HC Deb 20 January 1997 vol 288 cc705-22
Mr. McFall

I beg to move amendment No. 137, in page 6, line 17, leave out '245' and insert '229'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 166, in page 6, line 19, leave out 'orders' and insert 'requirements'.

No. 138, in page 6, line 20, leave out '245A' and insert '229A'.

Government amendment No. 105.

No. 136, in page 6, line 23, after 'an', insert 'additional requirement of a probation'. No. 167, in page 6, line 23, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 168, in page 6, line 25, leave our 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 139, in page 6, line 26, leave out '245B to 245F' and insert '229B and 229C'.

No. 169, in page 6, line 28, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 170, in page 6, line 29, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 171, in page 6, line 43, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 128, in page 7, leave out lines 1 to 13.

No. 172, in page 7, line 1, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 173, in page 7, line 3, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 174, in page 7, line 3, leave out 'requirements' and insert 'conditions'.

No. 175, in page 7, line 4, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 176, in page 7, line 7, leave out 'requirements' and insert 'conditions'.

No. 177, in page 7, line 8, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 178, in page 7, line 10, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 179, in page 7, line 12, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 180, in page 7, line 15, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 129, in page 7, line 15, after 'shall', insert 'in addition to section 228 (6)(a) above'. No. 181, in page 7, line 16, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 182, in page 7, line 18, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 183, in page 7, line 19, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 184, in page 7, line 23, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 185, in page 7, line 27, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 130, in page 7, leave out lines 33 to 47.

Government amendment No. 109.

No. 186, in page 7, line 34, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

Government amendment No. 110.

No. 187, in page 7, line 36, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 189, in page 7, line 41, leave out 'orders' and insert 'requirements'.

No. 190, in page 7, line 43, leave out 'orders' and insert 'requirements'.

No. 191, in page 7, line 44, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 131, in page 8, line 6, leave out '245B' and insert '229B'.

No. 162, in page 8, line 7, leave out '245A(9)' and insert '229A(9).'.

No. 192, in page 8, line 8, leave out 'orders' and insert 'requirements'.

No. 193, in page 8, line 12, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 194, in page 8, line 13, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 195, in page 8, line 14, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 196, in page 8, line 18, leave out 'order shall vary the order' and insert 'requirement shall vary the requirement'. No. 163, in page 8, line 20, leave out '245C' and insert '229C'.

No. 197, in page 8, line 24, leave out 'orders' and insert 'requirements'.

No. 198, in page 8, line 27, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 199, in page 8, line 28, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 200, in page 8, line 32, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 201, in page 8, line 36, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

Government amendment No. 223.

No. 164, in page 8, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 45 on page 9.

No. 202, in page 8, line 40, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 203, in page 8, line 42, leave out 'order may apply to the court which made the order' and insert 'requirement may apply to the court which made the requirement'. No. 204, in page 8, line 46, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 205, in page 8, line 48, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 206, in page 9, line 3, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 207, in page 9, line 5, leave out 'order' at both occurrences and insert 'requirement'.

No. 208, in page 9, line 7, leave out 'requirements' and insert 'conditions'.

No. 209, in page 9, line 7, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 210, in page 9, line 13, leave out 'requirements' and insert 'conditions'.

No. 211, in page 9, line 14, leave out 'order the court may vary the order' and insert 'requirement the court may vary the requirement'. No. 212, in page 9, line 15, leave out 'order' and insert'requiremene.

No. 213, in page 9, line 18, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 214, in page 9, line 21, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 215, in page 9, line 22, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

Government amendment No. 115.

No. 216, in page 9, line 32, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

No. 217, in page 9, line 33, leave out 'order' and insert 'requirement'.

Government amendment No. 119.

No. 218, in schedule 1, page 71, line 32, at end insert— '(17A) In section 232(3) insert 'a' after '(3)' and insert after subparagraph (a) a new sub-paragraph as follows— (b) notwithstanding (a) above, in relation to a probation order with an additional restriction of liberty requirement—

  1. (i) evidence of the presence or absence of the offender at a particular place at a particular time may, subject to the provisions of this section, be given by the production of a document or documents bearing to be—
    1. (a) a statement automatically produced by a device specified in regulations made under section 229C of this Act, by which the offender's whereabouts were remotely monitored; and
    2. (b) a certificate signed by the person responsible for monitoring the order that the statement relates to the whereabouts of the person subject to the order at the dates and times shown in the statement;
  2. (ii) the statement and certificate mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) above shall, when produced at a hearing, be sufficient evidence of the facts set out in them;
  3. (iii) neither the statement nor the certificate mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) above shall be admissible in evidence unless a copy of both has been served on the offender prior to the hearing and, without prejudice to the foregoing, where it appears to the court that the offender has had insufficient notice of the statement or certificate, it may adjourn a hearing or make any order which it thinks appropriate in the circumstances.".'.
No. 219, in schedule 1, page 71, line 45, at end insert— '(21A) In Schedule 6 (discharge of and amendment to probation orders) there shall be inserted after sub-paragraph 3(2) (c) a new sub-paragraph as follows:— (d) so that the probationer is thereby subject to a restriction of liberty requirement for any period or periods exceeding 12 months in all.".'.

Mr. McFall

We want restriction of liberty orders not to stand alone but to be part of the probation and supervision process, together with social inquiry reports. That will enable us to focus on the right people.

The research to date shows that such targeting is essential. As it stands, it is not clear from the Bill whom the provision is directed at, and whether it is to apply in solemn, summary or district courts. Experience world-wide with tagging is varied. Sweden has used it perhaps the most successfully. The Swedish experience shows that success is more likely if tagging is used for a very short period; if it is part of a treatment programme; and if the person concerned enjoys a stable environment and has the will to go along with the tagging.

Amendment No. 136 would allow the High Court, the sheriff court and the district court to make restriction of liberty orders in a wide variety of circumstances. There is currently no guidance on which offenders or offences should be the target of such orders. The Bill merely states that they should be used when the court deems them the most appropriate method of disposal.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State frequently reiterated their intentions. Such orders are best used when the alternative would be a short period of custody. In Committee, we pressed the Minister on that; if tagging is to be used, then it should be used as an alternative to custody when the judge or sheriff states that someone who would otherwise be given a gaol sentence may be given a tagging order instead—we want the orders restricted to that.

As I said, the Bill gives no guidance to the judiciary or to sheriffs. We therefore conclude that it is untargeted and that it will cause confusion about the purpose of the disposal. Moreover, the Bill contradicts the Government's attempts to achieve greater consistency in sentencing. Linking a restriction of liberty order with a probation order will ensure a proper assessment by means of a mandatory social inquiry report. That will facilitate the targeting of the disposal, in the interests of the community, the offender and the offender's family, in such a way as to advance the prospects of successful compliance.

Research in the United States and Sweden has shown that electronic monitoring is most likely to succeed when it is attached to a programme of probation or supervision. In that way, surveillance is supported by constructive intervention designed to reduce offending behaviour. Electronic monitoring by itself would preclude the regular personal supervision that could deal with offending behaviour. Public safety—the theme of all our amendments and new clauses—will be enhanced by the dual approval of monitoring and direct supervision.

Linking restriction of liberty with probation ensures public and democratic accountability. The supervising officer will be accountable to the local authority as well as to the court and, through the Secretary of State, to Parliament. In that way, the disposal will be free of commercial considerations.

I wonder how much notice the Secretary of State has taken of the international experience of tagging, which is used in New Zealand, Singapore and other places that I mentioned earlier. Of the pilot schemes operated in Sweden, the Netherlands, America and Western Australia, the Swedish experiment seems to be the most successful. It combines electronic monitoring with intensive supervision and was initially operated in six probation districts. Offenders sentenced to up to two months in prison are allowed to apply to serve their sentence in the community under intensive supervision and with electronic monitoring. They must be of fixed abode, have a telephone, and be in employment or education.

Between 1 August 1994 and 31 July 1995, 637 offenders were eligible under those criteria and nearly 70 per cent. of them applied for the project. A total of 396 applications were approved; 50 per cent. were drink drivers; 20 per cent. were violent offenders, often committing drink and drug-related offences; and 30 per cent. were convicted of other offences, including theft and refusing to do military service. By the end of the period, 311 people had completed their supervision satisfactorily; 23 offenders had had their supervision terminated by reason of misconduct; and 62 were still under suspension.

The Swedish scheme is considered to be a moderate success and has been expanded to include anyone serving three months anywhere in the country, although the maximum tagged period is expected to be four months. However, the level of technical faults was much higher than expected and the issue of false violations has still not been resolved.

Experience is much more plentiful in America, where about 600 schemes operate. Although I hold the Minister to his remark in Committee that this will be a pilot scheme, lessons could be learned from the American experience, about which a six-year study has been made. It suggests that one main reason for failure was lack of staff resources in the probation service. Even one of the manufacturers was reported to have said: reliable equipment alone will not ensure a successful programme". He asserted: The involvement of professional social workers is key. The success of the schemes that have been running was said to involve the following components: first, clear, well-defined objectives for using the system; secondly, strong involvement and support from the probation and parole service; thirdly, careful screening of the participants using well-defined selection criteria; fourthly, the provision of support programmes; fifthly, strong Government commitment; and, sixthly, reliable equipment. Neither the Minister nor the Secretary of State commented on any of those issues on Second Reading or in Committee. If the Government are to go ahead with such a scheme, it is important that those objectives are laid out, and this is where they should be debated.

There seems to be some evidence about the likely criteria for success. That is important when it comes to targeting the type of individuals whom the Government would like to see on an electronic tagging programme. Offenders must have a settled address with a telephone installed. They should be employed. Tags should not be used for any offender with a history of violence in the household, and tagging works best for offenders who already have some internal control and just need an extra nudge". Those criteria are supported by the Swedish findings, where three criteria for success emerged. Tagging works only if it is for a very short period, the offenders are well motivated and in stable life situations, and tagging is part of a treatment programme.

I hope that the Minister of State will address his remarks to those findings. If he tells us that the measure is being introduced in the dying weeks of a Parliament just for the sake of introducing it, that is not good enough. The measure must be shown to have merit.

The Secretary of State turns his nose up. No information has been forthcoming from the Government about the target population, what they hope to achieve, who will be involved and what resources will be made available to the service—the building blocks fundamental to the success of the programme.

The Opposition tabled amendments in Committee to ensure that there would be a supervisory element and a probationary aspect to the programme. With that in mind, I invite the Minister to comment.

9.15 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Opposition's amendments Nos. 128 to 131, 136 and 137, to which the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) spoke, and the other amendments would unhelpfully limit the use of electronically monitored restriction of liberty requirements, so that in Scotland such an order could be made only as a condition of a probation order.

Our proposals would allow a court to deal with an offender by making a restriction of liberty order alone, or by making a restriction of liberty order together with a probation order. The Opposition amendments would withdraw the first of those options. As a consequence, a court would not be able to make a free-standing restriction of liberty order, even if it considered that to be the most appropriate option. That would be hard to justify, and I would not recommend accepting those amendments to clause 4.

I shall deal now with the Government amendments in the group. As was said in Committee, in some cases the effectiveness of electronically monitored disposals may be enhanced if they are associated with the sort of supervision offered by probation. On that basis, the Bill provides for a facility which enables a probation order to be associated with a restriction of liberty order. Government amendments clarify how that facility will operate.

Mr. Davidson

The amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) are useful, as they strike at the centre of the Government's proposal by probing the way in which the Government intend to use restriction of liberty orders.

The Minister's response to my hon. Friend's excellent argument suggested that orders made without probation will be a cheap way of dealing with someone who should be punished by being sent to prison. In those circumstances, a restriction of liberty order without supervision misses the point.

I recognise that the clause goes beyond the idea of electronic tagging. Under subsection (2)(b), for example, a person could be instructed not to attend football matches, if he had been convicted of an offence arising from his attendance at such a match. Clearly, electronic tagging would not be suitable in those circumstances. That person should not simply be left and trusted not to go to matches. Provision should be made for some form of probation or supervision, to ensure that the restriction is not seen as a soft option. There is genuine anxiety that, if restriction of liberty orders are unpoliced, they will be seen as a soft option.

Does the Minister accept my hon. Friend's contention, arising from practice elsewhere, that success is likely where the restriction is for a short period, and where the person concerned is well motivated? Other evidence suggests that restriction of liberty works best if the person is in a job and if the restriction is part of a comprehensive treatment programme. The order seems tailor-made for many middle-class people. Is it intended to distribute restriction of liberty orders evenly throughout the population, or will certain social criteria be taken into consideration?

We have already discussed the increasing number of women who experience serious difficulties in prison. I think that restriction of liberty orders may represent a reasonable alternative to imprisonment in some circumstances, depending on the nature of the offence. People would require a degree of supervision—perhaps they should have some form of probation—but the Minister did not touch upon that aspect. I ask him to clarify those points in his response.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) supports restriction of liberty orders—as he has done more than once before. I make it clear that we are particularly guided by the experience of the pilot scheme in England, which has proved a success. The technology is seen to be reliable and it has worked effectively. The courts have made extensive use of the option and we can see no case for denying it to Scottish courts. Of course, there will be a pilot scheme and, depending on how it works, the option could be extended more widely thereafter.

The Opposition amendments would make a restriction of liberty requirement a condition of a probation order instead of a discrete disposal. While I do not object to considering that approach in the longer term, it raises some practical issues that must be resolved beforehand. I shall examine them quickly.

First, an issue arises because responsibility for supervising a probation order rests with a local authority officer while responsibility for the electronic monitoring of any restriction of liberty condition would rest with a person nominated by the Secretary of State. Therefore, in fulfilling his duty to supervise a probation order, the local authority officer would have to rely on someone over whom he had little direct control to monitor one of its conditions.

Mr. McFall

Could not the Secretary of State nominate a local authority officer?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

We would first have to assess and evaluate the success of the pilot scheme—which is what we intend to do. My second point is that evaluation will be extremely difficult. It may be difficult to ascertain whether any shortcomings are due to electronically monitored requirements or to the general order. I believe that it is necessary to proceed as I have recommended.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 105, in page 6, line 20, after '(1)' insert 'Without prejudice to section 245CC of this Act,'.—[Mr. Carrington.] Amendment proposed: No. 245, in page 6, line 20, leave out 'of 16 years of age or more'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 246 to 250, 252 and 253.

Mr. Wallace

I shall resume my seat if I have the wrong amendment. Amendment No. 245 would delete the reference to persons of 16 years and over, which would have the effect of extending the tagging provisions to those aged under 16. I find it absolutely extraordinary that a measure that has received considerable publicity and marks an important departure in the treatment of juveniles in Scotland should be moved formally by the Minister without any attempt to justify the measure to the House. It is quite extraordinary behaviour from the Minister.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

If the hon. Gentleman will sit down, I shall happily explain exactly what it means and then he may resume his speech.

Mr. Wallace

I rather suspect that you would rule that out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the intervention would be too long. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Minister has moved a major amendment formally.

I shall explain briefly why my party opposes the measure. As I understand it, the option of tagging children under 16 will be available only to the courts. The Minister assured the Committee that the electronic tagging exercise would be run as a pilot scheme, but at the same time as running a pilot scheme, he is trying to extend its provision.

More seriously, in Scotland we have a distinctive scheme of juvenile justice, in which the overwhelming number of young offenders are referred to a children's hearing. Only a handful of those under 16—no doubt the Minister will be able to give us the figure—have been referred to the criminal courts in recent years. I have strong doubts that electronic tagging is an appropriate disposal for those whose offences are such that it is thought right to determine them in the criminal courts rather than the children's hearing system.

We are embarking on a costly scheme for children under 16 when a pilot scheme is still in operation. I suspect that it is being implemented where it is most inappropriate, and the Minister has not given any explanation. We look forward to hearing one.

That is the pattern of so much of the Bill—it has been done to give the Secretary of State a cheap headline. It sounds as though he is tough, but in this case he has misread the situation and is trying to introduce electronic tagging in cases for which it is wholly inappropriate. I look forward with interest to hearing how the Minister tries to justify the proposals, when he finally gets round to doing so. He will need a good argument to persuade us that the proposals are appropriate and amount to anything more than an exercise in window dressing.

Mrs. Fyfe

I agree whole-heartedly with the comments of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Government amendment No. 247 says: the court shall obtain and consider information about that offender's family circumstances before making a restriction of liberty order. Would that include finding out whether the offender had younger siblings who were likely to admire the older brother or sister for having such an imposition placed on them and might look up to them as a hero because of that mark of distinction? I wonder whether such information on an offender's family circumstances might include the attitude of his schoolfellows. The same problems might apply to them.

As has been said already, the measure has attracted widespread publicity. Senior police officers have said that they find it wholly objectionable and impractical and that being tagged could result in some young ne'er-do-weels having more street cred. It is remarkable that the Minister should move the amendment formally without any word of explanation.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Lady and I, together with the Minister, sat on a Committee considering the Children (Scotland) Bill two years ago. The Committee took evidence and sat for many weeks considering appropriate measures for young children. Does the hon. Lady recall—I certainly do not—any suggestion by the Government that such a measure was appropriate or necessary?

Mrs. Fyfe

The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point, and he is correct. At no time was it suggested that this was an appropriate course of action for under-16 offenders. The Committee was united in welcoming the fact that the hearing system had worked so effectively over the years and, as the hon. Gentleman has just pointed out, few cases involving under-16s were considered serious enough to be dealt with in a court. The relevance of the amendment is highly questionable.

With such widespread critical comment on the proposals, including from the police, why is the Minister pursuing the amendment? In particular, given that we have agreed that a pilot scheme should go ahead in relation to adult offenders, what is the purpose of opposing such a scheme for under-16s? Are the Government waiting to see the outcome of the other scheme?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) raised the objections of the police to extension of the scheme to children's panels. We listened to the responses, and we are not doing that. We believe that electronically monitored disposals will provide a useful means of dealing with offenders. The Bill currently limits the use of such disposals to offenders aged at least 16. We considered that we should also examine the potential in relation to younger offenders.

In November, we issued a consultation paper seeking views on that, specifically in the context of our children's hearing system. The consultation period ended on 4 January, with most respondents expressing reservations about the use of electronic monitoring by children's hearings. Various reasons were given. It was suggested that such a disposal would be out of keeping with the ethos of the hearing system, for example, and that it should be piloted with adult offenders in the criminal justice system first. We took account of the views, and of the fact that, even if given the power, hearings would probably make little use of it until its value had been proven in the criminal justice system. We therefore concluded that the Bill should not make electronically monitored disposals available to children's hearings.

9.30 pm
Mr. Dalyell

I feel that it behoves those of us who did not serve on the Committee to be a bit reticent at this stage of the Bill's passage, but may I ask what advice the Government are receiving from the police?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I understand that the police were reserved about the extension of the power to children's panels. The responses were overwhelmingly opposed to it, and we listened to those responses. It has been suggested—by, for instance, the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall)—that relatively few people under 16 would come before the courts, and, in fact, that is so. In 1994, only 171 young offenders had a charge proved against them in court. Nevertheless, in some such cases, the courts might consider an electronically monitored restriction of liberty order—perhaps in conjunction with a probation order—to be an appropriate disposal, for example in the case of a football hooligan or a persistent shoplifter.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Will the Minister tell us in a little more detail the exact nature of most of the cases that were taken to a juvenile court rather than a children's panel? The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made a good point: he said that it seemed to him that any case that was referred to a court rather than a children's panel was likely to involve an offence to which a restriction of liberty order would not be appropriate.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is not necessarily so. The cases that go before the court are the more serious—

Ms Roseanna Cunningham

Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Let me finish. I have not had a chance to answer the question.

It may well be that, for a football hooligan, a person who has committed an assault in certain circumstances or a persistent shoplifter, a restriction of liberty order, coupled with a probation order, might be more appropriate than prison. We consider that that option should be available. We think that a pilot scheme is the correct way to proceed, and that such a scheme should be properly evaluated and assessed in due course.

Mr. McFall


Mr. Wallace


Ms Cunningham


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I give way to the hon. Member for Dumbarton.

Mr. McFall

I thank the Minister.

The Minister referred to the 171 children under 16 against whom a charge had been proved. He knows that 25 of those were detained, and that 46 cases were admitted to children's hearings. The penalty in most of the remaining 100 cases was split between probation, in 32 cases; financial penalties, in 30 cases; and caution and admonition, in 32 cases. Only a small number of young people—25—went to court. Does the Minister agree that those would be very serious offenders, and that tagging would therefore be inappropriate? I am perplexed about why the Government introduced such a measure, and the statistics make their case even weaker.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I merely suggest that the option should be available to the courts. I cannot conceive of all the circumstances that will arise, but it is a useful option. The hon. Member for Dumbarton said that young persons should not be sent to prison for fine default, for example, but should have the option to serve non-custodial sentences in the community.

Ms Cunningham


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I must proceed and spell out our intentions.

We have decided that courts should be able to use restriction of liberty orders for young offenders whom they sentence. Although that group of people may be small in number, they are often guilty of particularly serious offences that seriously disrupt the lives of people in their communities. I accept that, in some cases, their offences will definitely warrant a custodial sentence. In other cases, it may be preferable to confine them to their homes and to use electronic monitoring to ensure that they stay there.

If a young offender is confined to his home, and that confinement is monitored rigorously by electronic means, he cannot be out on the streets disrupting the community by serious acts of violence or dishonesty. It may also help the young offender to break free from the malevolent influence of older offenders with whom he has been mixing.

Some Opposition parties are not enthusiastic about the use of electronic monitoring, especially for young offenders: objections to it have been made throughout the passage of the Bill. Indeed, the Opposition objected on Second Reading, and their objections lay at the heart of the reasoned amendment that would have killed the Bill stone dead. We do not want to deny the courts the option of tagging when dealing with young offenders who commit serious and disruptive crimes. Such a disposal could provide a measure of protection to the public, enabling the offender to address the offending behaviour without having to resort to a custodial disposal. We believe that that would be a useful option in some cases, and I commend the Government's amendments to the House.

Ms Cunningham

I was trying to intervene on the Minister to ask him to tell us how many of the 171 young offenders to whom he referred will be affected by the proposal. If only 25 of that 171 end up in court, how many of that 25 will be affected? Are we talking about two or three individuals next year? Is that what it is all about? The people of Scotland have a right to know that the Government, while supposedly making some wonderful gesture for the future of criminal justice, are in reality introducing a proposal that will affect only two or three of that 25. I want a direct response to my question.

It is interesting that the Government have introduced the Bill supposedly in response to a consultation process. The proposal has met with widespread opposition from children's agencies, local authorities and the police, but the Minister has not mentioned that. The Scottish Child Law Centre considers that one of the main problems of the scheme is that it is not based on an understanding of children's offending behaviour. A spokesperson for the centre said: Children's offending can often be linked to difficult circumstances at home, possibly even involving abuse… Giving parents a key role in enforcing compliance with the scheme may be tying the child to an abusive relationship which could be the whole reason behind the offending. We must deal with that issue.

Mrs. Fyfe

The hon. Lady has raised an important point. Not a minute ago, the Minister said that tagging could ensure that the child stayed at home, which is precisely where abuse, if there is any, is likely to take place.

Ms Cunningham

The hon. Lady is right. The child's home may be the problem, but the Minister does not address that issue. Branding children in that way may make it much more difficult for them to change and to learn from their mistakes.

I should like to hear the Minister address the issues that have been raised by the police. I understand that they expressed concern that, obversely, the tags may be a status symbol for some children and will have the opposite effect to the one claimed by the Minister. Did the police say that? If the potential for encouraging disruptive behaviour presented by such a status symbol is enough for the police to express concern, why are the Government pressing on with the measure?

In Committee, the Minister said that there must be consultation about young persons and added that he had nothing further to say other than that he would assess the responses. From what he has said in today's debate, instead of assessing the responses, he has ignored them, and that is not a responsible way for the Government to behave. I hope that the Minister will deal directly with the issues and give direct answers to questions.

Mr. Davidson

The Minister asks the House to support the amendment, but, given the nature of past discussions, we are entitled to ask for clarification of the offences that he thinks might be suitable for disposal by tagging. I am no clearer than when the Minister opened the debate what offences he has in mind and how many young people he envisages under the existing pattern of offending will be affected by such a method of disposal.

I was interested in what the Minister said about youngsters who disrupt life in their communities. I can understand why he thinks that tagging, presumably along the lines of some sort of curfew order, might be appropriate. If that is what he has in mind, he should spell out the procedure by which it would be deemed suitable for a youngster to be placed under such a curfew order in one area rather than another. Perhaps such curfew orders are not the sort of procedure to which the Minister thinks tagging orders might apply.

The Government seek cheap headlines by wanting to be seen to be tough on crime by young people, but they are not dealing seriously with the problems that are faced by young people, or with the scale of the difficulties. In my area, a number of young people engage in repeated acts of burglary. They break and enter garden sheds, destroy gardens and break greenhouses and so on. I am not sure how the possibility of a tagging order would deter or prevent someone from destroying greenhouses or breaking into houses.

How would it work in practice? Many burglaries take place at night or during the day when youngsters have absconded from school. Would such offences be the subject of a tagging order? If not, what sort of offences would be involved?

Some youngsters in my area have repeatedly caused damage costing enormous sums by simply going along the side of a school and smashing every window in sight. They similarly destroy the windows in community centres. The Secretary of State nods. He obviously understands the situation. How would the introduction of tagging affect offenders of that sort?

The police spent a great deal of time trying to catch some youngsters in my area. They were eventually caught and taken to an institution, from which they repeatedly absconded because it was not secure. There were not enough places in secure establishments for those youngsters to be detained. The Government have not proposed an increase in spending on secure units for young people, but are instead going for the cheap gimmick of tagging rather than seriously addressing the difficulties. Considerable police time is wasted chasing youngsters who abscond from non-secure establishments, and it greatly undermines the credibility of the police and the system in general when youngsters are seen to be back out on the street a short time after they have been disposed of by the court.

Mrs. Fyfe

Has my hon. Friend noticed that Government amendment No. 246 sets time limits on the tagging? Those time limits may be a response to the critical comments that have been heard on the subject in the past few months. But if they are imposed—regardless of whether there has been any change for the better in the behaviour of the young person—the whole system will have been brought into total disrepute, as any punitive system, whether in schools or elsewhere, must be aimed at changing behaviour.

9.45 pm
Mr. Davidson

That excellent point is well made by my hon. Friend, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. All the evidence we have heard of on how tagging dealt with adults elsewhere suggested that the period of tagging should be short, that the people involved should be well motivated, and that tagging should be part of a comprehensive pattern of treatment.

The difficulty with many of the youngsters to whom we are referring is that they are extremely badly motivated and anti-social. I am not convinced that tagging will work with the worst of youngsters—if I can use that term—who will have been before the courts for the worst of offences. I do not know how something that may be seen as a relatively soft option will help in those circumstances.

Colleagues have asked whether tagging will effectively stigmatise or brand the youngsters. Branding seems to me to be a trifle severe, and I presume that that was not a serious suggestion. However, I recognise that tagging might well become a status symbol, and I am not clear whether the Government have taken that into account. The Minister has not referred to it, but he must be aware that many youngsters dare each other to go further and further down the anti-social route. It can be a case of, "You break one window and I'll break two. You break two and I'll break three." How will the Government overcome the problem that tagging will be seen as a mark of honour or achievement?

The Minister must be aware many parents in the community are not worried by the anti-social behaviour of youngsters, but—in some circumstances—see it as a badge of manhood. I am aware of youngsters who are encouraged in anti-social behaviour against other families in the area by their parents, who are engaged in a vendetta by proxy. The adults are well aware that gaol sentences could be imposed upon them were they to act as their youngsters do. What is there in the Government's proposals to deal with that?

The Government's proposal is designed to look good in the press, but it does not seriously address the real difficulties posed by a minority of extremely anti-social youngsters. If the Secretary of State wants to consider a method of restricting liberty, he should—rather than look to the new Tory symbol of tagging—go back to an old Tory symbol of penal servitude, the ball and chain, which at least would restrict youngsters and prevent them from running about the community. I look forward to the Secretary of State using that old Tory proposal as part of his general election manifesto.

Mr. Dalyell

I am extremely puzzled by this discussion, and I want to ask the Minister one question—where on earth did this notion of electronic tagging come from? I cannot believe that it came from the civil service. I was not on the Committee, but some of us have served on many Committees—including Kincraig—and tagging was always excluded in the past. By what alchemy did this idea infiltrate St. Andrew's house? I put forward one possible candidate— [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] I am not going to, because it is a lobby—the lobby of the commercial security manufacturing interests. They are certainly at it. Some people could potentially make a good deal of money out of it.

The proposal has a lot to do with posturing or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) put it, with "tokenism". That is what it is about because, if children's panels are excluded, jolly few are involved. Who dreamed this up?

Mr. Connarty

Anyone who looks at the record of the Standing Committee will see that I was firm that I found this proposal one of the most abhorrent of the Government's proposals for Scotland, even for adults. I have no doubt that the Government feel that they must do something because of the attacks that they have made on the structure of society and support for the family in the past 17 years. They are beginning to be aware that many factors in society have led to family breakdown, or even aberrant behaviour among parents, which is copied by children, many of whom live in dire poverty and under tremendous stress, who feel great anger against society for having failed them and their children.

The general spirit of the Bill seems to be that we must lock those people away for as long as possible, or that, with tagging, we should lock them into the very families and social units that may be failing them in the first place. The main theme is to keep them out of the hair of the middle and upper classes—the political classes the Government represent—who do not live in the schemes in which many of those children are first failed, then learn their social behaviour, and kick out against society. The middle and upper classes do not have to live among the tenements and the walk-up flats where many single-parent families are dumped because there is nowhere else for them, where they lose hope and where their children get out of control and become a major problem.

I see the Secretary of State having a good laugh. As we know, there are not that many schemes where he lives. The area in which he has chosen to put down his roots does not have that many people living in densely populated areas, either in Scotland or in London—whichever roots he feels most strongly these days.

The reality is that, if they take the trouble to visit them, many Conservative Back-Bench Members will find all this social malaise in the communities that they represent. The idea of tagging people and restricting them to live in that environment as adults is bad enough. It is bad because it does not work, it is expensive and it does not constrain their behaviour. Tagging can pinpoint them for a short time, but people find ways of getting out of the surveillance, and if they want to continue with their aberrant behaviour as adults, they will.

The idea of introducing the amendment for children of 16 years or below is even worse. How low does the Secretary of State expect it to go? If a family breaks down and children of eight, nine and 10 years old find that doing something anti-social is a way of working against society, is the Secretary of State suggesting that they will be tagged? Is he suggesting that eight-year-olds, six-year-olds or five-year-olds will be tagged—held in the home, under surveillance with an electronic bleeper on them, or whatever other technique we are going to use, until they are released into the nursery, only to continue their behaviour there?

That shows the fundamental flaw in all the theory behind the Bill. It is not about amending the wrongs that society has caused, or amending the behaviour of those who then retaliate against society. It is about locking them away somewhere for a short time or a long time. In the case of the children, it will be six months at home, presumably, with their tag on, and, if they leave between certain hours, a bleeper will go off and Group 4 or Securicor will rush in to find out where they have gone.

Tagging would not tackle the root problem, which is that, if young children are misbehaving in a regular anti-social pattern, something needs to be done about the environment in which they live. That must be done either by supporting the family or by finding some other area of care to supplement the family and turn failure into success; but that is not in the Government's mind.

In Committee, I said that I was struck sometimes when I saw social workers abandoning supervision orders on children who were no longer co-operating. They walked away from those children, and I am extremely angry about that. I have written a letter only today about one such case in my constituency. I would be much more interested in the Government introducing some structure in social work departments to supervise children and to give them a place where they could learn good behaviour and find something useful to do, perhaps after school. That would provide a better solution to their psychological and social problems than locking them in with the family in which those problems arose and putting a bleeper or buzzer on them. It is all wrong: the idea does not attract me for adults, and it appals me for children. I think that it also appals most of the public.

The Government have gone over the top, into what I have called a science fiction nightmare. For children, it is even worse. Someone asked where the idea came from, but I remember reading about it in 10-cent DC comics. It is Judge Dredd in the form of the Secretary of State for Scotland—although I recently saw a cartoon trying to claim that title for the Prime Minister.

The idea is an aberration and has not worked where it has been tried. The Government have caused most of the problems by exacerbating the feeling of alienation and the sense that society has failed people so badly that it is all right for them and for their children to kick back at it. I put it on record that I do not think that it is right to kick back against society. It is not right to attack or terrorise neighbours, or to break into shops and continually offend other people, but we must do something positive about it, not something silly and nonsensical that underlines the fact that in the Government's eyes there are two sections of society: those who are doing all right and those whom it is advisable to keep away from the people who are doing all right because they might cause some problems.

Have the Government ever thought that, if we took those people to our bosom and worked with them to turn them into positive citizens, we might save the next generation instead of locking it up? I hope that the amendment is kicked out, for the nonsense and the insult that it is.

Mrs. Adams

Is not this another case of "The higher you build the walls, the faster I will run"? The amendment would confine children to deprived areas, when we should be trying to get them out of those areas as often as possible. Often the problem is that those children never see the outside of those areas, and they should not be confined to them for ever.

The proposal would punish families who are already severely punished by poverty. Their greatest crime is that poverty has been visited on them and they cannot break out of it. We are telling children under 16 that they will never be allowed to break out of that circle.

Dr. Godman

I was not on the Committee, so perhaps my hon. Friend can tell me whether the Minister told members of the Committee where the clamping—presumably around the ankle—of the young offender would take place. Is it to take place in a police station or the youngster's home, and would the Group 4 people be escorted by police officers when carrying out the task? That is a practical question, unlike the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about who was the intellectual who came up with the idea. Where would the clamping be done?

Mrs. Adams

As far as I could gather in Committee, the clamp would be something like a wrist watch or an ankle watch.

Mr. Davidson

Or even an ankle chain.

Mrs. Adams

Yes, even an ankle chain. The offender would be confined to the place—the home—for about 12 hours. It would be linked to something like a modem, which would have to be installed in people's homes by the Government. That would not be cheap. If someone moved outwith the radius permitted, the bleeper would go off.

Mr. Maxton

That is interesting. To have a modem, one must have a telephone line, and therefore a telephone. Many of the homes of the children we are discussing cannot afford telephones. Will the Government provide free telephones to everyone?

Mrs. Adams

We raised that point in Committee and were told that the Government would provide telephones, but only a single line for the modem.

Mr. McFall

May I take the matter a stage further? If telephone lines are to be installed, what would happen if people did not pay their bills?

Mrs. Adams

We never got round to that. We were told that, once again, the taxpayer would meet the cost of installing—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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