HC Deb 25 June 1991 vol 193 cc866-900

Lords amendments considered.

Resolved, That the Lords Amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill be considered in the following order, namely, Nos. 44, 45, 1 to 43 and 46 to 175.—[Mr. Kenneth Baker.] Lords amendment: No. 44, after clause 22, to insert the following new clause: (" . No court shall be required to sentence a person convicted of murder to imprisonment for life.")

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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to consider the following Lords amendments: No. 60 in clause 30, in page 21, line 44, after ("life prisoner") insert ("who has been convicted of murder") Government motion to disagree.

No. 162, in schedule 12, page 95, line 15, at end insert—

("1965 c. 71. The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. In section 1 in subsection (1), the words from "and" to the end of the subsection; subsection (2); in subsection (4), the words from "in each of the said sections 70" to the end of the subsection; in subsection (5), the words from "but in lieu thereof" to the end of the subsection.") Government motion to disagree.

Mr. Baker

With this amendment and those grouped with it, we return to the penalty for murder; that is the principal question before the House today. The debate also covers the procedures governing the administration of life sentences.

The first question is the penalty for murder—the mandatory life sentence. The Government are inviting the House to disagree with the Lords amendment which would abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder. We shall debate later the procedures for administering life sentences, where the Government are proposing substitute amendments to those made in the Lords in so far as they affect discretionary life sentences. That will be the second major debate of the day.

This is the third time during the proceedings on the Bill that the full House has discussed what the penalty should be for the crime of murder. The matter was also discussed in Standing Committee A on 7 February this year.

As I am sure the House will recall, just before Christmas, on 17 December, we debated whether capital punishment should be restored as the penalty for some or all categories of murder. The House rejected capital punishment by substantial majorities. I do not personally support the restoration of the death penalty, but I respect the sincerely held views on this subject of that substantial minority of our colleagues who support it.

The clear assumption underlying the debate on 17 December was that, if the death penalty were not restored, a life sentence would remain the mandatory sentence for the crime of murder. That was the assumption underlying all debates on capital punishment since 1964.

The Government made their position clear on the mandatory life sentence for murder in the White Paper which was published in February 1990. In paragraph 6.15, we said that we believed that the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for the crime of murder should remain, to mark the heinous nature of this crime. When the death penalty for murder was abolished in 1965, the Government of the day made it clear that murder would carry a fixed statutory sentence, which was life, and that the Home Secretary, in the exercise of his primary duty to protect the public, would retain complete discretion to release a murderer after a short or long period or, in some cases, not at all. The Home Secretary of the day, Sir Frank Soskice, took considerable pains to explain to Parliament how he would exercise that discretion to ensure that society was properly protected. During the debate on 17 December, I made absolutely clear my intention to continue my predecessor's policy of requiring those responsible for the worst categories of murder to serve at least 20 years in prison.

On Report, an amendment to abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder was tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). It was debated but not voted on. The Minister of State—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) —made it clear then that the Government continued to regard the retention of the mandatory sentence as essential to mark the uniquely heinous nature of the crime of murder.

The other place, however, has approached the issue in a different way. Its Select Committee on murder arid life imprisonment, which reported in July 1989, recommended that the life sentence should no longer be the mandatory penalty for murder. The other place has sought to give effect to that recommendation by Lords amendment No. 44, and Lords amendments Nos. 60 and 162, which are consequential.

The Government do not dismiss lightly the sincerely held views of the majority in the other place who support the abolition of the mandatory sentence. Like capital punishment, this is essentially a matter of judgment in which there is, properly, room for differing views to be held. Having reflected carefully on the views expressed in the other place, however, I have concluded that I must advise the House to disagree with their Lordships in these amendments in so far as they seek to abolish the mandatory life sentence in England, Wales and Scotland.

Those who want the mandatory sentence to disappear have argued that murder is not, in fact, a uniquely heinous crime. They say that certain kinds of murder are less heinous than some others. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West argued this in the debate on 20 February. I do not think that I do a disservice to his arguments by saying that, but I disagree with those arguments.

At the core of the crime of murder is the intentional taking of another person's life—killing someone, with an intent to kill or to do grievous bodily harm. It is all very well to talk about mercy killings or so-called domestic murders, but the fact remains that in each case another person's life has been intentionally taken away. It is a crime where there can never be any possibility of the victim recovering or receiving redress or compensation. It is a crime of dreadful finality.

I believe that the public perceive, rightly, a distinction between the seriousness of murder and that of other crimes. This justifies a unique penalty for those who commit it. The public have a right to expect that Parliament and the criminal justice system will take effective steps to punish those who commit this crime and to protect the public from offenders who have shown themselves capable of intentionally taking another person's life.

Of course murders and murderers vary, and the variations are reflected in the amount of time that the murderer actually spends behind bars. Where there are powerful extenuating circumstances and where there is no continuing danger to the public—such as, for example, it could be argued, in some mercy killings—the person might be released after a short period. On the other hand, someone who had committed a particularly brutal and sadistic murder could expect to spend a very long time behind bars.

In either case, however, the murderer's liberty would be at the disposal of the state for the rest of his days—and that, I believe, is as it should be. A murderer released for a life sentence can be recalled at any time. That is not the position for a person serving a determinate sentence—that is, a sentence of a set number of years. The mandatory sentence marks publicly and unequivocally the special nature of the crime that has been committed, while allowing wide flexibility to administer the sentence in the way that best suits the circumstances of the individual case.

I believe that the system proposed in the Lords amendment would undermine the public's confidence in the willingness and ability of the criminal justice system to deal with this particular crime. We should be clear that amendment No. 44 would allow any penalty, from an absolute discharge upwards, to be given for the crime of murder. One can imagine the outcry if, say, a probation order were given for murder.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

My right hon. Friend has just put his finger on the most crucial part of this debate. Surely, what the people outside need to feel is that there is a penalty for murder which will deter killers from murdering. If any penalty could be given, there would be no deterrent.

Mr. Baker

My right hon. Friend is right, and I prefaced this part of my comments by talking about the confidence of the public. I believe that the public, whose views on capital punishment are clearly known, would feel very let down if there were a weakening in the mandatory sentence for murder, for the reasons that I have advanced.

It has been suggested that the definition of murder should be changed to exclude mercy killing. The law in this area was fully reviewed by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in 1980. The committee unanimously recommended against proposing a special offence of mercy killing or any special discretion when trying such cases. The argument was that relaxing the law could cause rather than prevent suffering, as the weak, the handicapped and the elderly, who might be the victims of so-called mercy killings, would receive less protection from the criminal law. The Government agree with that view.

At the other end of the scale, if there were not a mandatory life sentence in very bad cases, judges might find themselves under pressure to pass determinate sentences longer than anything that would be regarded as appropriate in this country. We should recall that, under the early release provisions in part II of the Bill, a 60-year determinate sentence would need to be passed to ensure that the prisoner served at least 30 years. I doubt whether judges would really be happy passing sentences of that length. Nor is it realistic to expect them, at the point of sentencing, to look so far into the future to try to predict when society will have judged that the crime had been expiated, that the prisoner should be released and that it was safe to do so.

No, I submit that the best and fairest system is the one we have now, where the life sentence is fixed by law, and responsibility then passes to the Home Secretary of the day to decide how the sentence should be spent. That responsibility is part of the Home Secretary's general responsibility for the protection of the public, the preservation of the Queen's peace, and the maintenance of public confidence in the criminal justice system.

For those reasons, I invite the House to disagree with Lords amendment No. 44 now, and with amendments Nos. 60 and 162 when they are reached.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The principal objection to the mandatory life sentence can be simply stated. It is an objection in principle on which the Home Secretary did not find it necessary even to touch. Sentencing should be the responsibility of the courts, not of the Executive, not of Ministers and not of civil servants. Yet in practice, in the sentencing of men and women convicted of murder and receiving the mandatory sentence, the custodial period of the sentence is determined by Ministers—members of the Executive.

In the House of Lords on 18 April, Lord Waddington illustrated the present state of affairs with alarming clarity. The Home Secretary made the same point—more subtly as one would expect, but equally wrongly. Lord Waddington said: the House of Commons has repeatedly voted against capital punishment for murder on the understanding that murderers would stay in prison for as long as Ministers thought necessary."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 April 1991; Vol. 1501, c. 1603.] The determination of the length of a prison sentence should not be a matter for members of the Executive. Both the Home Secretary and Lord Waddington in the other place three months ago misjudged the real intention of the House.

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All of us wanted men and women convicted of murder to serve an appropriate sentence, but the idea that Ministers should, in effect, determine the length of the prison sentence is incompatible with the rules that should govern a free society in which the judiciary and the Executive are properly separated. That Ministers determine the length of the prison sentence is undoubtedly the case in practice.

I remind the House of what really happens, because the Home Secretary talks as if the mandatory sentence were basically what it sounds like—something imposed by the courts and then served out without ministerial adjudication or interference. A mandatory sentence being passed, the judge stipulates privately—or, as the noble Lords described it, "secretly"—to the Home Secretary what he believes the minimum sentence should be. It is mandatory life in theory and what the judge stipulates the minimum should be in practice. Again in theory, the Home Secretary—although to everyone's surprise it was revealed in the House of Lords that in practice, a junior Minister often decides the issue—decides whether the Home Office and the Government are prepared to endorse the judge's private recommendation on the length of sentence.

We were told in the House of Lords debate that in 1988, the last year for which figures are available, 106 recommendations on mandatory sentences were made by judges. In 60 cases, the Home Secretary or a junior Minister extended the sentence. In nine cases, the Home Secretary or a junior Minister reduced them. In 34 cases, they remained the same. Secretly—generally without the public knowing—the Home Secretary—or a Parliamentary Under-Secretary—is acting like a court of appeal, altering the recommended sentence which the judge has conveyed privately. They do that without hearing witnesses, without seeing the accused and without hearing the case for the prosecution or the defence. Ministers sit in their offices or take red boxes home at night and determine the length of the sentence. One has only to describe that state of affairs to realise that it is incompatible with a constitution that says that the judiciary and the Executive are wholly separate.

The final decision that is in Ministers' hands is whether, when they have secretly and privately decided the length of sentence, the man or women should be allowed out on licence before the secret period is up. The fact that Ministers, in effect, determine the length of sentences is in itself enough to justify support for the Lords amendment, but there are other reasons why the mandatory sentence is wrong in principle as well as in practice.

I have already made my point in describing the process, but I need to emphasise it in explaining our belief that the mandatory sentence amounts to a custodial award being made in secret. The prisoner leaves the court not knowing how long he or she is to serve. Again, that is a basic denial of a civil right. That is only the first denial of justice. The second is that there is no appeal against the sentence. The man may have gone to prison and the judge may have recommended that he serve 20 years. A woman may have gone to prison and the judge may have recommended that she serves five years. A convicted prisoner does not know and has no way in which to appeal against what the judge has proposed and what the Home Secretary has decided.

A sentence imposed by Ministers in secret and allowing no appeal is a clear denial of justice. It is therefore in no way surprising that the Lord Chief Justice sponsored the Lords amendment which the Home Secretary hopes to negate, and that he was supported by so many distinguished Law Lords and laywers of every kind. They proposed that a man or women convicted of murder should receive a stipulated sentence in open court, that the sentence should be subject to appeal and that a judicial tribunal with appropriate judicial rules should determine other questions of release. They believe that those three requirements are essential to the rule of law as it is understood in this country in other courts and practices. I fear that this afternoon the Home Secretary has not begun to refute the argument that those changes are essential to the proper working of an independent judicial system which is not overruled or overrulable by Ministers acting arbitrarily and in secret.

Nor has the Home Secretary dealt adequately with the practical and adverse consequences of the present system. In the Lords a succession of lawyers, judges, barristers and solicitors returned time after time to the central theme, which is the vast variation in the real categories of murder. It is no good for the Home Secretary to say simplistically that all murders are murders. Of course they are. However, different murders have different consequences and different causes. Different murders have different degrees of moral guilt and varying mitigating circumstances, and the culpability of each murder inevitably varies according to the character, conduct, personality and the psychology of the accused which, as I shall demonstrate in a moment, courts take into account with great detriment to the legal system and its reputation.

Their Lordships, describing the definition of murder and the variations and the width of those variations, gave many examples from their own experiences as judges, barristers and instructing solicitors. Those included two teenage girls who killed a brutal father who, in the past, had assaulted them regularly. They did not kill him in self-defence when they were being assaulted because that might have been quite a different matter. They killed him when he was alone: they simply felt that they could stand his assaults no longer and they took the opportunity to kill him. Their Lordships put that at one extreme. The other extreme they cited as the terrorist who had callously gunned down a group of innocent civilians rather than risk arrest and conviction.

Their Lordships asked a rhetorical question to which I believe there can be only one answer. They asked whether any rational person believes that those are two comparable crimes which in court should be awarded the same sentence. As the law now stands, the two girls and the terrorist, when convicted of murder, would recceive the mandatory life sentence. It seemed to their Lordships and it seems to me that sentences should be related to the nature of the crime and should publicly be seen to be related to the nature of the crime.

At the moment, it may well be that, after the Home Secretary's intervention, the sentence is related to the variations in murder which, to an extent, the Home Secretary has denied this afternoon. However, while those variations may eventually be related after the Home Secretary has imposed his will on the judge's recommendation, the public perception, about which the Home Secretary seems to be pleased, is that, at the time of sentencing, all murderers receive the same penalty.

I believe that to act as if all murders are the same, as if the guilt is the same and as if the moral culpability is the same, is not so much to bring the law into disrepute, as to bring it into contempt. The young girls I described went off to prison uncertain whether they would be there for five years or for 20 years. That seems to be denial of civil liberties. However, there is the other side of the coin: the effect on those who commit the most horrendous murders of the amorphous mandatory sentence and the idea that all murders are the same. In the words of the House of Lords Select Committee, the fact that life imprisonment is mandatory dilutes what should be the awe-inspiring nature of the life sentence. It is what happens to all murderers, and some actually serve their sentence. I certainly believe that the mandatory nature, far from acting as a deterrent, dilutes the feeling that the most wicked of murders will receive the most severe penalties.

Again, the home Secretary did not feel it necessary to draw the attention of the House to what the Lord Chief Justice thought right to tell the House of Lords. There is no doubt that the mandatory sentence, as now applied, distorts the whole criminal process in a way that is deeply damaging to the system. The House of Lords was given examples of convictions that had been diluted. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is disagreeing.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I am listening.

Mr. Hattersley

I am relieved, pleased, flattered and optimistic that, on this occasion, there may be the remotest chance that, having listened, the Home Secretary will actually reply to the points that I have raised with him. I raise this point which, again, he did not think it necessary to draw to the attention of the House.

The Lord Chief Justice of England thought it right to make an explanation to the other place. Examples were given, not only by him but by other Law Lords, of occasions when convictions had been intentionally diluted from murder to manslaughter on the claim of diminished responsibility. They made the suggestion—it was openly made; there was no question about their judgment on this matter—that psychiatrists were called in, that juries were swayed and that judges were influenced by the fact that, although a person was technically guilty of murder, in their view a mandatory sentence was inappropriate, and therefore, instead of bringing in the verdict that a technical application of law required, they intentionally diluted it from murder to manslaughter. That cannot be right for the system.

The concluding quotation on the subject was given in the judgment of Lord Kilbrandon in Hyam v. the Director of Public Prosecutions, in which he said: It is no longer true, if it ever were true, that murder as we now define it is necessarily the most heinous example of homicide. It is a bad day for the criminal justice system when juries and judges sometimes say, "The law is so unreasonable that we are going to apply the law not according to statute but according to our judgment of what is proper. Capital punishment in this country is constantly being removed from various crimes because juries refused to convict because they thought that it was an inappropriate sentence. According to the Law Lords, juries are now refusing to convict for murder and are convicting for manslaughter simply because they believe that the mandatory sentence is inappropriate and should not be applied.

Why, really, do the Government wish to pursue their irrational and deeply damaging course? My suspicion, which is fuelled by Lord Waddington's speech which everyone who heard it will know left their Lordships absolutely aghast, is that the Government resist change because of what they believe to be—[Interruption.] I thought that the passage that said that the readers of tabloid newspapers would not support any change in the law was a particularly moving and intellectual passage in a speech which was notable for its academic content. I want to try to analyse the true reasons behind the Lords opposition and the Government's opposition to the improvement, which has everything to commend it in terms of rational reform.

I suspect that the Government resist change because of what they believe to be public opinion and because they fear a reputation for being soft on murder and murderers. In that suspicion and in that fear, they are not only mistaken but categorically mistaken. The system proposed by the House of Lords would clearly focus attention on the properly severe—by that I mean suitably long—sentence for those who are found guilty of the horrendous murder. It would focus attention on those men and women who, having committed murder, should, in the general opinion of the House, go to prison for 20 years or more. It would ensure that they do so and are sentenced to that long period in prison by the public court and against a background of headlines and reporting.

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The improvement would also calm public opinion in another sense. There is a widespread notion that the life sentence lasts, on average, from 10 to 12 years. I have no doubt that there is much resentment at the idea that a man or woman may commit a horrendous murder and be in prison for barely a decade. However, when the public complain about such a 10-year sentence, they do not complain about girls who kill their brutal fathers, but about terrorists who slaughter innocent bystanders. By lumping those different crimes together and producing a crude average of 10 or 12 years, we undermine people's confidence in the undoubted fact that the worst murderers should serve an appropriately long period in prison.

On the grounds of rational argument and sensible examination, there is everything to be gained in terms of liberty, deterrence and assuring public opinion, in focusing attention on the real sentences received by real murderers for truly wicked crimes. To perpetuate present policy is to blur the distinction and allow the British public to believe that we are soft on murder in general. We should demonstrate how hard we are on murderers who generally deserve a substantial period in prison.

There are other sectors where change is needed, but to make the proposed change would be one more attempt to bring British penal policy into line with that of other civilised countries. In this matter, as in other particulars. we are hideously out of line. In 1990, there were 3,503 life sentence prisoners in United Kingdom gaols—3,054 in Great Britain and the rest in Northern Ireland. There were more life sentence prisoners in British gaols than in all the rest of western Europe added together, where the total of life sentence prisoners was 2,688. That is partly as a result of our failure to distinguish between those convicted of murder who should receive the longest conceivable sentences and those who should not.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I am listening with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say. Will he comment on the Home Secretary's point that it would be necessary for a court to pass a sentence of 60 years in the case of a terrible murder for the defendant to spend half that period in prison? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the courts of this country would, in those cases, be willing to pass sentences of that length? That is a matter which causes concern to many of us who are listening with great interest to the debate.

Mr. Hattersley

There are two answers to that question. If the Home Secretary wants to ensure that long prison sentences for the worst murders, as I have described them, are served, he should come to the House not with a proposal to abandon the Lords amendment, but to make adjustments to give it the practical reality that he says it lacks. I wonder whether even that would be necessary.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) asked whether judges would be prepared to impose sentences of the sort now necessary. It is clear that they would, as they said so in the House of Lords, where Law Lord after Law Lord rose to propose the system. We must assume that the Law Lords understand the ramifications of the law at least as well as the Home Secretary. They knew the technique that was necessary to achieve the proposed aim and were perfectly willing to apply it—indeed, they were as passionately anxious that it should be incorporated in the law.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in the Lords amendment to preclude a judge from passing a life sentence in the appropriate case?

Mr. Hattersley

As my right hon. and learned Friend knows and I have tried to explain, the effect of the amendment would be quite the opposite. Its purpose, which is why we support it, is to ensure that life sentences would be passed where appropriate, with all the advantages in terms of deterrence and public opinion—Interruption.] I shall not give way again, because I know that the House wants to make progress. I think that I have already spoken for slightly longer than the Home Secretary. I have two minutes' worth of other comments to make, and hon. Members can then attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, if they want to make their own contributions.

The Lords proposal is a rational, sensible and practical way forward. It is not surprising that the Butler committee on abnormal offences in 1975, the Advisory Council on Penal Systems in 1978, the Lords Select Committee on murder and life imprisonment in 1980 all supported this reform. Indeed, in 1980—over 10 years ago—members of the Criminal Law Revision Committee were equally divided on whether the reform should be made. According to the Lords debate, I cannot comment on whether that was a correct judgment. Were they to consider the matter now, they would undoubtedly support the Lords view.

The simple argument is that murder varies enormously in viciousness, moral culpability and mitigating circumstances. To suggest that a mercy killer should receive the same sentence as a hired assassin and that that sentence should then be adjusted in private by a Minister working on his own discretion, without any evidence or arguments in front of him, is a clear denial of civil rights. We should have a more practical and more principled proposal.

The House of Lords was making and suggesting progress and we shall support it in the progress that the amendment would clearly bring to the Bill.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on what I thought was support for a case that is widely accepted throughout the country—the fact that people expect all forms of murder, heinous and terrifying as they are, to receive the maximum sentence that the courts can give.

I rise to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the Leader of the House has, as quickly as possible, arranged for an experiment to be carried out during this debate, in accordance with the recommendations contained in the second report of the Select Committee on Procedure. I hope that hon. Members will look at the way in which amendments are now marshalled and will note that for the first time the order paper shows the Government's view on the amendments. We never knew their view as papers were marshalled in the past. There is now just one order paper rather than the three with which we had to deal in the past. I hope that the House will approve of the experiment. Whether the Leader of the House decides to carry the idea forward will depend on the views expressed by hon. Members, so I hope that they will convey their views to the Leader of the House.

I sincerely support the view taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I understand the arguments put by the Shadow Home Secretary, but they seem to be out of touch with the feeling of people in most constituencies— [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Law Lords?"] Some people do not always believe that the Law Lords are in touch with ordinary people. Indeed, some hon. Members believe that they should not be there at all because they are so out of touch. I shall not follow that argument, but I believe that the House should support the line that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking today.

Mr. Archer

I have the misfortune to differ from the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) about the merits of the debate, but I echo his comments about the new marshalling of the amendments on the order paper. There, at least, there seems to be some common ground across the Chamber.

The arguments on this subject have been deployed at various stages in the Bill's progress, here and in another place. They have just been deployed persuasively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I rise only in the hope that, even now, it may not be too late.

I do not pretend that I can adduce any original arguments at this stage. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said that he hoped that the Home Secretary might listen and answer some of our arguments —I hope that he will do better than that, and that he will listen to some of our arguments and consider them.

Four principles are fundamental to our penal system, and they apply to every case. First, no one should receive a sentence greater than he deserves unless it is necessary to protect the public. That is the very principle running through the Bill—we have been reminded of it again and again from the Government Front Bench during debates on the Bill. That philosophy runs right through the system and applies, however grave or however venal the offence. An offender may have committed a horrifying and wicked offence and may be held to deserve a sentence of 20 years, but the principle still holds that he ought not to receive a sentence of more than 20 years, unless it is necessary to protect the public.

If that principle is to be applied, it is essential that we know what length of sentence he deserves so that it is known at what point we may be justified in considering whether a further sentence is necessary to protect the public. That will be the subject matter of our next debate, but I am a little disappointed that, having accepted that principle, the Government are applying it only to discretionary and not mandatory life sentences.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I sought clarification from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about Opposition Members' arguments, and my argument was precisely the same as the hon. Gentleman's on the difference between the protection of the public and a deterrent. I entirely understand the view on heinous crimes to which he referred. I doubt whether a capital or a life sentence ever deterred anyone—people will still commit such crimes. Such sentences may help to deter people from committing the lesser types of murder that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook described. However, surely it is worth protecting the public if it deters some people from committing that type of murder, given that those people are also protected by judges' recommendations and by the Home Secretary's discretion when listening to those recommendations.

Mr. Archer

With respect, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has misconceived what is meant by protecting the public in this context. What is meant by it in the Bill is imposing a sentence longer than the offence deserves, because it would be dangerous to let the offender out. That is rather different from the deterrent argument, and if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall return to that argument later.

If we are to incarcerate someone for longer than he deserves, we should at least know at what point we are considering incarcerating him for longer than he deserves. That seems to run right through our penal system and seems elementary. The Government have accepted that argument in relation to our next debate.

In that situation it must preclude our disposing of two cases, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, which might have different motivation, intention and wickedness—for example, the deliberate and heartless killing of a total stranger for gain, compared with the mercy killing of a beloved relative—in the same way. If we appear to do so in the court, it cannot be said that no one will serve a sentence longer than they deserve.

The second principle, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook alluded, is that assessment of the appropriate sentence should be carried out by a judge, as a judicial exercise, and it is not an appropriate function for the executive. The rules according to which sentences are assessed are decided by the legislature and proposals are introduced by the Executive. Maximum sentences are laid down in that way. But, the decision on individual sentences properly belongs to the courts.

We are told that the public have strong views on these matters—we were told that yet again this afternoon. I am not sure what evidence we have heard for some of the opinions that have been expressed about the views of the public—perhaps we do not all meet the same members of the public. But whoever is in government and however well respected that individual might be, I am certain that the public are rightly suspicious of a member of the Government, who is subject to all kinds of political pressures, deciding the fate of individuals. That is why we have got into difficulties when leaving to the Secretary of State the question of which convictions should be left to the courts and which should be overturned.

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The third principle is that the assessment of what is an appropriate sentence should be made by someone who has heard submissions on behalf of the offender and has seen whatever evidence can properly be submitted on his behalf. It is far preferable for that assessment to be made by the judge who has heard all the evidence in the trial. I do not believe that it would be acceptable to the public for such an assessment to be made by a politician or an official who has never even seen the offender—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State appears to be trying to drive a wedge between Opposition Members. I do not know whether evidence of that will emerge later. It is not a question of who is the Home Secretary or the junior Minister of the time who makes the assessment or of who is the official who makes the recommendation because, as far as the public are concerned—and they are right about this—the point is that those people are subject to political pressures that would not apply to the judiciary.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

As the House knows, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a distinguished Solicitor-General for five years. Did he hold those views then?

Mr. Archer

Yes, I did—and not only did I hold them, but I expressed them on a number of occasions. The constitutional position remains the same, whoever is in government.

Mr. Baker

I am simply saying that there were five long years during which the changes that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now advocating could not only have been brought to the attention of the Government, but could have been implemented. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman felt so strongly, was he not in a strong position, as Solicitor-General, to make those changes?

Mr. Archer

I shall come in a moment to the events that have occurred since the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues came into government, the number of people who have considered those events and the recommendations that have been made. If we had been in a position to consider all that, we might have reached a different conclusion.

My point is that whoever makes the decision now may have read written submissions, especially if the offender is articulate or has someone who is articulate to speak on his behalf, but that is no substitute for an oral process during which the judge can say which matters are troubling him and when those points can be answered by the advocate for the offender.

The fourth principle is that that process of hearing submissions and assessing the appropriate sentence should take place publicly. Again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook alluded to that. Offenders and the public are entitled to hear what is being said, to be assured that the judge has listened and to be told by the judge what assessment he has made.

Under the present system, the judge writes his assessment secretly and the Lord Chief Justice makes a further assessment in the interests of consistency which, as has already been said, adds to the already burdensome tasks facing him. Everything is secret up to that point—and the matter is then considered in secrecy again by someone at the Home Office. That person may disagree with the judge's assessment. In 1988, a Home Office Minister took it upon himself to increase the judge's assessment for 63 out of 106 mandatory sentences. The offenders were not to know that the Minister had disagreed with the judge, because they did not know what the judge had said in the first place. Not only is justice not seen to be done, but the offender embarks on his sentence without any idea of what the judge has assessed as the appropriate period for him to serve.

Since we first debated this issue in the House, we have all had the advantage of reading the Woolf-Tumim report. Fundamental to the recommendations of that report on the philosophy of the criminal justice system is the concept that prisons are part of the system of justice and that what happens to prisoners must be just and must be seen to be just. Yet this is the negation of justice.

On reading the debate in another place, I too was a little troubled by something that was said on behalf of the Government by Lord Waddington. He seemed to say that public confidence in the system might be shaken if the public knew the facts and the assessments that the judges were making. The suggestion that it is best to keep the public in ignorance because if they knew the facts they might misunderstand, is hardly one that we might expect to hear made on behalf of the Government in a democracy. Surely the public would be more reassured if they knew that the judge meant what he said in open court and that, when he recommended a life sentence, he meant that there should be a substantial sentence.

I am surprised that the amendment which the Government are introducing to meet the ruling of the European Court is confined narrowly to discretionary life sentences. I should have thought that the argument that operated for discretionary life sentences operated equally strongly in the case of mandatory life sentences.

I made passing reference to the events that had happened since we were last in government. It is perfectly true and I accept at once that in 1975 the Butler committee on mentally abnormal offenders recommended the proposal which has now been made by another place, and in 1978 the recommendation was repeated by the Advisory Council on the Penal System. But the proposal was reiterated by the all-party penal affairs group in 1986 and by the Select Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Nathan in 1988. Since then, the proposal has been supported by two former Home Office Ministers—Lord Windlesham and Lord Harris, Justice, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, the Lord Chief Justice and three Lords of Appeal. I should have thought that that was sufficient for the Government to allay any fears on the part of the public that the matter had not been properly considered.

One other benefit has been alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. If someone were seen publicly to address the degree of guilt and, consequently, the appropriate sentence, it would dispense with the need to make what many people may feel is an artificial distinction between murder and manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. We know the amount of court time and the resources which are diverted to making that distinction. It is not an appropriate distinction.

The distinction that should be addressed is between a case which deserves a long sentence and one which does not. As my right hon. Friend said, it may be that the distinction distorts the system because we are receiving convictions for manslaughter where the appropriate conviction would be for murder. Undoubtedly that was what persuaded victim support and the Group for Parents of Murdered Children to support the proposal.

I am conscious of the passage of time, but I promised the hon. Member for Battersea that I would say a word about deterrence. For the most serious murders—the really wicked murders—long sentences will be given in any event. Any argument based on deterrence will apply equally to such cases. But where murders are committed under the stress of great emotion, I do not believe that people sit down and consider the sentence that they are likely to receive. That is the answer to the argument based on deterrence.

The last argument adduced—I almost said "dredged up" but I do not wish to be offensive—by the Secretary of State was that when, in December, the House decided by a substantial majority not to reintroduce the capital sentence for murder, some hon. Members may have voted against because the alternative was a mandatory life sentence. If that is a valid argument, it would rule out all proposals for change on any matter which may have influenced any hon. Member when the House took a decision. So a simple method of strangling all proposals for reform on any topic, for that Parliament at least, would be to introduce any single proposal which is voted down.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

That is too lateral. [Interruption.]

Mr. Archer

If the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir Peter Emery) wishes to adduce further lateral arguments, he may do so.

The proposal may or may not mean that sentences are generally shorter. It may very well mean that some sentences are longer. No one argues that in an appropriate case there should not be a long sentence. But the proposal would mean that any individual sentence would be related, and manifestly seen to be related, to the merits of the case. That is what justice is about.

Mr. Shersby

As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales and I wish to declare that interest this afternoon.

The House will be aware that there is a thin blue line standing between evil men, and sometimes women, and the law-abiding citizens of this country. That thin blue line is the men and women of the police. Sometimes, tragically, that line is broken when police officers are murdered while protecting the public from the actions of vicious criminals and ruthless killers. When that happens the line is quickly joined as other officers take the place of their fallen comrades.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said: At the core of the crime of murder is the intentional taking of another person's life—that is killing someone with intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm. My right hon. Friend also reminded us It is a crime of dreadful finality. I agree.

What protection do the police have against the intentional taking of lives by, for example, armed criminals who do not hesitate to shoot them down in the street? Until 1965 the death penalty existed, which most police officers consider a powerful deterrent to murder. However, Parliament abolished that penalty 26 years ago and in its place provided the life sentence for murder.

One of the first major tests of the use of long sentences for the murder of a police officer occurred in 1966, only a year after the abolition of the death penalty. It was found to be wanting.

Let me remind the House of what happened on a summer's afternoon in Braybrook street off Shepherd's Bush. Three policemen in an unmarked car became suspicious of a blue Standard Vanguard estate car parked near Wormwood Scrubs and they approached that vehicle. While one of the occupants of that car was being questioned—John Edward Witney was his name—another occupant, Harry Roberts, pulled out a gun and shot dead Detective Sergeant Christopher Head and Detective Constable David Wombwell. Another occupant of the car, John Duddy, then ran to the police car and shot Police Constable Geoffrey Fox in the head as he sat behind the steering wheel.

I remember that case very well because it so happened that I lived and worked in the area at the time. All three men were eventually caught, arrested and given life sentences for murder in 1966. At the trial, the late Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones said: I think it is likely that no Home Secretary regarding the enormity of your crime will ever think it fit to show mercy by releasing you on licence. This is one of those cases in which the sentence of imprisonment for life may well be treated as meaning exactly that. He went on to say: Lest any Home Secretary in future be minded to consider your release on licence, I have to make a recommendation. He recommended a sentence of imprisonment for 30 years.

As a result partly of that trial—many of us remember it and the loss of the lives of those three Metropolitan police officers—and the 30-year sentence that was awarded, the police, although they still wanted the return of the death penalty, felt that in the absence of that penalty they could at least rely upon the firm assurances of the Home Secretary of the day that no offender imprisoned for the murder of an officer would he released until the sentence had been completed.

Those assurances were confirmed subsequently; first by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) when, as Home Secretary, he told the Police Federation conference in 1989: Since capital punishment was abolished in 1965, the Conservative view of the murder of police officers has been proved by a single telling fact; in that time not one person convicted of murdering a police officer has been released from prison. 4.45 pm

I well remember when my right hon. Friend said that, because I had just been appointed as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I remembered that conference as it occurred early on in my new job.

A year later my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Waddington, who was then Home Secretary, said to the Police Federation conference: Parliamentary policy is that offenders imprisoned for the murder of a police officer will not be released until their sentence is completed. As a result, the federated ranks of the police gradually came to accept that their best protection, in the absence of the death penalty, was such assurances together with the belief that only as a result of the executive action of the Home Secretary of the day could those who had murdered police officers be released. The police believed that those found guilty would either complete long sentences or be detained in prison for, as my right hon. Friend, the present Home Secretary, said today "the rest of his days." My right hon. Friend clearly envisages that, in a case of a serious murder, such as that which occurred in 1965, the individual concerned will remain in custody for the rest of his days.

Unfortunately that belief was undermined to some extent when, earlier this month, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary advised the police that one of the men convicted of that terrible murder at Shepherd's Bush, John Edward Witney, was to be released on life licence five years before the end of the 30-year sentence recommended by the trial judge.

My right hon. Friend told the chairman of the Police Federation that that decision was taken after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and that it reflected the view that Witney's case could be distinguished from that of his two co-defendants since he did not fire a weapon during the shooting. He also said that the Parole Board did not consider that Witney would present a risk and accordingly it recommended his release. I hope, as I am sure every hon. Member does, that my right hon. Friend is right.

What my right hon. Friend's decision has made crystal clear is, as he announced, Murderers of police officers should normally be expected to be detained for at least 20 years.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

What conclusions does the hon. Gentleman draw from this experience about the matter under debate? Does he believe that his clients, the Police Federation, would have greater confidence in the decision of a judge who initially recommended 30 years or in that of some unknown Home Secretary some years on?

Mr. Shersby

I am grateful for that intervention and if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment I shall give the House my answer.

When my right hon. Friend announced his decision to release Witney, he said that 20 years was consistent with the Government's declared policy of ensuring that the time served by prisoners convicted of the worst offences of violence fully meets public concern about violence. However, it does not fully meet the concerns of members of the Police Federation. They expect the sentence imposed by the court to be completed, and that in the case of police murders the offender should lose his or her liberty to the state for the rest of his or her days.

As a result of the release of Witney this month, the federation is now calling on the House to sustain the Lords amendment, and to rely on the courts to ensure that the offender will not be released before a fixed period determined by the court.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is that not the exact opposite of the view expressed strongly to us by the Police Federation six months ago?

Mr. Shersby

I shall return to that point in a few moments, but it is true that there has been some change from the views formerly held by members of the Police Federation. That change has undoubtedly been influenced by the Witney case.

I share the federation's concern, but I understand that, in advancing the case for overturning the Lords amendment, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary must have very much in mind that in the end it is the Home Secretary and the Government of the day who have to take responsibility for the protection of the public. That is one of the most essential considerations affecting our approach to this difficult matter. I hope, therefore, that when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies to the debate she will tell us how she reconciles the release of Witney with the policy so clearly expressed by the Home Secretary: the best and fairest system is the one we have now, where the life sentence is fixed by law, and the responsibility then passes to the Home Secretary of the day to decide how the sentence should be spent". I hope that, if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wishes—as I know that he does—to retain the full support of the police for his policy, he will give an assurance that there will be no more releases before the sentence fixed by the trial judge has been completed, especially in cases such as that which I have described, in which the recommendation was specific.

I realise how difficult a decision my right hon. Friend has had to face today in deciding how to deal with the amendment. I believe that he has done as he has because he recognises that it is his responsibility as Home Secretary —as it will be the responsibility of his successors in due course—to protect the public and to be able to reassure them that no one who commits such murders will receive any sentence other than one that will deter and will protect the public from ruthless and vicious killers.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) has holed the Home Secretary's argument below the water line. He has made it plain that the Police Federation, which is more continuously concerned than any other section of the community about the threat posed by murder to the public—and indeed, to the federation's own members—does not agree with the view that the Home Secretary sought to persuade the House was the general view of the public. It does not agree that a deterrent sentence, a mandatory life sentence, is the most effective response to the crime of murder.

Nothing in the Home Secretary's speech adduced any evidence that the public's view of the mandatory life sentence was as he suggested. That idea is remote from what I understand to be public opinion on the subject. I believe that the public recognise that mandatory life sentences are not life sentences. Many members of the public are sceptical about such sentences because they vary so much. They vary not according to the courts' perception of the seriousness of the crime, but according to the view of the Home Secretary of the day some years later.

I understand that the Minister of State is to reply to the debate, and I noticed that the Home Secretary, in an aside to her, spoke of his obligation to protect the public when he takes decisions on release. There is no doubt that that must be the predominant consideration in the minds of Home Secretaries when exercising their discretion, but it is not the predominant consideration that leads the public to criticise the mandatory life sentence. The public criticism is that too often a life sentence is too short. That is a more realistic appraisal of the public view of life sentences.

The argument is not new for those who have already spoken in such debates, but I have not had the opportunity to speak on the subject earlier in the Bill's progress, so I intend to put on record a few of the considerations that have led me to believe that the time has come for a change in the law.

When capital punishment was originally abolished I was satisfied that the mandatory life sentence was a sensible alternative, but as we have seen the law evolve and cases being decided it has become increasingly clear that the penalty does not in any sense match the crime. Although the court is undoubtedly best placed to assess the heinousness of the offence—the court is possessed of the evidence and has the opportunity to see the witnesses —it is not the court that determines how long the convicted murderer will remain in prison.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) described graphically what have been described in another place as the "secret communications" between the sentencing judge and the Home Office. It is not appropriate, and the public does not regard it as appropriate, that sentencing should be conducted in that manner—by secret negotiations with the Executive. Most members of the public regard judges as the appropriate people to make decisions about the seriousness of a crime and the length of prison sentence to be suffered by the convicted person.

The law as it stands invests in the executive arm of Government the effective power of sentencing for murder—a power exercised in secrecy, so that it does not allow of an appeal in the normal sense of the word, a fact which has brought us before the European Court of Human Rights. Our procedures have been seriously criticised in that court, and we have been found to be in violation of article 5(4) of the convention. I look forward to hearing the Home Secretary's argument on how he intends to deal with the Thynne case.

Moreover, the law as it stands does not distinguish properly between different degrees of murder. Clearly it is unsatisfactory that mandatory life sentences are automatically imposed in cases where patently less moral turpitude has been involved than in some of the more appalling cases that have come before the courts. It dilutes the sentence of life imprisonment, and the public perception that it may average nine years is perpetuated, when the truth is that a serious case of premeditated murder, of the kind that we all recognise, should mean true life imprisonment—that is, imprisonment for life. I believe that in such cases it should mean imprisonment for life, but that the law needs to be amended to enhance the deterrent effect of such true life sentences.

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Lord Nathan, who chaired the Select Committee in the other place, asked whether the existing law acted as a suitable or adequate deterrent and concluded that it did not because of the uncertainty, in practice, of the duration of the penalty.

The Lord Chief Justice, whose views were alluded to at no point in the Home Secretary's speech, was extremely critical of the law as it stood and, in particular, of the very argument that seems to underlie the approach adopted by the Home Secretary. I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the Home Secretary appears to be posturing in front of an audience which he considers—wrongly, in my view—is attracted to executive penalty and executive release.

Lord Lane said: It is no sign of weakness to replace what I suggest is a flawed system with one which at the very least offers an opportunity to achieve greater fairness and so greater justice. I think that Lord Lane was right, and the fact that the exercise of executive discretion is very much a matter of whim has been illustrated by the practice adopted by successive Home Secretaries in the present Conservative Administration.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) referred to one of the Select Committee's findings. In 1988, a higher tariff was decided by Ministers in 63 out of 106 mandatory life sentences which had been reviewed. In a six-month period in 1984, however, after Mr. Leon Brittan, as he then was, had altered the rules for review, Ministers increased the penalties recommended by trial judges in 80 cases out of 195. I do not know whether any of those alterations were made with a view to changing public perception of the effectiveness of the deterrent or what the reasons for those changes were, but they were certainly changes and they did not reflect a consistent approach by Home Secretaries to the protection of the public.

These are difficult matters for Home Secretaries to decide. I have no doubt that there must be a procedure involving the Home Secretary in the case of those whose release would constitute a danger to the public. It is beyond question that that is not something that trial judges can take into consideration. It is also clear, however, that the Home Secretary is not so well placed as the trial judge to decide the penalty appropriate for the crime.

I fear that we shall not conclude our discussions of this subject today. Judging by the tone and shortness of the Home Secretary's speech, and given that he did not address any of the substantial arguments deployed by the many Committees that have considered the matter or the arguments made in the other place, we shall clearly be returning to this debate in future. I hope, however, that we shall see a movement in the consensus within the Conservative party which reflects the very general concerns expressed by those who have to administer the law at the highest levels about the injustices of the present system.

Mr. Lawrence

In my view, the Government are quite right, in the present climate of law and order, to reject their Lordships amendment. Since the abolition of capital punishment in 1962 there has been an alarming increase in murders, in crimes using guns and weapons and in the killing of police officers. In the five years to abolition, there were 290 murders a year, whereas in the past five years, there have been 647 murders a year—a doubling in the murder rate. In 1962, 2,000 crimes were committed with guns and weapons. Today, 10,000 crimes a year are committed with guns and weapons. That is a fivefold increase. In the 24 years to 1965, 14 police officers were killed in England and Wales, whereas in the 24 years since, 53 police officers have been killed. That is a threefold increase. In the past 20 years, 59 convicted murderers have been released and have killed again.

It is doubtful whether life imprisonment works adequately as a deterrent, and this is hardly the time at which to weaken or appear to weaken the law further. The reason why the mandatory life sentence is so important —although, for the overwhelming majority of British people who want capital punishment restored, it is second best—is that the crime of murder is not like other crimes. It is unique. It involves a life being taken by a deliberate act, and in the eyes of the public, it should be dealt with by a unique sentence. To do away with the unique sentence for that unique offence would undoubtedly weaken public confidence in the system of law and order because it would remove an element of deterrence. That confidence would be further weakened, if, in certain circumstances, the sentence passed for a murder turned out to be too light because the crime itself was in reality less serious than it appeared.

One of the problems with the press today is its bad reporting of criminal trials. Its representatives are there at the start of the trial when the prosecution opens and they are there at the end but they are seldom there in the middle when the evidence is being given. The headlines scream, "Only two years for murder. This is a disgrace. Guilty judge, guilty jury, guilty system." That is nonsense but the public react and respond to the bad reporting in the media. Yet the facts of the case may be such that a sentence of two years may be quite adequate. Under the present system, a murderer gets life and the machinery of the system then determines whether he should be let out after two years. He may not spend his life in prison but the sentence will last for life and, if he offends or becomes a danger to the public once more, he will be recalled. The sentence of life imprisonment is a deterrent—albeit second best to the deterrent of capital punishment. The public will not be disturbed and their confidence will not be undermined because they know that, under the present system, there is an element of deterrence which continues and endures.

There is another side to the coin. If the judge feels that it would not reflect the wishes of the public if he passed a light sentence, he might well pass a more severe sentence than the criminality deserves. The effect of the amendment, supported by liberals, would be to harden sentencing. It would be counter-productive. It would not achieve what is wished and would distort the prison population still further.

The abolition of mandatory life sentences would have another effect. It would require the passing of sentences of 50, 60 or 70 years in the most heinous of cases. Will judges be prepared to pass such sentences? The logic of that would be to follow the American example. We hear of sentences of 99 years, to run consecutive to other sentences of 99 years. We hear of sentences of several hundred years passed on people who have committed a series of heinous offences. That makes a laughing stock of the sentencing system.

I concede at once that the public confidence aspect is less important than the justice of the case. The question is, would more justice be done if we abolished mandatory sentences? That would be the case if "life" always meant "life", in all circumstances, with all murders and with all offenders, and regardless of whether a mercy killing had taken place. That, however, is not the position. The Home Secretary, acting on the advice of the Parole Board, decides whether the circumstances warrant earlier release.

That is a fair way of dealing with such matters. It is not obvious to the public that they are being dealt with in that way, but, as I have already conceded, the justice of the case is more important than the public confidence aspect— although that too is terribly important.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that actual sentences should be determined by a judge rather than by the Executive. At first, that may seem an attractive point; however, nowhere else in the sentencing system is the sentence determined by the judge. It is determined by the Parole Board, with the support of Parliament. The judicial sentence can then be reduced by two thirds, or by half, or sometimes in variance of the two.

In passing a judicial sentence, the judge is not allowed to take into account the date of parole, or the fact that the accused may be likely to have his sentence reduced by a third. The judiciary does not really determine the length of sentences, and rejection of the amendment would not breach the position relating to Executive and legislative release.

What of the right hon. Gentleman's argument that there should be a variation in sentences for murder? In the case of less heinous murders—the right hon. Gentleman gave the example of the two little girls—the answer is surely the same that we would give if we were discussing euthanasia. There may be some justification for a particular killing, but when the system says no to all killing we at least know that some deterrence exists—that people will be deterred from killing too easily, and that lives that should not be taken will occasionally be saved. That argument applies to euthanasia; it also applies to maintaining standard sentence—uniquely—in cases of murder.

I understand why their Lordships took the view that they did. They did not have to deal with the public, as we do. Although public confidence is a matter for their consideration, it is nothing like as much a matter for their consideration as it is for the consideration of Members of this democratically elected House of Commons. I would guess that public opinion was the reason behind the Cabinet's refusal to adopt the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) when he served in a Labour Government.

Mr. Archer

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman concede that we can all become wiser with the passage of time, especially when a number of people have given thought to the issues and produced reports?

Mr. Lawrence

If that is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation of his position, of course I accept it. I assumed that his position had remained consistent throughout, and that he did not consider the abolition of mandatory sentences acceptable. I know that that point of view was expressed when the last Labour Government were in power. My point is that that Government did nothing to change the position—not just because the right hon. and learned Gentleman held a different view at that time, but because public opinion did as well. The Labour Government took account of public opinion; now we are taking account of what we perceive to be public opinion.

Not only would the removal of the mandatory life sentence constitute a betrayal of the public—who, in a sense, entered into a bargain with the Government who abolished capital punishment that they would, while abolishing it, maintain the deterrence provided by life sentences—but it would constitute a betrayal of the hon. Members who supported the abolition of capital punishment on a number of occasions because the Government had said, "There will still be a deterrent—life sentences." If that deterrent is now removed, many hon. Members—certainly many Conservative Members—who have voted in the past for the retention of the abolition of capital punishment will feel that they would now reach a very different conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) indicates that he is one example: there could be no finer example.

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As I have said, acceptance of the Lords amendment would be a betrayal. In 1962, a kind of pact was made with the British public to enable the Labour Government to abolish capital punishment. Now, acceptance of the amendment would betray all those who were assured that the alternative to capital punishment was the life sentence. That is why my right hon. Friend has made his position clear on the basis of public confidence. He is absolutely right to do so, and his view demands our support as a matter of common sense.

The time may come when we shall be able to contemplate a change from the mandatory life sentence. Given a substantial reduction in the number of violent crimes, the public may then be in a frame of mind to accept the logic of the case. That time, however, is not yet here. Our view was held, after careful consideration, by the Crown prosecution service when it gave evidence to the Committee in the other place; it was also held—again, after careful consideration—by the Police Federation, until it decided to change its mind last week and a police murderer was released on parole. Right or wrong, such decisions are no less likely to be made when there is no mandatory life sentence than when there is.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

I support the rejection of the Lords amendment.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made a telling point when he reminded us that Members of the other place have no constituents. In many respects, their beliefs do not reflect the views of the public; they are not listening, in the pubs and clubs, to what the public genuinely feel about this important matter.

I speak not only as a representative of the public, but as one of the few hon. Members now present who has had the opportunity to defend accused persons in murder trials on more than one occasion. I shall never forget the atmosphere of those trials, and the sense of the seriousness of the matters with which they had to deal.

The background of today's debate is the rise in the number of murders in the United Kingdom in the past few years. Some of those murders involved the use of guns during the commission of offences of dishonesty; others involved the indiscriminate killing of victims unknown to their murderers. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is clearly concerned to hear that. Murder is a heinous and terrible crime: the public recognise it as such, and so should we.

In 1967, the Labour Government abolished the death penalty. There was a free vote, and the matter was debated fully. The death penalty was abolished, however, on the understanding that it would be replaced by the life sentence. That reflected the strength of public feeling, and the seriousness of the offence in question. That feeling still prevails. How many hon. Members who are sitting here now receive letters from the public saying that the life sentence should mean life?

Mr. John Greenway

My hon. Friend asks how many hon. Members are sitting here, but not many hon. Members are here; it would be different if we were discussing dogs. Does not that show that the majority of Conservative Members support what the Home Secretary is doing?

Mr. Hind


The seriousness with which the public view the imposition of the life sentence for the offence of murder cannot be underestimated. Our sentencing policy does not follow the principle that life means life, but for serious offences such as terrorist murders, indiscriminate killings, gangland murders anmd other offences at the top of the scale, judges make recommendations. How many times have we read that a judge recommended that a minimum of 30 years be served? That is the way in which judges convey to the man in the dock, to the public and to the courts the seriousness with which they view such crime.

I defended a woman who suffered from post-natal depression and killed her child. I placed her in a different category from a gangland member who murders a drug courier because he betrayed the system. The gradations in offences can be met by the existing system.

We must respect the public's views. When somebody commits the offence of murder, the sentence must reflect the seriousness of the offence. The Lords amendment is an unnecessary dilution of the public's strong feelings and of the need to emphasise the terrible nature of the offence.

I support one point that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made. He sensibly said that the judge hears all the evidence and sees all the witnesses, including the accused if he gives evidence, and reads the social inquiry and psychiatric reports. Where the judge recommends what the sentence should be, it should be followed by the Home Office. I feel much disquiet about sentencing by Ministers and not by judges. The split between the independence of the judiciary and of Ministers is being eroded. I urge Ministers to take note of what the judge says. The existing system can continue without the interference of the Lords amendment and I recommend that the House rejects it.

Mr. John Greenway

I must refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), whose views I much respect. I was deeply shocked by his remarks. What he suggested as the policy of the Police Federation is an ill-thought-out policy that it should reconsider and, in due course, reverse.

I share my hon. Friend's passionate belief that our police deserve all the protection that Parliament can provide. On 17 December last year, I opened the debate on the restoration of the death penalty, and I share my hon. Friend's profound belief that, if the death penalty were available for the murder of a police officer, less police officers would be murdered.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Greenway

I stand corrected.

We must accept the decision of the House, but it is an important point and not one to be made the subject of a trivial intervention. If we cannot have capital punishment for the murder of a police officer, we want a certain penalty. It is better to have the certain penalty of a mandatory life sentence, flawed though that is—the thrust of the debate has been the extent to which it is flawed and where we should strike the balance—because life does not mean life under the present system, and even less so under part II of the Bill, where we are trying to achieve more certainty in sentencing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is wrong in his assessment that the courts will provide a deterrent in sentencing someone who has murdered a police officer and that that is a greater deterrent than the mandatory sentence. No one will be aware of the sentence until after a police officer has been murdered. We are on the slippery slope of finding out subsequently.

I have considerable sympathy with the Police Federation's disappointment at the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I know well that many police officers were disappointed, but I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and to the Police Federation that the one man who knows what it is like to make the difficult decision whether to release on parole the murderer of a police officer, following the recommendation of the Parole Board, is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He has argued well this afternoon for the retention of the mandatory life sentence, and therefore the retention of a system in which he and his successors will be confronted with that difficult decision.

Mr. Shersby

As a former Metropolitan police officer, my hon. Friend understands only too well, as he said in his speech, the reaction of the Metropolitan police and of other police forces to the circumstances surrounding the Shepherd's Bush murder. He will know that when I spoke to the police conference in May, I made it clear that in my judgment it was an important issue for it to consider. I left it in no doubt that the 20-year sentence was important. In my final remarks, I paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and pointed out that he had to make that difficult decision, of which I fully approved.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments, but the decision that the Police Federation has taken, which he announced to the House this afternoon, is based on a knee-jerk reaction to one difficult case and is not properly thought out.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

My hon. Friend kindly referred to me and he will know that the Home Secretary often has to make difficult decisions. In the Shepherd's Bush case, I was bound by decisions that had been taken by my predecessors, as the House knows. I have no doubt that the Police Federation will reconsider its views, for the simple reason that, if it supports the Lords amendments, the undertaking that Sir Leon Brittan gave the House in 1983, and which was confirmed by me—that anybody convicted of killing a policeman would serve at least 20 years—then falls. I doubt whether the Police Federation has considered that, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) will draw it to the federation's attention.

5.30 pm
Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. His comments will have been helpful to the House and to people outside.

Some points made in the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) go to the heart of the difference between our views. He said, in effect, that not all murderers deserve a life sentence. But every murder victim has already been subjected to a life sentence. More important, the balance which must be struck should surely be in favour of ensuring that those who should receive a life sentence do so. Only a mandatory sentence delivers that certainty.

Lord Lane argued about the arrangements under the Criminal Justice Acts 1987 and 1988 whereby the Attorney-General has the right to appeal against a lenient sentence—something opposed by the Labour party. I do not believe that we can expect with certainty that the right sentence will be passed on appeal any more than we can expect that the right sentence will be passed by the judge who heard the case. Therefore, there are differences between us as to a murderer's rights.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook talked about a civil right and justice being denied because of mandatory sentences. Again I ask: justice for whom—for those who kill or for those who are killed? The fulcrum of the problem rests on that issue. Do Members of Parliament believe that there is a sentence for those who commit the most heinous crime of murder which can deter some murderers? I happen to be one of those who believe that it can deter. That is why I believe that the Government and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are right to come down firmly against their Lordships' amendment and to call upon the House to reject it.

Mr. Hind

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Greenway

I shall not give way because I wish to make further comments, and time is pressing.

We must bear in mind the far-reaching changes in sentencing policy that are already included in the Bill, particularly the provision for the early release of prisoners under part II. There will be major, fundamental changes in sentencing policy.

In simple terms, before we even consider whether we should abolish the mandatory sentence, we should see how the new provisions in the Bill work in practice. In essence, we are saying that a person who is sent to prison for 15 or 20 years for having committed a serious crime, such as manslaughter, rape or armed robbery, will serve half the sentence. As the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pointed out, if the mandatory life sentence is abolished, it is still open to the courts to impose a life sentence. I strongly suspect—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary enunciated this point—that, in practice, judges will impose a fixed term, rather than a life sentence. That will mean that the criminal will serve only half his sentence.

I joined the police just after the murders in Shepherd's Bush. I share the disappointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that the 30-year sentence became only a 25-year sentence, but I do not for one moment believe that judges these days would impose a 50-year sentence. That idea does not stand up. Until we have seen how the arrangements in part II work in practice, we should not go so far as to abolish the mandatory sentence.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the hon. Gentleman turn his mind to a point repeatedly made not by woolly-minded readers of The Guardian but by Law Lords? The Law Lords said that the mandatory sentence was blunting the edge of the deterrent, because it was assumed in popular fiction that every sentence was the same and that it turned out to be nine or 10 years. They believed that what was really needed as a deterrent was a series of headlines stating, "Policeman's killer sentenced to prison for 25 years." The Law Lords thought that the mandatory argument was working in the other direction.

Mr. Greenway

I should have thought that potential murderers of police officers would see the publicity surrounding the release of John Witney after serving 25 years. I should have thought that potential murderers would hear the message from the House—certainly from Conservative Members—that that is the minimum term that we would expect murderers of police officers to serve.

Those of us who wish to reverse the decision made by their Lordships believe that there is a greater certainty that murderers will serve long sentences if the mandatory life sentence is maintained rather than abolished.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I do not intend keeping the House long. This has been an interesting debate. Having read the proceedings in Standing Committee and in the other place, I do not know whether, if I were in my old job as a university teacher and were marking the debate out of 100, the score would be better in the other place than in this House, but I suspect that it would be.

Two important principles have come out of the debate. The Government have fallen into some confusion because they have no consistent principle in this complicated matter. Once one gives up pursuing a consistent principle in this matter, one loses one's way. The principle of what goes on in our judicial system was thoroughly discussed in the other place by people involved in the sentencing process.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) put his finger on the point, referring to four essential principles. He was challenged to say why he did not introduce this change when he was a member of the Labour Cabinet. He was right to say that one does not start where one wants to stop. During the past 15 years, there has been an interesting change in the attitude of influential people in our judicial system—at one end, the judicial lobby and, at the other, the justices and those who represent them in the other place.

There has been an important change in thinking. It has taken a long time for that to happen. Labour Members believe that time is important. We have had 15 years of well-informed debate on this matter, with committee of inquiry after committee of inquiry. Many people at the highest levels of the judiciary have changed their minds in the light of experience. As we pointed out consistently in Standing Committee, most people with some expertise in this matter believe that it is time for a change. If the Lords amendment is reversed, an opportunity will have been missed.

Some people, including the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), have talked about the views that will be expressed in the pubs and clubs. We believe that it is important to listen to those views in addition to those of the people involved in the judicial system, but at the end of the day, we must judge, and our judgment is that the country wants an effective deterrent. What the judiciary wants matches what the men and women in the pubs and clubs want. In other words, they want an effective deterrent.

It has become clear from the debate in another place and from the many committees of inquiry that, if the same mandatory penalty were passed for all crimes of murder, the whole issue of deterrence and the whole range of murders would be confused. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) clearly stated, we feel very strongly that the wicked men who shoot policeman should receive the sentence that they deserve, but there is a difference between such murders and other murders. If the penalty is used right across the board and if the same sentence is given to, at the one extreme, the wicked men who shot three policemen in Shepherd's Bush and, at the other extreme, to the agonised spouse who, at the end of his or her tether, helps his or her partner to die, it will make the deterrent ineffective.

I refer to two hon. Members—

Mr. Hind

The hon. Gentleman referred to what he believed to be the view of people in the pubs and clubs. Does he agree that the man in the street understands that if a bank robber tries to shoot his way out of a corner and kills a police officer, that bank robber knows that he will receive a life sentence and probably more? That is the simple message. The bank robber will receive not merely a life sentence, but probably a recommendation to go with it. The bank robber understands that and will think about it when he has his finger on the trigger.

Mr. Sheerman

That issue is interesting in itself, but it has nothing to do with the debate.

We are not arguing against having a life sentence for the wicked people who perpetrate the crime that the hon. Member for Lancashire, West describes. We want a mandatory life sentence for such an evil deed. However, I wish to refer to the hon. Gentleman's speech.

Another principle that we pursued in judging whether to accept the amendment was that it should not be the job of the Executive to make the decisions or to interfere with the decisions which are properly those of the judiciary. If I remember correctly, the hon. Gentleman said at the end of his speech that there was one issue on which he disagreed with the Home Secretary although he would go dutifully into the Division Lobby at the appropriate time. The hon. Gentleman said that sentences should be determined by judges, not by Ministers. That was the whole point of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook—that, at the moment, the Executive has a very dubious role in these cases.

It has been made clear in the debates in another place —and former Home Secretaries have also been candid about this issue—that it is not the Home Secretary who makes the important decision, but a junior Minister. It is not a junior Minister who has read all the proceedings of the trial, but one who perhaps has a little help from an appropriate civil servant. It is not a Minister who has been briefed or who has read the ramifications of the case. We know what happens and we know that justice is not being done in such cases.

5.45 pm

I refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). If, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, the hon. Gentleman's speech holed the Government ship beneath the waterline, surely that of the hon. Member for Lancashire, West blew away the main mast. The hon. Member for Uxbridge made an important point. He said that the Police Federation had changed its mind, and that is an important decision. I know that Conservative Members do not like that, because they prefer the Police Federation to agree with the broad thrust of their policies. It was the particular case of three policemen who were murdered in a ghastly way about 26 years ago which made the federation realise the problems of having the Executive —a Minister—interfering with what should be left to judges. We may want judges to make specific recommendations of very long, determined sentences for people such as the Shepherd's Bush murderers. That would seem to be the logic of our position and there is nothing wrong with that. We shall defend that logic and, in this instance, we believe that the Police Federation's change of mind shows eminent good sense.

We believe that ideas have changed and that there is now a consensus, not a party-political consensus but one of informed people who believe that the time has come to change the law. We have had a good debate, and there was an excellent one in another place. The Government would be shirking their responsibilities in their duties to the country and to the criminal justice system if they did not, at this late stage, change their mind and support the amendment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that we have had a good debate. We have discussed several issues, including the part played by the Home Secretary and by Ministers in the decisions on the length of time that people will spend in custody and the length of time that they will spend out of custody but still on life sentences.

My first point relates to an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Of course the sentence should be passed by the judge. It is the judge who makes the decision, following and acting on the mandatory penalty set out by Parliament that the crime of murder requires a life sentence. At that point, the case goes to Ministers for them to consider the proportions of the sentence to be spent in custody and those which will be spent on licence.

We also considered the Home Secretary's decisions and discretions and his accountability to Parliament for those decisions. Opposition Members seem to find that accountability difficult to comprehend.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on, give way."] Not at all. I want to develop my argument a little longer, if I may. The hon. Gentleman has entered the Chamber only recently and has not sat throughout the debate. It would be courteous for me to take the opportunity to answer some of the points made by my hon. Friends. I do not feel that I shall be tempted to allow the hon. Gentleman's interventions.

As I said earlier, one of the most important aspects of the decisions that are taken by the Home Secretary is that he is ultimately accountable to the public. We have heard a great deal about the public's view of the way in which murder is treated and about the way in which the judgments passed by the courts and by the Home Secretary act as a deterrent against more people committing the crime of murder. If Parliament is representative of the people and speaks for them, surely the Home Secretary, who is charged with the keeping of good order and with ensuring that good order is seen to be kept, is also held to be accountable for his decisions about the length of time that different types of murderers serve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), in his capacity as spokesman for the Police Federation, rightly pointed to the recent release of Mr. Witney. Mr. Witney has served 25 years of imprisonment for committing a heinous crime. The crime of killing police is considered heinous by all Members of the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Huddersfield and, I suspect, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), endorse that view, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. No one wants people who commit the crime of killing police to be treated other than with the most serious commitment to custody. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that we consider a sentence of 20 years to be the very minimum.

The decision on the case was taken after consultation by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with the Lord Chief Justice. In 1985, Sir Leon Brittan decided, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, that a distinction could be drawn between Witney, who did not fire any shots, and his two co-defendants, who did. The decision to release Witney is based on the advice of the Parole Board that he no longer presents a risk to the public. The risk factor is the cogent factor in the decision making of Ministers or of the Home Secretary about the point at which a person has served the length of time that is suitable as retribution. The remaining issue to be decided is whether the person presents a risk to the public if he is released.

Mr. Archer

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would allow me to continue, because I have one more point to make about the importance of murder.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) summed up the position well. I find it difficult to accept the notion that one can distinguish between one murder and another. I understand the difficulties that people have, because some murders are premeditated, and are especially ghastly and horrific. For other murders, there may be reasons for saying that one could think more kindly of the person who committed the crime. Essentially, human beings do not have the right to take the life of another person. We have never decided that that is the case. I seriously suggest that, when Opposition Members try to distinguish between one type of murder and another, they do no great service to the general public's view that murder is a serious crime which should attract the most serious penalty—life imprisonment.

Our debate has been interesting. I say to hon. Members who have argued that we should accept the amendment that it would not be a wise move for the House at present if we take seriously into consideration the feelings of the general public about the importance of having clear signals of deterrence for the worst crimes that can be committed by people against others. I for one hope that we shall retain the present system which allows my right hon. Friend and any future Home Secretary the right to take the decision for which he and he alone is accountable to the democratically elected House of Commons.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 236, Noes 158.

Division No. 191] [5.55 pm
Adley, Robert Freeman, Roger
Alison, Rt Hon Michael French, Douglas
Allason, Rupert Fry, Peter
Amos, Alan Gale, Roger
Arbuthnot, James Gardiner, Sir George
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Gill, Christopher
Ashby, David Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Aspinwall, Jack Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Atkins, Robert Goodlad, Alastair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Batiste, Spencer Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gregory, Conal
Benyon, W. Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Ground, Patrick
Biffen, Rt Hon John Grylls, Michael
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hague, William
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Boswell, Tim Hampson, Dr Keith
Bottomley, Peter Hannam, John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bowis, John Harris, David
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hayward, Robert
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brazier, Julian Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bright, Graham Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hill, James
Buck, Sir Antony Hind, Kenneth
Burns, Simon Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Burt, Alistair Hordern, Sir Peter
Butcher, John Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Butler, Chris Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Carrington, Matthew Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carttiss, Michael Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cash, William Irvine, Michael
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Irving, Sir Charles
Chapman, Sydney Jack, Michael
Chope, Christopher Janman, Tim
Churchill, Mr Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Conway, Derek Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Kilfedder, James
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Cran, James Kirkhope, Timothy
Currie, Mrs Edwina Knapman, Roger
Curry, David Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knox, David
Day, Stephen Latham, Michael
Devlin, Tim Lawrence, Ivan
Dorrell, Stephen Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Dover, Den Lightbown, David
Dunn, Bob Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Durant, Sir Anthony Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Dykes, Hugh McCrindle, Sir Robert
Eggar, Tim Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Emery, Sir Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Evennett, David Maclean, David
Fallon, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Favell, Tony McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Madel, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Malins, Humfrey
Fookes, Dame Janet Maples, John
Forman, Nigel Marland, Paul
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Marlow, Tony
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Fox, Sir Marcus Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Franks, Cecil Maude, Hon Francis
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Squire, Robin
Mills, Iain Stanbrook, Ivor
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mitchell, Sir David Steen, Anthony
Moate, Roger Stern, Michael
Morrison, Sir Charles Stevens, Lewis
Moss, Malcolm Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mudd, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Neale, Sir Gerrard Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Nelson, Anthony Stokes, Sir John
Neubert, Sir Michael Sumberg, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Summerson, Hugo
Nicholls, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norris, Steve Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Paice, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Thornton, Malcolm
Patten, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Pawsey, James Townend, John (Bridlington)
Porter, David (Waveney) Tracey, Richard
Price, Sir David Trippier, David
Raffan, Keith Twinn, Dr Ian
Rhodes James, Sir Robert Viggers, Peter
Riddick, Graham Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Waller, Gary
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Watts, John
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Wells, Bowen
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wheeler, Sir John
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Whitney, Ray
Sayeed, Jonathan Widdecombe, Ann
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Jerry
Shaw, David (Dover) Wilkinson, John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wilshire, David
Shelton, Sir William Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Michael Wood, Timothy
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tellers for the Ayes:
Soames, Hon Nicholas Mr. Tom Sackville and
Speller, Tony Mr. Irvine Patrick.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Allen, Graham Dalyell, Tam
Anderson, Donald Darling, Alistair
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Armstrong, Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dixon, Don
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Dobson, Frank
Beckett, Margaret Doran, Frank
Bell, Stuart Duffy, Sir A. E. P.
Bellotti, David Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Eadie, Alexander
Bermingham, Gerald Eastham, Ken
Blunkett, David Edwards, Huw
Boateng, Paul Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Boyes, Roland Fatchett, Derek
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fearn, Ronald
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Callaghan, Jim Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Flynn, Paul
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Foster, Derek
Canavan, Dennis Foulkes, George
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Fyfe, Maria
Carr, Michael Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clelland, David Gordon, Mildred
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gould, Bryan
Cohen, Harry Graham, Thomas
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Corbett, Robin Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cox, Tom Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Crowther, Stan Grist, Ian
Cryer, Bob Hain, Peter
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy O'Neill, Martin
Haynes, Frank Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Patchett, Terry
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Pike, Peter L.
Henderson, Doug Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Primarolo, Dawn
Hood, Jimmy Quin, Ms Joyce
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Radice, Giles
Howells, Geraint Randall, Stuart
Hoyle, Doug Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Richardson, Jo
Janner, Greville Robinson, Geoffrey
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Rooker, Jeff
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rowlands, Ted
Kirkwood, Archy Ruddock, Joan
Leadbitter, Ted Sedgemore, Brian
Leighton, Ron Sheerman, Barry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Livingstone, Ken Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Livsey, Richard Short, Clare
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Skinner, Dennis
Loyden, Eddie Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum A. Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
McKelvey, William Spearing, Nigel
McLeish, Henry Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Maclennan, Robert Strang, Gavin
McMaster, Gordon Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Madden, Max Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Marek, Dr John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Wallace, James
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Walley, Joan
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Martlew, Eric Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Maxton, John Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Meacher, Michael Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Meale, Alan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Winnick, David
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Worthington, Tony
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Mullin, Chris Tellers for the Noes:
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie and
O'Brien, William Mr. Thomas McAvoy.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 44 disagreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 45, after clause 22, to insert the following new clause—Court's duty on passing sentence of life imprisonment

  1. " .—(1) Where a court sentences a person to imprisonment for life it shall state in open court—
    1. (a) its reasons for passing that sentence; and
    2. (b) the sentence of imprisonment the court would have passed ("the penal term") if it had not been open to it to pass a sentence of imprisonment for life and it had not taken into account the risk of serious harm to the public if the offender were to be released after a determinate number of years' imprisonment.
  2. (2) The penal term shall be subject to appeal against sentence in the same manner as the sentence of imprisonment for life actually passed on the offender."

Mrs. Rumbold

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments in lieu of the Lords amendment: (a) a new clause—Duty to release discretionary life prisoners

  1. `.—(1) A life prisoner is a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of this Part if
    1. (a) his sentence was imposed for a violent or sexual offence the sentence for which is not fixed by law; and
    2. 898
    3. (b) the court by which he was sentenced for that offence ordered that this section should apply to him as soon as he had served a part of his sentence specified in the order.
  2. (2) A part of a sentence so specified shall be such part as the court considers appropriate taking into account—
    1. (a) the seriousness of the offence, or the combination of the offence and other offences associated with it; and
    2. (b) the provisions of this section as compared with those of section 27(2) above and section 28(1) below.
  3. (3) As soon as, in the case of a discretionary life prisoner—
    1. (a) he has served the part of his sentence specified in the order ("the relevant part"); and
    2. (b) the Board has directed his release under this section, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, subject to subsection (7) below, to release him on licence.
  4. (4) The Board shall not give a direction under subsection (3) above with respect to a discretionary life prisoner unless—
    1. (a) the Secretary of State has referred the prisoner's case to the Board; and
    2. (b) the Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined.
  5. (5) A discretionary life prisoner may require the Secretary of State to refer his case to the Board any time—
    1. (a) after he has served the relevant part of his sentence; and
    2. (b) where there has been a previous reference of his case to the Board, after the end of the period of two years beginning with the disposal of that reference; and
    3. (c) where he is also serving a sentence of imprisonment for a term, after he has served one-half of that sentence;
    and in this subsection "previous reference" means a reference under subsection (4) above or section 32(4) below made after the prisoner had served the relevant part of his sentence.
  6. (6) In determining for the purpose of subsection (3) or (5) above whether a discretionary life prisoner has served the relevant part of his sentence, no account shall be taken of any time during which he was unlawfully at large within the meaning of section 49 of the Prison Act 1952 ("the 1952 Act").
  7. (7) The Secretary of State may defer a prisoner's release under this section for a period not exceeding six months if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify such a deferment in the public interest.
  8. (8) In this Part "life prisoner" means a person serving one or more sentences of life imprisonment; but—
    1. (a) a person serving two or more such sentences shall not be treated as a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of this Part unless the requirements of subsection (1) above are satisfied as respects each of those sentences; and
    2. (b) subsections (3) and (5) above shall not apply in relation to such a person until after he has served the relevant part of each of those sentences.'

(b), a new clause—Life prisoners transferred to England and Wales

  1. `.—(1) This section applies where, in the case of a transferred life prisoner, the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, certifies his opinion that, if—
    1. (a) he had been sentenced for his offence in England and Wales after the commencement of section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) above; and
    2. (b) the reference in subsection (1)(a) of that section to a violent or sexual offence the sentence for which is not fixed by law were a reference to any offence the sentence for which is not so fixed,
    the court by which he was so sentenced would have ordered that that section should apply to him as soon as he had served a part of his sentence specified in the certificate.
  2. (2) In a case to which this section applies, this Part except section 28(2) above shall apply as if—
  3. 899
    1. (a) the transferred life prisoner were a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of this Part; and
    2. (b) the relevant part of his sentence within the meaning of section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) of this Act were the part specified in the certificate.
  4. (3) In this section "transferred life prisoner" means a person—
    1. (a) on whom a court in a country or territory outside England and Wales has imposed one or more sentences of imprisonment or detention for an indeterminate period; and
    2. (b) who has been transferred to England and Wales, in pursuance of—
      1. (i) an order made by the Secretary of State under section 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 or section 2 of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act 1884; or
      2. (ii) a warrant issued by the Secretary of State under the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984,
      there to serve his sentence or sentences or the remainder of his sentence or sentences.
      • (4) A person who is required so to serve the whole or part of two or more such sentences shall not be treated as a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of this Part unless the requirements of subsection (1) above are satisfied as respects each of those sentences; and subsections (3) and (5) of section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) above shall not apply in relation to such a person until after he has served the relevant part of each of those sentences.'
    3. (c), in clause 26, page 20, line 10, leave out 'discharges functions' and insert 'makes recommendations'.
    4. (d), in page 20, line 14, leave out `(4)' and insert 'and'.
    5. (e), in page 20, line 17, at end insert—
      • '(4) The Board shall deal with cases as respects which it gives directions under this Part on consideration of all such evidence as may be adduced before it.'
    6. (f), in page 20, line 24, leave out 'making any recommendations' and insert 'discharging any functions'.
    7. (g), in page 20, line 31, leave out subsection (7).
    8. (h), in clause 30, page 22, line 6, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
      1. '(5) The Secretary of State shall not include on release, or subsequently insert, a condition in the licence of a long-term or life prisoner, or vary or cancel any such condition, except—
        1. (a) in the case of the inclusion of a condition in the licence of a discretionary life prisoner, in accordance with recommendations of the Board; and
        2. (b) in any other case, after consultation with the Board.'
    9. (i), in clause 32, page 23, line 5, leave out from ("Where") to end of line 7 and insert
    10. 'on a reference under subsection (4) above the Board—
      1. (a) directs in the case of a discretionary life prisoner; or
      2. (b) recommends in the case of any other person, his immediate release on licence under this section, the Secretary of State shall give effect to the direction or recommendation.'
    11. (j), in clause 35, page 24, line 14, leave out 'the Prison Act 1952'.
    12. (k), in clause 37, page 25, line 15, leave out `directe' and insert 'ordered'.
    13. (l), in page 25, line 19, leave out subsection (2).
    14. (m), in clause 41, page 27, line 11, leave out from `above' to end of line 19 and insert
      • 'in subsection (5)(a) after the words "in the case or there shall be inserted the words "the licence of a long-term prisoner or", and subsection (6) shall be omitted.'
    15. (n), in clause 42, page 27, line 26, at end insert—

'discretionary life prisoner" has the meaning given by section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) above (as extended by section 36(2) above;'.

  1. (p), in page 27, line 27, leave out `28(4)' and insert (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners)(8)'.
  2. (q), in page 27, line 35, at end insert—

'sexual offence" and "violent offence" have the same meanings as in Part I of this Act.'

  1. (o), in page 27, line 39, at end insert—
  2. (r), in page 27, line 39, at end insert—
  3. (s), in schedule 10, page 90, line 26, at end insert—