HC Deb 15 January 1997 vol 288 cc422-9

Amendments made: No. 29, in page 68, line 43, column 3, at end insert— 'In section 42(1), the words "or section 62 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967".'. No. 30, in page 68, line 44, column 3, at beginning insert— 'In section 37(4), the words "in the event of such an order being made by the court".'.[Mr. Maclean.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time—[Mr. Howard.]

9.44 pm
Mr. Beith

The Bill is an attempt at the general deception of the public. The prison system has no affect on most crimes. Most are undetected and most offences do not, and will not, following the passage of the Bill, result in a prison sentence.

Prison is essential for some offenders, but its record for rehabilitation does not lead one to believe that the placing of the maximum possible number of people in prison will lead to fewer crimes—indeed, quite the contrary. The Bill requires 11,000 more people—perhaps many more; that is the Government's estimate—to be put in an already overcrowded prison system, at a cost, according to Government figures, of £1.2 billion. Many estimate that the additional prison building programme will cost more.

There is no provision in the public finances for that expenditure, which leads me to believe, as I said earlier, that the Government are not serious about bringing all the provisions of the Bill into force. The Minister of State said earlier that the provisions would be brought into force as resources allowed. We know what that means—that the resources are not likely to be found and the Bill is an exercise in trying to convince the public that the Government are being tough when the money is not there to do it. If the money is found, it will be at the expense of the rest of the Home Office budget, much of which goes on policing and the prevention of crime. As a result, more crimes will be committed.

Labour Members seem prepared to go along with most of that. They have probed the details of the Bill and sought amendments to some parts of it, but they appear committed to the main principle of mandatory sentencing and must therefore be committed to the cost implications that I have described. They were not willing—

Mr. Straw

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks with care. He was not a member of the Standing Committee—nor was I—and he was also not present on Monday, as far as I remember, when we had an interesting debate about sentencing policies in different parts of the country. Is he aware that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) brought to the attention of the House the fact that in Hereford, where he sat as a recorder, there were much tougher sentences? He accepted that that contributed towards Hereford being a more orderly area than some others.

Mr. Beith

I am aware of my hon. and learned Friend's speech. I enjoyed his references to sheep stealing in particular, which is a problem in my part of the country. He certainly did not commit himself to the scale of sentencing and imprisonment implicit in the Bill, which the Labour party appears to support. A little earlier this evening, we had a debate about whether the principle that the courts should have at their disposal when considering whether to apply a mandatory sentence should be a narrow one or a wider one, to serve the interests of justice. The Labour party could not even bring itself to support the amendment, even though some Conservative Members, such as the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), voted for it. Labour Members have run away from the issue. If they get into the habit of standing on their heads, they may find that they cannot get back on their feet.

9.47 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I should like to place on record briefly exchanges that I have had with my hon. Friend the Minister about the Bill. Those exchanges concern Adam Dent, the son of a constituent of mine, who has suffered a grave injustice at the hands of the law and the press.

Adam Dent, a 15-year-old student of chemistry at Oxford—something of a prodigy—was publicly accused of the attempted rape of a fellow student. Subsequently, the Crown Prosecution Service decided, on the basis of his age, his previous good character and the nature of the evidence, that no charge was to be brought against him.

Meanwhile, however, the accusations—and Adam Dent's name—were bandied about freely in the press. Delays by the Crown Prosecution Service meant that there was plenty of time to spread his alleged crimes far and wide. The Daily Mail, for example, did a centre-page spread. As a direct result of exposure to allegations, on which the Crown Prosecution Service later decided not to prosecute, it became impossible for Adam to continue with his studies at Oxford. For a gifted student, this was a double tragedy. He was fortunate in having determined and articulate parents to protect his interests. That is not the case for everyone.

It was possible for the press to behave in that fashion because of a technical loophole in the law. I shall not take up the House's time with the details, but paradoxically and scandalously, it is possible to name an alleged juvenile offender who was subsequently not charged. Guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers advises police officers not to name individuals under investigation. However, that does not prevent anyone else from speaking to the media.

Meanwhile, the woman concerned received the full protection of the 1988 Act and can never be named. Obviously, I am in favour of that protection. I have no means of assessing whether her complaint was brought in good faith or whether it was to any extent malicious. Either way, she—an adult—was protected, whereas Adam—a juvenile who had not been charged—was not.

The case relates to the Bill in the following way: when I drew the injustice to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister, he recognised the need to close the loophole in the law and undertook to do so. I am grateful to him for that and for his co-operation on the matter. However, it was subsequently decided that it would be difficult to do so in the Bill as it concerns sentencing.

I need hardly add that my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Dent, are disappointed. They had been pressing for a change in the law not so much for the sake of their own son—it being rather too late to redress his grievance—as for others who might be caught in the same trap. Meanwhile, their son remains exposed to innuendo and misleading reporting. Incidentally, it is with the family's agreement that I have named Adam Dent in the House tonight in the hope of making it clear beyond any doubt that no charges were ever brought against the boy. I hope that the press will continue to exercise some restraint about naming him or identifying him in any way.

Ideally, I should like the Bill to include the legislation that the Minister agrees is necessary to prevent identification of juveniles before charge. That cannot be done for technical reasons and I wish to place on public record his assurance, for which I am grateful, that the Government will introduce legislation as soon as a suitable opportunity arises.

It is appalling to think that any rape case might be hushed up, but it is equally appalling to think that the good name of any young man anywhere could at any time be ruined on the affirmation of any woman, even if he is never charged while she rightly enjoys lifelong protection. I am not concerned with sexual politics, simply with the scope for patent injustice as the law stands.

9.52 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

I agree with every word of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). I introduced a ten-minute Bill in 1995 to provide for anonymity for defendants in rape cases. Like my hon. Friend, I thought it a gross injustice that an accused man should have his name plastered all over the press before being acquitted. After I introduced that Bill, I was approached by Mrs. Irene Jackson, whose son Mark was accused of rape. He was acquitted, but he could not live with the shame and he hanged himself. I do not wish that to happen to any other young man. I have discussed the matter several times with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. This is outside the scope of the Bill.

9.53 pm
Mr. Straw

As I made clear in answer to the Home Secretary's statement on 3 April 1996, we have never disputed the overall aim of the Bill, which is to ensure more consistency, progression and honesty in sentencing. However, we have challenged the methods and the justice and practicality of those methods in some areas of the law.

The proposals in the Bill for more honesty in sentencing have been improved in Committee. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) among others for securing that improvement. None the less, we have yet to be convinced that the Minister's method for achieving honesty in sentencing is more effective and understandable than our simpler alternative.

We have made it clear that we support the principle of indeterminate life sentences for repeat rapists and others. The Secretary of State must, however, accept that the only thing that will be automatic for those sentences is the label attached to them. The length of the tariff to be served will be set by the trial judge, and as the Minister of State made clear in Committee, that will be within the "complete discretion" of the trial judge. The decision about the release date after the tariff has been served will be made by the Parole Board on the basis of whether it would be safe to release.

We have had a dispute about the total list of trigger offences. The objections that we have raised in respect of section 18 wounding are serious, and Ministers ought to think again about it. In my judgment, the net effect of including section 18 wounding will be more downgrading of the charge to section 20 and fewer people being convicted of the former significant charge.

On minimum determinate sentences, the Bill's propositions are a far cry from those in the Home Secretary's conference speech in 1995. Then, he refused to admit that there would be exceptions. As the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) said in 1991 and since then, once there are exceptions the character of automaticity is changed. Indeed, that is very much so. The Home Secretary knows that, if serious injustice arises from rigidity in the system, British juries will simply not convict, and guilty people will walk free.

We have not been impressed by the way in which Ministers have sought to hide behind the doctrine of Pepper v. Hart and, as it were, pass the parcel of what will be included, in exceptional circumstances, back to the Court of Appeal. Ministers ought to have been very much more explicit about what they had in mind when they agreed to the phrase. That will no doubt be explored in the other place.

The Secretary of State asked me on Monday what our overall approach would be to the Bill. As I said then, we shall make our final decisions when the Bill is in its final form, which will be when it has been through the other place. At present, it is a moving, shifting target. It has been changed in Committee and may well change again. We are not going to block its Third Reading. The Minister of State is well aware of the constructive approach that we took to the Bill in Committee.

Even on the Secretary of State's wildly optimistic assumptions about public spending, many of the Bill's proposals cannot come into force in practice until 2001. Meanwhile, the Government have to recognise that, despite the fact that this is the 34th criminal justice Bill to be introduced in the past 18 years, crime has doubled, convictions are falling and a party that was elected on a manifesto to create greater law and better order 18 years ago has presided over the greatest epidemic of crime and disorder that this country has ever seen.

9.57 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

It may just about be comprehensible that the Labour party will not come to a final view on the Bill's proposals until the Bill has completed its passage through the other place, but what we completely fail to understand is why it cannot come to a view today on the Bill as it stands at present, having just about completed its passage through this House. There is no mystery about the Bill's form, its content or the proposals that the Government have placed in it. It is absolutely extraordinary that, after all the words that have been used in arguing about the proposals, we still do not know the principal Opposition party's position. It says, "Wait and see."

I suppose that such a reaction is in itself something of an improvement from the Labour party's initial reaction to the proposals. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) described the proposals as ill thought through and ill-considered; the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) described them as daft; the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) described them as a farce. They have moved—I suppose—some way since then.

The Bill substantially reinforces not only the power but the duty of the courts in sentencing serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. The mandatory penalties at the heart of our proposals are carefully targeted at crimes of particular concern to the public: serious violent and sexual offences, domestic burglary and dealing in hard drugs.

Our proposals for honesty in sentencing will restore credibility to the court's sentence and ensure proper supervision after the offender is released. The Bill will provide more flexible and effective community penalties and new powers for the courts when dealing with mentallydisordered and juvenile offenders. Most importantly, the Bill will provide protection and reassurance for the public and thereby help to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 21.

Division No. 41] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Eggar, Tim
Alexander, Richard Elletson, Harold
Alison, Michael (Selby) Emery, Sir Peter
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Amess, David Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Arbuthnot, James Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Atkins, Robert Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Faber, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fabricant, Michael
Baldry, Tony Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bates, Michael Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Batiste, Spencer Fishburn, Dudley
Beggs, Roy Forman, Nigel
Bellingham, Henry Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bendall, Vivian Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Beresford, Sir Paul Forth, Eric
Bitten, John Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Booth, Hartley Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Boswell, Tim Freeman, Roger
Bowis, John French, Douglas
Brandreth, Gyles Gallie, Phil
Brazier, Julian Gardiner, Sir George
Bright, Sir Graham Gamier, Edward
Brooke, Peter Gill, Christopher
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Browning, Mrs Angela Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Budgen, Nicholas Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Burns, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Sir Archibald
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Peter Hargreaves, Andrew
Butterfill, John Harris, David
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Hawkins, Nick
Carrington, Matthew Hawksley, Warren
Carttiss, Michael Heald, Oliver
Channon, Paul Heathcoat-Amory, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney Higgins, Sir Terence
Churchill, Mr Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Clappison, James Horam, John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hordern, Sir Peter
Coe, Sebastian Howard, Michael
Colvin, Michael Howell, David (Guildf'd)
Congdon, David Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Conway, Derek Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunter, Andrew
Cope, Sir John Hurd, Douglas
Couchman, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)
Curry, David Jessel, Toby
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd) Jones, Robert B (W Herts)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jopling, Michael
Day, Stephen King, Tom
Deva, Nirj Joseph Kirkhope, Timothy
Devlin, Tim Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knox, Sir David
Dover, Den Kynoch, George
Duncan Smith, lain Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Dunn, Bob Lang, Ian
Dykes, Hugh Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Legg, Barry Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Leigh, Edward Shersby, Sir Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Sims, Sir Roger
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lilley, Peter Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Spencer, Sir Derek
MacGregor, John Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew Spink, Dr Robert
Maclean, David Spring, Richard
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sproat, Iain
Maitland, Lady Olga Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Malone, Gerald Stanley, Sir John
Mans, Keith Stephen, Michael
Mariow, Tony Stem, Michael
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Allan
Merchant, Piers Streeter, Gary
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Sweeney, Walter
Moate, Sir Roger Tapsell, Sir Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Sir Teddy
Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Sir Michael Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Newton, Tony Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholls, Patrick Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Onslow, Sir Cranley Townsend, Sir Cyril (Bexlyhth)
Oppenheim, Phillip Tracey, Richard
Ottaway, Richard Tredinnick, David
Page, Richard Trend, Michael
Paice, James Trotter, Neville
Patnick, Sir Irvine Twinn, Dr Ian
Patten, John Viggers, Peter
Pattie, Sir Geoffrey Waldegrave, William
Pawsey, James Walden, George
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pickles, Eric Waller, Gary
Porter, David Waterson, Nigel
Powell, William (Corby) Watts, John
Rathbone, Tim Wells, Bowen
Redwood, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Richards, Rod Whittingdale, John
Riddick, Graham Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Robathan, Andrew Wilkinson, John
Roberts, Sir Wyn Willetts, David
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S) Wilshire, David
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Rowe, Andrew Wolfson, Mark
Rumbold, Dame Angela Wood, Timothy
Sackville, Tom Tellers for the Ayes:
Shaw, David (Dover) Mr. Roger Knapman and
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd) Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.
Alton, David Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Ashdown, Paddy Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Berth, A J Rendel, David
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Skinner, Dennis
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Steel, Sir David
Dafis, Cynog Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Davies, Chris (Littleborough) Thurnham, Peter
Foster, Don (Bath) Tyler, Paul
Harvey, Nick Wallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Tellers for the Noes:
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S) Mr. Archy Kirkwood and
Maddock, Mrs Diana Mr. Elfyn Llwyd.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is obvious that the Crime (Sentences) Bill is leaving this House with a magnificent majority of 208. I hope that it would meet with the approval of everyone here if the House further along the Corridor did not interfere with the conclusions of this House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Although the House will admire the mathematics of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that was not a point of order.

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