Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): Amendment proposed—

Lord Renton: I must say—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Amendment proposed: page 97, line 43, at the end insert the words as printed on the Marshalled List.

Lord Renton: I was hoping to intervene before the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, sat down.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it is difficult to

8 Oct 2003 : Column 336

intervene when there is not a Motion before the Committee on which to intervene. That is why I pressed forward. There is now a Motion before the Committee.

Lord Renton: It is kind of the noble Lord to give that explanation. I would not in any sense blame him.

Amendment No. 172LA limits the use of custody and reserves it for,

    "dangerous and sexual and violent offenders"—

yes, of course many of those deserve custody—

    "and seriously persistent repeat offenders".

Well, that is an unusual expression.

There are serious cases of fraud and burglary. Vast sums are obtained by fraud. Huge numbers of valuable goods are obtained by burglary. Surely custody would have to be imposed for a first offender if the offence was very serious. Therefore, I fear that there is a very serious limitation on the use of Amendment No. 172LA. Indeed, it is such a serious limitation that we could not accept it.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: Perhaps I may say to my noble namesake that I do not think that he could have been sitting in his place yesterday when, as I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, publicly withdrew the words in this proposed subsection because of the very point that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has made. I thought that the noble Lord implied that we would not see those words again. He accepted that they clearly did not cover many other serious forms of crime.

Viscount Bledisloe: I share the view of the previous two speakers that Amendment No. 172LA is far too restrictive. Is the noble Lord really suggesting that one cannot impose custody on the perpetrator of a major fraud or on a spy? I might remind him that Mr Blake received 42 years. Under this amendment, he would have to be given community service. Is that really what the noble Lord intends? Does he really intend that those who commit perjury or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice should be fined? Does he really intend that major drug smugglers shall walk free? Obviously the people mentioned here are very suitable candidates for custody, but surely it cannot be right to say that they are the only suitable candidates for custody.

Despite the noble Lord's exposition of Amendment No. 172LC, I do not quite understand it. In particular, I do not understand how sentencing policy can take into account the effect of investigation and proceeding. Investigation and proceeding have happened. Unless he is suggesting, as in the homosexual case, that the sentencer should say, "There is nothing wrong with this; I shall not punish you. Therefore it is a waste of time for the police to investigate or proceed against other homosexuals", I do not see how the impact of investigation and proceeding—which has happened by the time the sentencing stage is reached—can be expected

8 Oct 2003 : Column 337

to be taken into account in sentencing. No doubt the noble Lord can explain that. However, I would undoubtedly oppose Amendment No. 172LA.

Viscount Colville of Culross: On Amendment No. 172LC, may I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that perhaps what we want is not something as general as he has put forward. I understand what he is trying to achieve. However, what is really useful to the sentencer is a guideline decision, or the advice from the council in future, which says what, in the circumstances of that particular offence, are the mitigating factors and the aggravating factors. Then one can start to identify in the course of hearing the evidence the main issues that will eventually lead to a conviction and sentence. That is done at the moment and it is invaluable, but I do not think that it would necessarily be achieved by the generality of what is contained in Amendment No 172LC.

6 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: Having spent at least one holiday travelling around Italy looking at some of the wonderful paintings of St Sebastian, I know exactly how he felt after the three pronged attack which I received from three noble Lords, including my noble namesake, all of whom I greatly respect. I am extremely grateful for the assistance that I was given by the noble Viscount a few moments ago.

The answer to the three questions I was asked is straightforward: No. It was not, of course, intended to create a situation in which George Blake could not be sent to prison. It was not intended to create a situation in which burglars could not be sent to prison. However, it has to be said—I am sure that Members of the Committee who have spoken in the past few minutes share my experience that most people who commit serious burglary offences are persistent repeat offenders—that it is rare for a burglar to graduate to the large-scale antiques burglary of one of your Lordships' stately homes, for example, without going through the university of crime.

I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that so far as perjury, and particularly perverting the course of justice, are concerned, far too many people are sent to prison unnecessarily. As judges always say—I have said it myself—although those offences go to the root of the criminal justice system one has to ask the fairly sensible question whether someone who tells a lie about who was driving a motor car at the time of a breathalyser offence but who otherwise has an exemplary private and public record really needs to be sent to prison, or whether he or she could not be condignly punished in the community, probably most of all through the shame of conviction, which constitutes a great punishment for such people. Therefore, I do not apologise for seeking to keep that category of people out of prison.

Amendment No. 172LA contains an overriding principle. It is not intended to be a command structure. Possibly the wording could be improved. However, I hope that the purpose behind Amendment No. 172LA

8 Oct 2003 : Column 338

is one that we all share. Prisons are overcrowded. They are constantly criticised by Her Majesty's entirely independent inspector of the Prison Service. In many cases they do very little to enable offenders to emerge from prison likely or able to lead law-abiding lives. We believe that the deficiencies in the present system should be tackled in some way in the legislation. I do not claim perfection for the amendment's wording and nor do those who drafted it. However, like my noble friends, I claim that the purpose of the amendments is useful and ought to be considered by the Government.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow and Lord Renton, for saving me the burden of dealing with many of these amendments. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, that I understand why he wants these issues on the face of the Bill.

These amendments seek to add to the matters to which the council must have regard when framing or revising sentencing or allocation guidelines. Although each of the issues raised is both important and one that the council will expect to consider, it is not necessary to include that degree of detail on the face of the statute.

We want the council to do all the things that the noble Lord has just outlined. It will have the skill and the knowledge to address those issues. I am sure that it will take into account precisely the role that the noble Lord mentioned. The council will be able to determine the proper use of custody in relation to offences and what kind of offending history needs to be borne in mind. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said that what most assists sentencers is to know the aggravating and mitigating factors and what they have to take into account. That is precisely what we intend.

In respect of the sentencing guidelines, Amendment No. 172LA emphasises the importance of proper use of custody. The council will take into account the cost of different sentences, their effectiveness and the need to promote public confidence and it is better to leave the obligation at this level of detail and let the council discharge that duty.

Amendment No. 172LB seeks to require the council to have regard to other sentencing principles in the Bill. The guidelines will be for those passing sentence who must abide by the statutory principles which we mentioned when discussing Clause 135. Therefore, any guidelines must follow those principles and so there is no need for this provision.

Amendment No. 172LC emphasises the importance of the council having regard to potentially discriminatory actions—again the need for the council to have regard to confidence in the system will include this and it is not necessary to prescribe this level of detail.

Amendment No. 172LD refers to allocation guidelines which will assist magistrates' courts in determining what either way cases to send to the Crown Court for trial. The council will take into account all relevant issues. As well as the consultation undertaken by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, Parliament will contribute to the council's deliberations and there is no need to specify a particular factor such as this. Even if we

8 Oct 2003 : Column 339

thought that there might be such a need, the noble Lord's namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, uttered strong words on verbosity on the previous occasion that we discussed the Bill. I believe that these amendments might well fall foul of his strictures. I for one took them very much to heart.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page