Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Windlesham: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord for the way he has worded his reply. I suggest that here we have an instance of good intentions, which are not denied and have been expressed articulately, that can have adverse consequences. The Minister spoke about the target group being young first-time offenders who plead guilty. He said that every one of that group should be given an opportunity to take part in youth offender panels where they would receive informed assistance and help. Does not the expression "given an opportunity" suggest an element of free choice? Yet, there is no free choice in this instance. On the contrary, there is an intentional element of compulsion.

If we consider young first-time offenders who plead guilty, is it fanciful to believe that there could be pressure brought to bear to plead guilty when the circumstances of the actions that brought them before the court might not result in a criminal conviction? But the good-intentioned people who believe in the value of the panels have decided that those young people will be eligible only if they plead guilty. That will mean a conviction, and criminal record with which a young person must live for the rest of his or her life. That is a very serious matter.

Conversely, the insistence on first offenders will make ineligible those who have previously been bound over for a lesser offence. Why can they, too, not benefit from referral to a panel? Because in attempting to define eligible persons by category they have been excluded. Consequently, human nature will continue to defy categorisation and definition in the way we see it set out in the first two clauses of the Bill.

Contrary to what has been said by some speakers in the course of the debate, initially there were signs that the Government might be considering accepting the amendment tabled in this House. The Explanatory Notes that accompanied the Bill in the House of Commons stated that the drafting of Clauses 1 and 2 was under review. Yet that was not the response of the Home Secretary in moving the Second Reading in another place. He was the first speaker in the long drawn-out proceedings in the Commons. He stated bluntly that the Government would seek to reverse the Lords amendment which made referral discretionary rather than mandatory.

26 Jul 1999 : Column 1322

There were lengthy exchanges in Standing Committee, and approximately two hours of debate when the Bill returned to the Floor of the House of Commons. But none of it counted for anything as the Home Secretary had already made clear that the Government intended to reverse the amendment.

I remain convinced that this is a wrong turning of some significance in criminal policy. I accept that the issue divides opinion. Nowhere was the division more clearly demonstrated than on the Liberal Democrat Benches. On the previous occasion one of the sponsors of the amendment carried by the House was the Liberal Democrat Front Bench spokesman, but I shall embarrass him no further. As I do not intend to press the matter, he will not have to vote one way or the other.

We have had a lengthy and valuable debate. It raises issues of principle. It is right that we should explore them again, as we have done today. However, I do not intend to press the motion. I beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5.30 p.m.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

2

Page 2, line 2, leave out ("order the offender") and insert ("sentence the offender for the offence by ordering him").

[Amendment No. 2A not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

3

Clause 7, page 7, line 15, at end insert--


("( ) Where the panel allow any such person as is mentioned in subsection (4)(a) ("the victim") to attend a meeting of the panel, the panel may allow the victim to be accompanied to the meeting by one person chosen by the victim with the agreement of the panel.").

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 10, 23, 26 to 39 and 49 are grouped together because they are technical or minor drafting amendments. Amendment No. 3 makes it clear that a victim attending a panel meeting may be accompanied by a supporter. Amendment No. 10 is a minor drafting amendment to ensure that witnesses are able to use communication aids if the court considers that it would improve the quality of the evidence. Amendment No. 23 is a minor drafting amendment. The original formula in Clause 52 could have resulted in someone who is able to understand

26 Jul 1999 : Column 1323

questions put by the court but not to give answers that could be understood being deemed competent. Amendment No. 23 deals with that.

Amendment No. 26 is a technical amendment relating to Northern Ireland. There is no guarantee that the Northern Ireland Act provisions will necessarily be in effect by virtue of political agreement in Belfast by the time this Bill becomes an Act. We have, therefore, put in these provisions to ensure that the clause works in advance of devolution. Amendment No. 27 ensures that ministerial functions so far as exercisable under devolved competence would transfer automatically under Section 53 of the Scotland Act 1998 to Scottish Ministers.

Amendment No. 28 omits subsection (10) of Clause 66 in the usual way so that public funds can be used to implement the Bill. Amendment No. 29 ensures that paragraph 6 covers all possible ways in which the court can deal with the offender. Amendment No. 30 makes it clear that paragraph 10(2), extension of referral for further offences, relates to paragraphs 11 and 12 to avoid any confusion that might otherwise arise.

Amendments Nos. 31 and 49 replace references in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 to a convening officer with references to a "judge advocate" because "convening officers" are now out of date after the Armed Forces Act 1996.

Amendments Nos. 32 to 39 extend the existing exceptions to the prohibition on the use of answers given under compulsion in criminal trials to the insolvency area.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I agree with Amendment No. 3, which is welcome, and the other amendments for the most part. However, I wish to draw attention to Amendment No. 27 which refers to Scotland. It seems odd that we should be placing this action retrospectively on the statute book with regard to Scottish devolution before the Scotland Act 1998. The boundaries of issues devolved to Scotland are sometimes difficult to follow. That is potentially damaging. However, that is a larger question than the immediate issue here.

To say that this Act--in normal circumstances it is patently a post-commencement enactment as regards the Scotland Act--shall nevertheless be taken to be a pre-commencement enactment does not seem satisfactory in principle. It alters devolution in this one, I admit small and rather technical, respect after the event. I do not think it a good idea for Acts of Parliament to carry this kind of provision in future.

It would be helpful if the Minister would explain further what is happening. Devolution has become an important matter. The boundaries of devolution between England and Scotland, England and Wales, and, it is to be hoped in due course, England and Northern Ireland, are different. They are not the same boundaries. The

26 Jul 1999 : Column 1324

same items are not being devolved. They differ between the three countries within the United Kingdom. That makes the matter more difficult.

It is an extremely small issue as regards this Bill. Nevertheless, I believe that a bad principle underlies the small amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to be fully instructed on this otherwise arcane matter.

I take the noble Lord's point, but it is a standard provision which enables Scottish Ministers to make the commencement orders in due course. I anticipate that there will be some occasions in the future when this will happen. I agree that one needs to be careful, but the amendment simply says that any provision of this Act extending to Scotland should be taken to be a pre-commencement enactment within the meaning of that Act. It is a mechanical device to give powers to the Scottish Ministers. I am grateful for the noble Lord's query.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I endorse the amendments. On Amendment No. 3, Clause 7 of the Bill allows for an offender to be accompanied by another person. I am somewhat horrified that the Bill passed through this Chamber without a proposal for the vulnerable victim also to have the opportunity to bring a person with him to the panel meetings. I can find no other reference to that. I believe that I should criticise myself and others if we did not insert that at this time. I warmly welcome the amendment.

I believe that Amendment No. 10 is a great improvement and clarifies the original version.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page