HC Deb 12 June 2000 vol 351 cc715-33
Mr. Boateng


Mr. Hawkins

I beg to move amendment No. 122, in page 2, line 10, at end insert— '(d) the education of offenders, in particular about the impact of crime on the victims of crime and the public.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 123, in clause 9, page 5, line 3, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 127, in page 21, line 6, leave out Clause 38.

Amendment No. 128, in page 21, line 27, leave out Clause 39.

Amendment No. 129, in page 22, line 8, leave out Clause 40.

Government amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 23.

Amendment No. 138, in clause 44, page 27 line 41, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 139, in page 28, line 15, leave out "punishment" and insert "service".

Amendment No. 140, in clause 45, page 28, line 28, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Government amendment No. 27.

Amendment No. 141, in clause 5, page 29, line 10, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 142, in page 29, line 16, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 143, in clause 45, page 29, line 19, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Government amendment No. 28.

Amendment No. 144, in page 29, line 25, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 149, in clause 46, page 30, line 2, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Government amendment No. 29.

Amendment No. 150, in page 30, line 26, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 151, in page 30, line 32, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Government amendment No. 30.

Amendment No. 152, in page 30, line 35, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 153, in clause 47, page 31, line 12, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 154, in page 31, line 16, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 155, in page 31, line 38, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 156, in page 32, line 7, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 189, in clause 48, page 32, line 26, at end insert— 'and that failure constitutes a serious breach and a period of at least three months has elapsed since the commencement of the order'. Amendment No. 157, in clause 50, page 34, line 22, leave out— 'community rehabilitation orders or community punishment and rehabilitation orders' and insert— 'probation orders or combination orders'. Amendment No. 158, in page 34, line 25, leave out from the first "community" to ", to" in line 26 and insert— 'service orders, or combination orders'. Amendment No. 159, in page 34, line 31, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 160, in page 34, line 33, leave out "punishment" and insert "service".

Amendment No. 169, in schedule 6, page 53, leave out from beginning of line 20 to end of line 47 on page 54.

Amendment No. 170, in page 56, line 22, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 171, in page 57, line 19, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Amendment No. 172, in page 57, line 23, leave out paragraph 18.

Amendment No. 173, in page 60, leave out lines 8 and 9.

Amendment No. 174, in page 60, line 11, leave out— 'community rehabilitation hostel' means a community rehabilitation' and insert— 'probation hostel' means a probation'. Government amendment No. 102.

Amendment No. 175, in page 64, line 9, line 9, leave out paragraph 58.

Amendment No. 176, in page 65, line 23, leave out from "for" to end of line 25 and insert— 'before "probation, community service, combination", there is inserted "exclusion".'. Amendment No. 177, in page 66, line 2, leave out sub-paragraph (a).

Government amendment No. 114.

Amendment No. 178, in page 66, line 10, leave out from beginning to end of line 13.

Amendment No. 179, in page 66, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 30.

Amendment No. 180, in page 66, line 33, leave out from beginning to end of line 41.

Amendment No. 181, in page 67, line 1, leave out from "for" to end of line 4 and insert— 'before "probation" there is inserted "exclusion, drug abstinence"'. Amendment No. 182, in page 67, line 9, leave out from beginning to end of line 12.

Amendment No. 183, in page 67, line 13, leave out from "for" to end of line 15 and insert— 'before "probation" there is inserted "exclusion, drug abstinence"'. Amendment No. 184, in page 67, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 32.

Amendment No. 185, in page 67, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 36.

Amendment No. 186, in page 67, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 68.

Government amendment No. 115.

Amendment No. 187, in page 68, line 12, leave out "community rehabilitation" and insert "probation".

Government amendment No. 116.

Amendment No. 188, in page 68, line 41, leave out from second "of' to ", curfew" in line 42 and insert "probation, combination".

Amendment No. 120, in page 68, leave out lines 43 to 48.

Mr. Hawkins

It seems that the Minister wanted to move our amendments for us. That indicates a new spirit of support for our measures. I look forward with particular pleasure to his words a little later.

We are dealing with a large group of amendments, but the House will appreciate that many of them are consequential on others.

The House will recall that there was great delight when, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is in his place, the Minister conceded that we had been right and the Government had been wrong in their attempt to change the name of the probation service. That was a welcome concession, but we hoped that the Government would make further concessions in Committee. We were sadly disappointed. Even though they had conceded what the National Association of Probation Officers, every county probation service in the country and large numbers of other people had said about the name of the service, they remained adamant and refused to accept the equally strongly held views expressed by the same groups of people—not only the probation officers trade union, but all the country probation committees—that it was crazy to change the names of all the orders that the courts were used to dealing with.

I draw to the attention of the House the continuing concerns, even after the Committee stage, that have been expressed by the Hereford and Worcester probation committee in particular. A member of that committee wrote to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who served on the Standing Committee with us, and stated: We welcome the Minister's decision not to change the Service's name, but Part III of the Bill introduces a completely new nomenclature for community sentences … which the Committee— that is, the Hereford and Worcester probation committee— considers both unnecessary and unhelpful. The new names (in particular community punishment order for community service order, and community rehabilitation order for probation order) offer an over-simplified account of their functions, and are likely to increase confusion about community sentences, and undermine rather than enhance public understanding of the work of the service. We pointed out that what the Government were doing with the orders ran the risk that the courts and the orders that were imposed by sentencers would become the target of ridicule. In Committee, there was a great deal of anxiety, even from Government Back Benchers, about potential dangers. We had several constructive debates about that. I am disappointed that Ministers have remained adamant and unpersuaded, despite the fact that the logic of their concession on the name of the service should have led them to agree with us and all the experts on the names of the orders.

One need not spell out the acronym of "community rehabilitation and punishment order" to appreciate immediately that it could easily become a matter of ridicule. The law must not be mocked. We are therefore very worried. The letter from the member of the Hereford and Worcester probation committee is especially significant because the author is not, as Ministers may suppose, a member of the Conservative party, or even a Liberal Democrat, but a sitting Labour councillor. Even local Labour party activists who are on probation committees believe that the Government have got it wrong; they have expressed the matter in strong terms, which I described.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Far be it from me to engage in protracted semantic dispute, but does my hon. Friend accept that the community rehabilitation and punishment order potentially admits of several different acronyms and pronunciations? My hon. Friend appeared to refer to an acronym that was not unconnected with rubbish; is not it possible that CREEPO would be an appropriate interpretation of the Government's proposed title? Would not that be undesirable?

Mr. Hawkins

It would certainly be undesirable. My hon. Friend, as always, uses his verbal and intellectual dexterity to undermine the Government's words.

We must also take seriously the impact of offences on the victims of crime. It is especially appropriate that amendment No. 122 is the first amendment in the group because we want to include new paragraph (d) in clause 2(2). It states that regard should be taken of the education of offenders, in particular about the impact of crime on the victims of crime and the public. After all the discussions in Committee and speeches from hon. Members of all parties, we are convinced that victims of crime or their relatives would want to know that offenders would have to be educated about the impact of their crimes on the victims.

Many hon. Members have worked with organisations such as Victim Support; no party has a monopoly of virtue on that. However, I have been hugely impressed by Victim Support's work. There has been an increasing trend towards making offenders more aware of the impact of their crimes on the victims. The amendment would provide for a specific method of ensuring that that happened. It would be a useful provision. Even if Ministers cannot accept amendment No. 122 tonight, I hope that they will continue to consider the matter seriously as the Bill progresses.

When writing to me and other members of the Committee, Ministers have repeatedly said that their minds are not closed. We hope that they will reconsider clause 2(2). We would be delighted if the Government tabled an identical or similar amendment to amendment No. 122 later, perhaps in another place. I am sure that both Ministers agree that it is essential to take account of victims' interests.

I regret that some amendments were not selected for debate. However, I shall not stray into considering them; we will discuss other aspects of entitling organisations on Third Reading. I emphasise that we feel very strongly that no provision of the Bill should expose the law to ridicule or contempt. The Government's proposals run that serious risk.

As I said earlier, many of the amendments are consequential on the names that the Government have suggested for the proposed new orders. It is therefore unnecessary to consider every amendment. However, I emphasise that we believe that the Government's proposed name changes achieve no good purpose and are counterproductive. It is more important for people to get used to the existing names of probation and community service orders. The Government's attempts to change those names amount to fiddling while Rome burns.

8.45 pm
Jackie Ballard

The Minister and I were confused about who would move which amendment next. I rise to move amendment No. 189—I hope that that is in order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady does not have to move the amendment, because it has been grouped. She simply has to speak about it.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

She will learn.

Jackie Ballard

The hon. Gentleman says that I will learn. In Committee, when I believed that an amendment I had tabled had been moved in a group with the Minister's amendment, I was wrong. I am now taking a belt-and-braces approach and moving amendment No. 189, just in case. I shall indeed learn, albeit slowly.

Amendment No. 189 deals with breaches of community orders and the consequences. Breaching a community order should be taken seriously, and penalties should be applied for such breaches. Proper supervision of community orders is important, not only to aid public confidence in non-custodial sentences, but to improve public safety.

The most recent study of breaches of proceedings by the Inner London probation service showed that, over two years, 28 per cent. of the case load was breached. Of those cases of breaches, 21 per cent. of offenders received a custodial sentence. Clearly, the court did not feel that a custodial sentence was necessary in the majority of cases.

Introducing an automatic three-month prison sentence, and reducing from three to two the number of acceptable breaches, without differentiating between a serious breach, such as assaulting a probation officer, and a less serious breach such as turning up 10 minutes late for an appointment, will inevitably increase the prison population and introduce an element of rough justice into the system.

In Committee, the Minister accepted that it would be more difficult for some people who lead a chaotic life style, whether due to drug or alcohol misuse, or problems with employment or housing difficulties, to comply with a community order. Part of an order's purpose is for the supervising officer to help that person achieve a more regular life style. Again, in Committee, the Minister of State accepted that. The clause will undermine probation officers' work with offenders, which is aimed at order compliance. In Committee, the Minister resisted our amendments, which would have effectively neutered the clause. Consequently, amendment No. 189 is meant to be helpful, as it would accept automatic sentencing for breaches, but it proposes that that should not occur within the first three months of a sentence. That would give probation officers time to work with offenders to help them adjust their life style in a reasonable period. The duration of that period would be known to the offender and the probation officer, so would concentrate their efforts to end the offender's chaotic life style and ensure that he complied with the order.

Three months is a reasonable period for any offender to get his or her act together with such help. If, during that period, a serious breach of the order took place, it would still be available to the courts to use their existing discretion to impose custodial sentences, as they have done in the past with breaches. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment as a genuinely constructive way of trying to take forward the debate that we had in Committee.

I shall outline Liberal Democrat views on at least two of the Conservative amendments. On amendment No. 122, there was some debate in Committee about whether the aim of the probation service should include the education of offenders and whether they should be educated about the impact of their crime on the victim. As we discussed, many offenders, especially shoplifters, seem to think of their offence as a victimless crime. Similarly, many who are convicted of corporate fraud probably think of that as a victimless crime. It is important that offenders are educated to realise that most crimes have victims and that they should be aware of the impact of their crime on the victim.

I agree that the probation service should have a wider educative role. For example, many offenders have basic skills needs. Those serving community sentences should have at least as much access to basic skills help as those serving custodial sentences. I am therefore pleased that Conservative Members have broadened the scope of the amendment compared with the one that they tabled in Committee so that it encompasses offenders' other educational needs. I hope that that means that the amendment will now attract the Minister's support, as he was reluctant to accept the amendment tabled in Committee because it focused too narrowly on educating the offender on the impact of his crime.

I do not agree with most of the Conservative amendments relating to changing the names of orders, even though I too have read the briefings of the National Association of Probation Officers. However, we agree with amendment No. 128, as the term "community service orders" is well understood by the public and offenders. It means what it says and refers to reparation to the community by means of taking part in supervised, structured and purposeful community service activity. Community service orders also help to improve the self-esteem of some offenders who may never have done anything purposeful or useful for the community in their lives and might be able to stop offending if they see themselves as contributing something to the community, albeit as a result of a sentence imposed by the court.

We do not support amendment No. 123, so we do not agree with its consequential amendments, which make up the bulk of amendments in this group. However, we support amendment No. 128 and its consequential amendments.

Mr. Boateng

We have had an interesting, if rather bitty, debate on important issues. I shall try to draw those issues together and even hope to elicit a contribution from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who provided a useful platform for us to make clear our intentions on the naming of the National Probation Service for England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman has been strangely silent this evening. One would have hoped for a contribution, but he has confined himself to a giggle here, a prod there—this is Bercow at the fifth remove.

Mr. Bercow

Is the Minister aware that this is the first occasion, and will probably be the last in this Parliament, on which I have been attacked for speaking too little?

Mr. Boateng

I count myself among the hon. Gentleman's admirers. He adds enormously to the House in some ways, although not in others. He certainly approaches the issues with genuine care and, in matters that involve the Home Office, with a degree of erudition that is always welcome. I always listen carefully to what he says and was therefore disappointed that he did not make a speech this evening.

Names are important, but the Opposition have got the wrong end of the stick. I understand the reason for their amendments, and I know that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) is much influenced by the National Association of Probation Officers. We can always rely on him to pray its name in aid of almost any proposition that he cares to adopt. However, he is unwise to do so in this case, because I know from discussions with probation officers that while they have a clear view about the name of their service—I understand that view and I have accepted their arguments—they are concerned about public ignorance about the content of the various orders that they invite the court to make.

What, for example, does the term "combination order" tell us about the content of such an order? We know that it combines elements of probation supervision and the requirement to do unpaid work, and that it is designed both to punish and to rehabilitate the offender, but the name completely obscures those facts. The name "community punishment and rehabilitation order" tells us exactly what the content of the order is and describes what we are asking probation officers to do.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister suggests that I am unwise to pray in aid the National Association of Probation Officers, but its view could not be clearer; I have its briefing here, and it says: NAPO is opposed to the renaming of existing community orders. The phrase "probation order" has international resonance and recognition. Community service has a higher profile than the Home Office appears to believe. The Minister is wrong; NAPO is 100 per cent. with the Opposition and 100 per cent. against the Government.

Mr. Boateng

I shall not lose any sleep over that, because I do not believe that in this instance NAPO accurately reflects the concerns of its members. Before the hon. Gentleman prays it in aid, he ought to ensure that the cause in question is supported by its members. They tell me that they are concerned that the public should get a better grasp of what they do. The term "combination order" does not give them that grasp, and "community service" fails to tell them what work we ask offenders to do, and why we ask them to do it.

Many people volunteer to do community service because they want to help their neighbours or take part in a local community group, such as Homestart, a citizens advice bureau and so on. They serve the community voluntarily, but we require offenders to pay something back to the community that they have wronged. There is nothing voluntary about that; it is a punishment delivered in the community.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Boateng

I give way to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady).

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

The Minister casts doubt on NAPO's ability to represent the views of its members on this matter on the basis that probation officers have been telling him something different. Will he clarify what measures he has taken to consult probation officers; how many have spoken to him on this matter; and what evidence he has to suggest that those views are more representative than those expressed by NAPO?

9 pm

Mr. Boateng

In my humble way, I can only share with the House what probation officers tell me when I visit probation services throughout the country. They tell me that they want people to have a better sense of what they do. That is what we want to achieve under our proposals.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Boateng

I am delighted to have aroused such interest.

Dr. George Turner : North-West Norfolk)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that most people share his view that community service is what the town mayor and borough councillors do, and that the victims of crime especially, for whom the Conservative party often claims to speak, will welcome the refreshingly frank statement that we are talking about community punishment?

Mr. Boateng

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I could not agree more.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Boateng

I suspect that I shall not agree with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who has not yet spoken in the debate.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates a lack of agreement between us, given that we usually agree—at least socially, if not in the Chamber. Is he telling the House that the new terminology is clearer and more precise? Community service orders are widely understood and the concept of probation is rooted in the public consciousness. Is he really telling us that they are not widely understood by the public?

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman, of whom I am fond, is over-egging the pudding when he says that the concept of probation is rooted in the public consciousness. That is going a little too far. We cannot afford to be complacent; we must devise orders that tell their own story. The terms "community rehabilitation" and "community punishment" tell a story.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister has made a serious allegation. He has suggested that the trade union which represents probation officers has sent briefings to hon. Members that do not represent their members' views. The leader of that union, Mr. Harry Fletcher, will be very concerned to hear that Her Majesty's Government prefer to believe the Minister's anecdotes. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is accurate in saying that perhaps two or three probation officers, who may or may not be members of NAPO, have made such points to him. However, we are talking about a briefing that has been sent to hon. Members on behalf of the probation officers' trade union. If he does not accept those views, will he accept those of probation committee members from his own party?

Mr. Boateng

The party affiliation of probation committee members is neither here nor there. I regret the politicisation of this criminal justice issue by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, who is the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson. He should think carefully before suggesting that any party political element is involved. We are concerned with the proper administration of justice. I have no doubt that NAPO performs its proper function in representing its views, but there is more than one view. Others hold views that are inconsistent with the position that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted—in other words, that punishment and rehabilitation are proper adjectives to describe the orders that we ask the House to approve tonight.

Mr. Dawson

In welcoming the conversion of Opposition Members to the concept of trade union rights and their enjoying social occasions with radical reforming Labour Front Benchers, does my right hon. Friend agree that they have entirely missed the point? The very title of the new national probation service reflects the fact that we are taking the best of the past and renaming some of the most important elements of its work; and shows that we are intent on a new future and putting the bad old days well behind us.

Mr. Boateng

I could not have put it better myself and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the obvious truth that our proposals take forward the reforming, modernising agenda that we have developed around the national probation service.

Mr. Bercow

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

I should get on, but I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way because he performed a moment ago, as those attending to the debate will have observed, a rather inelegant wriggle in back-tracking from his truly vicious attack on the integrity and representative character of NAPO. It is a matter of concern to me and to other Conservative Members that he should behave in such an unacademic fashion. He did not provide empirical evidence. Ordinarily I greatly admire him, but does he think that such a contribution is worthy of a product of Apsley grammar school, Bristol university and the College of Law?

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman's tongue is so firmly in his cheek as to give him a positively hamsterish appearance. There is no way that anything I have said or done could possibly bear the interpretation that he puts on it. We really must get on with debating the amendment in hand. For the reasons that I have outlined—a desire that sentences should be understood—we have adopted these names. I hope that, on reflection, Opposition Members will come to accept them and in time, as I believe they will, welcome them and recognise the good sense that underpins them.

The Opposition have raised the aims of the service in Committee and on Report and I want to deal with whether the amendment would achieve the end on which we all agree. We all share a belief, on which Labour Members have acted, that we ought to bring victims centre stage in the criminal justice system. That is why the Government enacted the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and why we are taking the Bill forward. All contribute in their way to ensuring that victims take centre stage and that we establish a greater emphasis on restitution as part of the process of our law. We will take no lessons from the Opposition on victims and support for victims, not least because we increased substantially the grant aid to Victim Support and enabled it to extend its work to cover magistrates and Crown courts. The Opposition signally failed to do that when they had stewardship of the criminal justice system.

We do not accept the amendment, although we well understand where it is coming from. It simply does not meet the requirements of a statutory implementation of the aims of such a service, as it is too narrow and it would underpin some but not all the functions and activities of that service. For example, the function and activity of preparing reports to advise the courts could not be carried out in such a way as to meet the wording of the amendment. We support entirely, and have developed a range of, accredited programmes which have been shown to reduce the risk of reoffending. Those programmes are being delivered by the probation service and the Prison Service together, and are central to the successful rehabilitation of offenders. That has been done: that is happening. We do not need an amendment like this—poorly drafted and inelegant—to encourage us to proceed in a direction in which we are already proceeding. It adds nothing; indeed, it is a distraction and a possible source of confusion.

As for amendment No. 189, I recall that in Committee we did not feel able to accept the thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard). The amendment would cause the statutory warning to be disapplied to certain cases within the first three months of an order, rather than its being applied to all unacceptable failures to comply with an order. Our position has not changed. If offenders are not returned to court immediately after a first unacceptable failure to comply, a final warning letter must be sent to them explaining the consequences of any further such failure. Clause 48 puts that warning on a statutory footing, and imposes on the probation service a duty to return an offender to court no later than immediately after a second unacceptable failure. That reinforces the new national standard introduced in April.

As I have said before, the offender will have had every opportunity to explain his behaviour and, where necessary, to provide evidence such as medical certificates, appointment cards and details of a family crisis, showing that he had a good reason to miss an appointment.

Jackie Ballard

I know what the Minister is saying, but I think he accepts that many such offenders have a chaotic life style. Does he not also accept that it will take time for a supervising officer to help an offender to change that life style? The proposed three-month period is not intended to go against the spirit of what the Minister is trying to achieve; it is simply intended to provide the necessary time.

Mr. Boateng

We have considered the issue carefully. We moved to the new national standard in April, after a period during which a lighter touch was applied.

We are satisfied that we must begin as we intend to proceed. There is scope for judgments on whether failures to comply are acceptable or unacceptable, and I would expect the considerations mentioned by the hon. Lady to be taken into account in the determination of whether a failure was acceptable or unacceptable. If an individual was in the process of responding positively, and restoring order to a chaotic life style—and, in that context, was able to establish, by means of medical certificates, appointment cards or the provision of other details, why there had been a failure to attend—such an individual could be judged on that basis.

Judgments could be made, on a case-by-case basis, by supervising officers, in accordance with national guidance. We are not talking about removing the capacity of the individual making the judgment to work with the offender, and to work with the grain of that person's vulnerability. We are saying, "This is the standard that we expect of you".

Unlike the official Opposition, we do not propose an automatic return to court for each unacceptable failure to comply. I am sure that the hon. Lady is under no illusion in regard to where they are coming from. They are not coming from the same place as her. We have seen with our own eyes the attempt to concoct an alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party—an unholy alliance, if I may say so, in the context of this aspect of enforcement.

9.15 pm

Our proposals are pragmatic. They give some discretion to take account of personal circumstances when considering enforcement, and give offenders a chance to respond to a warning about their future conduct. Therefore, we will not be returning offenders to court unnecessarily, but we cannot permit repeated failure to comply, or lax enforcement.

Jackie Ballard

I shall not respond to the comments about the unholy alliance because I am sure that the Minister will have observed that Liberal Democrats vote with the Government when we think that they are right and with the Opposition when we think that they are right. It is not about whom we have alliances with; it is about the issues.

May I probe the Minister a little more and make sure that I understand what he has said? Is he saying that, if the personal circumstances of an offender are such that he has turned up late for two or three appointments in a row, for reasons that he does not have appointment cards to prove—it is because of a chaotic life style that he is working towards changing—the probation officer will have discretion not to breach that offender automatically, or is he saying that the officer will have to breach him automatically?

Mr. Boateng

I am saying that the national standards are there. The law is there on the context and circumstances in which someone needs to be returned, but it is important to remember that the offender will have had every opportunity to explain his behaviour. He will have had an opportunity to produce evidence where it is appropriate.

Judgments will have to be made. People will make them in the context of what they know of the offender. Therefore, a professional judgment must still be made, but we say that the public cannot be expected to have confidence in community penalties unless they are rigorously enforced. Where there is a failure to comply that is deemed to be unacceptable, it is serious and must be dealt with. The probation officer needs to be in a position to make those judgments.

Mr. Brady

Will the Minister confirm that simply saying by way of explanation that one has a chaotic life style would not be sufficient to convince the court?

Mr. Boateng

Of course it would not, and I would not expect it to be sufficient to convince a probation officer. I do not want to be flippant about it, but those of us who have worked in that area in whatever capacity—whether as lawyers, social workers, probation officers or justices sitting—all know that people come up with the most absurd excuses. They seek to hide behind the notion of a chaotic life style as an excuse for not getting their act together, yet they manage to get their act together remarkably when it comes to the act of signing on and when it is something to which they attach value and importance. We are trying to move towards a situation in which an offender comes to attach value and importance to the court order. I do not think that that is unreasonable. I do not think that it is unreasonable to say that offenders cannot flout or ignore a court order and that, if they do, such conduct will not be condoned by their probation officer.

At its best, the service shows that, where offenders are faced with consistent discipline, and with determination and rigour in terms of enforcement, they respond to that certainty. That enhances the offender's view of the court order. It enhances compliance and the public's confidence in community penalties generally. That is why we want to put the warnings to offenders on a statutory footing.

The amendment attempts to apply the statutory warning scheme only to the so-called more serious cases and, further, only to such of those cases that arise after the first three months since the commencement of the order. It is misguided to allow that grace period to enable someone to come to terms with the discipline of the order. Offenders need to come to terms with it from the word go, and to be helped and assisted in doing so.

Amendment No. 189, as drafted, would not have any practical effect. Offenders in the first three months of their order would simply be given a non-statutory warning for an unacceptable failure to comply and, in accordance with national standards, be returned to court no later than the second such failure. They would face the same penalty for a breach—usually imprisonment—as offenders who are given a statutory warning. That is what the national standards are all about. The amendment would, therefore, remove the deterrent effect of the statutory warning at a time when the consequences of flouting such an order most need to be reinforced.

Mr. Bercow

It would be helpful to the House, in seeking to evaluate the amendments in this group, to know whether the regulations flowing from the unamended clause would be subject to the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure?

Mr. Boateng

We have always taken the view that certain categories of regulation should be subject to the negative procedure, and that others should be subject to the affirmative one. I am quite prepared, if the hon. Gentleman pushes me on it, to share my own view on the issue—on which I do not have a closed mind. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department was even kind enough to suggest that I was noted for my open-mindedness on these issues. Indeed, I could not be more open-minded on an issue than I am on this one.

My mind is currently veering towards the notion of a negative resolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."]—but, if my arm were twisted, I could be persuaded that an affirmative resolution might be more appropriate. What does the hon. Gentleman think about it? Which would he prefer?

Mr. Bercow

I am very grateful to the Minister. In what might be described as the parliamentary equivalent of a time-out in basketball, he could always consult and look for further and better advice. He will not be surprised to know that my own advice, especially after being chastised by him for my uncharacteristic silence in this debate and in our previous consideration of the Bill, is that we should have the affirmative procedure. That procedure—so that members of the public are aware of it—entails providing the opportunity for substantial and considered debate on the regulations' merits, rather than the quite scurrilous process whereby the Government ram them through the House in accordance with the negative procedure, which facilitates no debate at all.

Mr. Boateng

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Then again, he would say that, and I have no doubt that, in his position, I would say the same. I myself am not necessarily persuaded of the need for national standards to be established by any order-making power. Nevertheless, if that is an idea that he has, I am only too happy to consider it. I shall write to him and let him know how my mind develops on that particular issue. I should return to the substantive issue.

Mr. Hayes

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

I really must not continue giving way like this. However, I will on this occasion.

Mr. Hayes

I do not want to disrupt the joust between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)—especially as I have no knowledge of netball or whatever it was they were dealing with—but I, too, should like to return to the substantial issue. It seems to me—perhaps the Minister will confirm it—that amendment No. 189 is less fair to offenders. Loosening the requirements in the initial period may confuse and bewilder offenders, making them feel that they have more latitude than they really have and that they can play fast and loose with the service. Ultimately, therefore, rejecting the amendment, as the Minister recommends, would be fairer not only to society as a whole, but to offenders themselves.

Mr. Boateng

I am bound to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is always the difficulty in relation to the Liberal Democrats' approach to the issue. They seek—no doubt with the best will in the world—to be understanding and considerate, but they have missed the point here. The best way to bring about the change or correction—the purpose of the disposal, after all is to change and correct offending behaviour in a community context—is, from the word go, to lay down clear parameters as to what is or is not acceptable. In some instances—as the hon. Member for Taunton will know from her experience—this may be the first time any such parameters have been set in those lives. In doing that, we need to be clear about what we can and cannot get away with.

Jackie Ballard

I guess that the Minister will know what I am about to say. It is very much because it will be, for some, the first time that parameters have been set that I am suggesting that those concerned need time to learn to adjust to those parameters. Given the three-month period that we are suggesting, it will be clear that any breaches after that period will result in serious consequences.

Mr. Boateng

There is a fundamental difference between us on this matter. We are both agreed as to the end; what we want is compliance. The question is how to get there. Many of the people we are talking about will have been given opportunity after opportunity in the past. They will have received a community penalty in place of a possible prison sentence. There has to be an understanding from the beginning that this opportunity is not given lightly. It is a privilege that will be lost if there is not compliance. That is our considered view. I hear what the hon. Lady says, but we believe that the amendment would take away the deterrent effect of a statutory warning.

Dr. George Turner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if one expects low standards, one will get them? If someone spends the first three months on an order learning that they do not have to obey it because they lead a disorderly life, they are likely to want to plead the same way over the following three months.

Mr. Boateng

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend, who speaks from experience on these matters. We do not believe that it would be right to accept the amendment, which would take away the deterrent effect of a statutory warning at a time when the consequences of flouting an order most need to be reinforced. The amendment tries to introduce a distinction between unacceptable failures to comply that simply does not exist.

The real distinction is between acceptable and unacceptable failures. That is a question of judgment—a judgment that can take into account a variety of factors. Making that distinction is the professional role of the probation service within national standards and associated guidance. All unacceptable failures to comply are serious and should be dealt with accordingly. We simply cannot accept the philosophy that underpins the amendment and I hope, for that reason, the hon. Member for Taunton will not push it to a vote.

I wish to refer to the Government amendments regarding the extension of electronic monitoring to offenders in the community. That is a separate issue from the debate that we have had about home detention curfews. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, notified the Committee of our intention to table certain amendments to our new exclusion provisions. These would preserve a victim's right to know the relevant terms of the orders, while curtailing their right to more sensitive information about the offender.

The provisions that allow for the extension of electronic monitoring could be used in a variety of circumstances. I much appreciated the support of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) in that regard. An electronically monitored exclusion order, for example, could be used to help prevent a known shoplifter from entering premises in which he was accustomed to steal, such as a shopping centre. Or an offender could be excluded from a house for the purpose of protecting an individual who lives there. In such a situation, it is eminently reasonable and sensible that the person being protected by the terms of the order, or requirement, should know its terms. If an offender who hangs about the house of a woman during the night is excluded from those premises—I have given an example of the hours between 8 pm and 8 am—the victim should know that that is the case. That will tell her exactly what she should be able to expect within the terms of the order—in other words, when the exclusion order is in effect and when it is not.

9.30 pm
Mr. Hawkins

As the Minister appreciates, there is an identity of view between the two sides of the House in relation to the importance of these matters, especially those involving domestic and family violence, on which we had some good debates in Committee. However, will he make it clear that he will keep these provisions under review, especially in the light of the danger, of which he is aware as I am, that sometimes in a domestic violence case there can be wrong on both sides?

Mr. Boateng

I am not sure that I would put it like that. I do not know about wrong on both sides. If there is domestic violence and somebody has been the victim of it, that is wrong. I do not care what is on the other side.

Mr. Hawkins

I am sorry if I did not clarify my point. There can be domestic violence by either spouse against the other. The Minister will have seen cases, as I have, where someone is made the subject of a county court order and constantly allows that order to lapse or be breached, and there is violence on both sides. That is my concern.

Mr. Boateng

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. When there is a development in the law of this nature and when there is a link between that and the development of technology, it is always important to keep matters under review. It is undoubtedly the case that technology can give reassurance to both sides in a domestic dispute. It provides irrefutable evidence and avoids a situation in which one person says yea and the other nay. That is a difficult situation for a court to untangle, and I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to that. Technology will avoid that.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Minister clarify for the purpose of the debate that an individual who is subject to an exclusion order would be guilty of its breach if he were to enter the property or immediate environ of the person protected from him, and if he were to communicate with that person either by telephone or in writing?

Mr. Boateng

That would depend on the order. Most orders include contact, directly or indirectly. In those circumstances, yes, there would be a breach.

We have talked about these matters in terms of domestic violence, and rightly so. The provisions give an immediate value-added element to the development of technology in this area. I also see them as having a real impact in terms of a certain category of offences committed in shopping malls and shopping centres. There will undoubtedly be an advantage for the managers of those centres or spaces.

I think that it was last year that I saw an example in Wood Green, where there is an excellent relationship between the local police, local retailers and the private security firm that provides the security in Wood Green. The scheme is clearly being implemented in the interests of reducing retail crime, and those concerned have access to the information that X, Y and Z have been tagged. They will then know, given the machinery that they might install in the mall, when someone is in breach of an order.

Dr. George Turner

On a topical subject, might such an exclusion order apply to football grounds?

Mr. Boateng

How very topical. I understand that we have lost 3–2. Yes, the order would certainly have a use in football grounds.

This has been a good debate. We have shared a range of opinions, there has been remarkable unanimity and some probing questions have been asked. My mind, which was very much open to the input of hon. Members of all parties, has been developing in relation to the affirmative resolution and final warning provisions. I am very glad to be able to tell the hon. Member for Buckingham that those provisions will apply to community orders listed in schedule 3 to the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, and the list may be amended by affirmative resolution.

On that happy consensual note, I commend the Government amendments and ask the House to reject amendment No. 122.

Mr. Bercow

I support the amendment, because it is so eminently reasonable and so manifestly sensible that it could be damaging to the reputation of our politics for the Government to insist on rejecting it. The House and the wider public should be aware of that.

I returned earlier the compliment that the Minister kindly bestowed on me and said that I had a great regard for him. I believe that he is a truly brilliant man, although in all fairness he must yield in terms of brilliance to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). As the late Enoch Powell was wont to observe, one sometimes encounters people who are so clever as to be unable to see the simplest point. In this context, that is peculiarly applicable to the Minister.

The amendment is sound, reasonable and fair and suffers from only one political disadvantage: it was tabled by the shadow Home Office team. For that reason, I suspect, the Minister said to his advisers, "I beg you, I kneel before you, I beseech you to offer me some excuse to oppose the amendment." I greatly regret the fact that the Government have decided to do that. I believe that it is wrong and unfair, and I hope that the House will support the amendment.

My second criticism of the Minister is that he violently abused the National Association of Probation Officers. He was challenged to provide the evidence discrediting its claim to represent its members. The Minister is a product of Apsley grammar school, Bristol university and the College of Law, yet he was reduced to saying that his impression from his chats with probation officers in his perambulations around the country was that they disagreed with the national leadership. That was a triumph of anecdotalism over the professional integrity and representativeness of the association.

My third reason for disappointment in the Minister is that he has backtracked on the welcome humility that he displayed at Home Office questions on 13 March. On that occasion, I welcomed his sensible climbdown on the name of the probation service. In deference to the representations that he had received, he dropped his silly idea of renaming the body with a very long-winded title.

My anxiety is that I have paid a price for my silence in the intervening period—a silence for which the Minister roundly criticised me this evening. I took my eye off the ball, and the right hon. Gentleman used the opportunity to get his own back. It clearly stuck in his gullet 91 days ago to withdraw his proposed renaming, and he now proposes the renaming of a series of penalties. He is wrong to do so. There is no empirical justification for the proposed change. His intention to go ahead with it makes it clear that the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of, or has not taken to heart, the wise adage of Lord Falkland, who said: When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

Mr. Hawkins

This has been an interesting debate, in which we have had arcane discussions about the negative resolution procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) extracted a significant concession from the Minister, who originally said that he was not sure whether the procedure to be used was the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure. In the end, we discovered that the affirmative resolution procedure would be used. That is right, and my hon. Friend made his points well.

I could not disagree more strongly with the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) and for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who suggested in their interventions that the Minister's anecdotal evidence from probation officers was to be preferred to the professional opinion of the National Association of Probation Officers.

There is no doubt that probation orders and community service orders are well understood by the courts. That is the acid test, as it is the courts that impose them. I believe that the titles of the orders have become better known to the public over the past 25 years, and they are certainly better known than the complicated mouthful of replacement titles that the Government have produced.

We had a sensible debate about the importance of electronic monitoring in relation to domestic violence. Members of all parties agreed about the essential need to protect victims, but the most important element of this group of amendments remains the Government's unwise and unnecessary proposed change to the orders. In view of the Government's saying that they still have an open mind on the protection of victims, and of the fact that the Minister gave a more reasonable reply to our amendment while indicating that he could not accept it now, I am hoping that wiser counsels will prevail over time and that something akin to amendment No. 122 may be accepted. I see the Minister nodding, and I take heart from that, because he may at some stage be prepared to accept something alone the lines that we propose.

In those circumstances, although I will be asking my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote with me on amendment No. 123, I intend to withdraw amendment No. 122 in the light of the Minister's comments. However, on amendment No. 123—the matter that we regard as the most substantial in the group as it deals with the Government's wholly unnecessary change of titles, which has been opposed by the National Association of Probation Officers and by probation committees up and down the country—I will be inviting all right hon. and hon. Members to vote with us.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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