Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Ackner: I have not quite understood exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is offering. The lack of generosity which he has been instructed to show throughout the passage of this legislation is not

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1145

something for which I blame him. That is his brief. No one could have carried out the obligations of his brief more courteously or more efficiently than the noble Lord, but we wish to know what the brief entitles him to say. If the brief merely says, "I will ask those in the Home Office to read Hansard", I find that particularly uninvigorating. It is not what we have been asking. On the other hand, if the noble Lord says, "If you do not divide the Committee, I will assure you that we will give favourable consideration (although we do not bind ourselves to agree with it) to what has been urged so forcefully and fully, with but one exception", that is quite another matter.

Perhaps I may deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said. As has been pointed out, he totally overlooked the word "Advisory" which occurs throughout the amendment. The council is to "advise",


    "the Secretary of State on ... adequacy and effectiveness".

It is to "advise" the Secretary of State on various aspects of the penal system. To show that the advisory council will not trespass on the sentencing panel, the amendment specifies,


    "at the request of the sentencing Advisory Panel ... providing such advice and assistance as may enable the panel the better to discharge its functions".

In relation to the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and his party, one is reminded of the occasion when I successfully moved an amendment that there should be a right of appeal against the tariff which the judge pronounces in murder cases. That right of appeal exists in regard to the tariff for all other sentences which result in life imprisonment. The amendment was resisted although its purpose was to provide the Home Secretary with greater wisdom as to what the tariff should be, still leaving him the opportunity to make his own decision. It would have provided him with the advantage of having the trial judge's view either altered or confirmed by the Court of Appeal. The Home Secretary would not have it. This House said that he should have it and, by a large majority, we carried the amendment, but it was reversed in the other place.

What were the then government resisting? They resisted the giving of advice to the Home Secretary which he could accept or reject. But the Home Secretary might be embarrassed by that advice because, stupidly, he might go contrary to it and then he would be open to criticism in this House and outside it. The approach of the noble Lord, Lord Henley--I do not say that it is the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, because he has not committed himself--is, "Don't embarrass me with advice; allow me to be as pigheaded as I wish to be". I find that a very unattractive stance. That is why I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to be a little clearer about exactly what is the nature of his generosity, if any, before I decide whether or not I shall seek to divide the Committee.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I thought that I had made it as plain as I possibly could by saying, "There are a number of issues here which are worthy of further consideration and which would benefit from

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1146

further discussion". I think that that is fairly plain. I cannot guarantee "favourable consideration" because the noble and learned Lord would not expect me to come to a conclusion, standing here as I do; nor would he expect the Home Secretary to come to an instant conclusion because that would be contrary to the theme of the advice that he has been giving us so carefully which is, "You may listen carefully before you make up your mind".

Lord Ackner: Then I shall remove the word "favourable" and ask whether the noble Lord would accept the word "sympathetic". That in no way confines him to anything. It merely means, "Consider it with an open mind", but says that in one word. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that suggestion.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We will consider this with an open mind because we believe the issues here are worthy of further consideration and would, I respectfully repeat, benefit from further discussion. So, the word "open" is attached to the word "mind" in the context of "further consideration and further discussion".

Lord Ackner: With the advantage of those further and better particulars, I am prepared to ask leave to withdraw my amendment, although obviously intending reculer pour mieux sauter should that be necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Clause 66 [Sentencing guidelines]:

[Amendment No. 257 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 257A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clause 67 [The Sentencing Advisory Panel]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 258:


Page 53, line 33, at end insert--
("(1A) The panel shall contain--
(a) at least two members who have experience of working with or on behalf of victims of crime,
(b) at least one member who is a serving circuit or High Court Judge,
(c) at least one member who is a police officer,
(d) at least one member who is a magistrate, and
(e) at least one member who has experience of working as a small businessman.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee comes to the sentencing advisory panel. It is an advisory panel to which I can offer a degree of support, unlike the panel that the Committee spent a little over an hour discussing and, I daresay, will spend more time discussing in due course. At the moment the clause provides that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor shall, after consultation with the Secretary of State and the Lord Chief Justice, constitute a sentencing panel to be known as the sentencing advisory panel and appoint one of the members of that panel as chairman.

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1147

At this stage obviously the noble and learned Lord is unable to say who or what kinds of people are likely to be appointed. In general, I am not in favour of a prescriptive provision of this kind setting out precisely who should be sitting on the panel.

I move the amendment purely as a probing amendment to seek guidance from the Government as to what kinds of people are to be appointed to the panel and what kinds of interests they are expected to cover. I also make the more general point that it is very important that the various classes that I specify in the amendment should be represented in one way or another; in other words, those who have experience of working with or on behalf of victims of crime such as circuit or High Court judges, police officers, magistrates or small businessmen.

The problem about producing a list of this kind--the noble and learned Lord will no doubt make the point absolutely clear--is that it can be as long as one's arm and it will still not feature all those who should be included. I recognise the demerits of the amendment and have no intention of pressing it or anything like it, but I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could indicate the Government's thinking about the kinds of people to be included and the range of their experience. I beg to move.

The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): As the noble Lord indicated, Amendment No. 258 raises questions about who will serve on the new sentencing advisory panel. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the suggestions contained in his amendment and for giving the Government an opportunity to state their thinking in relation to the composition of the panel. Under Clause 67 appointments to the panel will be a matter for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to decide in consultation with the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice. No final decisions have yet been taken on the composition of the panel. I can confirm however that the matter is under discussion between the Home Secretary, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice.

It may assist if I set out in outline the role of the panel and how we see it working as this will inform any decision on the membership. The panel has been set up to provide informed, well researched and objective advice to the Court of Appeal. It needs to be independent yet capable of reflecting the view of a wide range of interested parties and acting as a conduit for those views to the Court of Appeal. It must not however be seen to be dominated by any particular sectional interests. The panel has been set up to promote consistency in sentencing by providing the Court of Appeal with some additional but very important tools which will assist in the framing or revision of guidelines. It will be important for it to have the right mix of "coal face" experience and broad-based knowledge of the criminal justice system. At the same time however it should not be too big and unwieldy if it is to act quickly and in a corporate fashion as we want it to. This means that we are probably looking at about 12 members. Clearly, that limits to some extent the

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1148

range of people and groups that can be represented on the panel. The panel however will consult widely so those whose interests are not directly represented on it will still have every opportunity to feed in their views.

The kind of people we expect to be on the panel may include for example academic lawyers, researchers, sentencers and sentence providers and one or two people completely independent of the criminal justice system. The Government are very interested to hear suggestions made by noble Lords tonight about possible membership. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will take those into account, along with the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, and the Home Secretary with whom he is in discussion. Similarly, on the question of who will be consulted, it is important that we do not seek to be too prescriptive at this stage about membership of the panel. Appointments to the panel will not be made until the Bill receives Royal Assent. It would be unfortunate if at some stage in the future we were prevented from appointing an eminently suitable candidate simply because he or she did not fit into some pre-determined category.

I hope that that explanation helps the Committee to understand how the Government see the panel at the moment. I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will not seek to press his amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page