Hilton was able to communicate constructively and positively to young minds—minds developing but barely formed—a wider vision of society and of what was possible which left a lasting impact on me and on many of my colleagues. I pay tribute to her for the way in which she was able to open up in an unpartisan manner the world of politics to many of her young charges.
I am grateful to the Co-operative party for the support that it gave me before, during and after the election. On behalf of many new Members, I must say how grateful we are for the large and small kindnesses that we have received from the more experienced Members, who could perhaps be referred to in this context as old lags.
I am conscious of the fact that if a new Member speaks for more than 10 minutes he might not get to speak again for the next 20 years. I have been a Member for relatively few months, and, like many new Members, I came here with high hopes only to have many of them dashed. Like many new Labour Members, I started with a sense of achievement, having won the first vote in which I participated, only to find that things went gradually downhill from then on, as we have managed to win only one vote since. That has convinced me of the need for a fairer voting system—one that allows us to win on a number of occasions. I hope to participate in such an experience later this week.
I look forward to participating fully in further debates on a variety of issues that concern my constituents and my area, and I hope to carry my party's flag forward in a number of areas.
265 On the subject of the present debate, the solution to crime lies not with procedural alterations, worthy though some may be, but with economic recovery and an end to the hopelessness that drives so many of our people into crime. The Government have presided over an explosion in crime in the past few years, and I hope that they will soon propose to do something positive about it.
§ Dr. Godman
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to introduce a carping note into tonight's civilised proceedings, but why have you called the hon. Gentleman? He has not been here for the past hour.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is a matter for the discretion of the Chair, and I have exercised it in that way.
§ Mr. Walker
I was about to apologise to the House for the fact that I have been in and out of the Chamber during the debate. It is wrong to say that I have not been here for the past hour. I can tell exactly when I went out, because I went to one of the many interviews that I have been involved in due to today's circumstances.
I am sorry that I did not hear all of his speech, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan, (Mr. Davidson). I suppose that I would really like to tell him how delighted I am to see him sitting there representing Govan. We enjoyed the outcome of his election, but, more importantly, the House looks forward to hearing what he has to say because he spoke with the conviction that comes from experience. I am sure that his contributions on Scottish and other matters will be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House.
The Bill is important and, although it will not be controversial, it will nevertheless arouse disagreement and individuals will see some aspects of it differently. I have always taken the simple view of life: people who transgress should be made to repay their debt to society. However, it is difficult in any circumstances to get the balance right. Some people feel that often the sentences are too draconian, and others feel that they do not fit the crime.
Much of the Bill deals with the subject of parole. There is always uncertainty when someone is released before completing his or her sentence, particularly if there is a further transgression. The fact that some people transgress—they always will—is no reason for saying that we should do away with the measure completely. The Government are trying to get the balance right.
As the House knows, the Bill is the result of the Kincraig report. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said—I notice that he has left the Chamber and I make no observation other than to say that hon. Members go in and out of the Chamber all the time—not all aspects of the Kincraig recommendations have been implemented. It would have been surprising if they had because Governments rarely implement everything contained in learned reports.
I am particularly concerned about the amendments that were made in the other place regarding war criminals and the question of audio and video evidence and records. I 266 hope that when we examine the Bill in detail in Committee we shall be able to remove that large amendment so that the will of the House of Commons can be carried in the Scottish Committee. Although we in Scotland cherish and guard the fact that we have a separate legal system and way of bringing in laws, we think that some matters should be common throughout the United Kingdom. Such matters, in which the public at large are interested, are important. Although I have always doubted whether many prosecutions would be brought under the war crimes procedure, we are dealing with principles rather than with the practice of what is likely to happen.
§ Dr. Godman
May I point out that the Secretary of State appears to intend to remove that part of the Bill on Report?
§ Mr. Walker
If my right hon. Friend has said that he will do that, I accept that he will do it. One of the great advantages of being a Secretary of State is that one can get things done, but that does not stop me commenting on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will also want to comment and make observations on it when he has the opportunity as the debate continues.
We shall probably spend most of our time debating the release of prisoners. An amendment was tabled in the other place about prisoners being released for health, exceptional and compassionate reasons. I was interested to see that Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said that the Government hadno intention of penalising a short-term prisoner released on compassionate grounds if, for example, he unexpectedly recovers his health."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 1992; Vol. 537, c. 870.]One thinks of people like Ernest Saunders, who has made a dramatic recovery from allegedly being nearly senile. He did terrible damage to the City of London and the Scotch whisky industry's interests. I happen to think that the Scotch whisky industry is in better shape today to face the problems of the world than it was before Ernest Saunders came on the scene. I was deeply involved in matters affecting the whisky takeovers. Nevertheless, we must be careful in examining the recovery in prisoners' health. That is the best example that I can give of someone released on health grounds because he was, according to medical evidence, in a state of senile dementia. I hope that I go through that situation many times in my life so that I may experience longevity and recover as Ernest Saunders has.
I draw attention to that case because, when we have an opportunity in Committee to debate these matters in depth, I hope that we shall recognise that it is difficult to get the balance right. I understand the difficulties in attempting to get it right, but we must always take on board the public's response and reactions. The public will often respond to circumstances and then forget about them tomorrow because something else has come along, so one must not simply change the law to meet the fads of today. If we are to make fundamental changes in how we deal with prisoners, we must ensure that those changes will have the public's confidence. We should not make changes simply to be seen to be fashionable or faddy.
I am interested in the fact that prisoners serving sentences of less than four years will be automatically released halfway through their sentence instead of at two 267 thirds, as at present. It is right that prisoners should be released only if they have been well behaved while in prison.
I no longer have a prison in my constituency, but before the boundary changes of 1983 Perth prison was in my constituency. I was a regular visitor to Perth prison and it always struck me—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Walker
I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to have his say.
Like so many prisons of that period, Perth prison is a ghastly place. It is one of the most appalling places imaginable in which to lock up people. If there are benefits to prisoners and society by releasing people from their sentence earlier, I would support that. But I need to be convinced—I am always ready to be convinced—that the sentence passed by the court at the time of the offence is seen and accepted by the public as fitting the crime.
The big problem is not the parole aspect, which is a proper, humane way to deal with people who have transgressed. The question is: are the courts passing sentences that the public believe fit the crime? Too often that is not the case and too many sentences are seen not to fit the crime. I am sure that every hon. Member has been approached when a television programme reports a ghastly occurrence involving a child who has been molested or killed and the sentence does not seem to fit the crime. I accept that in all cases all the evidence must be heard in order to understand why sentences are passed.
One aspect that was long overdue was the change in the law made in England and Wales so that the Crown could appeal against a sentence that it thought to be too light. Such checks and balances are important. I hope that, in dealing with the Bill—which is, after all, entitled the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Bill—we shall have the opportunity in Committee to examine the way in which sentences are passed. It is not just a matter of ensuring that someone is released after he or she has served half of a sentence. The issue is whether a four-year sentence is such as to give the public confidence in our court procedures.
I shall now consider the principle behind the parole system. It is right to have a system that allows for a selective approach to the release of long-term prisoners. That is essential. But equally, whatever system is introduced following the Bill's passage, the public must be convinced that the rules do not allow the release of prisoners who should be kept locked up.
There are some prisoners who should never be allowed out, but they are not in the majority. One must recognise that they are in the minority. However, the important aspect of any parole system must be how one examines the candidates who are up for parole and considers in depth why they were incarcerated in the first place. In addition, a decision must be taken on whether those individuals have records of incarceration for offences that make it unlikely that they will ever return into society as responsible citizens.
I suspect that most of the controversy in future will arise over discretionary life prisoners and periodic reviews. There is no doubt that some people should never be returned to society. There were such prisoners in Perth prison when I used to visit. I shall not name them as their 268 names are known to everyone. They have been incarcerated not only for crimes committed when they were in the public domain, but for crimes committed subsequently, including the capital crime of murder. Such individuals should never be released. Anyone who commits a capital crime while still a prisoner has completely negated the possibility of a civilised society considering him or her for release. We must consider that aspect, how we deal with it, and the issue of periodic reviews.
From time to time almost all hon. Members receive correspondence from people who have been incarcerated. There are genuine cases in which mistakes have been made. We must recognise that we live in an imperfect world. The law, as with anything to do with man, is imperfect. Mistakes can happen, and we must bear that in mind when considering the release of prisoners and reviewing why they were locked up in the first place.
I believe that it is easier to keep youngsters good than to make bad ones good. I have held that view all my adult life, which is why I have tried to make a small contribution to youth work and activities. I have been asked a number of times why I seem more interested in air cadets and boy scouts than offenders. The answer is that if one keeps good youngsters active and involved in organisations that turn them into good citizens, there is a better chance that they will grow up into good citizens.
We spend far too much of our time looking at defaulters—to use an old military term—than good youngsters, of whom there are many more than there are bad ones. We should spend more time considering ways of keeping good youngsters good, which is important when considering young offenders. Young people often drift into offending because it is a peer activity. If someone grows up in circumstances in which anybody else's property is fair game, it is not surprising that he or she has difficulty in making judgments on the difference between right and wrong.
One of the great mistakes that we have made in the post-war period is progressively to drift away from understanding the difference between right and wrong. That is probably due to trendy ideas in education and the breakdown of the normal family unit. We shall be faced with more and more problems that are the direct result of the breakdown of the family unit and the inadequacies of education. Youngsters are unable to cope with situations because they are affected by occurrences in school and at home.
The Bill is not the sort of measure to excite people outside. The only people who will send us representations will be interested groups, not the public; that has been my experience so far. We shall not receive many brownie points from constituents for the time that we spend in Committee or on Second Reading. We shall be lucky to get any mention in the Scottish media for our activities this evening, although this is an important Bill covering wide aspects of discretion and the law.
I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) on transgressions against wildlife. We have adjoining constituencies: Kincardine and Deeside joins my constituency at Glen Shee, where my daughters were ski-ing at the weekend. I cannot remember when they last went ski-ing in October. My hon. Friend and I know that one of the great difficulties in large rural constituencies 269 involves people who transgress miles away from habitation. I look forward to his moving his amendments and the debates that we shall have on them in Committee.
Although it is probably true that most offences occur in urban areas, we also have problems in rural areas, and it is time they were dealt with properly. The preamble to this Bill makes one realise that it ranges fairly widely, so there will be opportunities to table a number of amendments that should be in order——
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman suggested earlier that I had not been here for the debate. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside speaking about the problems of a lack of corroboration. I was merely saying that I shall welcome the chance in Committee to debate the amendments that my hon. Friend will propose to deal with that problem. That shows clearly that I have been here listening to some of the speeches.
Because others wish to make speeches longer than mine, I am happy at this stage to sit down and await the continued debate in Committee—and I can say with certainty that I will be on that Committee.
§ Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)
I apologise to the House for missing the Front-Bench speeches. Unfortunately, I had to attend an important meeting about today's statement.
I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State in his place—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). I was grateful for his support some years ago when I dealt in a private Member's Bill with problems of under-age drinking.
I welcome some of the measures in the Bill; I just hope that the Minister will not lose sight of the great need for legislation to protect our young kids who are getting hooked on booze. The evidence from the good work that the Minister helped me with two or three years ago points to the fact that matters are getting worse, not better. I hope that the Minister will reassure me later that the Government will move to deal with the real problems besetting our kids and affecting the communities in which they live. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that they are moving from alcohol abuse to drug abuse. Many of our young kids are being pushed down the road towards criminality, and that is alarming. It is time this place did something about it.
Another omission from the Bill seems to be summed up by the need to improve our court proceedings for taking police evidence. Rightly, there is a great public demand for more police on our streets and in our housing estates to deter crime. I am alarmed by the amount of police time taken up unnecessarily in our courts. Police officers turn up in court and sit there all day, only to be told to go away and return another time. Those policemen are being paid 270 overtime—money which comes from budgets—or are getting time off; either way they are off the streets where they perform a much needed function. I hope that the Government will look into that at some future date. The police want a change; the community wants the system improved; and we as politicians want to provide our communities with a better police service. We are already trying to relieve the police of civilian jobs, and now we must take them out of the courts and get them on the streets where they can deter crime.
I agreed with quite a lot of what the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said. That will come as a surprise to him: it certainly surprises me. I agree with his remarks about youth organisations—the Boy Scouts, the Boys Brigade and the Girl Guides all do tremendous work in our rural areas and in my constituency.
Clause 17 refers to the revocation of licences. I should like to mention a constituent of mine as a way of highlighting this problem. The case has gone on for some time and has been compounded by recent events. In 1976 George Beattie, who lived in Carluke in my constituency, was convicted of murdering a young woman there. It was a dastardly crime against a woman in the prime of life. George Beattie was released from prison 13 years later on licence. A few months ago he attended an interview with a social worker where tempers became frayed and he is alleged to have kicked the social worker in the knee. I do not judge whether the allegation is true.
The dilemma posed by the case is made all the more acute because there is compelling evidence that George Beattie did not commit the murder. There was a great deal of alarm when he was first convicted because even his defence lawyers, who deserve some criticism, thought that there was not case to answer. Tragically, therefore, their preparation for his defence was less than professional. They thought that the judge would throw the case out. He did not, and George Beattie was convicted by a majority verdict of the jury—despite the fact that there was no corroborating evidence, no forensic evidence, and no confessional evidence that he was guilty. All there was was a spot of blood on a handkerchief which was thought to be the blood of the victim but was proved subsequently not to be.
George Beattie has been pulled back into prison and is serving a life sentence for a crime that he almost certainly did not commit. I accept that all the legislation in the world would not resolve the problem posed by such a case, but I raise it to increase public awareness of the problem. It is insensitive of me, perhaps, to mention the case because I know that it distresses the family of the victim of this terrible crime against a young woman, but two "Rough Justice" programmes on the incident in question have concluded that George Beattie could not have committed the crime.
As a Member of Parliament I cannot sit back and do nothing when I see what I believe to be a grave injustice—regardless of whether George kicked the social worker a few months ago. As I see it, an innocent man is in gaol. Even more disturbing is the fact that if George Beattie is innocent, as he almost certainly is, the guilty person may be walking the streets of Carluke today. I understand that the Minister was formerly a member of the Bar, but I am not a lawyer; I was a humble miner. Tragically, Scottish law does not allow George Beattie another appeal. We must look at that and I hope that in the name of common 271 decency and justice the George Beattie case can be re-examined because regardless of legal procedures something has to be done.
Clause 20 refers to parole boards. The hon. Member for Tayside, North said that he visited Perth prison. Hon. Members do not make a practice of such visits but I visited Cornton Vale women's prison in Stirling on Friday to see a young woman who in June 1993 will have been in prison for 10 years. She was convicted of a murder that she did not commit together with her father and brother following a fracas outside their home when a knife was drawn and a man died as a consequence. Four police officers in civilian clothes were chasing her young brother after an incident earlier that night. There was a barney during which there was a tragic death. The brother of about 18 admitted that he had used a knife. As a result one of the policemen died.
The Bill mentions heeding the wishes of a judge. At the trial the judge ruled that the case could not be viewed as a police killing because when the fracas started the mother phoned the police on a 999 call which was registered, as are all such calls. Therefore, evidence was produced to show that the family thought they were being attacked by four people and had phoned the police for help. They were unaware that the four plain clothes men involved in the fracas with the family were police officers. That was a tragic incident for all concerned and certainly for the policeman who died. As a result a young man's life has been destroyed. The father and the young man's sister were convicted for what is known as act in part. The Minister will correct me if I have used the wrong phrase.
The young woman that I visited on Friday is called Margaret Smith and she is married with children. The last time she sought parole it was denied for reasons known only to those who give guidance to the parole board. Any guidance not supporting her application for parole did not come from the prison because on Friday after seeing Margaret I spoke to the prison governor, Mr. Abernethy, and to Margaret's immediate governor, Mrs. Carroll, who said that from the time that the young woman entered prison she has been a model prisoner who has never given a minute's trouble. She was described as a most trustworthy prisoner. Every member of the prison staff said, "Why is this young woman still in prison?" Her father has been given a parole date of October 1993. I visited him four years ago to hear his view of the case and found that he was the governor's trustee. Everybody thought that he was a model prisoner and he was not seen as a real criminal. He was the victim of an unfortunate circumstance which ended up in the mincing machine of our court procedures.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made a relevant point about giving judges discretion on sentencing. In the case I am describing there was a majority verdict, but the judge had no alternative but to impose a life sentence on the father and the young woman who was caught up in the act. It is a great tragedy that so many lives have been ruined.
I am not wishy-washy on crime—far from it. Prisons are there to contain people who threaten our community, but people should not be imprisoned unless they deserve it. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who is the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, has conducted much work on mental health. A civilised society should not allow mentally ill people to be imprisoned. I am sure that none of us can put our hand on our heart and say that we support that. At the other end 272 of the scale a man was recently convicted in Lanark, a town in my constituency, for breaking into a house while wearing a ski mask, assaulting the man and woman in the house and robbing them, and hitting the man on the head with a hammer. Believe it or not, he was sentenced to three months' imprisonment. I intend to write to the Lord Advocate to seek an explanation because when I am asked how such things can happen I have to say that I do not know. How can one defend a system that sends a man to prison for three months for breaking into someone's house and assaulting him with a hammer?
§ Mr. Gallie
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman because I have had similar cases in my constituency. On a charge of murder a person was eventually sentenced to nine months and another received two years. People in Ayr do not understand how such sentences can be passed.
§ Mr. Hood
I cannot comment on that case, but in the case that I have mentioned it is beyond my comprehension how such a sentence could have been imposed. People are now sent to prison for speeding in cars, but it seems that the sheriff in Lanark thinks that three months in prison is enough for a masked person who breaks into a house and hits the occupant over the head with a hammer. We must look at how we can balance the extremes on both sides. In a democracy, the penal system must be addressed to the need to punish and to deter, but also to the need to rehabilitate.
Nobody's interest is served by Margaret Smith, whom I visited on Friday, being kept for one minute longer in prison and she should be released, as should her father. As for her brother, who was caught up in the fracas, I am told that the average term of imprisonment for those given a life sentence for murder is 10 to 12 years, so his case should be looked at seriously as well.
During my discussions on Friday, another point came to my notice—perhaps the Minister would like to answer this because I cannot. I am told—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if it is not the case—that a young woman serving a life sentence in Scotland serves, on average, two years longer than a man. Furthermore, C-category lifers are given certain privileges such as visits and permission to work outside the prison. However, a D-category woman prisoner is not allowed to work outside the prison. When I checked the privileges given to C and D-category prisoners—I hope that I am not being too technical—I found that D-category prisoners are allowed to work outside prison only if they have been given a date for their release on parole. This policy has been implemented in Cornton Vale prison where this young woman is imprisoned. However, in men's prisons, C-category lifers are working outside the prisons in preparation for their release.
If the Minister cannot pursue that point tonight, perhaps he will write to me. I am sure that his first response will be to say that it does not happen and that the judicial system administers the same punishments for men as for women but it is strange if the statistics prove that women given life sentences serve longer sentences than men. I hope that the Minister can give me some information on that.
The Bill contains a number of good measures—for example, that on children giving evidence. I am sure that that is not a party political issue. I have spoken about the need to deter through the law and the administration of the law. I meet my local police officers often, and I say this 273 for no other reason than that I firmly believe it. I am fortunate in that my chief superintendent is the best that one can get and I do not say that because he has moved in to live in my little rural village and is now my neighbour. I have good relations with the police, and I believe that we have different functions in the community. He polices the community and I represent it.
The problems created within our communities can be solved only there. There is no one solution to problems. In solving crime in the community, the police have their functions and the local authority has its functions. The community also has a function—to give assistance to the agencies within it as they seek solutions. That has always been my approach to dealing with the community. A penal system should be created, formed, managed and administered to deter, to punish and to rehabilitate. It must give security to the community by taking crime out rather than by creating crime and thereby putting people in prison.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I welcome this long-overdue Bill, although with some reservations because it has some quite remarkable elements. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who, as he is not here, is presumably involved in yet another interview, said that the Bill would elicit little interest outside the House. He is wrong. The Bill is important, so important that the Government should seek, by way of Standing Order No. 91, to commit it to a Special Standing Committee, which would allow the Committee to take evidence. Among other things, the Standing Order says:A special standing committee to which a bill has been committed shall have power, during a period not exceeding 28 days … from the committal of the bill, to send for persons, papers and records, and, for this purpose, to hold up to four morning sittings of not more than three hours each.The Bill warrants such a Special Standing Committee and I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will consider that request sympathetically.
Although I was unsympathietic to what the hon. Member for Tayside, North had to say, I had a great deal of sympathy for some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Kynoch). My constituency has also suffered recently from a dismal increase in the incidence of violent crime. On this very day, in the High Court in Glasgow, a case involving the murder of a constituent has been set in motion. About 119 constituents of mine will have to give evidence during that trial, which is predicted to last three weeks.
The incidence of violent crime and street crime in my constituency will be diminished only by the presence of more police officers on the streets. I should like to see Chief Superintendent Laurence Macintyre and his fine force of men and women being assisted by the recruitment of at least 20 to 25 uniformed police officers, who should be put on to the streets of Greenock and Port Glasgow. I am convinced that, if that could be achieved, their presence would lead to a diminution in the incidence of violent crime.
I have a couple of comments to make about visiting committees. One object of the Bill is to manage, in a sensible and civilised way, the tensions that arise in our 274 prisons. Some of the measures in part I will reduce those tensions. I was not happy with the response of the Secretary of State to my comments about the establishment of a visiting committee in Her Majesty's Prison, Greenock.
I have here a letter from Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, dated 29 September, which he sent in response to a letter from me about a recent visit that I made to Greenock prison. In my letter, I referred to the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector following his examination of Greenock prison, in which he had a number of criticisms to make of that establishment. Lord Fraser said:I accept the point you make about the lack of a Visiting Committee appointed specifically to HM Prison Greenock. Ian Lang gave an undertaking in his reply to the Chief Inspector's report (copy attached) that an amendment to the Prison Rules designating Greenock as a prison in its own right, with its own Visiting Committee, will be promulgated when the current Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Bill becomes law.I want to see a visiting committee set up in Greenock at the earliest date possible. The Minister knows, as does anyone with experience of prisons, that the members of visiting committees play a vital role in grievance procedures within such establishments. At present, two overworked members of the Barlinnie committee visit Greenock prison. I think that too great a burden has been placed upon them.
In Greenock prison there is a good relationship between staff and prisoners and it is essential that harmonious relations are maintained. That can be helped to a considerable extent by the setting up of a visiting committee at the earliest possible moment.
An indirect object of the Bill appears to be improving relations between a prison and the community within which it is located. I refer again to the letter of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie and his response to my demand that there should be a creche established in the visiting area of Greenock prison. Lord Fraser wrote:Due to lack of space it is, unfortunately, not feasible to provide creche facilities in the visitors' reception area itself. However, a creche has now been opened in a room in the prisoner's visiting area, supervised by a local community on a voluntary basis.I welcome this development by the local community in Greenock, but the prison department has much more to do at the prison, including working on relations between the prison and the local community.
The Minister and I have engaged in some correspondence over these matters, and I remind him that prisons and local communities must maintain harmonious relations. I am pleased to say that that is the case at Greenock, except for my constituents who live in Nimmo street. I note from the Minister's response that that rings a bell with him. My constituents in Nimmo street—Mr. William Marshall at No. 10 and all his neighbours—live in the shadow of the prison. They have made the reasonable request that that side of the prison's perimeter be illuminated at night. Lord Fraser refers to that in his letter but it would seem that the prison department has been a little less than efficient in this instance.
I make no criticism of Governor Gunn and his staff, who are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances, but the lives of prisoners and perhaps more importantly, in some respects, those of the staff could be made better if the prison department were to get its collective finger out.
The Bill contains some useful and sensible measures in respect of the parole system. I speak with some experience—I think that the Minister knows this—because I used to 275 be a member of the local review committee at Saughton. I have seen the parole system working as a member of a review committee.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that the measures in the Bill will not place additional burdens upon those hard-working people who are members of the parole board. They have a massive amount of work to do each year in carrying out their tasks and I hope that their work will not be increased by any of the measures in the Bill.
If the Minister has sufficient time—I promise that I shall not speak for too long—I hope that he will add to the comments made by the Secretary of State about clause 21 and the parole advisers. The right hon. Gentleman was a little vague about those who would be taking up this extremely important role. Surely we have a right to know who will carry out the role as specified in the clause.
The part of the Bill that I welcome most of all—this will not surprise the Minister—is set out in clauses 33 to 35. It seems that child care law reform of this sort in Scotland, England and Wales proceeds by way of a leap-frogging system. I have complained in the House in the recent past that Scots law has begun to lag behind English law in terms of certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. However, to be fair minded to those who drafted the Bill, it appears—I am not a legal expert—that clauses 33 to 35 will give much greater protection to child witnesses in Scotland than the recent legislation that has been introduced in England.
I was struck by what John Spencer, reader in common law at Cambridge university, wrote in a recent edition of Archbold News, issue 17. When commenting upon developments in England and Wales and those in Scotland, he finished his article by saying:Meanwhile the Government, which stubbornly resisted allowing the whole of a child's evidence to be taken pre-trial in England, has just introduced a Bill for Scotland that will enable this to be done on the other side of the River Tweed. Is this a controlled experiment in comparative law, one wonders? Or another case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing?Despite John Spencer's mildly sardonic comment, it is an important development. I wish to ask the Minister some questions, but before doing so I think that tribute should be paid to the members of the Scottish Law Commission, who have played an important role in these developments. We should all be grateful to Sheriff McPhail and his colleagues for their report, which largely, I think, has provided a genesis for clauses 33 to 35.
I have some reservations about certain of the details that appear in clauses 33 to 35. As I suspect that I shall be a member of the Standing Committee that examines the Bill, I shall have the opportunity of taking them up with the Minister. Clause 33(3) refers to a commissioner who will be an advocate or a solicitor. He or she will be appointed by the court to take the evidence of a child. If Lord Hope's recommendation is met, I presume that the commissioner will take the evidence in informal surroundings. Presumably those concerned will remove their wigs and gowns and everyone will sit round a table in as informal a way as is possible.
Clause 33(3) provides:An accused shall not, except by leave of the commissioner, be present in the room where such proceedings arc taking place but shall be entitled by such means as seem suitable to the commissioner to watch and hear the proceedings.The wordsexcept by leave of the commissioner276 should be deleted. A child giving evidence should not have to be in the same room as the accused, although I accept that the accused has every right, under common justice, to observe the proceedings.
If the accused were to be physically present, that would make nonsense of clause 34, which authorises the use of a screen. The Law Commission, in the form of Michael Clancy's brief, has certain reservations about the use of screens. Will the Minister confirm that it will be a one-way screen, so that the accused will be able to see the child, but that the victim will not have a view of his or her alleged attacker?
That is particularly important given the architectural style of some modern sheriff courts, such as that in Glasgow, where a child might have to give evidence within 10 ft of the accused. The child must be given maximum protection, while at the same time ensuring that the interests of the accused are safeguarded.
I have a number of reservations about clauses 33 to 35, but they signal a remarkable transformation in child care law reform in cases of sexual or violent child abuse or those involving appalling neglect. They will give children the protection that they so rightly deserve.
In some circumstances the accused may be the father Or the older brother or sister. I want to see added to the Bill—or to a Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill—a measure allowing for the removal of the accused from the family home where sexual or physical abuse is involved. At present, not only the victim but his or her brothers and sisters may be removed by social workers. It would be better if the person accused of appalling offences should have to leave instead. I crave the indulgence of the Chair, in that I may be technically out of order in seeking to introduce such an amendment.
The Bill offers a significant development in child care law, and for that reason only I give it a sincere welcome.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
Following the Conservatives' comprehensive defeat in Scotland in the general election, they promised a so-called stocktaking exercise in a bid to devise new ways of improving Scotland's future government. Six months later, the Government have produced nothing new—only a rehash of old ideas, including the concept of a separate legal system.
It is dishonest to argue that Scotland has a separate legal system when it is controlled by a United Kingdom Parliament comprising only 72 Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies and 579 outwith Scotland. If it is argued that Scotland should have different laws, a different legal system, and different methods for dealing with crime, it should also have its own legislature.
The Bill should have been introduced in a Scottish Parliament established after the general election in which 75 per cent. of Scottish voters asked for one. It reflects badly on the Government that the House is tonight debating such a Bill, because it is not the business of a United Kingdom House of Commons to legislate for Scotland's separate legal system. That should be done by a Scottish Parliament, meeting in Edinburgh.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Bill was based on the Kincraig report and referred to its specialised nature. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, there is 277 a wider public interest in a debate that concerns the treatment of offenders and the operation of the criminal justice system in Scottish society.
Although the Bill appears wide-ranging at first glance—covering as it does young offenders, penalties for prison offenders, criminal investigations, court proceedings and the nature of evidence—its most striking and disappointing feature is the narrowness of its scope. Even the Secretary of State mentioned that.
The Bill is introduced at a time when Scotland's criminal justice system has never been held in lower esteem or been in greater need of wide-ranging reform. Most right hon. and hon. Members have a horror story to tell about the spread of disorder through Scottish society, which has become badly divided by the unemployment, poverty and social injustice that are the fruits of 14 years of Tory government. We also have our horror stories to tell about the way in which the Scottish criminal justice system is failing to deal with the problems created by those social divisions.
I feel that we should ask whether the Bill is an adequate reaction to the Government's current position in Scotland. A centre-page spread in today's Scottish Daily Record gives details of 24 hours of crime in Scotland. It refers to awave of crime now sweeping the country",and to "open season" having been declared oninnocent people who just want to get on with their lives".It lists a series of offences—73 assaults, 187 house break-ins and 248 thefts from cars—that took place in Scotland in just 24 hours.
Is the Government's response adequate, given the crime wave that has hit Scotland in recent years? Rather than tinkering with the system, the Government should present a Bill to tackle the crime wave that has left so many ordinary Scots living in fear following the many years for which the Minister has been responsible for law and order in their country. The Minister nods: I am sure that he feels deeply embarrassed about his Government's failure to tackle those problems.
I should add that the Scottish Daily Record is not alone in complaining about the current position. I have letters from the Tayside police drawing attention to the increase in crime and lawlessness and expressing special concern about offences committed by those under 16.
It is all very well for the Government to present a Bill dealing with young offenders. That means people in the 16 to 21 age group. Many serious offences are now being committed in Scotland by people below the age of 16, who do not come within the scope of the Bill. That, surely, is a glaring gap in the Government's approach. The police refer to "anti-social behaviour" on the part of under-16s, but "anti-social behaviour" is often serious criminal behaviour. I refer to assaults on individuals, fire-raising, housebreaking, theft and even attacks on policemen.
Surely it is not an adequate response simply to ignore those offences, but at present that is what the Scottish criminal system does. Currently offenders under 16 are dealt with by the children's panels—which have no powers to send them away to secure accommodation—putting them on remand, in young offenders' institutions or in prisons. They no longer even have the option of sending such offenders to list D schools: because of the 278 Government's public expenditure cuts, list D schools have been closed across Scotland. Local authorities now cannot afford to send children away to secure accommodation.
Nowadays, offenders under 16 are immediately returned to the community. Police representatives tell Members of Parliament that many youngsters regard themselves as flameproof—untouchable by the law and order system. The police have shown me long lists of offences committed by 14 and 15-year-olds, who have been charged again and again, taken before a children's panel, warned and put straight back into the community. They have been sent to children's homes which are not secure accommodation and cannot restrain them; then they are back on the streets, committing the same crimes again, utterly untouched by the system of law and order. What are the Government doing about that? Absolutely nothing.
The Bill could have tackled the problem. The Government could have asked, "What shall we do with this group of offenders in Scottish society?" But the Government have decided to do absolutely nothing—and that is a black disgrace, both to the Minister and to the Secretary of State. They claim to care about law and order, and about the wave of crime that is sweeping Scotland. In reality, however, they will not lift a finger, because to lift a finger would be to incur public expenditure.
In the past week, we have learnt that the Government have no energy policy and no economic policy. Tonight, we have learnt that they have no policy to tackle law and order on the streets of Scotland. That is a glaring omission from the Bill. The remainder of its contents may be worthy in their own way, but until the Government begin to tackle the real problems of law and order in Scottish society they will remain condemned by the people who are suffering from those problems, and who receive no assistance whatever from the Government.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
It is a privilege for me to address the House from the Front Bench.
First, let me thank the Secretary of State for the kind remarks that he made at the beginning of the debate. It is typical of him to make such kind personal remarks. In the same vein, I thank the Minister, who has already approached me informally to give me the opportunity to receive briefings on this technical Bill: I appreciate that very much. Having said that, however, let me add that there are deep political divisions between us, and I expect them to come to the fore during our debate on the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said that this was not a lawyer's Bill. I am thankful for that, as I am not a lawyer but a mere schoolteacher, and the prospect of dealing with a highly technical legal Bill fills me with trepidation. The hon. and learned Gentleman added, however, that there was a public interest in the Bill, and I agree with that. The public interest aspect is paramount.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) on his witty maiden speech. He grabbed the attention of everyone, particularly when he mentioned Govan Rangers. By doing so he aroused passionate feelings among some Back Benchers. My hon. Friend said that he was a big fish in a small pond there, but I am sure that here he will use the same skills as he used in Strathclyde regional council and that he will 279 show the same sensitivity towards education and other issues as he did in Strathclyde. [Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Members arc laughing at.
This is a Government of many shades. If they were to act with the same alacrity on prison reform as they acted last week when they took their instant and unilateral decision to condemn 30,000 miners and tens of thousands of others in related industries to the dole queue, the criminal justice system in Scotland would be in a much healthier state. Sadly, however, the Government seem to adopt only negative and destructive policies at top speed. Those that demand careful consideration and attention are left on the back burner. That certainly applies to the Bill, the main part of which relates to the implementation of the Kincraig committee's report on parole and related issues. I shall concentrate on the part I aspect. I welcome the part II aspect, as other hon. Members have done tonight, but part I of the Bill on parole is the main part.
I pay tribute to Lord Kincraig and his committee for the sensitive and constructive way in which they approached their remit. If only the Government had adopted the same approach. The committee was established in December 1987 and published its report in March 1989. To date, no debate has taken place on the report. In its 1991 annual report the Parole Board for Scotland said that it was extremely disappointed that Lord Kincraig's proposals had failed to gain a place in the Government's legislative programme for 1991–92 and that delays in implementing the changes to the system in Scotland had led in their opinionto uncertainties and loss of faith among prisoners and staff.Meanwhile, Scotland is becoming more and more out of line with what is happening in England and Wales. We are creating anomalies between the English and the Scottish jurisdictions.
The new English provision came into effect on 1 October 1992. We are still waiting for ours. Kincraig points to this in paragraph 2.32 where it says that it is clear that since 1973 the parole systems north and south have diverged, reflected in the current annual success rates for parole applications. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said earlier, 57.3 per cent. of eligible prisoners in England and Wales were granted parole, while the equivalent figure for Scotland was 28.4 per cent. The Kincraig committee said that there was no explanation as to why this should be so, given that the British crime survey had shown that there are no great differences in the rates or types of crime between the two jurisdictions.
I should like to look at the Bill in its true context—first, in the specific context of Scotland and the fact that the Bill has emerged from a period in the 1980s of unprecedented upheaval in the Scottish prison system. The mid-1980s saw a series of prison demonstrations and protests, hostage-taking incidents, dirty protests, the destruction of prison property, food protests and overcrowding in particular wings of individual prisons. Notwithstanding last year's Scottish Office proposals for reforming the system in documents such as "Opportunity and Responsibility", it is arguable that the situation in some Scottish prisons remains extremely volatile. How far the proposals in the Bill will affect that is debatable, particularly if the prison population begins to rise again, as the latest figures appear to suggest.
According to an answer to a parliamentary question, the average daily prison population on 3 July 1992 had 280 climbed to 5,294. It is important to note that Scotland's prison population has been consistently higher, in terms of rate of detention per 100,000 of the country's population, compared with the vast majority of other Council of Europe countries. Taken as a whole, the United Kingdom was first in the table, well ahead of countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, France and Denmark. Council of Europe figures for 1987 show that Scotland was first in a league table of 17 countries, with 767.7 per 100,000 people, compared with 350.7 for the United Kingdom. Even allowing for the problems of definition between different states, in a comparative sense Scotland's sentencing policies in the 1980s appeared to be problematic.
The second dimension of the Bill is the Government's attempts to deal with the prison crisis in the United Kingdom in general. The process began with the publication in July 1988 of the Green Paper, "Punishment, Custody and Community", and culminated in the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 in England and Wales in October 1992. A number of the Scottish Bill's provisions follow on from those already implemented in England and Wales and are linked to an attempt to provide a twin-track approach to sentencing. That approach attempts to reduce the use of custody for less serious offenders while promoting longer sentences for serious crimes. It is important to note, however, that the trend towards longer sentences had been apparent before the implementation of the Bill. The number of prisoners, for example, serving life under section 205 increased from 269 in 1989 to 386 in 1990, while the figures for those serving three years or more increased from 1,176 to 1,211.
There will be little opposition to the general principle of the Bill, but Labour Members regret that the opportunity to address the wider issues of prison legislation and prisoners' rights has not been seized. We are mindful that the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 consolidates earlier legislation, but what is needed is a new prisons Act rather than the present piecemeal arrangements for prison legislation.
Although the Bill has a narrow remit from Kincraig's recommendations on parole, we cannot escape the fact that it has wider implications, the first of which is resources. The foreword to the Bill says that its net financial effect will be broadly neutral. That is a stab in the dark. The Government assume that because an increased number of prisoners will be included in the new parole arrangements the prison population will be lower and therefore that savings can be made. But for many offenders, the effective length of sentence will increase as a result of parole considerations from about one third to about half of their sentence. Offenders will now be liable to serve the full term of their sentence if reconvicted for an offence committed before the expiry of that full term. That could lead to a substantial increase in the prison population. The sentencers—the judges and sheriffs—are therefore the key to the impact that the Bill will have in practice. It is essential that the sentencers realise the meaning of many of the sentences that they impose and that a significant number of sentences will become much longer than they are at present.
The danger of implementation of the Bill is that it will be followed by a substantial increase in the prison population. So much is still left to the discretion of the sentencers that there is nothing to stop sheriffs and judges 281 from scaling up sentences from their present level. That was mentioned by my noble Friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar in the other place.
Clause 16 is the major negative of the Bill. It deals with prisoners who are released on licence who may reoffend. Its inclusion could have the opposite effect of what the Government intended by increasing the prison population. If a prisoner is committed for a minor offence, on release he is tried not only for the minor offence but in addition has to serve the remainder of the offence that he or she was originally serving. For a minor offence, that person could be referred to a higher court, a sheriff court or even the High Court.
It should be borne in mind that in Scotland 99.9 per cent. of offences can be punished by imprisonment. Let us take an example. An offender who is serving a long prison sentence is out on licence and commits a breach of the peace. Normally, there would be a £30 fine, say, in a district court, but because he is out on licence he could be referred by the magistrate to the sheriff court or to the High Court. That could result in him going back to prison for four or five years or even longer as a result of that minor offence. The Bill presently allows that possibility. That would most certainly have the consequence of increasing the prison population.
We must also remember the power given to the local police. As hon. Members have said, it is not difficult for the police to charge an individual with a minor offence, but for a prisoner out on licence it could have immense consequences because of the court's discretion as a result of the Bill. It is a matter of public interest, certainly, but should the consequences be so dramatic for minor offences? Should not the Government look again at clause 16 and, instead of relating it to all offences, relate it only to minor offences? If clause 16 related to minor offences, the court could look at them in isolation.
Resources and local authorities have also been mentioned. Local authorities have to supervise prisoners who are out on licence—not only those who are released at the half-way stage but those who are eligible for parole at the half-way stage and automatically released at the two-thirds stage. They will be licensed but not unconditionally. Previously, people volunteered for parole. They got something back; there was a quid pro quo. Now long-term offenders who are released at the two-thirds stage will have no quid pro quo and there will be enormous social work implications with people on licence who are reluctant. This will result in major changes for social workers.
What is the Government's estimate of the number of people who are recalled for further offences? Have the Government made any projections on that matter? We understand that the Government's intention is to abolish the statutory after care for 16 to 20-year-olds. Presently, for 16 to 18-month sentences, that care lasts six months. For those with sentences longer than 18 months it lasts for 12 months. On 31 December 1991, Strathclyde regional council had 299 after care cases. As a rule of thumb, we can double that for Scotland and thereby find that we have fewer than 600 after care cases. That will not be much of a saving as there will be more long-term prisoners who are 282 released on licence. There will be greater pressure on local authority budgets which, in the next week or two, will be under enormous pressure.
Still on the subject of finance, many social work departments would concede that their ability to provide adequate supervision and adequate after care is limited. To add the parole requirements contained in the Bill without providing funds for increased staffing levels would make a mockery of implementation. Without a commitment to introducing and financing community care provision, it is unlikely that offenders will be high on the political agenda, especially given that offenders are not a designated group under the community care provisions.
What is the present state of public expenditure and what are its implications for individuals recently released from prison? Last week, I received a letter from a constituent, a woman who was helping a teenager who had just come out of prison. The teenager applied to the DSS for a clothing grant but was refused. The boy in question had just finished a nine-month sentence for robbery. My constituent said:This is not an isolated case, indeed according to the official we spoke with, most prisoners are now considered low priority.The young boy got nothing extra with his grant. My constituent pointed out thatThis does nothing to stop the reoffending process which we see so often in our community.She continued thatthe employment situation in this particular area is very low and jobs for ex-offenders practically non-existent.Like most offenders, that boy risks turning to crime in order to clothe himself. My constituent has asked me to look at that case carefully and I will do that. However, I remind the Minister of the Government's policies over the past 13 years. They have increased deprivation in our communities. It is undeniable that there is a direct link between levels of deprivation and levels of imprisonment. Opposition Members see that day in and day out.
Another aspect that the Bill does not deal with is the particular experiences of women in prison. Clause 14 relates to "Supervised release orders." That provision is intended "to protect the public." That is a dominant criterion for the utilisation of supervised release orders. However, where does that leave women in prison? The overwhelming majority of women are not dangerous and the public do not need protection from them. A whole range of literature shows that women prisoners are different in terms of their crimes and experiences and perhaps need a different response, particularly in the establishment of alternatives to custody.
Sadly, the question of alternatives to custody is not considered in the Bill. Again, we are behind England and Wales where one of the central debates in criminal justice legislation has been alternatives to custody. For example, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced radical alternatives and improvements and restrictions in sentences. One restriction is for sentencers to consider the nature of the offence before them. That does not happen in Scotland. Someone in Scotland might still go to prison for a substantial period for stealing a bottle of whisky because the fact that that person has stolen on a number of occasions in the past is taken into account. The criminal justice system in England has removed that and I suggest that the Minister should consider that aspect in relation to Scotland.
283 Clause 24 allows governors to take remission from a remand prisonerconditionally on his eventually becoming such a prisoner".That is very unfair and is inconsistent. Remission may be taken off even before a sentence is begun. The Bill still allows that to happen and the Minister should also consider that point.
Clause 20(4)(c) and clause 20(5) are also matters of concern. They allow the Secretary of State to give direction to the parole board about what it should take into account when considering cases and how it should discharge its functions. It appears—and this is all I would say at the moment—that that provides an avenue for the possibility of the exercise of political influence over the board such as the overnight imposition of a new parole policy undertaken by the then Secretary of State, Mr. George Younger, in 1984. That imposition has been roundly condemned and was considered to be a contributory factor to the prison riots in the 1980s. It is very important that the Minister considers clause 20 again.
Clause 20 gives cause for concern if one is suspicious about such matters. However, should we be suspicious about the Government today when they flag up perhaps a few days in advance all the mistakes that they are going to make anyway? However, the Minister should reflect on the implications of clause 20.
In respect of clause 20(4), the Law Society notes with concern that children who are convicted under section 206 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 are excluded from the present practice of granting remission to prisoners serving a determinate sentence. It is unjust for a person under the age of 16 to be denied remission for any crime attracting a custodial sentence purely on the basis of age.
That unfairness was highlighted in a recent High Court trial in Glasgow which concluded in identical sentences of custody for adults and a 15-year-old juvenile. The adults were subsequently released on remission, but the juvenile was required to serve the sentence in full. The Government should accept that if automatic remission is available it should also apply to juveniles. Presently the position of juveniles is anomalous.
As hon. Members have said, clause 1 relates to life sentence prisoners. The Bill distinguishes between mandatory and discretionary life sentences. That procedure has been the subject of widespread criticism because of its secrecy, discretionary nature and the detrimental effect that such mandatory sentences have on prisoners and their families. Indeed, the Kincraig committee made several criticisms of the current practices. The committee was drawn to the argument that life should be the maximum sentence, rather than the mandatory penalty for murder. That argument was also supported in amendments tabled by their Lordships in another place and by the Law Lords in their House of Lords Select Committee report on murder and life imprisonment. Their recommendations would have brought release procedures for lifers into line with several European Court judgments. The Government opposed the amendments, despite being defeated by a wide margin in the House of Lords. I ask the Minister to think again about those matters.
What about the merits of this Bill? I would describe it as a hesitant step forward. The main question that we should address is whether the Scottish criminal justice system imprisons too many people unnecessarily and for 284 too long. On the evidence in the league tables, I suggest that, compared with the rest of Europe, we do indeed imprison too many people unnecessarily and for too long.
The wider implications and their impact on the Bill are even more important. Rather than reducing the prison population, the arrangements set down in the Bill could increase it. I have already mentioned the resources resulting from the implications of the Bill. They are extremely important. The impact of the Bill will not be neutral, so extra money is needed. The Government cannot improve the criminal justice system in Scotland without providing extra money. If the Government care about the people in prison, they must examine those resources. Education is an example which is dear to my heart. The estimates for teachers' salaries were £1.02 million for 1990–91 and £1.03 million for 1991–92. We do not yet have a proper, structured education system in the prisons. Even today, we do not have a proper screening process for all prisoners for standards of literacy and numeracy. The Government should attempt to tackle that particular issue if the necessary rehabilitative effect is to work.
In order to minimise recidivism, links with families are important. We know that abrupt separation between arrest and remand has consequences for relationships and can have a significant effect on the incomes of families. What have the Government to offer in this respect, particularly for poor and disadvantaged families? Extra home leave has been provided in a number of cases, but it results in extra pressure on the family budget, which is inadequate in the first place. The Government have not dealt with the additional cost of a five-day home visit for some prisoners. So they have put more rather than less pressure on the prisoner and his or her family. I should like the Government to examine the philosophy of home leave and perhaps extend it to limited custody, under which a prisoners' obligations to his family are maintained and he is not allowed to duck those obligations.
The Government and the Scottish Office have so far failed to offer any predictions or projections about the future prison population. Indeed, I asked the House of Commons Library to examine that issue for me. It wrote back to say that the Scottish Office does not publish projections of prison populations. Again, that is out of line with England and Wales and the Government should pay attention to that. Previous comments about sentencers scaling up sentences and about the degree of recidivism mean that substantial increases in the prison population are likely to result. Given the large number of people who go through the prison system, putting us at the top of the European league, it could be argued that projections of increased prison populations are even more applicable given the predilections of sentencers for sending people to prison.
In the present law and order climate, it is highly debatable that the position of the reformers on crime and punishment will be adopted. If that is the case, the Bill will fail to alleviate the crisis inside prisons and outside in the wider criminal justice system. That could have detrimental and perhaps dire consequences for both prisoners and prison staff as well as for society.
Whilst Opposition Members welcome the introduction of the Bill and consequently will not vote against it, we shall, however, examine it in detail to discover whether the 285 Government's rhetoric stands up to examination. For our part we shall ensure that our deliberations contribute towards improving the criminal justice system in Scotland.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) on his speech. It was a well delivered, excellent speech, showing good humour. He made a patriotic reference to the many attributes of his constituency, for which I warmly congratulate him. His experience of education will be of benefit to the House. I think that Coplaw street, which I know well from having attended the drill hall, is in his constituency. The standards of Scottish piping were extremely high. I wish the hon. Member well and look forward to his future contributions in the House. His reference to the formidable intellect of his predecessor, Bruce Milian, will be appreciated by those who well remember having to spar with him across the Gangways.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who made his first speech from the Opposition Front Bench, mentioned many interesting and important matters. I can reassure him on one. The Bill rectifies the anomaly on remission for children, which he rightly pointed out, and it gives children and adults the same early release entitlements.
Many important issues have been raised. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) mentioned prisoners' rights, prison rules and the role of social workers. I hope to go into those matters in detail. The hon. Member for Dumbarton mentioned the difference between Scotland and England, and I shall go into the figures. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) supported early release, which I welcome, and the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned children's evidence, which we regard as extremely important. My hon. Friends the Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) referred to the extremely important matter of public protection, which will remain uppermost in our minds.
Virtually every Member supported the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he wished to reverse the policy of the other place in trying to reverse the decision on war crimes through the back door, and I shall return to that.
To set the subject in perspective, I suggest that we deliberately developed an important theme during the last Parliament—the decision to open up the prison system to public scrutiny and to introduce what I would describe as glasnost to a world which literally operated behind closed doors, a world which was secretive when I first became a Minister, and which was the subject of much rumour and speculation. That policy was put into effect by the then director, Peter McKinlay, and the press and public were invited into prisons to see for themselves the truth behind the rumours and speculation. Greater openness is now a regular feature of our prison life and of the way in which prisons are run. Prisons have been demystified, and that is a big change. It has become normal practice to publicise 286 the facilities which prisons offer, to allow inmates to be interviewed and to promote full discussion of the aims and objectives of the Scottish prison service.
We have made a survey of the views of prisoners. One issue that came out of the survey was the need for excellent visiting facilities and for improvements to them. That was on the top of their list; that was useful to know because we can direct our energies and attention towards those aspects.
The move to openness, which I strongly supported. has been of great benefit to prisoners and their families. It has also benefited the staff, who have become accustomed to a culture of openness and accountability. They are being trained to regard prisoners as responsible individuals who, within the confines of their sentence and the restrictions that it imposes, can be encouraged to take responsible decisions for themselves. The provisions of part I of the Bill must be seen against that background, and that policy is steadily being taken forward in the Bill.
For prisoners serving longer terms of imprisonment the parole decision is of fundamental importance. The Bill will lead to a fairer, more consistent and more open parole system, in which prisoners will know the factors that count and how their cases will be assessed. The new scheme will provide a better fit with other key initiatives in the prison service, such as sentence planning. In that connection, we favour open reporting—the hon. Member for Monklands, West touched upon that.
The Kincraig committee recommended that prisoners should be able to see reports on them which formed the basis for consideration of the outcome of their cases with the parole board. Although there is no statutory provision to that effect, we intend that there should eventually be full disclosure. But the process of moving from a closed to an open system must be carefully managed. There will need to be adequate safeguards for information in case disclosure damages a third party or a prisoner personally. Those issues are now being looked at carefully and I am glad to report to the House that open reporting by prison service staff is now being piloted at Perth prison. That pilot scheme is being evaluated by the central research unit of the Scottish Office and the findings of the evaluation will pave the way for the introduction of open reporting in other establishments.
Prison staff are not the only contributors to parole dossiers. Open reporting by other professional groups, such as social workers and psychiatrists, is a more sensitive area and in the next few months we plan to go into the issues more thoroughly to achieve more openness for the other parties.
I also accept that prisoners should be given reasons for decisions on parole. The criteria for parole are to be set out in policy directions given under the provisions in clause 20(5), which makes protection of the public the central consideration. In future, reasons for parole decisions will be given to prisoners in terms of those criteria. It will be for the parole board to consider how the reasons should be communicated. The ideal solution would be to communicate the decision by letter to prisoners, but it would take careful planning and management to ensure that letters are sensitively worded and properly dispatched.
An increase in permanent staff allocated to service the board will be required and will have to he considered against other priorities. Again, statutory provision is not needed.
287 In a thoroughly prepared and interesting speech, the hon. Member for Monklands, West mentioned fine defaulters. I am glad to say that it is not correct that 40 per cent. of the prison population are fine defaulters. Forty per cent. of the receptions and only 5 per cent. of the average daily population are fine defaulters. However, I accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Indeed, the Bill's purpose is to introduce tougher measures for long-sentence prisoners who are a danger to the community, and more generosity and leniency for minor offenders.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
I do not seek to score a point, but during the debate we have been looking for clarification. What is the difference between 40 per cent. of prisoners regarded as "reception" and the reduction to 5 per cent.? What happens to those people in between?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
That was puzzling to me and I made inquiries on that point. Many receptions have their fines paid quickly by relatives, which clogs up the whole "prison system with extra administration. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point but I am glad to assure him that we are taking measures. For example, we now have a pilot scheme of supervised attendance orders in place of imprisonment for defaulters. We have also engaged in the deduction of fines from benefit, along the lines of deductions for electricity and gas. Both measures are alternatives to imprisonment for fine default.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the duration of post-release supervision. The Bill does not require supervision for the whole period of release on licence. Supervision will normally be fairly intense shortly after release, but as the prisoner settles down within the community the need for contact with his supervising officer should diminish. Within a year or two following release, contact with the supervising officer may not be necessary more often than once every few months and may even become wholly unnecessary. At that point, the supervision condition in the former prisoner's licence may be cancelled.
§ Dr. Godman
Who will decide whether the supervision is to continue—the social worker/probation officer?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I shall make inquiries and write to the hon. Gentleman.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman also asked about the training of parole advisers, and who they would be. They will be volunteers and will no doubt be well qualified to carry out their function. Parole advisers will need to be trained to carry out their duties, but it is not intended that they should act as prisoners' representatives. Prisoners should make their representations in their own words to the parole board.
Parole advisers will need to understand the requirements and procedures in order to explain them to prisoners and help them to make representations if the prisoners want that help. Members of the parole board and staff of the Scottish Office Home and Health Department will provide the necessary briefing and training for. parole advisers. If a prisoner wants legal advice, he or she should get it from a lawyer; it is not intended that parole advisers should take over such work.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
Will the parole board have—as at present—information about a prisoner that may not necessarily involve 288 convictions? Such information may relate to suspicions of crimes which may have been committed but of which the prisoner has not been convicted in court.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I have witnessed the parole board in action and I am not aware of activities along those lines. I shall have to make inquiries and write to the hon. Gentleman to inform him fully on that.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West spoke of prison rules and grievance procedures—matters which we shall be taking forward. There is a small working group on grievance procedures; its report and recommendations were published and given wide circulation. We plan to begin to introduce new procedures in 1993 following consultation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as soon as we are clear on every detail of the revised rules we shall lose no time in laying the provisions before the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) raised the issue of corroboration to be used to enable the prosecution to succeed in cases involving the stealing of birds' eggs. The requirement for corroboration may mean that the evidence of a single witness corroborated by evidence of another type may be sufficient to enable a successful prosecution. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East said that we should be careful in changing the law on corroboration because what is at stake is not the admissibility but the sufficiency of the evidence.
As for the parole board being used as a court, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that where detention is justified purely on grounds of public risk such grounds must be determined by a body constituted as a court: that means the holding of hearings, legal representation for the parties and the disclosure of documents. The rules that may be made under clause 20 of the Bill will provide for those aspects. The rules will be laid before the House in the form of a statutory instrument.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East spoke of children detained without limit of time. I wish to dispel one or two misunderstandings that have arisen in the past. The sentence passed when a child is detained without limit of time does not mean detention without the possibility of release but is equivalent to the mandatory life sentence. Anyone so sentenced can be released at any time by the Secretary of State after consultation with the judiciary, provided he has a positive recommendation from the parole board.
In an effort to give residential establishments greater flexibility in managing young people, we have introduced a scheme whereby those young people may be taken on escorted outings at regular intervals for sporting and other leisure activities. In the last Parliament, I sometimes had the responsibility of deciding whether prisoners should be released for educational courses. Uppermost in my consideration was the protection of the public and if I had any doubts about that I said no. Although none of the cases with which I was involved came before the House, they did involve a great deal of care and trouble. I have no doubt that the same will apply in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr is anxious that we should have a vigorous law and order policy and that we should not be unnecessarily lenient. I think that I can reassure him. We take parties of constituents around the Houses of Parliament; we come across a marble statue in the other place of Queen Victoria flanked by celestial 289 supporters representing justice and mercy. I believe that a great nation should be capable of each quality, and it is vital that we should know when to apply each one.
Although the Bill promotes greater fairness and consistency, it will also strengthen the deterrent effect of long sentences. Offenders sentenced to four or more years will have to wait until they have served at least half their sentence before being considered for parole, instead of one third as at present. So the Bill restores the meaning to the full duration of a long sentence by ensuring that release, when it comes, will be on licence, with a liability to recall for breach of licence. It also makes all released prisoners subject to recall by order of the court should they commit a further offence punishable by imprisonment during the outstanding part of the sentence.
§ Mr. McFall
Can the Minister confirm that such release will have implications for social work and that the financial effects of the Bill will, therefore, not be neutral in that respect? Will he undertake to look at the implications for local authorities and social work departments?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Yes, of course it will have such implications, but the hon. Gentleman correctly said that we cannot exactly estimate what they will be, for the simple reason that three factors are difficult to assess exactly: the number of supervised release orders that will be made by the courts, the duration of supervision that will be specified and the average duration and intensity of that supervision. Taking all the factors into account, however, we estimate that the costs will probably be somewhat less than £1 million. On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that the release of short-term prisoners at half sentence rather than two thirds will tend to reduce average daily prison populations and hence marginal costs. On the whole, we expect the increase in costs and the savings attributable to part I of the Bill to be roughly in balance. We shall have to keep a careful eye on this issue and provide the necessary resources—the hon. Gentleman's point was well made.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton also drew comparisons with the rate of parole in England. For instance, he suggested that the 1984 policy was to blame for the fact that fewer Scots prisoners, relatively speaking, were recommended for parole than prisoners in England and Wales. But there is another reason—in England and Wales, from June 1984 until recently, the minimum period qualifying for parole was six months, while in Scotland it was and remains 12. Also, in England and Wales, local review committees have operated for some time under a presumption in favour of parole for all those sentenced to less than two years. The parole rate for this category in England and Wales has been between 75 and 80 per cent. That is part of the reason for the significant difference in the two jurisdictions.
Another significant fact is that the recall rates north and south of the border are different. In England and Wales a far greater number have had to be recalled to custody for breach of licence. In 1991, according to the respective parole board reports, there were 964 recalls of determinate sentence prisoners in England and Wales and only 17 in Scotland.
290 I suggest that as of 1 October a new system will have been implemented in England and Wales under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, so when we are in a position to compare like with like we can make good progress.
In the other place, Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen complained that we had considered the Bill at too short notice. There is much to be said for making haste slowly. Two years have elapsed between the publication of the Government's response to Kincraig and the introduction of the Bill in May. The Carlisle report for England and Wales was published about five months earlier, but there was also in prospect a far-reaching criminal justice Bill and it is appropriate to have a Bill to deal thoroughly and in depth with these matters.
The policy announced in 1984 by the Secretary of State still stands, but we are committed to ending that policy in so far as it applies to determinate prisoners as soon as the statutory criteria for public risk are in place. We instigated the Kincraig report to measure the effectiveness of that policy in the light of experience and consequently have decided on this course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North and the hon. Member for Monklands, West spoke about the important issue of compassionate early release. The people primarily in mind are those who may be dying and have been imprisoned for committing serious crimes. If they are no longer a threat to anyone, the issue of their release should command some consideration. The Bill will benefit the small group of prisoners whose immediate release is justified on, for example, grounds of health. It will be a necessary condition that the person concerned should not pose a threat to the public and the advice of the parole board will be obtained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North spoke about discretionary life prisoners. Hon. Members have welcomed the introduction of new offences other than murder. Clause 2 expressly recognises that where the court passes a sentence of life imprisonment for crimes such as culpable homicide, attempted murder, rape or wilful fire-raising, it may have two purposes in mind—to deter or to protect the public, or both. The European Court of Human Rights has determined that the matter of detention on grounds of public risk requires periodic review by a body which has the constitution and functions of a court. Clause 2 complies with that judgment by providing that, after a period specified by the sentencing court has elapsed, the life prisoner will have the right to have his or her case reviewed every two years by the parole board. We intend to make rules to provide for the parole board to take on the character of a court in order to conduct these reviews with appropriate legal representation.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
It may be difficult for the Minister to answer within the confines of the debate, but has he been able to form a view about what I said earlier—clause 6(2) appears to contain an infelicitous, indeed inept, reference to the contents of section 206 of the 1975 Act?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The point was technical, but I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that perusal of the terms of section 206 might lead one to suppose that only a determinate sentence is possible. There is one case in which, without limit of time, a sentence was passed under section 206 as a maximum not a mandatory sentence, and that was upheld on appeal. Clause 6(1) 291 makes provision for such a case by applying the provisions of part I of the Bill as they apply to adults. Should such a sentence ever again be imposed, it is most probable that the judge will order that the relevant provisions in clause 2 are to apply—in other words, that the child should be treated in the same way as a discretionary life prisoner.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I have many questions to answer but I shall give way to my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
Does my hon. Friend not think it strange that, for whatever reason, a life sentence is up for review every two years? Therefore, the sentence may be only two years, whereas a mandatory sentence has to be served for at least part of the pronounced sentence. Is it not rather odd that the longest sentence—the life sentence—should be the one that can be shortened the most, whereas the statutory sentence cannot be shortened more than by two thirds? Should not my hon. Friend look at the fatuosity of a life sentence that says, "We shall send you to prison but it might he for a week or it might be for ever"?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The duration of licence is potentially until the end of the full sentence. My hon. and learned Friend has defended those who have been in prison for life and who are now out in the community. When and whether they should ever be allowed to return to the community depends first and foremost on the protection of the public.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow mentioned children's evidence. Evidence can be taken in three ways, of which the first is by live television link, as authorised by the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990—the hon. Gentleman and I both participated in the Committee examining that Bill. Evidence can also be taken on commission and recorded for video transmission, as authorised by clause 33, and taken with the accused shielded from the view of the child, as authorised by clause 34. In each of these cases, in the interests of justice and fairness, the evidence will be subject to cross-examination on behalf of the accused person, who will continue to be able to see and hear the evidence being given. Like the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to the Scottish Law Commission report in this connection.
This brings me to the issue of evidence by live television link in relation to war crimes—a subject raised by several hon. Members. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear our intentions in relation to clause 32 and, in particular, subsection (5), which was inserted in the other place. The provisions of clause 32 can be invoked either by the prosecution or by the defence. Briefly, they enable either party to apply to the court in any solemn proceedings for the issuing of a letter of request to a court or other authority in a country outside the United Kingdom in which resides a witness whose evidence is relevant to the case.
The letter of request would seek assistance in facilitating the giving of evidence by the witness through a live television link. The application for a letter of request 292 is to be granted only—this is important—if the judge is satisfied as to the matters specified in subsection (3) and in particular that the granting of the application is both in the interests of justice and is not unfair to the accused where the application is at the instance of the prosecution. In other words, we see this as being entirely in the interests of justice and not unfair to the accused.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
In his last couple of minutes, will the Minister respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) about the treatment of women offenders, because women are far less likely to be guilty of violent crime?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Lady is taking me out of the sequence of my remarks, but I can tell her that I once had to defend a lady who had killed her husband by shooting him, and she was put on probation. Therefore, I know from experience that not all ladies are discriminated against in these matters. We should be against such discrimination, if there were any.
We propose that the giving of evidence by television link should be fully and carefully debated on the Floor of the House at a later stage. I can see nothing wrong in principle with the use of today's advanced technology to facilitate the giving of evidence by witnesses whose presence in court is not possible, provided that is in the best interests of justice. The House will, I think, agree that the proposed new provisions contain every necessary safeguard.
I have only a few seconds remaining for my speech. I conclude by saying that the Bill has a strong reforming purpose. It will be in the best interests of Scotland's prisons, prisoners, prison officers and the public at large, and I strongly commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).