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Lord Thomas of Gresford: Can the noble Lord explain the thinking behind subsection (2) of the new clause? Am I entirely wrong or do I understand it to state that the clause does not apply where an offence is a sexual or violent offence, first, because it is an offence against a child and, secondly, that the sentence in respect of the offence against a child is imposed by a magistrates' court as opposed to the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal? I do not follow the thinking here.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. I shall need to study his comments and consider them further. These are not points to which I should like to give an off-the-cuff response.
Victim Support has pointed out that, while welcoming the fact that this clause will, for the first time, confer statutory rights on victims of certain offences, it is concerned that the clause seems to provide for less than the current Probation Circular 61/95. Victim Support would not want victims of crime inadvertently to become worse off after the legislation comes into force than they are at present.
Four points have been made to me in a letter and I shall put them to the Minister as quickly as possible. I hope he will take them back to the Home Office and arrange for them to be looked at in some detail. First of all, the word "representations" has not been defined in the clause. The letter states that,
I appreciate that these are relatively technical amendments, but we must remember that they can have human effects. I suggest that the noble Lord does no more than ask the officials in the Home Office--whose co-operation Victim Support greatly appreciates--to look into these matters and to sit down with representatives of Victim Support to talk them through.
Lord Dholakia: I live within a radius of 10 miles of where Sarah Payne was murdered. It was almost a personal grief to see what happened to that child. I am sure that all sides of the House share the pain that Sarah's parents must have gone through.
I welcome the news that the News of the World has at last abandoned its name and shame campaign. That campaign has contributed to an atmosphere in which lawlessness has flourished, innocent members of the public have been targeted by vigilantes and offenders have gone to ground fearing reprisals. In all, it has done considerable damage and subjected some unfortunate members of the public to truly terrifying ordeals.
I should perhaps declare an interest as chair of NACRO. We are pleased that the joint approach in which NACRO has been involved with the Home Office has shifted the discussion onto a sensible footing, and we are in agreement with many elements of the "For Sarah" campaign. Indeed, NACRO has long called for a number of measures to reduce the risk of child abuse, including a massive public education campaign on child abuse and how to minimise risk, closing loopholes in current legislation, and sentences that would mean dangerous paedophiles would not be released from prison until they no longer posed a danger to children.
There will always be occasions when members of the public will be rightly warned about dangerous individuals in their area. The police already have powers to do this, and we would support greater clarity over how these powers are to be used. But if the events over the past few weeks have shown us anything, it is the folly of thinking that all members of the community will use information about sex offenders in a responsible manner.
Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether what he said subsumes my concerns in Amendment No. 155. For a long time the Government have been calling for victims to receive more information, but more information about the progress of the prosecution of the case in which they are involved. I would be reassured if everything I was concerned about in the amendment has been subsumed.
In rising to put this point, perhaps I may also express support for my noble friend Lord Windlesham. It would be disappointing, to say the least, given all the good intentions of attempting to do much more for victims, if the sum total achieved were to be a lesser service than they have hitherto received under the circular issued in 1995.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I can now give a response to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. It is a fairly obvious one, and I am sorry that I did not "twig" it earlier. The provision will not apply to magistrates' courts because their sentencing powers are restricted to six months maximum. That is the simple explanation. We ought both to have known that, but I am sorry that I was not able to give the noble Lord the answer first off.
I have listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. We shall examine them carefully. I do not think that the concerns of the victim support organisations are quite right; however, I am grateful that the noble Lord has taken the opportunity to raise them. In regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, particularly his reference to subsections (3)(b) and (6)(b), I see one as an amplification of the other. We need to take the matter away and give it further consideration.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised a point in relation to her Amendment No. 155. There is no intention that the level of service should be reduced and the new statutory duty will be on top of the existing guidance. I believe that that covers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. On a cursory inspection of the amendment, I believe that the matters the noble Baroness raises may well be subsumed within it. However, I do not want to be definitive. I need to reflect further. We are grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment. It is helpful and is supportive of the general drift of what we are trying to achieve with the new clauses introduced by these amendments.
I cannot deal with every point raised. We shall clearly need to return to these matters. If there are some improvements that we can make as a result of the issues raised from all corners of the Chamber, we shall of course endeavour to do so.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for his observations. I, too, live not far away from the area where the unfortunate events concerning Sarah Payne took place. They certainly had a profound impact on my family and the people with whom I mix in that community. These measures will go a long way to give the necessary reassurance to the public, together with amendments that we shall debate later this evening.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Lord sits down, I shall not press my amendment and I shall not speak to it again when we come to it. However, I should like to say that it was not a question of reducing the effects of the amendment. The prosecuting authorities did not have the obligation in the first place to provide information on the progress of the prosecution. I should like to know whether that new obligation on the part of the prosecuting authority is subsumed; and, if it is not, could it be subsumed in any new arrangements?