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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I have great sympathy for the logical case which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has made. However, the onus is on the Minister to tell us whether there is a reason other than the precedent of the 1987 order for this apparent disparity which gives confused signals if the wrecker of the peace is let off more lightly than another.
There is, of course, another way of doing it, as proposed in another pair of amendments to be moved later by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. Instead of increasing both punishments, as my amendment suggests, to two years, the noble Lord being a more merciful man, has decreased the punishments to six months' imprisonment in both cases. We are both trying to achieve the same level, but we have done it in different directions.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: It is true that we did go in slightly different directions, but with the same objective--to secure uniformity in the matter of the penalties. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is senior to me in terms of service--I have never yet been a member of a government--I shall leave it to him. I propose, with the leave of the Committee, not to move my amendments and to support his.
Lord Monson: I prefer the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I know he is not going to proceed with it, but image is everything, as we know in Northern Ireland. It will appear to the public rather draconian to have the possibility of a maximum sentence of two years. I know the maximum is not often imposed, but it is possible, and with an unlimited fine for what is not really a very serious offence, looked at objectively, I would have thought it was better to equalise downwards rather than upwards.
Lord Alderdice: I was not going to comment at all, but I have to say that when such disruptions lead to losses to the public purse in excess of £20 million or £30 million, it is perhaps not unreasonable that one should consider this as a matter of considerable gravity, and indeed sometimes of course loss of life. It is a matter of considerable gravity.
Lord Dubs: I would like to consider the points that have been made to see what is the best way forward. In other words, I am sympathetic to some of the arguments that have been used, and I want to see whether we can make progress on the matter.
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