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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I have little to add to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Windlesham. The provisions in the draft amendment are extremely difficult to navigate and, at best, confusing. Notwithstanding the explanation given by the Attorney-General--he has no reason to apologise for its length--perhaps there are grounds for reconsidering the drafting. As I understand the Attorney, the Government wish to cater for a case in which a court, when dealing with an offender who was under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, considers that an appropriate disposal is the recommendation of a whole life term of imprisonment.

I endorse what has just been said by my noble friend. It is inconceivable that a court should think it right to make a whole life recommendation in respect of someone who is under the age of 18. I speak with the utmost diffidence in the presence of the Lord Chief Justice. I would have thought that such a decision would be overturned on appeal. In those circumstances, one wonders whether it is right to legislate in this way when it may well give rise to the inference that in the Government's thinking that may be an acceptable disposal (to use the current word). If that is right, I am obliged to agree with Justice that subsection (5), whether as drafted or as proposed to be amended, is superfluous, because in such a case there is no room for an administrative or ministerial tariff. I am prepared to believe that I have misunderstood the position--indeed, I hope that I have--but in the latter event I pray in aid that the language is none too clear.

Finally, I invite the Committee's attention to the criteria in new subsection (5A), which is inserted by Amendment No. 138. The wording could hardly be more open-ended or wide:

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I do not see how that can be more at large. Surely, there should be some restriction or specification of the matters which the Secretary of State can take into account. I should be obliged if the Attorney-General could refer the Committee to any precedent in the enormous existing corpus of legislation which the Government would follow.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for those responses. As I said at the outset, this is a legislative scheme of amendments that is designed to bring into effect the consequences of Thompson and Venables. I said--perhaps not sufficiently clearly--that it was extremely difficult to envisage circumstances in which a court might draw a conclusion that a whole life tariff was appropriate in the case of someone who committed an offence, or series of offences, under the age of 18. It is possible in an extreme case that someone who has almost reached the age of 18 commits a series of murders where a whole life tariff is appropriate.

It is necessary to point out the virtue of the thinking behind the amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, the intention is to take away executive discretion and lodge it more appropriately with the courts, which was the conclusion of the European Court.

We have also carefully provided for an appeal process. I do not believe that there is any difference in purpose between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, or the case that I have expressed. I am more than willing to see whether the drafting can be improved if that is consonant with the policy aim that I have expressed on behalf of the Home Secretary. This is a measure which gives more power to the judiciary, which many would think appropriate whether or not the European Court had come to its conclusion in Thompson and Venables.

With my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lord Bach, I shall give thought to whether or not we can get a clearer and perhaps more limited discretion in the context of what the noble and learned Lord said. I gather from the sense of the Committee that our aim is the same. If we can improve the wording we are more than happy to listen to alternative suggestions.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 134 to 138:

    Page 37, line 34, leave out from beginning to ("is") in line 36 and insert ("If the court").

    Page 37, leave out lines 40 to 42 and insert ("the court shall order that, subject to subsection (5) below, the early release provisions shall not apply to the offender").

    Page 37, line 43, leave out ("excluded by subsection (4) above") and insert ("where an order under subsection (4) above is in force").

    Page 37, line 45, after ("shall") insert ("at the appropriate stage").

    Page 38, line 2, at end insert--

("(5A) The appropriate stage, for the purposes of subsection (5) above, is when the Secretary of State has formed the opinion, having regard to any factors determined by him to be relevant for the purpose, that it is appropriate for him to give the direction.").

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The noble and learned Lord said: These amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [Release on licence etc: conditions as to monitoring.]:

10 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 139:

    Page 40, leave out line 9.

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the new clause, which is Amendment No. 146, and Amendments Nos. 141 and 156.

Before dealing with the detail of the amendments we are bringing forward in this part of the Bill, it may be helpful and useful to the Committee if I explain briefly the background to the proposals and why we are asking the Committee to consider such a major set of new measures so late in the passage of the Bill. First, I must acknowledge that we are asking a great deal in bringing forward these measures at this stage. But we feel it is justified. That is partly because events over the summer have demonstrated the urgent need to reassure the public that measures are in place for protection against sex offenders. The police, probation and other services work tirelessly--do they not?--to protect the public against such offenders who may often be some of the most dangerous members of our society. I should like to pay homage to their hard work and endeavours.

The measures we propose are in no way critical of their work. But there is a clear and pressing need to explain better to the public what goes on at present, often without their knowledge. We also think that it will provide a better, stronger framework for public protection and put the matter on a statutory basis.

Secondly, there are some measures which we believe we can enact now, which will give the police and other services better tools to deal with such serious sex offenders. Some of those are measures which we feel we can bring forward in advance of the major review of the Sex Offenders Act that we set up earlier in the summer. I must stress that that review will press forward and, hopefully, complete its work by the end of the year. But where we can legislate now to improve the Act, we feel we should do so. There are other measures, such as the proposed new sex offender restraining order which are new, although they build on concepts in existing legislation.

This then is the package of new measures we are asking the Committee to agree should form part of the Bill. In memory of Sarah Payne, whose parents have campaigned so courageously for reform, we see the new measures as a "Sarah's Law".

Finally, at this stage I should say a brief few words about what areas of the Sarah's Law campaign we do not consider it would be right to bring forward to the

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Committee. "Naming and shaming" is not the way forward; the risks are all too evident. That approach jeopardised the arrangements in place to monitor sex offenders and to protect children from them rather than improving the protection of children; nor would "controlled access" to the sex offenders' register improve public protection. It is difficult to see how such a system could allow solely parents or other concerned and responsible individuals a right of access to information about individual sex offenders while retaining control of the information.

Decisions about disclosure must be taken on a case-by-case basis by the police and probation services. We believe, however, that parents and the public have a right to more information about the way sex offenders are managed in the community, the safeguards that are in place and the part they can play in enforcing those safeguards. That is why we are creating a statutory duty on the police and probation services to establish arrangements for assessing and managing risks posed by sexual and violent offenders. That will be coupled with guidance by the Home Secretary about those arrangements and, in particular, about the publication of information. That information might include, for example, details of the number of registered sex offenders in the police force area; programmes which exist for managing sex offenders; the number of times disclosure of information about sex offenders has taken place to organisations and individuals; and the type of organisation to which disclosure has taken place--perhaps schools. The police and probation services will enter into dialogues with local communities on the basis of this information.

We are also creating a new duty on the local probation board: first, to consult the victims of sex and violent offenders about whether they want to comment on the terms of the offender's release; and, if so, whether they wish to be informed of or propose any conditions which relate specifically to them. There is also a whole raft of amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 1997, which serve to tighten the protection afforded by that Act and add additional protections.

I shall now turn to discuss in more detail the measures we are bringing forward. The new clause constitutes the second main element of our proposals designed to ensure that the public are properly aware of measures being taken to safeguard them from sexual and other violent offenders. In particular, the new clause is about ensuring that the person most affected by these offenders, the victim, can receive information about and comment on the conditions or requirements to which the offender is to be subject on release.

The Probation Service's work with victims is vital. It can be enormously helpful in assisting victims in their struggle to rebuild their lives. Access to information about an offender's release conditions can prevent victims feeling isolated by the criminal justice system and alleviate any fears they may face over an offender's impending release.

The recent thematic inspection "Ensuring the Victim Matters" commended the Probation Service on its excellent work with victims of crime, which it

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undertakes with great commitment, sensitivity and understanding. However, the report indicates that the current arrangements do not go far enough and suggests that many victims of serious crime are often overlooked. The new clause therefore builds on the existing non-statutory arrangements and creates new statutory duties on the local board.

First, in the case of all offenders sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment or more for a sexual or violent offence, the local board for the area in which the offender is sentenced will be under a duty to take all reasonable steps to ascertain whether the victim wishes to make representations as to any conditions to which the offender should be subject when he is released. Victims will also be asked if they wish to be informed about "their" offender's release and any conditions that apply to it. Then, where the victim has requested information, the local board must provide details of relevant conditions to which the offender is to be subjected on licence. So, for example, victims will be informed if the licence contains a condition not to go within a certain radius of the victim's home.

This duty goes far wider than under the current arrangements. It will provide greater protection and reassurance both to victims and to the general public. It is a move which will be welcomed by the service, many members of which are keen to offer assistance to more victims of offenders than are affected by the current requirement for a four-year sentence, and in some cases have already put arrangements in place to that effect.

The change will be supported by new, comprehensive guidance to help services provide a new, nationally consistent and improved standard for victims.

Finally, we acknowledge that the widening of victims' work will carry some funding implications for the service. The service will therefore welcome the additional resources that the Government will be making available to enable the service to respond to the demands of this new work.

What we are not doing, however, is requiring the Probation Service to give full details of the offender, such as his address, to the victim. There can be no legitimate reason for this and it is no part of our agenda to encourage reprisals or vigilante activity. This new clause concerns protecting and reassuring victims, not putting at further risk offenders who have been rightly punished through the criminal justice system.

The new duty also signals the way for the creation of a new national Probation Service for England and Wales that is confident about its ability both to supervise offenders effectively and to respond to the needs of victims.

Perhaps I should also mention that the other provisions of this part of the Bill apply to dangerous offenders released on temporary licence. However, we are not placing a duty on the Probation Service to notify victims in cases where a dangerous offender is released on a short period temporary licence. Where the licence period is only a day or so, for example to

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allow an offender to attend a funeral, to require statutory notification to the victim in all cases would be impractical and inappropriate. We do intend, however, in secondary legislation made under the Bill, to maintain the current position whereby services will have discretion to notify victims of periods of temporary release where they judge it appropriate and necessary for the protection of the victim.

I hope that I have given a clear exposition of the new clauses and their implications. I beg to move.

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