I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before describing the Bill's provisions, I thought that I should deal briefly with the two reasoned amendments that have been tabled by the Opposition parties. I hasten to say that I use the word "reasoned" to refer to the procedure of the House rather than to the nature of Labour's amendment.
I am struck by the fact that the Opposition have declined to give this Bill a Second Reading. Their refusal seems to be in stark contrast to their behaviour yesterday in relation to the Crime (Sentences) Bill introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, because the provisions of that Bill are almost identical, except in some specific, key areas—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) seems to confirm that that is the reason why he and his colleagues oppose this Bill.
The key provisions with which the Opposition disagree are restriction of liberty orders for adults, reform of criminal legal aid, and police powers to confiscate alcohol from people under 16 years. I find it extraordinary that the Opposition are seriously saying that they oppose the Bill on the grounds of those measures. What conceivable opposition can there be to giving police the power to confiscate drink from youngsters under the age of 18 congregating in public places? What conceivable reasons can there be for opposing restriction of liberty orders?
I have read the Opposition's amendment, and I found that they are opposed to the Bill because it
proposes to introduce, without any Scottish piloting or examination, electronic tagging for offenders and lays the way open for electronic tagging of offenders under the age of 16, thereby threatening the operation of Scotland's unique Children's Hearings system".
I ask the hon. Member for Hamilton to read the Bill. He will find that it makes specific provision for people over the age of 16. The Bill contains no provision for electronic tagging of individuals under 16. It is true that the Government have said that they will consult on those matters and consider their introduction at a later stage, but—as the Bill does not contain such provisions—that is not a reason to vote against Second Reading.
The other explanation that we are offered for this volte-face by the Labour party—[Interruption.] It is a volte-face. Only three Labour Members voted against the Crime (Sentences) Bill, not one of whom was Scots. The only people who opposed that Bill were the Liberals, who divided the House on their amendment and on the Bill's principle on Second Reading.
It was not opposed by the Labour party, and I find it extraordinary that the Opposition should be seeking to oppose these measures which are to apply to Scotland.
The hon. Member for Hamilton may, however, rest on the fig leaf that, according to Labour's reasoned amendment, the Bill
seeks to reverse the key reforms introduced in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 passed in this Parliament".
The hon. Gentleman is seeking to justify his opposition to a Government measure on the grounds that, he says, it "reverses the key reforms" of a previous Act. It does no such thing—it builds on them. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head; I will happily give way to him if he will explain what the 1993 Act did in respect of sentencing, and why he believes that this Bill is a reversal of it.
The 1993 Act provided for automatic remission. The Minister's own notes for the Bill say that prisoners are to be denied automatic remission. That is one aspect of the reversal; I shall later give details of others. Instead of blustering about a reasoned amendment, why does the Secretary of State not try to defend the legislation?
I shall come on to that. The hon. Gentleman says that the 1993 Act provided for automatic remission, but surely he must know that it restricted people's ability to get parole, especially if they were the more serious offenders. It also introduced new provisions whereby, if people were released from prison but reoffended within the period of the sentence, they should be returned to prison. That made it harder for people to be released from prison early, and at the same time ensured that, if people were released from prison, they were subject to proper supervision.
How the hon. Gentleman can put his name, under that of the Leader of the Opposition, to an amendment which argues that the Bill is reversing the key reforms of the 1993 Act, I do not understand. In what way is it reversing them? It is in fact going in the same direction and making the meaning of a sentence clear. It makes prisoners more subject to the sentence of the courts. It is travelling in the same direction as the 1993 Act, not trying to reverse it. I invite the hon. Gentleman to explain his position.
I thought that the decline of the Conservative party since the Secretary of State took office might be worth referring to. The background note to the Bill, issued by his Department, states that the Bill would abolish the current system of parole and early release and replace it with a system whereby prisoners would be able to earn a maximum of one sixth of their sentences through good behaviour. They are the words of the Government's own document, and if it does not mean abolishing the system, what does it mean? What is this semantic rubbish? Will the Secretary of State kindly tell the House and the country why this electioneering Bill has been introduced in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman has not explained why he uses the word "reverse". I accept that it goes further—[HoN. MEMBERS: "You are abolishing parole."] Indeed we are abolishing parole, but if the hon. Gentleman understood the 1993 Act, he would realise that it tightened the system. It required—[Interruption.]
If the House is not prepared to take my word for it, let me remind it of what my right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang),
the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, said on Second Reading of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Bill. He said:
An even more important change made by the Bill is to provide for the full outstanding portion of any sentence to be served, should the offender commit another offence punishable by imprisonment after his release, but before the full period specified in the sentence has elapsed. It is this measure that restores meaning to the full sentence of the court, and ensures that the deterrent effect of the sentence lasts for the full period intended by the court which passed it."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 239.]
The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged—
I am dealing with the hon. Member for Hamilton.
He has acknowledged that the progress being made in this Bill is that it is to continue the principle, established by my predecessor, of restoring the meaning of the sentence of the court.
Is the hon. Member for Hamilton seriously trying to tell the people of Scotland that the Labour party is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime when he is going to vote against provisions to give the police powers to deal with juvenile under-age drinkers and provisions for hooligans and others who could be dealt with by electronic tagging? We can see the nature of Labour Members' rhetoric and their behaviour in the House.
The hon. Member for Hamilton has still not explained why, if he is concerned about honesty in sentencing and the other matters in the Bill, he and his party have not voted against the measures.
I am now entirely puzzled. As I recollect, 50 per cent. automatic remission was brought in in 1993 for those whose sentences were four years or shorter. That policy has operated between 1993 and 1996. Will the Secretary of State's new proposals change that? Our clear understanding from everything that has been said is that the proposals will change that policy and that the Government are going back on a measure that they introduced three years ago.
The Bill certainly changes the situation. If it did not, we should not be introducing it. We took a step in the right direction in 1993, and we are taking a further leap in the Bill.
To complete the education of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on the matter, under the 1993 Act, parole ceased to be available at one third of sentence. I am sure that she knows that. She seemed to be following what the hon. Member for Hamilton implied about changes to parole. The 1993 Act made parole available after half the sentence rather than one third of it. Parole will now no longer be available, and we are requiring remission of one sixth of the sentence to be earned. We think that people should serve the sentences passed by the courts.
I hope that the whole of Scotland knows that the Labour party thinks that prisoners should not serve the sentences passed by the courts and is opposed to the principle of the Bill that any remission, which will be limited to one sixth of sentence, must be earned.
I shall give way in a moment. I want to finish my answer to the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross, who seems confused about the 1993 Act.
That Act also required all prisoners serving four years or more to be subject to supervision on release, and introduced supervised release orders for short-term prisoners at the court's discretion. In addition, it required any prisoner convicted of a further offence after release but before the end of the sentence to be returned to prison.
It is wrong for the hon. Lady to say that we are going back on our previous position. We are going ahead and building on the principles that we established, that the court's sentence should have real meaning and that prisoners should be required to serve their sentence. When remission is granted, it should be subject to supervision. Those principles are maintained.
Tomorrow's Hansard will show the words that the Secretary of State has just uttered alongside those of the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, now President of the Board of Trade and formerly Secretary of State for Scotland, who said, on Second Reading of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings Bill:
There are those who argue that the sentence of the court should mean precisely what it says—a fixed number of years in custody.
He must have been referring to the current Secretary of State for Scotland, who was then a junior Minister at the Home Office. He went on:
The Government believe, however, like the Kincraig committee, that a better approach is to allow, within the compass of the total sentence, for a period in custody, and a period in the community during which the offender will be encouraged to resettle under supervision."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 238]
Now, however, the Government background note says that the Bill would abolish the current system of parole and early release and replace it with a system whereby prisoners would be able to earn a maximum of one sixth off their sentence through good behaviour.
Why is the Secretary of State wasting time at the beginning of this important debate trying to defend the indefensible? He is turning his back on a measure that was passed by this Parliament and abolishing what his predecessor put in place.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has now found his briefing. If he continues to read the quote beyond the next two paragraphs, he will find the quote that I gave the House. I will not read it all again, but I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to it. The most important sentence is at the top of column 239:
It is this measure that restores meaning to the full sentence of the court, and ensures that the deterrent effect of the sentence lasts for the full period intended by the court which passed it."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 239.]
The hon. Member for Hamilton is trying to make bricks without straw. No one is arguing that we are not going beyond the 1993 legislation. We are determined that people should serve the sentences of the court and that any remission, which should be limited to one sixth, should be earned. Even 93 per cent. of Daily Record readers support the Government in that respect. It is unfortunate that: the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be in touch with public opinion on the matter, just as he is not, I believe, in touch with public opinion in respect of a number of the Bill's other provisions.
The hon. Member for Hamilton implies that I am wasting my time in dealing with these trivial matters. I am dealing with the amendment he tabled and I am trying to show him how absurd it is for him to argue against this Bill when he was not even here in the House last night to vote against similar provisions applying to England and Wales.
I would like to make a little more progress. I am still dealing with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Hamilton.
The amendment talks about the Bill providing
hopelessly optimistic and unrealistic estimated costs and manpower implications".
That is completely untrue. We have made our estimates on the worst-case scenario—that is, that there will be no judicial compensation for the proposed changes to the rules that apply to remission.
Not all judges agree. Some judges take into account the fact that at present, when there is automatic release at the halfway point, someone who has a sentence of eight years will automatically get out after four years. Some judges say that, under the new system, in which the criminal will serve the full sentence apart from one sixth, they will not take account of that fact. Others say that they will. We have based our manpower and cost estimates on the assumption that there will be no judicial compensation.
The Government are fully prepared to ensure that prison places are provided to meet the disposals of the courts. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hamilton is not prepared to sign up to that principle—a principle that is central to government. It has to be right for hon. Members on both sides to acknowledge that prison is necessary, that those who ought to go to prison should be put there, and that, if that means more prisons, more prisons must be built. That must be right.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I was quoting the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who said in 1993:
Prison is necessary; those who ought to go to prison should be put there, and if that means more prisons, more prisons must be built."—[Official Report, 23 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 344.]
Those are the words of the Leader of the Opposition. That, presumably, is why the Leader of the Opposition was not in the Lobby voting against the Crime (Sentences) Bill last night.
I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition is aware of what his name has been put to today, because it seems extraordinary that he could oppose a Bill for Scotland one day while appearing to support a similar Bill for England the previous day.
The amendment also says that the Bill
fails to address the real problems of crime".
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hamilton is aware that 1995 is the fourth successive year in which recorded crime has fallen. The amendment talks about 17 years of rising crime. Where has the hon. Gentleman been for the past four years? Has he not seen the success of the policies pursued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, now President of the Board of Trade?
The hon. Member for Hamilton talks about the clear-up rate falling. In fact, the clear-up rate rose in Scotland from 1994 to 1995. Six out of eight of Scotland's police forces showed a fall in the number of crimes recorded in 1995.. It is sad that the hon. Gentleman is so intent on playing party politics that he is not even prepared to give the Scottish police credit for their outstanding job in improving the clear-up rate and reducing the incidence of crime in our country.
If the hon. Gentleman is acknowledging that he has not made reference to the clear-up rate, I accept that. In the amendment, he says:
and miserably fails to address the real problems of crime in Scotland which have so greatly increased in the last seventeen years.
I am pointing out to him that the clear-up rate has risen, and that the incidence of crime has fallen. If he says that he has not mentioned clear-up rates specifically, I accept that, but I hope that he will acknowledge that the clear-up rate, which is improving, and the crime rate, which is falling, do not bear out the situation suggested in the amendment.
I am pleased to give the Secretary of State a breather.
My question relates to a matter of deep concern to me. Clause 23 offers welcome additional assistance to child witnesses, and I readily acknowledge that sympathetic and compassionate changes have taken place in the way in which children are cross-examined in our courts; but why do the Secretary of State and his Ministers and officials so stubbornly refuse to extend such protection to others who are equally vulnerable? I refer to people with learning difficulties, for example, or those with mental handicaps. Why are they not given the same protection? That could surely have been provided in the Bill.
I shall be happy to investigate the matter, and to discuss it with the Lord Advocate. It may be a matter that the hon. Gentleman would like to explore in Committee; I hope that he will have the opportunity to serve on the Committee and make just such points.
Indeed, and I think that I have a perfect right to complain about the nonsense being put about concerning our Bill. The Liberal Democrats' amendment says that the Bill
will require the building of unnecessary new prisons".
That is a concept with which the Leader of the Opposition would certainly not agree. What are unnecessary new prisons—prisons used to house people who are a threat to our society and who have been convicted by the courts? The Liberals appear to think that we can be protected by having people outside prison rather than in.
In a moment—then the hon. and learned Gentleman can deal with both parts of what I am saying.
The amendment also states that the Bill will
damage the process of parole leading to a greater risk to the public".
The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that people are less likely to be a risk to the public if they are out of prison on parole than if they are inside, behind bars, secure and locked away from the public. That is an extraordinary position, which I never thought to see reflected in a Liberal Democrat amendment.
May I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the part of the Bill entitled "Financial effects of the Bill", which refers to the resource implications flowing from the proposals in part III on the early release of offenders? As he knows, the Opposition contend that that is a reversal of the policies adopted by the Government in 1993.
The same paragraph in the explanatory memorandum states:
They are likely to result in an increase in the prison population … of 2,200 five years after implementation. An increase of this order would add £65 million to £100 million per annum at current prices to expenditure on prison places.
That is unnecessary expenditure. The money should be spent on the prevention of crime, not on punishment arising out of a ludicrous reversal of policy.
The hon. Gentleman must not get too excited. I am still dealing with his hon. and learned Friend.
The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that money should govern the number of prison places and the disposals of the courts. We, by contrast, think that the courts should make the punishment fit the crime, and that we should find the resources to meet the disposals of the courts. It is ludicrous to argue that the disposals of the courts should be governed by considerations of finance. It is the first duty of government to protect the public; that means that dangerous criminals should be put behind bars for as long as the courts think appropriate to the nature of the offence.
I shall take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on the responsibility for putting criminals away. I spent four years as advocate-depute in the Crown Office, prosecuting in the High Court, and I venture to suggest that I have put away more criminals behind bars than the right hon. Gentleman has had hot dinners.
The point is: we are in a period of scarce resources, the Government tell us. That being so, we should apply them in the most effective possible way. The most effective way of bringing comfort to the population is by preventing crime, not by punishing those who commit it.
I do not disagree about preventing crime. As for putting away criminals, and hot dinners, I have no doubt about the hon. and learned Gentleman's achievements—although I hope that his advocacy in the courts was somewhat better than it has been in respect of this Bill.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about putting criminals away. My concern is that, once they are put away, they should stay away behind bars. It is no earthly good securing a sentence of 10 years in the court if people are let out after five years. We think that they should serve their sentences and not return to the community after five years, subject to supervision or anything else. I repeat: they must serve their sentences, and if they get remission it should be earned by their behaviour in prison—working, dealing with their reoffending behaviour, alcoholism, drugs and so on.
The right hon. Gentleman must understand that, when resources are scarce, the public are much more likely to be confident of the judicial and legal system if they believe that the resources are being spent on prevention.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about people earning their remission. Why, then, does he not acknowledge that early remission will depend on the subjective view of prison officers, who, as a result, will be open to charges of favouritism or—more seriously—to the threat of intimidation?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is strengthening the case against himself. First, he tells us that we must let prisoners out early because that will save resources which can then be spent on crime prevention. It is not a matter of either/or. We need to do both; and we need to keep prisoners in prison.
Secondly, the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to imply that it is not right that prison officers should decide whether prisoners have earned remission through good behaviour. Nothing could more clearly show how the system needs to be changed and why this Bill is the right measure to bring before the House today.
I turn now to the provisions in the Bill—in particular, to the provisions in respect of automatic life sentences.
The Secretary of State must clear up one point. He has said that the previous Bill in 1993—I sat on the Committee on that Bill, and was convinced by the Government and by my own side that it was a good measure—was going to have people out in society for 50 per cent. of their sentence. They would be serving their sentence, but in society, under licence.
The logic advanced very strongly by Conservative Members was that the sentence would continue to its final point, but 50 per cent. would be served in the community. That was said to be a good thing, because, out in society, people would be forced to rehabilitate themselves properly and not return to crime. Is the Secretary of State now rejecting that principle in this Bill?
No. Indeed, the only change is that we think that criminals should spend longer in prison and that their remission should be earned, not automatic. As for sentences served in the community, yes, there will be supervision, and we plan to extend that. The hon. Gentleman will hear more of that later if I can make progress with my speech.
It is, of course, for the courts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. I am none the less persuaded that there are occasions when the only appropriate sentence is a life sentence—occasions when an offender has committed a violent or serious sexual offence following conviction for a similar offence. In such cases, we need a sentence that will ensure that he or she will not be set free to walk the streets again until it is judged safe to do so; a sentence that ensures that the criminal will not escape the threat of being returned to prison until the day he dies; and a sentence that ensures that the public have the long-term protection they deserve from the most dangerous offenders.
I shall give the House an example—one that, I know, is of concern to several hon. Members, especially those from Ayrshire. I refer to the Maguire case. In February 1977, Gavin Maguire was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on two charges of rape, a charge of assault to ravish and other charges. In October 1983, he was released after serving two thirds of his sentence. In November 1986, he was sentenced again to to 10 years imprisonment for attempted rape and serious assault. In July 1993, Maguire was again released after serving two thirds of his sentence. In August 1995, he was charged with another sexual assault, with which the Crown decided not to proceed at that time because of limited evidence. On 28 November 1995, Maguire was released from custody—18 days later he murdered a 15-year-old girl.
Under our proposals in the Bill, Maguire would have served his initial sentence in full, and to receive one-sixth early release he would have had to participate in prison programmes that addressed his offending behaviour. He would have received an automatic life sentence for the second offence, and would not have been released until he was judged to be no longer a risk to the public. Even if he had been released from custody, it would have been on life licence, and the circumstances that led to his being charged with the third offence would almost certainly have been sufficient to justify his recall to custody. Had that happened, he would have been unable to murder a young teenager. That is the point of these proposals. Tragically, it is too late for Maguire's young victim, but we in this House can act to save the lives of others.
There were 23 cases in 1994 alone in which a second serious offence was committed and in which the provisions in the Bill would have applied. Five of those 23 cases involved people convicted for at least the third time.
Was my right hon. Friend as surprised as I was to hear the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) saying that he does not believe in punishment, but only in prevention?
Read Hansard tomorrow.
Does my right hon. Friend think that there is any way in which Maguire could have been prevented from committing that terrible crime, save by being locked up in prison?
I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said.
I know that we are in the run-up to the general election, but such measures should not be a matter of controversy across the Floor of the House: they involve the protection of the public. It does not seem unreasonable to require an automatic life sentence in circumstances such as the Maguire case.
I must make some progress: then I shall give way.
It does not in any way fetter judicial discretion as to the period that should be served by the person, once convicted. It will still be for the judge to set the relevant period—the minimum number of years that should be served. It is a life sentence, but the minimum number of years spent in prison will be determined by the judge and release will be granted only on the basis of an assessment that the person involved no longer represents a risk.
I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Members are not prepared to support the Government on the legislation. It requires the High Court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment on an offender convicted of a second qualifying serious sexual or violent offence unless there are exceptional circumstances that justify not doing so. The judge will set the minimum period and the parole board will decide when it is safe to release, subject to the continued sanction of the life sentence.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on this occasion, as I wish to be helpful. I am sure that he would agree that it is important not only to get the sentence right, but to get convictions. I had a helpful meeting earlier this afternoon with the Lord Advocate about a particular case in my constituency involving four alleged rapes. I shall not go into detail, but the case involved the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) on the importance of making it easier for people with learning difficulties to give evidence—such people are particularly and peculiarly vulnerable.
I wish to ask the Secretary of State a question in support of what my hon. Friend said. The Lord Advocate was helpful this afternoon, and said that he personally thought that the Government should consider an amendment to enable people with learning difficulties to give evidence using a video room or screen. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider an amendment or a new clause to take account of that matter, which is not party political.
I have already told the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow that I will be happy to consider the matter in Committee—I shall also happy to hear representations from him. I hope that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will have an opportunity to serve on the Committee that considers the Bill—he is shaking his head, but these are important matters, and it would be his chance to give us the benefit of his advice. We would welcome his appearance in the Committee, as it would liven up our proceedings. We always welcome the way in which he robustly outlines his position in the Scottish Grand Committee.
I merely seek information from the Secretary of State on the statistic he gave us. He said that, during 1994, there were 23 cases of individuals being convicted for more than a third time. The Crown has the power to appeal against the leniency of sentences. On how many occasions did the Lord Advocate appeal in relation to the leniency of the sentences on which the law is now being changed?
The hon. Gentleman has a brass neck. He voted against the provisions enabling the Lord Advocate to appeal against lenient sentences. The Labour party opposed the Crown's right of appeal against lenient sentences, just as it has opposed every other major measure that we have introduced to toughen the position. The hon. Gentleman now has the brass neck to argue that the Crown should appeal in particular circumstances as a justification for opposing what we are proposing. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the answer?"]
The answer that we are proposing is that I said that there were 23 qualifying cases, of which five involved people who had been convicted for at least a third time. The Bill contains provisions that will make life sentence automatic. No one has ever suggested that the Crown should use its right of appeal except in the most exceptional circumstances. We are making a general provision that will provide for the protection of the public—the proper way to deal with that is in the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman is going to vote against tonight.
If the hon. Gentleman votes against the Bill tonight, we will harry him all the way to the election and beyond, and tell the people of Scotland that he was not prepared to give them the protection to which they are entitled from sexual and violent offenders who repeatedly carry out villainous crimes in Scotland.
The crimes that lead to automatic life sentences are the worst, most offensive crimes against people. They are listed in clause 1. Drug traffickers can exact as high a price from our children as murderers can. A clear message must be sent to repeat drug dealers that they, too, will be dealt with severely.
Under clause 2, anyone convicted for a third time of a class A drug trafficking offence will receive a minimum sentence of seven years, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The maximum will, of course, remain life. Such offenders must be taken out of circulation for a very long time, to keep them away from those they seek to harm.
The whole House would share the view that the war against drug traffickers must be pursued relentlessly. If some of the resources that are being devoted to the Bill were applied to keeping open Customs and Excise posts in the most vulnerable parts of Scotland to prevent illegal drugs from being smuggled in, that would be a far more effective way of tackling drug traffickers than some of the measures in the Bill.
That is a point of view, but it does not absolve the hon. Gentleman of the responsibility that he and the Labour party will have tonight. They will vote against the Bill—against the provisions that will require a minimum sentence of seven years for repeat drug dealers.
The hon. Gentleman says that drug dealers cannot be sentenced until they are caught, but he will vote against measures that will impose a severe sentence. As for his point about catching drug dealers, I prefer to take advice from those on the front line—the Customs and Excise officers, who have been remarkably successful. The advice that I have received from Customs and Excise is that it is more effective for them to concentrate their resources on detection, intelligence and surveillance, as that will produce better results.
Customs and Excise has had some spectacular results, and I am guided by it, although I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point. It is disgraceful for him to use that argument as a screen for his failure to walk through the Lobby to vote for tougher sentences for repeat dealers in class A drugs.
Most of the customs officers to whom I have spoken believe that it is essential for them to maintain a presence in the remoter parts of the highlands and islands of Scotland, so that they can gain intelligence in order to catch drug traffickers. The newly appointed chief constable of the Northern constabulary believes that we are opening ourselves up to illegal drug smuggling if we allow those areas not to have a customs presence. What regard does the Secretary of State have for the advice of such people?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I must take advice from the senior officials in Customs and Excise, who have been so spectacularly successful and whose responsibility it is to decide how to deploy the resources. They have taken that decision.
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to say to Customs and Excise, "You're doing a brilliant job dealing with the drug traffickers and drug dealers. You've had some spectacular successes, but the chief constable in the north of Scotland has a different view, so the Government are taking a different view." We should be guided by the people who are charged with those responsibilities, and who have carried them out so successfully.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a fishing constituency, that that is a red herring. He is taking us away from the Bill. Everyone in Orkney and Shetlancl should know that the hon. Gentleman will go through the Lobby tonight to vote against tougher sentences for drug dealers in Scotland.
Does the Secretary of State accept that what matters is not only what is in statute, but how statute is applied? Will he comment on the provision of an earlier Bill, which I supported, that allowed the proceeds of drug dealing to be confiscated from high-up drug dealers? How often has that provision been used in Scotland, and what is the value of the assets that have been seized?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We have provisions to confiscate assets from drug dealers and other serious offenders. Those provisions have been used and I would be happy to give the hon. Gentleman the precise details if he tables a written question. I certainly share his determination that the assets—the ill-gotten gains of drug dealers and others—should be confiscated. but he will know that that is a matter for the courts, and I would be the last person to get involved in criticising the decisions of the judiciary.
It is not only in the case of life prisoners that we want to identify offenders who may pose a continuing threat. We will target resources on those judged a risk, and do our utmost to stop them from reoffending. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) was keen to make that point. Clause 3 enables the court to, impose a supervised release order of between three months and two years, or one sixth of sentence—
Does the Secretary of State accept that tougher sentences for drug dealers take effect only from the date of sentence? In parts of my constituency are dealers who have been charged by the police, yet it takes up to two years before they appear in court to be sentenced. That is demoralising, not only for the police but the local inhabitants, who see dealers being pursued and caught by the police, yet nothing happens and they continue to peddle death from council houses or owner-occupied houses in residential areas. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to speed drug dealing cases through the courts, to ensure that longer sentences are applied more quickly?
The first step is not to let them out early—a proposal which the hon. Gentleman will vote against. The second step, as he rightly says, is that we need to improve the speed with which the procedures are carried through the courts, and he will find in later provisions of the Bill reforms in respect of legal aid, which I believe will make a considerable difference to the procedures in the courts. We are also looking to provide more resources for the courts.
I accept that the implication of our law and order package is that more people will end up before the courts. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I share his frustration at the speed with which the legal processes grind on. Some of that is within my area of responsibility; some of it is the responsibility of others. I share his concern that these matters should be addressed, and some of the provisions in the Bill will help that.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that all hon. Members, including the Minister, know that there are other duties in the House that prevent hon. Members from coming in for a few minutes of a debate but where vital constituency interests are at stake. The idea that the Minister should use that as an excuse for not accepting a legitimate intervention seems very poor indeed.
I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman is able to catch your eye, perhaps he will be able to make a contribution. My right hon. Friend will be happy to deal with any points that the hon. Gentleman has to make, but that does mean that the hon. Gentleman will have to remain for the debate.
As I was saying, clause 3 enables the court to impose a supervised release order of between three months and two years, or one sixth of sentence—whichever is greater—on any offender receiving a determinate sentence where it considers it necessary for the protection of the public. Also, unless there are exceptional circumstances, an order will be mandatory for offenders who have been convicted on indictment of a qualifying violent or sexual offence. In relation to sexual offences, courts will have the power to impose an order lasting up to 10 years. That is quite a step forward.
Even determinate sentence prisoners who are not judged to be a serious risk on release will have a major incentive to behave. They will need to understand that any reoffending during a one-sixth period after release will be treated extremely seriously. Under the terms of clause 33, any new offence during this period will be treated as an aggravated offence for the purposes of sentencing. That is an important provision, which emphasises the way in which the Bill is an extension of the strategy set out in the 1993 Act.
I come now to the provisions in respect of DNA testing. Experience sadly shows that convicted sex offenders may have established a pattern of repeat offending. We have learnt from that, and have developed DNA technology and a national DNA database. The police already have power to take DNA samples from newly convicted offenders, and clause 43 allows them also to take samples from convicted sex offenders who are currently serving prison sentences. Those will be stored on the database and increase the likelihood of matching crimes with criminals—an important tool in the fight against crime, and something which I should have thought would be welcomed by Liberal Democrats, given their earlier remarks, but against which they will vote tonight.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has given way several times, but before he leaves mandatory minimum sentences, there is an important point with which I hope he will deal.
Yesterday, in his Crime (Sentences) Bill, the Home Secretary proposed that three convictions for burglary would lead to a minimum sentence of three years. There is no such provision in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill. Last Monday, the Minister of State said that that was because burglary—house breaking—was not such a serious problem in Scotland. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why such determined action has been taken against burglary in England, but not in Scotland?
As the hon. Gentleman tabled an amendment which refers to rising crime during the last 17 years, he will not know that the number of burglary cases has fallen by about 35 per cent., and that the police have been successful. If the hon. Gentleman wants to press me on extending mandatory sentences to include burglary, I should be happy to consider that in Committee. I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Would he like me to do so?
This is the right hon. Gentleman's Bill and, believe it or not, he is still the Government, temporarily notwithstanding.
I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman why he has not put that provision in the Bill. Was the Minister of State right last Monday when he told the House that there was no need for it, because the courts already had the power under Scottish common law? If that argument applies to burglary or house breaking, it applies to a range of other things as well. Will the right hon. Gentleman come clean, instead of asking debating questions?
I think that that was a no.
The answer is straightforward. I thought that the former Labour Solicitor-General, Lord McCluskey, who sits on the judicial bench, had been busily arguing that we are slavishly following the English, so I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman criticise my Bill because it does not have the same provision as that in the Bill which he did not vote against last night.
This may be the explanation. I asked the hon. Gentleman that question because I thought that I had found the answer to why he intends to vote against this Bill tonight but did not vote against the Crime (Sentences) Bill last night—because it does not have the same provision in respect of mandatory sentences for repeat burglars. If that is the case, I would be happy to help the hon. Gentleman in some way. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has decided that there may be fun to be had here. We may have an amendment in respect of repeat burglary. But the answer, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East will be able to tell hon. Members, is that the provisions in respect of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences are being applied in the Bill because drug offences have always been dealt with on a United Kingdom basis.
Drug dealers are mobile and operate across borders, while burglars tend to get around Scotland, but I do not know that there is a great traffic between Scotland and England. [Interruption.] I am not aware of a load of burglaries being committed by people who have come from England. That is more like the kind of remark that I expect from the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham). The answer given by my right hon. Friend was that the incidence of repeat burglaries in Scotland was less than in England. That is quite right.
The hon. Member for Hamilton asked me why we were not providing a mandatory sentence. I knew that his next question would be about drugs, so I explained the position. On mandatory life sentences, I went at great length through the Maguire case in Ayrshire, which shows that we need these provisions in Scotland as much as they are required in England.
If the hon. Gentleman were to press me on the issue of burglaries, I would certainly consider it. He may like to reflect on that.
Building on the principle that the full sentence must be served, we want to strengthen the protection of the public by the introduction of a hospital direction. That will ensure that mentally disordered offenders who respond to treatment are transferred to prison, and are not released until their prison sentence has expired.
Clauses 5 to 10 provide for the introduction of the new disposal for courts in sentencing an offender who is well enough to stand trial, but who is suffering from a mental disorder that warrants admission to hospital. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Falkirk, East says, from a sedentary position, "Cure them, and then put them in prison." If someone is fit to plead and has committed a serious offence, he should serve the sentence of the court to the full extent once he has been dealt with in hospital.
That is an important new disposal that combines elements of custody and treatment by attaching to a sentence of imprisonment an immediate direction to hospital. For the first time, we are making available a disposal that helps the courts to deal with those who should be sentenced to prison, but who first require a period of hospital treatment.
We must ensure that the courts are equipped to hand down the most appropriate disposal in each case, and that there is sufficient flexibility in the court system. To enhance that, clause 11 increases the sentencing powers of sheriff courts in solemn cases from three to five years. The powers of sheriffs sitting alone and of stipendiary magistrates will also be increased from three to six months, and from six to 12 months for certain repeat violent offenders.
The Secretary of State's proposal to increase the powers of the sheriff court in solemn procedure to sentence up to five years constitutes a substantial change in the present arrangements. As there are now more temporary than full-time sheriffs in Scotland, will he give an undertaking that any person who is liable to face a sentence of up to five years will have the advantage of having his or her case tried by a full-time professional judge?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that temporary judges should not be ranked alongside other judges, he is getting into dangerous territory. I hear what he has to say, but I assume that anyone sitting on the bench is competent to deal with the cases before him.
I know that the problem of under-age drinking in public places is of considerable concern to some hon. Members; notably my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell). We are determined to clear up street corners, derelict property, shopping centres and all the other favourite haunts of those nuisance makers. Clause 53 provides new powers for the police to confiscate drink from under-age drinkers in public places, and, importantly, from those suspected of supplying alcohol to people under the age of 18.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr will be in the Lobby tonight voting for these measures. The hon. Member for Monklands, East—she of Buckfast Abbey fame—will be in the Lobby voting against them. That is the difference. Say one thing, do another.
There are times when custody is essential for the protection of the public and for deterrence. Where that is not necessary—this point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East—custody should not be used for want of suitable community-based disposals. That is why we introduced supervised attendance orders as an alternative to custody for fine default. Last year, 1,400 orders were made, and we expect 3,000 to be made this year. I am happy to tell the House that we will extend supervised attendance orders to cover the whole of mainland Scotland by spring 1998. I am making available additional resources of up to £1 million to achieve that.
Clause 4 provides a further disposal for the courts, which will provide an alternative to custody. It will be called a restriction of liberty order, and will enable the courts to curtail an offender's movements for up to 12 months, using electronic monitoring. For months and months, we have heard from the Opposition that we do not take account of the alternatives to prison, but when we produce a new alternative to prison—electronic monitoring—they decide to vote against it.
As I have said, I shall be consulting on extension of the orders to under-16s. The hon. Member for Hamilton seems to be against such an extension. I should he happy to hear his response to the consultation, but how better to keep a well-known convicted football hooligan away from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon than to confine him to his front room?
I was not thinking of any players in this context. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I had better not be tempted down that road.
As a further disposal for the courts, I am considering how disqualification from driving should be made available as an alternative disposal for a wide range of offences beyond driving offences, and for fine default. I shall be consulting the judges individually before deciding on detailed proposals, which I hope to present during the passage of the Bill.
The costs of criminal legal aid must be brought under better control, and the Bill contains a range of powers to assist in that process. We must ensure that the system of legal aid rewards lawyers who progress cases fairly and efficiently, while upholding the right of every accused person to a fair trial.
Clause 44 sets a framework for ensuring a good quality of service from solicitors and their firms. Only those who comply with a published code of practice will be able to register to provide criminal legal assistance. Clause 46 will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe fixed fees for criminal legal assistance, and clause 47 will enable bulk contracts to be made with firms on the register. Clause 48 gives the board increased powers to investigate suspected fraud and abuse, and to enforce compliance with the code of practice.
Clause 45 enables us to evaluate the benefits of establishing a public defender scheme in Scotland, as recommended by the Hughes Royal Commission on legal services in 1980. The Government do not believe that it would ever be appropriate to provide criminal legal aid entirely through a salaried service, but pilot schemes employing a small number of solicitors in one or two areas will help realistic assessment of the costs and benefits of providing legal aid through directly employed solicitors.
No one can accuse me of introducing this measure for reasons of dogma or ideology. It provides a degree of competition for the private sector. The Labour party has called for such a measure for years, but tonight it is going to vote against the Bill that introduces it.
The Bill contains two clauses—clauses 14 and 17—that result from the recommendations of the Sutherland committee on appeals criteria and miscarriages of justice. They extend the statutory criteria against which a convicted person may appeal. Part II also provides for a right of appeal by the Lord Advocate against a court's decision not to impose an automatic life sentence, a minimum sentence for drug trafficking, a supervised release order or a hospital order.
I have outlined what I consider to be the main provisions in the Bill. In addition, chapter II of part III provides for the testing of prisoners for alcohol, and the provision of medical services in prisons. Part IV amends police funding powers to allow more flexibility in the use of the £700 million that we spend on the police in Scotland. It also allows fingerprints to be taken electronically to be used as evidence in criminal trials. Clause 12 increases the maximum penalty for certain statutory sexual offences; clauses 21 to 24 make changes in the law on evidence. Other minor procedural matters are also dealt with in other clauses, and in the schedules.
The Law Society of Scotland has described the White Paper that heralded this legislation as one of the most important documents produced in the past 10 years in terms of its impact on the Scottish legal system, the consumers of that system and the legal profession. I agree with that assessment, and think that it will have an impact for the better.
It responds to the needs of the Scottish people and to their expectations of being afforded real protection from the perpetrators of evil. It also responds to their desire for a criminal justice system that they understand and of which they can be proud. It seeks to inspire confidence in them that the rights of the victims of crime will be put before those of offenders and that our prisons will be kept for the most dangerous prisoners, who will not be released until it is safe to do so. It will give them the confidence that we shall responsibly with public money.
These are fundamental rights and expectations and surely the people of Scotland deserve no less. The Government think that and we will deliver. I hope and trust that, in doing that, we will be aided by all hon. Members who claim, at least in public, to have the interests of the whole community at heart.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill which, without proper review or study, seeks to reverse the key reforms introduced in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 passed in this Parliament; proposes to introduce, without any Scottish piloting or examination, electronic tagging for offenders and lays the way open for electronic tagging of offenders under the age of 16, thereby threatening the operation of Scotland's unique Children's Hearings system; provides hopelessly optimistic and unrealistic estimated costs and manpower implications; and miserably fails to address the real problems of crime in Scotland which have so greatly increased in the last seventeen years.
This is a strange day for the Secretary of State for Scotland to allege that the Opposition are out of touch with public opinion, because the Conservatives have gone back down the ladder to 11 per cent. in today's Scottish public opinion polls. I am reminded of the caution that politicians should always bear it in mind that opinion polls are only a snapshot of opinion. However, if this snapshot was a postcard, it might come from Westminster city council saying, "Wish you were here." It marks the beginning of the end.
That is an interesting intervention. Perhaps that is correct, because the Secretary of State has been quite clever at covering his tracks. He was one of Lady Porter's solemn lieutenants as a member of Westminster city council. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman reminded me to remind the House and the wider public that, in a good year, the Secretary of State might just manage to get back on to that council.
After 17 years of getting crime and punishment all wrong, the Government say that the Bill purports to stem the tide of criminality that affects so much of Scottish life. It does nothing of the sort. It is not designed to protect the public but to protect the wafer-thin majorities of Tory Ministers. It is not about solutions or about why crime is still so bad but about slogans for the election. The Bill does not contain policies to get to the root of criminality and lawlessness. It is about headlines and soundbites to wrong-foot the Opposition parties.
The Government have had 17 years to tackle crime and if they have not got it right by now they will never get it right. I should like to read a quote to the House.
When parents dare not let their children go out to play; when senior citizens who have given a lifetime of service to the community are forced to spend their sunset years … as prisoners in their own homes; then we have reached a point where action must he taken.
Those are not scaremongering words by Opposition Members and they did not come from the Liberal Democrats or from the liberal do-good lobby. They are the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland last year when he came back to Scotland and described it after 16 years of Conservative government. I do not disagree with the Secretary of State's description.
If the hon. Gentleman's assessment that the Bill is designed to improve Conservative prospects in Scotland is right, what is it about the Bill that appeals to the people? If it appeals to people and gives us votes, it must be right. If, as he claims from opinion polls, it does not appeal to people why is he opposing it?
The idea that the Conservative party in Scotland has ever done anything that successfully managed to get on the side of public opinion is a myth that only the hon. Gentleman can live with. The Secretary of State said that the poll tax would have people dancing in the streets, but it had Mrs. Thatcher dancing out of Downing street, and it was the rage of Scottish people that made the Government as unpopular as they are today. The hon. Gentleman would be well-advised not to make any more such interventions.
Which Government, supported by the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) in part, have been in power for 17 years and have brought Scotland to the position that was described by the Secretary of State in the magazine "Flourish"? It is the hon. Gentleman's Government, and they have supervised Scotland's criminal justice system and allowed that picture of domineering lawlessness to happen and endure and to cause so much misery to mothers and old people. Which Government have fractured our society, divided our local communities and destroyed the jobs and hopes of young people and have seen the right to peaceful streets and homes for the elderly denied? It is the hon. Gentleman's Government.
The Government have brought in one criminal justice Bill after another, one failed experiment to follow the last one, and every one of them was supposedly the definitive answer to the problems of law and order. But the Government now confess, without any contrition or apology or morsel of regret, that they have failed the Scottish people on crime. That is what the Secretary of State's article said, and his words in "Flourish" are a confession of failure.
The Secretary of State and the Government are looking into an electoral abyss and plaintively tell us that the Bill is the magic solution and that the serial bunglers of the past 17 years who have 1,000 offences to be taken into consideration have, at the last second of their government, got it right and that they should be trusted.
If the measures that were introduced last night were right for England—the Labour party did not vote against them—why does the hon. Gentleman intend to vote against measures that seek to address those problems?
It has taken the Minister a long time to get round to mastering procedure. Ours is a reasoned amendment and I intend to deal with the points in it. We will not oppose the Second Reading. A reasoned amendment is the traditional way to make points about the bad features of a Bill and I shall also be clear about the bits of the Bill that we accept.
The right hon. Gentleman is bouncing up. He spoke for nearly an hour and 10 minutes, admittedly with interventions, but it was still one of the longest Front-Bench speeches for a long time.
There are clear differences between the Bill that was presented yesterday and the one that we are debating. Those differences are in the reasoned amendment and that is why we shall press that amendment to a vote.
I know that it has been a bad day for the Secretary of State, but he and every hon. Member knows the purpose of a reasoned amendment. Other parties may take a different view from us and that is quite realistic. In last night's vote fewer than half of Conservative Members voted for Second Reading of the Home Secretary's Crime (Sentences) Bill. [Interruption.] The good boys were there. In addition, 16 fewer than the number who voted against the reasoned amendment voted for Second Reading, and the President of the Board of Trade did not vote on either occasion. What a surprise.
People outside should be aware of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He seems to be arguing that, if the House votes for his amendment, which declines to give the Bill a Second Reading, that will be all right. If his amendment were passed, the Bill would fall. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman has moved an amendment whose purpose is to prevent the Bill from going ahead. Not only has he moved the amendment, but he is wriggling in trying to pretend to the people of Scotland that he is not doing what he is doing, which is trying to defeat the Bill.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman had to send a junior Minister to the Table to get an explanation for this. The point is that, if the reasoned amendment is carried and the Government care to deal with the issues in the amendment, they can redraft the Bill and bring it back, and we would support it. It is sad that the right hon. Gentleman will not have more time in the House of Commons to learn more about procedure. When it was in opposition, his party used the method of a reasoned amendment to get its case over, and I dare say that it will do so again when it goes back into opposition next year.
The Government are trying to say that, at the last minute before the election, they have got the policy right and that they should be trusted. I say, "No chance." The Bill seeks to reverse the major reforms put through this Parliament only four years ago by the previous Secretary of State for Scotland. However the present Secretary of State wriggled around on that, the background notes to the Bill make it clear without any doubt that the Government are abolishing the provisions of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.
Hardly had that "complete answer" found its place on the statute book, and long before it could even have been tested or reviewed, or its efficacy assessed—indeed, before a single case had come up for sentencing under the new sentencing guidelines—the Act is to be swept away as if it had been the work of the do-gooding liberals that the Secretary of State so despises, and replaced by yet another magic solution. It simply will not wash.
If the Secretary of State believes that our present sentencing system is a dishonest charade, what does that say about his predecessor, now the President of the Board of Trade? The Bill will sweep away the provisions for parole and early release. Those provisions were not the grand design of the judges. They were not the design of the Law Society, of the Labour party, of Liberal Democrats or of the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, but the brainchild of the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang). [Interruption.]
The provisions were the considered view of Lord Kincraig and his Committee, which sat and considered them in detail. They were then adopted with enthusiasm by the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, now the President of the Board of Trade. Perhaps, if he was not in office but had been sacked, like all the other Tory grandees who in the House last night told the Home Secretary how defective his Bill was, he would be saying tonight that the Secretary of State for Scotland has got it wrong as well.
Perhaps we should call this Bill, "The Repeal of Ian Lang Bill". That might have been its proper title. It is noticeable, however, that this Bill's parent—the President of the Board of Trade—is not here. He was here at the birth.
I will try to make this the last time that I intervene. While we are exchanging quotes from our
predecessors, perhaps I could draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), his predecessor as shadow spokesman on Scotland, complained:
The incompetence in the Government's administrative approach has left Scotland yet again following behind England and Wales."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 245.]
On this occasion, the measures for Scotland are being introduced alongside those for England and Wales, so presumably the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will at least absolve us of the charge that was made at that time. If the 1993 provisions are being changed by this Bill and if he is against it for that reason, why did Labour not vote against the legislation of my right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), which did the same in respect of the English 1991 legislation?
The 1991 legislation was at least in a previous Parliament. There was a general election between the two pieces of legislation. The Government are repudiating legislation that was put through in this Parliament by the Secretary of State's predecessor. The Bill would abolish the current system of parole and early release and replace it with a new system—to use the Government's own words. They are throwing out Lord Kincraig's considered conclusions and the views of Ministers at the time. Of course we supported the legislation at that time, because it was based on a committee, on a review and on evidence, and there was a study on which we could come to a conclusion.
At that time, the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale commended and thanked my hon. Friends the Members for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for their support in getting that Bill through. The Secretary of State for Scotland should perhaps consider that precedent and reflect on why this has become a matter of party political controversy. As the President of the Board of Trade did not manage to vote last night in either of the Divisions in the House. I wonder whether he will be in the Division Lobby tonight. If he could not support the Home Secretary, will he be able to support his successor, who is doing him down?
In this position, I am bound to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland: how can he attack us for not supporting Conservative criminal justice Bills when he does not support them himself? He is damning them, so before he starts lecturing us about the need for honesty in sentencing, let us have some honesty from Tory Ministers first.
Of course we should be tough on crime. I and every Labour Member share the frustration of our constituents who are fed up with seeing violence, who are angry at having their houses broken into, not once but time and again, and who despair at vandalism, disorder and the drugs menace that seems to be spreading like a modern plague. The people of Scotland, the ones whom the Secretary of State talked about in his "Flourish" article last year, woke up last Monday to the Daily Record headline: "Murder mayhem as five are killed" in one weekend in Scotland. They share the Secretary of State's view expressed in his article last year, but, after 17 years of this Government, Scotland has got to that position. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), who sits silently behind the Secretary of State, should simply wait.
There are some welcome provisions in the Bill, which I will come to. It is not all bad, and that is why we will not vote against Second Reading tonight. There are, however, other provisions about which we have serious concerns. We will seek to amend them in Committee, unless the Government can present solid evidence to justify their case. We will then review our position after Committee and on Third Reading.
Let us consider what the heavyweight critics have said. Rarely have we heard such a deafening chorus of condemnation against a Scottish criminal justice Bill. Lord Ross, the Lord Justice Clerk, has described these plans as "superficial", "ill thought-out" and based on "ignorant, selective, shallow populism." Lord Hope, the former Lord Justice General of Scotland, has spoken of his "serious concerns" about the practical difficulties surrounding the plans' implementation and has spoken out against what he regards as the importation of English law and order measures into the Scottish system. The Scottish Prison Officers Association has expressed its concerns about the impact on Scottish prisons.
Do Ministers not yet understand that they should be squaring up to criminals instead of to Scotland's judges? Do they not understand that to ignore the views of people who work at the sharp end of Scotland's justice system is to flirt with disaster? The reform of our criminal justice system should be based on consensus, not on Tory conference clapometers.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who said yesterday that judges "must be listened to", but that
their voice is not decisive. In the end, Parliament must decide."—[Official Report, 4 November 1996; Vol. 284, c. 934.]
Of course and Parliament is discussing the matter, but, as the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) said in a devastating speech that was critical of the Home Secretary's Bill, the judges must be listened to. It would be nice to think that the Government Scottish Front-Bench team ever listened to those judges at all.
Reform of our criminal justice system should be plugged into what is appropriate for Scotland, and not be a throwback to the Secretary of State's former role as bag carrier for the Home Secretary, when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister for prisons—again something that seems to have been lost in the mist of time. I think that people used to call him the Minister for prison escapes rather than the Minister for prisons.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. Generosity knows no bounds, but I am not giving way again.
Of course, there should be honesty and consistency in sentencing, but to cut remission drastically will lead to a dramatic increase in the prison population, as we know, turning our already crowded prisons into powder kegs. That point was made last night by the former Foreign Secretary, by the former Home Secretary and by the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), the Secretary of State's former colleague as Minister of State at the Home Office. That is not only our view; the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) has also made that point, and it was put vividly by Conservative Privy Councillors in yesterday's debate. The increase in the cost of prisons will lead to a damaging cut in police budgets, crime prevention programmes and education programmes inside prisons.
The hon. Gentleman has made much of the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), but he has also been critical of the Conservative Government's performance on law and order issues. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney did not always get it right—[Interruption.] I am sure that he did not. That apart, I must point out that crime figures have been falling in recent times and clearance levels have been picking up. The hon. Gentleman seems to close his mind to those facts.
That was a helpful intervention, which I am sure that others will read in the morning with great interest. The dispute between the doomed Conservatives will be of interest outside, but the wise words offered by those distinguished Tory grandees yesterday are likely to carry some weight when the present gimmick-ridden and election-based legislation is properly examined by those outside.
I had intended to use this later, but since the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has intervened, this seems to be an ideal opportunity. In November 1994, the hon. Member for Ayr asked the Home Secretary
what plans he has to set minimum jail sentences for those who sell category A drugs; and if he will make a statement.
The answer was provided by a junior Minister in the Home Office who, at that time, happened to be the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The answer said:
None. The courts should be left to determine appropriate sentences in individual cases.
The maximum penalty for supplying category A drugs is life imprisonment. We look to the courts to pass very long prison sentences in the most serious cases."—[Official Report, 3 November 1994; Vol.248, c.1334.]
I am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr remembers that vividly, as will others who look for any degree of consistency in the Government's policies.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest gap between rhetoric and reality is in sexual offences and rape, to the enormous detriment of my constituents? Does he recognise that the Tories' failure to act against recidivist rapists, in spite of repeated pleas and warnings, has led to terrible tragedies in my constituency in Ayrshire? They have done nothing to deal with the problem of repeat rapists, but now have this deathbed repentance.
For all these years, repeat rapists have been allowed out of the gaol at Peterhead without any indication of whether they have mended their ways. To come along now and say that they have found a solution only heaps insult upon the injury done to my constituents. To point to the Bill now—
My hon. Friend is right. It is all very well for Ministers to come along now and say that they have an answer. In an interesting answer earlier in the debate, the Secretary of State quoted 23 cases, of which five would qualify under these provisions. We can take it from his non-answer at that time that the Lord Advocate did not appeal against the leniency of any of the sentences handed down by the court in those cases. Is that right?
There were 23 cases, five of which involved three or more offences, so 23 would fall within the provisions of the Bill. I am not clear whether the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) thinks that his hon. Friend is in favour of this. Does the hon. Member for Hamilton intend to support these provisions? If not, what will he say to his hon. Friend?
I will answer that, and the Secretary of State may find out something at that time.
The Secretary of State keeps asking questions instead of answering them. He seems to think that he is already in opposition. The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1994 there were five cases that fell into the category of repeat offences. In not one case—23 or five—was there an appeal. That point must be taken on board. We deserve to know whether the sentences were right or wrong. The court had the discretion to impose life sentences, but there was no appeal by the Lord Advocate.
The impact of the Government's proposals will simply be to increase sentences across the board. As the Secretary of State reflects on the opinion poll rating today, I wonder why there are so many gaps in the Government's crime strategy for Scotland. Why is there nothing about bail and the perennial complaint from the police and the prosecutors about criminals offending and reoffending while on bail? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may say that it was in the last measure, but he is busy tearing that up. If the problem still exists, why is he not doing something about it?
If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about tackling crime, surely, in this year of all years, he should be looking at the broader picture of what causes crime and the sources of crime. What about the wider, comprehensive approach that was promised in the White Paper before it fell down the drain of empty soundbites?
In the 89 pages of the White Paper, why did the Government devote only 22 short paragraphs to the critical wider social issues and only 10 lines to training and unemployment, which are the most fundamental issues underlying the growth in crime? Why is there so little attention to crime prevention—only 13 paragraphs in the White Paper and nothing in the Bill? Why is there nothing about the persistent problem of anti-social neighbours—small numbers of people can pollute and destroy whole communities? Has he no comfort to offer those whose lives are made a misery? In towns all over the country, underpinned by poverty and deprivation, the problems of crime and disorder breed.
The Bill has gaps. There is nothing about the punitive strategy against criminal injuries compensation for which the Government were responsible and which came into play this year. There is nothing about witness protection when we know that that is a considerable problem in Scotland. There is nothing about the recommendations of the Sutherland committee report on how miscarriages of justice should be handled.
We have some of the fig leaves produced by the Government, but not the central recommendation of that distinguished committee, which is that there should be an independent body to consider such matters. Those issues need to be tackled and will be tackled by a Labour Government. The sooner we get the chance to do that, the better it will be for Scotland.
I want to make another serious criticism about something else that is not in the Bill but which was promised through a medium from which we expect to hear all the Secretary of State's new thinking—The Sunday Times. The Secretary of State has already told us that the Bill promises electronic tagging for Scotland, but there has been no piloting, no research and no attempt to run trials. Instead, we are to use the inconclusive English experiments as the basis for reform in Scotland. Instead of rushing into measures without proper trials, why do not the Government base their arguments on proper pilot studies and research? Why has not the Secretary of State run pilot schemes first?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I said earlier—which was that, in the Bill, electronic tagging applies only to people over 16, but that we will consult on extending the provision to those under 16. We have made it perfectly clear that our intention is to pilot those provisions in Scotland. However, it is not possible to have a pilot without the power to have one, and the Bill provides that power.
The hon. Member for Hamilton is in the ridiculous position of wanting to vote down the Bill, through his reasoned amendment, because it does not provide for piloting the provision for those under 16 years old. The Bill provides for electronic tagging for those over 16, and the Government have always made it clear that that provision would be subject to a pilot. If the hon. Gentleman got his facts right, he would not be wasting the House's time.
After reflecting on the reasoned amendment, the next Government, or this Government, can introduce a Bill—[Interruption.] That is the purpose of a reasoned amendment. The synthetic noise by Conservative Members today—a very bad day for the Scottish Tories—is what will be remembered—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that it is getting better. Public opinion was 11 per cent. when he started his frenzied bid to grab attention, and it is back to 11 per cent. today. Yes, things are getting better. Things are getting better for Scotland, when the Labour party is on 45 per cent. and the Tories are on a mere 11 per cent.
I should tell the Secretary of State that it is all very well to tell the House, "We have not proposed tagging for people under 16, but we might consider something later on." The seriousness of what is being suggested should not escape even him. The Secretary of State's "senior sources" have said:
We are now exploring with officials the dispersal of electronic tags for children.
He says that he will consult on that measure. The Government consulted on the poll tax, but they rejected the results of that consultation. They consulted on nursery vouchers, and they rejected the virtually unanimous opinion that was expressed. They consulted on water "quangoisation", but—despite the fact that 97 per cent. of the people in half of Scotland voted against it—they rejected that consultation.
People who believe that the children's panel system is good and that it has worked well, who believe that it is the envy of countries across Europe and who are deeply concerned that tagging offenders and children under 16 will put an articulated lorry—never mind a horse and cart—through that system will take no comfort from the thought that the Secretary of State will consult on the matter. The Secretary of State knows only too well—because the headquarters of the reporters administration is in his constituency—that the system will be irreparably harmed if the experiment proceeds. A knife placed at the heart of the youth justice system should not be his legacy when he leaves Stirling.
As for the Government's other proposals, we want there to be honesty, consistency and progression in sentencing through the provision of guidelines, as well as a proper licence system for sex and violent offenders. We will, of course, support additional targeting and supervision of those who are deemed to be of greater danger to society, in addition to new measures on DNA samples and the registration of convicted sex offenders. Similarly, few people would object to proposals to create a new offence of seeking employment with children for those who are convicted of a sexual offence against a child.
We are also committed to tough sentences for those who commit serious crime, and we support the use of indeterminate, reviewable sentences for repeat rapists.
It is a rare display of taste on my part.
I question whether the Government's decision to remove all judicial discretion in such cases might make automatic sentences counter-productive. Lord Ross, the Lord Justice Clerk, has suggested that juries might be reluctant to convict sex offenders if those offenders face a mandatory life sentence. That reluctance was demonstrated by juries in capital murder cases. Given that it is already difficult to obtain convictions in such cases, should not we consider the danger that the proposals might lead to further acquittals?
Moreover—as various rape crisis and women's aid groups have pointed out—it is possible that the perpetrator, the rapist, might go further than committing rape and eliminate the witness. Is there not a danger that the provision will result in further horrific cases in which the rapist goes on to murder his victim?
The Secretary of State was shaking his head when my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton made the point about a rapist killing. It is worth reminding the House that yesterday, in the debate on the Crime (Sentences) Bill, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), a former Home Secretary, made exactly that point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, because there is a case to be made that that will happen. Such views have been expressed not only by women's groups, but, as he said, from such Conservative Back Benchers as a distinguished former Home Secretary. The point should be considered, at the very least, as part and parcel of our consideration of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned an issue that—in his effort to be brief—he rather passed over. The issue is whether a jury would be reluctant to convict someone on a second occasion if they were aware that the consequence of a conviction would be a life sentence. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that any advocate conducting the defence would be bound to put in evidence before the court the fact that the accused had a previous conviction, to bring that very point to the forefront of the jury's consideration?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has, in the context of the practicalities of the Bill, made an important point. As we already know, the Bill has been very poorly thought out, and it has been condemned by those who deal with such crimes.
I remind the House that Scottish courts already have power to deliver life sentences for repeat offenders. I have repeatedly asked the question—which has not been answered—whether the wish to turn that discretionary power into an obligation is meant to imply that the courts have been too lenient. The Government have not produced any clear evidence to justify that conclusion.
Ministers have said that, in practice, Scottish judges have only rarely used their powers. I can cite a few cases involving repeat offenders in which no life sentence was delivered. In each of those cases, however, the relevant question was not whether the court delivered a life sentence but whether it should have delivered such a sentence.
Moreover, in each of those cases, the Crown had the power of appeal. How many times—I have asked this question repeatedly, and I have received no answer—has that power been used? In his reply, I hope that the Minister will give us a specific answer and the reasons for it. I hope that the Minister will also respond to the concerns expressed by Lord Hope, who pointed out some of the serious anomalies that would be created by the Government's proposals.
Perhaps because of the anomalies that have arisen, which even Ministers have noticed, the Government have conceded that they will have to allow judicial discretion in "exceptional circumstances"—although the Government have given absolutely no indication of what that will mean. The discretion could be allowed in every case; or it could result in very lenient sentences by judges who initially set the tariff. If sentences are to be not automatic but discretionary, what is the purpose of the Government's proposal?
We are opposed to the use of inflexible, automatic determinate sentences, on the practical grounds that they are very likely to result in an increase in acquittals—as has happened in the United States—and, as Ministers have acknowledged, they require exceptions to avoid patent injustice. In fact, the Government rejected mandatory minimum sentences for such crimes as burglary during the passage of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.
I repeat the words of the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, in 1992:
There are those who argue that the sentence of the court should mean precisely what it says—a fixed number of years in custody. The Government believe, however, like the Kincraig committee, that a better approach is to allow, within the compass of the total sentence, for a period in custody, and a period in the community during which the offender will be encouraged to resettle under supervision."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 238–9.]
That was the position in 1992, but now, only a few years later in the same Parliament, the Government have completely changed their position on minimum sentences, and for no apparent reason.
The Secretary of State did not even bother to include his proposals for drug traffickers in the White Paper; we had to read about them in the Scottish Daily Mail. They fly completely in the face of the answer he gave to the hon. Member for Ayr in 1994. We read about serious new proposals on the front page of the Scottish Daily Mail, yet the Secretary of State has the cheek to ask Opposition Members to grant the Bill a quick and speedy passage.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has now established the Criminal Justice Forum, but what is the point of establishing a new consultative body when he and his predecessors have shown a cavalier approach to any form of consultation on sentencing or anything else? We need consistency in sentencing, which is why we shall continue to support moves towards a formal system of sentencing guidelines using current statutory powers as well as a sentencing information system for the use of High Court judges.
Why does the Secretary of State ignore the special nature of Scotland's legal system when, as the Minister of State, Scottish Office said last Monday when giving an alternative explanation for there being no mandatory sentences for burglars, many of the cases are based on common law? The Minister of State said in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall):
Moreover, Scots law has traditionally relied much more on common law. We believe that all the necessary powers are properly in place."—[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 427.]
Our system is based on a common law for which there are no tariffs or sentences. In those circumstances, one has to understand the full background of an individual case and know what the plea in mitigation is before one can say whether a sentence is appropriate. However, that does not appear to concern the Secretary of State in his drive to pursue the same unthinking law and order agenda in Scotland as he did in England and Wales when he was at the Home Office.
We need a Government who recognise the special nature of the Scottish criminal justice system and who are prepared not just to be tough on criminals but to tackle the underlying causes of crime, too. Crime and criminality cannot be excused and, under Labour, never will be. We will attack those who defy society's rules of order and get to grips with what lies behind the situation acknowledged by the Secretary of State and everyone else in Scotland.
After 17 years of failure, we are told that the Bill is the answer to Scotland's crime problem. It is not. The Government have no arguments and no answers left. It is high time that they went and gave someone else the chance to deal with a problem that affects so many people in Scotland.
Scottish people who may have the misfortune to see the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) on "Scottish Lobby" on Sunday will be wholly mystified about what he is doing in his party. As you rightly ruled, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were the reasoned amendment to be accepted, the Bill would fall. Those of us who have been here for some time know that perfectly well. It is no use the hon. Gentleman saying, "Fine; the Government can bring in another Bill tomorrow," when he knows that that is not how the House works. The House has a legislative programme and, if a Bill of such importance fell, it would be very serious for the Government.
I have read in the newspapers that the Leader of the Opposition is to harry the Government morning, noon and night. I presume that the hon. Member for Hamilton expects to win the vote tonight. I think that he is in for a rude awakening when the amendment falls, but the fact that he has revealed that he wishes to defeat the Bill proves to the people of Scotland that Labour is, as ever, very vulnerable on anything to do with law and order and crime.
It is important that the people of Scotland realise that, in the past 17 years, the Labour party has voted against the majority of Bills relating to crime—there have been many—and terrorism. Even today, despite having spoken about the Bill for nearly an hour, the hon. Member for Hamilton said hardly a good word about it. Indeed, he indicated his opposition to almost every clause, one way or another. No one listening to him could feel that in his heart he supported the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has worked very hard to bring law and order to Scotland, and has introduced a Bill that the people of Scotland want.
This is, after all, a Bill to protect the public from dangerous and persistent criminals. Why should the Labour party vote against it?
Or why should the Liberal party, for that matter, vote against it?
The Bill will bring in automatic life sentences for second-time serious violent and sexual oft riders, including, of course, rapists and armed robbers. Why should anyone want to vote against such a proposal? The Bill will ensure that criminals are not released from prison if they remain a danger to the public. Why should anyone want to vote against that? The abolition of early release from prison will help to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. The Bill will ensure that the sentences served match what the court said and are not reduced after the prisoner has served 50 per cent. of his sentence.
I thought that my right hon. Friends made excellent speeches. The hon. Gentleman should remember that this is a Parliament and that we are here to discuss issues. Everyone has a right to express his view. My right hon. Friends are perfectly entitled to speak and to give the House the benefit of their experience gained in office, but things have moved on. Crime is a dynamic—it does not stand still. It changes every year, especially where drugs are involved. Every day, we learn new ways to defeat the drugs problem.
Does my right hon. Friend not think it extraordinary that the Labour party chose not to vote against the Crime (Sentences) Bill yesterday and did not table a reasoned amendment then, but it did so today? Given that the Labour party seems to disagree with the concept of a minimum sentence scheme, does my right hon. Friend think that this exposes a split between the Scottish element of the Labour party and the rest of the party?
Logic leads one to that assumption. We see Opposition Front Benchers perform U-turns morning, noon and night. They play everything off the cuff and get half of it wrong.
It is disappointing that the hon. Member for Hamilton is to oppose the Bill's provisions to promote the defeat of crime. Clearly, that is something with which we shall have to deal in Committee, but I hope that he will adopt a more positive attitude to my right hon. Friend's ideas, so that we can further reduce crime in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend's points on early release follow consultation in the document "Making the Punishment fit the Crime" and the subsequent White Paper. The change in parole is indeed an extension of the present arrangement, because it replaces automatic parole with earned release for good conduct. We must take that seriously and ensure that prisoners make a genuine attempt to face the community that they are to join after they leave prison.
It is right that individuals should be assessed and should not have an automatic time scale for release. It would be good to have the resources and accommodation for phased release or for more places to be available for certain types of offender in open prisons, which are a good stepping stone back into the community. I suspect that the prisoners about whom we are talking would never be granted the privilege of going to an open prison.
I hope that we do not let up on training in prisons. I have seen effective training in painting, carpentry and other trades in the Dumfries young offenders institution.
I know that, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State takes a great interest in post-release supervision arrangements. I hope that he will tell us more tonight about supervised release orders. I am not sure whether such orders will be initiated when a case is heard in court or whether the issue will come up later through the parole board when release is considered.
On automatic sentencing, it is right to impose a mandatory sentence after a second serious sexual offence, while still leaving the court discretion if appropriate. I am not sure that a third offence relating to a class A drug should not be treated in the same way as a second serious sexual offence. The only way to beat the drug problem in Scotland is to be draconian and to make certain that people realise that being caught with drugs means that they are in for a serious sentence.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the argument on sex offenders? Does he appreciate that the problem with the offences alluded to was not that people were released on licence but that they were released under no form of supervision? Does he recognise the argument by women's organisations that, when a recidivist rapist attacks a woman who recognises him, a mandatory life sentence provides an incentive, arguably, for that person to go the whole hog and kill her? That is the argument against mandatory life sentences.
Instead of 17 years of inactivity, would it not have been better to introduce a measure that prevented recidivist rapists from coming out of gaol without being reported to social work departments or to the police, leaving them under no supervision? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the rhetoric of leaping from one extreme to the other is not necessarily the cure?
The hon. Gentleman is making a case that needs careful thought and argument. Before he came into the Chamber, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained that there had been a discussion with the Lord Advocate today about the case to which he alluded. There seemed to be a prospect of some way forward.
The key point is that the courts have always been able to require such supervision. We are debating an instruction from Parliament—an instruction that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) intends to vote against—that the courts should always impose a minimum automatic life sentence in such cases. The difference between that and a mandatory life sentence is that the judge would then set the period to be served.
The argument that there is no incentive not to commit murder is wrong. The judge would set a minimum period to be served in prison, reflecting the seriousness of the offence, but after that the prisoner would be out for the rest of his life on licence because he had a life sentence. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North is trying to wriggle out of the fact that he is not prepared to vote for a measure that would have provided protection for his constituents.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for putting so clearly a point that he also put in his speech. He is absolutely right. The measure may occasionally result in rough justice, but I should be much happier if someone who caused a third serious sexual offence was locked up for life with no argument. The public want that, and the Bill will give them that.
The proposals on electronic monitoring orders are also right. We must prepare the way ahead. I do not understand why the hon. Member for Hamilton opposes the proposals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that they do not apply to those under 16. Once the legislation is in place, we can set up pilot schemes to see how it works. This could be a worthwhile measure, particularly for dealing with the young hooligans who are causing so much mayhem throughout the United Kingdom. We can also learn from experiences in England and Wales.
I read with interest the clause about mentally disordered offenders going directly to hospital. What is the difference between the proposal and the current situation? As my right hon. Friend knows, people are sent to the Crichton Royal hospital in my constituency under order from the courts with the requirement for close supervision. What difference are we introducing on such confinement?
The proposals are important, but relatively modest when one considers the overall picture of crime. I really wonder why the judges are going into orbit. Young advocates, such as the dashing young hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), are keen to secure maximum sentences when prosecuting, but when they are promoted to become judges they become lenient, liberal and inconsistent. It a strange metamorphosis from advocate to judge. I would expect them to become tougher than the prosecutors.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that the people of Scotland want criminals to get tough sentences and they want those sentences to be carried out. That is the basis of the Bill.
I am not carried away by statistics, because almost any conclusion can be drawn from the criminal statistics, so many of which are available on Scotland, but I think that the Government's record is good.
I beg your pardon.
The Government's record is good and the statistics are beginning to reflect that. It takes a while to make a sea change in criminal activity. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is a great man for sedentary interventions. We have heard all the nonsense that he said about Customs and Excise. He got that totally wrong, and now he is getting criminal statistics totally wrong. Perhaps he could wait and just vote against the Bill this evening to show what the Liberal Democrats really think of it.
I should like to put in a good word for the police, who have to put the legislation into practice. [HON. MEMBERS: "They support the Bill."] The police certainly support what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing. My local police force—the smallest in Scotland—has carried out jobs as varied as work relating to the M74 and work in Stranraer on the Irish problem. A small force can maintain good discipline and statistics. I am glad that its crime figures are falling.
I think that the police will be pleased that teenage drinking is to be curtailed. One message which we can send is that future generations must take discipline in the family, from school onwards, more seriously. Although national service was inefficient and unnecessary from the point of view of the Army, it certainly instilled discipline and good manners in many people. Of course, I would never suggest bringing back national service.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has an opportunity, through the Scottish Office block grant, to support voluntary organisations, and they should be given help when it is possible to do so. Many of them do a tremendous amount to help youngsters. I refer to the Army, the Navy and the Air Cadets, in whom my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) takes such an interest. I also refer to the scouts, the Boys Brigade, the YMCA and the YWCA. All those organisations are helpful in bringing discipline to youngsters who might otherwise indulge in crime and hang around street corners. We should help those organisations whenever possible.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point. It may be of interest to the House to know that the General Officer Commanding the Army in Scotland is keen to take forward proposals along the line that my right hon. Friend suggests. We have been working closely with him and we will provide resources from the Scottish Office to allow the Army to extend its activities that enable youngsters, often from deprived backgrounds, to be involved in all kinds of outdoor activities and to work alongside the Territorial Army and others. I agree with my right hon. Friend that such activities are beneficial and something that we should build on in the months ahead.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend; I know that he is interested in this matter. It was good to have him reiterate what is happening and to know that the GOC Scotland supports him. I am sure that the Air Officer in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Navy will also support my right hon. Friend's work. We should help not just service-based organisations, but civilian ones. We must ensure that they have the best facilities possible to help them to keep youngsters off the streets. That point also applies to the world of sport and recreation, although I may be going wide of the Bill in saying so.
The new facilities that are available to help the fight against crime, such as closed circuit television and the latest technology, are very beneficial. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look after the interests of the police and the other protection services when he undertakes the annual review.
We have had valuable briefings about the Bill from the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Consumer Council, which dealt especially with legal aid. However, it is important that the message we send out from the House to Scotland is not Labour's message but the Conservative message, which is that we are determined to fight crime in every possible way, even if it means introducing legislation year after year after year as things change. We must be prepared to move with the times and to give the authorities all the powers they need to fight criminals. Tonight, the Scottish people will be astonished to see that Labour intends to vote against the Bill.
It strikes me as remarkable that Conservatives have said not a word in this debate about social factors. One of the best defences against crime is surely to bring children up in loving homes—they are far less likely to commit a crime than those who are unfortunate enough to have missed that experience. It is not a question of stern disciplinarians ensuring that children get the belt if they misbehave. A child who is brought up by loving, caring people is much less likely to end up in a life of crime, because that child internalises a sense of discipline which makes him or her less likely to commit a crime in the first place.
When we contemplate today's society, in which there is widespread homelessness, unemployment and poverty, we should regard it as remarkable that the vast majority who suffer such appalling experiences do not commit crime; only a tiny minority do. We must deal with crime when it occurs, not only by punishment, but by crime prevention measures.
One of the better ways in which to ensure that children grow up in a law-abiding way and with respect for other people's needs and rights is to give them pre-school training. Pre-school education has been proved, by research in the United States in particular, to be enormously effective in ensuring that children grow up in a law-abiding way and with respect for other people, yet in Scotland today we have a system that does not guarantee a nursery place for all three and four-year-olds. The Government must address that point if they are serious about preventing crime.
Another aspect is the protection of people's homes.
The hon. Lady may have heard the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) say earlier that crime has been getting worse over the years. My impression is that the provision of nursery places by the state has increased over the years. In the good old days to which the hon. Gentleman looked back, there were no nursery places. Can the hon. Lady expand on that point?
The hon. Gentleman should realise that it is not true that, in former days, there were no nursery places. During the second world war in particular, when the men were away fighting and the women had to go to work, the state provided nursery places for every child whose mother required it. We have fallen from that happy state.
I will give way when I have finished this point.
The evidence shows clearly that children who have had the advantage of pre-school education are less likely to commit crime. If we want to prevent today's three and four-year-olds and those who are not yet born from inclining towards criminality, we have to think about that point.
I know from my own surgeries—other hon. Members have found the same—that the behaviour of anti-social neighbours causes greater immediate misery in most people's lives than does the exceptional crime. We have come across persistent noise-making at all hours of the night, vandalism, threatening behaviour and verbal abuse, all of which make people's lives a misery. Local authorities in Scotland, and in particular the council in Glasgow, have expressed a willingness to work with the police to tackle the problem effectively, but they need the resources to do so.
I was not being nasty when I tried to intervene earlier, but I wanted to check on something the hon. Lady said, because I thought that I might have misheard her. I am sure that she does not wish to mislead the House. If she checks, she will find that it was not the case during the second world war that every child whose parents required it could have nursery education. I can assure the hon. Lady of that, and I can give her chapter and verse on where nursery education was not available in Dundee.
Not only did the hon. Member fly the bombers: he ran the nursery schools as well. For the sake of accuracy, the provision of nursery places was extremely widespread at that time compared with now. I will not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman about whether the coverage was 90 per cent., 80 per cent. or 100 per cent.
I shall now return to the subject of anti-social neighbours. They cause daily misery to thousands of people and concrete provisions to deal with them should be included in the Bill. Anti-social neighbours affect more people more of the time than many crimes do.
Clause 1 deals with automatic life sentences generally, and, other than in exceptional circumstances, proposes automatic life sentences for rapists. I and many women in women's organisations throughout Scotland have complained repeatedly about cases in which the judge has been far too lenient and given someone a tap on the wrist or a few months for a serious crime. Of course we object to that.
I must point out to the Secretary of State that, to be given a sentence at all, the accused has to be found guilty. The majority of men who appear in our courts on rape charges are acquitted. I do not believe that all the women involved are lying, although some may be. We need to look once again at how rape cases are dealt with in court so that a man who commits rape does not expect to get away with it—because that is the most likely outcome in the vast majority of cases.
I want to continue on this point first.
The Secretary of State has shaken his head when listening to those who have objected to automatic life sentences on the ground that it might tempt a rapist to commit murder while he is about it. I should like the Secretary of State to consider that point more seriously. If a rapist knows that, if he commits murder, he will not be sentenced any more harshly and that he is less likely to be caught if the victim is dead, the possible advantage of murder is bound to occur to him.
I do not know how often that factor has occurred in recent rape cases in Scotland, but it is certain that in many instances the rapist might come close to murdering his victim in any case. A rapist will be desperate to stop a woman who is screaming and trying to run away, and the distance between nearly killing her and actually killing her could be small. That is why I beg the Secretary of State to consider the matter more seriously.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, but she is mistaken. She said that the sentence would be the same, in so far as it was a life sentence, but we are talking about automatic, not mandatory, life sentences, and the court would take account of the nature of the offence. A rape is a serious offence, so the judge would set the minimum period to be served, which might be eight or 10 years; for a murder, although the courts can specify a minimum, they rarely do so, and the sentence would be longer.
It is not correct to say that the effect on the criminal would be the same. What would be the same for both types of criminal is that, after release, they would be on licence for the rest of their lives, and they would be released only if the court was satisfied that they no longer represented a threat. The seriousness of the rape, the way in which it was perpetrated and the possibility of murder would all be taken account of in the penalty implemented by the court. The hon. Lady is therefore quite wrong, and that mistake has been made both by Opposition Members and by others who have confused mandatory and automatic life sentences.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the circumstances under discussion, the idea of the criminal discriminating between mandatory and automatic life sentences is fanciful? Her point is exactly right, and the problem is created by the Secretary of State going, as usual, for headlines and talking about life sentences for rapists when what really matters is that nobody should get out of prison—and nobody for years past should have got out of prison—for such offences without being under supervision and without showing some capacity to reform. Having failed society on those counts, the Secretary of State will not resolve the problem by talking about life sentences. All he wants is a cheap headline.
I agree with my hon. Friend, because the Secretary of State has not addressed the core points about people being let out of prison without supervision and without evidence of their having reformed and understood the seriousness of their crime. When such people are let out, it is hardly surprising that terrible events such as the one referred to earlier by my hon. Friend take place.
I wish that, instead of treating this debate as a party political knockabout, the Secretary of State would address our genuine worries. We are trying to protect women from horrible crimes, so we should all think about it seriously.
I do not regard the debate as party political knockabout, because I know that it is fundamental and that the hon. Lady takes the issues extremely seriously.
A sentence that does not allow for a person's release until he is considered to be safe in the community and provides for him to be returned to prison at any stage after release if he shows any conduct that causes concern is a life sentence. That is what we are providing for, so I am slightly surprised that the hon. Lady is not supporting us—it may be because of the confusion between mandatory and automatic life sentences to which the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) rightly referred.
A sentence that will not allow out on licence repeat offenders who are likely to reoffend unless they are considered safe, and return them to prison if they cause concern, is a life sentence, and that is what we are imposing. Only by giving the courts that direction from the House can we achieve what we seek.
The courts have had extensive powers for years but, as in the case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), they have not used them. We can discuss the matter in detail in Committee, but let us at least agree that we are serious about tackling the problem. I am sure that most people who commit the appalling crime of rape will not distinguish between the niceties and do not even know about them. We shall have to recognise that fact.
It is important that our debate should not be bedevilled by headline talk of life sentences, and that we should reach a consensus now and agree that everybody wants to ensure that never again is a recidivist rapist who is likely to reoffend allowed out of prison without supervision or knowledge of where he is going. We do not want rhetoric from the Secretary of State; we want to prevent such travesties as the Maguire case and the Mullen case from ever happening again.
Other aspects of the Bill are also important. I hope that we will discover in Committee, if not tonight, why the Bill confines the confiscation of alcohol to under-18s. It has been pointed out by social work departments that under-18s do not socialise solely with other under-18s. Some people in a disorderly crowd drinking in the street could be over 18 years old, and others under 18. A police officer could get into unnecessary difficulty trying to distinguish between the two. We should examine that more closely.
Recent research has shown once again that women are sentenced disproportionately toughly compared with men convicted of similar offences. There are women in prison at the moment for crimes such as fine default. I know that the Secretary of State agrees that that is not reasonable, but I would be glad if he would agree tonight to conduct some research into whether women in Scotland are being sentenced disproportionately harshly, because the evidence we have comes from United Kingdom-wide research.
When discussing other ways in which to deal with matters such as fine default, the Secretary of State has mentioned banning from driving. I hope that his common sense will tell him that a woman who is in prison because she has not paid her television licence will hardly be deterred by being forbidden to drive—it would hardly be an issue in her life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) pointed out earlier that people are upset and angry about those who apparently—but not really—get away with drug pushing, because people who are arrested sometimes wait for a couple of years before coming to trial, which gives the impression that they have got away with it. People in my constituency have said that there is no point reporting offenders, because they only reappear in the street the next week; they do not realise that such people can be awaiting trial for a long time. The Secretary of State said earlier that there was a provision in the Bill to deal with that, but—perhaps it is my fault—I cannot see it. If there is no such provision in the Bill, it is certainly in the Secretary of State's power to do something about it in Committee. I hope that that point will be taken up.
On children in court, clause 23 is useful and I see no objection to it at this stage, but people who have abused or harmed children will not serve a sentence if they are not convicted in the first place. In the all-party Scottish children's group, we have identified three concerns about children in the courts that could be resolved by simple legislative action, and I hope that the Secretary of State will be open to our proposals—as his colleagues in another place were extremely supportive of them.
One proposal concerns the competency of child witnesses. The courts are currently bound by case law which frequently prevents young children from giving evidence. As a result, many criminal trials and care proceedings have had to be dropped because good evidence cannot be presented.
The problem is that a child who is too young to take the oath has to persuade the judge that he or she understands the difference between truth and lies, and promises to tell the truth. Because young children cannot think in abstract terms such as truth, and because judges often experience difficulty communicating at a level appropriate to young children, many children who could have given reliable evidence hardly get beyond giving their names.
The solution that the group supports is that the evidence of a witness unable to take the oath or to affirm should be heard subject to reservation. The child's competence and credibility could then be assessed on how the evidence is given, instead of the current test.
Legislation already allows children to be heard in chambers. When that law was passed, it was clearly intended that children should be questioned and heard in less demanding circumstances than open court—in less overawing surroundings—yet I hear that children are being heard by judges in court rooms instead of more pleasant surroundings. That point needs to be tackled. Speaking in court can be extremely intimidating for a young child, irrespective of whether the judge has a wig on. I am glad to note the Secretary of State's acknowledgement of that.
As for the protection of vulnerable witnesses, complainers in criminal trials on sexual offence charges are protected from cross-examination on their sexual history unless they make an issue of it themselves, but that protection does not apply to one of the most vulnerable groups of witnesses—children in children's hearing cases who say that they have been victims of abuse. There have been cases in which children have been subjected to distressing cross-examination of exactly the sort that is rightly disallowed in criminal trials. The solution would be a simple amendment to confirm that the relevant sections of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 also apply to court hearings under part II of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
I seem to recall that the Secretary of State's colleague, who is on the Bench beside him, has undertaken to look into this problem at a later stage. Perhaps we shall return to it in Committee.
The status of children's hearing proceedings is the next point at issue. They are intended to be private, with the aim of encouraging openness and honesty in identifying a family's problems and what can be done about them, but while there are controls on who may attend a hearing and what can be reported, there is no statutory guarantee of confidentiality. One result is that parents facing concurrent prosecution on child abuse or neglect grounds often feel unable to say much even if they want to talk about their difficulties. Some abusers evade important questions on the grounds of not wishing to incriminate themselves.
A further problem is that children's panel members sometimes find themselves cited to give evidence in matrimonial cases. The usual aim seems to be that they will boost one parent's case by explaining why they placed a child with that parent. The Crown has never sought to use statements from a children's hearing as evidence in criminal proceedings. A statutory confirmation that statements or admissions made during children's hearing proceedings are not admissible in other proceedings, except on a charge of perjury, would not adversely affect prosecutions but would support a better use of the hearings system.
Because we all support the hearings system as a way of dealing with children who are in trouble, whether they are miscreants themselves or the victims of abuse, neglect or criminal behaviour, I hope that the Secretary of State will give careful consideration to these points.
Last, clause 12 deals with sexual offences against girls, but boys are not mentioned. I am not sure whether that is because the Secretary of State considers the law satisfactory in respect of assaults against boys, or whether the point has simply not been considered.
I have today raised a large number of points which I hope the Secretary of State will tackle. We shall certainly be tabling amendments, which I hope will find support. to deal with them.
People reading tonight's debate will be somewhat mystified to discover that we are voting on an amendment that declines to give the Bill a Second Reading. They will be mystified because the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) says that he wants the Bill to proceed but is using his motion as a device to bring about a debate. I realise that the hon. Gentleman is an expert in Opposition matters, but he is certainly not an expert in the affairs of Government, which he has never experienced. Very few of his party have; and after the hon. Gentleman's speech tonight. we can all understand why.
Back in June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued a White Paper on crime and punishment. It was an excellent document, but Opposition Members continued to question the Government's reasons for pursuing legislation with a crime and punishment message. They do so because Governments have to take account of changing circumstances.
There has been a lot of discussion of drugs in the debate, and I want to comment further on the drugs scene. Fifteen or 16 years ago, the menace of drugs in this country was not nearly as apparent as it is today. The same goes for Europe, although perhaps not for the United States, where the problem appeared earlier and on a larger scale. I believe that drugs have been a major factor in the increase in crime.
I welcomed the June White Paper, which was clearly in tune with the hopes and aspirations that I had been expressing in this Chamber since my election in 1992. Recognising the merits of the document, I tried to publicise it in my constituency, where it attracted a great deal of interest and, by all accounts, support. I should be interested to hear how many comments of support for the White Paper my right hon. Friend has received—I suspect many, but we have not heard much about them.
I set about carrying out a survey in my constituency. One of the questions in it was devoted to law and order issues of the kind faced up to in the White Paper. The survey was sent out to 17,000 voters, and I am pleased to say that we had 5,200 responses—remarkable in marketing terms. The responses showed that it is perhaps better to heed the ideas of the public than the words of Lords Hope, Ross or McCluskey, all of whom are steeped in the ways of the legal establishment in Scotland. [Laughter.]
Perhaps the legal fraternity, including the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), should listen a little more carefully to what the public are saying. The public are the people who depend on the law for a reasonable existence in which they can feel safe and protected. The hon. and learned Gentleman, by mocking my comments, mocks the general public, too. It is a pity that eminent figures in the law despise the feelings of lesser beings who have not achieved such learned positions.
I do not laugh at the notion that the purpose of the law is to engender confidence in the public that the law will be properly implemented and enforced. My complaint is that these provisions do nothing in that regard. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that Lord McCluskey is a member of the establishment, he must have a rather curious idea about what the establishment consists of.
I dare say that Lord McCluskey will be interested in the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments.
I should like to run through the results of the survey that we carried out. Individuals were asked to identify areas of concern across a range of national policies. More than 40 per cent. identified law and order as their No. 1 priority, with issues such as health and employment also mentioned. I should point out to Opposition Members that there was little support for any change to the national constitution, despite the remarks that we often hear from Opposition Members.
Yes, it was organised by my constituency. I am quite prepared to hand round the survey sheet for hon. Members to see; it was designed not to pick up Tory votes but to ask questions about key issues. I make no apology for the fact that I put my faith in the public to give me guidance on certain issues. That is why I am referring to the survey, which showed that over 40 per cent. of people had specific concerns about law and order.
Of those responding to the survey, 87 per cent. felt that there were real grounds for doubt arising from inconsistencies in court sentencing practices. Their concern gives me some comfort, because I have complained about the problem for a long time. Every hon. Member will have heard about judgments in sheriff courts and higher courts that have led people to scratch their heads and ask, "How on earth could that be? What is the comparison? How can someone get 18 months for kicking a person to death in one court, but someone convicted on a murder charge in another court gets a life sentence?" We should examine those issues, and recognise that judges and sheriffs are not wise above all other beings.
The performance of judges and sheriffs should be subject to review. Of those responding to our survey, 84 per cent. could not understand why judges and sheriffs were allowed to go on into their dotage without any controls whatsoever imposed on them. No one can query their judgment, other than the Appeal Court—their fellow judges. No matter how they perform. little or no judgment is passed on their performance, and that worries many people.
When asked whether fixed-term sentences should be served in full, 83 per cent. of those responding said yes—83 per cent. thought that the Government were on to something in wanting to make four years imprisonment mean exactly that.
The hon. Gentleman is slightly impetuous.
We asked whether there should be a referendum on capital punishment. I was going to raise that subject, because I was slightly surprised that only 60 per cent. of people were in favour—I had expected a higher figure. We did not specifically ask them whether they were in favour of the restoration of capital punishment; had we done so, the number in favour might have been greater, but that is another matter. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak later. He need not keep shouting from the back—if he wants to intervene, I shall give way.
The hon. Gentleman's point is unworthy of an answer, and I shall not give him one. I have said that we asked people whether they wanted a referendum on capital punishment, and 60 per cent. said yes. However, that was not the purpose of the survey. We were trying to find out whether there was general public support for the main issues included in the White Paper.
We asked what a life sentence should mean, and many people felt that life should mean life, but not a significant majority. Most people felt that, unless there were exceptional circumstances, a life sentence should mean a minimum of 15 years. That is not the current position. I am happy with the definition of a life sentence, and the fact that my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary will have some control over such sentences.
When my hon. Friend asked about life sentences meaning life, I assume that he was asking about mandatory life sentences, not discretionary or automatic life sentences. When he carries out his next survey, it will be interesting to find out whether people know the difference. Will he comment on Opposition Members' confusion about the differences between those types of life sentence?
I have to admit that we tried to keep the survey fairly simple. We recognise that the great mass of the British public do not understand the niceties of our legal system—they leave the definitions to others. The people who responded to the survey expect the legal system to have a sense of justice and fairness.
The hon. Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) suggested that we should be able to deal more quickly with those who have been charged with drugs offences. The hon. Lady's comment was that such individuals were frequently arrested by the police and back on the streets within a day or two at most.
Some time ago, I received assurances from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about guidelines on bail, where it would be a case of "two strikes and you're out". I strongly support that proposal, and I hope that the hon. Member for Maryhill, who has supported such a proposal in the past, will come into line on that aspect of the Bill. It would certainly help in the circumstances that the hon. Lady described.
Great support was expressed in the response to the survey for restricting the consumption of alcohol on our streets by those under 18. The hon. Member for Maryhill asked, why 18? In fact, it is illegal for those who are under 18 to obtain alcohol, to be given it or to buy it, and it is illegal for people to sell it to them. It seems nonsense to most people that, if they manage to obtain alcohol, there is really nothing in the law to enable the police to stop them drinking it. It is a constant source of aggravation to my constituents.
I will give way to the hon. Lady in a minute.
My constituents see gangs of youngsters with super-lagers or Buckfast wine and other fortified wines—it is a shame that the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) is not present—and they are mystified by the police's inability to do anything about it unless there is a perceived breach of the peace. The proposal to enable the police to confiscate alcohol from youngsters will remove that quandary and give the police a useful device to control a situation that, at times, goes well beyond the limit. I note that the Scottish Police Federation welcomes the proposal, as does the federation for the police south of the border.
There are people on our streets who are causing a nuisance by drinking in the open air, of whom it can be said that it is many a year since they were 18. Are the police supposed to distinguish between those who are under 18 and those who are over 18 in a crowd of young people? They cannot do so, and it is nonsense to expect them to be able to do so.
I disagree with the hon. Lady. I have driven through her constituency—not stopping to make speeches, I hasten to add—and seen youngsters of 13 or 14 on the streets. If neither the police nor the hon. Lady cannot identify 13 and 14-year-olds, something is wrong.
I understand that Glasgow city council has used local authority powers to impose an overall drinking ban. That is fine—the measure is of value in some areas—but blanket bans are not logical. I represent a holiday town, and I recognise that families want to have picnics in the park. I have no objection to their having a bottle of wine or a couple of cans of beer with their picnic; but I do object if the youngsters are drinking in public, because, to my mind, that is against the law. The measure gives police the power to control the problem—it is a wise move.
I am mystified as to why the Labour party wants to vote against this well-thought-out and necessary Bill. We should consider the Labour party's performance last night over the Crime (Sentences) Bill, which affects England and Wales. I wonder whether its performance involves something deeper, and whether it recognises that it desperately has to win seats in some areas of England and Wales that have been way beyond it in the past. On that basis, it has bitten the bullet and is trying to kid us into thinking that it is tough on law and order and will back my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
The scenario in Scotland is perhaps different. We all acknowledge that a huge majority of Members of Parliament in Scotland come from the Labour party, which currently picks up the majority of votes. I wonder whether the Labour party in Scotland is taking the Scottish vote for granted and turning its back on the people. It seems to be saying that what happens in England and Wales is one thing, but what happens to us in Scotland is another, and we will do what we want because we do not have to count the voters. Those honest Labour Members of Parliament who see the value of the Bill should join us in the Lobby tonight—that would be logical.
Clause 1 involves life sentences for rapists. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) arguing against the wise steps advocated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We must attempt to rectify what has happened in the past and ensure that the problems never recur. When Maguire was released, the courts had a responsibility to maintain some supervision over him, but they let us down. They will not do so again if they use the life sentence provisions suggested by my right hon. Friend.
I am slightly perturbed about the list of qualifying offences for life sentences. I commend the list of qualifying offences contained in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, which includes sodomy or attempted sodomy. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would point out to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the omission from the English Bill—the Crime (Sentences) Bill—of those qualifying offences. My right hon. and learned Friend may have missed a trick and the English Bill should perhaps follow the example of the Scottish Bill—or perhaps there is a good reason for the omission.
I query the seven-year sentence for someone who has committed the offence of drug trafficking for a third time, as it seems a remarkably lax sentence. That figure should be raised to 10 or perhaps 15 years. Drug traffickers are purveyors of death.
I recognise that seven years is a minimum sentence for drug traffickers, but it is too low and should be higher. There is no justification for anyone who attempts to sell drugs and is convicted for the third time.
I welcome the abandonment of automatic release. I argued strongly in 1992–93 that the automatic halving of sentences was wrong. Prisoners should be able to earn remission, but I underline the word "earn". I was horrified by the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, who seemed to suggest that there would be problems in implementing the measure because it might put pressure on prison warders who could be subjected to threats from prisoners.
The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be suggesting that we should give up if threats are involved. That would be wrong: we should not give in to people because they use threats or threatening behaviour. The prison service will be well equipped to make judgments. Prison officers are aware of those prisoners who merit early release, and I welcome the fact that they will play a part in the process.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will be aware that some prisoners in Perth prison have, for a long time, regularly threatened officers. There is nothing new in that.
Absolutely not. Prison officers are well equipped to deal with such problems, and I am sure that they will be able to cope, and that they will welcome the Bill's proposals.
I was surprised to find that the Bill contains no mention of the right of appeal for the prosecution against summary court judgments. I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the subject is covered by a statutory instrument; if so, I welcome that. I shall be pleased if we do not have to introduce further legislation on that much-needed aspect.
I much approve of DNA sampling—another measure included in the Bill. I welcome the fact that prisoners can be checked for alcohol.
I fully approve of electronic tagging, and I would welcome further investigation into its use for juveniles. A small minority of juveniles commit many criminal offences. Electronic tagging might be a useful way of controlling that problem. I wonder about the costs involved, and I shall listen to the debate with interest to see whether my right hon. Friend gives us guidance on the costs of tagging.
There are to be changes in the operation of the Legal Aid Board involving the appointment of solicitors who could, to an extent, be defined as public defenders. I wonder whether that is a step too far. The introduction of state-appointed lawyers smacks of nationalisation, but I am prepared to read the clauses carefully when the Bill reaches its Committee stage. I shall listen with great interest to what is said, but I am putting down a marker to show that I have some reservations.
The Legal Aid Board has a job to do, as does the Law Society—some self-regulation is necessary. I realise that concerns have arisen about the abuse of the legal aid system by some legal firms, but I should like to think that controls could be introduced without having to adopt the public defender approach.
This is the first time that I have been accused of supporting nationalisation. It is proposed to pilot the use of the public defender system to ensure value for money for the taxpayer and to ensure that justice is carried out speedily. I know that my hon. Friend has supported both those principles enthusiastically in the past, and I shall be happy to discuss those matters with him before the Bill reaches Committee.
If, like me, my hon. Friend finds that the professional body that produces the most complaints from constituents is the legal profession, perhaps we should find a method of making sure that lawyers behave properly. The Law Society's procedures for ensuring that may be flawed.
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's point, but we are the party that believes in self-regulation. The Law Society has a part to play, and I would expect it to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the means of achieving that.
Finally, I believe that the legal aid system is sometimes abused in the criminal sector. A person should have the right to choose his lawyer, but I recognise that some people try repeatedly to change their lawyer. The Legal Aid Board can exercise some control, and I would welcome the imposition of further controls.
I look forward to going into the Lobby tonight to give my 100 per cent. support to this excellent Bill, which I thank my right hon. Friend for introducing.
I shall deal later with the points raised by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) about state-provided defence lawyers. He may wish to reflect that, although that may be characterised as nationalisation, part V of the Bill gives sweeping powers to the Scottish Legal Aid Board to undertake investigations of legal practices. The Law Society has stated that, were the Government to give it sufficient powers, as they have in other respects to regulate its members, it would undertake investigations itself, thereby saving the taxpayer a considerable amount of money. The hon. Gentleman may wish to consider that part of the Bill in terms of value for money for the taxpayer, as the Government seem to have lost sight of those objectives when they prepared it.
It would be rare if one objected 100 per cent. to any Bill presented to the House. There have been a few such occasions—the poll tax legislation, for example, was 100 per cent. objectionable. There are measures in this Bill that my colleagues and I would support, such as those on DNA sampling, the consumption of alcohol by under-18s in public places, and part of the Government's proposals for implementing the Sutherland committee report.
That is a good example of why we cannot bring ourselves to support the Bill as a whole. The Government accepted part of the Sutherland committee report but ignored the crux of it, which would provide for an independent body to consider whether cases of alleged miscarriage of justice should be referred for appeal.
The Bill is good in small parts, but is flawed in many important respects. Above all, it will fail to attack crime, which is its stated purpose. That is why we tabled the reasoned amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), myself and others. Having tabled an amendment stating that we decline to give it a Second Reading, we are prepared to follow through and vote against the Bill.
Before going any further, I should state that I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates and the unpaid parliamentary adviser to the Procurators Fiscal Society for Scotland. However, any remarks that I may make this evening are entirely my own, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The Bill is all too typical of the Secretary of State's tenure of the Scottish Office. Every new idea is conceived in a great frenzy of activity. It may be superficially attractive at first, like candyfloss, but when one tries to put it to use, it melts away, leaving a sticky mess. The right hon. Gentleman vamped up the Bill with a great number of speeches and a White Paper that paid lip service to consultation. It is hailed as an effective attack on crime, but closer examination reveals it to be as flawed as it is ill conceived. If ever implemented, it would not only leave expectations dashed, but worse still, it would take away vital resources which, if otherwise applied, would be more effective in the war against crime.
No party has a monopoly on concern about the rise in crime. The right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said that he was not happy about dealing in statistics and did not think that they mattered much in respect of crime figures. I understand his reluctance. He has supported, and at times been a member of, a Government under whom, over the past 17 years, crimes in Scotland have increased by 156,000 and recorded offences by 125,000. From 1979 to 1995, the number of non-sexual crimes of violence has increased from 10,025 to 21,119. The Government have presided over an increase in violent crime of more than 100 per cent.
I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Dumfries wanted to run away from that figure. It shows how ineffective the Government have been in combating crime. With all the measures that they have introduced, the same claims have been made. Very little has been achieved, other than an increase in crime.
We are told in the explanatory and financial memorandum that, if the Bill is implemented, in five years the prison population could increase by 2,200. Perhaps that is testimony to the deterrent effect of the measures proposed in the Bill.
Not surprisingly, mandatory sentences have been the subject of considerable debate. There has been an interesting discussion about mandatory life sentences and automatic life sentences. Will the Secretary of State ponder on the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe)? It was a valid point that has been made several times during the debate. The same argument was advanced in the Chamber last night by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). In certain circumstances—for example, a woman being raped—the criminal might kill the only potential witness because a life sentence awaited him.
The Secretary of State says that we have got it wrong: it is not a life sentence. That is simply the headline that he wants to get over to the press and the people of Scotland. The sentence could be less than a life sentence, but would automatically be called a life sentence. There would not be much consolation to the victim if the perpetrator made the same mistake.
In the Crime (Sentences) Bill to which the House gave a Second Reading last night, the reference is to mandatory life sentences. In this Bill, the reference is to automatic life sentences. Can the Secretary of State tell us now, or can the Minister of State tell us in his winding-up speech. what difference there is in the legislative provisions between the Crime (Sentences) Bill and this Bill—the Dostoevsky (Scotland) Bill—that creates the distinction between mandatory life sentences and automatic life sentences? On looking at the first clause of each Bill, I could not see what makes the difference, but it may lie elsewhere. It would be interesting to know.
Perhaps that can be remedied. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be aware of the considerable differences between the Scots and English systems—for example, for mandatory life sentences in the English system, the tariffs are set by Ministers.
The Scottish Bill provides that the period of a sentence that would be served by an offender would be set by the judge and that eligibility for release would be determined by the parole board making a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman is telling the House that he would oppose a sentence that would allow repeat sex offenders to be out on licence for the rest of their lives, but if there was any concern about the threat that they represented to the community, they could be returned to prison. I am surprised that he takes that position, because without doubt the measure is in the interests of public protection.
I was certainly aware that there was a difference between a mandatory life sentence that gave the power into the hands of Ministers to determine when a person may be released, and the discretionary life sentences that are already available. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman: those sentences are already available to the High Court, if a judge thinks that they are warranted by the circumstances of the case or the danger to society posed by the perpetrator of the crime. The Bill takes away that discretion, although there has never been any substantial complaint that it has been abused or not properly applied over the years. The Secretary of State's eyes boggle, but he failed to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) about how many times the Lord Advocate exercised his power to appeal where he felt that the High Court had been too lenient in passing a sentence.
I did not make the point to the hon. Member for Hamilton, because he is not a lawyer; the hon. Gentleman is, and he knows very well that the Crown's right of appeal is to the court, and the court has to decide whether the sentence passed by the judge was reasonable. If a judge imposed a determinate sentence of a long period, it is very unlikely that one would be able to persuade the court to take a different view. We propose to change the law to require courts to impose an automatic life sentence for the protection of the public, and Parliament is entitled to take that view. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes the view that we should rely on the discretion of the judiciary on a matter that is clearly for the public interest and for Parliament to decide.
The Secretary of State has summed it up in a nutshell: that judges, after many years of training and after all the other things that we ask them to do, simply cannot be trusted, and that in individual cases Parliament knows better than those who have had extensive training. I do not deny that judges must work within the parameters set by Parliament, but I challenge whether tonight—of the thousands of cases that will come before the Scottish courts in the next five, 10 or 20 years, with their different circumstances—the House knows better than the judges what the sentence should be.
Let us take this further, because the Bill invites Parliament to pass an automatic life sentence on someone who has already committed a qualifying offence and thereafter commits a robbery involving a firearm or an imitation firearm. I am not saying that that is not a serious offence; it is a very serious offence. But what is the difference between that and, for example, a robbery committed by someone who holds the victim at knife point? That, apparently, would not command an automatic life sentence. What is it that makes us able tonight to make these distinctions and apply them irrespective of the particular circumstances of a case?
The Secretary of State says that I am wriggling. I am not; I am pointing out the inconsistencies of his proposed legislation, which will lead, as Lord Ross, the Lord Justice Clerk, said, to considerable injustice and perceived unfairness.
That could also have a further consequence. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, it is quite possible for counsel—indeed, it may well be the duty of counsel for an accused who is up on a second offence—to put before the jury the fact that, if the person is found guilty of the offence, the judge will be required to pass a life sentence. The jury may not think the circumstances of the case proportionate to the passing of a life sentence and they may acquit, by a verdict of not guilty or not proven. They may also believe that there is a scintilla of reasonable doubt, which, given the fact that a life sentence will be imposed automatically, will lead to an acquittal. We might see, as a result of what the Government propose, an increase in the number of wrongful acquittals, and that would do nothing to protect the public.
The other possibility is that trials will be longer, as the incentive to plead guilty will disappear. There has been much outcry in the past few weeks about victims, particularly of sexual offences and rape, being subject to extensive cross-examination by the perpetrator. The consequence of passing the proposed legislation will be that the number of cases in which the victim of crime has to be subjected to detailed cross-examination, possibly by the perpetrator himself, will almost certainly increase.
The Bill has not been properly thought through. The mirror measure in England and Wales is the Crime (Sentences) Bill. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that an offender's first offence is the equivalent in England of lewd and libidinous practices towards children and his second offence is a rape in Scotland. In such circumstances, the automatic life sentence will not apply because there is no equivalent provision on lewd and libidinous practices in the English legislation, but if the rape is committed in England and the lewd and libidinous practice is committed in Scotland, the automatic sentence will apply—another illogicality resulting from the rushed preparation of the Bill, more with an eye to the publicity it would attract than to achieving the proper aims of justice.
Clause 11 increases the sentencing power of the sheriff. I do not think that there is much objection to that in principle, although I echo the point made by my hon. and learned Friend, who said that, if more cases are tried in a sheriff court as a result of the Bill, it is important that there are enough full-time sheriffs to ensure that the cases are adequately and properly handled. At some stage—perhaps in the not too distant future—a balance might have to be struck because of court work loads and an advocate-depute might think for some reason that one case should be heard in the sheriff court and the other, which is similar, in the High Court. But because the case is heard in the sheriff court, it will not be a qualifying offence. Something as arbitrary as that might determine whether a person was subjected to an automatic life sentence.
We believe that the Bill contains many flaws that could lead to acquittals, which would not necessarily be in the interests of justice. There is the drug trafficking mandatory minimum sentence. I made a point earlier, which is still valid, about the closing of Customs and Excise posts at points around our coastline where it is easiest for drug traffickers to smuggle in their drugs. The Secretary of State says that he has to take advice. The reason why that advice has to be proffered in the first place is that the Government are cutting resources for the Customs and Excise service so that they can give tax cuts to their supporters and to people they want to attract at the next election. They make tax cuts on the one hand and cut the resources of the Customs and Excise service on the other.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the point that he raises is particularly perverse—the Minister of State might want to refer to it when he winds up—because all of us from the highlands and islands lobbied the Minister of State a number of years ago, before the previous general election, on law and order expenditure in the highlands and islands of Scotland, and the Minister of State acknowledged then that one reason why he came forward with an increase, following the disquiet expressed by the chief constable at that time, was specifically because of the drugs threat on the western coast and in the northern and western isles?
Indeed. That concern was raised recently by the newly appointed chief constable.
I turn now to the provisions relating to early release. It is not the length of the sentence that determines whether a particular sentencing policy has worked but how the prisoner will behave when released. In spite of the Secretary of State's efforts at the beginning of his speech to pretend that somehow this was a development of the 1993 legislation, it is far removed from the proposals of the Kincraig report.
I think that 98 per cent. of prisoners are eventually released. What we had under the Kincraig report, implemented in the 1993 legislation, was imprisonment plus a period in the community plus resettlement under supervision—the very points that the former Secretary of State for Scotland made on Second Reading of that Bill. The Secretary of State challenged me and my hon. Friends earlier and said. "If they are in prison, they won't be committing crimes." But he omitted to mention that, when they leave prison, it is possible that they could commit crimes.
Yesterday, the parole board issued a statement in which it said:
since the parole scheme began in 1968, less than 10 per cent. of parolees have been reconvicted during the first six months after release, compared to 30 per cent. of non-parolees … since 1968 35 per cent. of those on parole have been reconvicted two years after release, compared to 55 to 60 per cent. of those nonparolces.
Those figures relate to England and Wales, but they are recent.
Far from curbing crime by eliminating early release arid the kind of arrangement that was expected under the 1993 Act, more prisoners are likely to be released without adequate supervision, with the greater likelihood of a higher reoffending and reconviction rate. That does nothing to reassure people that the Government's current sentencing policy is appropriate.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East said that prison officers will determine who will receive additional days. That will become an administrative act, and will open prison officers up to possible intimidation. The fact that that already happens in our prisons is no justification for extending it. At present, added days are determined by the governor after a disciplinary hearing. It is a big change for a person's liberty to be determined by an administrative act rather than a proper disciplinary procedure where the rules of natural justice prevail.
The Scottish Association for Mental Health needs to be persuaded that hospital orders are necessary, as sufficient sentencing powers are currently available to the courts to achieve the same results. It bodes ill for any relationship between doctor and patient if the patient knows that, if he gets better, he will be sent to gaol. That will not encourage better health.
The Secretary of State was wholly disingenuous when, towards the conclusion of his remarks, he quoted selectively from the submission of the Law Society of Scotland in response to his White Paper, clearly suggesting that the Law Society of Scotland supported the White Paper. Those of us who met its president today know that the opposite is the case, and that it has a series of objections to the Bill.
Where is the choice or independence if one is told who one's solicitor will be? Not only will choice be denied, but any choice that has already been exercised may be taken away. No one would think that a particularly satisfactory arrangement. Likewise, as I have said, on only five occasions during the past 10 years has the Scottish Legal Aid Board brought any cases to the Law Society's notice for further investigation. It is odd that it should now have such extensive powers of search and disclosure when no fault which needs to be addressed has been proved in the present system.
There is another potential difficulty. The powers relating to the disclosure of documents are such that they could erode the bond of confidentiality between client and solicitor, and not necessarily in respect of the criminal legal aid case which prompted the inquiry. If all documents relating to what happened in court on a particular morning when an alleged irregularity took place had to be disclosed, solicitors and other clients with nothing whatever to do with the Legal Aid Board could be involved. Such documents would be open to civil servants and quango appointees in circumstances which many will find unacceptable.
The Bill talks about the suspension of payments to solicitors where allegations have been made by the Scottish Legal Aid Board. That means not suspension of payments but suspension from the criminal legal aid system, which is a severe penalty when there is only an unproved allegation. By all means withhold fees if there is a complaint about a particular case, but to deprive people of a significant part of their livelihood on the basis of an allegation as yet unproved goes too far.
The Bill requires substantial public expenditure. If we are to tackle crime efficiently, we must prevent it and ensure that it is detected and there must be efficient sentencing. The Bill offers no hope of an improvement in the detection of crime, which, at the end of the day, is the best deterrent. The Scottish police tell us that in England and Wales 24 per cent. more is spent per officer in capital expenditure and 16.5 per cent. per officer in revenue expenditure. Resources would be better directed towards ensuring that our police can improve crime prevention and detection.
That means not just more officers on operational duty, but more civilian support staff to release other officers for operational duties. It means computerisation to deal with routine functions and to apply new technology in the detection of crime. It means better facilities and a more reliable replacement programme for vehicles. One councillor on a Scottish police board told me that there was a limit to the number of years that they could postpone buying a new police car simply to stay within the budget.
Our police forces are being starved of the necessary resources to allow them to do the job adequately. The Government's response to that crisis is to come forward with a Bill which will not achieve any of the objectives that it sets for itself. Far from achieving them, it will set matters back by ensuring that resources do not go where they would be most effectively used in the battle against crime which we all wish to win.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) attacked the Government's record on crime. If the increase in crime was confined to Scotland and the United Kingdom alone, his comments would be justified. But crime has risen and continues to rise throughout the industrial democracies. In particular. the rate of crime in Europe has risen dramatically. That is not surprising, given the easy and rapid movement of large numbers of people. It would be astonishing if patterns were not repeated.
The challenge is to deal with that situation and to deter mobile criminals. It is no good simply saying that crime in Scotland is rising. We must consider the world in which we live and how to address the problem. The Bill, which I welcome, will go a long way towards restoring the Scottish people's confidence in the rule of law.
Whatever our learned judges and others may say, people look to Parliament to respond to their concerns and to introduce laws to address those concerns. They expect Parliament to listen to those with an axe to grind because they are directly involved. That is what lobbying is all about. They expect Parliament to make the judgments and decisions.
Given the Bill's long title, it is astonishing that hon. Members should suggest that it will not be possible in Committee to table reasoned amendments. Most of the points that I have heard could have been addressed by means of reasoned amendments.
What we have seen today is the reality of new Labour. It has one policy for England and Wales, where it supports minimum sentencing, and another policy for Scotland, where it is against minimum sentencing. The question that we should be asking is which is the real Labour. The Islington-Hamilton divide is endemic. It wrecked Labour's policy on devolution, causing the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) to take a principled stand and resign. I understand his position, because I too have taken a principled stand and resigned on a constitutional matter about which I felt deeply. It wrecked Labour's devolution policy, and it will wreck its law and order policy as well.
Disraeli once described political parties as organised hypocrisy. New Labour must be the textbook example for students of modern politics. For us politicians, it may just be hypocrisy, but for the British people, especially Scottish people, new Labour means chaos or catastrophe, or it would if ever a Labour Government were forced on us.
The only consistent theme in new Labour policy is the white flag. Labour will wave the white flag at the unions. Labour Members will surrender the constitution, they will surrender to Brussels, and would surrender to the criminals in our society if they had their way on this Bill. They talk about law and order. I have a long memory and I have served on every law and order reform Bill Committee in the past 17 years.
The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to my opening remarks. If he had, he would have heard me explain that the Bill deals with the problems created by a modern, mobile society, especially in Europe and the rest of the western world.
We must put in place a combination of measures. The Bill is only one part of that combination. It is not the solution; it is the road towards a better way of dealing with crime. No Bill, in isolation, will address all the problems. We must amend the law in the light of experience. Criminals are much more mobile now. We must produce Bills that will deter, and this Bill is part of that approach. Its purpose is to create deterrence. I have always believed in deterrence, which is why I have always supported the nuclear deterrent and capital and corporal punishment. I am not saying that they are answers in themselves, because they are not. But they are part of a package.
What is wrong with modern society is that we seek simple, single-issue solutions when the problems are always much more complex. The Church has responded recently. I agree with the cardinal: he was right to address the issue. He and the Leader of the Opposition may have words, but one cannot deny that the cardinal is right to speak out on behalf of his Church. That is his job, and I support him. In fact, I think that he is a splendid cardinal, and I am not a Roman Catholic. He tries to address some of the fundamental problems.
We live in a world that has substantially abandoned old standards and values. That worries Tom Winning, because he sees standards being eroded and not being replaced with other standards and values. In schools, in the workplace and on the football fields people no longer have a code of conduct that is acceptable to the majority. The Bill, in part, tries to address that problem, and I welcome it.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and the Government for funding the DNA laboratory in Dundee. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) also supports that. The Tayside force led the way in this field, and now that it has extra funding, its laboratory is being extensively used by other Scottish forces. I welcome that. Modern policing and modern detection is about having the right equipment and the right people.
I shall deal briefly with another comment of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. The use of aircraft for coastline surveillance is much more important than having people on the ground. With the size and length of our coastline, we could never have enough people on the ground to ensure that every part of the coast was covered. That cannot be done: it is not realistic. Using modern equipment makes it a more viable proposition, so the use of aircraft is much more important.
We must introduce measures that will give people confidence. The courts must be reminded that Parliament's job is to tell them what to do: it is not their job to tell Parliament. They can advise Parliament and they can lobby—everyone has that right in a democracy—but Parliament must ultimately decide. I shall not go into detail on the Bill tonight, because I will have ample opportunity to do so in Committee. As my right hon. Friend knows, I never sit silent in Committee. I look forward to considering amendments, introducing amendments and listening to the reasoned amendments of hon. Members who have been so critical tonight.
I do not often agree with the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), except at a social level, but he used a short phrase that I agree with when he said that this Bill "is not the solution". Unfortunately, because of soundbite politics, the Secretary of State tried to sell it as a solution. That is the frightening thing about the context of the Bill. It was embarrassing to hear the fumbled and mumbled expressions used by the Secretary of State to try to tie this Bill in with the Bill that we debated in 1992, when we helped the Government to pass the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. I hope that he was embarrassed by that: I certainly was.
The Minister of State always reads a good brief, and he will no doubt read his brief well at the end of the debate. I hope that he will admit that he was embarrassed. He also served on the Committee on that legislation, and he argued the case for the 1993 Act very well. To have to contradict it will be a further embarrassment, although he will cover it well as he is trained to do so. I will return to the Chamber to listen to his response.
Law and order is a key demand of the citizens of Scotland in my constituency and in every constituency. When we consider Bills, we must take account of the key demand of our citizens for security and peace of mind, free from threat to themselves, their families and their communities. That is what people want in every constituency of Scotland, and no doubt throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. The Bill will not necessarily give them that. The terrible thing is that it may hold up a banner that will hide from them the reality of what may happen as a consequence, and that will make them think that it is a solution. If we go too far, we shall fail to make the progress that we want to make.
I am wearing the "Scotland Against Drugs" badge, as most Ministers are: if it is not on their lapels, I am sure that it is in their pockets or on another suit.
I made a point of not covering it with my poppy for the debate.
There is a discussion in Scotland about the type of advertisements that the "Scotland Against Drugs" campaign intends to use. They have all the flaws of those used in the campaign against AIDS and HIV in the early 1990s. Their portrayal of every drug user as a victim who will end up a vegetable or even dead was extreme and ridiculous. Everyone trafficking in drugs or selling a tab of E looked like the devil without his tail. That is so ridiculous that the vast majority of young people will reject the advertisements, and that will not help our fight against drugs. I hope that that organisation gets that message.
When I learned about the constitutional history of the United Kingdom, I was taught about Hanging Judge Jeffries, who hanged people for stealing sheep. Even though people were caught with the sheep in their hands, they were acquitted of sheep stealing. The ridiculousness of the sentence compared with the crime was apparent, so it led to less rather than more justice. That is what is worrying about the Bill.
The Secretary of State, for whom I have a great respect intellectually, has not had time to take on board the fact that the population in Scotland needs a toughening up on crime and on the way in which we act against criminals. Because we are rushing towards an election, we have what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) called the Dostoevsky Bill. It may be nearer "The Possessed" than "Crime and Punishment".
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House—I know that he is not speaking of his own volition but merely quoting the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)—but it was not Dostoevsky but Tolstoy who wrote "War and Punishment".
I know that Hansard sometimes has problems with my accent, but I was referring to "Crime and Punishment", not "War and Peace". I believe that "Crime and Punishment" was the book referred to by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—who, like most people in Scotland, received a broad education which included literature. Pupils did not have to choose to study English literature in order to read the classics. The Secretary of State for Scotland should have stuck to rewriting "The Brothers Karamazov" rather than trying to rewrite "Crime and Punishment", as he has made a complete mess of it.
There are fundamental questions that we all ask again and again—in opposition, in government and in society. Does prison sentencing reform criminals? Does prison sentencing, in the long run, protect society from further criminal action? The question has now become, "Will automatic sentencing deter people from criminal behaviour?" If it will not, it will not work with the grain of society's wishes or, I believe, with the grain of the wishes of the House.
When is a life sentence not a life sentence? Is it automatic, or is it mandatory? I note that clause 13 attempts to connect automatic sentencing with the rights given to people, and to deal with sentencing policy in relation to what we know as a designated life sentence for a person aged under 18 in Scotland. There are heart-rending cases of young people sent to prison who, well over 20 years later, are still serving their designated life sentences. I am glad that those arrangements will be tightened up, although I am not sure that automatic sentencing will make the necessary difference.
That is the question that we must ask about the Bill. Will it make a difference? We want it to, which is why we have tabled a reasoned amendment objecting to the way in which the Government have cobbled together a series of ideas without sorting them out or researching them properly, and without working with the commissions, judges or other learned persons who are already trying to give us advice. The Government have merely put together some of what appear to be the Secretary of State's own prejudices and made them into a Bill.
In a reply to me, the Secretary of State said that the Government were not rejecting the principle contained in the 1993 Act—that it was best for 50 per cent. of a sentence to be served in prison, and then, if no trouble occurred in prison, for the remaining 50 per cent. to be served on licence in the community. The offender could then become rehabilitated, under supervision. That was a good principle. The Minister of State argued it well, and we supported it: the deputy shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), and others helped to put the 1993 legislation on to the statute book. The present Secretary of State did not reject the principle then, but everything in this Bill clearly does so.
We are now faced with a strange situation. A criminal's fitness to be released will be tested solely on the basis of his behaviour in prison—behaviour that will mean only that he is a good prisoner and adapts well to the prison regime. It will not mean that his behaviour is good in the sense of his having become a better citizen; it will mean that he is good at working with the warders and with the other members of the criminal underworld with whom he is imprisoned. For between three months and two years, or one sixth of his sentence, that criminal will then be released into society.
It seems that we are going to screw down the spring more and more, and then release it as though it were a cork emerging from a bottle of something very fizzy. Having been released into society, the criminal will pose a real problem for us in the longer term. Prisons do not currently rehabilitate prisoners, which worries me greatly. The focus of society should enable those who commit crimes to be led away from the path of criminality and towards another life—because there is a better life for them, because they can live in peace with society or because there are pressures on them not to reoffend when they are out of prison.
I believe that the 1993 Act was implemented only five weeks ago. No sentences have been cut in half; we have not tested the legislation. That is what worries me most. The Secretary of State wants a high platform from which to wave a flag—he wants some bylines and soundbites—but we should at least have considered the implementation of the Act and whether the theory proved correct, and if necessary introduced even stronger amendments. At present, we have nothing on which to test it. We have thrown it out before it has even been tested in the market in the way that the Government would normally recommend.
The hon. Member is making, from his standpoint, a very reasoned case. But are not his constituents, like mine, deeply concerned about the fact that criminals appear to be getting off too lightly and that the whole legal structure seems to be designed to assist the criminal? That is what bothers people, and that is what the Bill attempts to address.
I fully concur with the impression gained by my constituents and, I am sure, those of many other hon. Members, that criminals do seem to get off far too lightly. But many members of society seem to get off too lightly in the courts. I found it just as frightening to read in the press yesterday about the case—it was not in my constituency—of someone who, travelling at 70 mph in a 30 mph zone, knocked down and killed a 70-year-old woman. When he arrived in the High Court, the sentence was 200 hours of community service because of the "stress" in his life—200 hours of community service for killing a 70-year-old woman, and, indeed, driving away from the scene of the accident. It was not possible to prove that he had been drinking, but the sentence was ridiculous none the less.
A constituent of mine was killed by a lorry driver who was clearly out of control and should not have been driving so fast. That young man killed someone. He was sentenced to imprisonment, and appealed. In the meantime, his partner became pregnant. He went back to court, where the sentence was reduced to 200 hours community service. The father of the young woman who was killed—apparently, the lorry ran right over her—has lost his business and the family has fallen apart. She was an only child. That strikes me as an appalling sentence, and there are many more such incidents.
I now write so many letters to local sheriffs and the local procurator fiscal that I may be hauled up for murmuring a judge unless I am protected by this austere place. I see so many people let off on the basis of what I consider to be plea bargaining, which is not supposed to exist in the Scottish courts: people who plead guilty to a lesser crime are let off a more serious crime. In cases of what I would describe as attempted murder, when people end up with plates in their heads after being given serious kickings on a Friday or Saturday night, the perpetrators get away with a simple plea of assault or breach of the peace five or six months later. That frightens me, and it frightens everyone in society.
If a genuine attempt had been made to construct a useful Bill, we could look forward to that. When I debated with the present Government the provisions which later became the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, we were promised—after evidence had been taken—amendments and fundamental changes. But then the Government dragooned their troops, who included five English Committee members so that they could secure a majority, to vote slavishly for the Government line. They accepted no sensible, reasonable amendments from the Opposition. It was ridiculous. They accepted only amendments that they decided to insert after taking evidence in a Special Standing Committee.
That is what worries me. We shall end up with what we have on paper now, with no serious, fundamental amendments. I do not think that we would even have tabled a reasoned amendment if we had thought that a constructive dialogue would take place; but the Minister and his subordinates will read their briefs, and then Conservative Members will vote slavishly for the Government line.
This is not really about trying to get something done about crime and criminality; it is about giving the Secretary of State some soundbites and platforms. He will play to an aspect of the Scottish people's fear. That is what the Conservatives' election platform will be about—trying to make people so afraid that they are afraid of change. I do not mind that in a Scottish context, because the latest opinion poll, published today, shows that the Conservatives have 11 per cent. support while Labour has 55 per cent. If voting patterns are not changed, I shall not be at all displeased.
We have heard a good deal about recorded crime. Along with my hon. Friend the deputy shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, I work as a co-ordinator of the anti-crime and drugs campaign in Scotland, and I commend the way in which the police forces and community groups have tried to do something about crime, launching initiative after initiative. I am struck by the fact that, when I visit constabularies, I am told, "Do not put credibility in the figures for the other constabularies because they fiddle the figures."
Recorded crime is not the real level of crime. I will give some examples. If five cars are broken into in a street, it is recorded as one crime, one incident. The same applies if half a dozen houses are broken into at the same time. My office was broken into when I left a window open and there were about 10 crimes in the same stretch of street as my office. That was recorded as one incident. Whether we record crimes now as we did in 1979 might explain some of the fall in the figures. As we heard from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and from my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), the figures are not good. Many of the figures are being fiddled so that it looks as though crime is coming down when it is not. Only recorded crime is coming down.
I do not want to go into detail on too many clauses, but clause 5 and those that go with it frighten me. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it is wrong to say that someone who is mentally disordered should be sent to hospital for treatment and that he should afterwards proceed to prison. We are saying, "Leave hospital: do not pass go, do not collect £200, but go to gaol." That is nonsense. Someone is either ill and requires treatment as part of his rehabilitation or he requires imprisonment because he is lucid and has criminal intent. If the two are mixed up, it will cause serious damage to the process, which is to rehabilitate and decriminalise people, to take them out of the criminal cycle and put them in a useful place in society.
Clause 4, which I would call the "Clockwork Orange'' clause, is also frightening. That film was based on the premise that people could be reprocessed by electronics. It was a kind of "Logan's Run", a science fiction film in which everyone was tagged and society knew where he was going. Those who tried to break out of the cycle were followed by the secret police. That is worrying.
I have an eighteen-year-old daughter, but she is not an adult in the sense of not being my responsibility. I do not know what kind of device would be used, but how can we think of anyone in a family wearing some sort of bangle or brooch? Will it be placed around the neck? Miners in Scotland used to wear a leather collar to show which pit they worked in. Will electronic tagging be carried out along similar lines? There are serious problems I want to try to change people's behaviour, but that will not be done by putting some electronic device on their bodies. That is a science fiction nightmare and I wonder what anyone thinks can be gained by a society in which people have to wear electronic tags.
The Bill deals with drinking in public places and taking drink off young people. Why does it not suggest a total ban on drinking in the street? Why do the Government chicken out and say that local authorities and the licensing boards can decide to have a ban? There is a ban in Glasgow in all public places except those that are: licensed, and that makes sense. The issue is not about age, about knowing whether a person is 14 or 18: it is about the fact that young people congregate in the streets. Sometimes they are aged 20 to 22 and they are passing round bottles. That is deemed to be all right, but it is not; it is more frightening to have a groups of 20 to 24-year-olds hanging about in the streets. We should look seriously at the places where we do not want people to carry and drink alcohol, and then we can take it from there.
The issue is not age. Why is there this thing about the young? Why do we think that those under the age of 18 are somehow more threatening? Is it because of our own age, or is the Secretary of State older than he looks? I feel more frightened of adults with drink in them or on them than of young people.
We must be concerned about the signals that we are sending. We are here to nurture and look after the young and promote them, not stamp on them, imprison them and treat them as though they are the problem in society. In our society, the problems have been brought about by adults, by the Government of 17 years, not by people who were not even born then. There is a frightening message going out on the whole question of picking on young people and saying that they must give up their drinks.
The Bill is deficient in many ways. That is why we have tabled a reasoned amendment. It contains nothing about anti-social neighbours. In last year's debate on the Queen's Speech I told the tale of what I called my village from hell. At that time, eight houses were being demolished and five boarded up. Now 18 houses in that village are boarded up. People do not want to live in that village because three families who were put there 16 years ago destroyed it.
At present, there are no powers available to the police in Scotland to do anything about that. There have to be witnesses willing to go to court, but case after case against the families has collapsed between the time of reporting and the time when the case was due in court. If the Government want to do something about people's lives and peace and security, they should do something about that instead of presenting a measure like this one.
There is nothing in the Bill about bail and reoffending while on bail. That has been stressed again and again. It contains nothing on the social agenda, but there is such an agenda in crime. It is about education in prison and about reskilling prisoners and giving them a chance. Some people say, "Why spend resources on such people? They are out of society, they are criminals. Don't spend money on them; spend it on the other groups in society who need it." Society needs to get rid of the conflict caused by people from a criminal environment who coming out of prison and going straight back to that environment.
I do not mind if I am called a woolly liberal, because I do not think I am. I am not doing this for people in prison: I am doing it for the peace of mind that I want for my kids, my family and my community, which is not just the people I represent but the people I know who do not want to live in that society. There is a young offenders institution in my constituency and I want to see those young people come out as better citizens even if that means spending on the social agenda and providing more education, not cutting it as the Government have been doing.
Neither the Bill nor the White Paper contains much about crime prevention and the Government have to come up to scratch on that agenda. The Minister was at the launch of Operation Shopkeep. I went to a conference on retail crime. There are 5 million incidents of retail crime a year, 1.5 million people are arrested and 50,000 come to court, although I do not know how many of them are given a worthwhile sentence. There are suggestions about how we could allow automatic fines of a multiple of the value of the goods that people steal so that there would be some way to claim them back. There is nothing in the Bill about responding to that agenda.
The Bill is cumbersome. It is only within the past five weeks that we have brought in the 1993 legislation, and it will take three years for this measure to come into effect. There are massive bureaucratic costs. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) gave figures for some of the measures in the Bill. It will be very wasteful if it is not effective, and such measures have not been effective.
Finally, how are we to deal with the 2,200 new prisoners? I already have a prison in my constituency. It is interesting to note that the Bill states that prisons should not be put in certain areas because they might affect inward investment or economic enterprise zones. Yet it is all right to stick a prison beside a housing scheme with working-class families or, in my case, in a middle-class area and expand them and mess around with the infrastructure. Women prisoners are put in with young offenders, and the communities in which the prisons are situated are disrupted.
Some people may bid for a prison, but it is not an attractive proposition. Where will the four new prisons that will be needed in Scotland for these extra prisoners come from? The prisons will be privatised and not state-run. That is the final betrayal of Scotland's prison officers. When the Government brought in market testing, they said that they would not have private prisons in Scotland. Market testing was the bulwark for the prison officers. It was said, "Accept market testing and the contract of agency status and there will not be private prisons". Then along comes this Secretary of State who intends to bring in private prisons. People with convictions sometimes run such prisons. Group 4 does not know whether it is going to the local museum or the local court, but it is cheaper and it is all right because it is private. Are we willing to go that far to implement the Bill because the Secretary of State wants a soundbite before the election?
The Bill is not just about criminals running the prisons: it is about the lunatics running the asylum. It is about time that the lunatics in the Conservative party got out and let us take over and bring some sanity to the debate.
As the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) has said, the Bill is about not just criminals, but the victims of crime, and it is the victims of crime that the Bill endeavours to protect. Tonight, I have witnessed more acrobatics than in Barnum and Bailey's or Billy Smart's circuses. The hon. Gentleman wishes to kill the Bill. Presumably, unlike last night, he will vote for the reasoned amendment.
I remind the House that the first line of the amendment states:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill".
We have already heard a Conservative Member ask what would happen if the motion were passed. It would kill the Bill. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East is consistent tonight at least, because he has said that he is anti-minimum sentencing. He mentioned the comparison with Hanging Judge Jeffries, although I will point out later that that is not a correct analogy. The question follows: if the hon. Gentleman is against minimum sentences per se, why did he not vote against yesterday's Bill for England and Wales?
As another Conservative Member has said, there is inconsistency between Islington and north of the border. There is a north-south divide. It is to do not with divisions of wealth between parts of the United Kingdom, but with divisions between the Labour party north and south of the Scottish border.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East thinks that tagging of individuals is degrading, but is it not even more degrading when young people or, come to that, not so young people are out on the streets attacking people? If a tagging system were to ensure that a curfew would work effectively and so protect crime victims, would that not be effective and useful to protect people in his constituency, as well as for those in the rest of Scotland?
I have always believed in minimum sentencing. On 31 July 1991, in my acceptance speech outside this place after my selection to stand for Mid-Staffordshire, I spoke about the need for minimum sentencing. Sentencing has four functions. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) has said, it should be a deterrent. It should also punish. It must involve rehabilitation. Most important, it should protect society. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has talked about the Maguire case, where an individual was sent to prison for rape, was released, committed a second crime, went to prison, was released and committed a third crime. That could not happen under the Bill.
Labour Members have said that, from time to time, minimum sentences could mean that injustice will occur, but surely society as a whole must be protected. After all, the Labour party is the great advocate of society.
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman listened in detail to the debate about automatic and mandatory sentencing. Does he understand that the Bill does not mean that even Maguire would have been put behind bars for all his natural life? He would have been let out after the period that is going to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The only difference is that Maguire would be under supervision while he was out. He would still be out there. It is dangerous for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that any Bill will prevent insane people from doing insane things.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point. The burden of proof would be on Maguire, or anyone else in that position, to prove that he was safe enough to be released into society, where he would be free under licence. To say that Maguire would have been in the public domain and outside prison is therefore not necessarily true. He would have had to prove that he was safe enough to be released. Even if he had managed to deceive the so-called experts and be released into society, as the hon. Gentleman says, he would have been under supervision. One would hope—although one could not guarantee this—that this would have prevented him from committing the third crime.
Minimum sentences are needed. The Bill needs to go further, because too many criminals believe that, if they commit a crime, they will not be caught. They then think to themselves, "Even if I get caught, I will not be found guilty if I have a good brief', or lawyer.
Incidentally, the police have often said that one of the reasons why so many not guilty verdicts are given when, in their view, the accused are patently guilty is that people have been able to maintain their silence and have not answered questions. It was this Government who said that, of course, people should be allowed to remain silent if they wished to do so. They are not obliged to say anything, but—this is the big "but"—the legislation passed in the House argued that the fact that the person had chosen to be silent would be brought out in court. The police welcomed that, yet the Labour party voted against that small amendment, which helps the police to obtain convictions. We all know that the professional criminal is trained to stay silent in these cases.
Criminals think, first, that they will not be caught and, secondly, that, if they are caught, they will be found not guilty. Another reason why they are not deterred is that they think that, even if they are found guilty, but have a good lawyer, he can present a good case for mitigation and they will be let off with a slapped wrist. Again, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East gave a good example of that happening in his constituency. The whole point about minimum sentences is that they deter and convince many people who would otherwise commit crimes that "it just ain't worth it" because, if they are found guilty, no matter what mitigation they offer in court, there is a minimum sentence.
There is nothing new about minimum sentences. It is interesting to be speaking in a Scottish debate, because Scotland does not have a system precisely similar to English law. The Scottish system is related more to Napoleonic and Roman law. In Spain, there is a minimum sentences system—the "escalones" or steps system—where minimum as well as maximum sentences are prescribed for each step in the judicial punishment scale.
France, the very heart of Napoleonic law, has a similar system of steps, with minimum and maximum sentences specified. It has the "crime", the grave offence; the "délit", the major offence; and "les contraventions", the minor offences—each with not only maximum but minimum sentences prescribed. Spain and France have found that the minimum sentence deters. It prevents crime. It protects the victim, which is the point of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman has given us a tour of the world to demonstrate the sort of legal system that we should have in this country. I am sure that he will admit that in Afghanistan the minimum sentences imposed by the Taliban also deter. Is he suggesting that we should introduce them in this country?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but there are minimum sentences and minimum sentences. If he is sinking to that level of debate, I can understand the inconsistency of why he did not vote against minimum sentences last night but will choose to vote against them tonight. Rather than sitting there smirking, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to explain why, if he is so against minimum sentences, he did not vote against them last night.
I was not here last night, so that was the main reason for not voting. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue the point, I will address it in my speech. However, I always thought that Conservative Members argued that one of the great strengths of the Union was that Opposition parties could take a different approach in Scotland from that in England and Wales.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so honest. I am sure that, in the months to come, analysts will read his comments in Hansard with great interest.
I have not taken the hon. Gentleman on a tour of the world, as I have talked only about Spain and France so far. However, as he invites me to do so, I shall speak briefly about the United States of America, which does operate under a system of English law. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that President Bill Clinton, a Democratic president—we will know tomorrow whether he is still the president—introduced the "three strikes and you're out" form of minimum sentencing. That is now operating in 24 states. There have been difficulties in some states. The Californian republic has found that minimum sentencing has led to some injustice, but 22 other states have found it an effective deterrent against crime.
Do Opposition Members accept that we are in this place to protect people and prevent them from being the victims of crime? If Opposition Members are against minimum sentencing, apart from the fact that they could not be bothered to come here, why did they fail to vote against the Bill last night but will vote against the Bill tonight? The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is in his seat—he now seems to be leaving. I was about to ask him what he will say to his constituents who want protection from criminals now that he has heard the Deputy Speaker say that, if his reasoned amendment is passed, the Bill will fail. What protection will they get? He is saying nothing. His silence says it all.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but when I started to ask my question the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber. As I reached the last two words of my question, he chose to be outside the Bar of the House. The fact that he chose to leave will be recorded. My question was unanswerable by him, but at least the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) was honest enough to say that he did not vote against the Bill because he was not here and because there are differences in thinking between the Labour party in Scotland and the Labour party in England and Wales. It is a divided party far more than any divided Britain.
I think that the hon. Gentleman should come up for air, because he is talking rubbish. Does he accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has a proud record of work on Scottish Bills, and is very dedicated? My hon. Friend has chosen to highlight the fact that Scotland still has the right—although it is slowly being taken away by the Secretary of State—to introduce different legislation for Scotland from that in England and to take a different approach to any legislation that comes before the House.
I have already said that the hon. Member for Dundee, East has shown integrity by answering as he did. My point is that both Bills concern minimum sentencing and that, apart from under-age drinking, electronic tagging and a few minor technical differences between English and Scottish law, there is virtually no difference between them. I am questioning the Labour party's consistency. The hon. Member for Dundee, East has explained truthfully and frankly why the Labour party will vote against this Bill, but he chose not to vote last night. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East is right to say that his hon. Friend has always shown himself to be honourable in these matters.
I truly do not understand why hon. Members are concerned about minimum sentences. The Bill says:
the High Court may decline to impose such a sentence if it considers that there are exceptional circumstances which justify its not imposing such a sentence.
That is a let-out clause. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that, conceivably, minimum sentences could lead to injustice. However, the High Court can overrule the minimum sentence provision. So there cannot be any true or clear criticism of minimum sentences in this instance.
My point—it is worth repeating—is that minimum sentences act as a deterrent. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East said that, at times, judges impose sentences that do not truly reflect the nature of the crime. I have with me some statistics detailing crimes committed in Scotland between 1990 and 1994. There were 252 attempted murders; of those, 80 were found guilty and, of those, 81 per cent. were given custodial sentences and five were given life sentences. The average custodial sentence was only 5.9 years.
The figures get even worse. For incitement or conspiracy to murder—it is always difficult to win a prosecution on conspiracy—five people were convicted, and the average sentence was only five years. Equally worrying is the fact that for sexual offences—rape and attempted rape—183 individuals were convicted in Scotland. Thankfully, 92 per cent. were given a custodial sentence and one was given a life sentence. However, the protection offered to other potential victims of the crime was only 5.3 years. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should think about that. This Bill is not so much about crime and punishment as about protection for potential victims.
I want to talk about non-custodial sentences and the electronic tagging provisions, to which the hon. Member for Falkirk, East also referred. The Bill provides an alternative to custodial sentences. However, it is illogical for the Opposition to argue against minimum sentences and custodial sentences while, at the same time, arguing that an alternative method of protection for victims—electronic tagging—should be rejected by the House tonight.
Under the Bill, persistent offenders—it would apply only to persistent offenders—such as football hooligans, would be confined to their homes and kept off the streets. We hope that that would keep them out of trouble and prevent them from going to prison. If it works in Scotland—I am sure that it will—it will prove to be a beacon for other parts of the United Kingdom.
I do not think it is a matter of Scotland being used as a guinea pig. If we were to introduce legislation for England and Wales but not for Scotland, the hon. Gentleman would, understandably, be the very first to stand up and ask, "Why should England and Wales have a provision, but not Scotland?" Scotland is not serving as a guinea pig. At least I recognise—having been to Glasgow, Edinburgh and smaller cities, and having seen the vandalism that occurs not only in large cities but in smaller towns—the intimidation of older people on the streets at night.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East defends younger people out on the street drinking their lager or their McEwan's bitter. I suggest that that is intimidating to older people. As an alternative to sending them to prison, if we can say, "No, there should be a curfew, which can be implemented by using the latest electronic devices," so be it. Such measures are not degrading. There is more degradation for the victims of crime, and it is about time that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East thinks a little more about the victims than about the regular offenders in such crimes.
The consequences of minimum sentences can possibly lead to some injustices, although, as I said, the High Court can overturn the minimum sentence provisions. We must, however, accept that society deserves to be protected. I believe that the provision of minimum sentences is a true deterrent.
Labour Members continually harp on about society. Today and yesterday, however, they have ignored society, which could benefit from these reforms. There is nothing new in the fact that Labour Members ignore society—only in their tactics. Yesterday, they felt so strongly about minimum sentences that they abstained and did not bother to turn up at the House. Today, they feel so strongly about the issue that they will vote for the Labour amendment. If their amendment is defeated and the Bill is passed, however, what will they do to prove their consistency in this matter? They will abstain, for a second time. That is madness, but it is consistent madness.
On 14 March 1996, what happened with the prevention of terrorism legislation? The Labour party decided to be semi-consistent and to abstain from voting. In March 1995, Labour Members voted against prevention of terrorism legislation and, in March 1994, they voted against it again. Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the fact that a criminal had refused to speak to a police officer could be cited as evidence in court. Labour voted against that legislation, and then tried to wreck it. I could go through a very long list of such behaviour. [Hots. MEMBERS: "No."] Labour Members say that they would not like me to go through the list, because of their embarrassment. But I choose briefly to embarrass them.
In 1991, 1992 and 1993, Labour Members voted against prevention of terrorism legislation. In November 1990, they voted against the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Labour Members say that they are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Who are they kidding? In March 1990, they voted against prevention of terrorism legislation. In January 1989, they voted against it. In February 1988, they voted against it again. Labour is the party that is against crime and tough on the causes of crime? It is kidding no one.
Labour Members voted against the Criminal Justice Act 1988. If I really wanted to torture the Labour party, I could go back to 7 March 1983, but I think that that would be going too far.
Order. I invite the hon. Gentleman not to do so. Perhaps he could bear in mind that the purpose of this debate is to debate the principles of the Bill before us. Other matters may be drawn in to assist him, but I do not want to get off the subject entirely, and the hon. Gentleman is in grave danger of doing so.
Madam Deputy Speaker, of course I take your advice, as I always do. I merely wanted to point out that the Labour party is at least consistent in its inconsistency by saying that it supports all the measures that need to be taken to protect victims. When it comes down to it, however—such as yesterday and today, and consistently since 1979—Labour has voted against measures that would protect people.
Labour says that it is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, hut, yesterday, Labour Members could not stir to vote for the Crime (Sentences) Bill. That is a great indictment. Today, there will be a greater indictment when Labour Members vote for their amendment and against the Bill. That is inconsistent. It is new Labour: new abstentions, new tactics, but no new policies.
I was somewhat entertained by the speech given by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). It was an interesting history of some aspects of the Labour party's voting record in the House. What it had to do with today's debate, however, is another matter entirely. I also noticed the repetitive nature of some of his comments, which suggested that he ran out of substance a considerable time ago but was nevertheless intent on treating us to an ear-bashing.
Like the hon.Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates. I must put in that disclaimer for some of the remarks that I shall make.
Although the Conservative party would very much like to be seen as the party of law and order, its record over the past 18 years gives the lie to that desire. There is absolutely no doubt, however, about the fact that it is the party of law and order legislation, which is a vastly different matter. Before yesterday, the Government had introduced 33 pieces of legislation. That number will now presumably rise to 35.
People should not be fooled into thinking that all this parliamentary activity necessarily means that the. Government are achieving anything, except perhaps the perception of activity. Unfortunately, the reality behind the perception is a sorry story of rising crime rates, with all crimes of violence increasing considerably since 1979. I do not think that the Government should be proud of that record.
I noticed the great rush to take credit for an apparent drop in crime over the past four years. It is understandable that the Government would wish to take credit for it. If they are going to take credit for the past four years, however, they must also accept responsibility for the previous 12, which I do not hear them—quite so audibly—doing. They must also acknowledge that, despite the crime decrease in the past four years, crime rates in 1995 were still higher than at any time up to 1989. The Government should not in any way be proud of their record.
For all the past 18 years, the Government's response has been to flit from one sure-fire answer to another—usually contradictory—sure-fire answer. Some proposals were introduced after a measure of study, and some were not. U-turns have become a matter of course, although they are never presented as such—that might be carrying honesty a wee bit too far.
Each new proposal has been presented as a panacea, but here we are, once again, debating a Bill that is basically a rag-bag of proposals that is almost incoherent in its approach. It smacks of a last-ditch attempt—not to achieve any results, because I do not think for one minute that Conservative Members believe that these proposals will produce results, but—to kid on that the Government know what they are doing.
I should like to challenge directly the proposition that the Government know what they are doing, because there is every evidence—from the White Paper, from the Bill and from the pronouncements of the Secretary of State—that there is no real understanding of whether most of the measures can even begin to make a positive difference. Certainly there are indications that some of the measures will have absolutely no effect, and—of greater concern—that some of them will have a negative effect. Had the Secretary of State and his Ministers even bothered to consider the evidence, they would know that.
A major test of the effectiveness of any criminal justice system must be the rate of reoffending. We all know that reoffending rates in Scotland are far too high. I understand that about 90 per cent. of people entering prison have committed at least one previous offence, and we have the second highest prison population in western Europe, which costs taxpayers an annual £26,479 per prisoner. We have to seek ways to reduce the reoffending rates consonant with a twin desire to punish and to rehabilitate, but where do we find them in the Bill?
One of the most telling facts in the White Paper, "Crime and Punishment" is to be found in paragraph 10.7, which states that reoffending rates are some three times higher among people out of work than among those in employment. On the basis of that figure alone, if the Government cared about the reality of reoffending they would be seeking to ensure that there was work available for ex-offenders.
Unfortunately, there is little in Scotland in the way of analysis of reoffending rates, and only very little work available in England and Wales. Indeed, recent parliamentary questions that I tabled elicited answers along the lines of, "We do not collect this information centrally," or, "It would be too difficult to put this information together." That makes it very hard to assess the basis on which the Government approach the issue of reoffending. It is a great pity because, without an understanding of the facts, how can the Government be confident that the changes proposed in the Bill will have the slightest effect?
I direct the Minister's attention to today's edition of The Scotsman, in which he will find a report on a Barnardo's project dealing with persistent young offenders in central Scotland. It appears to have been remarkably successful in cutting the rate of reoffending. As it has been funded by the Scottish Office, I assume that the Minister is aware of it. In light of the project's apparent success, does the Minister intend to expand it and perhaps build it into the system across Scotland? It appears that an excessively punitive approach might not be the most effective course in the long run, which is precisely what I would have thought we were looking for—but there is no sign that the Bill provides it.
Electronic tagging has been mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire. It is an element of the Bill about which I feel somewhat ambivalent, and I have taken care not to rush to say that we would automatically oppose it, because I can see that it may on occasion be an appropriate measure. I do not dismiss it out of hand, as I can see the usefulness of the disposal and its possible practicality if used as an alternative to imprisonment. However—it is a big however—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire would care to listen, as he seems to be unaware of what is happening in England in this regard.
The pilot studies in England and Wales, and the evidence gleaned from them and from the use of electronic tagging in the United States, suggest that, in practice, it is not all that effective. I am worried that its introduction would mean resources being diverted from other potentially successful community-based projects such as that to which I referred.
I was saying that there has been academic consideration of projects in the United States, as there presumably has been of those in England and Wales. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the projects in England and Wales, which are on his doorstep.
As I was saying, the Secretary of State referred to disposal such as electronic tagging in connection with reducing the number of prison inmates. We need to be clear that the Government do indeed have it in mind that tagging, or the restriction of liberty order, is intended to be a direct alternative to custody. In addition, I should like some idea of the sort of offences considered appropriate to be dealt with in that fashion.
I question the advisability of proceeding now with proposals for the studies in Scotland when the pilot schemes in Reading, Norfolk and Manchester are not due to report until March 1997. Perhaps I missed some details about the time scale for the Scottish studies, in which case I stand to be corrected, but surely it would have been more appropriate to await the completion of the trials in England and Wales, especially as the estimated cost of the
Scottish pilot studies is about £1.5 million. It would seem sensible to await a final assessment of the schemes in England and Wales before spending £1.5 million on studies that are to be set up without the knowledge and understanding of what is already happening.
I am aware that there are to be pilot schemes in Scotland; I am pointing out that the pilot schemes in England and Wales will not be completed until March 1997 and that, with the Scottish scheme estimated to cost £1.5 million, it seems ridiculous to commit ourselves to spending such a large sum without having seen the results of the English and Welsh pilot schemes. Saving money is supposed to be one of the Government's hallmarks.
One problem identified in the English study was the stigmatising effect of the tag, which led in one case to an offender being beaten up when the tag was seen—that is hardly something that we want to happen too often. Other problems include domestic friction resulting from lengthy curfew hours; the difficulty of obtaining employment while having a liberty restriction order—in part because of long curfew hours—and, perhaps more important, the marked reluctance of the courts to impose the orders.
As I understand it, so far the trials show that, after the first full year, in Reading, only five orders have been imposed out of a possible 460; in Manchester, only 49 have been imposed out of a possible 2,330; and in Norfolk, only 44 have been imposed out of a possible 2,280. It has been assessed that the trials cost £14,300 per accused, whereas probation orders cost about £2,500 per accused. I cite these figures because I am genuinely concerned and interested to know how the scheme will work in practice. As I said, I have not set my face against the idea, but I am concerned that it will not ultimately be productive and will cost a great deal of money.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire is no longer here because I wish to mention again the studies in the United States. They have been equally equivocal, leading one professor of law and public policy to say:
There has been no effect on recidivism, no reduction in the prison population and no cost savings … The main sentencing effect is to ratchet up the prison population through a high number of technical breaches.
I hardly think that we want that to happen here. I understand that the Association of Chief Officers of Probation concluded that the United States experience was a shambles.
I appreciate the Minister's desperate desire to be seen to be doing something—anything—but he must not mislead the public as to the likely efficacy of the proposals. The experience of the trials is that electronic tagging is emphatically not a means by which young thugs will be kept in check. I am therefore anxious to know what kind of offender Ministers have in mind. I have an open mind on tagging adults, but I emphatically oppose any suggestion that it should be used as a disposal for the under-16s. Although that proposal does not appear in the Bill, it is being trailed. As far as I am aware, there has been no consultation on it.
Clause 45 deals with the public defender system. Such a system seems to be being introduced by the back door. I particularly deplore the Secretary of State's decision to introduce it by stealth and without public debate. He has in mind a fundamental change of the operation of legal representation in Scotland, but he is trying to make the change without any sustained study or public debate. The idea seems to be driven by nothing more than a desire to cut the legal aid bill. His plan would remove freedom of choice of representation, which is extraordinary given the Government's otherwise slavish adherence to the free market.
To justify the charges of inefficiency levelled against the current system, comparisons are drawn with the systems in England and Wales and in the Netherlands, both of which are different from that in Scotland. Although a public defender system exists in some jurisdictions, there are flaws in the idea which should not be overlooked.
Whatever his or her title, a public defender will not be independent. How is it suggested that the conflict between duty to the client and duty to the employer be resolved? That problem is compounded by the unlikelihood of a client being able to choose even the individual public defender whom he or she wants.
There are real dangers to justice. I do not think that anyone in Scotland wants to follow the example of the United States, where far more public money is spent on prosecution than on defence. We have all had graphic illustrations of the difference that money makes in American courts. That has never been an issue in Scotland, and I certainly do not want it to become one. Public defender systems are notoriously under-funded. The Government do not inspire confidence on any sort of public funding.
On mandatory sentences—or automatic sentences, as we have learnt this evening we had best call them—there are serious concerns, which the Minister must be aware of, about interference with judicial discretion. Those concerns should not be brushed aside lightly. Lengthy references have been made to minimum sentences. Such sentences may be appropriate on some occasions, but one must be careful about their wholesale application because they introduce inflexibility. With inflexibility comes the danger of justice not being done.
I know that the Government think that judges are unpopular characters who can be brushed aside when it is thought appropriate. The problem for Ministers is that the judge, who must sit through the entire trial and consider an appropriate sentence on the basis of the verdict and in the light of all the evidence that he or she has heard, is the best person to make a decision about the disposal. That is important because, as the Minister well knows, a simple statement of what an offender has been convicted of rarely tells the whole story.
One immediate practical effect of the "two strikes and you're out" proposals will be to make it impossible to get guilty, pleas. Automatic life sentences will mean automatically going to trial. There will be long trials and there will be more of them. It is almost impossible at the moment to persuade anyone charged with murder to plead guilty, because of the automatic life sentence. It makes no sense to plead guilty of murder if the defendant may as well take their chances and hope that the trial will result in a reduction or a not guilty or not proven verdict. There will be far more of that if the measure is passed.
I question the motives behind the introduction of the proposal. It smacks of a headline measure, because simultaneous provisions are being made for it to be departed from in "exceptional circumstances". I should like at least one example of an exceptional circumstance so that I can get some feeling for what is thought likely. Is it proposed to hang judges out to dry if they find exceptional circumstances more often than the Government consider appropriate? The suspicion is that any judge who applies the rule will be held up to the public gaze as not doing his job. That is a dangerous game.
I do not want to get into a half-hour debate on the precise nature of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 on the restriction of remission, as happened earlier today, but I note that the current provision for the early release of prisoners was introduced by the Government in 1993, based on recommendations put forward by a review committee which sat for two years. Those rules have been in operation for only a few years.
The clear implication is that the 1993 Act has been a failure. I have asked the Secretary of State before and I repeat the question to the Minister this evening: if the Act has been a failure, what evidence does he have of that, and will he share it with us? What studies have been done to establish its effect on reoffending rates or its impact on prisons? What basis is there for the changes now being put forward? I know of no such studies or investigations.
My hon. Friend is right to ask that. Many of the changes in the Bill are being proposed without any proper study or any real consideration of their effectiveness. That is a worrying aspect of the Government's approach to criminal justice.
As I have said in previous debates, there are three prisons in my constituency—more than in any other Scottish constituency. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) may think that prisons are always situated in places of extreme deprivation, but a visit to my constituency would show him that that is not necessarily the case.
I have constant contact with prison staff and with people who are concerned about prisons. I frequently have to deal with issues arising out of having prisons in the constituency. The White Paper says that there will be an increase of 1,000 in the prison population in the first year of implementation, rising to 2,000 over five years. Even if the figures are taken at face value, the likely result of implementation, as the Government have been advised by many within and without the profession, including the Scottish Prison Officers Association, will be an increase in tension in prisons and an increase in the stress on an already overloaded prison staff.
From my frequent contact with staff at the three prisons in my constituency—Perth, Friarton and Castle Huntly young offenders institution—I know that real concerns are being expressed in the prison system about the Government's proposals. Those concerns should not be brushed aside lightly.
Clauses 5 to 10 deal with mentally disordered offenders and have rightly given rise to some concerns. I understand that it is proposed that the period in hospital should be in addition to any prison sentence, which is a fairly unsatisfactory way of going about things, to say the least. There is no justification, if someone is ill at the time he commits an offence and the judge decides that he should be in hospital, for him to be sent to prison once he becomes well. If both the patient and the doctor know that, when the patient is better, he or she will be sent to prison, there is little incentive for him to get better. Doctors may keep patients in hospital longer than necessary if they fear that a prison term would lead to a subsequent deterioration in the patient's health. There are problems in the treatment of offenders who suffer from mental health problems, but the proposals will do nothing to alleviate the difficulties and may just exacerbate them.
Overall, my great concern is for the way in which the criminal justice system in Scotland is being treated by the Government. They seem to be bouncing around with no clear strategy—a bit of this and a bit of that, a headline here and a soundbite there. It seems to be the case that what the Home Secretary says in England one day, the Secretary of State for Scotland parrots the next day, without regard to the difference in criminal law and professional practice—a difference that has given Scotland one of the best criminal justice systems in the world. No one objects to reform; we are all concerned to tackle the problems we see around us. But there is no evidence that the Bill will achieve that end. The Government are simply perpetrating a con just so they can appear to be doing something.
The problems are much more deep rooted and difficult to address than the cut-and-paste approach suggests. The Bill does not deal with crime prevention, which is a cultural question that goes beyond clauses in a Bill. A culture of violence is developing: the question is how to tackle that culture. In a previous debate, I referred to the success in New York between 1991 and 1995 when the crime rate was reduced by a staggering 33 per cent. That was the result of a major attack on petty street crime, which is the crime that the vast majority of people fear.
I know that there is a similar Strathclyde police operation at the moment. Such operations will not succeed if they can last only for a few months. They must go on for a long time—years rather than months—to be effective, and that means real resources. I note that the Strathclyde police operation involves cancelling various kinds of educational leave, taking people out of other work and off computers so that they can go out on to the streets. We cannot go on like that much longer. If there has been an enormous success elsewhere in the world, we should try to emulate it. We cannot do so in the space of 12 weeks, which seems to be what the Government propose.
Earlier in the debate, the possibility of tagging football hooligans was mentioned. The events of the past couple of weeks show that we are talking about a whole culture. I surely cannot be the only person who finds it disgraceful that a man can openly admit a serious assault yet have to deal with nothing other than a bit of bad publicity. I refer, of course, to Paul Gascoigne. He seems to be getting away with serious assault—and is seen to be getting away with it. Even worse, he is almost being rewarded into the bargain. He has said sorry and he has given a touching explanation of his bad temper. He knows that he is in the wrong.
But what is the lesson for the thousands of youngsters who lionise people such as him? Is it that, if people earn enough money, they will get away with it? Is it that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor? Is it that some assaults are not real assaults and that society will turn a blind eye? The extent of the establishment collusion in the whole sorry affair is almost the worst part. We heard the defence forwarded by the Rangers football club management, that it was a domestic affair and not their concern, and the self-serving justifications of Glen Hoddle.
I dwell on that case because it is important in terms of what it tells us about our culture. There is a culture of laddism which is a culture of violence, and it seems to be a culture of getting away with it. The perception is that people can get away with it if they are Paul Gascoigne. They will then think that maybe they can get away with it even though they are not Paul Gascoigne, but just youngsters on the street. Ultimately, we shall have no success in tackling crime where it starts, which is among young people on the streets. Methods to deal with that problem are shamefully missing from the Government's approach. The Bill offers no attempt to deal with the problem, despite evidence that tackling crime at street level is where successes can be achieved.
We have had an interesting and lengthy debate; I do not know whether it will turn out to be the highlight of the debating week in the House. We have been discussing very important issues, and much of our discussion has run in parallel with yesterday's debate, which dealt with England and Wales.
Earlier this evening, we heard some enormously loud bangs outside. I thought at one stage that the siren for evacuation was about to go off, but then I suddenly remembered that it was just old Guy Fawkes.
I can only tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) that there must have been an awful lot of Scottish Members outside pointing their guns at him ahead of a ban.
Time is getting on. I did not see the hon. Gentleman trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not think that he is in the Chamber for his health. I see that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) is also here, so I will confine my remarks to the points that I wanted to make when I first arrived, although I also want to address a number of the points that have cropped up during the debate.
I turn first to the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham). I have never met Mr. Paul Gascoigne or Mr. Glen Hoddle. I have some sympathy with some of her remarks, although I would draw one distinction. It is possible on such issues for hon. Members, including perhaps the hon. Lady, to appear to be tough on some things, but not to be prepared to back the Government on other aspects of this laudable Bill. I have one or two constructive criticisms, which will no doubt crop up in Committee. However, I wholeheartedly support the broad thrust of the Bill.
I support the ending of automatic release, supervision following release and tougher sentences, especially for drug traffickers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and one or two other Members suggested that perhaps the sentences were not quite tough enough. That point will no doubt crop up in Committee.
The Bill proposes stronger non-custodial sentences, such as tagging, a point to which I will return. It contains provisions on mentally disordered offenders. I strongly welcome those provisions, and I will come back to a point that cropped up in the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross and in the remarks of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty). The Bill also contains provisions on DNA testing, on action on teenage drinking—a cause championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)—and on legal aid.
My right hon.Friend the Secretary of State made it clear, as the result of an intervention by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), that tagging was not applicable to those under 16 years of age. The so-called reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition seems something of a handy coatpeg on which to hang an objection in an attempt to avoid yesterday's difficulties, when the Labour party wriggled around on the hook to avoid voting against the Crime (Sentences) Bill. However, Labour seems to intend to vote against this Bill tonight. We know that it is not a reasoned amendment, because if it were made it would kill the Bill stone dead.
My right hon.Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that the Bill is not about doing away with past provisions; the emphasis is much more on building on the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 than on reversing it. He cited a quotation from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)—I shall read it with interest tomorrow in the Official Report—that seemed to support the provisions that the Government are trying to put in train for England and Wales, yet the Labour party is opposing the measures for Scotland.
If the Bill had had Royal Assent and its provisions had been in force at the time of the Maguire case in Ayrshire, at least one person would not have died, and, as my right hon. Friend said, there were 23 other such cases in 1994 alone, five involving someone with three previous convictions and, as far as I can make out, no special circumstances. I have no personal knowledge of the other case mentioned by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), but it sounded similar, and there was something of a contradiction in what he said.
My right hon.Friend mentioned the new categories for increased sentences. I especially welcome the minimum sentence of seven years for drug trafficking. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), a former Minister with responsibility for prisons, who yesterday made a powerful speech that was at times constructively critical of the proposals, made the valuable point that seven years might be too much for someone who had sold a small amount of drugs to a fellow drug-taker, but that it was grossly insufficient for someone who had been trafficking in drugs. I hope that that point will be addressed in Committee.
I welcome clauses 5 to 10, on mental disorder. I welcome specifically the consultation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said would be conducted individually with judges in Scotland about the possibility of taking away the driving licence of someone who had committed a non-motoring offence. That could be a valuable sanction.
My right hon. Friend took a number of interventions on tagging; the only people who need fear tagging are those who commit crime. No one else need worry about it. He also mentioned the comments of the Law Society of Scotland on the White Paper. I was pleased that, although there was some constructive criticism, there was much support.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to their concerns about the vulnerability of child witnesses. I mean them no discourtesy, but I know from experience of debates on Scottish affairs that they are masters of the Exocet intervention; they have been and gone, and it is a pity that neither of them intends to serve on the Committee, because they made valuable and constructive points that need to be addressed.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) expressed concern about the presence of Customs and Excise in the highlands and islands. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) rightly took him to task, suggesting that he had got the emphasis all wrong. The highlands and islands constitute a vast area where sea meets Scotland, and it is almost impossible to have someone at each point watching all the time. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns about his discussions with Customs and Excise, but I believe that the present policy of relying far more on increased intelligence to improve the detection rate for drugs is the best way forward.
The hon. Gentleman also called for tougher sentences for drug traffickers, but that matter is addressed in the Bill, so I do not understand why he and his hon. Friends intend to vote against it. Unlike the Labour party, his party voted against the provisions for England and Wales last night. There is no doubt whatever that the Liberal Democrats—unlike some hon. Members, I differentiate, because there is a Liberal party—are soft on crime, just as the Labour party is. There is no point in saying that we need to be tough if one is not prepared to back the Bill and to consider the details in Committee.
The hon. Member for Govan rightly commented on the importance of tougher sentences and the ability of the courts to levy them as soon as possible. Support for the Bill would achieve his objective.
The hon. Member for Hamilton spoke for about 15 minutes before I wrote anything down. I mean him no discourtesy, because I recognise the difficulty—
The hon. Gentleman knows that I was not asleep, because I occasionally tried to intervene during his speech. I recognise, as does the whole House, that he is effectively opposing tougher sentences, which the public want.
It is not a matter of importing English and Welsh methods into Scotland, which, in my view, has always had much better legal and education systems. The so-called reasoned amendment suggested that we should not press ahead with tagging in Scotland, simply because there had not been a pilot scheme for it there.
That is a ridiculous way to try to get off the hook and excuse oneself for voting against Second Reading tonight, because there are pilot schemes in Manchester, Berkshire and Norfolk and, bearing in mind that we have national sentences for drug trafficking, there is no reason why Scotland should not take advantage of technology that is being tested elsewhere in the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend made it clear that we wanted to introduce powers to tag offenders over 18 years of age, and not under.
My right hon.Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) highlighted a number of initiatives that were taking place in Dumfries and Galloway. I was also pleased to hear that the Secretary of State intends to ensure that the Scottish Office provides further support for young people, enabling them to gain valuable experience in education and, to a small extent, in the military. Support will be forthcoming from both the Scottish Office and the Army.
Several hon. Members have mentioned young people from deprived backgrounds. On a personal note, I might add that I recall the enormous satisfaction I gained in the Army when I played a tiny role in looking after youngsters from deprived backgrounds in Edinburgh. I suspect from what my right hon. Friend said that the increased support on offer will result partly from his discussions with GOC Scotland.
Speaking of young offenders and children generally, I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). I cannot remember whether she is an officer in the Scottish children's group, but she is certainly a leading light in it.
Yes. She mentioned the importance of pre-school education, and I think the whole House took her point. We understand that it is enormously beneficial in inner-city areas. I was not entirely convinced by her arguments about this Bill, but I welcomed her warm remarks about clause 23, in respect of children.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr conducted an interesting exchange about young people drinking in the streets. A number of hon. Members seemed unsure about whether the Bill does anything to act on under-age drinking. Perhaps the Minister of State will deal with that later. For myself, I believe that the Bill may provide extra powers in relation to people over 18 supplying alcohol to those who are under 18—but I may be wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr made an excellent speech. I was not surprised to learn the results of his constituency survey. He puts his finger on the nub of a number of issues. It is a great pity that his regular efforts to keep in touch with his constituents are so often denigrated by other hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East expressed some concerns which I share, although he perhaps emphasised them differently. The hon. Gentleman frequently speaks in European Standing Committee A. This afternoon, he said that the existence of a minimum sentence was no deterrent to the person who killed one of his constituents some time ago; as a result of all sorts of shenanigans, the person concerned managed to get off—my words, not his. That sort of thing certainly brings the criminal justice system into disrepute. That is why it is important to move towards mandatory or automatic sentences, depending on which part of the United Kingdom we are talking about.
Special circumstances must, of course, be allowed for. If I have one constructive criticism of the Bill to offer, it concerns special circumstances, and I hope that that point will be dealt with in Committee.
I certainly do not agree with the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that prison has no part to play in reforming criminals. While that may be true of some, and while we must not lose sight of the fact that punitive measures are also needed, we should also do all in our power to rehabilitate people. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's comments on automatic sentencing were incorrect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) rightly drew attention to the discrepancies between what Labour says and does. He read out a long list showing how Labour has voted so often against useful measures—the prevention of terrorism legislation, for instance. The Liberal Democrats have done likewise. Clearly, new Labour says one thing but old Labour does another. Certainly, Opposition Members did not hang about in the Lobbies last night, when they could not afford to be seen to oppose yesterday's Bill for England and Wales. Tonight, however, they have chosen to oppose this measure—against the public interest and what the public want.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and several others mentioned yesterday's speeches by my right hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Hurd), for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). I believe that my right hon. Friends have been misquoted. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney said:
The Labour party used to contain a tradition of liberal thinking on penal matters. In my time, I occasionally found that tradition extremely irritating. Earlier, when the Attorney-General answered questions, we were reminded of the Labour party's record in resisting the Conservative Government when we proposed the prosecution's right of appeal against lenient sentences. I believed that the Labour party was wrong about that and several other measures in my time, but we recognised that as part of a consistent tradition."—[Official Report, 4 November 1996; Vol. 284, c. 933.]
That consistent tradition is one of backing away from taking tough measures which the public and the Government want brought in.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley said:
I was glad to see the provision in the first three clauses that mandatory sentences need not be imposed if there are 'exceptional circumstances' … However, I am glad that the Home Secretary has made that provision, because it allows judges to exercise some discretion, which is important. The clauses would be unacceptable without that discretion."—[Official Report, 4 November 1996; Vol. 284, c. 941.]
The Bill relating to Scotland would be just as unacceptable without the analogous clauses.
We want automatic or mandatory sentences, with the proviso that judges can take certain matters into account so as to avoid imposing unnecessarily harsh sentences.
This is a good Bill. It introduces provisions that the public want, and I hope that it will receive sound scrutiny in Committee.
Earlier this evening, I said that I had not been here for last night's debate, and as I listened to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) droning on, I began to wish I was not here for tonight's debate, either. It was a dreadful filibuster which added nothing to the debate. Indeed, we have heard a succession of speeches by Conservative Members working themselves up into a frenzy of synthetic outrage about the fact that the Opposition have chosen to treat this Scottish Bill differently from the one dealing exclusively with England and Wales.
Intervening on the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) earlier, I tried to make him understand our reasons—but I failed. But given that he is someone who thinks Scots drink McEwan's bitter and that Tolstoy wrote "War and Punishment", it is rather difficult to make him understand anything. Even Shakespeare would struggle to make him comprehend.
I was trying to make the hon. Gentleman understand that it is not Opposition Members who argue that Scottish Bills should be dealt with separately in this House, but the Government. The Secretary of State for Scotland has consistently argued that Scottish Bills should be approached in a distinctive and completely different manner from Bills dealing with England and Wales. He argued that Scotland has a different history, culture, legal system and system for handling criminals and young offenders, and that therefore a different approach to legislation on crime and punishment is required. That is the point I was trying to make.
If the Government want to be consistent, they should not send the Bill to a Standing Committee that is dominated by English Back Benchers who will ensure a Conservative majority, but pass it to the Scottish Grand Committee and let its members determine the Bill's progress through Committee. We shall not, of course, see such an example of Government consistency. There is a solution to the problem: it is called a Scottish Parliament—a directly elected parliament. If we had one, we would not have the absurd situation that faces us tonight.
When opening the debate, the Secretary of State called on hon. Members on both sides of the House to rise above electoral considerations and to concentrate on the real problem of crime that affects so many people in Scotland. I might have taken that appeal seriously, were it not for the fact that he then spent the first 28 minutes of his speech making cheap party political points against the Opposition parties. For him to call on the Opposition to rise above electoral considerations and then to spend most of his speech dealing with electoral considerations on behalf of the Conservative party was an example of the pot calling the kettle black.
The Secretary of State's favourite taunt is to say that hon. Members who dare to disagree with him have a brass neck, but there is no more brassy neck in the House than that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He consistently says one thing and does another—his actions are completely inconsistent with his words.
The real lesson of tonight's debate is that it is the Conservative party that is playing party politics with crime and punishment in Scotland. Earlier tonight, I went out to make a phone call and I found the parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Scotland on the phone, contacting his office and trying to find out what would happen if the Bill was defeated on Second Reading. He asked whether it would be possible to reintroduce the Bill again in the same Session of Parliament. He was desperate for the answer to be yes, so that he could rush back into the Chamber and say that Labour Members were putting the Bill at risk—not because we were in any real sense, but because the Conservatives might be able to make a cheap party p