HC Deb 25 June 1991 vol 193 cc913-21

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, leave out lines 9 to 13 and insert ("punishable with a custodial sentence other than one fixed by law.")

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we will also discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 14.

Mr. Patten

These amendments bring offences which are triable only on indictment within the scope of the restrictions on the use of custody in clauses 1 and 2. We debated this issue in Committee and the issues have been well aired both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. We have also had the benefit of some extremely good debates in another place. The amendments substantially improve the present position on indictable offences.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments No. 2 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 2, line 25, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

Mr. Patten

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we will discuss Lords amendments Nos. 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 133, 134 and 141.

Mr. Patten

The main purpose of this group of amendments is simply to clarify and to some extent restructure the arrangement of the provisions of part I of the Bill. That reflects the views expressed in another place, especially by the judiciary. The changes do not affect the substance of the provisions in any way, although the opportunity has been taken to remove any possibility of inconsistency in the interpretation of the provisions as they affect multiple past or current offences. We have benefited from debates in Committee and in another place on these amendments.

Mr. Sheerman

I shall speak briefly to Lords amendment No. 9. This amendment and the subsequent linked amendments provide that the courts must normally consider a pre-sentence report before imposing a custodial sentence for an offence which is triable only on indictment. Those changes were made by the Government in response to Opposition amendments. When the Government react to Opposition amendments, we are always pleased. But before the changes the Bill required the courts to consider a pre-sentence report, which would normally be prepared by the probation service, before imposing a custodial sentence for an offence which was summary or triable either way.

If an offence was triable only on indictiment, courts could pass custodial sentences without considering such a report, if the offender had previously served a prison sentence.

There are two reasons why it is right that a requirement for pre-sentence reports should be extended to indictable-only offences. It is worth repeating them, even though, as the Minister said, the matter has been covered elsewhere.

First, such reports explore possible alternatives to a custodial sentence and advise the courts of them. That helps to ensure that courts do not pass custodial sentences without considering possible alternatives. Consideration of alternatives is just as relevant to many indictment-only cases as it is to offences which are summary or triable either way.

Secondly, probation reports contain objective information about the offender's background and circumstances and about his or her attitude to the offence. Those may be important factors in assessing how far mitigating factors are present. That can be crucial, first, to the decision on whether the offender deserves custody and secondly, if he deserves custody, to the decision on the length of the sentence in the light of the offender's degree of culpability.

The considerations that I have described are just as relevant in indictment-only cases as in summary or either-way cases. The second consideration that I mentioned answers the argument by people who ask what is the point of insisting on a pre-sentence report in cases where the offence is so serious that realistically the only question is how long the sentence will be.

When the matter was debated in Committee, the Government strongly resisted similar amendments. Their change of heart since the Bill was considered in the House of Lords is to be welcomed, even if it is belated.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 13, after clause 3 to insert the following new clause—Additional requirements in the case of mentally disordered offenders—

  1. (".—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, in any case where section 3(1) above applies and the offender is or appears to be mentally disordered, the court shall obtain and consider a medical report before passing a custodial sentence other than one fixed by law.
  2. (2) Subsection (1) above does not apply if, in the circumstances of the case, the court is of the opinion that it is unnecessary to obtain a medical report.
  3. (3) Before passing a custodial sentence other than one fixed by law on an offender who is or appears to be mentally disordered, a court shall consider—
    1. (a) any information before it which relates to his mental condition (whether given in a medical report, a pre-sentence report or otherwise); and
    2. (b) the likely effect of such a sentence on that condition and on any treatment which may be available for it.
  4. (4) No custodial sentence which is passed in a case to which subsection (1) above applies shall be invalidated by the failure of a court to comply with that subsection, but any court on an appeal against such a sentence—
    1. (a) shall obtain a medical report if none was obtained by the court below; and
    2. (b) shall consider any such report obtained by it or by that court.
  5. (5) In this section—
  6. (6) Nothing in this section shall be taken as prejudicing the generality of section 3 above.")

Mr. Patten

I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following: amendment (a) to the Lords amendment: after subsection (4) insert—

  1. '(4A) For the purpose of facilitating the making and submission of medical reports, the Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for the establishment of duty psychiatrist schemes in courts to which this section applies.
  2. (4B) Regulations made under subsection (4A) above may be made so as to apply only in specified areas.'
(b) in line 32, at end insert— 'duty psychiatrist scheme" means a scheme which provides for the psychiatric examination of the mental condition of offenders by a registered medical practitioner who is duly approved.' Lords amendments Nos. 48, 101 and 107 to 110.

Mr. Sherman

The intention of Lords amendment No. 13 is to require courts normally to consider a medical report before passing a custodial sentence on an offender who is or appears to be mentally disordered. The amendment was tabled by the Government in response to amendments tabled by Peers in the all-party penal affairs group, with the support of the Opposition.

Following discussions on this issue in the House of Commons, in the Committee stage in another place the Government initially amended clause 3 to require a court before passing a custodial sentence on a mentally disordered offender, first, to consider any information before it which relates to his mental condition, whether in a pre-sentence report, a medical report or otherwise, and, secondly, to consider the likely effect of such a sentence on that condition and on any treatment which may be available for it.

However, that measure did not require the court to obtain a medical opinion if such an opinion was not already before it. Therefore, it achieved little, because it is likely that a court would in any case consider any information that it had available on the offender's mental condition.

The strengthened amendment to place a duty on the court normally to obtain a medical report is therefore a significant improvement on the present legal position. However, if the provision is to work properly, it will require the establishment of a duty psychiatrist scheme at courts throughout the country to enable reports on mentally disordered defendants to be prepared speedily. Otherwise, the courts may obtain reports by remanding defendants to the suicide-inducing conditions of prison medical wings. That would be far from the intention of all those who have pressed for the provision in Lords amendment 13 to be included in the Bill. The case for including in the Bill a statutory requirement to establish duty psychiatric schemes is important to us. I wish to speak about that too because our amendments and the Government's amendment are part of this group.

We were keen to amend the Bill in Committee because even the research by Professor Gumm—inspired and financed by the Home Office—found that possibly 20 per cent. of people in our prisons are suffering some kind of mental disorder. That number has steadily increased.

It is not surprising that the Government are criticised for their care in the community policy, because we have all seen people in our constituencies who are in need but who are no longer sent to mental institutions for treatment and care. Because of that policy an increasing number of men and women suffering from some kind of mental disorder are on our streets, perhaps begging. Crisis at Christmas investigated those sleeping rough in London the Christmas before last and found that a high percentage were suffering from a mental disorder.

Nowadays, an increasing number of people who go to prison for a range of criminal acts, usually of a reasonably minor nature, are suffering a mental disorder. Should the Minister ever visit prisons and talk with prison governors, I am sure that he would accept that the constant refrain one hears on such occasions is: "These people should not be here. They never used to be. We are not trained to look after and care for them. They belong in a special category."

In Committee, we tabled an amendment to introduce a duty psychiatric scheme whereby psychiatrists would be on call in courts so that a rapid assessment could be made of the mental state of a person should anyone in the court suggest that that person had a problem. The essential reasoning behind our amendment is a desire to change the existing circumstances for those suffering from a mental disorder. We want to offer courts another option instead of the traditional one of remanding someone in custody for psychiatric reports. We want to deter the courts from such action.

People who are under great stress and who have a history of mental disorder are sent to prison—to some of the worst, dark Victorian institutions. That is most dangerous. It is tragic, but not surprising, that a large number of such people proceed to attempt to commit suicide, many successfully. Others do ghastly things to themselves, such as self-immolation.

We want to introduce an early-warning system so that a psychiatrist can appear at a court to give a rapid assessment of a defendant so that that person does not have to go to prison. We are seeking to achieve that early warning system with the introduction of a duty psychiatric scheme.

In response to our amendments, the Government have argued in this House and another place that a scheme would place too onerous a responsibility on the medical profession at this time. However, if we phased in that psychiatric scheme, surely that would be an acceptable solution to any problem.

Successful experiments have already been undertaken in a number of courts in London and Peterborough. We believe that the psychiatric scheme should be spread to other courts as resources allow. If the Government accept the amendment, we believe that that would act as an incentive for the introduction of such schemes. [Interruption.] The Minister and his hon. Friends may ask whether I have the resources, but the psychiatric scheme would save thousands of pounds. When a prisoner is remanded in custody for psychiatric reports it is usually for two weeks. I believe that the scheme could be cost-neutral at the very least, because every time we stop someone from going into prison who should not be there we are saving enormous amounts of money.

7.15 pm

The report that the Government commissioned from the Home Office showed that possibly 20 per cent. of prisoners suffer from a mental disorder. If we cut that number in half, the savings to the Exchequer from that 10 per cent. who avoided prison would still be prodigious. The Minister is aware that that is true. Avoiding sending some people to prison represents an enormous saving every week and every month. I do not believe that the duty psychiatric scheme would be an expense. It would save money, but perhaps I should hedge my bets and say that it would be cost neutral. If we proved that cost neutrality we should extend the scheme throughout the country. We are confident that remarkable savings would be made.

We believe that the Bill should contain a duty on the Government, as resources become available, to extend a psychiatric advice scheme to all our courts. The scheme could be introduced on the basis of priority, as I believe that the inner-city courts have a greater need for such a scheme than other courts.

We believe that the amendment is common sense, and we hope that even at this late stage we have converts in the Minister and the Government.

Mr. John Patten

While responding to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) on the Opposition amendment to amendment 13, I will, if I may, speak strongly in favour of Lords amendment No. 13. I shall also speak to Lords amendment Nos. 48 and 101 and Nos. 107 to 110.

We discussed the problems associated with the sentencing and treatment of mentally disordered offenders a number of times during the passage of the Bill. We all agree that more should be done to ensure that courts have the necessary information when sentencing an offender who might be mentally disordered so that wherever possible he received treatment as well as punishment or, best of all, treatment without punishment, from health or social services departments under the Mental Health Act 1983. That is our desire.

I have been much influenced by the words of wisdom that I have received over the years from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) who has taken such a notable interest in the problems facing the mentally disordered.

As I said on Report on 20 February, the problem is to find a way of squaring the circle to enable the courts to identify and to obtain reports quickly on those suspected of being mentally disordered without defeating the pourpose of the exercise by having to put them on remand in custody for a long period awaiting those reports. I said then that we would continue to work on the problem and that we would introduce amendments in another place. We have done so and the amendments before us now are the fruits of those labours.

Lords amendment No. 13 makes new provision for the obtaining of psychiatric reports in cases where the offender appears to be mentally disordered. An exception is provided in subsection 2 of the new clause introduced by the amendment for cases where the court does not consider it necessary to obtain a medical report. That may, for example, be because the court already has sufficient information about the offender's mental condition without needing to call for a new report to be prepared.

The House will agree that the provision represents a considerable step forward in ensuring that full account is taken of an offender's mental condition before sentence is passed.

With regard to the Opposition amendment to Lords amendment No. 13, there is no disagreement between the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and myself about the value of duty psychiatrist schemes. I have visited such schemes, and have been a strong proponent of the experimental schemes that have pleased the hon. Gentleman so much. The question is simply whether an amendment such as that proposed is necessary in order to achieve the objective of promoting the development of new schemes.

The Opposition amendment seems to imply that those concerned with the running of magistrates courts are thought unlikely to create duty psychiatrist schemes unless the Secretary of State compels them to do so by means of a statutory instrument. I can assure the House that that is not the case. Courts such as that in Peterborough, and projects in Hertfordshire such as the Hertfordshire Care Trust, have introduced some valuable schemes. I stress that those are local initiatives, centrally supported. That is the advantage of schemes that arise in response to local conditions rather than being imposed from the top downwards, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield would wish.

The Government have introduced a substantial package of measures which will be of considerable benefit in ensuring that mentally disordered offenders are properly taken care of within the criminal justice system, yet which avoids the dangers to which I referred throughout earlier debates. I hope that the House agrees that those measures more than fulfil the commitments that I gave in Committee. I commend them to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 181.

Division No. 193] [7.21 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Kirkwood, Archy
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Leadbitter, Ted
Allen, Graham Leighton, Ron
Anderson. Donald Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Livsey, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Loyden, Eddie
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McAvoy, Thomas
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Macdonald, Calum A.
Beckett, Margaret McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Bell, Stuart McKelvey, William
Bellotti, David McLeish, Henry
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Maclennan, Robert
Bermingham, Gerald McMaster, Gordon
Blunkett, David Madden, Max
Boateng, Paul Marek, Dr John
Boyes, Roland Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Callaghan, Jim Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Martlew, Eric
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Maxton, John
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Meacher, Michael
Carr, Michael Meale, Alan
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cohen, Harry Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Mullin, Chris
Corbett, Robin Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cox, Tom O'Brien, William
Crowther, Stan Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cryer, Bob Patchett, Terry
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pike, Peter L.
Darling, Alistair Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Primarolo, Dawn
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Quin, Ms Joyce
Dewar, Donald Randall, Stuart
Dixon, Don Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Doran, Frank Richardson, Jo
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Robinson, Geoffrey
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Rogers, Allan
Eadie, Alexander Rooker, Jeff
Edwards, Huw Rowlands, Ted
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Ruddock, Joan
Fatchett, Derek Sedgemore, Brian
Fearn, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Fisher, Mark Short, Clare
Flynn, Paul Skinner, Dennis
Foster, Derek Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Foulkes, George Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Fraser, John Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Fyfe, Maria Snape, Peter
Galbraith, Sam Spearing, Nigel
Godman, Dr Norman A. Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Golding, Mrs Llin Strang, Gavin
Gordon, Mildred Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Graham, Thomas Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Haynes, Frank Wigley, Datydd
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Henderson, Doug Winnick, David
Hood, Jimmy Worthington, Tony
Howells, Geraint Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hoyle, Doug
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Tellers for the Ayes:
Janner, Greville Mr. Ken Eastham and
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie.
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Adley, Robert Amos, Alan
Allason, Rupert Arbuthnot, James
Amess, David Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Ashby, David Harris, David
Aspinwall, Jack Haselhurst, Alan
Atkins, Robert Hayward, Robert
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Batiste, Spencer Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv" NE)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hill, James
Benyon,W. Hind, Kenneth
Bevan, David Gilroy Hordern, Sir Peter
Blackburn, Dr John G. Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Body, Sir Richard Irvine, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Irving, Sir Charles
Boscawen, Hon Robert Janman, Tim
Boswell, Tim Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bottomley, Peter Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Key, Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Kilfedder, James
Bowis, John King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Kirkhope, Timothy
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knapman, Roger
Bright, Graham Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Knox, David
Burns, Simon Latham, Michael
Butcher, John Lawrence, Ivan
Butler, Chris Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Lightbown, David
Carrington, Matthew Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Carttiss, Michael Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Cash, William McCrindle, Sir Robert
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Channon, Rt Hon Paul MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Chapman, Sydney McLoughlin, Patrick
Chope, Christopher McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Madel, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Marland, Paul
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Marlow, Tony
Cran, James Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Curry, David Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Day, Stephen Mills, Iain
Dorrell, Stephen Moate, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Monro, Sir Hector
Dover, Den Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Dunn, Bob Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Durant, Sir Anthony Nicholls, Patrick
Dykes, Hugh Norris, Steve
Eggar, Tim Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Emery, Sir Peter Patnick, Irvine
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Patten, Rt Hon John
Evennett, David Pawsey, James
Favell, Tony Raffan, Keith
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Fookes, Dame Janet Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Forman, Nigel Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Freeman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
French, Douglas Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Fry, Peter Skeet, Sir Trevor
Gale, Roger Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gardiner, Sir George Speller, Tony
Gill, Christopher Stanbrook, Ivor
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Goodlad, Alastair Stern, Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Stevens, Lewis
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Stokes, Sir John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Summerson, Hugo
Gregory, Conal Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Grist, Ian Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Ground, Patrick Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Grylls, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Thornton, Malcolm
Hague, William Thurnham, Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Hanley, Jeremy Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Viggers, Peter
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wilshire, David
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Waller, Gary Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Watts, John Yeo, Tim
Wells, Bowen
Wheeler, Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Whitney, Ray Mr. Timothy Wood and
Widdecombe, Ann Mr. David Davis.
Wilkinson, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment No. 13 agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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