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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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.