HL Deb 02 July 1996 vol 573 cc1379-80

7.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, community service by offenders was introduced in Scotland by the Community Service by Offenders (Scotland) Act 1978, which was consolidated into the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. At the moment, community service can be given for between 40 and 240 hours. The Government believe that now is the time to revise both the minimum and the maximum hours for which a community service order can be made. That is in order to reinforce the message to offenders, to sentencers and to the public that community service is a properly demanding sentence of the court.

In the White Paper Firm and Fair issued in June 1994 the Government set out their proposals for changes in the community service maximum number of hours and invited comments from interested parties. No contrary comments were received and the proposal to increase the maximum received strong support from those responding.

Since then, the Government have also reviewed the minimum, and our intention to change the provision was announced last autumn. Again, there have been no contrary representations.

The proposed changes in the number of hours contribute to our overall objective. In addition, a circular has recently been issued by the Scottish Office to local authorities requiring them to ensure that a sufficient number of physically challenging and demanding tasks are made available for community service offenders; and that the nature of the work and its product are brought much more to the attention of the public. That includes the marking of protective clothing where worn by those involved in a community service scheme.

A national community service environmental initiative has been launched which focuses on major projects, such as graffiti removal, footpath building, renovating public open spaces and waterway clearance. They are major projects of clear benefit to the community, but demanding of the offender. We are determined that there should be no misconception that community service participation is a soft option holiday camp; it is not. It is hard and useful work.

I believe that the changes we are making to community service hours are positive. They will assist in the disposal of its objectives and they deserve our shared support. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Lindsay.)

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I believe that there is general agreement in the community that the whole question of community service for offenders has been a success. I was slightly concerned about the increase from 40 to 80 hours, but I am informed by people who are involved and those who are sympathetic to it that it will produce a better balance and a sharper understanding for those concerned.

However, I have a slight worry upon which I hope the Minister will be able to assist me. I do not like the idea of someone being specially dressed to indicate to the public that he is an offender. Do offenders turn up in the morning and change into these clothes and return to their communities at night in their own clothes? I hope that the Minister will clarify that small but I think psychologically important point. While we want to make someone aware that he has broken the law, has been a nuisance and has done things that are not socially acceptable, we do not want him to be constantly marked out. We are talking about community service. We want to enable people who have offended to be able to break out of that cycle as quickly as possible. The Minister may prefer to write to me on that point rather than reply now. I repeat that I think that is an important point.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome the noble Lord has given to the order. I can reassure him about the clothing he asked about. It is protective clothing; it is not a uniform as such. Each authority will make its own arrangements for marking protective clothing clearly and visibly. The clothing will not be worn on the way to and from work. It will be labelled quite clearly "Community Service Scheme". My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is keen to raise the profile of community service orders in the public domain. I can also reassure the noble Lord that the wearing of protective clothing will be guided by health and safety requirements. There will obviously be instances, such as working within residential care homes, where health and safety requirements will not require the wearing of protective clothing. This is not a universal obligation placed on all offenders, as the noble Lord may fear. If there is anything I can add by way of a letter to the noble Lord, I shall do so. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.