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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that many people outside the House will be grateful for her sympathetic response and reaction to the report. I should like my noble friend to bear in mind two points. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the report referred to a survey in which 90 per cent of the residents participated. The residents' associations do not for a moment accept the validity of those statistics. Those who participated in the survey were restricted to parks where the owners agreed that their tenants should be surveyed. Many park home owners declined to take part. The suspicion is there that it was the bad owners--I do not accept that the majority are bad--who declined to take part. I make the point that the statistics in this field are dicey.

I should like the Minister and her colleagues to take on board another point. There is a great responsibility on the site owners' association to ensure that its members conform. Sadly, the owners of 500 parks are not members of the trade association. One of the burdens in this matter is taking up a point with the association only to be told, "I'm sorry. We cannot do anything because they are not members of our association". I am certain that the Minister, Nick Raynsford, will receive a warm reception from the all-party group. There is a growing interest in and anxiety about this matter. The Minister and his colleagues, especially, Mr Faulkner, who was the chairman of the working party, and Mr Davis, who was the secretary, did a Trojan job. We are very grateful indeed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that I shall take away and consider the additional points he raised. Perhaps I was remiss in not recognising that the report suggests that residents should have the right to form a residents' association. We shall give serious consideration to that proposal.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.31 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.23 to 8.31 p.m.]

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Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill

8.31 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 44 [Community sentences: drug abstinence requirements]:

On Question, Whether Clause 44 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dholakia: This clause allows drug abstinence requirements to be attached to a community sentence. We do not understand why such a power is needed. The Government recently introduced drug treatment and testing orders, which have been fairly successful. Treatment can also be made a condition of an existing supervision order.

The suggestion here is that an abstinence requirement is made without the possibility of treatment. Class A users will not stop their drug abuse because a court or a probation officer has told them so to do. In our view, without treatment, offenders who are made the subject of this requirement are being set up to fail. Probation officers will have the onerous role of supervising and conducting the tests. It will be the probation officer who will have to tell the person on supervision that there was no provision for treatment and that they will have to pull themselves together and stop taking drugs. That is totally unrealistic. It is also dangerous.

During the drug treatment and testing order pilot scheme in Croydon, female members of staff were at one time forced to supervise tests involving the passing of urine. A clear health and safety issue was raised by this. On one occasion a male offender threw an empty receptacle at a female member of staff in an act of frustration.

We believe that if this clause is implemented we shall see a sharp rise in the number of short-term prisoners and prisoners with acute drug problems. The Prison Service will not be able to cope or to offer such prisoners any realistic hope of treatment or rehabilitation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Clause 44 introduces a new requirement for drug abstinence which the courts may add to community rehabilitation orders, to community punishment orders or to community punishment and rehabilitation orders. This is very much in line with the action we are taking against those who commit crime to feed a drug habit. These new powers complement the drug abstinence orders and will be used where the court has decided to impose a community sentence and further requires the offender to abstain from drug misuse.

The court is required to add such a requirement to a community sentence where the offender is aged 18 or over; is convicted of a "trigger offence" and, in the opinion of the court, is dependent on or has a tendency to misuse specified Class A drugs. In other cases, the court has the discretion to include a drug abstinence requirement if it is believed that the misuse of a

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specified Class A drug caused, or contributed to, the offence. The court may not add a drug abstinence requirement if a drug treatment and testing order or drug abstinence order has been issued, nor if a community rehabilitation order has been issued which includes any drug requirement.

Testing is an integral part of monitoring the abstinence requirement. The Secretary of State will have the power to issue guidance on the frequency of sample provision by the offender and may make rules for regulating the provision of samples.

Drug abstinence requirements are also to be piloted and this clause provides that a court may make such a requirement only in areas notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements are in place for it to be implemented.

Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister for providing that information. I hope, too, that the Minister has taken note of my earlier comments.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Community sentences: curfew requirements]:

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 122:

    Page 29, line 19, at end insert--

("(10) An order under sub-paragraph (9)(a) above may make in paragraph 19(2)(aa) of Schedule 3 to this Act any amendment which the Secretary of State thinks necessary in consequence of any substitution made by the order."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 [Community sentences: exclusion requirements]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 123:

    Page 29, line 31, at end insert--

("( ) An exclusion requirement shall only be made if the offence is one which is specified in schedules by order of the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 123 deals with the exclusion requirements of community sentences. Under the provisions of the clause, I understand that new technology will be used to produce a "reverse tag" which will be used to protect the victims of predatory crimes, such as domestic violence, stalking and so forth.

I addressed this matter earlier. It would be helpful if, when the schedule is prepared, it specifies clearly what it will contain rather than rely on the extremely wide powers conferred by this clause. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his further intervention on this matter. Of course I shall be happy to consider the point that he has made.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1605

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 125:

    Page 30, line 20, at end insert--

("( ) An order under sub-paragraph (8)(a) above may make in paragraph 19(2)(ab) of Schedule 3 to this Act any amendment which the Secretary of State thinks necessary in consequence of any substitution made by the order.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Breach of community orders: warning and punishment]:

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): moved Amendment No. 127:

    Page 32, line 45, at end insert (", and

    ( ) where one of those orders is a curfew order that fact shall be disregarded for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) above"").

The noble and learned Lord said: In this group originally were to be found Amendments Nos. 126, 127, 128 and 129. I think--I am not entirely certain--that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has decoupled Amendment No. 128, although the amendments all deal with the same topic. If I trespass on Amendment No. 128 inappropriately, I shall of course give way at once.

Perhaps I may deal with and speak to government Amendments Nos. 127 and 129. It was quite plain during Second Reading that there was a good deal of concern about Clause 48--essentially described as "undue rigidity". Certainly the noble Lords, Lord Windlesham, Lord Dholakia and Lord Brennan, raised those concerns and I believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice also expressed similar concerns in correspondence with the Home Secretary.

As I have said, a good deal of the criticism was that the enforcement proposals were too rigid, too mandatory. We took the view that community sentences should not be ignored or treated too lightly. My noble friends Lord Bassam, Lord Bach, and I said that we would think carefully about whether this particular regime could be improved, subject of course to the fact that the final result should be consistent with what we were aiming to achieve. I think we can say that we have listened and paid careful attention. What we have now got--if the Committee agrees to it--is more judicial discretion while retaining certainty of outcome.

Under the government amendments to which I have referred, where an offender is aged 18 or over and is subject to a community order to which the statutory warning provisions apply, having found the breach to have occurred, the court would first decide whether or not, notwithstanding the current breach, the offender's response to the sentence as a whole was such that it was likely that the order would be successfully completed. If the court took that view--in other

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1606

words, successful completion likely--it would allow the order to continue; and it would be under a duty to punish the breach by imposing a community punishment order, a curfew order or, where the appropriate age applied, an attendance centre order. Having listened to all the representations, we came to the conclusion that a fine would not be appropriate as it is of a lower tariff than the community penalty breached.

If the court does not believe that there is a likelihood that the order would be successfully completed, there would be a requirement to impose a custodial sentence, other than in exceptional circumstances. If the original offence itself was punishable by imprisonment, a prison sentence would be imposed for the original offence. If the original offence was not so punishable, the prison sentence would be limited to not more than three months. The existing exclusion--that is, those who are under 18 and those who fail to comply with a requirement to refrain from using Class A drugs--would remain.

As in the original wording, the presumption would also be displaced where there were exceptional circumstances to justify it. In dealing with these cases, the courts would be obliged to impose one of the alternative community sentences as a penalty for breach or re-sentence for the original offence, if thought appropriate. There are consequential amendments, of course, in Schedule 6 to the Bill.

I believe that these amendments are a proportionate, reasoned and reasonable response to the criticisms which were made. I should say on my own behalf that I am grateful for the criticisms because the consequences of listening to them and trying to engage in a reasonable debate has brought about a better outcome. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Windlesham: In speaking to this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 128, which stands in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others.

Clause 48 of the Bill, as it stands, provides that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, all offenders who breach community orders such as probation or community service orders, after one warning would automatically be punished by a mandatory prison term of not more than three months in duration.

This was a proposal--I use the past tense in view of what we have just heard from the Government Front Bench--which was breathtaking in its scope, in its non- selectivity and in its potential impact on the prison population, especially in local prisons and at reception. As the noble and learned Lord accepted, there were strong criticisms of the proposal at Second Reading. Consequently, a cross-party amendment was tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, and myself, to omit the clause altogether. That is Amendment No. 128, to which I am addressing myself at the moment.

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1607

But sometimes the seasons and political opportunities coincide. The Second Reading debate on the Bill was shortly before the long summer Recess. That allowed time for second thoughts; it allowed time for strong representations from the Probation Service; and, we understand from what the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General said, an opportunity for the Lord Chief Justice, whom I am delighted to see in his place, to be in touch with the Home Secretary on the matter. I have a strong suspicion that others present this evening also may have played a part.

As a result, we have in front of us what is substantially a new clause. It is brought forward as Amendment No. 129, to which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will be addressing himself very shortly. As he has already explained, the effect of the amendment leaves the court with more flexibility in dealing with breaches of community orders. Instead of automatic imprisonment, it proposes that a court--both a magistrates' court and a Crown Court--need not make use of custody if it is of the opinion that the offender would be likely to comply with the rest of the order if it was allowed to continue. Where the order is allowed to continue, the court would punish the breach with a community punishment order--to use the title which will be in use if the Bill is enacted in the form in which it is at present--or a curfew order enforced by a tag, or, for offenders under the age of 21, an attendance centre order. The court would also have the option of dealing with an offender by re-sentencing for the original offence.

If, however, it was considered "unlikely"--the same term again--that the offender would comply with the order, then, unless there were exceptional circumstances, the court would be under an obligation to punish the breach with imprisonment.

When the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was first in touch with me on behalf of the Home Secretary to inform me that Ministers were willing to make this substantial concession, I thought there were two aspects of this welcome news which needed to be established. The first was: did the Probation Service think it was workable? The likelihood is that the sentencing court, in deciding whether or not there has been a breach and, if so, what the penalty should be, would have to look to the Probation Service for a report, because it is the Probation Service which will know the individual first-hand. We must hope that the court has not been so familiar with the individual from the past to be able to make an assessment on its own.

With very little hesitation, the answer from the Association of Chief Officers of Probation was that it anticipated the Probation Service would be able to distinguish between, and advise the court on, orders which were still viable and might be allowed to continue and those where the chances of completion were remote. That was one part of the assessment as to the effect of the proposed changes.

The second part was how the courts would look on the proposal. I shall say no more on that aspect in view of the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord

4 Oct 2000 : Column 1608

Woolf, is here and will be able to give us his own view. Those are the crucial aspects to which we must give our attention.

Finally, I hope that the Government will not dismiss too readily the use of fines. It was briefly passed over in the Attorney-General's opening remarks. I am aware that fines are currently out of favour with the Home Office. But there is a case for a fine to be added to the other suggested punishments for breach--a curfew order, community service hours, or an attendance order--for those offenders who might be assessed as able to continue with their orders.

At present, fines are widely used as a disposal in this context. I understand from the Inner London Probation Service, the biggest service in the country, that in about a quarter of cases--a substantial number if one considers the volume of throughput--the court attaches a financial penalty to the continuation of the order. So, in welcoming the order and in accepting the significance and generosity of the concession, I hope that the Home Secretary, the Attorney- General and others will not dismiss the possibility of including fines as a supplementary penalty. I commend the amendment and I look forward to the comments of other Members of the Committee who may take part in the debate. When it is concluded, I shall withdraw the amendment.

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