Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Borrie: My Lords, is there a legal limit on the volume at which the advertising can be played during the commercial breaks in relation to the programme material on either side of the break?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I raised that question when being briefed because I have the impression, as does my noble friend, that the advertising is sometimes louder than the surrounding programmes; just as I have the impression that Classic FM is louder than Radio 3, which I find equally infuriating. I believe that there are regulations on that. However, I shall look into the matter and write to my noble friend.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, did my noble friend see a commercial on GMTV this morning for Claims Direct encouraging compensation claims? Will the Minister consider what can be done to halt that slide into an American-style society based upon litigation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the arm's length principle would require that we do not interfere with the content of advertising. That is a matter for the ITC. But the Home Office will be interested in what my noble friend said about encouraging a litigation society and I shall make sure that it is aware of his remarks.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that advertisements for programmes to be shown after the watershed conform with the rules and suggestions for programmes generally to be shown before the watershed? In other words, are they showing scenes of violence or sex that are unsuitable for children which normally would not be shown until after the watershed?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the point of the watershed is that there are different standards after nine o'clock and before nine o'clock. I do not quite understand what the noble Lord is saying.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, perhaps I may enlighten the noble Lord. Is he satisfied that the advertisements for programmes that are to be shown after the watershed

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1147

conform with the rules for all programmes which should be shown before the watershed? In other words, are they suitable?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, clearly, advertisers will use their judgment as to what advertising is appropriate and profitable around which programmes. If the noble Lord is referring in particular to advertising around programmes for children, there are extremely explicit restrictions on what may be advertised around such programmes. Advertisements for alcoholic drink, bingo, certain religious matter, slimming products, lotteries, the pools and so on are not allowed around programmes which are primarily for children and which are therefore before the watershed.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord but will he confirm that in a programme there is a 12-minute limit on the amount of advertising? Is it not the case that over a 24-hour period, it is nine minutes, not twelve minutes?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the average throughout the day on Channels 3, 4 and 5 is seven minutes. The average throughout the day for cable and satellite is nine minutes. In any individual hour, there can be a maximum of twelve minutes but clearly that must be compensated by fewer advertising minutes in another hour.

Lord Peston: My Lords, do the figures which my noble friend gives include the vast amount of advertising carried within programmes, including programmes on the BBC, under the spurious heading of sponsorship? That includes the logos of a large number of firms which certainly, to a naive person like myself, looks like large-scale advertising.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answers that I have given do not refer to the BBC, although I understand from representations which have been made, that some people object to the BBC promoting its own programmes quite so extensively as they do, even to the extent of promoting forthcoming programmes during the credits of the previous programme. The restrictions to which my noble friend refers and which are the subject of this Question do not include sponsorship or accidental, perhaps deliberate, plugging for individual products within programmes. If my noble friend has any evidence, he should write to the ITC about that.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, has the Minister taken up with the BBC the point he made about the relative inaudibility of Radio 3 compared with Classic FM. I have done so with the controller of Radio 3 who denies that there is any such problem. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to deal with that matter which is of widespread public interest.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did what I thought was even more appropriate. I took it up with the directors of Classic FM who told me that they

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1148

broadcast at the volume which they are required to by communications regulations. Perhaps we should look further into that matter.

Business

3.7 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on Kosovo.

European Tax Harmonisation (Veto) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to require Ministers of the Crown to obtain the approval of Parliament and the public before agreeing in the Council of Ministers to European Community proposals for tax harmonisation. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Waddington.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with to enable the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill to be taken through all its stages this day.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill

Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the Certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a Money Bill, and read a first time.

Then, Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of today), Bill read a second time; Committee negatived; Bill read a third time, and passed.

Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill [H.L.]

3.10 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Referral of young offenders to youth offender panels]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 15, after ("absolutely") insert ("or conditionally").

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1149

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my amendment is designed to introduce a little more flexibility to the lower tariff of sentencing and thus would alleviate almost all cases having to be referred to the youth offender panel. Of course, there are some exceptions which I shall cite later. I do not wish to anticipate what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will say about the amendment tabled in his name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Campbell of Alloway. At this stage, suffice to say that the noble Lord's amendment is designed to introduce discretion in the process, whereas my amendment limits discretion at the lower end of the sentencing process.

There is clarity in Clause 1 of the Bill on which offences do not require referral to youth offender panels. I refer, for example, to: an offence where sentence is fixed by law; an offence where a custodial sentence or hospital order is envisaged, or one where an absolute discharge is appropriate. However, we need to be aware of the considerable variation in sentencing in youth and magistrates' courts. Some courts are more punitive than others and, despite sentencing guidelines from the Magistrates' Association, such variations often cause surprise and concern.

I believe, therefore, that there is no single yardstick by which we can establish a uniform method of working in the courts. However, we can restrict the discretions so that variations in sentencing are not wide. My amendment will do that in three different ways. First, it will allow magistrates to deal with trivial cases without having to refer them to the youth courts. Secondly, unlike total discretion, it will restrict magistrates to use discretion at the lower end of the tariff, thus introducing a more balanced approach to sentencing. Thirdly, it will reduce the workload on youth offender panels when trivial offences are removed from being referred to them, thus achieving the Government's objective of allowing youth offender panels to work with more serious offenders.

There are offences where absolute discharge is appropriate. Equally, a conditional discharge, which puts the onus on a youngster not to commit another offence within a specific time, could have a salutary effect on him or her. We must accept that some offences do not require youngsters to enter into a contract. A conditional discharge would serve that purpose.

Perhaps I may introduce another argument in support of the amendment. I may be wrong but I have always considered absolute discharge and conditional discharge to be part and parcel of the same thinking process. When I served as a magistrate, the exercise I was often given was whether an individual should be discharged and, if so, whether such discharge should be absolute or conditional. I do not believe that one can single out what is absolute and what is conditional unless one has heard all the facts in the court.

I have more serious reservations about giving the courts complete discretion to decide whether or not to refer an eligible young offender to the panel than do the noble Lords who have put their names to Amendment

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1150

No. 2. There is a real risk that some magistrates--perhaps many--would dislike the idea of losing control of the disposal of the young offender to a panel and would use their discretion by rarely, if ever, making such a referral. If that happened, it would undermine the aim of Clause 1 which is to deal with most young offenders appearing in court for the first time in a more suitable setting than a traditional court.

It is clearly not the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to undermine the youth referral panels. In a later amendment tabled in his name, one can clearly see the merit of the idea for many young people. Indeed, if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was to chair every youth court, we would be confident that he would use his discretion imaginatively and constructively. Unfortunately, I fear that some colleagues on the Bench would use their discretion much more cautiously and in a far less positive and enlightened way.

Let us remind ourselves what we would lose if the proposed youth panel system was jeopardised because magistrates chose to keep most cases in the youth court. The panel would be better able fully to involve the young person and the parents in discussing the offence, its impact on the victim and the steps that should be taken to make amends and to ensure that there is no repetition. In the formal proceedings of the youth court, young offenders and their parents often fail fully to understand what is happening. The legal procedures can hinder the process of young people and parents speaking and contributing fully to the discussion. Drawing up a contract could concentrate on the best course of action to prevent re-offending, including attention to the welfare needs of the young person and his or her family, such as family counselling, educational measures and help to overcome drug abuse.

Giving magistrates complete discretion runs the risk of wrecking this imaginative new development by starving the panels of referrals. However, there may be a case for giving the courts a more limited discretion than that suggested by the later amendment. The strongest case for discretion relates to minor cases where a conditional discharge might be appropriate. Will the Minister consider the "third way" between the Bill as it stands and the amendments that are likely to follow? That would be to insert in Clause 1 an additional ground upon which the court would not be required to refer an offender to a panel. The wording might be to the effect that the court is satisfied that the offence is not serious and that there are special circumstances which make a conditional discharge the appropriate sentence in all the circumstances. Certainly, courts could be required to give their reasons for reaching that conclusion.

I consider mandatory sentencing to be more objectionable when it requires a court to pass a more severe or onerous penalty than it would think right if it had unfettered discretion, and the requirements of a contract could be more onerous than a conditional discharge. However, the same objections do not apply to cases where a young person is mandatorily diverted to a youth referral panel instead of receiving a community sentence such as supervision, probation, tagging or a community service order. A more limited amendment

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1151

on the lines suggested would not run the risk of undermining the highly constructive proposal contained in Clause 1. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page