|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lady is right. That is exactly how one protects oneself against such unsolicited mail. One can ring the appropriate telephone number. I am grateful that she is helping to publicise that fact. Of course, at present that applies only to individuals and not to companies, but it is an advance and I am sure that many Members of the House will be duly grateful for that fact.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, would the Minister consider government action on e-mails that would suggest to the writers of programs for e-mails that there should be a "Return to sender" icon? On a lot of junk mail that is delivered through the post appear the words, "If undelivered return to" and I return it all to the senders who have to pay for the return postage. They soon get the message.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has identified a growing practice of consumer resistance to unsolicited mail of various kinds. I applaud her recommendation and hope that more of us take up her suggestion.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I was terrified that I would be asked for a definition of such names. I was ready to describe "cookies" and some of the other delightful concepts that are now used as shorthand for aspects of new technology. Spam refers to unsolicited mail.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House why the Government have fixed a derisory £5,000 penalty for this matter when the Italiansleaving aside the penalty of three years imprisonment as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Faulknerhave a fine of £66,000, which is much more proportionate to the amount of money involved in this trade?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it has often been assertedquite accuratelyin the House that the British are significantly more law-abiding with regard to European directives than many other societies. We can be confident that with a fine at this level we shall fulfil the requirements of the directive. The Italians may believe that they need a greater deterrent.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this group of amendments concerns hate crime. Although a number of noble Lords will be interested in this subject, I can see that many are not. I shall pause so that people will have an opportunity to listen.
Hate crime is an offence of any kind committed against a victim because of a characteristic of the victim that the offender particularly dislikes. So far the statute law has identified a number of themrace and religionand it has dealt with them in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to which were attached some provisions in Section 38 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Since I drafted the amendmentI should perhaps have seen this beforethe noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has tabled Amendment No. 201A which adds two new categories: sexual orientation and disability. I thoroughly approve of that.
It would have been useful to have a preliminary discussion on this matter in Committee. I had intended to say something on a Liberal Democrat amendment which was tabled but in the end it was not moved because the necessary troops were not present. The matter arises out of the Select Committee on Religious Offences where my colleagues and I had a good deal of opportunity to consider the law, as it currently stands, on this point and its disadvantages. I am told that my drafting is hopelessly faulty. That is no novelty for anyone who moves amendments in this House. Nevertheless, the various points are worthy of consideration and discussion.
The statute law on hate crime is in a real mess. We have had two statutesone in 1998 and one in 2001which dealt with race and religion. They created aggravated offences. They also substantially increased the maximum penalties for a number of fairly ordinary, but nevertheless very unpleasant, offences, sought under Section 20 or Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act; harassment under the Public Order Act and the Protection from Harassment Act; and criminal damage. I shall not go into the details, but, for example, under the Criminal Damage Actnot including arson or criminal damage intended to endanger lifethe maximum penalties were increased from 10 to 14 years. Those are now available to the courts in cases where aggravation is established.
I should have thought that all Members of your Lordships' House would agree that where such aggravation on the basis of any hate crime is established, a court should be able to impose an increased penalty. That is exactly what is provided in Amendment No. 201A, tabled by the noble Baroness, but only for that limited category.
The current situation is that if a person commits an offence, activated by hatred of the victim, which falls within one of the classes where the maximum imprisonment is life, there is no need to do anything about it. Nothing has been done about it. In other words, homicide offences under Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Actthat is, grievous bodily harm to malicious wounding, both of which carry lifeand offences under the Criminal Damage Act, such as criminal damage with the intent to endanger life or arson which also carry life, have not been included in any legislation so far because there has been no need. The maximum sentence being life, the court has liberty to put the correct maximum tariff on the offence.
On the other hand, we have the other sets of offences. First, there are those dealt with under Sections 29 to 32 of the Crime and Disorder Act on the basis of race, where there is an increase in the maximum sentence on the grounds that these are aggravated offences. To those were added the religiously aggravated offences under the 2001 Act, in which the courts are enabled to increase the sentence above what would be the maximum in other cases. But of course the difficulty is that the offender has to be charged with a racially or religiously aggravated offence.
That matter must be proved to the satisfaction of the jury. If the members of the jury are not so satisfied, they can of course convictand will have to be directed to convicton the lesser, "unaggravated", ordinary offence. If they do so, there is a major problem for the judgeor indeed the magistrates
In Section 153 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 there is a more general power, where in respect of anything other than the Crime and Disorder Act and legislation on religious offences the court must treat aggravation as increasing the seriousness of the offence, and therefore raise the sentencing limit within the maximum laid down by the statute. But there is no increase in the maximum laid down by any other statute, and the whole thing rests entirely upon the maximum in the other legislation. There is no similar provision, as in the Crime and Disorder Act, whereby the actual maxima sentences are increased in order to deal with what is seen as the mischief. That applies only where it is not a matter of race and religion.
Now we have the amendment that the noble Baroness will move as part of this group, whereby she says that we should add to the Section 153 list the matters of sexual orientation and disability. There will be no increase in the maximum sentence, as was the case for race and religion, but, nevertheless, the seriousness can be reflected by the court in the sentence imposed. So I would suggest to your Lordships that there is legislative chaos in this particular area. There has been no comprehensive consideration of this, nor have we had any answer to the package in the report of the Select Committee on Religious Offences where we dealt with the matter.
I suggest that we should have a more general look at the point. I dare say that my amendment is wholly defective, but never mind; there is something in it that might appeal to all noble Lords. The concept is that we should no longer go along with the particularities that so far distinguish this legislation. In Amendment No. 199, I have attempted to broaden out the kinds of hostility and include the other identifiable characteristic which the noble Baroness does not like.
Then, as in Amendment No. 201A, we have a general provision for an extra penalty being legitimate on the grounds of aggravation, if an offence is proved to have been motivated by this kind of hate crime. It does not actually have to be proved to the jury. Therefore, the judge is not debarred from imposing an increased sentence because the prosecution has not had to put the matter on a basis of a particularly aggravated offence on a specific reason. Therefore, the jury members have not had an opportunity to discuss this or to come to any conclusion on it. The matter is therefore in the hands of the judge. He will be able to look at the situation in the light of all the considerations that have come out either in the course of the crime or in looking at the antecedents.
I do not know what will happen in this kind of area as a result of the previous provisions in the Bill. I do not know what will happen to the bad character part of the Bill. I expect that it will come winging its way back from another place in exactly its original form,
It seems to me that if someone is accused of criminal damage in that he sprayed offensive graffiti on the wall of a mosque and the jury are toldif it gets to a juryor the magistrates are told that the defendant has a number of previous convictions for graffiti and religiously motivated criminal damagespraying swastikas on Jewish tombstones, or whatever it might bethose points would be so prejudicial to the fairness of the trial that a judge probably should not let them in. If we are determined to stick to a separate regime for race and religion whereby guilt would have to be proved on the basis of an extra motivated aggravated crime, such previous convictions would be fiercely argued as between the prosecution and the defence. They would be extremely prejudicial to the defendant's chances, as he may not have committed the previous offence or the current one.
I do not know what will happen as regards bad character; however, it is not necessary to go down that road at all. If one takes the view of the draft framework decision that there is a whole range of objections that motivate people to attack each other or each other's property, and one moves away from having cases that must be proved on the basis of racial and religious aggravation, one has a much more general situation in which courts can treat all those factors as a matter of aggravation. They may need to look at the maximum sentences currently available for the kinds of offences to which I refer. Some are comparatively small, but they may be adequate. The noble Baroness, in her amendment, has not considered it necessary to increase any of the maximum sentences in the circumstances about which she is talking.
This is an opportunity to look broadly at the area to see where we are going. I am very unhappy at the suggestion that we must pinpoint one target group after another and have primary legislation later to bring them into the system whereby the courts can treat the circumstances as seriously aggravated.
In East Anglia, where I come from, thousands of Chinese work illegally and there are many other immigrant workers whose status I do not know. The local population does not necessarily object to them as such, but they may object on the grounds that illegal immigrants are using public resources and taking jobs that others would like. I do not believe that those circumstances would lead to victims being targeted on the grounds that they are Chinese, Albanian or any other nationality; there would be different reasons. It is not good enough to wait until someone can pinpoint the exact reason why certain people have been chosen for victimisation and made the object of various offences.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the Companion gives guidance on the length of speeches on Report. I understand the interest that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has in the area, but I ask noble Lords not to respond to his request for a wider debate on the issues.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page