HL Deb 27 June 1978 vol 394 cc290-302

9.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be low read a second time. This short Bill makes community service orders available to Scottish Courts. This means that where a court can now send an offender to prison it will in future be able to order him to do between 40 and 240 hours of unpaid work for the benefit of the community. The work will be supervised by the local authority social work department for the area in which the offender lives. The Bill, in extending the range of sentencing powers available to the courts, has been welcomed among those concerned with criminal justice in Scotland and had a favourable reception in another place. The Government are encouraged by the considerable interest that has already been shown in developing community service in Scotland as a further option open to the courts to use in appropriate cases.

Community service has much to recommend it. It is a substantial punishment in its own right. Considerable effort, and indeed a considerable deprivation of liberty, are involved in doing, say, 120 hours of work and it should be made clear that the Government do not regard community service as an "easy option". We see community service as a useful and beneficial alternative to imprisonment. It is likely to have the side-effect of relieving slightly the severe pressure on our Scottish prisons; it is likely to prove cheaper overall than prison; and it should certainly be more constructive in terms of both the work that is being done and the effect on the offender. It has the great advantage of allowing offenders to continue in their job and to remain with, and support, their families. There is also an element of reparation to the community which will benefit from the work undertaken by offenders.

As your Lordships may be aware, pilot community service schemes have already been started in parts of four Scottish regions (Grampian, Tayside, Strathclyde and Lothian) on the basis of community service attached as a requirement to a probation order. While it is too early to assess in detail the working of these schemes, I should like to express the Government's appreciation of the work that has been done in getting these schemes going. So far—that is, up to the end of May—132 offenders have been ordered to do community service in Scotland under the present schemes. Around half the cases involved work of between 100 and 140 hours and more than half the offenders concerned were aged between 16 and 20.

We envisage that community service schemes will be extended throughout Scotland over the next five years or so as resources and experienced staff become available. Initially local authorities will receive specific grants towards the expenditure they incur on community service schemes, and when schemes are in operation throughout Scotland the expenditure involved will be relevant for rate support grant purposes. The detailed arrangements are at present the subject of discussion with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. We estimate that expenditure on the schemes will rise progressively over the next five years to around £500,000 per annum but, to avoid possible misunderstanding, I should emphasise that that figure is an estimate, not a limit. In drawing up the Bill, we have had the benefit of some experience of the pilot schemes in Scotland as well as the longer-established schemes in England and Wales. The result is a short Bill of 14 clauses, of which four are purely technical. The Bill establishes community service orders as a disposal in their own right and sets out a more formal framework for community service as a condition of probation.

Clause 1 gives a court power to make a community service order—involving between 40 and 240 hours work—on an offender of 16 years of age or over, who has been convicted of an imprisonable offence. Clause 1 also provides that an order cannot be made without the offender's consent and unless the court has satisfied itself that the offender is a suitable person to do work and that work is available. Clause 2 deals with the details of the contents of an order and who is to be served with a copy of it, as well as with the arrangements for the exceptional case of a person subject to more than one order. It also provides that the local authority are to appoint an officer—usually a member of the social work department—to supervise the implementation of the order.

Clause 3 obliges an offender to keep in touch with that officer and tell him of any change of address or employment. Clause 4 sets out what happens when an offender does not do the work. The appropriate court, to which the supervising officer should refer the case, has three choices. It can fine the offender up to £50 and continue the order; vary the number of hours in the order; or revoke the order and sentence the offender again for the original offence. Since community service orders can be imposed only in respect of imprisonable offences, imprisonment will always be available on breach of a community service order and this is seen as an effective discouragement against the offender's breaching the order. Clause 5 gives the court power to change an order if circumstances warrant it; for example, if the offender is found guilty and imprisoned for a quite separate offence, or if his health breaks down. Clause 6 and Schedule I deal with offenders who come before Scottish courts, but live in England or Wales.

I said earlier that the present pilot schemes worked on the basis of attaching a community service condition to a probation order. We recognise that this is an appropriate alternative to a simple community service order in certain cases where a greater degree of supervision is required, perhaps over a longer period, and, for reasons of maximum flexibility, we propose to continue to have this option available to the courts. Clause 7 therefore, clarifies the law in this area and applies most of the provisions of the Bill relating to community service orders proper to requirements of probation orders also. Clause 8 provides that community service is to be available for breach of probation, and Clause 9 gives the Secretary of State power to make specific grants to local authorities running community service schemes. Clause 10 is a rule-making provision, and the remaining clauses and Schedule 2 are purely technical.

This is a short Bill introducing a desirable and sensible power which has already been widely welcomed. I hope that it will enjoy the support of noble Lords on all sides of the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Kirkhill.)

9.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House will welcome this Bill as a comparatively modest measure. I say "modest", because I believe that the Government were minded to introduce a much more far-reaching Bill so far as Scottish criminal procedures were concerned, but, in fact, have not done so through lack of Parliamentary time. This, I think, is a pity and I say that for two reasons.

I believe that a thorough review of the powers of the Scottish courts is necessary; first, because, as is well-known, Scotland, proportionately speaking, has a very high gaol population and any measure which will, or even may, reduce the numbers in prison is to be welcomed. Moreover, the more avenues which are open to the courts when dealing with offenders, the better the outcome is likely to be, both from the point of view of the public interest and that of the offender himself.

Secondly, the courts in Scotland—and one has to say this—are lagging behind those in England, so far as sentencing is concerned. I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House on the Second Reading of what is now the Criminal Justice Act 1972, when the concept of community service was introduced into the English legal system. When it is realised that in Scotland there is not even power to suspend sentences, it will be seen how far apart are the two systems of criminal justice.

I would not for one moment be taken to think that there should be any slavish adoption of all English reforms by the Scottish courts, and certainly that should not be imposed on the Scottish legal system. Nevertheless, I believe that sentencing procedures at the two ends of this moderately sized island should be reasonably in step. So I am certainly pleased, and indeed mildly surprised, that this Bill has been introduced by the Government at this moment in time, when it would have been possible to excuse complete inaction on the part of the Government by saying that this was a measure which could safely be left to the Scottish Assembly when it began to deliberate.

The aim of the Government, if I may put it in this way, is to save an offender from prison, by substituting an order requiring him to perform unpaid work for the benefit of the community instead of a prison sentence. That is the idea behind the Bill, and I do not suppose that anybody would quarrel with the motive. Equally, the idea of this form of reparation by an offender is attractive, even if it will not, I daresay, have a very profound effect on criminal statistics. The Home Office Research Study No. 39 shows that reconvictions of offenders subject to community service orders are fairly high and. indeed, can be higher than reconvictions of offenders dealt with by other means and made the subject of comparison. However, I do not believe that the experiment has been tried for a long enough period or on a large enough scale to show convincing results so far. Therefore, while we on these Benches support the Government so far as the principle of the Bill is concerned, there are a number of features contained in it which lead one to believe that to some degree, perhaps, it has not been sufficiently thought through.

I had deliberated whether, bearing in mind the calendar, I should invite the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, to pronounce upon one or two difficulties which I have and one or two misconceptions which there may be about the Bill in order to either shorten or almost cut out the Committee stage. On reflection, however, I do not think that that exercise would be very useful if for no other reason than that the noble Lord will not, I dare say, be armed to answer such questions. Nevertheless, there are a couple of matters which I should like to put to the noble Lord because I believe that they go to the root of the Bill and, although Committee points, are almost matters of principle.

In the other place, the Minister who introduced the Bill spoke in glowing terms of making the punishment, and I quote: fit the crime". This is something about which I am very enthusiastic. What better punishment could there be than to impose just that? However, I wonder whether that is what the Bill provides. One can see it in Clause 1(2)(b). If a young hooligan, to take an example, going to or from a football match sprays paint upon a wall, it is splendid, to my way of thinking, that he should be required not only to scrub it off but to do similar work which might improve the appearance of the area generally. To take another example, if the driver of a car is drunk in charge of it, in appropriate cases what better punishment could there be than that he should be made to do cleaning work in the wards of a local hospital to which road casualties are admitted, many of them crippled or at least gravely injured? The Bill, however, is silent about this.

When the noble Lord replies, I wonder whether he could say a little more about the type of community service which is likely to be made available. For instance, I think that the question comes down to this: Would "a locality"—that is how it is described in the Bill—have a number of largish projects to which offenders who had become the subject of community service orders would be allocated, or would the work be tailored to the individual offender, so far as resources permitted?

Turning to the subject of resources, of course it seems that community service orders will be of little or no use and, indeed, will become the subject of derision unless they are properly and effectively carried out and supervised, and this itself cannot be done unless the social work departments have the necessary qualified and dedicated staff who are in a position to supervise and administer the orders. It seems to me that the amount of money which the noble Lord says will be spent upon this scheme must be comparatively modest unless Government thinking is that the social work departments are able, as things stand, to take on board a certain amount of extra work. For myself, I do not believe that they can.

This brings me to my last point at this stage. May I ask the noble Lord whether it is the Government's intention that further areas will be brought into the scheme as and when resources allow, or whether community service orders are to be brought in throughout Scotland as and when the various social work departments can bring some kind of scheme to fruition which will, as it were, admit the offenders. One should not forget that it is not only Sheriff Courts which will be entitled to make these orders but district courts as well. So once, as it were, the button is pressed and courts are invited to make these orders I have little doubt from my own experience that they will, at least at first, enthusiastically adopt this method of dealing with offenders and unless the Government have thought the matter out there will be considerable disappointment when in fact in many localities no suitable schemes for the offenders to—if I may use the phrase—indulge in, are to hand.

These are matters which no doubt we may consider in Committee. For the moment at least one gives a welcome to this Bill. To me—and, apart from my position on this Bench, I speak also as president of the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—it is a very welcome measure of penal reform.

9.31 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, in welcoming this Bill from these Benches I can perhaps best describe my attitude to it by telling you one of the murkier stories of my past. At school when I was caught offending against the rules in class 1 was on one occasion sentenced by my master to paint him a picture. I put every effort I could into painting him a view from my bedroom window across the rooftops and showing him the outlook. He was pleased with it; in fact he was so pleased with it that he hung it in his study and kept it for many years. Years later when my son went to the school that same master presented him with that piece of community service which I had done for him years before. My son brought it home and we now have it in the house.

The point of the story really lies in the attitude which this engendered in me and which I can now describe to your Lordships. As a result of that imaginative punishment, so different from the Georgic or the 1,000 lines or whatever I should otherwise have had imposed upon me, I became probably one of the most cooperative pupils that that master ever had in his class. I certainly gained a new insight into people's reactions to punishment and to the imposition of authority and gained a new approach to the demands of authority.

It is that aspect of the Community Service by Offenders (Scotland) Bill which attracts me most. The idea is that there should be put at the disposal of the courts a sentence which could perhaps lead to rehabilitation, at least to a reconciliation between the offender and the community. It is a sentence which gives the offender a chance to think again; a sentence which gives the offender a chance to do something constructive which at the same time reminds him of his offence while doing it.

I do not go along entirely with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in trying to make the punishment fit the crime. I would hope that in using this sentence the courts in Scotland would avoid rigidly trying to make the punishment fit the crime but rather that they would try to make the punishment fit the offender. In this sense, I note the provision within the Bill that the consent of the offender is necessary in order to impose this particular sentence. That is very important because unless this particular kind of sentence is used with the consent and understanding of the offender it will have very little extra beneficial effect upon him and upon the community.

I think one should beware of using it as a means of restitution to the people who have been damaged. I think one should consider it as a very useful alternative to other forms of sentence with rehabilitation in mind, rather than with the idea of restitution or punishment. Therefore, I do merely say at this point that while welcoming the provisions of this Bill I hope that it will be ensured that they are imaginatively implemented and that they will be used more with the idea of the rehabilitation of the offender and the prevention of recidivism rather than with the idea of punishment and making the punishment fit the crime.

9.36 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to intervene for a few moments only. As this Bill gives Scotland what we already have in England, one or two points which have become apparent in relation to the English experience of community service might be of use in connection with the Scottish Bill. It is particularly interesting so far as I am concerned because there have been community workers in my own county of Cleveland, and furthermore, working where I have been able to see them. In my view, this scheme is a very good thing because it does save money; otherwise these offenders would be put into prison at great cost. It is a useful addition to the punitive system and it also provides some restitution to the society which they have often robbed. But it must not be thought that this will stop people offending or that it is a great cure. Indeed, some 20 per cent. have failed to continue with their community service and have got back into court. Some 60 per cent. have completed their service, and some 20 per cent. have found some benefit. Of these, some have managed to acquire the work habit and have been able to undertake jobs which they would not otherwise have done. One peculiar thing which I am informed about—I am not quite sure whether it is correct and perhaps the noble Lord can tell me—is that if a lad has probation and he then breaches that probation by another crime that is an offence, and yet if he is given community service and breaches that that is not an offence. If that is a fact, it is a slight anomaly.

Another factor which has appeared is that the 40 hours which is awarded is too short; it is a period which does not appear to bite with offenders, and it is not adequately punitive. But, at the other end of the scale, 240 hours has proved to be too long and has appeared in the eyes of those who have been awarded it unachievable. It has been suggested that a more realistic period would be in the bracket between 80 and 200 hours.

Finally there is the problem of performance. It is perfectly clear that where these boys go out into the country—I can think of one job where they were burning up derelict woodland—they are extremely difficult to control; in practice what they had was a nice day out lying in the sun as soon as the supervisor had his back turned. It is obviously necessary that not only should they turn up on time—and if they do not they can be awarded further days—but that some way should be found to ensure that they actually do work and not just lie in the sun as soon as the supervisor has gone, or alternatively that the job has to be done before they are allowed to leave.

I should like to finish by saying how intrigued I was by Lord Mansfield's reference to appropriate forms of punishment, which has always appealed to me. It does remind me of the doggerel of Gilbert and Sullivan: If anyone spots the billiard sharp His doom is extremely hard. He's made to dwell in a dungeon cell On a spot that's always barred. And there he plays extravagant matches in fitless finger stalls, On a cloth untrue with a twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls".


My Lords, I detect—indeed I more than detect, I am completely aware of—a generous welcome from all sides of the House for this short Bill. I was particularly impressed by the imaginative contribution by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. I should like to tell him how much I agree with his observations as they relate to the question of whether the punishment should fit the crime, or rather the offender. I entirely take this point. I noted with interest what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough said and remark that I was greatly impressed by his poetic ending.

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has asked me one or two specific questions to which I shall attempt to respond at this stage. He expressed concern about the fact that the Bill is not so comprehensive as it might have been, although he was free in his acknowledgment that the Government have been purposeful in bringing what is albeit a short Bill at this time. As he will probably know, my right honourable friend said in a written Answer in another place on 20th April that the Government regret that it has been necessary to defer, on account of lack of legislative time, our proposed Bill on a number of matters in the field of criminal justice and criminal procedure. Noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot be any more definite about when the Bill will be introduced than to say that we intend that it should be as soon as possible.

The noble Earl was concerned about the need for the punishment to fit the crime, or so I understood him to say. He wondered whether the community service order would be appropriate for football hooligans, for example. I can tell him that it will certainly be available for football hooligans or vandals when they commit offences punishable by imprisonment. Whether it is used in any individual case is a question for the court which considers the case to decide. It is up to the court to say whether the circumstances of an offence and the character of an offender make a case an appropriate one for the use of community service.

The noble Earl also expressed a measure of concern about the financial arrangements proposed. He indicated that resources, are perhaps, contrained and questioned whether there were enough qualified staff. I can respond immediately by saying that it is obviously a question of priorities and there are many pressures on social work departments, which is again a fairly obvious statement to make. However, community service will be introduced in different areas as resources and staff become available, and I can give the noble Earl that assurance.

In the Government's view, a gradual expansion is necessary as too rapid growth would perhaps be undesirable. But, in our discussions with local authorities, it has become clear to the Government that the local authorities are keen to establish schemes as soon as they can. The noble Earl also asked whether work would be tailored to the individual offender, or a phrase of that kind was certainly used. I can say that it is up to the social work department concerned to arrange for the offender to undertake suitable work. The work will vary in nature and the social work department will take into account the circumstances of the case and of the offender when allocating the offender to a particular task.

Finally, the noble Earl asked me about the availability of suitable work. I am advised that through the co-operation of voluntary bodies and other organisations a wide range of jobs is available in each area where community service has been introduced. There has been no problem in this respect so far, and the Government do not envisage a future problem as likely to emerge in that regard.

This is a small but, in my view, a most useful Bill which will provide the courts with an additional form of sentence. I should stress that we are not making grandiose claims about the effectiveness of community service in achieving rehabilitation or preventing recidivism. This new disposal is, above all, an alternative to imprisonment. It also has the virtue of benefiting the community. The Government are confident that the courts will use this option with their customary discretion and that in due course community service will become well-established as an effective addition to their present sentencing powers.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.