HC Deb 05 June 1996 vol 278 cc590-1
2. Mr. Duncan

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what measures are being taken to ensure that those serving community service orders are deterred from offending again. [30072]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My right hon. Friend has announced a series of measures to ensure that community service in Scotland is seen by both the offenders and the community as a rigorous and constructive penalty.

Mr. Duncan

Does my hon. Friend agree that community service should not be a soft option but a fitting punishment for the crime? The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's proposals to toughen the regime and has said that they are humiliating. Does not that confirm once again that the Labour party is more concerned about the humiliation of the offender than the humiliation of the victim?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

We certainly want to shift the emphasis away from the criminal towards the victim. We believe that community service orders should be rigorous and have considerable benefit to the community. For example, the refurbishment of the King George V playing fields, first phase, will be of immense benefit to the local communities. The programme contains other projects—for example, the removal of graffiti, the cleaning up of cycleways and waterways, the opening of footpaths and the renovation of buildings. Community service certainly should not be a soft option.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister must surely accept that crime in Scotland has doubled under this Government. Does he accept any responsibility for that, and will the Government do anything about it?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The overall crime figures have come down in the past three years and that is a sign of the effectiveness of the police, to whom we have given maximum support in the form of high-technology closed-circuit television and many other projects throughout Scotland. We will work on that success and we are determined to give the police the maximum resources available.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Secretary of State for Scotland's determination to be tougher on crime and to strengthen penalties is welcomed by most people, except those who are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime? Does he agree that one of the causes of crime in Scotland is the dreary municipal estates built by Labour-controlled councils in the 1960s?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is one of the reasons why we support urban regeneration so strongly. We wish to remove that dreariness and to provide more opportunities for jobs. Under urban aid, we provide more than £80 million a year to ensure that those who live in such communities have much better chances. As part of the process, it is absolutely necessary to take a tough line on crime prevention.

Mr. McFall

The Labour party agrees fully that those serving community service orders should be prevented from offending, but does the Minister realise that the main issue for the community today is Gavin McGuire, who murdered Mhairi Julyan? Why was he released only 20 days before he committed that murder? Why did the Crown Office say that there was insufficient evidence to proceed and yet, when the trial for murder happened, it brought in that evidence? Is not the action of the Secretary of State a knee-jerk reaction to stifle debate? Will the Minister join us in the call for an independent inquiry to get to the root of the problem and to prevent the Crown Office from sinking into disrepute as a result of the case?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Lord Advocate, as Law Officer, is responsible for the prosecution service. He is independent of the Government. I am the Minister with responsibility for home affairs, not Minister for the interior and it would be totally improper for me to try to direct the Law Officers on which prosecutions to undertake. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that, for repeat offenders in serious sex cases, the law should be toughened and they should face life sentences.