|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Elton: I intervene briefly to reflect on the enormous difficulty of legislation and the huge task required to introduce any change into legislation on any piece of law, particularly at a time when Parliament had to sit all night last night in order to get the work done. Changing law is an expensive, protracted and delicate operation--and here we have three whole clauses devoted simply to changing the names of three orders.
To engage first the department and then the parliamentary draftsman in this task, at great public expense, must have some great motivation. Some great benefit must be expected to flow from it. All I pause to do is to ask the Minister to tell us what that is. It is not apparent from what he has told us and it seems a pity to waste statute on doing something with no visible benefit.
Lord Laming: I support those who have said that the case for changing the names of the orders has not been made. The early part of the Bill is about changes in the Probation Service. The service will retain its present name--and rightly so--but the case for changing the title of the orders has not been made. I strongly support those who want to retain the existing names, which are well-established and understood.
Lord Bach: On this occasion I cannot agree with the comments that have been made by a distinguished group of noble Lords on this issue. The Government are convinced that there are sound arguments for changing the names of the three orders.
Perhaps I may turn, first, to the review mentioned by the noble Baroness in speaking to the amendment. There is a fundamental review of the 1991 Act framework, not merely in regard to the names of these orders. We believe that if we are to change the names, we must do so in this Bill, because we have to move forward in this field.
The Probation Service is a law enforcement agency. Its aims are the proper punishment of offenders, reducing reoffending and protecting the public. Of course, an important part of its aim is the rehabilitation of offenders. Community sentences, whether they be existing probation orders or community sentence orders, are penalties with the purposes both of punishing and of rehabilitating offenders. That may be understood by noble Lords in this House, with their experience of the world. But it is
It is vital, therefore, that everyone--the wider public, offenders and the service itself--understands both the role of the service and the purposes of community sentences. Re-naming community orders in order both to explain their primary purpose and to underline the aims of the service is necessary to promote greater confidence in our criminal justice system. Of course, we are aware that some members of the present service--of which I am a huge admirer; indeed, part of my maiden speech in this place was devoted to praising one particular probation service--do not welcome the change. They claim that the current names are well understood. That is true so far as concerns professionals who work within the criminal justice system. But our concern--a real concern--is to make the system more transparent for members of the general public. Too often, they are left in the dark as to what is happening and therefore, not surprisingly, express dissatisfaction with the criminal justice process.
By way of example, the expression which everyone now agrees should go--namely, "combination order"--was not clear to me, as a practising barrister defending and prosecuting offenders. I did not understand what the phrase meant for quite a while once it had come into being. What was a "combination order"? What on earth did it mean? What did it mean to the general public when they read in the newspaper that someone had received a combination order? In my view it meant absolutely nothing. It told them nothing, except that the miscreant had escaped prison. It did not even tell them that the miscreant had escaped prison often by the skin of his teeth. So the expression "combination order" should never have been written into legislation. Everyone in this Chamber seems to agree: Amendment No. 113 suggests a different title for the combination order. That is the most glaring example of how the orders have not been understood by the general public, and for good reason.
A "probation order" emphasises rehabilitation. Of course, it has a punishment element as well. The punishment element is the restriction on freedom that is involved in having to report to a probation officer and do what he or she reasonably demands. But it is much more a rehabilitative order. That is shown in the number of modern probation orders that have conditions attached to them to take part in programmes. The attempt is to rehabilitate the offender. What can be wrong in describing the true position of an existing probation order by the use of the term "community rehabilitation order"? That is precisely what it is.
As to "community service order", the phrase implies that the offender is being asked to do some kind of voluntary work. It may be that some members of the public look rather askance at someone who has pleaded guilty to and been convicted of quite a serious
That is why we believe that the expression "community punishment order" is entirely appropriate for what has been called up until now a "community service order". If that is right, it follows that the present "combination order" should be called a "community punishment and rehabilitation order"--a joining together of the old probation element and the old community service element in the new title. I do not claim for a moment that it is poetry. It is not supposed to be. But it describes to the general public what the courts are doing with these particular offenders.
Of course the Government want to see the rehabilitation of offenders. That is no doubt the reason why judges and magistrates make these orders in the first place. But the Committee should recognise that when such orders are imposed they are a mixture of rehabilitation and punishment. It is our view that the titles that we have arrived at are the appropriate ones and that it would be wrong to revert to the present titles.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I congratulate the noble Lord on a careful and well-argued response; but in the end it was disappointing. He says that the Government's purpose is to make the aims of the orders more transparent for members of the public. What this amounts to is that the Government want to toughen up the language for public consumption. If one needs any proof of that one has only to look at the comments of Mr Boateng in Standing Committee G in another place. He said:
The toughening up of the language has a downside. I have had long experience of seeing probation officers in operation and of reading their reports. In the past, I recall that a good probation officer would look for that gold nugget in the most unlikely individual. He would attempt to bring something out of the offender, to try to bring him into society and mend his ways. As a result of the sort of rhetoric that we have been hearing in relation to this Bill, I have noticed that
The suggestions that used to be found in probation orders as regards the various ways of "disposal"--to use the word that I absolutely abhor--have now been reduced. The effect on the probation officer and on the offender is more important than simply toughening up the language for the greater benefit of the public who read the tabloid newspapers. That is the crucial relationship with which the Probation Service should be concerned: the relationship between the probation officer and the individual. I believe that the renaming of these orders will have a much more important and far-reaching effect than the Government realise.
Lord Laming: I should like to thank the Minister for what I thought was an extremely helpful and thoughtful response to the points made. I wonder whether he will agree with me in two respects. First, none of us in this Chamber regards any of these orders as being a "soft option". The noble Lord used that phrase. The thought that we would want any of these orders to be perceived as a soft option is far from being in any of our minds. Secondly, does the noble Lord agree that that perception arises as a matter of practice and not because of the name being used? Whatever the name of the order, it is essential to ensure that it is implemented in a robust and thorough way. That is the point that we should like to make.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page