Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Kilbracken moved Amendment No. 12:


Page 8, line 25, after ("it") insert ("was inaccurate or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now move on to Clause 15 which deals with the provision of information to victims. There is a drafting point here that I think ought to be remedied. In Clause 15(4) we read:


take certain action. But if the information has ceased to be accurate it must mean that it was accurate in the past and has since ceased to be accurate. I therefore propose that it should read:


    "any of the information in it was inaccurate or has ceased to be accurate".

That is the sum total of my proposal. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: My Lords, as someone who at an earlier stage spoke up for the interests of victims I am very happy to support this reasonable and modest amendment, which I am sure will improve the Bill.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for moving this amendment and indicating to me that he intended to do so. I am afraid that I shall disappoint him. I do not believe that this amendment is required, for the reason that I shall set out. Under Clause 15 the Secretary of State is placed under a duty to provide information to victims in clearly specified circumstances. Subsection (4) of this clause is intended to address circumstances in which the Secretary of State has previously discharged her duty by providing information which was accurate when it was provided, but which because of a change of circumstances has now become inaccurate. If the Secretary of State fails to provide accurate information the duty imposed by Clause 15 has not been discharged. Should the Secretary of State become aware that inaccurate information has been provided she remains under a duty to provide accurate information in conformity with the clause.

The amendment is not required as the duty to provide accurate information already exists. As with a previous amendment we have considered today, to write in the specific amendment proposed by the noble Lord would lead to uncertainty in other legislation where similar duties are provided for. I understand the motives of my noble friend but in the circumstances I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, had done the House another service by spotting this apparent inaccuracy in

22 Jul 1998 : Column 917

the Bill. However, in view of the comments of the Minister perhaps the lawyers have another way round the same point. Perhaps the amendment is not as good as I had first thought.

Lord Kilbracken: My Lords, I am grateful for the support that I have received from noble Lords who have spoken. Ministers have an extraordinary knack of finding reasons for resisting amendments. They defend their parliamentary draftsmen to the last ditch. I have nothing against parliamentary draftsmen--my father was a parliamentary draftsman--but sometimes I feel that they do not quite deserve the favourable treatment that they receive. However, I must accept the veracity of what my noble friend has said. I certainly do not intend to press this not very important matter to a Division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

5.40 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. Your Lordships' House has given detailed consideration to the Bill at every stage. Amendments have been put down and considered. The Government have accepted the merits of a number of amendments and believe that the Bill has been improved as a consequence. Other amendments, which are not compatible with the agreement or which would not have improved the terms of the Bill, have been rejected.

This is a complex Bill which deals with a difficult subject--the early release of prisoners. We have all found it difficult to come to grips with the issues in the Bill. The context of the Bill is more remarkable. All of the prisoners who may be released under its terms could foresee that there could come a time when they would be released from prison anyway. There are few who even a year ago would have believed that the parties in Northern Ireland, together with the two governments, could reach an agreement regarding the future of Northern Ireland. The conclusion of the Good Friday agreement was a remarkable event. I was privileged to be in Northern Ireland at the time of the negotiations and to be present during those long final hours.

In the days and weeks after the conclusion of the agreement there has been a new optimism in Northern Ireland. At times that optimism has been dented by events, such as the disturbances surrounding Drumcree and, very tragically, the murder of the three Quinn children at Ballymoney and, more recently, the murder of Mr. Kearney in Belfast. There is uncertainty as to what will happen in the future but the agreement, which was endorsed by more than 72 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland, offers a way forward and an opportunity to make such barbaric events a thing of the past; to build a future free from terrorism in which all may participate on equal terms. Tonight I invite your Lordships to play your part in making that future a reality by endorsing the Bill. I beg to move.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 918

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister has been unfailingly courteous in listening to our arguments. He has not always agreed with them but he has always been most courteous. I am grateful to him and to his officials for that and for the way in which they have conducted the Bill.

We all in one sense hate the idea of the Bill but, in another sense, we support the agreement. It has changed the outlook in Northern Ireland. I remain a supporter of the agreement and hope that it will be successful, even if one dislikes some parts of it.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.]

5.42 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

MOTIONS AND AMENDMENTS MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to Bill (167) as first printed by the Commons.]
COMMONS AMENDMENT

1

Leave out Clause 1.

MOTION MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS AMENDMENT No. 1

1A

That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.

By appearing before your Lordships in a dinner jacket I am not signalling that I propose to make a meal of this amendment. I have an assignation with a Baroness.

When this Bill left your Lordships' House, Clause 1 provided for the setting up of a standing advisory committee on criminal justice and the penal system. The function of the council was to address the important issues of criminal and penal policies dispassionately, authoritatively and constructively. In the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice the purpose of the clause,


    "is to provide the Home Secretary and the Government with a reservoir of wise, informed, objective and non-partisan advice on the important and intractable problems which confront him".--[Official Report, 3/3/98; col. 1132.]

When the amendment was first raised in Committee the Lord Chief Justice spoke in support, as did his predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lane, and the former Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, my noble

22 Jul 1998 : Column 919

and learned friend Lord Lowry. Also two former Home Secretaries, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, together with the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, the former Minister of State at the Home Office, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the former Under-Secretary there.

The only member of the House who spoke against the amendment was the noble Lord, Lord Henley. At Third Reading the amendment was again supported by the Lord Chief Justice, the former Lord Chief Justice, seven Law Lords, two former Home Secretaries, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and four former Home Office Ministers. Again, the only voice against, apart from the Minister, was the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who said his party would not be supporting the amendment nor supporting the Government. However, in the event, a significant number of Conservatives voted for the amendment, as did a handful of Labour Peers. It was strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats and Cross-Benchers as well as the only Bishops who voted.

I previously informed your Lordships that I do not take pride in the parentage of this amendment. To mark the centenary of the report of the Gladstone Committee on Prisons on 10th April 1995, a letter was sent to The Times under the joint signatures of inter alios, Professor Sean McConvill, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, Professor Anthony Bottoms, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Runcie. It stated among other things:


    "We think that the time is right for an overview on the scale of the Gladstone inquiry, to propound a sound, authoritative penal philosophy".

I have in a number of debates invited your Lordships to make provision for a comprehensive reassessment of a rational penal policy and thereby restore much needed confidence in the system. I was therefore delighted to learn that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice on two occasions, in two lectures, subsequently endorsed my suggestion. At the conclusion of the annual lecture of the Prison Reform Trust, given by him in June last year, he said that,


    "if a revived advisory council were able, with the benefit of intensive worldwide research and consultation, to reach authoritative conclusions which commanded the respect of the public and the professional opinion, and if those conclusions were given legislative effect, this Parliament would earn an assured place in the history of this country".

On 8th April, on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the Home Secretary communicated to Parliament his first thoughts, so to speak, on the amendment. He said:


    "I have considered the proposal very carefully, and, in the light of that consideration, we shall seek to delete that provision in Committee. As I have already made clear, the Bill provides a new sentencing advisory panel and a national Youth Justice Board. We have, therefore, concluded another unfocused body would cause unnecessary duplication and significant delay in dealing with the many problems of the criminal justice system".--[Official Report, Commons 8/4/98; col. 378.]

The two bodies which he identified are hardly relevant to the issues we have to consider. The sentencing advisory panel does not advise the Home

22 Jul 1998 : Column 920

Secretary; it advises the Court of Appeal on sentencing guidelines. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, pointed out on Report it operates entirely within the existing law. It does nothing in respect of new sentences or maximum sentences, and nothing outside the existing body of statutes.

The Youth Justice Board is referred to in Clause 35 of the Bill. It is primarily a monitoring body. In a letter from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice, dated 16th March, of which I was kindly given a copy, the main source of advice is now said to be the Criminal Justice Consultative Council. This was set up as a result of the Woolf Report on prisons, and its function is to reconcile the potential conflicting aims of disparate agencies of the criminal justice system; for instance, the police, the CPS, the Probation Service, and the Prison Service. Its terms of reference, set out in Annex A of the summary of its activities in 1996-97, is to promote better understanding, co-operation and co-ordination in the criminal justice system, in particular by considering reports about developments to and affecting criminal justice, considering other information about the operation of the system, and overseeing the arrangements and special conferences. As Lord Justice Rose, its president, said:


    "It has sought to lubricate the various parts of the criminal justice system".

The council has not been given an advisory function, nor does its present composition or organisation allow it to undertake one. All members, in one way or another, are involved directly with one or other of the agencies. Three Permanent Secretaries are also members--that is, health, Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department. As presently constituted therefore the committee possesses none of the elements of independence which are essential for an advisory council.

As regards the suggestion that the existence of the standing council would add to delays in the making of public policy, the Minister, before referring any matter to it, would be fully entitled to impose time limits for the provision of the desired report.

I have in the past made submissions to your Lordships emphasising one area in which the standing council could produce an effective contribution; that is, in relation to the re-education of the public by providing a wider understanding of the limited contribution imprisonment can make to an effective law and order policy. I have done so because of the serious overcrowding which currently exists in prisons, and the projection by the Home Office that the current figure, given yesterday and said to be the highest ever prison population, is over 66,000. That is said to be likely to reach 83,000 within seven years or nearly 100,000 on a worst-case scenario basis. That would mean 20 new prisons at a cost of £2 billion.

Your Lordships may well seek to ask the question: if the standing council had, during the past year, been in existence, what useful function could it have performed? I think that I can give a good example. Some three or four years ago, it was appreciated, particularly as a result of the revelation of the large number of child abuse cases, that there is a tiny minority of dangerous

22 Jul 1998 : Column 921

criminals, in particular paedophiles, who may, under existing procedures, be released when they still represent an unacceptable risk to the public.

The previous government sought to cater for that problem with the automatic life sentence introduced by the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997--a provision much criticised by the late Lord Chief Justice and the current Lord Chief Justice. The Act requires a court to impose a life sentence on any offender over the age of 18 who is convicted of a "serious offence" committed after the commencement of the Act if he has been convicted of another "serious offence" before committing the latter "serious offence". The expression "serious offence" applies inter alia to attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, incitement to murder, soliciting murder, manslaughter and other violent offences for which a sentence of life imprisonment can currently be imposed. It is not necessary for the earlier offence to have been committed before the commencement of the Act or that the offender should have been of any particular age.

That section was not brought into effect by the previous government. Therefore one can imagine that if the council existed the Home Secretary might say, "Do I bring this Section 2 into force or is there a better way of dealing with this difficult problem?" I believe that the standing council would have advised the Minister in this way: first, it would have reminded the Government of the White Paper, issued in 1990, entitled Crime Justice and Protecting the Public, where the following statement is to be found:


    "The Government"--

that is, of course, the previous government--


    "rejects a statutory framework on the lines of those introduced in the United States, or a system of minimum or mandatory sentences for certain offences. This would make it more difficult to sentence justly in exceptional circumstances. It could also result in more acquittals by juries, with more guilty men and women going free unjustly".

In explaining the wisdom of that statement the council would have pointed out, first, that if the jury is aware that the defendant faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted, it will for that very reason not convict; secondly, there will be refusals by defendants to enter, as they should and would have, pleas of guilty; thirdly, it is not difficult to imagine cases where witnesses, particularly those in close relationships with the defendant and knowing the consequences of the conviction, would refuse to give evidence or would prove unreliable; fourthly, there is the danger of the victim being killed by the offender in order to avoid the risk of detection and subsequent life imprisonment; and, fifthly, in order to be sure of obtaining a conviction there would be cases in which the prosecution would find itself obliged to accept an unrealistic plea bargain.

Next, the council would doubtless have drawn the Government's attention to the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on the Second Reading of the Crime (Sentences) Bill when he said:


    "The sentencing regime for which we contend should, as many noble Lords have said, be open and transparent; but it is nonsensical to invite a High Court judge to say 'I am sentencing you to life

22 Jul 1998 : Column 922

    imprisonment. By the way, you can expect to serve 18 months'. That is a perversion of the system. It will bring the whole system into disrepute".--[Official Report, 27/1/97; col. 1063.]

The Home Secretary would have been informed by the standing council that Section 2 of the Act made no useful contribution to the problems dealing with psychopathic or personality disordered offenders. It does not empower a court to pass a sentence which cannot now be passed in the exercise of the court's discretion; it merely forces the court to pass a sentence which it would otherwise consider inappropriate.

The Home Secretary would have been further advised of the following matters. I rely for this upon Dr. Thomas QC, of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. He said that the section was pregnant with anomalies. The list of serious offences omits many which might be committed by dangerous offenders, such as arson and possessing explosives with intent. Buggery of a person under 16, although punishable with life imprisonment, is not a "serious offence", although unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 is. Most sexual abusers of children, who are likely to be convicted of indecent assault, indecency with a child, or abducting a child, will fall outside the Act. Some violent robbers will be covered, others not. The man who chooses to use a harmless, but frightening, toy pistol will commit a "serious offence" but not a man who uses a knife or similar weapon.

The greatest weakness of Section 2, considered from the point of view of protecting the public, is that it requires the offender to have been convicted of the first offence before committing the second. The man who is convicted on the same occasion of a series of offences, each of which is a "serious offence" for the purpose of the Act, will not attract an automatic life sentence. In short, the Minister will have been informed by the council, "Don't touch this section even with a bargepole".

I come next to how the council would have assisted the Minister on providing a much better alternative. The "reviewable sentence" has been referred to frequently over the past few years. It was first mentioned by the 1975 Butler Committee. It has the following advantages over the Section 2 mandatory life sentence provisions. First, it is not limited to repeat offenders. Secondly, it is not restricted to the narrow range of offences in the section, all of which as the law now stands can be punished by prison for life. Thirdly, it requires medical evidence before it can be imposed. Fourthly, it does not run the risk of the criminal deciding to "do in" his victim so as to avoid a life sentence. Fifthly, it does not carry the false label of imprisonment for life which, in 99 per cent. of the cases, is not intended to be effective.

The standing council would have pointed out that analogous provisions exist in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand law. Assuming the Minister would listen to sound advice, the council would have prevented the Minister from bringing into force, as he did in October of last year, this highly undesirable section. On 30th July of last year, the Home Secretary informed the other place:


    "My overriding priority is to secure the safety of the public".--[Official Report, Commons, 30/7/97; col. 341.)

22 Jul 1998 : Column 923

That, of course, is the overriding priority of any sensible government. However, the deeply depressing and worrying fact is that the Government, by a stubborn refusal to allow the provision of sound advice, so far from securing the safety of the public, are seriously prejudicing it in the way I have mentioned. Accordingly, I invite noble Lords to be convinced that a standing council would make an important contribution, in particular to securing the safety of the public. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Lord Ackner.)

6 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, this matter was indeed debated fully in this House in Committee on 3rd and 30th March. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, remarked, courteously but carefully and forthrightly, my noble friend Lord Henley provided valuable support to the Minister on that occasion--perhaps it was invaluable since I believe he was the only person to provide that support. I recognise that some of my distinguished noble friends supported the noble and learned Lord's amendment on that day.

I am still not entirely convinced by the case made by those who would wish to see a standing advisory council established. Like my noble friend Lord Henley, I have taken note of the fact that the council would be advisory. But I am also aware that Ministers could find themselves more bound by an advisory body than the noble and learned Lord at present anticipates.

Like my noble friend Lord Henley before me, I cannot offer my support to the noble and learned Lord. I remain of the view that it is up to the Government to make their own case on this matter. I shall not support either the Government's Motion or the noble and learned Lord's Motion.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page