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Orders Of The Day

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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Criminal Justice Bill

[3RD ALLOTED DAY]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

Government New Clause 30

Determination Of Minimum Term In Relation To Mandatory Life Sentence

'(1) This section applies where after the commencement of this section a court passes a life sentence in circumstances where the sentence is fixed by law.

(2) The court must, unless it makes an order under subsection (4), order that the provisions of section 28(5) to (8) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (c. 43) (referred to in this Chapter as "the early release provisions") are to apply to the offender as soon as he has served the part of his sentence which is specified in the order.

(3) The part of his sentence is to be such as the court considers appropriate taking into account—

  • (a) the seriousness of the offence, or of the combination of the offence and any one or more offences associated with it, and
  • (b) the effect of any direction which it would have given under section 222 (crediting periods of remand in custody) if it had sentenced him to a term of imprisonment.
  • (4) If the offender was 21 or over when he committed the offence and the court is of the opinion that, because of the seriousness of the offence, or of the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, no order should be made under subsection (2), the court must order that the early release provisions are not to apply to the offender.

    (5) In considering under subsection (3) or (4) the seriousness of an offence (or of the combination of an offence and one or more offences associated with it), the court must have regard to—

  • (a) the general principles set out in Schedule (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence), and
  • (b) any guidelines relating to offences in general which are relevant to the case and are not incompatible with the provisions of Schedule (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence).
  • (6) The Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence).'.— [Mr. Blunkett.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    1.28 pm

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 31—Duty to give reasons.

    • Government new clause 32—Appeals.
    • Government new clause 33—Review of minimum term on reference by Attorney General.
    • Government new clause 34—Life prisoners transferred to England and Wales.
    • Government new clause 35—Further provisions about references relating to transferred life prisoners.
    • Government new clause 36—Duty to release certain life prisoners.
    • Government new clause 37—Mandatory life sentences: transitional cases.
    • Government new clause 38—Interpretation of Chapter.
    • Government new clause 39—Increase in penalties for certain driving-related offences causing death—and amendment (a) thereto.
    • Government new clause 46—Minimum sentence for certain firearms offences—and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
    • Government new clause 47—Certain firearms offences to be triable only on indictment.
    • Government new clause 48—Power to sentence young offender to detention in respect of certain firearms offences: England and Wales.
    • Government new clause 49—Power to sentence young offender to detention in respect of certain firearms offences: Scotland.
    • Government new clause 50—Power by order to exclude application of minimum sentence to those under 18.
    • Government new clause 51—Increase in penalty for offences relating to importation of exportation of certain firearms—and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
    • New clause 7—Prohibition on mandatory sentences.
    • New clause 9—Penalty for causing death by dangerous driving.
    • Government amendments Nos. 426 to 429, 223, 430, 224, 436 and 437, 228 and 229, 438 to 440 and 431.
    • Government new clause 41—Mode of trial for certain firearms offences: transitory arrangements.
    • Government amendments Nos. 325 to 330, 338, 342, 225, 432, 441, 303, 305, 442, 230, 226, 434 and 435, 227 and 259.
    • Government new schedule 2—Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence—and amendments (a) to (j) thereto.
    • Government new schedule 3—Mandatory life sentences: transitional cases.

    I shall speak to new clauses 30 to 38, with regard to sentencing for murder, new clause 39 on increasing penalties for driving offences causing death, and new clauses 46 to 51 relating to firearms offences. These proposals should be seen in the light of the overall changes that we are making to provide a sensible framework. First, in the Bill we have outlined the purpose of sentencing, on which there is accord across the House. Secondly, we have established the principles and a framework within which the judiciary can use its discretion. Thirdly, and crucially, by offering a clear response to public concerns and establishing clarity and consistency in the sentencing framework, Parliament will see a role for itself. In my view, no disagreement exists between the Government and the judiciary about the fact that it should have the discretion to make decisions in relation to individual cases. We do not intend for the new clauses and amendments to interfere with that. We want to reassert the role of Parliament that historically existed when considering cases of murder, and to ensure that there is clarity and a response to public concern about issues relating to driving, the carrying of guns and the use of firearms. I hope that there will be more light than heat this afternoon, and I intend to deliver the justification for the new measures in that vein rather than taking a bombastic approach on the need for greater responsiveness to public demand.

    1.30 pm

    There is no question but that the public are bewildered by how sentences can be reached when they know that the crime that has been committed was so heinous that there could be only one sentence: life should mean life. When the death penalty was abolished—I am wholly in favour of that—it was presumed that those who committed such an act against their fellow human beings would go down for the rest of their lives. There was a presumption that the removal of judicial murder would safeguard the interests of the community and send appropriate signals to both perpetrators and the wider community to show that we understood the nature of what was being done and those who perpetrated such heinous crimes.

    As Home Secretary, I have had the privilege and trauma of examining cases for which tariffs were set in which people had committed the worst possible crimes in our community. In cases such as those involving crimes against children, we have to consider not only people who have committed murder—horrendous though that is—but their actions and behaviour before the murder. I take no pleasure in saying this but it is important for people to know that those who have read the cases on to tape for me have done so in tears. The horrendous nature of the cases and the decisions that must be taken are such that it is difficult to get inside the minds of, or to predict the likely future actions of, the people with whom we are dealing.

    I do not apologise for saying that successive Home Secretaries of all political persuasions have intended that we should not only send a signal to, but deal decisively with, those who threaten the life and limb of others, by saying that such people should be given life sentences that would literally put them away for the rest of their lives. We are talking about such cases as multiple and sadistic killings, and when terrorists take the lives of others. In more traditional terms, before suicide bombing occurred, there was at least a way of sending signals to and getting retribution from terrorists. We are talking about incidents of child murder, which I have described, and the way in which people abused others before committing such a crime.

    The Home Secretary is addressing a matter of utmost importance. While accepting that in several cases life most certainly should mean life and that it is unimaginable that there could be any mitigating circumstance that would allow an exemption from that edict, is he arguing for life to mean life in cases of heinous crimes on the basis of a commitment to justice or retribution, or is he motivated by a consideration of the capacity to deter?

    I am motivated, as is indicated by the sentencing framework and the new purposes of sentencing, by the desire to show those who are engaged in such actions that there will be clear and unequivocal consequences. Such people are often the associates of those who are the instrument of the intended murder or those drawn into the situation because, on several occasions, more than one person has been engaged in the most horrendous murders. I am also engaged, as the guidelines on sentencing and on the purposes of sentencing set out, with the need to punish. Punishment means that there is an element of retribution on behalf of society. Those aims are not the least bit contradictory and that is why we were careful to ensure that they were not contradictory in the provisions on the purposes of sentencing.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that although many of us agree with his view on mandatory life sentences, we also agree with the provisions in the Bill that would establish a sentencing guidelines council? Several of us think that the council would be stronger if it included him, the Lord Chief Justice and a senior Member of the House so that all arms of state were represented. Does he accept that his strong case for mandatory sentences for certain murders would find favour on such a council and lead to a consensus on sentencing but that if his proposals were carried today, there might be continual chipping at them by Members of the House and, above all, members of the judiciary? Surely trying to find consensus on an eminently sensible proposal is better than producing a proposal that might lead to further confrontation.

    I do not want confrontation in any sense and I do not imagine that we will have confrontation. We will re-establish what we thought already existed. In 1983, the then Home Secretary introduced the tariff system which, as hon. Members know, was overturned on appeal.

    I am trying to re-establish the role of Parliament and our democratic processes in relation to the most difficult crimes with which we deal and to establish, for the first time, the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which will involve people other than the judiciary, although the judiciary will represent the majority on it. That arrangement is designed to deal with the plethora of sentencing challenges that exist. It would be impossible for any Member of the House or the Executive to do that on an ongoing basis because so many issues and time-consuming questions must be addressed. That is why it is appropriate for the House to lay down principles and frameworks on the cases with which we deal today, for the Sentencing Guidelines Council to make proposals on the broader thrust of sentencing, and for the Home Affairs Committee and the House to return to the issues from time to time to appraise how the Sentencing Guidelines Council is working. That process has been a feature of Parliament since democracy and the franchise were extended and I am not trying to interfere with that in any way.

    I have a lot of sympathy with the Government new clauses. As the Home Secretary knows, this Parliament is still responsible for criminal law in Northern Ireland and several measures in the Bill already extend to Northern Ireland. Given that he is introducing new proposals, has he consulted the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on them? What response has he received from the Northern Ireland Office?

    I have consulted and I always take account of representations and concerns on specific issues relating to Northern Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks it appropriate, I would be happy to arrange a discussion with him before the Bill enters the House of Lords so that we can take account of any of his concerns and be responsive to them. I hope that he finds that offer acceptable given the complexities that always exist when dealing with the delicate situation in Northern Ireland, especially while he and the Prime Minister are making efforts to re-establish the Executive and to move toward elections being held.

    May we explore the extent to which the measures introduce arrangements that we believed already existed before the recent court judgments and the extent to which, in practice, a far larger number of people will serve either whole-life tariffs or greatly increased life sentences? What estimates does the Home Secretary have on the overall effect that the measures will have on the lifer population?

    We believe that in time there will be an increase in those serving life sentences and, as a consequence, an increase in that part of the prison population. That will inevitably take time to work through. We have done some work, not least in the past few weeks, to ascertain what changes occurred when the death penalty was abolished and when the tariff system was introduced 20 years ago. As with statistics generally, there are always perverse findings. The statistical data on the abolition of the death penalty were paradoxical because the taking of prisoners' lives reduced the length of time that they served for the most horrendous crimes. Prisoners whose lives were taken served only that time until the death penalty was carried out, so the overall length of time served by the most dangerous criminals was statistically reduced. I hope that that makes sense.

    As for what happened post-1983, according to surveys undertaken for a House of Lords report immediately after the removal of the old system and the introduction of tariffs, the tariffs set in the first six months of the new issue rose by 40 per cent. That fell to a third two years later. It would appear that the judiciary responded to the tariff system and the indications given by the Home Secretary.

    I just want to press to what extent we are putting in place what we believed already existed and the extent to which that represents a ratcheting up of the length of time that life prisoners will serve and the number of them who will eventually accumulate in our prison system.

    Let me give examples. When life means life for crimes that are committed in the most horrendous circumstances, that will ratchet up the length of time served, but only in line with what the House intended when it voted in 1983 and by its subsequent actions. Today I am responding to the judgment. Although I accept that it takes the tariff out of the hands of the Home Secretary—as I said, no Home Secretary would be sorry to see that go—we are trying to achieve the same result.

    In 1985, for instance, the trial judge gave a sentence of 20 years for an offence of rape and murder and rape and attempted murder by one individual. The Lord Chief Justice ratified that, but the Home Secretary increased it to 30 years. In 1996, the trial judge recommended 25 years for an offence of three sexual assaults and murders. The Lord Chief Justice affirmed. The tariff was 35 years. In 2000, three murders resulted in a sentence of 25 years. The Lord Chief Justice agreed with that. The tariff was set at 35 years.

    It is not difficult to see from those examples that, as a consequence of decisions taken by the Home Secretary, tariff setting increased the length of time served for the multiple crimes of murder and rape, which no one in the House would dispute are horrendous. I want to codify that within principles and the sentencing framework so that the decision is taken not by the Home Secretary now or in the future, but by the judiciary. Should it use its discretion outside the terms laid down by the House, it will account for that publicly in court, which is a reasonable and transparent way to behave in a free and liberal society, as the shadow Home Secretary described it yesterday.

    1.45 pm

    What has changed since April last year when the Home Secretary received the Sentencing Advisory Panel advice to the Court of Appeal? It suggested that the norm—the starting point—should be 14 years, the higher level about four years above that, and the lower level about four years below it. The advice also said that the 30-year tariff should be applied in exceptional circumstances only and that whole-life tariffs were not a good idea. It clearly recommended that young people should have nothing like a starting point of 15 years. I gather that the Home Secretary accepted that advice a year ago. What has made him change his mind?

    There has clearly been a misunderstanding. The Home Secretary does not ratify the advice of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. I have accepted no sentencing precepts for murder. I have continued in the best way that I can to fulfil the obligations and duties put on me to set tariffs for murders, including some of the most horrendous murders that were committed before I took over as Home Secretary. I believe that the sentencing principles and framework that I am laying down are correct. They are my suggestions, discussed with Ministers and my officials, and attempt to replace, and therefore to restore, the general sense of what Parliament required of the Executive in giving guidance to the judiciary and responding to it.

    I understand the Home Secretary's arguments on the full-life tariff and the criteria that have been established. Is it not the case that if we go down this road it is likely that more full-life tariff sentences will be imposed, as I think he accepted? In such circumstances, is a 30-year sentence for the next category down the scale the correct median point to be built up or down? It is our impression that that figure is rather high. It would be interesting to understand the Government's reasons for choosing it.

    It is a high figure. In the case of the murder of a police or prison officer, or a murder involving the use of firearms, we need to send a clear signal that such horrendous crimes warrant a more severe starting point for sentencing. People need to understand that life means life. That has not been the case because people who have been given life sentences have served anything but life. People need to know that there is clarity and consistency so that they have confidence in the system. We need to send those signals and establish a framework in which it is clear that such crimes—especially those in which someone has put his or her life on the line in dealing with the most dangerous criminals—warrant a more severe starting point for sentencing. We also need a minimum sentence of 15 years, which did not exist before, so that that, too, sends a signal.

    Let me draw breath for a minute. People cannot understand that when someone has been found guilty of murder—there are arguments about whether a transfer to manslaughter is more appropriate, and I understand those—the sentence that is served for taking a life does not always equate to other forms of criminality for which people at a lower level of the sentencing framework are serving longer sentences. People think, honestly, that we have all lost our marbles. They do not understand how, if murder is the most horrendous crime, others do not see that the perpetrators must be put in jail for as long as possible so that society demonstrates its common sense through its actions.

    Should not the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why it is being asked to approve a range of life sentence tariffs which are greatly in excess of the range set out in the practice directions from the Lord Chief Justice of May 2002? There, the suggested starting point was 12 years, rising to 15 and 16 years, then to 20 years, and only in exceptional cases, 30 years or whole life? The plain truth is that what we are being asked to approve is substantially in excess of what the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal recommended.

    Yes, I accept that entirely. I disagreed with the Lord Chief Justice's practice guidance. I happen to believe, and the House can take a contrary view if it wishes, that we should lay down a framework that will give the people of this country confidence in the system, for two reasons—first, that those who commit the most horrendous murders will get what used to be called, in old-fashioned language, their just deserts. Secondly, when people have confidence in the system and there is consistency in the treatment of the most difficult and dangerous crimes, they might be prepared to listen to a broader debate about sentencing policy, the sentencing framework and the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and about how we stop lower-level repeat offenders reoffending. We can have, in the House and in the country, a much more rational debate if people believe that we have got it right at a level that they currently do not understand.

    I thank the Home Secretary for his typical generosity in giving way yet again to me. In the next bunch of amendments, we will create a sentencing guidelines council, which is designed to achieve a broader-based consensus on sentencing across the board. In the present group of amendments, we are taking from the council's ambit a number of key offences—murder through driving and firearms offences. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if his case is as strong as I believe it to be—I know that he believes passionately in it—he could win his case around the table with the Lord Chief Justice, other members of the judiciary, and a broader-based group including prison governors and police officers, being present, himself as a full member? That would be a way of making sentencing command public support not just today, because of an impassioned argument arising from a particular offence, but for a long time, so that we could end the problem of megaphone diplomacy between his Department, the judiciary and others who are concerned about the issue? Will my right hon. Friend put the offences before the Sentencing Guidelines Council and get consensus?

    If I believed it was appropriate, following the decision on tariffs, simply to leave the matter to the future, I would have done so. We cannot do that. As we made clear at the beginning of the year, we must make decisions about how we proceed following the judgment. I believe that these are decisions that should be taken by the House. We cannot deal with the multiplicity of sentencing guidance required, and I could not possibly sit on the Sentencing Guidelines Council. I have a slot each day somewhere between 12 midnight and 5.30 am.

    I could depute someone. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) would probably not be too pleased if I put him on such duties as well, although he would perform them extremely well, on the basis of yesterday's performance.

    My hon. Friend has volunteered, and I have every confidence that he would come to the same conclusions as the House will reach later this afternoon. We know that there are certain cases on which the House has historically ruled, such as when it ruled that there should, and eventually that there should not, be a death penalty, and the kind of sentences that we are debating this afternoon arising from death by dangerous and careless driving or firearms offences. There have been certain historic sentences for which the House has taken responsibility.

    It is right that the House should take responsibility. Democracy is the stronger for politicians who take decisive action, who are seen to be held to account, and who can say to the public, "If you make representations to us, if you want to change, we are here and available to make it happen." In our democracy, people are not aggravated by politicians taking responsibility and making decisions. They are fed up with politicians not taking responsibility, not making decisions, not making them fast enough and not responding effectively to rapid change economically, socially and in the criminal justice system.

    I am grateful to the Home Secretary and to my hon. Friend. I agree with the Home Secretary in the sentiments that he expressed, but it is important, is it not, that Parliament should not raise unrealistic expectations about what it intends to do, which prove not to be feasible? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the guidelines on sentences. That sends out a signal about what Parliament wants, but in view of the way that they are framed, and in view of the fact that the 15 and 30-year sentences may be considered too high by the judiciary, it may well not be what the public get. Will not that bring Parliament into disrepute, as much as the judiciary?

    It would, if the will of Parliament were flouted without good cause. I do not believe that the senior judiciary—it will be members of the senior judiciary who deal with these matters—will do that. They may be reluctant, as many of them were, to commit people to the condemned cell, but they did, and they did so because that was the will of Parliament. I believe that they will respond, and that where they exercise their discretion, they will explain in court why they did so.

    That is eminently sensible. It does not flout human rights. It will not run us into the difficulties that we faced in relation to the abolition of the tariff-setting powers. It will give Parliament and the people of this country confidence that they have provided judges with the principles and framework to carry out the will of the people.

    The Home Secretary has been generous in giving way. Decisiveness should not be a synonym for rigidity. Although most of us would accept that those who commit the most bestial murders and who show no sign of repentance or rehabilitation should remain incarcerated indefinitely and probably for the duration of their natural lives, will the right hon. Gentleman concede and put on the record that those who commit the most bestial murders but who, over a period, show sustained evidence of repentance and rehabilitation should always have the hope that they might be released?

    No. I do not agree. Although the conditions in which such people are held may be commensurate with the changes brought about in their apparent character, the kind of multiple and sadistic murders that would warrant a life sentence, meaning life, are such that we could not have confidence, whatever the psychiatric appraisal may be, that those people would be safe in the community or safe to the community.

    If those who have committed bestial murders are let out into society, their own lives may be at risk. I am not interested in a wild west society of vigilante retribution. It is in everybody's interests to try to get the issue right and to ensure that people understand that, while conditions may change—they have done so in respect of lifers—we must stand firm. We are talking, thank God, about a small number of people, but we are also dealing with the nature of the impact that they have.

    2 pm

    Given that the Home Secretary has accepted that his proposals will ratchet up sentences for many categories of people convicted of murder, and as more people are already serving life imprisonment in England and Wales than in any other country in western Europe—in the whole of Europe, only Cyprus and Moldova have proportionately more—did he consult the senior judiciary before the practice direction was issued last May and has he consulted on his proposals since the relevant court judgments at the end of last year? Does he believe that the proposal will change people's behaviour or reduce crime at all, given that many other countries have much lower sentences and do not have nearly as much serious crime?

    If I might use a term from yesterday, the jury is out in relation to the nature of the response to the most severe sentences—

    It will be coming back on the horrendous murders. As I pointed out yesterday, we are not reintroducing the mode of trial legislation.

    I think that a contradictory set of precepts is advanced by those who oppose what I am doing. It is hard not to conclude that the reduction in the most bestial murders and violence in the United States has been a response to the way in which that country has dealt with such criminality. Yet it is also interesting to consider other forms of punishment and the response to it in other parts of Europe, as opposed to Britain. We need to look at the nature of society, the tendency towards an increase in violence, the response of society to such incidents at a local and not only national or parliamentary level and the way in which family and community life provide a different framework in which people respond.

    Those are very big and important issues. I would like to recognise the sort of response that is made in some parts of Europe to the way in which the maintenance of family life and community pressure change the nature of violence. At the same time, there is a need to send signals in the way in which we lay down sentencing principles and frameworks so as to make everyone understand where we are coming from and the actions that will be taken. That is about consequences, and from the actions of children to those of horrendous murderers, consequences really matter.

    As the Home Secretary accepted a moment ago, if the provisions take effect, one of the consequences will be a growth in the already high prison population. Can he assure us that, if it does grow, there will be sufficient prison places to house the increased number for long periods?

    Yes, I can. Not only am I taking steps to increase availability this year by 960 prison places, but I am mindful that we will have to change the nature of prison accommodation to accommodate the relatively small increase in the number of people spending longer in jail. I shall speak tomorrow at the Prison Officers Association conference, which will obviously be one of the experiences of my life. I shall acknowledge that the proposal is a challenge for the Prison Service and prison officers, and that we need to help them with that. At the other end of the scale, I have joined the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor in seeking ways of reducing the prison population, including ideas proposed in the Bill—one of them, custody minus, is mine—and to try to help with rehabilitation and the avoidance of reoffending, not least for first-time offenders. If we can get that right, we will be able to reduce the prison population by dealing with those who should not be in prison and can be quickly rehabilitated and provide reparation, while getting tough with those who should stay in prison a lot longer and threaten life and limb when they come out.

    For instance, two years ago, when I became Home Secretary, I did my best to prevent a multiple rapist from being released into the community without compulsory supervision. That was not required at the time, but the Bill puts that right. Within three months, he had abducted and raped a young student—as it happens, the crime was committed in my city—in highly predictable circumstances. The man should never have been allowed out in the first place. If he had not been released, a young woman's life would not have been ruined.

    We see such issues day in, day out, and I appreciate that we have not addressed them by waving such cases in the air. As I said, we should address them calmly. I am not seeking headlines. Indeed, in the past few months, I have been the one who has taken on at least two of the tabloid newspapers in a way that has got me some very adverse headlines, but I am interested in responding to the needs of the public, which is a very different matter.

    On new clause 39 and causing death by dangerous driving, careless driving while under the influence of drink and the way in which people take life, we are responding to what some judges want. In my locality, a judge recently gave a sentence of more than the 10 years specified. Of course, it was revised on appeal because he had exceeded the sentence that was available to him in respect of a most horrendous case in which a person who had killed somebody in such circumstances carried on drinking. We need to say to people that we will not wait for anyone else to do something about the issue, but allow judges discretion to do something about it themselves.

    I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I welcome the new clause, but will he consider introducing a new offence of aggravated death caused by dangerous driving that carries a life sentence? He is aware of the case in my constituency involving the tragic death of young Rebecca Sawyer, who was killed by a criminal motorist who had 89 previous convictions, one of which was for causing death by dangerous driving. Does he agree that the public need to be protected from these very dangerous individuals?

    Yes. Where people are sentenced on only one count—I shall refer to this issue on Third Reading—but other major counts should be dealt with at the same time, we will pick up the Law Commission report in taking that forward. In helpfulness to the House, I point out now that I shall seek the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Select Committee on Home Affairs before introducing such a measure in the House of Lords in order to fast-track the Law Commission recommendations and deal with a terrible anomaly whereby people do not get the sentence required, but a specimen sentence resulting from the length and complexity involved in dealing with a multiplicity of issues. Of course, where somebody has been sentenced previously—this relates to what I describe a parquet flooring effect, rather than building a wall—we also need to take that into account, so that previous convictions can be dealt with in the sentence as well as the judgment.

    I accept, however, that that will not wholly deal with the case on which my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy) has been campaigning. I commend him and many of his colleagues from the north-east for highlighting what tragically appears to be a cluster of cases in that region demonstrating that we have not yet got things right. I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that we should undertake a full review of road traffic offences, including the question whether we should introduce manslaughter.

    As a patron of RoadPeace, may I praise and welcome the new clause? As part of the review that will be conducted, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the issues are considered from the point of view of the victims' families? From their point of view, death in violent circumstances means just that, irrespective of the nature of the weapon used. That is the absurdity that road traffic victims' families do not understand—the comparison between an accidental shooting with a shotgun and being mowed down with a tonne of steel.

    Let me deal with the principal point. It is very important that the voices of victims and their families should be heard. There have been the most terrible occasions on which families have been unable to come to terms with what has happened for the rest of their lives and believe that they have not been listened to arid that their voices go unheeded. We need to find ways of addressing that.

    There is a very serious problem in Northern Ireland with regard to so-called joyriding, which has caused a significant number of fatalities, with all the suffering for families that flows from that. A couple of months ago, a group of bereaved parents of persons who have been killed as a result of joyriding lobbied this House and met a wide range of Members from both sides of the House. A serious problem needs to be addressed as regards the law in Northern Ireland. If the welcome changes in the Bill go on to the statute book leaving out Northern Ireland, that will send a wholly wrong message to the public in Northern Ireland, as well as to the judiciary, who need a wake-up call on this issue.

    I thank the right hon. Gentleman for reinforcing the wider point. I take up the cry from the heart that was echoed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) yesterday evening, when she described the importance of recognising the issues in Northern Ireland and addressing them as quickly as possible.

    How could I not give way to the hon. Lady, who is not only charming, but assiduous, and continues to make an important contribution?

    The Home Secretary has just turned the colour of my face quite scarlet, but I appreciate his warm comments. They are, of course, reciprocated—I hold him in the highest regard.

    As always, I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said in the course of his speech. A few moments ago, he put emphasis on consistency in sentencing throughout the United Kingdom, which is absolutely fundamental. He also remarked—I hope that I remember correctly—that the death of a police officer warrants the very clear signal that it warrants a life sentence. Speaking as someone who comes from Northern Ireland, where 302 members of the police service have died as a result of 30 years of vicious terrorism, it behoves the Home Secretary to send a very clear message to serving members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that their lives are worth every bit as much as the life of a police officer in Manchester, London, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

    My original remarks had the benefit of accuracy and veracity, whatever the sedentary and ungallant comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) may have suggested. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that the life of a police officer in Northern Ireland deserves, and has, the same importance as that of a police officer on the British mainland.

    I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and compliment him on encouraging a very positive debate.

    To return to the broader picture, the new clause refers to dangerous driving and death by driving. That set of sentences will be abstracted from the Sentencing Guidelines Council that will be newly created. My right hon. Friend says that it is up to Parliament to decide on certain matters, but we all know that in reality the Home Secretary will put them to the House of Commons and invariably get his way. We all look to my right hon. Friend with affection and trust, but future Governments and Home Secretaries may introduce other categories of offences that can be taken away from the Sentencing Guidelines Council and put to the House. Does he fear that if that happens, we could get into a bidding war between various factions in the House. If someone says, "Five years for burglary", someone else will say, "Do I hear six, seven or eight?" Perhaps this is not the best, most measured way in which to decide on sentencing guidelines.

    Invariably, I hope; inevitably, never. We are beholden to this House and to the electorate. I fear that my hon. Friend, flattering though his remarks are, misses the point that there is no chance that the House will constantly return to these issues through criminal justice and sentencing legislation. That is why the Sentencing Guidelines Council makes good sense in terms of its light touch vis-à-vis Parliament and its broader touch in terms of reflecting and responding to changing circumstances and needs. I hope that it will work effectively.

    2.15 pm

    Let me be clear. We cannot keep returning to sentencing policy: there is not sufficient parliamentary time to do so, even if we wished it. There has not been a bidding war. That is partly because of the measured approach of the shadow Home Secretary and of the Liberal Democrat spokesman—although I do not always agree with him—and partly because of our willingness to try to address the broader issues. We have reached agreement with the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor on a general framework, which experienced a slight hiccup at the turn of the year, but is back on stream again. If we can get that right without hyping the heat, rather than the light, so much the better.

    We are asking the House to agree to a mandatory five-year sentence in relation to firearms. We have discussed that matter in the House on several occasions, and hon. Members are very familiar with it. I merely want to report to the House that the amnesty that we held in April succeeded much more effectively in achieving the handing in of weaponry than we had expected. More than 40,000 weapons have been handed in, compared with 23,000 in the post-Dunblane period, as well as almost 1 million rounds of ammunition. I commend all those who took part in supporting and working for that: the young people who worked with us; radio stations and the press; the people who organised the youth concert; and the police. It has been a remarkable success that bodes well for the future.

    As well as the new five-year minimum sentence, we are raising the penalty for smuggling from seven years to 10 years to bring it into line with legislation that we have already introduced, including the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

    I am interested to see the proposals on firearms, which, as hon. Members will hear in a moment, we support. I would be fascinated to learn, however, why the decision was taken to confine the mandatory sentence to prohibited firearms, because that is quite contrary to what the Prime Minister has said on about seven occasions during Prime Minister's questions.

    It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should have hit upon that, so let me share, in the quiet confidence of this Chamber, the fact that the very same question passed my lips a short while ago. I said, "Look,"—as the Prime Minister would say—"this is something that we need to address." The logic of being able cleanly and clearly to deal with what is prohibited is self-evident. The question of whether we should broaden prohibition to other areas is one that this House and the wider public should debate more thoroughly before we return to it. It is an interesting question. I am tickled by the fact that the hon. Gentleman has also been reflecting on it, and I look forward to him and his hon. Friends providing me with the solution that I did not have time to come up with.

    Today, Parliament lays down a principle and a framework, provides discretion, but within specific bounds, and demonstrates that democracy can respond to the needs of the public and the wishes of the people. We can also ensure that the signals are clear and that we get the benchmarks right. In my view, that strengthens liberty, freedom and democracy. Above all, it strengthens confidence in justice. If we have clarity, consistency and confidence, we also have a better debate about the way in which we deal with the underlying issues of prevention and bring other forces of social policy to bear so that we have a safer, more sustained and desirable community in which to live.

    I thank the Home Secretary for his explanation of these important provisions. I do not criticise the manner in which he did that, but it is profoundly unsatisfactory to have one debate on three such distinct and important topics. As always, the devil lies in the detail of the proposals, and the amount of time available for hon. Members to do them justice is inadequate. The Opposition will not try to divide the House on any of the principles or the policies that the Home Secretary is introducing. However, I know from my reservations about some aspects that they will require detailed scrutiny, which can now be done only in another place. I deeply regret that, because the House will thereby abdicate its responsibility for the matter.

    I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his conduct and that of his party in Committee, where our proceedings were extremely constructive. However, the shadow Leader of the House and shadow Chief Whip have cried wolf day after day about programme motions. When an issue of substance arises—I concede that the hon. Gentleman has a point about the amount of time that should be devoted to the new clauses—several hon. Members who might otherwise be sympathetic are not, because of the way in which some of his colleagues clown around on programming.

    As the hon. Gentleman knows, when the Bill went into Committee, we said that we intended to try to make programming work. I do not want to go over ancient history, but the measure's progress in Committee showed that programming could be made to work, because we got 90 per cent. of the way there. However, we did not cover 10 per cent., and some aspects of the Bill were not properly scrutinised in Committee. I can recall several examples of important aspects that were not considered.

    Order. I have given hon. Members some leeway, but I hope that we shall now discuss the new clauses and amendments, not the programme motion.

    Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. Clearly, Report affords the Government an opportunity to table further amendments. However, the Government amendments are massive, and the time for their consideration is insufficient.

    I want to consider the Government's proposals for guidelines on sentencing for murder. First, I welcome the principle behind them. Indeed, the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has been cited publicly and he has advocated the principle on several occasions. We believe that Parliament should have a role in setting sentencing guidelines. We go further than doing that only for murder. As hon. Members know, we have tabled amendments in the next batch that would provide for parliamentary input—not decision making—into sentencing guidelines more generally. The principle is therefore welcome. The Home Secretary's decision to be of like mind with my right hon. Friend is reassuring.

    Secondly, new schedule 2, which deals with a whole-life order, appears to have been properly drafted to respond to public anxiety on the topic. The criteria that the Government have set—
    "a substantial degree of premeditation or planning … abduction … sexual or sadistic conduct … the murder of a child if involving the abduction of the child or sexual or sadistic motivation … a murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, or … a murder by an offender previously convicted of murder"—
    appear clearly set out. There is also the possibility of making an exception if necessary. The guidelines therefore strike us as sensible. If that were the scope of the Home Secretary's intentions, he would have our wholehearted support.

    However, greater problems arise because of the attempt to lay down guidelines on other categories of murder, depending on their seriousness. Again, I have no objection to the principle, but when Lord Falconer explained what was going to happen at a meeting after sending us some detail in advance, for which we were grateful, we were startled by the Government's proposed method of achieving it.

    The "Starting points" in new schedule 2 give the impression that the Government have sought to find a median point in taking 30 years for some serious categories of murder, and 15 years as a minimum term for other categories. It has already been said that sentences of 30 years are at the top end of the tariff for the worst sorts of murder. I have no doubt that statistics would show that, and it would be interesting if the Government and the Home Secretary could provide them. I acknowledge that the Home Secretary said that a tariff sentence of 35 years had been awarded. I believe that longer sentences have been given in one or two exceptional cases: for example, the Home Secretary has imposed a sentence of 50 years, to which I shall revert shortly.

    The proposals are remarkable, because in future the Home Secretary intends cases that have attracted 35 or 50-year tariffs to fall squarely within the parameters of the whole-life order. He nods. Given that we shall include more convicted murderers in the remit of whole-life orders because of the appalling nature of their offences—I do not disagree with that—a sentence of 30 years for those who fall outside that classification is at the top of the tariff, not a median point that the judge can increase or reduce. The same applies to the minimum term of 15 years. The Home Secretary may correct me, but many people who commit murder do not serve 15 years in prison or anything approaching that. He made a comment that may have been a bit of a giveaway when he said that in the past few weeks people in the Home Office had been running around trying to ascertain the effects of past tariff fixing on prison population numbers.

    The rapidity with which the proposals have been put together shines through them.I always worry about material that is put together extremely rapidly, because it often does not bear close scrutiny, and above all tends to prove unworkable when implemented.

    2.30 pm

    The Home Secretary wants to convey a message of which I wholly approve: that Parliament wants murderers to receive proper sentences, that those who commit the more serious offences should go to prison for a long time, and that those who commit the most serious offences should never be released. We must be realistic, however. If the guidelines we are establishing, particularly those specifying 30 and 15 years, bear no relation to the reality of sentencing practice, or indeed to the diversity of the criminals to be sentenced, we may be straying down the wrong road.

    It might be better to substitute the sentences—I think they are of 20 and 12 years—suggested in amendments tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I do not advocate that to the Home Secretary; I merely say that such an alternative should still allow very long sentences to be imposed within tariff sentence fixing. Something troubles me about the period of 30 years in particular: it sends out an unrealistic message, whose recipients potentially include prisoners who, despite having committed grave crimes, might be suitable for release in a rather shorter time.

    The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in these matters. Has he seen any evidence of what considerably higher sentences for murderers would mean in practice? Does he accept that one problem of the whole-life sentence, although it is not the only problem, is that it means very different things to different people? It will not mean the same to a 60-year-old as it will to a 21-year-old.

    I entirely agree with the last point. It will mean enormously different things to a 60-year-old and a 21-year-old, and it will mean something different again to the one or two people who have been imprisoned for murder in their 70s.

    I visited Her Majesty's Prison Kingston in Portsmouth, which contains many extremely elderly lifers. One was completely senile, and I questioned whether there was any point in his continued detention. Adopting a characteristically bureaucratic approach, the Home Office expressed the view that it was very proper for someone who was completely senile and suffering from Parkinson's disease to be in one of Her Majesty's prisons, but I found it difficult to see the purpose of the man's imprisonment given his unawareness of his own surroundings.

    The hon. Gentleman and the shadow Home Secretary may not have a list of other offences for which they might wish to decide the penalties should they take office, but—perhaps to frighten my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—will the hon. Gentleman consider whether the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) might enjoy using a power of this kind to deal with a range of offences? He might wish to put his proposals to the House, with a majority, and to push them through.

    It is not the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham who would propose changes in tariffs; there could be a bidding war in the House, in which we would all have to prove how tough we would be on the various offences. That would lead to an irrational process of sentencing which, sadly, the judiciary would be right to try to strike down in various ways.

    I entirely agree. We should certainly try to avoid such bidding wars. In fairness, I do not consider that the Home Secretary is embarking on one: I have never suggested that, and would not dream of suggesting it. These are perfectly cogent and sensible proposals. When the House comes to deal with our proposals for sentencing guidelines generally, it will be seen that one of the things we wanted to prevent was a bidding war. We would prevent it by not allowing Parliament to initiate the sentencing guidelines process.

    We will not oppose the Home Secretary's proposal today, but we shall want to look carefully at the periods of 30 and 15 years, because we are concerned about them. We are even more concerned about something else, however. As far as I recollect, the Home Secretary did not once mention the position of juveniles, although his proposals affect them just as much as they affect adults.

    In this country we have always differentiated between adults who commit murder and juveniles who commit murder. That is enshrined in the different sentencing regimes, if only in the words involved. Adults receive a sentence of life imprisonment, while a different order is applied to juveniles, described as "detention at Her Majesty's pleasure". Whatever the words imply, however, I saw a clear differentiation. The Home Secretary may not disagree with my perception of a much greater emphasis on rehabilitation in the case of juveniles. The view seemed to be that although they must clearly be punished, it was in the widest interests of society for them to be released as soon as possible if it had been satisfactorily established that rehabilitation had indeed occurred.

    Some of those involved may be very young indeed. They may be children of 11 or 12. They may also have committed murder in a variety of circumstances, from a fight outside a school in which knives were produced to something with sadistic overtones. The murder may have been committed by a person approaching his or her 18th birthday, or by a person aged only 11.

    My understanding is that under new schedule 2 the starting point of the sentence of the two people who killed James Bulger would be 30 years—and they were very young at the time.

    That is an important point. I feel that attempting to be prescriptive in setting guidelines in relation to children who commit murder is a very dangerous exercise. Certainly I am mindful of the case of the murderers of James Bulger, because it excited a huge amount of public comment. Interestingly, the trial judge made a recommendation at the time of their detention, and ultimately that proved to be the period that they served. It appears—and one can only hope that it is the case—that they had been properly and completely rehabilitated during that period, which may be significant.

    I do not want to get involved in discussing individual cases, however, because there is an infinite variety of cases. I feel strongly that the application of these rules to juveniles moves us on to very shaky ground, and is capable of doing great injustice. When I met Lord Falconer, I asked him—among other things—how a judge who felt that the proper period allowing retribution, deterrence and probable rehabilitation was likely to be very short in the case of a 12-year-old would get around the problem of the minimum 15-year term proposed in the new schedule. His response was that the judges were ingenious people, but I must tell the Home Secretary that I do not think we should have to ask the judiciary to exercise ingenuity in wriggling around rules which it would be better not to apply to juveniles at all.

    I realise that this is a difficult issue to which there is no easy answer. I accept that a 17-year-old who has committed a sadistic killing may have to be detained for a very long time, possibly for as long as an adult would be in the same circumstances, if he is showing marked psychopathic tendencies. Equally, however, if we consider the generality of such offences—heaven knows, these offenders come in all shapes and sizes and the offences themselves, of every kind, are appalling enough—this kind of prescriptive guideline seems rather far removed from what is probably required. Even though we will not vote against these proposals, I would urge the Home Secretary to go away and think very carefully about whether this is the correct approach.

    I would be much happier to see juveniles taken out of the guidelines altogether, because we have come to a point at which we rely on the judiciary's discretion to say that cases are likely to be so varied that we cannot lay down prescriptive guidelines on the number of years to be served. If the Home Secretary were minded to introduce a measure to lay down criteria on which a determination might take place, I would certainly be happy to help, support and co-operate with him. I would much prefer that, because I think that prescribing figures in a schedule will lead to many problems and be unlikely to do justice.

    I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this point, but if he is saying that, in respect of juveniles, the matter should be left to the discretion of the trial judge—which, incidentally, is my view—I have some difficulty is seeing why he does not extend that general proposition to the sentencing of adults. I believe that that, too, should be left to the discretion of the trial judge, unfettered by the schedule.

    I am well aware of the strong views that my right hon. and learned Friend has on this issue, and he advances a perfectly good argument. Speaking for myself, however, and for the Conservative Front Bench on this matter, we believe that there is a proper role for Parliament here, especially in view of the changes that have unfortunately come about in the Home Secretary's ability to exercise a discretion on tariffs—

    I know that my right hon. and learned Friend thinks that that is a good thing, but—

    I know that my right hon. and learned Friend did it, but I believe that the public have an entitlement, which stems ultimately from the time when capital punishment was abolished, to expect that there will be more than just judicial input into the fixing of the periods that murderers will spend in prison. That said, one of the ironies of the situation that we must bear in mind—I am speaking generally about the proposals now—is that, in the days when we hanged the worst murderers, those who were reprieved tended to serve much shorter sentences than the generality of murderers do now.

    That brings me back to where I started. We must be careful that, in seeking properly to address public disquiet about the most serious murderers, we do not simply introduce a ratcheting up of tariffs for every murderer, including those who could properly be rehabilitated and safely released. The Home Secretary is going to have to consider that question carefully. Indeed, if I understood him correctly, he is already doing so, given that he is making inquiries into what happened the last time tariffs were adjusted. It would be helpful if, before the Bill becomes law—and certainly in another place—we could have access to the information that the Home Secretary is collating about how this measure might work in practice.

    I am conscious of the passage of time, and I would like to move briefly on to two other matters that must be considered in the amalgam before us. The first relates to road traffic offences. We welcome the proposals for increasing the sentences for aggravated vehicle-taking involving killing from five to 14 years, for causing death by dangerous driving from 10 to 14 years, and for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 10 to 14 years.

    2.45 pm

    Those provisions are wholly compatible with a measured response to public outrage at the perception that the courts have been fettered in their ability to deal with people who commit very serious offences. Some of those people clearly pose a serious risk to other members of the public through their inability to restrain themselves from repeating their past behaviour, particularly when using motor cars. That seems to be a real problem, and the provisions still allow for all the necessary discretion for the judiciary to do justice in individual cases.

    The second issue relates to firearms offences. At the risk of repeating myself, I can only express pleasure that the provision on firearms offences that has finally come out of the Home Office seems to be extremely sensible. I am bound to say that, when it was first floated, it looked as though common sense had disappeared, because there were suggestions of mandatory five-year sentences, and no suggestion of exceptions. When the earliest announcements were made, there was no suggestion that the measure would not apply to every type of firearm. Somewhere, however, common sense has prevailed, even if the Prime Minister himself seems to have been suffering from a certain cognitive dysfunction, in that he was unable to realise what was going on. He has repeated on many occasions an entirely contrary story on what this legislation was going to be about. Anyway, I am glad that even the occupant of No. 10 Downing street has finally cottoned on to the fact that a sensible and measured response might not be the one that he has been proclaiming to the public. The provision before us seems to be a sensible one.

    Would the hon. Gentleman concede that the measures are so sensible that the same conclusions could have been arrived at by a broad-based sentencing guidelines council?

    I have to say that I think the hon. Gentleman is right. [Interruption.] I hear the Home Secretary say, "In time." Of course, we cannot create something that does not currently exist, but in the later stages of our debate today we might go some way towards achieving that. In the meantime, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

    These measures seem sensible, and I am also pleased that the Home Secretary has provided a mechanism by which they might be suspended for those under 18 if the rate of gun crime were to decrease. At the moment, that would probably be difficult to do because there is a lot of evidence that many under-18s seem to have got in to the habit of carrying handguns. That is a serious problem.

    I am sorry to keep on nagging my hon. Friend. He welcomes the provision on firearms offences, but does he recognise that the mandatory minimum sentence of five years would apply to the possession of a revolver that happened to be a souvenir from the second world war, and that the only way in which a veteran could escape being sentenced to five years would be by pleading exceptional circumstances? Whether exceptional circumstances applied would be a matter for the courts, so, prima facie, the veteran would get five years.

    My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. It is one that I was about to come to, so he pre-empts me, but he does so very properly. I have seen the amendment that he has tabled. He clearly has an anxiety, which I fully understand, that although there is a mechanism by which it might be possible to suspend the operation of the mandatory minimum sentence in exceptional circumstances, that would not necessarily meet the sort of case that he has just described.

    In a letter written to me by a Minister in the Home Office—it might even have been by the Home Secretary himself; I am afraid I cannot remember now—it was specifically pointed out that the sorts of person whom the Government would expect to be spared from the mandatory sentence would include someone who found a handgun among the personal effects of their late father, the day before the police turned up. I see that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) is already nodding in recognition. Perhaps such a handgun belonged to his father. The point that my right hon. and learned Friend has most pertinently raised is this: should the provision have applied to the hon. Gentleman's father, or should the hon. Gentleman have gone to prison for the period in question because he had held on to the souvenir?

    My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point, and I seek clarification from the Home Secretary as to whether the scope of exceptional circumstances would extend to a person in such a position. There is a clear difference between finding in somebody else's personal effects a revolver that is a leftover from the second world war and not declaring it for several weeks, during which time the police come to visit and make an arrest, and a septuagenarian holding on to a second world war revolver and then being visited by the police. If that septuagenarian, or octogenarian, would be subject to the mandatory minimum sentence, my right hon. and learned Friend is right, but I do not want such a circumstance to occur.

    This is where the devil lies in the detail, and I certainly hope that we may hear from the Home Secretary—if not today, then at sonic later stage—how he sees the provision operating. I have to say that my reading suggests that the exceptional circumstances measure would provide for the example of the father of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, but if I am wrong I shall be exceptionally grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for bringing the matter to the House's attention.

    The truth is that it is not for any of us to determine whether the exceptional circumstance applies. We must determine whether the language of the statute obliges the court to impose a five-year sentence. The truth is that the language of the statute obliges the court to do precisely that, unless there are exceptional reasons. How can we say that a person who has chosen to keep a handgun for more than 40 years is an exceptional circumstance?

    I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I hope that the Government will look at the issue. I hope also, and intend, that if it remains unsatisfactory, it will be rectified in the other place, and I give him an assurance that we shall participate in seeking to achieve that. One of the problems that we face is that, the measure having been published only in the past few days, it is difficult to work out in detail how it would operate in practice. However, I certainly take the view that there has to be some flexibility for those people who hang on to ancient weaponry as souvenirs, rather than those who clearly have guns in their possession for a nefarious purpose.

    Under the proposed structure for examining sentencing guidelines, there is a preliminary body called the Sentencing Advisory Panel, which already exists. That gathering of boffins, officials and academics would take away a proposal on sentencing guidelines, look at it thoroughly, commission research if necessary, and, after many months, produce a report for the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The council would then take several months, or as long as it needed, to issue new and appropriate guidelines.

    We should not legislate according to reflex, although we are all desperately anxious about situations such as the one that arose when two young ladies were shot dead in Birmingham. Going through a cool, protracted, double-barrelled period of consideration would produce sentencing guidelines that involved an examination of the very questions that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It would also have saved my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston from perhaps being arrested when he went to collect his father's belongings.

    I shall be careful to avoid abusing parliamentary privilege by joining in as aspersions are cast towards the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. I shall restrain myself wholly in that. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is right—of course he is. The difficulty here is that we have had only a few months to consider proposals, and I am sure that the Home Office had not even thought about them until the events of Christmas and of January this year.

    I have enjoyed the entertainment, particularly at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, but we ought to put the record straight. It was very clear indeed that the growth in gun crime and associated violence exercised all Members of the House during the autumn. We said in December that we would take action. That was a response not to the crimes committed on new year's eve but to growing concerns: we published the material, called the round-table talks, and made it absolutely clear in the first week of January that that was the case. I do not want myths to get their boots on around the world again.

    I apologise to the Home Secretary. Indeed, I realise that, as there was a great deal of publicity last year surrounding the arrest of a singer who had a firearm in his car. The sentence passed on him, whether it was correct or whether it should have been much greater, was the subject of considerable public debate. I accept that.

    It is important that we provide for exceptions. We have said throughout that there has to be a mechanism by which the force of the law can be moderated in cases where it is clear to the court that it is not dealing with a person bent on criminality or using that firearm. Clearly, he may be either innocuous or a little foolish and naive in having it around his house because it is a family relic, or there may be other extenuating circumstances.

    I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that it is far too early to say, on what is effectively the Bill's Second Reading, whether there are sufficient proper mechanisms—I should perhaps not say loopholes—by which the court may temper the rigour of the law. They must be there. If they are not, the provision will be rapidly brought into disrepute, and it will not have the intended virtue that is sought by the Home Secretary.

    As I said to the Home Secretary, we do not intend to vote against the proposal, but we will certainly give it the most detailed scrutiny in another place and it may be amended. If it is, I hope that he considers that pragmatically and that, if he thinks that there has been an improvement, he accepts those amendments. I do not intend to take up more of the House's time. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for the way in which he presented these matters.

    I support Government new clause 39 on dangerous driving. Last night, I presented a petition to the House on behalf of Frank Round and Paula Sharrock, the father and sister of Kerry Adamson, who was killed as a result of dangerous driving. The petition was signed by 21,000 people in the Wigan area, which shows the depth of concern about the sentence passed.

    The facts of the case are clear. There was a fracas in a pub, which spilled out into the street. Mr. Daniel Beeston Rose got into a car. He drove straight at Kerry Adamson and dragged her for a quarter of a mile, breaking both her arms and her leg, and almost severing her ear. She suffered horrendous friction burns. He then fled the scene without giving any assistance or seeing whether Kerry's life could be saved. He did not give himself up for over three days, in which time, of course, there was no possibility of the police proving whether he had been drinking or taking drugs.

    Initially, Mr. Daniel Beeston Rose was charged with murder, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence for the charge, which was dropped and replaced with one of manslaughter. That was also replaced by a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, as he indicated that he would plead guilty. The family agreed to that, on an understanding from the CPS that the 10-year maximum was equivalent to the sentence that he would have received for manslaughter. There was no trial, however, and the family felt that they had no opportunity to put their case.

    The judge took account of all the alleged positive factors in favour of the defendant, but no obvious account of those that went against him. For instance, the judge wanted him to return to work, yet he took no account of the fact that this person had been sacked for stealing. The judge wanted him to return to his partner and child, yet he took no account of the fact that this person had already fathered other children and had since left his new partner and their child. He accepted that this person did not see Kerry Adamson, yet there was forensic evidence that her palm prints were on the bonnet of the car. He took no account of this person's previous convictions, or of the fact that he had left the scene. The sentence passed was two years, one of which was suspended.

    3 pm

    We have to recognise the consequences. Clearly, Kerry Adamson died—her life was cut short. But it was worse than that. Her husband is now a widower, and her children Daniel and Tamzin are left motherless. This is not a one-victim crime; it affects the whole family, traumatising them dramatically. The family understand that nothing will bring Kerry back, but they want to ensure that theirs is a positive campaign with a positive result. They want to ensure that sentencing sends the clear message to everybody that society does not accept that the death of a fellow human being is in any way acceptable. Those committing such an offence have to be taken out of society because they pose a danger, as was said earlier, and to ensure that others are deterred from acting in this way. If we can achieve that, we will prevent other families from going through the same trauma that Kerry Adamson's family have experienced.

    My constituents' campaign has been a success: we have new clause 39, which increases the maximum sentence from 10 years to 14 years. The Government and Parliament have heard their pleas and those of many Members on both sides of the House, some of whose constituents have had similar experiences; however, it is also essential that the courts recognise them. In Kerry's case, the sentence could have been 10 years, but in effect it was one year. If raising the maximum by 40 per cent. ensures that the sentences imposed are increased only by 40 per cent., in Kerry's case the killer would have been out in less than a year and a half. People would still have felt that the sentence given was inadequate in the extreme. If that is all that happens, the victory of my constituents and those of other Members will be extremely hollow.

    The petition that I presented last night called not only for the sentences to be increased, but for the courts to recognise that they are available and that use should be made of the increased maximum. I hope that the Home Secretary will impress upon the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the entire court system the view of this Parliament. We want the sentences to be increased, but we also want the courts to make full use of them, so that when people such as Kerry die, those who commit such offences are properly punished. They should not be left, like Kerry Adamson's killer, with just a year to serve. He was thereby able to come out and, in effect, laugh at the courts and at her family, leaving them totally dismayed, disgusted and feeling let down by the way in which the courts handled their case.

    In following the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), I should point out that on reaching Report, my hon. Friends and I tabled new clause 9, which called for the maximum penalty for dangerous driving to be increased to 14 years. We were therefore very pleased to discover that the Government followed our suggestion in respect of those who cause death through that means of aggression. Others made that suggestion too—we do not claim it in any party political way—but I should point out that we have been very clear on this matter, collectively and personally.

    I am among those in this House who have been too close to families in this position. I pay tribute, as other colleagues have done, to the way in which such families have made their own grief and tragedy a public policy matter. My constituents, Christine and Jim Bradford, lost their 14-year-old son, whom I knew; indeed, I had recently presented prizes to and spoken to him, and enjoyed his company. Through RoadPeace and other organisations, the Bradfords and others have ensured that we cannot run away from this issue, and we are not doing so.

    The Home Office advised at the beginning of the Bill's passage that we could not add such a clause because it was outwith the Bill's purview, so I am relieved to discover that that advice has been reviewed. The Home Office now accepts that it can be included, as some of us said from the beginning that it should. So there is joy over the collective sinner that repenteth and see'eth the wisdom of their ways.

    It is heartening that there is a degree of consensus in the House on this issue. We have all been touched by great personal tragedies in our constituencies and regions. Indeed, in our region, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Evening Mail has run the "Justice for Isobel" campaign. All such families who see us united today will be pleased that we are taking this action.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. This is an issue that can and should unite us. This measure should provide great consolation to those who have suffered personally through seeing people act criminally and get away with it, because they will know that it will not happen again. Indeed, you and others well know, Madam Deputy Speaker, of the benefit that it will provide if we get it right.

    What about the other half of the equation that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) mentioned? When judges have a higher maximum sentence, they still use nothing like it.

    That raises the general issue about what we do and what judges should do, which I shall come to shortly. My hon. Friends and I take the view that it is for Parliament to set the maximum sentence, and for the courts to use their discretion about what sentence to impose. However, it is fair to say that courts reflect, by and large, the view of a society from which judges, too, come. Thank goodness, it is now possible to appeal against a lenient sentence to make sure that inconsistent leniency will not disadvantage a victim's family.

    I turn to the final issue that flows from the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan, and which is a concern for us all. Through this legislation, we are, I hope, trying to ensure that we get the balance right in terms of what judges and magistrates can do. We need to ensure that the mechanisms exist for maximum consistency, but there must also be the maximum ability to reflect the individual circumstances of a particular case, because each case is different.

    I will not elaborate on the point, but I share the fundamental objections to the process that have been expressed. We have a two-and-a-half hour debate on four substantive subjects: the setting of tariffs for murder cases—a huge and complex subject, as speeches from Labour and Conservative Front Benchers have shown—mandatory sentences in general, dangerous driving and firearms. It is unacceptable for elected Members of Parliament first to come to these matters on Report, rather than in Committee.

    I share the Home Secretary's view that we do nobody a service by having a histrionic and aggressive debate on these matters. They are serious and difficult, and all of us want to get the balance right between punishing those who commit serious offences, protecting the public from their reoffending, rehabilitating offenders so that they do not offend again, and tempering justice with mercy. Behind all of that lies a desire to reduce violence in our society, which is at far too high a level and is often fuelled, it may be said, by drugs in general and alcohol in particular. They are the cause of many of these offences.

    I share absolutely the view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that we must not sentence by reflex. Getting sentencing right is a deliberative process in the light of experience. It is clear that Parliament has needed to come back to this issue since capital punishment was abolished. We put in place a mandatory life sentence for murder for an obvious reason: to give the public the consolation that there would be a serious punishment for what previously might have resulted in the death penalty.

    Without wishing to be rude, Madam Deputy Speaker, you, like me, will remember—although we were both young at the time—that a major debate took place during our early years about whether there should have been two types of homicide and a different penalty for culpable homicide; indeed, that debate rages in the United States to this day. In setting out three types of murder, the Government proposal categorises murder in a simplistic way. The advice of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the Sentencing Advisory Panel and the judiciary is that is impossible to classify murders in that way. It is right to have a maximum sentence, which Parliament should set but, since I have been in the House, Liberal Democrats have opposed Parliament setting a mandatory sentence—in our book, that applies to murder, too.

    On Saturday, I read in the paper about someone who was given a non-custodial sentence for murder because he had murdered his parents, who were both ill and disturbed and had been violent towards him for many years. He was driven to kill them in desperation. We believe that sentencing must reflect the difference between someone who commits a sadistic, violent, aggressive and unprovoked killing and the person who is provoked over a period of years, eventually snapping and taking someone's life. I share the Home Secretary's view that we need something that achieves, in his words, clarity and consistency, and gives confidence. Although our view is different from the Government's we do not disagree about those principles.

    We also agree that we need to reflect the views of our communities. What is said in court is sometimes not what happens in reality—what you hear is not always what you get. I strongly advocate that the sentence set by the judge must be the sentence that is served. Under the proposals, it would be explained carefully to an offender that he will receive a sentence of 20 years, half of which will be served in prison and half outside. If they misbehave when they are outside, they will go back inside. That does not mean that they will serve all their time inside, but they should understand what sentence they are being given. I therefore subscribe to the view that a sentence of life imprisonment means life imprisonment—if it does not, we should not say that it is life imprisonment. We need that clarity to give people confidence. When I was a youngster, I remember that someone was given life imprisonment but, not many years later, they were walking around the village. In such cases, people's confidence in the system is undermined, so I hope that the provision will provide such clarity.

    A judge might tell a defendant, "You will serve a minimum of 10 years," or that part of the sentence will be served in custody and part outside. I look forward to the day when we carry the public with us in showing that prison is a softer option than a sentence in the community. Prison is often quite a soft option—it is not a hard option at all, because everything is done for people and they do not have to think at all. Going out into the community and having to work for rehabilitation is often much more difficult.

    There is another way in which we can ensure consistency. I do not claim the authorship of this proposal—it appeared recently in an article by Louis Blom-Cooper. We could make sure in every murder case that the prosecution has the right of appeal if it thinks that the sentence is too low. We could provide that safeguard to guarantee consistency.

    3.15 pm

    Liberal Democrats will vote against the new clause, as I have made clear to Ministers, because we believe that, although Parliament should set the principles, it should not prescribe the minimum number of years to be served for certain offences. Indeed, the statement that the Home Office issued on 25 November last year, after the court case that ruled that the Home Secretaries of the future should not be able to set tariffs, talked about Parliament setting the principles, not sentences. Things have moved on, in our view, in an unhelpful way. We share the view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, who has maintained in Committee and on Report that the Sentencing Guidelines Council, together with some indirect parliamentary representation, whether through Government nomination, representatives of the three major parties or in another form, should set the guidelines for murder, as well as for driving and firearms offences—the three specific offences for which we are legislating in this debate.

    Parliament should therefore set the principles, not the specifics, of sentencing, It should set the maximum sentence, but it is not for politicians to announce what sentences will be, nor is that a matter for the press. There should be guidance on sentencing, and specific sentences should left to the discretion of the court. We share the view of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and many others that the proposals will, in fact, result in sentences being ratcheted up—that is another reason why we will vote against the new clause. There will be many more life sentences, 30-year sentences and 15-year sentences, contrary to all the advice that has been given. That was why I questioned the Home Secretary, who may not have been asked formally to agree with the Sentencing Advisory Panel last year. However, I understand that he was consulted on the practice direction issued in May to which the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) alluded. I understand that the Home Office had not previously objected to the advice that was given. I also understand that since the court cases at the end of last year no consultation has achieved consensus with the judiciary—if I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. The proposal categorising who will get life, 30 years and 15 years is a political one—it is not a proposal agreed by the Home Office and the judiciary.

    We must question whether that is right. In this country, we already have a disproportionate number of prisoners serving life sentences—5,352 in England and Wales in February this year, a considerable rise on the figure of 3,092 in 1992. The current number is proportionately higher than that of any other country in western Europe, and is the third highest in Europe as a whole. There must be a logic or argument justifying our actions if we are going to continue putting more people in prison for life. There must be an evidence base—we have not had one yet—and, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) told the Home Secretary, there must be the opportunity of a new start for most people. Most people, we must assume, are capable of rehabilitation and can start again.

    The proposals are objectionable in their current form. May I tell the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that the term "life sentence" is not reasonable if it means entirely different things for different people? A 70-year-old and a 21-year-old who receive a life sentence will clearly not receive the same sentence, so the proposals are inappropriate. Under the proposals, the starting point for the sadistic murder of a child is a 30-year sentence. Why is that not applicable to the sadistic murder of a pensioner or someone with a learning or physical disability? The distinction is an invidious one. A particularly high tariff is suggested for the murder of a police officer. I accept the argument, but why not such a tariff for the murder of a nurse, a teacher or another public servant in the front line? The distinction is invidious.

    The starting tariff for young people is miles off current practice and experience. When I checked the figures on prisoners released in 2000 who had been sentenced as juveniles, I found that the average minimum term was 10.8 years; the average time served after sentencing was 13.9 years; the longest time served after sentence was 20 years and the longest minimum term 16 years. Those figures are out of proportion. Sentence recommendations in the past were based on the notion that—for reasons on which others have elaborated—the younger someone is sentenced, the shorter should be the expectation of serving time. The Government are proposing to sign up to the European arrest warrant, but under those proposals, endorsed by the Government, every life sentence must be reviewable throughout Europe after 20 years.

    The objections are fundamental and we will have to return to the issue. I sense from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that there may be some common ground in establishing principles, but not on the specific number of years proposed. We will work with other parties to reach common ground, which should unite the judiciary and, I hope, a much broader base of politicians and public opinion.

    There is certainly common ground on some of the principles, but I agree that it is more difficult in respect of the specific figures. It is possible that one figure may not be the correct approach. It might be better to have a bracket and list possibilities of departure from that bracket. That could be another way of approaching the problem.

    I am entirely willing to have such a debate, but it should have happened long since and we should have sought to reach agreement much sooner. It is always better when some form of agreement is evident, as opposed to highly divergent views.

    We cannot vote in the present group of amendments—we will try later—on new clause 7, which proposes that there should never be mandatory sentences. That makes our views on firearms offences closer to the position that the Government have currently arrived at, rather than what they said they would arrive at. I understand why the Government wish to sound tough, particularly after the killings of the two poor young women in Birmingham. Far too many people have been shot dead in my constituency. I had previously known some of them and have had to cope with family difficulties afterwards.

    I am well aware of how evil firearms violence can be, but there is no more logic in having a mandatory fixed minimum term for that than for any other offence. A person who carries a gun, given by a cousin, for 10 seconds while he runs into a shop and subsequently has no more contact with that gun no more merits a minimum five-year sentence than someone who also plays a minor subsidiary role in what may or may not be a serious criminal enterprise. A person who goes out with a gun intending to shoot someone deserves a much higher sentence. The punishment should always fit the crime. If the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham presses his amendments, which would allow justice to temper the hard-line proposal, we would support him because we believe that the courts should have flexibility, not a prescriptive starting point.

    Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, I invite him to reflect on experience in Northern Ireland. The Belfast agreement included a provision whereby prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment were freed very early, having served only the bare minimum in prison. That did huge damage to the community's confidence in the Belfast agreement. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that life should mean life?

    Under the present regime in the mainland, which I understand still applies in Northern Ireland, when someone is given a life sentence, the judge quite often does not set a minimum. That allows the decision to be deferred. It might turn out to be a life sentence. Unless it is decided that the prisoner poses no risk to the community, they will not be released. I support the position that a sentence be set, but where there is uncertainty about how long is necessary before it is safe to release someone, the power should be reserved to the court. The court—not the parole board, people hidden away behind closed doors, or officials out of public view—has to hear the evidence and decide whether it is appropriate to release someone. If the judge who made the original sentence is not alive or unavailable, another judge can decide. The hon. Lady and I may not be that far apart. In some cases, no tariff will be fixed because it is inappropriate to do so. Unless it is safe to release someone later, they will have to remain in prison. However few cases there may be, the power should always be reserved to the court.

    I conclude by discussing driving issues. I have already said that we greatly support Government new clause 39, which is broadly in line with our new clause 9. We are not going to press it to the vote, but I ask the Government to reflect favourably on our amendment (a) to new clause 39.

    I end where I started—by drawing on my personal experience of death by dangerous driving court cases. Currently, people can be prosecuted for having no insurance or other easily provable offences. However, such cases are triable only in the magistrates court, and unless proceedings are initiated within six months they cannot be initiated at all. Often no charge is brought in such cases. I ask the Government to ensure that, if death follows as a result of driving offences, the six-month time bar be removed. They should also make it possible for charges to be heard in either the magistrates court or the High Court. We could then assess what happened in the round and not deprive people of justice by a time rule. I understand the history of it, but it is acting against the justice of individual cases. I hope that the Government are sympathetic to that view: we will work with them, even though we disagree on other important issues in the debate.

    Before I speak to new clause 39, I wish to put the record straight for the benefit of Conservative Members who mentioned my late father. He was well known to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) because they served on the town council together and the hon. Gentleman will attest that my father was quite a character. This could perhaps be described as a leak inside the Conservative party, but my father had a wartime relic, which I discovered in his possession when he died. Rather than have my mother worry about it, I removed it from the premises and under the amnesty introduced by the present Government, I asked a police officer whether I should hand it in. I partly agree with point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in that the weapon could not be fired. Like any tube of steel, it could have been converted into something that could fire, but it could not fire as it was. That poses serious questions about the state of weapons in those narrow circumstances. Making exemptions is a problem because it could create a loophole. However, the only offence that my late father committed was being a member of the Conservative party—and even I would not give him five years for that!

    In common with hon. Members throughout the House, I welcome new clause 39. The road police believe that some matters should be taken considerably further. I have always believed that the best way to proceed is to create a charge of death by driving, as opposed to what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) proposed a few moments ago. One of the absurdities, of course, is that cases in which a death has occurred are often dealt with by the magistrates court, but the fact of a death or serious injury is not even reported to the court. The Lord Chancellor has given guidance to magistrates courts on that point, but the news is not getting through.

    3.30 pm

    Some have argued that provisions to extend sentences in cases of death by driving are an example of the nanny state at its worst, but that is not the case. Having discussed the issue with many families who have been bereaved, I see it as the House's responsibility to provide some leadership on the issue. That is what the clause will do. The motor car is one of the world's most serious killers, and I speak as someone with a constituency in which motorcars are made. We all use them, and we want them to be a safe and effective mode of transport, but—like any other potential weapon—they can be deadly in the wrong hands. The cases include not only momentary lapses of attention but serious acts of recklessness—so serious that those involved must have known that their actions, just before or during the offence, were likely to kill. Those people need to be dealt with most severely. We cannot fall back on the kinds of excuses that society has accepted for far too long when it comes to the motor car, such as, "We are all drivers, and we all make mistakes," or "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Those are not acceptable excuses, especially for those people who kill under the influence of drink or drugs, or who drive at ludicrous speeds, such as those we read about from time to time.

    When I intervened in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I pointed out that for once we should put the rights of victims first. A network of obsolete regulations governs the conduct of road traffic law, and most fail to put the victims first. I tabled a question for written answer a couple of weeks ago that sought to tease out from Ministers in the Home Office the absurdity of a situation in which a defendant in a case of death on the road is entitled to copies of all documents collected by the police when adducing evidence, but that some police forces have the gall to charge the families of victims for the documents. That is an absurd injustice that cannot be allowed to continue. The House should take a leadership role and deal with that and many such issues.

    I welcome new clause 39 as a step in the right direction. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the final comment by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, because in the absence of the creation of a charge of death by driving—my suggestion to address all the problems involved—his point remains valid and is worthy of examination.

    Like my hon. Friend, I agree with the proposal from the Liberal Democrats—a lifelong first for both of us—and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider it.

    It is a rare occurrence, but on this issue I have discussed many cases with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, and we have reached a consensus. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to listen to the spirit of consensus that has emerged around the debate, and to act accordingly. The Home Office is in better hands than ever before, with the appointment of my hon. Friend, and I know that he will do a good job and listen to the representations from both sides of the House.

    I shall concentrate on the issues of firearms and the life sentence tariffs. However, I also echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) about the undesirability of the timetable. It has grouped a range of measures together, which are all important, and many right hon. and hon. Members will not have time to speak to them. Nor will we have time to vote on them, and that is a lamentable way in which to carry out our parliamentary business.

    I have the advantage of some hon. Members in that I have both represented many murderers and, for some two years as an Under-Secretary at the Home Office, I was responsible for setting the life sentence tariffs. Indeed, because my predecessor did not do many of them, I set more than 600. I have probably set more tariffs than any other Minister who has ever held office, but it is not a process that I would recommend. Although I performed the task with a degree of enthusiasm, I believed that it was not one for Ministers. I am glad that the courts have said that tariff setting should be done by judges, not Ministers. It was a denial of justice done by Ministers. It was done privately, without appeal, supervision or review. It was done without representation and, in my view, it offended every canon of justice that one can readily bring to mind. The decision to do away with the process is long overdue. I thought that when I did it, and I think it even more robustly now.

    Have the Government taken the correct approach to the tariff? It is, of course, the penalty imposed by the court for the offence. It is a punishment, and as such I welcome the fact that a right of appeal has been included in respect of the determination of the minimum term and that the judge will be obliged to state his reasons for setting it or departing from it. I tabled amendments to that effect, and the Government's provisions achieve the same end.

    A prisoner is not automatically released on expiration of the tariff period. In any event, he is released only on licence, if he satisfies the requirement on public safety. It is worth remembering that the Lord Chief Justice made it clear in his practice direction, issued last year, that the majority of life sentence prisoners are not released at the expiration of the minimum term but at some later date. The Lord Chief Justice also made the important point that a tariff is, generally speaking, the equivalent of a determinate sentence of twice the length. A tariff of 14 years is the equivalent of a determinate sentence of 28 years, and a tariff of 30 years is the equivalent of a determinate sentence of 60 years. We need to keep that in mind when we are deciding the appropriate tariff in each case.

    I want to say a word about murder. Again, I emphasise that I have represented many murderers, although not as many as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), and I suspect that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) has also represented more than I have. However, I have represented enough of them and, as I said, I have also set the tariffs.

    Murder is not a homogeneous class of offence. It covers offences from the most bestial to those which, broadly speaking, are little more than assaults. In my experience, many murders are not intended at all. They happen because of loss of control, or through panic or surprise, or because a person has been taken unawares. All those factors can be involved, and many murders are simply the unintended consequences of action, which fall within the judicial definition. We have to keep that in mind when it comes to sentencing, as we need to have a high degree of flexibility in order to do justice.

    That brings me to last May's practice direction, when the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal set out the guidance that the Lord Chief Justice wished to be observed. The starting point was 12 years, rising to 15 or 16 years in due time, then to 20 years, with sentences of 30 years, or whole-life sentences, to be set very occasionally. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that guidance. I want to know why we are trying to subject the judiciary to a straitjacket imposed by Parliament. I cannot find a reason for that.

    The intended effect and purpose of the Bill is to drive the life sentence tariffs up, and to constrain the judiciary. I see absolutely no justification for that. It will certainly not reduce the number of murders, which have remained broadly constant these past 15 years. It may make people feel good, but that is a wholly different matter.

    What is more, the proposal will cause injustice, as the case of Tony Martin shows. I am not a particular sympathiser of Tony Martin, but let us assume for a moment that his conviction for murder had been sustained, and not quashed. On any view, Tony Martin's offence was at a relatively low level of culpability in the context of murder. However, under this Bill, the starting point for his sentence would have been 30 years, because he used a firearm. What justice lies in that?

    Another example, which I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, had to do with the killers of James Bulger. They were very young at the time, but under new schedule 2 the starting point for their sentences would be 30 years. What is the justice in that? Once one begins to look at the Government's approach to the matter one sees, not only that there is no justification for it, but that it will certainly do injustice in some cases—or that it will make no difference whatsoever, in which case it is otiose.

    I turn now to firearms. I am deeply opposed to mandatory sentences, as a general proposition, yet the Bill introduces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for firearms possession. We can highlight injustices in various ways, and the sentence covers, for example, the possession of a range of souvenirs from the second world war.

    My father-in-law had a revolver and ammunition right up to the moment of his death, at the age of 94. His justification was that he was a reserve officer of the Crown. There is no way for one to argue exceptional circumstances in respect of a man who has chosen to have a handgun in his wardrobe for 50 years. What possible exceptional circumstance could there be?

    My father—a very law-abiding man—had as his doorstop an artillery shell. I never inquired whether it had the necessary fuses but, knowing him, I should not have been surprised in the least if it had. That would have been another case of a mandatory five-year sentence—imposed on a former Lord Chancellor.

    In addition, lots of people have Sten guns, grenades and this and that from their wartime circumstances. They are not going to be able to argue exceptional circumstances: they will face the minimum five-year term. There is no justice in that, yet it is the inevitable consequence of this House trying to take unto itself the power to impose minimum sentences.

    The real truth is that we should leave these matters to the judiciary. Its members have ample powers of sentencing already; they are guided by the Court of Appeal and, in appropriate circumstances, the Attorney-General can refer a case if there has been an under-sentence. Let us not take to ourselves a power that we cannot properly exercise, which is unnecessary in itself and which will certainly do injustice.

    3.45 pm

    I accept new clause 30 in principle, but I want to raise the troublesome case, under the proposed new tariff, of battered women who kill their violent partners; for example, the famous cases of women such as Emma Humphreys and Sara Thornton.

    There is a pattern to such cases. Classically, a woman marries a man who is perfectly fine but who, at some stage, takes to drink. He becomes simultaneously controlling of her and dependent on her. He keeps her subservient by regular beatings, which she simply tolerates. She feels unable to leave because her children would be thrown into poverty if they went with her, and she cannot leave them behind; because her husband might follow her anyway; or because she simply lacks the will to go.

    Such situations can run on for many years but they usually come to a head when the man attacks the woman and she realises that some difference makes that attack slightly more serious. Again, there is a pattern. She usually retreats into the kitchen. He follows to attack and she seizes a kitchen knife and stabs him once.

    Sometimes, provocation will reduce such a case to manslaughter, but often, because that offence is specifically drawn, it cannot be provocation. The man is attacking the woman with his fists, but she stabs him with a knife so although, in truth, that is self-defence, it is not proportionate; and excessive self-defence is murder. I suggest that it should be open to a jury to find that, in certain cases, excessive self-defence ought not to be murder.

    It is important to review that aspect of the law on behalf of that category of women. Someone who has reacted, or even overreacted, in the circumstances brought about by an attack, when they are likely to be acting in the grip of fear, panic or even anger—sentiments imposed on them by another person's conduct—probably ought not to be convicted of murder if they failed to measure, within some bounds, the amount of force to be used. Failure to react proportionately in such a situation is really the fault of the attacker, so excessive self-defence ought to be mitigated to manslaughter.

    Battered women are victims of that mismatch in the criminal law. All too often, they are convicted of murder through excessive self-defence. Even before they get to that stage, they are, of course, already victims of repeated domestic violence, of which no one approves. There is now concern that they may become the victims of a new, too-high tariff for such responses.

    Will those women fall within the boundaries of the exceptional circumstances provision? As I have indicated that there is a pattern to such cases, it is clear that they are not isolated. Probably eight or more women a year react in that way, which must be compared and contrasted with the fact that two women a week are killed by their violent male partner in the course of domestic violence. None the less, I have some questions.

    Granted that there is a pattern and that such cases are not isolated, could it be a proper use of the exceptional circumstances provision to allow the setting of lower tariffs for women who act in excessive self-defence after a history of domestic violence? Ministers on the Treasury Bench are well aware that they can influence the way in which the judiciary implements law by making statements in the House, under the Pepper v. Hart rule, to avoid ambiguity. It lies in the hands of Ministers to say today that it would be a proper exercise of discretion to allow exceptional circumstances in the cases of battered women who have killed in the way that I described, usually by a single blow in the heat of domestic violence. Can Ministers consider that point? If they cannot consider making such an expression today, will they seriously reconsider the position of battered women who have killed, in the light of the proposed, and otherwise entirely appropriate, introduction of a 15-year tariff for a single murder?

    I thank all right hon. and hon. members for their contribution to this important debate. Indeed, I am already learning that, on both sides of the House, there are strong feelings and a wealth of knowledge on these issues. I was struck—as was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—by the question from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who asked why the minimum sentences for possessing firearms will relate only to prohibited firearms. The answer is that, generally, non-prohibited firearms are not used by criminals, but the hon. Gentleman asked an interesting question and there will be further opportunities for scrutiny in another place.

    My first point is that Parliament is not breaking new ground in setting minimum and mandatory sentences for certain offences. In doing so, Parliament is simply asserting its legitimate role in relation to extremely serious matters.

    A number of contributions have related to tragic deaths caused by dangerous driving. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy), for Wigan (Mr. Turner) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) have mentioned a number of cases, and I know of one from my constituency: a young boy, Geoffrey Foy, was mown down by a driver who had no insurance.

    I really do not have time to give way, I am afraid. I have very limited time.

    I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome the fact that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport have announced a full review of road traffic offences. I can reassure the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that the most appropriate mode of trial will be examined in that review.

    The Anderson case removed the Home Secretary's power to set the minimum term, and it is now the right time, therefore, for Parliament to set out its own views on sentencing in a way that is not only fair to the convicted person but recognises the seriousness of the offence. We all recognise the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who has just arrived back in his place. He was persistent, if not necessarily persuasive, in the arguments that he used in relation to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talk about the practical impossibility of some of his proposals, but I hope that he took seriously the point about such matters being so serious that Parliament needs to make its position clear.

    My second point is to say in the strongest terms that the Government are not attempting to straitjacket the judges with regard to every case. I say that very strongly, particularly perhaps to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Obviously, each case and each offender is different, and it is right that the system reflects that.

    Again, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked some interesting questions about how the provisions apply to juveniles, for whom we would all have greater hope in relation to the possibility and desirability of rehabilitation. The provisions already contain scope for flexibility—for example, age is included in the list of mitigating factors—but he made some very powerful points in his speech, and we shall continue to consider them.

    It is important to emphasise that new schedule 2 does not include mandatory minimum sentences for each category of murder, but provides a starting point that can be varied, up or down, according to circumstances. The starting point for most murders will be 15 years. For the murder of a prison officer or a police officer, it will be 30 years. The starting point for terrorists and those who abduct and murder children will be whole life. Those levels reflect the seriousness of the offence and provide a robust framework in which judges will have discretion to reflect individual circumstances. I hope that the House agrees that that represents a fair balance.

    My third point is central to the Bill. All Members of Parliament feel that there is a need to restore full public confidence in the criminal justice system. Public opinion is understandably strong on the types of offence that we have been discussing this afternoon, and it is vital that the public's voice is heard and that it resonates in our debates. Judges play a crucial role in the service of our communities, but they are not directly accountable. Members of parliament are directly accountable, and if we do not voice our constituents' legitimate concerns, how are they to have their say?

    We do not have mob rule in this country; we live in a democracy and our constituents have a right to be heard. My constituents and those of many hon. Members certainly demand that the severity of sentence outlined in these provisions is put into law and put into practice at the earliest opportunity. The ultimate price is absolutely precious to all of us. If we get the balance right—if people are heard and Parliament establishes a robust framework in which the judges have the final say—not only will Parliament's credibility be strengthened, but so too will the credibility of the judges and the wider criminal justice system.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 325, Noes 52.

    Division No. 208]

    [3:54 pm

    AYES

    Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Caton, Martin
    Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
    Alexander, DouglasChallen, Colin
    Allen, GrahamChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
    Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Chaytor, David
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)Clapham, Michael
    Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
    Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryClark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
    Atherton, Ms Candy
    Atkins, CharlotteClark, Paul (Gillingham)
    Austin, JohnClarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
    Bailey, AdrianClarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
    Baird, Vera
    Banks, TonyClelland, David
    Barnes, HarryClwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
    Barron, rh KevinCoaker, Vernon
    Battle, JohnCoffey, Ms Ann
    Bayley, HughCohen, Harry
    Beard, NigelColeman, lain
    Begg, Miss AnneColman, Tony
    Bell, StuartConnarty, Michael
    Benn, HilaryCook, rh Robin (Livingston)
    Bennett, AndrewCooper, Yvette
    Benton, Joe (Bootle)Corbyn, Jeremy
    Berry, RogerCorston, Jean
    Blackman, LizCousins, Jim
    Blears, Ms HazelCox, Tom (Tooting)
    Blizzard, BobCranston, Ross
    Blunkett, rh DavidCrausby, David
    Boateng, rh PaulCruddas, Jon
    Borrow, DavidCryer, Ann (Keighley)
    Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
    Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
    Bradshaw, Ben
    Brennan, KevinCunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
    Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
    Dalyell, Tam
    Bryant, ChrisDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
    Buck, Ms KarenDavid, Wayne
    Burden, RichardDawson, Hilton
    Burgon, ColinDean, Mrs Janet
    Burnside, DavidDenham, rh John
    Byers, rh StephenDhanda, Parmjit
    Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Dismore, Andrew
    Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
    Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)Dobson, rh Frank
    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Dodds, Nigel
    Caplin, IvorDoran, Frank
    Casale, RogerDowd, Jim (Lewisham W)

    Drew, David (Stroud)Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
    Drown, Ms JuliaJoyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
    Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKaufman, rh Gerald
    Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Keeble, Ms Sally
    Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Keen, Ann (Brentford)
    Efford, CliveKemp, Fraser
    Ellman, Mrs LouiseKhabra, Piara S.
    Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)Kidney, David
    Etherington, BillKilfoyle, Peter
    Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)King, Andy (Rugby)
    Fisher, MarkKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
    Fitzpatrick, Jim
    Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaKnight, Jim (S Dorset)
    Flint, CarolineKumar, Dr. Ashok
    Flynn, Paul (Newport W)Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
    Follett, BarbaraLammy, David
    Foster, rh DerekLawrence, Mrs Jackie
    Foster, Michael (Worcester)Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
    Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)Lazarowicz, Mark
    Lepper, David
    Foulkes, rh GeorgeLevitt, Tom (High Peak)
    Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
    Gardiner, BarryLewis, Terry (Worsley)
    Gerrard, NeilLiddell, rh Mrs Helen
    Gibson, Dr. IanLinton, Martin
    Gilroy, LindaLove, Andrew
    Godsiff, RogerLucas, Ian (Wrexham)
    Goggins, PaulLuke, Iain (Dundee E)
    Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McCabe, Stephen
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)McCafferty, Chris
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McCartney, rh Ian
    Grogan, JohnMcDonagh, Siobhain
    Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)McDonnell, John
    Hall, Patrick (Bedford)MacDougall, John
    Hamilton, David (Midlothian)Mclsaac, Shona
    Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)McKenna, Rosemary
    Hanson, DavidMackinlay, Andrew
    Harman, rh Ms HarrietMcNamara, Kevin
    Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)McNulty, Tony
    Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)MacShane, Denis
    Mactaggart, Fiona
    Healey, JohnMcWilliam, John
    Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mahon, Mrs Alice
    Hendrick, MarkMallaber, Judy
    Heppell, JohnMandelson, rh Peter
    Hermon, LadyMann, John (Bassetlaw)
    Hesford, StephenMarris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
    Heyes, DavidMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
    Hill, Keith (Streatham)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Hinchliffe, DavidMartlew, Eric
    Hodge, MargaretMeacher, rh Michael
    Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)Merron, Gillian
    Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)Michael, rh Alun
    Hope, Phil (Corby)Miller, Andrew
    Hopkins, KelvinMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
    Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)Moffatt, Laura
    Mole, Chris
    Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)Moonie, Dr. Lewis
    Morley, Elliot
    Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mountford, Kali
    Humble, Mrs JoanMudie, George
    Hurst, Alan (Braintree)Mullin, Chris
    Hutton, rh JohnMunn, Ms Meg
    Iddon, Dr. BrianMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
    Ingram, rh AdamNaysmith, Dr. Doug
    Irranca-Davies, HuwNorris, Dan (Wansdyke)
    Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
    Olner, Bill
    Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)O'Neill, Martin
    Jamieson, DavidOrgan, Diana
    Johnson, Alan (Hull W)Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
    Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Palmer, Dr. Nick
    Pearson, Ian
    Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Perham, Linda
    Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Picking, Anne
    Jones, Kevan (N Durham)Pickthall, Colin

    Pike, Peter (Burnley)Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
    Plaskitt, JamesStevenson, George
    Pond, Chris (Gravesham)Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
    Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
    Pound, StephenStoate, Dr. Howard
    Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
    Stringer, Graham
    Primarolo, rh DawnSutcliffe, Gerry
    Prosser, GwynTami, Mark (Alyn)
    Purchase, KenTaylor, Dari (Stockton S)
    Quin, rh JoyceTaylor, David (NW Leics)
    Quinn, LawrieThomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
    Rammell, BillTimms, Stephen
    Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)Tipping, Paddy
    Raynsford, rh NickTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
    Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
    Trickett, Jon
    Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)Trimble, rh David
    Truswell, Paul
    Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
    Roche, Mrs BarbaraTurner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
    Rooney, Terry
    Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
    Ruane, ChrisTwigg, Derek (Halton)
    Ruddock, JoanTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
    Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
    Vis, Dr. Rudi
    Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)Walley, Ms Joan
    Salter, MartinWareing, Robert N.
    Sarwar, MohammadWatson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
    Savidge, MalcolmWatts, David
    Sawford, PhilWhite, Brian
    Sedgemore, BrianWhitehead, Dr. Alan
    Shaw, JonathanWicks, Malcolm
    Sheerman, BarryWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
    Sheridan, JimWinnick, David
    Shipley, Ms DebraWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
    Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
    Smith, Angela (Basildon)Woodward, Shaun
    Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)Worthington, Tony
    Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
    Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
    Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
    Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
    Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wright, David (Telford)
    Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
    Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)Wyatt, Derek
    Soley, Clive
    Southworth, Helen

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Spellar, rh John

    Mr. Nick Ainger and

    Squire, Rachel

    Mr. Phil Woolas

    NOES

    Allan, RichardHarvey, Nick
    Baker, NormanHeath, David
    Barrett, JohnHogg, rh Douglas
    Beith, rh A. J.Holmes, Paul
    Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
    Breed, ColinKeetch, Paul
    Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
    Bruce, Malcolm
    Burnett, JohnKirkwood, Sir Archy
    Calton, Mrs PatsyLamb, Norman
    Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Laws, David (Yeovil)
    Carmichael, AlistairLlwyd, Elfyn
    Chidgey, DavidMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
    Cotter, Brian
    Davey, Edward (Kingston)Marshall-Andrews, Robert
    Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)Moore, Michael
    Doughty, SueOaten, Mark (Winchester)
    Foster, Don (Bath)Öpik, Lembit
    George, Andrew (St. Ives)Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
    Gidley, Sandra
    Green, Matthew (Ludlow)Pugh, Dr. John
    Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
    Russell, Bob (Colchester)

    Sanders, AdrianThurso, John
    Shepherd, RichardTonge, Dr. Jenny
    Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & KincardineTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
    Willis, Phil
    Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)

    Mr. Andrew Stunell and

    Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)

    Richard Younger-Ross

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    It being two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Orders [4 February, 5 March, 2 April and 19 May], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

    New Clause 31

    Duty To Give Reasons

    '(1) Any court making an order under subsection (2) or (4) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) must state in open court, in ordinary language, its reasons for deciding on the order made.

    (2) In stating its reasons the court must, in particular—

  • (a) state which of the starting points in Schedule (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) it has chosen and its reasons for doing so, and
  • (b) state its reasons for any departure from that starting point.'.—[Paul Goggins.]
  • Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 32

    Appeals

    'In section 9 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (c. 19) (appeal against sentence following conviction on indictment), after subsection (1) there is inserted—
    "(1A) In subsection (1) of this section, the reference to a sentence fixed by law does not include a reference to an order made under subsection (2) or (4) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in relation to a life sentence (as defined in section (Interpretation of Chapter) of that Act), that is fixed by law.".'.—[Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 33

    Review Of Minimum Term On Reference By Attorney General

    'In section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (c.33) (reviews of sentencing) after subsection (3) there is inserted—
    "(3A) Where a reference under this section relates to an order under subsection (2) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence), the Court of Appeal shall not, in deciding what order under that section is appropriate for the case, make any allowance for the fact that the person to whom it relates is being sentenced for a second time.".'.—[Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 34

    Life Prisoners Transferred To England And Wales

    '(1) The Secretary of State must refer the case of any transferred life prisoner to the High Court for the making of a relevant order.

    (2) In subsection (1) "transferred life prisoner" means a person—

  • on whom a court in a country or territory outside the British Islands has imposed one or more sentences of imprisonment or detention for an indeterminate period, and
  • (b) who has been transferred to England and Wales after the commencement of this section in pursuance of—
  • (i) an order made by the Secretary of State under section 2 of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act 1884 (c. 31), or
  • (ii) a warrant issued by the Secretary of State under the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 (c. 47),
  • there to serve his sentence or sentences or the remainder of his sentence or sentences.

    (3) In subsection (1) "a relevant order" means—

  • (a) in a case where the prisoner's offence or offences appear to the court to be or include an offence for which, if it had been committed in England and Wales, the sentence would have been fixed by law, an order under subsection (2) or (4) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence), and
  • (b) in any other case, an order under subsection (2) or (4) of section 82A of the Sentencing Act.
  • (4) In section 34(1) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (meaning of "life prisoner" in Chapter 2 of Part 2 of that Act) at the end there is inserted "and includes a transferred life prisoner as defined by section (Life prisoners transferred to England and Wales)(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003".'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 35

    Further Provisions About References Relating To Transferred Life Prisoners

    '(1) A reference to the High Court under section (Life prisoners transferred to England and Wales) is to be determined by a single judge of that court without an oral hearing.

    (2) In relation to a reference under that section, any reference to "the court" in subsections (2) to (5) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence), in Schedule (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) or in section 82 A(2) to (4) of the Sentencing Act is to be read as a reference to the High Court.

    (3) A person in respect of whom a reference has been made under section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) may with the leave of the Court of Appeal appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision of the High Court on the reference.

    (4) Section 1(1) of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 (c.65) (appeal to House of Lords from decision of High Court in a criminal cause or matter) and section 18(l)(a) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (c.54) (exclusion of appeal from High Court to Court of Appeal in a criminal cause or matter) do not apply in relation to a decision to which subsection (3) applies.

    (5)The jurisdiction conferred on the Court of Appeal by subsection (3) is to be exercised by the criminal division of that court.

    (6)Section 33(3) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (limitation on appeal from criminal division of Court of Appeal) does not prevent an appeal to the House of Lords under this section.

    (7)In relation to appeals to the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords under this section, the Secretary of State may make an order containing provision corresponding to any provision in the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (c. 19) (subject to any specified modifications).'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 36

    Duty To Release Certain Life Prisoners

    '(1) Section 28 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (c. 43) (duty to release certain life prisoners) is amended as follows.

    (2) For subsection (1A) there is substituted—

    "(1A) In this Chapter—

  • (a) references to a life prisoner to whom this section applies are references to a life prisoner in respect of whom a minimum term order has been made, and
  • (b) references to the relevant part of his sentence are references to the part of his sentence specified in the order.".
  • (3) In subsection (1B)(a), for the words from "such an order" to "appropriate stage" there is substituted "a minimum term order has been made in respect of each of those sentences".

    (4) After subsection (8) there is inserted—

    "(8A) In this section "minimum term order" means an order under—

  • subsection (2) of section 82A of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (determination of minimum term in respect of life sentence that is not fixed by law), or
  • subsection (2) of section (Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (determination of minimum term in respect of mandatory life sentence).".'.—[Paul Goggins.]
  • Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 37

    Mandatory Life Sentences: Transitional Cases

    'Schedule (Mandatory life sentences: transitional cases) (which relates to the effect in transitional cases of mandatory life sentences) shall have effect.'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 38

    Interpretation Of Chapter

    'In this Chapter—

    • "court" includes a courtmartial;
    • "guidelines" has the same meaning as in section 156(1);
    • "life sentence" means—
    • a sentence of imprisonment for life, a sentence of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure, or
    • a sentence of custody for life passed before the commencement of section 61(1) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43) (which abolishes that sentence).'.—[Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 39

    Increase In Penalties For Certain Drivingrelated Offences Causing Death

    '(1) In section 12A of the Theft Act 1968 (c. 60) (aggravated vehicletaking), in subsection (4), for 'five years' there is substituted 'fourteen years'.

    (2) Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (prosecution and punishment of offences) is amended in accordance with subsections (3) and (4).

    (3) In the entry relating to section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (causing death by dangerous driving), in column 4, for "10 years" there is substituted "14 years".

    (4) In the entry relating to section 3A of that Act (causing death by careless driving when under influence of drink or drugs), in column 4, for "10 years" there is substituted "14 years".

    (5) This section does not affect the penalty for any offence committed before the commencement of this section.'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 46

    Minimum Sentence For Certain Firearms Offences

    "After section 51 of the Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27) there is inserted the following section—

    "51A Minimum sentence for certain offences under s.5

    (1) This section applies where—

  • an individual is convicted of—
  • (i) an offence under section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c) of this Act, or
  • (ii) an offence under section 5(1A)(a) of this Act, and
  • the offence was committed after the commencement of this section and at a time when he was aged 16 or over.
  • (2) The court shall impose an appropriate custodial sentence (or order for detention) for a term of at least the required minimum term (with or without a fine) unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or to the offender which justify its not doing so.

    (3) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

    (4) In this section "appropriate custodial sentence (or order for detention)" means—

  • (a) in relation to England and Wales—
  • (i) in the case of an offender who is aged 18 or over when convicted, a sentence of imprisonment, and
  • (ii) in the case of an offender who is aged under 18 at that time, a sentence of detention under section 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000;
  • (b) in relation to Scotland—
  • (i) in the case of an offender who is aged 21 or over when convicted, a sentence of imprisonment,
  • (ii) in the case of an offender who is aged under 21 at that time (not being an offender mentioned in subparagraph (iii)), a sentence of detention under section 207 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46), and
  • (iii) in the case of an offender who is aged under 18 at that time and is subject to a supervision requirement, an order for detention under section 44, or sentence of detention under section 208, of that Act.
  • (5) In this section "the required minimum term" means—

  • in relation to England and Wales—
  • (i) in the case of an offender who was aged 18 or over when he committed the offence, five years, and
  • (ii) in the case of an offender who was under 18 at that time, three years, and
  • in relation to Scotland—
  • (i) in the case of an offender who was aged 21 or over when he committed the offence, five years, and
  • (ii) in the case of an offender who was aged under 21 at that time, three years.".'—[Paul Goggins.]
  • Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 47

    Certain Firearms Offences To Be Triable Only On Indictment

    'In Part 1 of Schedule 6 to the Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27) (prosecution and punishment of offences) for the entries relating to offences under section 5(1) (possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition) and section 5(1A) (possessing or distributing other prohibited weapons) there is substituted—

    "Section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c)Possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition.On indictment10 years or a fine, or both
    Section 5(1)(b)Possessing or distributing prohibited weapon designed for discharge of noxious liquid etc.(a) Summary (b) On indictment6 months or a fine of the statutory maximum, or both 10 years or a fine, or both.
    Section 5(1A)(a)Possessing or distributing firearm disguised as other object.On indictment10 years or a fine, or both.
    Section 5(1A)(b), (c), (d), (e), (f) or (g)Possessing or distributing other prohibited weapons.(a) Summary6 months or a fine of the statutory maximum, or both
    (b) On indictment10 years or a fine, or both.".'—

    [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 48

    Power To Sentence Young Offender To Detention In Respect Of Certain Firearms Offences: England And Wales

    '(1) Section 91 of the Sentencing Act (offenders under 18 convicted of certain serious offences: power to detain for specified period) is amended as follows.

    (2) After subsection (1) there is inserted—

    "(1A) Subsection (3) below also applies where—

  • (a) a person aged under 18 is convicted on indictment of an offence—
  • (i) under subsection (1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c) of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 (prohibited weapons), or
  • (ii) under subsection (1A)(a) of that section,
  • (b) the offence was committed after the commencement of section 51 A of that Act and at a time when he was aged 16 or over, and
  • (c) the court is of the opinion mentioned in section 51A(2) of that Act (exceptional circumstances which justify its not imposing required custodial sentence)."
  • (3) After subsection (4) there is inserted—

    "(5) Where subsection (2) of section 51A of the Firearms Act 1968 requires the imposition of a sentence of detention under this section for a term of at least the required minimum term (within the meaning of that section), the court shall sentence the offender to be detained for such period, of at least that term but not exceeding the maximum term of imprisonment with which the offence is punishable in the case of a person aged 18 or over, as may be specified in the sentence.".'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 49

    Power To Sentence Young Offender To Detention In Respect Of Certain Firearms Offences: Scotland

    '(1) The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46) is amended as follows.

    (2) In section 49(3) (children's hearing for purpose of obtaining advice as to treatment of child), at the end there is added "except that where the circumstances are such as are mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 51A of the Firearms Act 1968 it shall itself dispose of the case".

    (3) In section 208 (detention of children convicted on indictment), the existing provisions become subsection (1); and after that subsection there is added—

    "(2) Subsection (1) does not apply where the circumstances are such as are mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 51A of the Firearms Act 1968.".'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 50

    Power By Order To Exclude Application Of Minimum Sentence To Those Under 18

    '(1) The Secretary of State may by order—

  • (a) amend section 51A(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27) by substituting for the word "16" the word "18",
  • (b) repeal section 91(1A)(c) and (5) of the Sentencing Act,
  • (c) amend subsection (3) of section 49 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46) by repealing the exception to that subsection,
  • (d) repeal section 208(2) of that Act, and
  • (e) make such other provision as he considers necessary or expedient in consequence of, or in connection with, the provision made by virtue of paragraphs (a) to (d).
  • (2) The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (1)(e) includes, in particular, provision amending or repealing any provision of an Act (whenever passed), including any provision of this Act.'.— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 51

    Increase In Penalty For Offences Relating To Importation Or Exportation Of Certain Firearms

    '(1) The Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (c. 2) is amended as follows.

    (2) In section 50 (penalty for improper importation of goods), for subsection (5A) there is substituted—

    "(5A) In the case of an offence under subsection (2) or (3) above in connection with—

  • (a) a prohibition or restriction on the importation of a firearm falling within section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c) or (1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, or
  • (b) the prohibition contained in section 20 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981,
  • subsection (4)(b) above shall have effect as if for the words "7 years" there were substituted the words "10 years"."

    (3) In section 68 (offences in relation to exportation of prohibited or restricted goods) for subsection (4A) there is substituted—

    "(4A) In the case of an offence under subsection (2) above in connection with—

  • (a) a prohibition or restriction on the exportation of a firearm falling within section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c) or (1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, or
  • (b) the prohibition contained in section 21 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981,
  • subsection (3)(b) above shall have effect as if for the words "7 years" there were substituted the words "10 years"."

    (4) In section 170 (penalty for fraudulent evasion of duty, etc), for subsection (4A) there is substituted—

    "(4A) In the case of an offence under this section in connection with—

  • (a) a prohibition or restriction on the importation or exportation of a firearm falling within section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae) or (c) or (1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, or
  • (b) the prohibitions contained in sections 20 and 21 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981,
  • subsection (3)(b) above shall have effect as if for the words "7 years" there were substituted the words "10 years"."

    (5) This section does not affect the penalty for any offence committed before the commencement of this section.'— [Paul Goggins.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 28

    Sentencing Guidelines Council: Supplementary Provisions

    '(1) In relation to the Council, the Lord Chancellor may by order make provision—

  • (a) as to the term of office, resignation and reappointment of judicial members and non-judicial members,
  • (b) enabling the appropriate Minister to remove a judicial member or non-judicial member from office on grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour, and
  • (c)as to the proceedings of the Council.
  • (2) In subsection (1)(b) "the appropriate Minister" means—

  • (a) in relation to a judicial member, the Lord Chancellor, and
  • (b) in relation to a non-judicial member, the Secretary of State.
  • (3) The validity of anything done by the Council is not affected by any vacancy among its members, by any defect in the appointment of a member or by any failure to comply with section 152(4A), (4D) or (4E).

    (4) The Lord Chancellor may pay—

  • (a) to any judicial member who is appointed by virtue of being a lay justice, such remuneration or expenses as he may determine, and
  • (b) to any other judicial member or the Lord Chief Justice, such expenses as he may determine.
  • (5) The Secretary of State may pay to any non-judicial member such remuneration or expenses as he may determine.'— [Yvette Cooper.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 6—Increase in sentences for hate crimes.

    New clause 10— Abolition of imprisonment for fine default.

    • Government amendment No. 233.
    • Amendment No. 31.
    • Government amendments Nos. 234 and 235.
    • Amendments Nos. 482, 483 and 67,
    • Government amendments Nos. 236 and 197.
    • Amendments Nos. 175 to 177.
    • Government amendment No. 198, and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
    • Amendment No. 178.
    • Government amendment No. 199.
    • Amendments Nos. 181, 179, 183, 184, 180, 25, 182, 26 and 186.
    • Government amendments Nos. 200 and 201.
    • Amendment No. 188.
    • Government amendments Nos. 262 to 271, 237, 238, 272 to 275 and 239 to 241.
    • Amendment No. 488.
    • Government amendment No. 242.
    • Amendment No. 484.
    • Government amendment No. 243.
    • Amendments Nos. 489, 485 to 487 and 490.
    • Government amendments Nos. 244 to 247.
    • Amendment No. 191.
    • Government amendments Nos. 248 and 249.
    • Amendments Nos. 492, 496 and 494.
    • Government amendment No. 276.
    • Amendments Nos. 493, 497 and 495.
    • Government amendments Nos. 277 to 280.
    • Amendments Nos. 192, 120 and 193.
    • Government amendment No. 281.
    • Amendments Nos. 491 and 68 to 70.
    • Government amendments Nos. 282 to 284, 250 to 252 and 285 to 298.
    • Amendment No. 194.
    • Government amendments Nos. 202, 253, 254, 301, 302, 304, 306 to 313, 255, 315 and 256 to 258.

    This group contains a series of amendments, many of which are technical and drafting amendments. In the time available, I shall concentrate my remarks on the main substantive amendments tabled by the Government. I will not go into detail about why we are resisting many of the Opposition amendments on other topics, although if we have time later, I shall be happy to respond to points that hon. Members make in speaking to their amendments.

    The main Government amendments in this group relate to the Sentencing Guidelines Council and result from an extensive and constructive debate in Committee. I have read the reports of those debates, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) for raising some important issues, and all who contributed to the discussion about the composition and role of the council. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), now the Minister of State, Department for International Development, said in Committee that the Government would consider the issue further. That is what we have done and why we have proposed these amendments.

    The argument advanced in Committee was that the membership of the council should be widened to include those from a non-judicial background. The amendments do that. We have not reflected the precise proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North and by the Opposition, and I shall explain why.

    There is a series of principles that are broadly agreed. First, our aim is to achieve greater transparency and public legitimacy for the sentencing framework. Secondly, we need to maintain and safeguard judicial independence, which is vital for underpinning the rule of law and for democracy. In particular, we need to ensure that judicial independence in sentencing decisions on individual cases is safeguarded. Thirdly, it will help us to achieve greater credibility and legitimacy for the sentencing framework if there is non-judicial input into the guidelines. Fourthly, democratically elected representatives in Parliament should have a voice in the process, although we do not want to politicise the process of developing the guidelines. Fifthly, we must ensure that we produce high quality guidelines that command the respect of members of the judiciary, who need to take decisions on a day-to-day basis, as well as practitioners and the wider public. The process must be credible with both the judiciary and the public.

    I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but I understand that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), now the international development Minister, said that various amendments relating to juvenile sentencing were not appropriate, as the Government plan to introduce legislation to bring together the purposes of juvenile sentencing. Can my hon. Friend confirm that and indicate when it is likely to happen? Will she confirm that the issues of juvenile sentencing that are before the House today can be reviewed at that stage?

    I can confirm that much work is under way on some of the issues concerning juveniles. My hon. Friend is aware that that is being led by the Home Office, and I am sure that my hon. Friends at the Department will be happy to write to him about those proposals.

    Before my hon. Friend gets into the detail, this may be the appropriate time to put on record my thanks, and I hope the thanks of all who served on the Standing Committee, for the way in which the Government have responded to the proposals put before them by all parties, including those on the Opposition Front Benches, who attempted to be constructive in the development and broadening out of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. As my hon. Friend continues her remarks, she will come to issues on which there are certain reservations and others on which I think we could go a little further, but I hope that the Government take great satisfaction from the way in which they involved Members to produce a better Bill than it was when it first went into Committee.

    I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, which I welcome.

    The Bill already makes considerable improvements by setting up the Sentencing Guidelines Council to draw up clear guidelines of high quality. The council's decisions will be informed by the research and the expertise of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. Its draft guidelines will be published and scrutinised by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, but in Committee members on both sides argued that we should go further and extend the membership of the council to include those from non-judicial backgrounds. The Government have done so by tabling amendments in order to improve the quality and authority of the guidelines.

    4.15 pm

    In addition to the judicial members appointed by the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary will appoint five individuals to the Sentencing Guidelines Council with experience in one or more of the following fields: policing; criminal prosecution; criminal defence; the interests of victims; and sentencing and correctional services policy. The council will have seven judicial members, as well as the Lord Chief Justice, who will continue as chairman and will appoint a deputy chairman from among the council members. Judicial members will therefore form the majority, helping to maintain the confidence of the Court of the Appeal and the judiciary more widely.

    Judicial members will be allocated from those who fall under the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, so they will be appointed by him in consultation with the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice. Non-judicial members reflect the wider policy interests of the Home Secretary and will therefore be appointed by him in consultation with the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. The majority of members of the council will already be paid from the public purse, but for those to whom that does not apply, the power to pay a fee ensures that the most suitable people can be appointed.

    Expanding the council's membership in that way will enable it to produce robust and comprehensive sentencing guidelines that command respect and increase confidence in the criminal justice system.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I have checked the meaning of brevity in the dictionary, so this intervention will be brief.

    The Minister will know very well that the judiciary in this country is primarily male and white. Will she consider introducing a provision to ensure that the non-judicial members make the council more reflective of the community in this country? In other words, there should be some provision to increase the representation of women and ethnic minorities.

    I welcome the hon. Lady's work in trying to ensure that the voices of women and minority ethnic communities are heard at all levels in public service. I shall certainly ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of the points that she has made when he considers appointments to the council.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to make a more substantial point about the composition of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. All of us welcome the broadening of the membership to include police officers, prison governors and so on. One of the key things that we tried to achieve in Committee was to ensure that representatives of the three arms of state—judiciary, legislature and Executive—would be around the same table to discuss sentencing and arrive at a consensus about it, so that the debilitating exchange between the Lord Chief Justice, the Home Secretary and Members of Parliament could be resolved so as to restore some faith and credibility in the council. Will she discuss with the House whether she believes that it is appropriate for the Home Secretary to be directly represented on the council, if not a member of it, at some future point, or for the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs or the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department to be represented, so that all three arms of state are represented around the table?

    I know that my hon. Friend raised that point directly with the Home Secretary during debate about the previous group of amendments, as I watched the debate on the monitor. I think that I heard the Home Secretary reply that he was daunted by the prospect of having to work on the detail of a considerable number of sentencing guidelines.

    There is also a broader point: we are trying to secure a balance, and we need to ensure that a wider voice is heard in developing the guidelines. My hon. Friend is right that it is important that the voice of Parliament should be heard in the process, as well as the views of the Home Secretary. Equally, it is important that we avoid over-politicising the process. For example, I know that he and other hon. Members have made clear their view that we should not engage in a bidding war about sentencing and that we should not inappropriately politicise the process and encourage debates on the Floor of the House or in which Cabinet Ministers and their shadow counterparts engage in a bidding game about the appropriate sentencing and mitigating factors regarding the detail of different guidelines.

    The proposals set out an appropriate balance whereby the Home Secretary will appoint members to the Sentencing Guidelines Council on the basis of their expertise in various parts of the criminal justice system. It is right that the Home Secretary himself is not a member of the council. Equally, it is right that Parliament should be able to scrutinise the guidelines and have its voice heard—the Select Committee on Home Affairs, in particular, should be able to discuss them—but there are, frankly, advantages in not having politicians as members of the council.

    The Minister stated a wee bit earlier that she listened to the debate on the previous group of amendments. I had assumed, having read the Bill, that new clause 28 and the clause to which it relates, clause 152, have no application in Scotland. In the previous debate, mention was made of the Sentencing Guidelines Council considering, for example, road traffic offences. For the absence of doubt, can the Minister confirm that the council's remit will have no impact and jurisdiction in Scotland?

    My understanding is that the hon. Lady is right in her interpretation. If she will allow me, I shall clarify the point when I sum up or, if I do not have time, at a later stage.

    I understand that to have politicians sitting on the Sentencing Guidelines Council might be undesirable, and we certainly do not seek that. As the Minister will be aware, however, we have argued, and continue to argue, that a degree of parliamentary input into the process through having guidelines ratified by Parliament by affirmative resolution might go a long way towards reassuring the public about Parliament's involvement without in any way detracting from the fact that the guidelines themselves will be formulated by an expert council.

    Again, the answer is that we need to strike the right balance. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he did not want to join a bidding war on sentencing. It would be inappropriate to ask Parliament as a whole to debate and vote on the detail of every single sentence. We set the maximum sentence in Parliament, and it is right that we do so. In the previous debate, which was led by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we heard about the concerns and views of Parliament on some of the most serious offences, but we should bear in mind that there are a huge number of offences and there will need to be, over time, a large number of guidelines.

    The appropriate role for Parliament is to set the broad sentencing parameters by defining the offence and the maximum sentence, and the judiciary's role is to make judgments on individual cases. The Sentencing Guidelines Council effectively provides a bridge between those two roles. If we are to get the balance right in a sensitive relationship between different branches of government and different institutions within a democracy, there is huge value in not asking Parliament as a whole to vote on every single guideline, but equally we must ensure that Parliament has its voice by allowing the Home Affairs Committee to express its views. The Sentencing Guidelines Council will also need to have regard to the views of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor.

    Government amendment No. 198 provides that a non-judicial appointment might be a civil servant. Can my hon. Friend clarify whether that is because the personal qualities of some civil servants will make them appropriate for the job, or are they intended to be another bridge between the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Secretary of State?

    My hon. Friend is right that the amendment would allow civil servants to be appointed. Experience of sentencing, for example, work in the Prison Service or in sentencing policy, may mean that civil servants—Government employees—have the greatest expertise. My hon. Friend is also right that we should be able to take account of appropriate expertise. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believes that people should be appointed on the basis of their expertise, not as representatives of his views.

    :I thank my hon. Friend and all Front-Bench Members for their generosity in giving way. It has promoted a helpful and positive dialogue. Does my hon. Friend accept that members of the Standing Committee proposed the three-way combination on the Sentencing Guidelines Council partly so that everyone bought into the process and the decision making? If the Home Secretary, a deputy or the Chairman of either the Home Affairs Committee or a Committee that deals with judicial matters does not serve on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, there may be a distance between the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature that will lead to the Home Secretary's being able to discount the council's views or hon. Members' being able to engage in a bidding war when matters come before the House. In the long-term, will my hon. Friend re-examine the possibility of uniting the three arms of state?

    In the end, no system can guarantee consensus if different views are held. However, the set-up that we propose allows a proper dialogue between those who have different views and approach the matter from different perspectives, and ensures that the dialogue takes place in the public arena. It allows for the draft guidelines to be published and for the Home Affairs Committee to comment.

    It is equally important to recognise that, although we should hold a dialogue and aim for broad consensus and legitimacy for the guidelines, we each play different roles in the process. On other subjects, my hon. Friend has argued for increasing the separation of powers and introducing greater clarity into the separate components of government.

    The proposal attempts to strike the right balance. The Home Secretary makes the appointments, and there are clearly plenty of opportunities for his views to be heard as part of the process. It is also important that the Sentencing Guidelines Council is constituted in the way in which the amendments set out. It will be chaired by the Lord Chief Justice and have a clear voice.

    I am most grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for her generosity in giving way. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) entertained us greatly and made valuable contributions in Committee. However, the Parliamentary Secretary is fundamentally right. Our commitments and obligations under the European convention on human rights, especially on fair trial, mean that it would be wrong for the Home Secretary to be a member of the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

    I welcome the hon. Lady's support. We must ensure that we each play our separate roles and that the independence of the judiciary is maintained. We must also ensure that the process has the confidence of the different parts of government and our democratic institutions. The system must have the confidence of the judiciary and be able to produce high quality guidelines that the judiciary and the magistracy can use on a daily basis.

    We have had an extensive debate about the Government's thinking in response to the amendments. Most other Government amendments in the group are minor and make various textual improvements to the aspect of the Bill that deals with sentencing. Some respond to drafting questions that were raised in Committee and others to deficiencies in the measure. Some are consequential.

    We have tried to accommodate concerns raised by members of the Committee, while maintaining what I consider to be an important balance by ensuring that sentencing is carried out properly and appropriately, and that trials are fair and are conducted transparently. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) raised that last point.

    I will happily respond to amendments that Members wish to discuss later, but I shall end my speech now so that everyone has a chance to speak about new clause 28.

    4.30 pm

    The Government should be commended on recognising the strength of the view expressed in Committee that the current arrangements for sentencing, and indeed their own proposals, might not be sufficient. I thank the Home Secretary and the Minister for producing what is probably a better alternative.

    Nevertheless, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), there remains the considerable issue of whether the Sentencing Guidelines Council in its new form will be deemed representative enough. As was said in Committee, tension will inevitably surround the options of a council consisting of professionals and one that might be seen as broadly representative of the public at large.

    Amendment No. 177, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, lists the people whom he would like to be on the council. I will not read out the entire list, which in any event may be altered according to influences brought to bear on him by other Members; but it includes a representative of the business community, a representative of a victims' organisation, a teachers' representative and a representative of ex-offenders' institutions. The hon. Gentleman is trying, as he did in Committee, to widen the council's scope and to make it rather different from what the Government intended.

    The Government originally described the council as a judicial body, providing also for the continued existence of a Sentencing Advisory Panel to contribute alternative input. One issue that the Minister has not clarified to my satisfaction is the continuing interaction between the two bodies. I suspect she will say that the panel is intended to operate exactly as it was always intended to operate, but given the proposed inclusion of new council members it could be argued that a measure of duplication is developing. I fear, however, that because of the timetabling and the whole way in which our business has been handled, we shall not have time to engage in a proper dialogue on the subject this afternoon.

    I am quite content with the Government's list of four or five additional members. The "shopping list" of potential members was drawn from various suggestions from all quarters of the Committee. I will spare the hon. Gentleman's blushes by not specifying his own suggestions.

    I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that.

    The key amendment tabled by us is amendment No. 26. The point is that however we approach this issue, the general public input simply is not there. I do not criticise the Government for that, because I accept that the detailed process of setting sentencing guidelines is a matter for the professionals. Indeed, I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, having said that he was broadly satisfied with the list produced by the Government—which includes policing, criminal prosecution, criminal defence, the promotion of the welfare of victims of crime, sentencing policy and the administration of sentences—takes the view that it already goes a long way towards meeting his requirements.

    The difficulty that will always exist is that the proposals might not be in accordance with the public's perception when they are published, even though there could be public discussion and debate on them. I take the Minister's point that the Home Affairs Committee will be able to look at the guidelines and publish a learned document, although I am afraid that history shows that such a document would be perused for about 24 hours—if not 24 minutes—by the wider public, and for a little longer by the Government when they come to publish their response.

    If the hon. Gentleman looks at just about all the Home Office legislation passed in this Parliament, he will find clauses that have been introduced as a result of suggestions made by the Home Affairs Committee. Some things are also occasionally deleted at the suggestion of the Committee, so the hon. Gentleman should not be too hopeless.

    I certainly would not wish to disparage the work done by the hon. Gentleman and his Committee—far from it. My comment came from my own experience of serving on other Select Committees—I served on the Environmental Audit Committee—which showed me that a huge amount of work goes into Select Committee activities in the House. Although that work sometimes has an impact, I sometimes wish that we were more successful in making a greater impact through the reports that we produce. But that is in no way to diminish what the hon. Gentleman and the other members of his Committee attempt to achieve.

    Unless the public have a sense that suggestions can be taken up, we shall see the problem of a hole appearing between professionals and the general public over sentencing. When we considered this matter in Committee, my hon. Friends and I, and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), came to the conclusion that we could see no reason why Parliament should not have a role in the setting of sentencing guidelines. I am extremely mindful of what was said earlier about not having bidding wars, and I certainly do not wish to see any taking place on this issue. That is one reason why amendment No. 26 specifically would not allow Parliament to initiate the setting of sentencing guidelines. The initiation of any change to existing guidelines must be a matter for the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

    The amendment envisages that, once the guidelines have been published—not as definitive guidelines, but as draft guidelines—the Home Affairs Committee should first have an opportunity to consider them and to produce a report. On publication of that report, the guidelines—or any changes to them, because the starting point would be the existing guidelines—would come into force after approval by both Houses of Parliament. I would envisage that process being carried out under the affirmative resolution procedure, and I would expect that it could be done shortly. Obviously, if Parliament refused to alter the existing guidelines, that would mean not that there were no guidelines but that the existing ones would remain. That would have the consequence of remitting the guidelines back to the Sentencing Guidelines Council for further consideration.

    I accept that that process would not be free of difficulty. I sometimes feel, however, that we do ourselves a disservice by constantly assuming that we shall engage in bidding wars or that we are incapable of taking responsible decisions and echoing public concerns. My experience in life—not just in this place—tells me that people who have responsibility tend to rise to it. If they are denied responsibility, we will have only ourselves to blame when the public cease to take us seriously.

    In the past couple of days, the hon. Gentleman has had a taste of how the Executive treat Parliament and how strong Parliament is when it wishes to discuss matters, perhaps for more time than we are being allowed today.

    There is a problem that the hon. Gentleman has to confront: while the judiciary has one hit, the Executive have two. The Government and the Home Office are very powerful and they are rightly listened to, but the Government also control the House of Commons. Parliament is their puppet. Therefore, if we allow the Executive two shots to the judiciary's one on sentencing. we will end up with a sentencing regime that is wholly formulated in the Home Office. Once again, that is why all three arms of state need to be properly represented, and they need to sit around the table at the Sentencing Guidelines Council and reach a consensus, however long it takes.

    The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but the mechanism that I am suggesting has within it a number of safeguards that might well prevent that from happening. I see him crossing his fingers. We must be careful of wishful thinking, but we can have wishes.

    First and foremost, the guidelines council would produce the recommendations. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, although it may be swayed by the Government, it will, on the whole, be independent of them. I know that there is supposed to be a telephone line that links the Home Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice.

    It may be discontinued, but in any event there would be sufficient other members of the Sentencing Guidelines Council to prevent excessive influence from being brought to bear.

    We would have recommendations from the Sentencing Guidelines Council, not from the Government, so Parliament would be asked to approve something from an independent body. It would then be vetted by the Home Affairs Committee, which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North would agree has shown a remarkable spirit of independence, absence of partisanship and willingness to work on a cross-party basis. The Committee would make sensible recommendations and reach sensible conclusions, as most Select Committees do.

    If the Home Affairs Committee approved the sentencing guidelines and thought them highly desirable, and bearing it in mind that Parliament would have the last say, let us assume for a moment that the Government would bring great pressure to bear on the Commons and on Members as to how they would vote on the matter. If the sentencing guidelines were rejected, based on what was clearly perceived to be Government pressure, the Government would have to live with the consequences, including, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, considerable criticism and public debate, which, in itself, is one of the things that we seek to stimulate.

    On the other hand, the Commons may be seen to be acting independently of the Government, or perhaps even contrary to their views—a Government would be most reluctant to overturn Sentencing Guidelines Council recommendations—and it is more likely that the Commons would flex its muscles on the one or two occasions when the Home Affairs Committee says that there has been a mistake and that it is not prepared to go along with it. I cannot help but think that that would provide a mechanism that protected the public and public opinion and which might also improve the position. Of course there is no perfection, but the matter ought to be given serious consideration.

    There are two problems with the hon. Gentleman's argument. First, let us say that the Home Secretary, in asking Parliament to overturn guidelines, would do so only on the basis that it would play well with the public. He would no doubt have a massive chorus behind him, calling for the overturning of those weak judges and those professionals. It could be built up in such a way, although I am not suggesting that the current Home Secretary would do that. I mention the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who may operate differently.

    Secondly, already—before the Sentencing Guidelines Council is in being—great rafts of its powers on murder, dangerous driving and firearms have been stripped away. It is not even up and running yet, but a Home Secretary can use this place to strip out the sentencing issues that he regards as particularly important to him.

    Order. This is in danger of becoming a dialogue. There is limited time and other Members may wish to participate—including the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). 4.45 pm

    I take the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall simply say this. I am aware of the criticisms that he made; indeed, I share some of his disquiet, which I expressed earlier. However, the fact that the Government have chosen that course of action does show that the buck stops here. We already impose maxima and minima for certain offences. As the Minister accepted, it is wrong to say that Parliament has a role in sentencing not just in terms of policy but in setting certain maxima and minima for sentences. I would prefer Parliament to be engaged in that process in a responsible way, rather than being forced out completely; I cannot help thinking that that might ultimately play more into the hands of Executive power. However, the suggestion exists, and if I had the opportunity to press amendment No. 26 to the vote—I understand that I almost certainly will not, which is a reflection of the state of our procedure—I would seek to do so.

    I shall be very brief. If the hon. Gentleman is unsuccessful with that proposal, does he think that we can make much of the council's annual report, which will be laid before Parliament each year?

    It is certainly better to have an annual report than no annual report. I welcome such a report, and if it is laid before Parliament it will provide an opportunity for debate and for Members of Parliament to express their views.

    I turn briefly—I am conscious of time pressure—to a couple of other matters that feature in our amendments. The key amendment is No. 67, which is unrelated to the Sentencing Guidelines Council but concerns the fact that in considering sentencing, the Government—very properly, in our view—have decided to increase the sentencing powers of magistrates to 12 months. We had a great debate on this provision in Committee, and we said that we had reservations about it because of the failure to link it with the introduction of sentencing plus and sentencing minus; indeed, we have real anxieties about the effect on the prison population. Nevertheless, subject to its being adequately linked to sentencing plus and sentencing minus, which would provide mechanisms through which people can be released early or not imprisoned at all, we take the view that it is acceptable to increase magistrates' powers in this way.

    But lo and behold, clause 140 includes a further provision stating that the Government may increase the power to 18 months through statutory instrument. I simply do not think it appropriate to provide for such an enormous change in sentencing powers in that way. I am not saying that I cannot see a time when it might be correct to give magistrates sentencing powers of a maximum of 18 months imprisonment. However, if that is to happen it should be done through a short Bill that is brought before this House and considered in the ordinary way—in Committee, enabling a full debate and consideration.

    The Government are asking us to approve the principle of 18 months and say that the measure can be brought in whenever it is convenient. That is not a good way to legislate. Apart from anything else, we simply do not know what will happen. We very much hope that extending sentencing jurisdiction will be a good thing and that sentencing plus and sentencing minus will work well, but there is a lot to fear. At the moment, there is no coupling of 12 months to sentencing plus and sentencing minus. Secondly, even if it that happens, it is possible—because human affairs are not always successful—that in two or three years' time people will say that in fact, a mistake has been made in this regard.

    In such circumstances, giving the Government a power to increase the sentencing period to 18 months after the shortest of debates appears to us to be fundamentally wrong. Labour Members may also wish to consider whether this is appropriate or necessary. Even at this late stage, I very much hope that the Minister is willing to say that the Government are prepared to reconsider this issue. If she were to do so, I would withdraw my objection and reserve it for another place. But at the moment, it is our decision that we will seek to divide the House and get its opinion on this power. Amendment No. 67 is intended to do that. The view of my colleagues, myself and, I believe, Liberal Democrats is that the power is unnecessary and dangerous. If it is to be introduced, that should be done properly and not through a Henry VIII clause.

    Turning briefly to some of our other amendments, it may seem odd that amendment No. 120 deals with the schedule covering offences that will cease to be imprisonable, including the offence under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 of breach of contract involving injury to persons or property. When that Act was passed, that was considered an important safeguard, preventing violence and problems in trade union disputes, but it has not been explained why it should be included in schedule 19. We have tabled three important amendments to schedule 22.

    We had a debate yesterday about whether the inclusion of cannabis as a class C drug meant that all class C drugs should be made arrestable. A related issue is that by virtue of making cannabis a class C drug the Government now intend to raise the sentence for trafficking all class C drugs from five years to 14 years. We have always accepted the arguments for retaining the 14-year maximum sentence for trafficking cannabis and cannabis resin as if cannabis were still a class B drug, but there is no justification for raising to 14 years the maximum penalty for trafficking other class C drugs. As we discussed yesterday, there are only about 400 prosecutions a year for such offences, most of which involve substances which, albeit undesirable and bad for people to take, are not abused in the way that cannabis and class A drugs are. There is therefore no justification for introducing a draconian sanction against offences involving drugs such as diazepam and anabolic steroids.

    The Government have got themselves into a twist over this. They have tried to give the impression that they were reducing the classification of cannabis while in fact retaining most of the penalties for cannabis offences, keeping the arrestable offence and the offence punishable by a 14-year sentence for trafficking. The Government should provide a distinct category for cannabis and cannabis resin and leave the remaining class C drugs alone. A serious mistake is being made. If we had the opportunity to put our amendments to the vote, we would certainly seek to do so.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) on the calm and rational way in which he made his case, just as he did in Committee. I extend that compliment to other Opposition and Government Members who served in Committee—we had a constructive debate, which is evident in some of the changes that we managed to secure from the Government. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was a little harsh, as there have been a number of breakthroughs. The change to the Sentencing Guidelines Council is half a breakthrough, and the job can be completed another day.

    The amended purposes of sentencing may be a minor change, but they, too, are significant. The Government have now tabled an amendment stating that the rehabilitation of offenders should be a separate purpose of sentencing. I commend the former Home Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), on listening to the arguments made by Committee members from all political parties, acting on them and tabling an appropriate amendment. It is a small one, but it is none the less significant that there will be independent consideration of the purposes of sentencing.

    Colleagues will be amazed to hear that I do not want to say too much about the Sentencing Guidelines Council. I have said enough about it in Committee, and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), kindly allowed interventions on the subject, as did the Opposition spokesman. The Parliamentary Secretary said that I have talked in the past—and I freely admit it—about the separation of powers. The paradox of sentencing is that we must recognise that there has to be a separation of powers. It is often quite murky in our constitution, but we must accept that the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive are all entitled to an independent view and an independent life without being constrained. The irony is that, in order to make progress, there must be a means of reconciling those three elements of state. That is all that the Sentencing Guidelines Council is seeking to do, as discussed in Committee.

    We have only half a Sentencing Guidelines Council at the moment, which is certainly better than none, but I am sure that colleagues here and in the other place will seek to ensure that the job is completed—if not entirely by the other place on this occasion, by ourselves on another and future occasion. Sadly, the lessons may be seared into our consciousness by a bidding war on the Floor of the House. A couple of serious offences were mentioned earlier, and one could almost hear someone thinking, "They should certainly get five years for this," while someone else was thinking, "No, six years," and someone else, "Seven or eight," and perhaps a "Nine" from the back.

    Let us go back to the example of the multiple offender from the north-east who was drinking and driving and taking life by reckless use of a vehicle. In those horrendous circumstances, or those surrounding the shooting of two young girls in Birmingham recently, who is immune to feeling outrage and perhaps opting for a longer sentence than might be proposed in a more rational and calmer environment? That is why I believe that we should continue to seek a way forward through the Sentencing Guidelines Council, whose deliberations, are slow, protracted and based on the hard miles ground out by the Sentencing Advisory Panel and its experts. One day I hope that we will get back to that.

    On judicial discretion, I believe that the Bill has a weakness. Although we assume that judges always have the final say in individual cases, it is not stated clearly enough in the Bill that judges shall have the final say. That argument was advanced in Committee, and I tabled an amendment to that effect here, but it was not selected. However, if we are to secure the right balance between the Executive and the judiciary—between the Sentencing Guidelines Council and what judges can do within the limits that it sets—we must clearly define exactly what judicial power is. Otherwise they—the judges, and perhaps others—might feel that the power could be eroded and diminished over time.

    I do not look at any particular Minister or at the cuddly Front-Bench Members who currently speak for the Opposition, but in future, other personalities might seek to abuse the power and to erode the long-standing independence of the judiciary. Specific proposals to secure judicial independence in principle should appear in a Bill at some time, so that the House can, if necessary, defend the principle.

    My final point, in response to this ragbag of new clauses and amendments, is about honesty in sentencing. By that, I do not mean the argument that life should mean life, but that when a judge sentences someone to two years' imprisonment, every single person in the courtroom knows that that really means one year in prison and one year out on licence or on probation. That does not play well in areas of the sort that I represent. I would far prefer us to be clear and honest about sentencing. A year in prison should mean just that. At the time of sentencing, we should make it clear that, in addition to a year in prison, for example, a person would also be given a year on probation—or on recall, or licence, or whatever.

    That would mean that people could not say, "That person got two years but they're out after half a sentence and I saw them in the street the other day." The real punishment given to an offender would not be changed, but we would be being honest about it. Unless we are honest, and stop concealing the truth about sentencing, we will not be able to reclaim our criminal justice system—not for those who work in it or who supply its clients, but for the public whom it is meant to serve. We have had many learned debates in Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House, but for all that, people still feel alienated and distanced from the criminal justice system. I have made a very minor suggestion for dealing with that problem, and I raise it again for consideration by the House. I propose that the members of the criminal justice system in each locality should get together to produce a brief and snappy report for the people whom the system is meant to serve. That report would be distributed to each elector in the area, so that people can understand how the police work, for instance, and whether crime rates are going up. They would also learn about how they can help the police, who the local beat bobby is, and so on.

    The report would also show people how the magistrates courts differ from Crown courts. Until one gets into the topic, that is quite a leap of knowledge. A lot of people regard courts as simply courts: they do not know the difference between the various types of courts. Other matters that the report could cover would be community sentences and how people can be involved in deciding them. People would be able to find out whether such sentences are a soft option, and what happens to those who receive them.

    Information on all those matters needs to be communicated to people. We need to start educating people about their criminal justice system. A number of colleagues in Standing Committee went a long way towards nudging that process along, but Government intervention is needed. The Government need to tell the local criminal justice boards that have been created recently that they have a duty to make a connection with people at home. Those are the people who should own the criminal justice system, just as people who pay dues to a society or club have a right to know what is going on in their group. If we make that connection, we will go a long way towards ensuring that people understand, appreciate and adhere to the values of the criminal justice system that we are all trying to communicate.

    May I begin by expressing my sympathy to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being confronted with having to read out 118 amendments? Quite rightly, you declined to do so, for fear of taking up the time of the House. It is impossible to do justice either to the compass of the amendments or their details in the context of this debate. I do not think that any of us will be able even to try to do so.

    However, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), especially when he is in the sort of mode that means that I agree with everything he says. Sometimes he is not in that mode, but he is today. He has played an important part in consideration of the Bill, and he has made two very important points.

    First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to demand what he calls honesty in sentencing. The same point was made a little earlier this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). When a sentence is pronounced, everyone involved in the case—inside or outside the court—should know exactly what it means, and what the consequences will be. That is the system that we must aim for. For a lot or people, the present system smells of some sort of deceit. Things happen that they do not expect: those in the know are aware of what a particular sentence means, but those outside that charmed circle do not. That is wrong, and it is something that we need to deal with.

    The second point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North was about the Sentencing Guidelines Council. He has been trying to widen the compass of the council and to involve us, as a legislature, in it. He is right to do so, and a variety of mechanisms could be employed.

    The hon. Gentleman chided me for being harsh on the Government, even before I had opened my mouth on the subject. However, Ministers and the Home Department have listened to some of the points that we made in Committee. The amendments are welcome and I shall certainly not oppose them. There are still some deficiencies in the proposals, however. I am not sure that, prior to setting the guidelines, our objectives are right; in some ways, they are mutually antagonistic. There is still a lack of clarity, although representation is much wider than it was.

    My greatest concern is that some of the aspirations for the Sentencing Guidelines Council will not be met in practice, simply because the compass of its work is so enormous. It is important to establish a working council in which people have confidence, which reconnects members of the public to the judicial process of which they often have little experience. People know of it only as it involves them and have no points of comparison with similar cases elsewhere in the country. They are often told what is outrageous by a press that does not necessarily consider carefully the consequences of its proposed sentencing policy. We watch a tawdry Punch and Judy show involving the Home Secretary and the senior judiciary, which is demeaning to the office of the Home Secretary and corrosive of the authority of the judiciary. Given that context, the establishment of a working, effective Sentencing Guidelines Council is extremely important.

    The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) talked about the extension of powers to magistrates. I agree with the points that he made. There is serious concern both about the synchronicity of the extension of those powers with the introduction of custody plus and about the extension of sentencing powers by fiat of the Executive. We were signatories to amendment No. 67, so if there is a Division, I commend my right hon. and hon. Friends to support that provision.

    Amendment No. 492 and some subsequent amendments relate to drugs testing, a subject that has not yet been aired in this debate. However, we explored it fully in Committee, so to do so again on Report would riot be the best use of limited time. However, I am worried about the inconsistency of provision across the country and the lack of facilities for proper treatment after testing. A positive test should lead to positive consequences for the individual, who should be given help to deal with the results of drug abuse. My concerns about young children are shared by the organisations that work with them; the Government may not yet have the balance right in the current regime for providing support and help to young children who have a problem with addictive substances.

    There are two points on which I want to spend a little more time. The first is new clause 10, which deals with the consequences of fine default and suggests that prison is not a good solution. There have already been changes. In 1993, about 26,000 fine defaulters were imprisoned, but by 2001 the number had gone down to about 1,500. We know, for instance, that 830 people were imprisoned for non-payment of television licence fees in 1993, and that the figure was down to 30 in 2001.

    However, the fact is that a significant number of people are imprisoned for defaulting on fines, while at the same time we have huge problems not only with the burgeoning prison population but with the non-collect ion of fines, as shown in the National Audit Office report, which revealed that in the relevant year £387 million in total was imposed in fines but only £228 million was collected. When corrections have been made for previous payments and so forth, the collection rate is about 59 per cent. Frankly, that is not good enough.

    My suggestion to the Government is to forget about imprisonment for fine default. By all means, use imprisonment as a final consequence of contempt of court, and if the contempt of court resides in a persistent abuse of the fine system, let the contemnors finally face that penalty, but that will not be the answer in most circumstances. We need to be much more imaginative in the way in which we apply sanctions to those who default on fines.

    The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois)—I am pleased to see him here—made a very good suggestion to consider whether credit rating adjustments might be one way to deal with those to whom a credit rating is important, as a way to remind them that if they do not pay they are failing in their duty to the wider community. Various measures for the sequestration of assets could be considered. Certainly, depriving some people of the use of their motor vehicles while they have motor vehicle fines unpaid might be a very good way of concentrating their minds. All those ways are better than imposing a prison sentence, which is proving to be not a deterrent but a burden on the state. Frankly, that position should not be sustained.

    Alongside the decline in imprisonment for non-payment, which the hon. Gentleman recalls and which is largely due to some High Court judgments, there has been a fall in the proportion of total fine income paid. There has also been a fall in using fines as a sentence of choice by magistrates because they do not think that the fines will be paid. That is why I join him in saying that we need more effective enforcement, but the one method that he did not mention is direct payment from people's employment, from their bank or even, dare I say it, from their benefits. What is his view of that being more routine?

    There are ways of proceeding as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as we have seen not with fines but with support payments using the Child Support Agency mechanism. Clearly, such a mechanism could be used, but I have my doubts about the Inland Revenue administering anything else until it has got what it is supposed to be administering working correctly. However, he is right to mention that possible mechanism.

    Finally, I wish to deal with a very important new clause that we have tabled: new clause 6, which deals with hate crime. Undoubtedly, a wide spectrum of crimes are motivated by hate against certain groups of people. Indeed, the Government recognise that fact in relation to aggravated crimes involving race or religion. Many hon. Members have a difficulty with the limitations in the scope of clause 130. There is a lack of logic in arguing that aggravating factors should be applied to some hate crimes but not to others because of the difficulty in applying such a test to the satisfaction of the courts. I acknowledge that there is an argument that proving intent is always difficult. Having such an aggravating factor is a complication in terms of investigation, prosecution policy and how the courts deal with it. Clearly, however, that is not the Government's view, as clause 130 shows.

    Having said that, it seems to us that there is a very strong argument for having a more generalised aggravating factor for hate crime. We are not alone in that. Many other jurisdictions have precisely that, and the wording of new clause 6 is in fact lifted directly from the amended hate crime sentencing legislation dealing with federal crimes in the United States. A similar arrangement also exists in the great majority of individual state jurisdictions in the United States.

    5.15 pm

    Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why he has decided not to include in the new clause the issues of size and age? Is it not just as offensive for someone to be the victim of a hate campaign or a crime on the grounds that they are extremely small, extremely fat or just plain old?

    If a class is discriminated against to the extent of criminal behaviour, there is an argument in that respect. That is not a reduction to the absurd—I hope that that is not the right hon. Gentleman's intention. The reason that we have used the words in question is simply that they have proved to be workable in a jurisdiction that has some similarities to ours, which is not an unreasonable suggestion. If it is possible, however, to identify a group in society that is subject to violent crime in particular on the basis of belonging to that class of society and no other reason, they deserve the protection of the laws and the courts of this country.

    Let me give two examples of areas that are not covered by the present legislation. First, there are homophobic attacks, which are frequent, as we know, and they are recognised by the police and the courts, but they do not appear in statute at present. Secondly, there are crimes against those who have learning difficulties. In that respect, I am indebted to Mencap for its recent survey on the basis of 900 questionnaires. Of those surveyed, 88 per cent. reported being targeted during the past year, 66 per cent. reported being targeted regularly—more than once a month—32 per cent. reported being targeted on a daily or weekly basis, and 47 per cent. reported name calling as a kind of harassment, but only 17 per cent. told the police about it. That is a huge abuse in our society, which should be dealt with.

    I am not satisfied that, however well-meaning the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidance is, it is sufficient to the task. ACPO does a splendid job in providing guidance to the forces and the constabularies of this country, but guidelines should not be a replacement for statute. We have an opportunity to address this issue in this Bill, which we should take, so unless the Parliamentary Secretary is able to satisfy me that the concerns that I have expressed are in her mind and will be dealt with later in the Bill, I am minded to press new clause 6 to a Division.

    I am especially grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your efforts to support the rights of Back Benchers and for providing an opportunity to address one really important issue that has not so far been considered. I refer, of course, to clauses 208, 210 and 211, and the associated Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 484 to 487, 489 and 490, with regard to life sentences, extended sentences and sentences for public protection of children and young people under the age of 18.

    Those aspects of the Bill are serious, quite mistaken and wrong. It is wrong for adult provisions to be applied to children, and it is important to note that provisions on life sentences, sentences for public protection and extended sentences could apply to 12-year-olds and, potentially, 10-year-olds. It is wrong to apply indeterminate sentences to children and it is wrong and thoroughly inappropriate for there to be circumstances in which it is mandatory for such sentences to be passed. I cannot believe that the provisions are in accordance with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Indeed, the way in which the Government operate youth justice is a stain on their otherwise fine record on children and social policy.

    I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that there will be more work on the principles behind sentencing children. We need a youth justice Bill and a child justice Bill for this country to ensure that we develop a youth justice system with the fundamental principles that children's welfare should be the paramount consideration, that deprivation of liberty should be used only as a last resort and imposed for the shortest possible time, and that any decisions on youth justice should be made in the best interests of the child.

    I am extremely disturbed by evidence from answers to written questions that suggests that the Bill could lead to 30 young people a year being detained for life, 10 young people a year receiving extended sentences and one or two young people a year receiving sentences of detention for public protection. Those figures compare with the 43 young people who are currently serving sentences of detention for life. We would massively increase the number of young people facing very long sentences. I cannot believe that it is appropriate to apply the same provisions to children as to adults. It would not be right in any way for children who had committed very serious offences to have so little prospect of rehabilitation and to be given so little hope for the future. I earnestly hope that the Government will thoroughly review their policy on youth justice—I believe that they will—and create a far better youth justice system for this country.

    I shall try to respond briefly to the points that have been made. The Sentencing Guidelines Council is not intended to overlap with the Sentencing Advisory Panel. The panel will be a more intensive working body that will conduct research and work on public consultation. The Sentencing Guidelines Council will make decisions and its membership will include those who have the credibility in their fields to command respect across the board.

    The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said that there should be a parliamentary vote on each guideline. That would not be an appropriate use of Parliament's time and expertise because guidelines are likely to be considered for 2,000 offences. Parliament's job is to set out the maximum sentence and to focus on specific concerns, as was demonstrated by the previous group of amendments. It is not, and should not be, Parliament's job to make judgments on sentencing on a day-to-day basis—that would be a rather scary prospect.

    We should recognise both our role and that of the courts. The purpose of the guidelines is to provide a bridge between Parliament and the courts. It is important that the process does not become a parliamentary take-over through an insistence that Parliament must vote on each guideline. It is also important for the process to have the confidence of the judiciary, given that it will have to take decisions on the basis of the guidelines.

    The extension of magistrates' sentencing powers is a vote of confidence in the magistracy. It is right to extend their powers in that way. We have made it clear many times that we take seriously the need to review that before there is a prospect of extending sentencing powers further. There is a proviso to do that through affirmative resolution, which means that the House will have a chance to debate it and vote on it again.

    I am afraid that I do not have time.

    We have made it clear that drug trafficking is a serious offence. We know that drug trafficking on a large scale is linked to organised and violent crime and to some of the most dangerous criminal networks. That is why the strong signal that we are sending on trafficking offences is different from our approach to possession, as reflected in our appropriate response to that offence and related sentencing provisions.

    The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned hate crimes. He will know that provision has been made to deal with race and religion in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. In addition, we recognise that other groups may be vulnerable to attack or vilification. The courts can consider a premeditated attack on a person—perhaps because of their sexual orientation—to be an aggregated offence that merits a more serious sentence. The Government think that the case has not been made for a wider offence given that the courts can already respond and that it would not be appropriate to legislate now.

    I agree that it is right to try to avoid imprisonment for fine default where possible. The courts have powers to introduce community punishment, curfew orders and driving disqualifications when imprisonment might be a possibility. The Courts Bill also introduces new powers that will hit people's credit rating and allow for defaulters' cars to be clamped. We are also considering community alternatives because we have to recognise that some people simply cannot afford to pay. However, magistrates have strongly and repeatedly argued that we need to keep the prospect of imprisonment as a last resort for some offenders who persistently will not pay.

    The hon. Member for Beaconsfield mentioned amendment No. 120, which relates to an offence under trade union legislation. That offence was created more than 125 years ago to deal with workers who breach their contracts by participating in strike action, for example. That has led to only one prosecution in the past 10 years, which resulted in a £25 fine. Frankly, in this day and age it is inappropriate to imprison people for going on strike on the basis of an industrial dispute. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman's party might be keen to lock up strikers, but this is 2003 and we think that it is inappropriate to retain that offence on the statute book, so we reject that amendment and others tabled by the Opposition.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    It being four hours after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Orders [2 April and 19 May], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour.

    New Clause 6

    Increase In Sentences For Hate Crimes

    '(1) In considering the seriousness of an offence which falls under the category of "hate crime" as set out in subsection (2), the court—

  • (a) must treat that fact as an aggravating factor (that is to say, a factor that increases the seriousness of the offence), and
  • (b) must state in open court that the offence was so aggravated.
  • (2) An offence is to be considered a hate crime for the purposes of section if—

  • )a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's actual or perceived race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation; or
  • (b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards people on the basis of their race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • (3) In this section "race" may be defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.'.— [Mr. Heath.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 326.

    Division No. 209]

    [5:28 pm

    AYES

    Allan, RichardKennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
    Baker, Norman
    Barrett, JohnKirkwood, Sir Archy
    Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)Lamb, Norman
    Beith, rh A. J.Laws, David (Yeovil)
    Breed, ColinLlwyd, Elfyn
    Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham
    Bruce, Malcolm
    Burnett, JohnMoore, Michael
    Burnside, DavidOaten, Mark (Winchester)
    Burstow, PaulÖpik, Lembit
    Cable, Dr. VincentPrice, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
    Calton, Mrs Patsy
    Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Pugh, Dr. John
    Carmichael, AlistairReid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
    Chidgey, DavidRussell, Bob (Colchester)
    Cotter, BrianSanders, Adrian
    Davey, Edward (Kingston)Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
    Doughty, Sue
    Foster, Don (Bath)Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
    George, Andrew (St. Ives)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Gidley, SandraThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
    Green, Matthew (Ludlow)Thurso, John
    Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)Tonge, Dr. Jenny
    Trimble, rh David
    Harvey, NickTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
    Heath, DavidYounger-Ross, Richard
    Hermon, Lady
    Holmes, Paul

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)

    Mr. Andrew Stunell and

    Keetch, Paul

    Tom Brake

    NOES

    Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Atherton, Ms Candy
    Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Atkins, Charlotte
    Alexander, DouglasBailey, Adrian
    Allen, GrahamBaird, Vera
    Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Banks, Tony
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)Barnes, Harry
    Barren, rh Kevin
    Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryBattle, John

    Bayley, HughDhanda, Parmjit
    Beard, NigelDismore, Andrew
    Begg, Miss AnneDobbin, Jim (Heywood)
    Benn, HilaryDobson, rh Frank
    Bennett, AndrewDodds, Nigel
    Benton, Joe (Bootle)Doran, Frank
    Berry, RogerDowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
    Best, HaroldDrew, David (Stroud)
    Blackman, LizDrown, Ms Julia
    Blears, Ms HazelEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
    Blizzard, BobEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
    Blunkett, rh DavidEfford, Clive
    Boateng, rh PaulEllman, Mrs Louise
    Borrow, DavidEnnis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
    Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Etherington, Bill
    Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
    Bradshaw, BenFisher, Mark
    Brennan, KevinFitzpatrick, Jim
    Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
    Flint, Caroline
    Bryant, ChrisFlynn, Paul (Newport W)
    Buck, Ms KarenFollett, Barbara
    Burden, RichardFoster, rh Derek
    Burgon, ColinFoster, Michael (Worcester)
    Byers, rh StephenFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
    Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
    Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Foulkes, rh George
    Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gardiner, Barry
    Caplin, IvorGerrard, Neil
    Casale, RogerGibson, Dr. Ian
    Caton, MartinGilroy, Linda
    Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Godsiff, Roger
    Challen, ColinGoggins, Paul
    Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
    Chaytor, DavidGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
    Clapham, MichaelGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Grogan, John
    Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
    Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
    Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
    Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
    Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)Hanson, David
    Harman, rh Ms Harriet
    Clelland, DavidHarris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
    Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
    Coaker, Vernon
    Coffey, Ms AnnHealey, John
    Cohen, HarryHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
    Coleman, IainHendrick, Mark
    Colman, TonyHeppell, John
    Connarty, MichaelHesford, Stephen
    Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
    Cooper, YvetteHeyes, David
    Corbyn, JeremyHill, Keith (Streatham)
    Corston, JeanHinchliffe, David
    Cousins, JimHodge, Margaret
    Cox, Tom (Tooting)Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
    Cranston, RossHood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
    Crausby, DavidHope, Phil (Corby)
    Cruddas, JonHopkins, Kelvin
    Cryer, Ann (Keighley)Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
    Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
    Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
    Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
    Cunningham, Tony (Workington)Humble, Mrs Joan
    Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireHurst, Alan (Braintree)
    Dalyell, TamHutton, rh John
    Darling, rh AlistairIddon, Dr. Brian
    Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Irranca-Davies, Huw
    David, WayneJackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
    Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
    Dawson, HiltonJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
    Dean, Mrs JanetJamieson, David
    Denham, rh JohnJohnson, Alan (Hull W)

    Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Palmer, Dr. Nick
    Pearson, Ian
    Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Perham, Linda
    Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Picking, Anne
    Jones, Kevan (N Durham)Pickthall, Colin
    Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)Pike, Peter (Burnley)
    Jowell, rh TessaPlaskitt, James
    Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
    Kaufman, rh GeraldPope, Greg (Hyndburn)
    Keen, Ann (Brentford)Pound, Stephen
    Kemp, FraserPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
    Kidney, David
    Kilfoyle, PeterPrimarolo, rh Dawn
    King, Andy (Rugby)Prosser, Gwyn
    King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)Purchase, Ken
    Quin, rh Joyce
    Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Quinn, Lawrie
    Kumar, Dr. AshokRammell, Bill
    Ladyman, Dr. StephenRapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
    Lammy, DavidRaynsford, rh Nick
    Lawrence, Mrs JackieRobertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
    Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
    Lazarowicz, MarkRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
    Lepper, David
    Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
    Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Roche, Mrs Barbara
    Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Rooney, Terry
    Liddell, rh Mrs HelenRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Linton, MartinRuane, Chris
    Love, AndrewRuddock, Joan
    Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
    Luke, lain (Dundee E)
    McCabe, StephenRyan, Joan (Enfield N)
    McCafferty, ChrisSalter, Martin
    McCartney, rh IanSarwar, Mohammad
    McDonagh, SiobhainSavidge, Malcolm
    McDonnell, JohnSawford, Phil
    MacDougall, JohnSedgemore, Brian
    Mclsaac, ShonaShaw, Jonathan
    McKechin, AnnSheerman, Barry
    McKenna, RosemarySheridan, Jim
    Mackinlay, AndrewShipley, Ms Debra
    McNamara, KevinSingh, Marsha
    MacShane, DenisSmith, Angela (Basildon)
    Mactaggart, FionaSmith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
    McWalter, Tony
    McWilliam, JohnSmith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
    Mahon, Mrs Alice
    Mallaber, JudySmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
    Mann, John (Bassetlaw)Smith, John (Glamorgan)
    Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
    Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Soley, Clive
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Southworth, Helen
    Martlew, EricSpellar, rh John
    Meacher, rh MichaelSquire, Rachel
    Merron, GillianStarkey, Dr. Phyllis
    Michael, rh AlunStevenson, George
    Miliband, DavidStewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
    Miller, Andrew
    Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Stinchcombe, Paul
    Moffatt, LauraStoate, Dr. Howard
    Mole, ChrisStrang, rh Dr. Gavin
    Moonie, Dr. LewisStringer, Graham
    Morley, ElliotSutcliffe, Gerry
    Mountford, KaliTami, Mark (Alyn)
    Mudie, GeorgeTaylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
    Mullin, ChrisTaylor, Dari (Stockton S)
    Munn, Ms MegTaylor, David (NW Leics)
    Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Naysmith, Dr. DougThomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
    Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)Timms, Stephen
    O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Tipping, Paddy
    Olner, BillTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
    O'Neill, MartinTouhig, Don (Islwyn)
    Organ, DianaTrickett, Jon
    Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)Truswell, Paul

    Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
    Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)Winnick, David
    Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
    Turner, Neil (Wigan)
    Twigg, Derek (Halton)Woodward, Shaun
    Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Worthington, Tony
    Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
    Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
    Vis, Dr. RudiWright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
    Walley, Ms JoanWright David (Telford)
    Wareing. Robert N.Wrignt Tony (Cannock)
    Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)Wyatt, Derek
    Watts, David
    White, Brian

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Whitehead, Dr. Alan

    Mr. Phil Woolas and

    Wicks, Malcolm

    Mr. Nick Ainger

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Amendment proposed: No. 67, in page 81, line 8, leave out Clause 140.— [Mr. Grieve.]

    The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes 320.

    Division No. 210]

    [5:42 pm

    AYES

    Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
    Allan, Richard
    Amess, DavidDjanogly, Jonathan
    Ancram, rh MichaelDodds, Nigel
    Arbuthnot, rh JamesDoughty, Sue
    Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
    Baker, NormanDuncan Smith, rh lain
    Baldry, TonyEvans, Nigel
    Barker, GregoryFabricant, Michael
    Baron, John (Billericay)Fallon, Michael
    Barrett, JohnField, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
    Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
    Beith, rh A. J.Flight, Howard
    Bellingham, HenryFlook, Adrian
    Bercow, JohnForth, rh Eric
    Beresford, Sir PaulFoster, Don (Bath)
    Blunt, CrispinFox, Dr. Liam
    Boswell, TimFrancois, Mark
    Brady, GrahamGale, Roger (N Thanet)
    Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Garnier, Edward
    Brazier, JulianGeorge, Andrew (St. Ives)
    Breed, ColinGibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
    Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Gidley, Sandra
    Browning, Mrs AngelaGoodman, Paul
    Bruce, MalcolmGray, James (N Wilts)
    Burnett, JohnGrayling, Chris
    Burns, SimonGreen, Damian (Ashford)
    Burnside, DavidGreen, Matthew (Ludlow)
    Burstow, PaulGreenway, John
    Butterfill, JohnGrieve, Dominic
    Cable, Dr. VincentGummer, rh John
    Calton, Mrs PatsyHague, rh William
    Cameron, DavidHammond, Philip
    Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
    Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
    Carmichael, AlistairHarvey, Nick
    Cash, WilliamHawkins, Nick
    Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Hayes, John (S Holland)
    Heald, Oliver
    Chidgey, DavidHeath, David
    Chope, ChristopherHeathcoat-Amory, rh David
    Clappison, JamesHendry, Charles
    Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hermon, Lady
    Collins, TimHogg, rh Douglas
    Conway DerekHolmes, Paul
    Cormack, Sir PatrickHoram, John (Orpington)
    Cotter, BrianHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
    Curry, rh DavidHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
    Davies, Ouentin (Grantham & Stamford)Hunter, Andrew
    Jack, rh Michael

    Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Roe, Mrs Marion
    Jenkin, BernardRosindell, Andrew
    Johnson, Boris (Henley)Russell, Bob (Colchester)
    Keetch, PaulSanders, Adrian
    Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)Sayeed, Jonathan
    Selous, Andrew
    Key, Robert (Salisbury)Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
    Kirkwood, Sir ArchyShepherd, Richard
    Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)Simmonds, Mark
    Laing, Mrs EleanorSimpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
    Lait, Mrs JacquiSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
    Lamb, Norman
    Lansley, AndrewSmyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
    Laws, David (Yeovil)Soames, Nicholas
    Letwin, rh OliverSpicer, Sir Michael
    Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
    Liddell-Grainger, IanSpring, Richard
    Lilley, rh PeterStanley, rh Sir John
    Llwyd, ElfynSteen, Anthony
    Loughton, TimStreeter, Gary
    Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)Stunell, Andrew
    Mackay, rh AndrewSwayne, Desmond
    Maclean, rh DavidSwire, Hugo (E Devon)
    McLoughlin, PatrickSyms, Robert
    Malins, HumfreyTaylor, lan (Esher)
    Maples, JohnTaylor, John (Solihull)
    Mates, MichaelTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Maude, rh FrancisThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
    Mawhinney, rh Sir BrianThurso, John
    Tonge, Dr. Jenny
    May, Mrs TheresaTredinnick, David
    Mercer, PatrickTrimble, rh David
    Moore, MichaelTurner Andrew (Isle of Wight)
    Moss, MalcolmTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
    Murrison, Dr. AndrewTyrie, Andrew
    Norman, ArchieViggers Peter
    Oaten, Mark (Winchester)Walter Robert
    O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Waterson, Nigel
    Öpik, LembitWatkinson, Angela
    Ottaway, RichardWhittingdale, John
    Page, RichardWiddecombe, rh Miss Ann
    Paice, JamesWiggin, Bill
    Paterson, OwenWilkinson, John
    Pickles, EricWilletts, David
    Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)Willis, Phil
    Wilshire, David
    Prisk, Mark (Hertford)Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
    Pugh, Dr. JohnWinterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
    Randall, John
    Redwood, rh JohnYeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
    Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)Young, rh Sir George
    Robathan, AndrewYounger-Ross, Richard
    Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)

    Mr. Mark Hoban and

    Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)

    Mrs. Cheryl Gillan

    NOES

    Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Beard, Nigel
    Ainger, NickBegg, Miss Anne
    Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Benn, Hilary
    Alexander, DouglasBennett, Andrew
    Allen, GrahamBenton, Joe (Bootle)
    Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Berry, Roger
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)Best, Harold
    Blackman, Liz
    Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryBlears, Ms Hazel
    Atherton, Ms CandyBlizzard, Bob
    Atkins, CharlotteBoateng, rh Paul
    Bailey, AdrianBorrow, David
    Baird, VeraBradley, rh Keith (Withington)
    Banks, TonyBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
    Barnes, HarryBradshaw, Ben
    Barron, rh KevinBrennan, Kevin
    Battle, JohnBrown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
    Bayley, Hugh

    Bryant, ChrisFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
    Buck, Ms Karen
    Burden, RichardFoulkes, rh George
    Burgon, ColinGapes, Mike (Ilford S)
    Byers, rh StephenGardiner, Barry
    Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Gerrard, Neil
    Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gibson, Dr. Ian
    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gilroy, Linda
    Caplin, IvorGodsiff, Roger
    Casale, RogerGoggins, Paul
    Caton, MartinGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
    Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
    Challen, ColinGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Grogan, John
    Chaytor, DavidHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
    Clapham, MichaelHall, Patrick (Bedford)
    Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
    Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
    Hanson, David
    Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Harman, rh Ms Harriet
    Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
    Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
    Clelland, DavidHealey, John
    Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
    Coaker, VernonHendrick, Mark
    Coffey, Ms AnnHeppell, John
    Cohen, HarryHesford, Stephen
    Coleman, IainHewitt, rh Ms Patricia
    Colman, TonyHeyes, David
    Connarty, MichaelHill, Keith (Streatham)
    Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)Hinchliffe, David
    Cooper, YvetteHodge, Margaret
    Corbyn, JeremyHoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
    Corston, JeanHood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
    Cousins, JimHope, Phil (Corby)
    Cox, Tom (Tooting)Hopkins, Kelvin
    Cranston, RossHowarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
    Crausby, David
    Cruddas, JonHughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
    Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
    Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
    Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)Humble, Mrs Joan
    Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
    Cunningham, Tony (Workington)Hutton, rh John
    Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireIddon, Dr. Brian
    Dalyell, TamIrranca-Davies, Huw
    Darling, rh AlistairJackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
    Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
    David, WayneJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
    Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)Jamieson, David
    Dean, Mrs JanetJohnson, Alan (Hull W)
    Denham, rh JohnJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
    Dhanda, Parmjit
    Dismore, AndrewJones, Helen (Warrington N)
    Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
    Dobson, rh FrankJones, Kevan (N Durham)
    Doran, FrankJones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
    Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)Jowell, rh Tessa
    Drew, David (Stroud)Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
    Drown, Ms JuliaKaufman, rh Gerald
    Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Keen, Ann (Brentford)
    Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston)Kemp, Fraser
    Efford, CliveKidney, David
    Ellman, Mrs LouiseKilfoyle, Peter
    Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)King, Andy (Rugby)
    Etherington, BillKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
    Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
    Fisher, MarkKnight, Jim (S Dorset)
    Fitzpatrick, JimKumar, Dr. Ashok
    Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaLadyman, Dr. Stephen
    Flint, CarolineLammy, David
    Flynn, Paul (Newport W)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
    Follett, BarbaraLaxton, Bob (Derby N)
    Foster, rh DerekLazarowicz, Mark
    Foster, Michael (Worcester)Lepper, David

    Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Roche, Mrs Barbara
    Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Rooney, Terry
    Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Liddell, rh Mrs HelenRuane, Chris
    Linton, MartinRuddock, Joan
    Love, AndrewRussell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
    Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
    Luke, lain (Dundee E)Salter, Martin
    McCabe, StephenSarwar, Mohammad
    McCafferty, ChrisSavidge, Malcolm
    McCartney, rh IanSawford, Phil
    McDonagh, SiobhainSedgemore, Brian
    McDonnell, JohnShaw, Jonathan
    MacDougall, JohnSheerman, Barry
    McIsaac, ShonaSheridan, Jim
    McKechin, AnnShipley, Ms Debra
    McKenna, RosemarySingh, Marsha
    Mackinlay, AndrewSmith, Angela (Basildon)
    McNamara, KevinSmith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
    MacShane, Denis
    Mactaggart, FionaSmith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
    McWalter, Tony
    McWilliam, JohnSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
    Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, John (Glamorgan)
    Mallaber, JudySmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
    Mandelson, rh PeterSoley, Clive
    Mann, John (Bassetlaw)Southworth, Helen
    Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Spellar, rh John
    Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Squire, Rachel
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
    Martlew, EricStevenson, George
    Meacher, rh MichaelStewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
    Merron, Gillian
    Michael, rh AlunStinchcombe, Paul
    Miller, AndrewStoate, Dr. Howard
    Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
    Moffatt, LauraStringer, Graham
    Mole, ChrisSutcliffe, Gerry
    Moonie, Dr. LewisTami, Mark (Alyn)
    Morley, ElliotTaylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
    Mountford, KaliTaylor, Dari (Stockton S)
    Mudie, GeorgeTaylor, David (NW Leics)
    Mullin, ChrisThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Munn, Ms MegThomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
    Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Timms, Stephen
    Naysmith, Dr. DougTipping, Paddy
    Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
    O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
    Olner, BillTrickett, Jon
    O'Neill, MartinTruswell, Paul
    Organ, DianaTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
    Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
    Palmer, Dr. Nick
    Pearson, IanTurner, Neil (Wigan)
    Perham, LindaTwigg, Derek (Halton)
    Picking, AnneTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
    Pickthall, ColinTynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
    Pike, Peter (Burnley)Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
    Plaskitt, JamesVis, Dr. Rudi
    Pond, Chris (Gravesham)Walley, Ms Joan
    Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)Wareing, Robert N.
    Pound, StephenWatson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
    Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Watts, David
    White, Brian
    Primarolo, rh DawnWhitehead, Dr. Alan
    Prosser, GwynWicks, Malcolm
    Purchase, KenWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
    Quin, rh JoyceWinnick, David
    Quinn, LawrieWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
    Rammell, Bill
    Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)Woodward, Shaun
    Raynsford, rh NickWorthington, Tony
    Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
    Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)

    Wright, David (Telford)

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Wright, Tony (Cannock)

    Mr. Phil Woolas and

    Wyatt, Derek

    Joan Ryan

    Question accordingly negatived.

    MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

    Government amendments agreed to.

    5.57 pm

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very conscious that the proceedings of the House are not exactly box office across the country. Nevertheless, a significant number of people attend to them in one way or another, in one place or another. I wonder whether you would be good enough to confirm that the reason why you have just had to go through that ludicrous charade is that we have not had time to debate the new clauses and amendments, and that the reason for that is the absurdity of the Government's truncation of the debate in the form of the ludicrous programme motion to which we were subjected yesterday.

    I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I am simply doing what the House has asked me to do.

    New Clause 45

    Limit On Period Of Detention Without Charge Of Suspected Terrorists

    '(1) Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (c.11) (detention) is amended as follows.

    (2) At the beginning of paragraph 29(3) (duration of warrants of further detention) there is inserted "Subject to paragraph 36(3A),".

    (3) In subparagraph (3) of paragraph 36 (extension of warrants)—

  • (a) at the beginning there is inserted "Subject to subparagraph (3A),", and
  • (b) for the words from "beginning" onwards there is substituted "beginning with the relevant time".
  • (4) After that subparagraph there is inserted—

    "(3A) Where the period specified in a warrant of further detention—

  • (a) ends at the end of the period of seven days beginning with the relevant time, or
  • (b) by virtue of a previous extension (or further extension) under this subparagraph, ends after the end of that period,
  • the specified period may, on an application under this paragraph, be extended or further extended to a period ending not later than the end of the period of fourteen days beginning with the relevant time.

    (3B) In this paragraph "the relevant time", in relation to a person, means—

  • (a) the time of his arrest under section 41, or
  • (b) if he was being detained under Schedule 7 when he was arrested under section 41, the time when his examination under that Schedule began.".'—[Beverley Hughes.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    6 pm

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause.

    New clause 56— Audio and video recording of interviews of suspected terrorists.

    I ask the House to resist amendment (a) and new clause 56. Government new clause 45 will amend paragraph 3 of schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which governs the detention of persons under section 41 of that Act. Section 41 gives a constable the power to arrest a person without a warrant whom he or she reasonably suspects to be a terrorist. As Members know, a person detained under section 41 may be held by the police for only a maximum of 48 hours, unless an application has been made asking a court to issue or extend a warrant for further detention.

    Under the legislation as it stands, a court can extend the detention up to seven days if the conditions set out in that legislation are met. The Government new clause will allow detention for up to a maximum of 14 days. Its provisions come to us from the police and are considered essential by them, based on their experience of the practicalities of dealing with a suspected terrorist once in police custody. There are circumstances under which the current seven-day maximum may be insufficient to enable the police fully to investigate the offences in respect of which the individuals are detained.

    It would be very helpful if the Minister told the House, although obviously without citing individual cases, which would be improper, on how many occasions in the past 12 months, for instance, the police have had difficulty in completing their inquiries into any suspected terrorist within seven days.

    As the hon. Gentleman implies, I shall not go into individual cases or give any information that might be useful to those to whom the legislation might apply. However, I can tell him that in the first three months of this year 212 people were detained under those provisions. Of those, 16 went into the sixth day as a result of extensions. That does not quite answer his question, but I am afraid that I cannot answer it for the reasons I have outlined. Although the proportion is small, it has been necessary to detain a tiny number for extended periods.

    I follow exactly the same train of questioning. Is it not right that last year only 16 cases ran up to the seven-day maximum? Why are we being asked to extend a period that we extended less than three years ago when we considered the Terrorism Act 2000? Lord Lloyd, who carried out an inquiry, recommended a limit of four days, and there was no pressure at all from the police or any other authority to go beyond seven.

    The methods and circumstances that the police meet when investigating such cases are evolving all the time, as the hon. Gentleman may appreciate. In addition, the police have conducted a review of all significant operations over recent times. They have concluded that more than seven days may be needed in specific cases. If he will bear with me, I shall give him general examples of the circumstances in which we could anticipate that more than seven days might be needed, albeit in a small number of cases.

    I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will she please tell the House how many of those 16 were not charged because inquiries had not been completed?

    I am sorry, but I do not have that information. If I had it, I am not sure that I would provide it to the hon. Gentleman in this public domain. If it is possible outside this place for me to brief him, I will do so.

    I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so quickly after taking a number of interventions. She is well aware that Lord Carlile is the independent assessor of the operation of the terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. He does a truly superb job. Has she consulted Lord Carlile on these changes, and what is his view?

    Yes, Lord Carlile, who is the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, has been consulted. He has been fully briefed and he has had an extended meeting with officials. He has raised no concerns with us about the proposal and its provisions.

    In dealing with some of the examples that the police are encountering, in particular and increasingly frequently there may be occasions when it is necessary to examine substances that are thought to be dangerous, and which are found on or with detained individuals, to determine whether they are chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear. This is a very time-consuming process that needs to be carried out with particular attention, and often in stages. As hon. Members will appreciate, the substances have to be retrieved in accordance with forensic procedures. Very detailed health and safety provisions exist to protect the people doing that work. I am told that the forensic retrieval itself can take up to five days. Clinical procedures then have to be applied to the analysis. This often involves a staged process, in which one stage of the analysis has to be completed and the results obtained before a decision can be taken on the further direction of the analysis, in order to determine what the substance might be. The issue of dangerous substances provides a powerful example, and I readily appreciate the arguments that the police are using as to why extended periods beyond seven days might be necessary.

    Another example that the police are dealing with concerns the use of personal computers and the requisition of hard drives, after searches of premises and arrests have been made. It can take several days for material from a hard drive to be extracted, analysed and used in the questioning of a suspect. As Members will readily appreciate, in the case of a network of computers or computers that have been used to communicate with each other, the process of analysing the content of several hard drives and cross-referencing and matching communications before such information can be used in the questioning of suspects takes time.

    What the Minister says is undoubtedly true, but surely it is also true of a wide range of offences, including paedophilia, for example, in which the examination of the hard drives of suspects' computers is involved. Once she embarks on this reasoning, she will have difficulty in resisting the argument that such provisions should be widely used. In practice, the suspects of such offences are released, inquiries continue and the police have to use other means to ensure that they do not leave the country or become inaccessible.

    In making that point, the right hon. Gentleman is not taking into account the fact that we are not dealing with quite the same form of investigation. In a criminal case, a particular offence will be believed to have been committed and the investigation will be focused on evidence to support a charge for a particular event. In respect of terrorist suspects, somebody is most often arrested to prevent an event that intelligence has told the police and the security services might otherwise take place. That creates a different quality of investigation and justifies the need for allowing the police an extended period in order to put the information together.

    The right hon. Gentleman may also accept that, given the incidents that these provisions are trying to prevent, the order of damage to individual citizens of this country and the sheer number of people who would be injured were a terrorist event to take place, we are talking about a level of seriousness and an impact that is beyond that of perhaps not all, but certainly most, criminal offences. That is a further justification for the provisions.

    I draw Members' attention to a further example that is rather different from the average criminal case, and which does take more time. Of course, very often we are dealing with people who have been arrested as suspected terrorists, and who are using false identities or perhaps even multiple identities. As Members will appreciate, this involves the making of extensive national, and often international, inquiries. Frequently—although not always—interpreters are used, and much more so than in criminal cases. Indeed, interpreters of rather remote languages may be used. Interpreters then have to he used at all stages during the period of detention for interviews. That is another factor that can lengthen the period of time required.

    I understand the Minister's arguments, but is she saying that because there are more investigations now, we are strapped for resources—the people to do the job quickly? Is she saying that the investigation of hard drives or chemical substances, for example, and checks with Interpol and foreign police forces now take place, but were not undertaken three years ago? When we looked at all the terrorism legislation, we provided not the two days that Lord Lloyd recommended or the four days that he recommended in exceptional cases, but seven days to allow for leeway. What has changed in those three years? Has there been a huge increase in the number of cases and, because we do not have enough people, we have to allow a longer period, or are those entirely different things? Some of us would be sceptical if the Minister said that they were.

    It is not the number of cases and the need to detain people longer so that we can make proper use of the available resources; it is the growing appreciation of the increasing sophistication of methodologies used by terrorists, their access to technology, whether equipment or particular substances. There is greater evidence of more sophisticated approaches, but we also have a greater understanding of what needs to be done so that we use our investigation processes to get as much out of the investigation as possible and obtain usable evidence to press charges.

    I am interested in the technical response to the terrorist threat. One of the limiting factors that the Minister is describing is the difficulty of biological assay in response to a bio-terrorism threat and the time that it takes to analyse a pathogen. I recently saw some interesting work in the Livermore laboratory in the United States on a much faster assay process. Is Britain buying into that sort of technology so that investigative processes can be speeded up for the benefit of our defences?

    We are certainly keeping up to speed with all the developments in that area. I would not like to imply, nor would I like the hon. Gentleman to assume, that we have tabled the amendment extending the time limit because our technology is not as advanced as that of other countries. As I have said, hon. Members will have to make a balanced judgment. They are getting at some undoubtedly important points, which I take seriously. Detaining people, whatever we suspect them of, is a serious matter for a democracy and it is right that hon. Members should question us about it. However, at the same time, they will have to judge whether, on balance, the limitation of liberty that is being proposed is proportionate and justified in a very small number of cases in relation to the serious harm that people suspected of such activities can potentially wreak on society. Different judgments will be made about that. We have reached our judgment on the basis of the practical experience of the police and their advice to us about the period of time that may be required in an admittedly small number of cases.

    I am sure that hon. Members will know that there are a significant number of safeguards in schedule 8 already. We have built further safeguards into the formulation of the amendment. It is not proposed, for example, that the court should be given the power to issue a warrant authorising 14 days of detention on the first occasion on which a warrant for an extension of detention is sought. Rather, the court will be able to extend the period in the warrant for more than seven days only if the warrant already authorises detention for the maximum seven days that is currently permitted. To think through the process, the police will be able to detain for 48 hours, and if they then apply to the court for an extension, the maximum that the court can allow at that point is seven days. If further time is needed, the police will have to come before the court again and explain why. The court will have to satisfy itself of the conditions.

    6.15 pm

    If I can just finish the point. We have already seen from the operation of the current provisions that the courts are rightly exercising some caution and judiciousness in respect of the periods of time that they grant. They do not necessarily grant the entire period requested: they require the police to return and, if they need to, subsequently repeat the request for an extension rather than grant three or four days in one chunk.

    By continuing with her explanation, the Minister has answered my question. It would be considered perfectly routine if the courts were granting extensions beyond seven days only in periods of 24 or 48 hours.

    That is certainly how the power is exercised currently and it is what we expect in the future because of the conditions that have to be satisfied and also because the courts take their responsibilities seriously.

    That certainly helps our understanding. However, I am concerned about the Minister's argument that using the procedure might stop a major incident. That is a powerful argument, but in such circumstances, the people taken into custody are unlikely to proceed if it had been their intention to do so, because their cover has been blown. When it becomes possible to link them to others, the operation would almost certainly change and others would be drawn into it. If it were believed that they were preparing to commit an offence themselves, they could be pursued on the basis of a criminal charge and the matter could be taken further in that way. The idea that taking such people into custody will not disturb an organisation's plans seems rather confused.

    I do not think so. It is in the nature of these incidents that we have to deal with hypothetical circumstances. We cannot know what we have disturbed and interrupted by acting on the intelligence of the security services. I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have to act on the intelligence that we have. We may never know how effective it might have been in interrupting a planned operation, but we have to do all that we can on the basis of the intelligence that we possess. That means arresting people whom we suspect to be engaged in planning a particular operation or engaged more generally in activities that are likely to lead to terrorist acts as defined in the legislation.

    Terrorism is a reserved matter, so the new clause will apply throughout the United Kingdom. It will come into effect by order after Royal Assent. As I said in an earlier response to a question put by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—for which I was grateful—the application and use of the power will be subject to annual review by the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, Lord Carlile.

    Because of time pressures, I shall not speak at great length and steal the thunder of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen who—

    I should be grateful if the Minister would address the issues relating to new clause 56, as there may not be another opportunity for her to do so.

    I am happy to do so if my hon. Friend wishes me to deal with it in that way. In any case, I was intending to deal with the amendments, albeit briefly.

    Amendment (a) accepts that a period of detention greater than seven days might be required for the police to complete their investigations. Notwithstanding the interventions of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) so far, I am grateful that the amendment accepts that principle. The problem is that it ignores the advice that we have had from the police, based on the practicalities of dealing with a suspected terrorist in custody. When I introduced these provisions, I made it clear why we think that an additional three days would not be sufficient. I have tried to outline the safeguards and, in particular, the way in which the judicial authorities will operate the new clause, only authorising extra time if the police have made a case for it. That is the ultimate safeguard.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) asks about his new clause 56. Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 sets out the key detention requirements, which apply across the UK, such as the period of time a person can be detained under section 41 or schedule 7, review of the detention, authorisation and access to solicitors. The way in which those various requirements are regulated varies slightly across the legal jurisdictions in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

    In England and Wales, detention of terrorist suspects is covered by PACE codes of practice, in Northern Ireland it is governed by a code of practice made under section 99 of the 2000 Act, and Scotland does not have a PACE equivalent. I am talking specifically about the use of recordings, to which my hon. Friend's new clause refers. All interviews in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000 are audio recorded and that is governed by the UK-wide code of practice for the audio recording of interviews under that Act. That code goes wider than PACE code E, which is the equivalent PACE code of practice for tape recording interviews with suspects. It allows for a consistent approach to Terrorism Act interviews across the UK, whereas PACE applies only to England and Wales.

    Previously there was a code for Northern Ireland and administrative systems in England, Wales and Scotland, and that led to considerable inconsistency in approach and the Government's decision to lay down a code of practice in the Terrorism Act 2000. Because we already have a code of practice that goes wider than PACE code E, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his new clause, or I shall ask the House to resist it.

    Although my hon. Friend's new clause refers specifically to recordings and to the application of PACE to recordings, I am aware that he may have concerns that go wider than the recording issue and relate to how people are treated in detention and whether some of the other codes of practice under PACE should apply to people detained under the 2000 Act. I know that my hon. Friend has had a detailed letter from the Home Secretary today in response to an informal meeting that took place with members of the Home Affairs Committee on that point. The Home Secretary has laid out an explanation of how code C of PACE—about the way in which people are treated, including the conditions, the framework for interview sessions and the general conduct of the police—applies to persons arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act. I hope that that explanation satisfies my hon. Friend. Code C also recognises the slightly different procedures on some points that are found in schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, and that are required to deal with terrorists and the different circumstances of such offences. As I said earlier, the investigations are often not of a particular offence but of suspicions about potential hypothetical situations. Therefore, the PACE codes in their entirety cannot apply because they cannot accommodate those different characteristics.

    PACE code C applies generally and the new code goes wider than PACE code E on the recording issue. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend is assured that the general circumstances that apply to all detainees under PACE apply to people detained under the 2000 Act.

    My hon. Friend the Minister is right to say that I received a very helpful letter from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary today. I want to be sure that detention for up to 14 days will not be used as a device for breaking down people who have not broken down in the first seven days of detention.

    I completely understand the point about technology and so on, but I want to be certain that the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent what I have described from happening and to ensure, for example, that interrogation of a person will always take place in the presence of that person's solicitor. My hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with the point about tape recordings. I seek her assurance that the provision will not be used to break down people who have not broken down previously.

    As I have said, for people detained under the Terrorism Act 2000, the procedures involved in interview sessions, and the conduct of those sessions, will be governed by PACE code C. No difference in procedure is involved there, and I am awaiting clarification in respect of my hon. Friend's question as to whether solicitors always have to be present. My hon. Friend may be aware that, in cases such as we are discussing, some differences exist between schedule 8 of the 2000 Act and PACE code C in connection with legal advice, how quickly it has to be provided, and so on. However, in general terms, all the provisions in respect of interview sessions and conduct will continue to be governed by PACE code C.

    In addition, the provisions covering the responsibilities of the senior investigating officer and the custody officer remain the same. The senior investigating officer constantly has to review developments as the investigation goes on in order to satisfy the overarching obligation in paragraph 37 of schedule 8 to the 2000 Act, which demands that the police must constantly assure themselves that the two criteria for detention, of which the court must be satisfied, continue to be met.

    In addition, at each change of shift by the custody officer—that is, every 8 to 12 hours—a recorded welfare interview is carried out to ensure that the prisoner is in good health, requires no medical assistance, and that everything is as it should be. There is therefore no difference between the conditions for people detained under the terrorism provisions and those for people detained under criminal procedures.

    My hon. Friend asked whether a solicitor would always be present. I am advised that the solicitor can be excluded from interviews only during the first 48 hours, as provided under section 41 of the 2000 Act. The solicitor is present during any period of extension after the 48 hours.

    I hope that I have answered the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South. I commend Government new clause 45 to the House.

    The new clause is not an ill reflection on the Government, but it is a dreadful reflection on the state of our society that the Government should feel the need to come to the House and ask for such a draconian extension of powers. In any other circumstances, I think that most hon. Members would regard that extension as a very serious matter. It remains so, but it may be justified by the state of the threat to which this country is subject. I hope that the Government would never otherwise ask the House to approve individuals being detained for up to 14 days without charge, while criminal investigations against them take place.

    The Opposition will certainly not stand in the way of powers if they are needed to prevent a serious terrorist threat to this country—although I am bound to point out that there will be quite a long delay before they reach the statute book. In the meantime, although the Government have, presumably, assessed the threat as serious, the power does not exist.

    6.30 pm

    In view of the late stage at which the provision has been introduced, it is difficult for us to take a reasoned view as to whether it is necessary. I am very mindful of what the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration told the House a few moments ago and I am fully aware that there are issues of secrecy and confidentiality about the reasons, which may or may not exist, that the police have been unable to conclude their investigations into suspect terrorists whom they have arrested. I can understand that if the police release a suspected terrorist after six days, they will not necessarily indicate to him that they have done so only because they have not had time to collate the evidence against him, but will simply say that the time is up and he is being released.

    The weakest part of the Minister's argument, however, was her inability to provide examples from past investigations where the police felt that the power was absolutely necessary. I am mindful of the reasons that she gave us, but I very much hope that, even if it is on a Privy Council basis, some information will be supplied to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) or to some other suitable person in my party, to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee or to Liberal Democrat Members, so that we can make a proper assessment of the need for such a draconian power. To introduce such a power in peacetime is unprecedented. Detention for 14 days without charge is a very long time indeed.