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Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: I am grateful to those who have taken part in this debate and for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for my amendment, which would have placed the burden of proof on the prosecution rather than on the defence in proceedings which had already opened. However, I will reflect on what the Minister said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 not moved.]
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 [Making and possession of devices and materials]:
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Will the noble and learned Lord briefly give way while I put a suggestion to him? Amendments Nos. 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95 seem to cover pretty much the same territory. If the noble and learned Lord is prepared to make one speech covering those amendments, I will make one speech in response.
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom moved Amendment No. 87:
The noble and learned Lord said: The Minister forestalled me because I was going to ask leave of the Committee to do so. I have already set out the basis on which these amendments proceed, which is to discover penal policy. The penal provisions appear to restrict prosecution to prosecution by way of indictment and, more particularly, imprisonment to a mandatory life imprisonment. I may have misunderstood the manner in which the penal provision works so far as Clause 9 is concerned. If that is so, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his courtesy. I apologise for having interrupted him in the first instance. The amendments are very similar. Their effect would be to move us from the current certainty that, on conviction, a person is liable to life imprisonment, to the rather uncertain position that he is liable to a term of imprisonment, whatever that may be, as determined by the judge. This presumably allows that term to be 12 months, five years, 15 years or 50 years. We would not see that as being acceptable.
It would be inappropriate to create an offence of this seriousness with no specified maximum for the term of imprisonment. It has been the practice in recent years for a statute to specify a maximum term as it creates a greater degree of certainty. We do not see a reason to depart from or abandon that degree of certainty, especially for serious offences for which sentencing is vital. I invite the noble and learned Lord, with his long experience, to agree with that principleI am sure that he does. Although we are not entirely sure, we see the amendments as being designed to undermine that principle. We cannot allow for wide fluctuations in sentences from one judge to another. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will accept that the Bill
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provides life as a maximum sentence. The sentencing court has the power of course to impose a discretionary life sentence or a lower term of imprisonment as it seems appropriate. This means that judges can make decisions according to the facts of the case, using the high upper limit set by the Bill as a guide. We believe that that is absolutely rightbut the amendment allows a variation, with what we view as potentially absurd consequences.
We argue for consistency and certainty, and in those terms we cannot see the amendments as acceptable. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord will say that the amendments were of a probative nature, and I am sure that that is the case. However, our clauses set out defences relating to very serious matters, and for that reason we believe that our approach is important to achieve consistency in sentencing.
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: Perhaps the Minister could tell me whether, as presently framed, the provisions mean that on conviction there is a mandatory life imprisonment? Or is he saying that there is a range of sentences available by way of imprisonment that could be less than life imprisonment?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is exactly what I am saying.
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: I am very grateful to the Minister for that assurance. In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 89:
The noble Lord said: It is a bit late in the evening to ask the Committee to be indulgent to a non-lawyer, but I have to make that plea. I shall be as brief as I can. In moving Amendment No. 89, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112.
The amendment refers to the definition of "radioactive material" in the Bill. The Clause 9 definition of radioactive material starts on page 11 at line 11 and, stripped of its inessentials, it states that,
various substances, and,
doing four things, which are listed, the fourth of which is,
Could either Minister follow me through what I regard as the maze leading to what then happens? The definition of the public in Clause 20(3) falls into two parts. The first, in paragraph (a), states that all references to the public are to be construed as,
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That is unqualified and therefore applies to all of Part 1. The second definition is in paragraph (b), which goes on to say that it also includes,
Unlike the first part of the definition in paragraph (a), that part is qualified by the opening words,
which is the clause that we are debating.
The effect appears to be that the possession of radioactive material would not be an offence, even if that material was capable of creating a serious risk to the public assembled in a public meeting, unless it was also capable of doing at least one of the other things set out in Clause 9(4)(b)(i) to (iv). It is difficult to see circumstances in which it could notin which case, the distinction is otiose; but if it could, it is difficult to see the purpose of the exclusion. All that I am asking is what on earth it means. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: Before the Minister replies, I wish briefly to intervene. First, this is the first time that I have spoken since Second Reading; there will be one or two other moments when I speak again, but I do not intend to delay the Committee, as we are now making some quite good progress. I support my noble friend's amendment and hope that the Minister can give us a good answer. However, in reply, could the Minister also say a little about his intentionsor the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotlandabout how far we should go this evening? I know that we want to get on as far as possible; many of us are interested in debating Amendments Nos. 121 and 122, although we shall obviously not debate them tonight. But it makes sense to discuss how far we shall get tonight, so that we know what we are going to do next Tuesday.
Lord Goodhart: I support what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has said. We are particularly concerned that if we go ahead with the target of Amendment No. 116, two items that we regard as considerably important will be debated late at nightthat is, Amendment No. 105 and Clause 21 stand part. I would have thought it would be inappropriate to go beyond the end of Part 1, because it is clear that at that point we will have plenty of time to finish the debate in one more day. Preferably, we should stop before we get to Amendment No. 105.
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