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Column 322Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Walters, Sir Dennis
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Mr. Tony Durant.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
Mr. Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its economic policies which have led to output, investment, and manufacturing productivity growing faster than in any other major European Community country in the 1980s ; applauds the Government's firm anti-inflationary stance, and the action it has taken to exert further downward pressure on inflation ; and commends the Government's supply side policies which have brought industry's profitability to a 20 year high, led to record rates of new business growth, and seen the creation of nearly three million new jobs since 1983.
That the draft Treatment of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved. This is the first of two orders before the House tonight. With the agreement of the House, it will be convenient to discuss also the second motion :
That the draft Community Service Orders (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved.
That order is purely consequential on the first. I appreciate that it will have to be moved separately.
The first draft order comprises a package of measures which primarily concern the powers of the courts to deal with offenders and which, I am glad to say, have been generally welcomed. While some relate chiefly to juveniles, there are others which have implications for adults. A number of the changes are designed to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with that of England and Wales. Experience of the operation of existing law in the Province has led to other changes which I shall describe.
In the case of the measures concerning juvenile justice, I remind the House that these arise from the report of the children and young persons review group published in 1979 which came to be known as the Black report, after its chairman. These measures introduce a number of new non-custodial options which should lead to a decrease in the number of juveniles in custody.
Article 3 will extend the powers of the courts to attach what are commonly known as "fourth conditions" to probation orders so as to provide greater flexibility in their use. The changes to the Probation Act (Northern Ireland) 1950 are similar to those provided for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1982 and will enable the court to make it a condition of a probation order that the offender attends an activity centre or a day centre for a maximum of 60 days.
Article 4 provides that, where a juvenile is jointly charged with an adult, he or she may be referred to the juvenile court for both trial and sentence if the adult defendant pleads guilty and the juvenile pleads not guilty. Under existing law, a juvenile charged jointly with an adult must be tried in an adult court and may be referred to the juvenile court only for sentence. I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is more desirable that juveniles should attend a court which is constituted to meet their needs.
Article 5 provides for the extended use of attendance centre orders, which can often be a useful alternative to custody. In Northern Ireland, these orders may be imposed only on persons under 17 years of age, and indeed the latest available figures indicate that about 70 per cent. of attendance centre orders are imposed on persons aged 15 or under. In view of the young age of the majority of persons who are ordered to attend an attendance centre, it is proposed to place a responsibility on the parents to produce their children at the centre at the specified time. This is important, because failure by the child to attend the centre could lead to a more serious disposal. Articles 6 and 7 deal with custodial sentences. In Northern Ireland, young persons under 17 may be sent to a training school where the child or young person is found guilty of an offence, which, in the case of an adult, is
Column 324punishable by imprisonment. Under present law, a training school order gives authority to detain the child or young person for a period of up to three years. However, he or she may be released on licence at any time after committal, except that if this is proposed within 12 months of committal, the consent of the Secretary of State is required. Article 6 of the order will reduce the maximum period of detention from three to two years. It will also reduce the period within which the consent of the Secretary of State is required from 12 months to six months. These changes should help to reassure those who expressed concern about the length of time that young persons might have to spend in custody.
Article 7 will increase the maximum period of detention in a young offenders centre from three years to four years. This is not intended to increase the length of the term of detention in individual cases. Instead, it will mean that a number of young offenders who are given a term of detention of between three and four years will be eligible for admission to a young offenders centre rather than to prison, a facility much better suited to their needs.
Articles 8 and 9 deal with the abolition of the common law power of the courts to record sentences and its replacement by an enhanced power to suspend sentences. Recorded sentences, which are peculiar to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, are similar to suspended sentences, in that sentence can be deferred while the convicted person enters into an obligation to be of good behaviour during a specified period.
However, in the case of the recorded sentence, there is no limit on either the sentence or the period during which the person may be bound over. In addition, it lacks the flexibility of a suspended sentence as it must be reactivated in full if the person reoffends within the operational period. Because of that inflexibility, injustices can arise if, for example, there is a subsequent conviction for a trivial and quite unrelated offence which automatically reactivates the recorded sentence. We therefore consider that the power to suspend sentences is more satisfactory and that the new provisions will achieve this.
I referred earlier to the provisions of articles 3 and 5, which aim to provide alternatives to custodial sentences. The aim of article 10 is similar. That will reduce the age for community service from 17 to 16 and, again, that corresponds to a change introduced for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1982. Because the age for community service in Northern Ireland at that time was 17, the 1982 Act imposed a restriction on courts elsewhere in the United Kingdom to ensure that a community service order was not imposed on a person under 17 who intended to reside in Northern Ireland. As the effect of the treatment of offenders order will be to make 16 the age for community service throughout the United Kingdom, that restriction is no longer necessary and is removed by the Community Service Orders (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order.
I return now to the treatment of offenders order. Article 11 will amend the powers of the courts to defer sentence and provides that the period of deferment will run from the date on which it is announced rather than, as at present, from the date of conviction. That change will ensure that the defendant will obtain the benefit of a full six months period to enable him or her to demonstrate to the court, either by making reparation for the offence or by a change in circumstances--for example, by finding a job or getting
Column 325married--that he or she has both the desire and the ability to stay out of trouble. Again, that mirrors present law in England and Wales.
Article 12 will increase the maximum penalty for a number of offences to bring them into line with similar penalties that are available in England and Wales. The maximum penalty for indecent assault on a female will be increased from two to 10 years, and the maximum term of imprisonment for attempted rape or assault with intent to commit rape is to be increased from seven years to life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for child cruelty, which was increased recently for England and Wales by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, is to be increased from two years to 10 years. Although I am glad to say that the evidence does not suggest that such crimes are widespread in Northern Ireland, the House rightly regards them as very serious offences for which substantial terms of imprisonment may often be appropriate.
Finally, article 13 will, for the first time, enable a number of young offenders who are remanded in custody to be held at the young offenders centre. Under present arrangements, all male persons over 17 who are remanded in custody are held in Her Majesty's prison, Belfast. As some spare capacity exists in the young offenders centre, it is sensible and much more suited to their needs to allow a number of young persons to be held there while on remand.
Taken as a whole, this package of proposals should provide the criminal courts in Northern Ireland with useful additions to their powers to determine the most satisfactory disposal for both young and adult offenders and offer greater scope for the use of alternatives to custody.
I commend the order to the House.
Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : We welcome this opportunity to consider young offenders in Northern Ireland. Sadly, such offenders are not focused upon often, as we spend so much of our time discussing the sentencing and treatment of terrorists.
There are few surprises in the orders, but we consider that they are a further example of the Government's piecemeal approach to young offenders. There is no clear overall strategy and no coherent plan to deal with young offenders in Northern Ireland. We had hoped that the Government would use the orders as a means to introduce such coherence, but, instead, we have been presented with the piecemeal approach tonight.
We would like to see provisions that were more rational and relevant and that would strike a balance between punishment, reform and rehabilitation. The Government have not offered us that recipe tonight.
The orders try to tackle the problems of young offenders in Northern Ireland. We had hoped that a clearer, twin-track approach would have been adopted by the Minister. We would have liked the provisions to deal in a sensitive and constructive manner with offenders and, at the same time, give more emphasis to preventing those crimes from taking place. If we attempt to take preventive action it is necessary to study the crimes that are common among young people, including theft, burglary, vandalism or the particular problem that has developed in Belfast, of which I am sure the Minister is aware--joy-riding. That has grown in popularity in recent months. We must
Column 326understand the rationale behind such crimes if we are to prevent them and we must understand why young people commit them. We would like to think that, among other things, the Government would address the problems of frustration, boredom, despair bred from unemployment, lack of decent housing and lack of money. The preventive framework set down by the Government is not impressive. In Northern Ireland, unemployment among young people is above 16 per cent. The Minister should also consider the implications of the 1987 decision to take away the funding for the education service, which is targeted directly on young offenders. That service represented preventive action against crime and the Minister should have left it intact. Another important consideration is the fact that benefit has been taken away from 16 and 17-year-olds. That age group now has no link with the society. If they are not in full-time education or not in a job they have no reason to connect with society. The Minister should consider the implications of that decision carefully when studying preventive action against crimes committed by young offenders.
The preventive work that has taken place has occurred not because of the Government, but despite them. I am sure that other hon. Members would like to give credit to the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, which has done so much work with young offenders. We are not merely thinking of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders-- NIACRO--and its employment initiatives, particularly the after schools.
It would be useful if the Minister clarified some of the implications of the orders as they do little to help to deal with young offenders. It is clear that a court will be able to stipulate, as part of a probation order, that an offender attend certain places or activities. It would be useful to know whether the Minister has had any planning or funding discussions with the voluntary sector about that provision. I am sure he is aware that day centres in Northern Ireland, unlike those in England and Wales, are not funded by local authorities but lie within the voluntary sector. There is a greater need for communication and planning in Northern Ireland than there is in England and Wales.
It would also be useful if the Minister were to give us more details about the community service orders. In his introduction he stated that they are an "alternative to custody," but I am sure that he is aware, as are other hon. Members, that they often become an alternative to non-custodial options.
It would be useful to know what discussions the Minister has had, particularly with probation officers, about the compulsory nature of the orders. We appreciate the rationale for the compulsion, but I am sure that if the Minister has talked to probation officers about this he will have found that problems arise when compulsion is built into a relationship between a young offender and a probation officer, because developing that relationship is largely based on trust. I have talked to many probation officers across the water and in England and Wales, and the compulsory element of the legislation, as it matches up to legislation this side of the water, worries them. We would appreciate the Minister's comments on attendance centre orders, which the Opposition greatly welcome. The creation and use of attendance centre orders will be useful. However, we are greatly concerned that only one centre is open in Belfast. Under the Children and