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Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the calling of the vote, a number of points of order were raised and strong emotions were being expressed. I realise the difficulties for the Chair in an atmosphere of high emotion, and the debate, which lasted 91 minutes, was on a subject that is very important, certainly to Scotland. It has to be said that we were not reassured by the fact that, at the end of the debate, a Minister responded in three inadequate minutes. I therefore suggest that the anger felt by my colleagues is quite
Column 383understandable. Sensible arguments were made and serious and detailed questions were asked, but the Minister completely
Amendments made : No. 306, in page 110, line 32, leave out 125' and insert to 127'.
No. 81, in page 110, line 32, after 125', insert 132(2), (3) and (6)'.
No. 103, in page 110, line 32, after 125' insert , 133, 134'. No. 104, in page 110, line 33, at end insert
and sections 133 and 134 also extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man'.
No. 82, in page 110, line 42, after 130', insert , 132(5)'. No. 184, in page 110, line 42, after 130', insert , 131(2)'. No. 83, in page 111, line 1, leave out Section 44 extends' and insert
Sections 44, 74(8) to (11), 75(4) to (6), 76(2) and 132(5A) extend'.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
Amendment made : No. 297, in page 113, line 15, leave out hat' and insert headgear'.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
Amendments made : No. 191, in page 118, line 48, after shall' insert
, subject to subsection (10A) below,'.
No. 192, in page 118, line 51, at end insert
(10A) Where the evidence discloses an offence other than that charged the court need not dismiss the charge but may amend it or substitute a different offence ; and if the court does so the amended or substituted charge shall be treated as the charge the proceedings on which are to be transferred for trial.'.
No. 193, in page 119, line 7, after charges' insert on the same evidence'.
No. 194, in page 119, line 19, at end insert
or has succeeded in relation to one or more but not all the charges,'.
No. 195, in page 119, line 22, after charges' insert or remaining charges'.
No. 196, in page 119, line 39, after case' insert
and of any documents referred to in it as having already been supplied to the magistrates' court on which it was served'. No. 197, in page 119, line 40, after made)' insert a copy'. No. 198, in page 122, line 33, at end insert
"the 1976 Act" means the Bail Act 1976 ;'.
No. 350, in page 122, line 33, at end insert
"the 1968 Act" means the Firearms Act 1968 ;'.
No. 199, in page 123, line 28, at end insert
Bail Act 1976 (c. 63.)
. In section 3 of the 1976 Act (incidents of bail in criminal proceedings)
(a) in subsection (8) (variation and imposition of bail conditions by court), for the words from "committed" to "trial or" there shall be substituted the words "released a
Column 384person on bail on transferring proceedings against him to the Crown Court for trial or has committed him on bail to the Crown Court" ; and
(b) in subsection (8A), for the words "committed on bail" there shall be substituted the words "released on bail on the transfer of proceedings against him."
No. 351, in page 123, line 28, at end insert
Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27.)
. In paragraph 3(3) of Part II of Schedule 6 to the 1968 Act (trial of certain offences under that Act)
(a) after the word "If" there shall be inserted the words ", under section 6 of the said Act of 1980," ;
(b) for the words from "determines" to "for trial" there shall be substituted the words "dismisses the charge against the accused" ; (c) in sub-subparagraph (a), for the words from "inquire" to "justices" there shall be substituted the words "proceed with a view to transferring for trial proceedings for the listed offence" ; (d) in sub-subparagraph (b)
(i) for the words "inquire into" there shall be substituted the words "proceed in respect of" ; and
(ii) for the words from "its inquiry" to "justices" there shall be substituted the words "a view to transferring for trial proceedings for that offence."'.
No. 201, in page 126, line 6, at end insert
. In section 129 of the 1980 Act (further remand), in subsection (4)
(a) for the words from "commits" to "bail" there shall be substituted the words "releases a person on bail on transferring proceedings against him to the Crown Court for trial" ; and (b) for the words "so committed" there shall be substituted the words "in respect of whom proceedings have been transferred."'. No. 200, in page 128, line 43, at end insert
.--(1) Schedule 3 to the 1988 Act (enforcement of contribution orders) shall be amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 1(b)
(a) for the words from "who" to "by a magistrates' court)" there shall be substituted the words "against whom proceedings were transferred for trial or who was committed for sentence" ; and (b) for the words "committed him" there shall be substituted the words "transferred the proceedings against him or committed him for sentence."
(3) In paragraph 9(b), for sub-subparagraph (i) there shall be substituted the following sub-subparagraph
"(i) in the proceedings against the legally assisted person being transferred to the Crown Court for trial or in the legally assisted person being committed to the Crown Court for sentence, or." (4) In paragraph 10(2)(b), for sub-subparagraph (i) there shall be substituted the following sub-subparagraph
"(i) in the proceedings against the legally assisted person being transferred to the Crown Court for trial or in the legally assisted person being committed to the Crown Court for sentence, or."'.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
Amendments made : No. 186, in page 137, line 3, at end insert Poaching : increase in penalties
.--(1) The Game Act 1831 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 30 (trespassing in search or pursuit of game) (a) for the words "level 1" there shall be substituted the words "level 3" ; and
(b) for the words "level 3" there shall be substituted the words "level 4."
(3) In section 32 (searching for or pursuing game with a gun and using violence, etc.), for the words "level 4" there shall be substituted the words "level 5."
(4) The Game (Scotland) Act 1832 shall be amended as follows. (5) In section 1 (trespassing in search or pursuit of game)
Column 385(a) for the words "level 1" there shall be substituted the words "level 3" ; and
(b) for the words "level 3" there shall be substituted the words "level 4."
(6) In section 6 (penalty for assaults on persons acting under the Act), for the words "level 1" there shall be substituted the words "level 3."
(7) The amendments made by this paragraph shall not apply to offences committed before this paragraph comes into force.'. No. 187, in page 137, line 7, at end insert
Poaching : forfeiture of vehicles
. After section 4 of the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 there shall be inserted the following section
"Forfeiture of vehicles.
4A.--(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section thirty of the Game Act 1831 as one of five or more persons liable under that section and the court is satisfied that any vehicle belonging to him or in his possession or under his control at the relevant time has been used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of the offence, the court may make an order for forfeiture under this subsection in respect of that vehicle.
(2) The court may make an order under subsection (1) above whether or not it also deals with the offender in respect of the offence in any other way and without regard to any restriction on forfeiture in any enactment.
(3) Facilitating the commission of the offence shall be taken for the purposes of subsection (1) above to include the taking of any steps after it has been committed for the purpose of
(a) avoiding apprehension or detection ; or
(b) removing from the land any person or property connected with the offence.
(4) An order under subsection (1) above shall operate to deprive the offender of his rights , if any, in the vehicle to which it relates, and the vehicle shall (if not already in their possession) be taken into the possession of the police.
(5) Where any vehicle has been forfeited under subsection (1) above, a magistrates' court may, on application by a claimant of the vehicle, other than the offender from whom it was forfeited under subsection (1) above, make an order for delivery of the vehicle to the applicant if it appears to the court that he is the owner of the vehicle.
(6) No application shall be made under subsection (5) above by any claimant of the vehicle after the expiration of six months from the date on which an order in respect of the vehicle was made under subsection (1) above.
(7) No such application shall succeed unless the claimant satisfies the court either that he had not consented to the offender having possession of the vehicle or that he did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the vehicle was likely to be used for a purpose mentioned in subsection (1) above.
(8) An order under subsection (5) above shall not affect the right of any person to take, within the period of six months from the date of an order under subsection (5) above, proceedings for the recovery of the vehicle from the person in possession of it in pursuance of the order, but on the expiration of that period the right shall cease.
(9) The Secretary of State may make regulations for the disposal of vehicles, and for the application of the proceeds of sale of vehicles, forfeited under subsection (1) above where no application by a claimant of the property under subsection (5) above has been made within the period specified in subsection (6) above or no such application has succeeded.
(10) The regulations may also provide for the investment of money and the audit of accounts.
(11) The power to make regulations under subsection (9) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(12) In this section, "relevant time", in relation to a person convicted of an offence such as is mentioned in subsection (1) above, means the time when the vehicle was used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of the offence, or the time of the issue of a summons in respect of the offence.."'.
No. 349, in page 138, line 12, at end insert
Column 386Firearms : increase in penalties
.--(1) In Part I of Schedule 6 to the Firearms Act 1968 (punishment of offences under the Act)
(a) in the entry for section 5(1) (possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition), in the entry in the fourth column specifying the punishment on conviction on indictment, for the words "5 years" there shall be substituted the words "10 years" ; and (b) in the entry for section 5(1A) (possessing or distributing other prohibited weapons)
(i) in the entry in the fourth column specifying the punishment on summary conviction, for the words "3 months" there shall be substituted the words "6 months" ; and
(ii) in the entry in the fourth column specifying the punishment on conviction on indictment, for the words "2 years" there shall be substituted the words "10 years."
(2) In Schedule 2 to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, in the entry relating to Article 6(1) (which makes persons convicted on indictment of certain offences relating to prohibited weapons liable, among other penalties, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years), in column 4 for the words "5 years" there shall be substituted the words "10 years."'.
No. 203, in page 139, leave out lines 8 to 12.
No. 202, in page 141, line 26, at end insert
Fraud cases : preparatory hearings
. In section 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 (preparatory hearings for certain fraud cases), in subsection (1), for the words "seriousness and complexity" there shall be substituted the words "seriousness or complexity."'.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
I shall not speak at length in view of the hour, but it would be remiss of us not to deal with the important issue of pre-sentence reports. The Minister who attended the Committee will know of the considerable anger that was expressed about the fact that amendments were tabled at a very late stage--amendments that had not been the subject of consultation with those who deal with pre-sentence reports and the business of probation.
There had been no consultation with the Central Council of Probation Committees, either, or with the Association of Chief Officers of Probation. The National Association of Probation Officers opposed the amendments and there was also concern and opposition on the part of the Justices' Clerks Society.
That led us to table amendments Nos. 76 and 77, which would exempt offenders under the age of 18 from the provisions on pre-sentence reports. The Bill provides that the courts will no longer have to obtain a pre- sentence report before passing a custodial or community sentence on an offender if they consider that obtaining such a report is "unnecessary".
The principal reason for requiring courts to consider pre-sentence reports before passing a custodial sentence was summarised in the 1990 White Paper, "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", as follows :
"The purpose of requiring the courts to consider a report by the probation service when a custodial sentence is contemplated will be to provide the court with detailed information about how the offender could be punished in the community, so that option can be fully considered."
It seems that on the basis of a few conversations during his travels around the country the Minister came to the conclusion that that could be cast to one side.
The adverse effects of custody on young people, and the high reconviction rates for young people released from custody, make it especially important that it is used only when other options have been carefully considered and, for
Column 387good reasons, rejected by the court. That should not be a matter for disagreement across the House. The Home Office's own figures show that 82 per cent. of juveniles leaving prison service custody are reconvicted within two years.
Without up-to-date information of the kind available in a pre-sentence report, courts could impose sentences on young offenders harsher than might be justified in the circumstances, or indeed--to mention one of the possibilities that seem to concern Conservative Members more--sentences that are too short to protect the public from an offender who poses a risk of serious harm. Courts may also miss the opportunity to sentence an offender to a community sentence of a kind that can effectively tackle problems and change the attitudes underlying his or her offending.
It is important that the court should have the right information before it, and a full understanding of the reasons why an offender has committed offences, so as to take the right decision and give the right punishment to deal with that particular offender and that particular offence.
The importance of such information in selecting the best way of dealing with young offenders was underlined by the findings of the recent Policy Studies Institute survey, "Persistent Young Offenders", published this year. That showed that persistent young offenders frequently lead chaotic, disrupted and traumatised lives, often involving severe family problems, experience of abuse, exclusion from school, homelessness and--increasingly often in modern society--drugs. That is why the Opposition have tried to require the Government to introduce a proper national strategy for dealing with drugs, and especially to target young offenders within such a strategy. Young offenders' circumstances are liable to rapid change. That in itself is a reason why it is inadequate to depend on a report that, although recent, may not be up to date. Careful attention to up-to-date information when making decisions about the treatment of offenders is essential if they are to be helped to avoid a downward spiral made worse by the effects of the criminal justice system operating in the wrong way, and not working as it was intended to work.
The type of information that can be made available, and that is extremely relevant to decisions, concerns the circumstances of the individual. For instance, family circumstances can change rapidly and there can be a crisis in the family. There should be information about the attitude of the offender to the victim, including whether there is remorse or a lack of it. There should be information about whether the offender has successfully completed previous non-custodial sentences. In my experience in both youth and adult courts, the report showing what has happened and what decisions have been made about an offender is frequently not up to date when the court comes to take a decision. Often it is the report prepared by the probation service that provides to the court information that is crucial in that it is up to date and understands precisely the circumstances of the offending. Information on the success or otherwise in completing non- custodial sentences, or breaches of or failure to respond to such sentences, should be before the court before decisions are taken.
Column 388Information about the offender's attitudes and characteristics which are relevant to the risk of future offending and the likely seriousness of any future offences should be available. The House should ensure that information on the seriousness of possible offences and the impact on victims is available to the court, especially in relation to those under 18.
There is a danger that the continual fluctuations--there have been changes in the past three Criminal Justice Bills--in the amount of information that is available to the court in dealing with offenders undermine the system. That should not be allowed to happen, especially in relation to those aged under 18. I hope that the Minister will tell the House what consultations he has undertaken ; he was invited in Committee to undertake consultations with the probation service, with the Central Council of Probation and After -Care Committees, with those who have the responsibility of trying to make the system work, with the magistrates and with the Justices' Clerks Society. He should have undertaken those consultations because, as we said in Committee, we found out in the 48 hours before the Government's amendment being debated that all those organisations were very concerned about the amendment and had not been properly consulted.
The importance of dealing properly, accurately and in a targeted way with those aged under 18 is, to a great extent, the key to the way in which we prevent young offenders from turning into persistent adult offenders. That should be a major target of the House and of the criminal justice system as a whole.
I should have liked to have spoken for longer because these issues are extremely important. I have some experience, both as a magistrate and as member of a probation committee. It is wrong for the amendments, which were tabled at so late a stage, to brush aside careful consideration of these pieces of information, which are important not only to target the behaviour of the offender, but to ensure that the courts are able to do their job of protecting the public in the future and of reducing the likelihood of reoffending. For those reasons, I commend the amendments to the House. I hope that the Minister will accept them as a modest step backwards from the extreme situation to which he took us in Committee. I hope that he will explain to us whether he has accepted the invitation for proper consultation, which had not been accepted before he moved amendments in Committee and which was needed before the House contemplated such a severe change in the method of dealing with reports in court.
Mr. Maclean : I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). Of course, I greatly respect his experience as a magistrate. The more I listened to him, the more convinced I became that there was not much between us on the issue, although there was a small point of principle. I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that is enough to lead me to say that I cannot accept the amendments.
The amendments would have the unhelpful effect, in the case of offenders aged under 18, of removing the limited discretion that the Government intend to give the courts to dispense with a pre-sentence report. The requirement in the case of juvenile offenders that the courts must have regard to a previous report on the offender concerned in all cases involving an offence triable summarily--or an either-way case--before they may exercise their discretion to dispense