HC Deb 08 July 1999 vol 334 cc1204-34

'.—(1) This section applies where a youth court or other magistrates' court is dealing with a person under the age of 18 for an offence for which a custodial sentence is available and—

  1. (a) neither the offence nor any associated offence is one for which the sentence is fixed by law;
  2. (b) the court is not, in respect of the offence or any associated offence, proposing to impose a custodial sentence on the offender or make a hospital order in his case;
  3. (c) the court is not proposing to impose a fine; and
  4. (d) the court is not proposing to impose a conditional discharge.

(2) If the referral conditions are satisfied in accordance with subsection (3) and referral is available to the court, the court shall order the offender to be referred to a youth offender panel.

(3) The referral conditions are satisfied if the offender pleaded guilty to the offence or any associated offence and has never been convicted by or before a court in the United Kingdom of any offence other than the offence and any associated offence.

(4) For the purposes of this section referral is available to a court if—

  1. (a) the court has been notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements for the implementation of referral orders are available in the area in which it appears to the court that the offender resides or will reside; and
  2. (b) the notice has not been withdrawn.

(5) In this Part "referral order" means an order under subsection (2).

(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such amendments of this section as he considers appropriate for altering in any way the descriptions of offenders in the case of which the referral conditions fall to be satisfied for the purposes of subsection (3).

(7) Any description of offender having effect for those purposes by virtue of such regulations may be framed by reference to such matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, including (in particular) one or more of the following—

  1. (a) the offender's age;
  2. (b) how the offender has pleaded;
  3. (c) the offence (or offences) of which the offender has been convicted;
  4. (d) the offender's previous convictions (if any);
  5. (e) how (if at all) the offender has been previously punished or otherwise dealt with by any court;
  6. (f) any characteristics or behaviour of, or circumstances relating to, any person who has at any time been charged in the same proceedings as the offender (whether or not in respect of the same offence); and
  7. (g) whether the offender has previously been subject to a referral order.

(8) For the purposes of this section an offender who has been convicted of an offence in respect of which he was conditionally discharged (whether by a court in England and Wales or in Northern Ireland) shall be treated, despite—

  1. (a) section 1C(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 (conviction of offence for which offender so discharged deemed not a conviction), or
  2. (b) Article 6(1) of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (corresponding provision for Northern Ireland),

as having been convicted of that offence'.—[Mr. Greenway.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.10 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out Clauses 1 and 2.

No. 12, in page 1, line 16, at end insert— '(d) the court is not proposing to impose a conditional discharge.'.

Mr. Greenway

Part I introduces a new sentence for young offenders of referral to a youth offender panel. Panels will be established by the youth offender teams which owe their existence to the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The purpose of the panel is to draw up a programme of reparation, rehabilitation and, where appropriate, reintegration, aimed at addressing the young person's offending behaviour with a view to preventing him or her from reoffending in future.

I am glad to see the Home Secretary here. We support the concept of the referral order and believe that, properly resourced and constituted, youth offender panels have the potential to provide a more structured and coherent programme of support and reparation for a young offender than has been the usual experience with the generality of community sentences.

In Committee we highlighted some important elements where we have some disagreement with the Government about the way in which the new sentencing option is being introduced. New clause 1 offers a better framework and structure for the introduction of this important initiative, the genesis for which lies in much of the work of the last Government and taken forward by this Government, than the Government scheme. In addition and so that we can get the maximum out of this afternoon's debate, new clause 1 addresses all the important elements that were debated in Committee on which there was some disagreement.

The first concern that we addressed was whether this new option should be available only in youth and magistrates courts. We probed the Government to find out why the referral order was not apparently available to the Crown courts. The Government's view is that the number of occasions when a young offender might be dealt with by a Crown court in the circumstances which would allow or might require a referral order are sufficiently few to leave it to the magistrates or youth court to make the referral. A Crown court can send a young offender back to a youth court for that purpose, as required. Although we still believe that this is an unnecessary complication, it is not a key issue for us, so new clause 1 incorporates in the first line the same wording as in the Government scheme, restricting the power to youth and magistrates courts. We are happy to accept and reflect the Government's view on that.

Our most fundamental disagreement remains with the Government's insistence that the referral order should be mandatory, certainly in the first instance, for a first time offender who pleads guilty. We shall come on to the plea of guilty aspect later. We think that it is a mistake for the referral order to be mandatory.

The House will be aware that in another place the mandatory nature of the referral order was changed to provide the court with discretion. In Committee that change was reversed to reinstate the mandatory nature of the referral order. We find it slightly surprising that in the other place Liberal Democrat Members supported the amendment of my noble Friend Lord Windlesham whereas in Committee the Liberal Democrat Member voted against his noble Friends and in support of the Government. We note with some enthusiasm that as in Committee when the Liberal Democrats tabled one amendment, so on Report they have tabled one amendment. As will be clear from new clause 1 we agree that the availability of a conditional discharge to the court in the circumstances would be welcome.

We remain of the view that to make the referral mandatory for first time young offenders is a mistake because these are not the group of offenders for whom mandatory sentences should be thought appropriate. Notwithstanding the fact that these are pilot arrangements, so are capable of adaptation and adjustment in the light of experience, we envisage that a court will frequently have to make a referral order against its better judgment. In all sincerity I suggest to the Home Secretary that that has the prospect of undermining confidence in the scheme. To allow the court virtually no discretion for first-time offenders is bad law and will lead to rough justice and inconsistency.

Even if one accepts the principle of a mandatory referral order, it is questionable whether the conditions which trigger an automatic referral are the right ones or whether they require further thought and adjustment. The key purpose of new clause 1 is to suggest to the Government why we believe that those conditions need some changes in a number of respects. The changes that we think would be appropriate are set out in the new clause.

2.15 pm

First and in many respects most importantly, we need to question the range of offences which a young offender may have committed which would justify a mandatory requirement for the young person to work with a youth offender panel to address his offending behaviour and make reparation. As drafted, the Bill regards any offence as deserving such treatment. I do not know whether the Home Secretary has had time to study the Hansard reports of the Committee which was good natured. Although we had some disagreements it was not one of those Committees where we fought to the wire on many issues. When I pointed out that some offences were less serious and sufficiently minor not to justify a referral, I was asked to suggest one. I outlined the case of a 17-year-old motorist, perhaps about to go to university, of previous good character who drove through a red traffic light or was caught speeding. In a number of circumstances such a young motorist, like any other motorist stopped by the police and told of his transgression, might be given a fixed penalty ticket.

The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), has recently expressed concern about a particularly prevalent minor offence that youngsters are wont to commit, which is cycling on the pavement. I must confess that that offence did not cross my mind. Yesterday, the Minister tabled a statutory instrument, which provides for an on-the-spot fine or fixed penalty notice for the offence of cycling on the footway contrary to section 72 of the Highway Act 1835.

The Minister and the House will know from early-day motion 766 that not all his hon. Friends—indeed, not all of mine either—consider cycling on the pavement to be a punishable offence, let alone punishable with on-the-spot fines. There are as many as 27 signatures to that early-day motion. If we pray against that statutory instrument and there is a vote on it, it will be interesting to see how many of the Minister's hon. Friends vote against it and in support of that early-day motion.

This is good-natured banter, but cycling on the pavement is illegal, and can be dangerous. In response to my suggestion that someone going through a red traffic light should be considered a danger to the rest of society, the Minister said that he could introduce me to the parents of children who had been maimed as a result of such behaviour. I fully accept that, but the House should also reflect on the fact that there is an equal prospect of some young tearaway who cycles on the pavement posing a similar danger. Although some people approve of cycling on the pavement as it is safer for the cyclist, given the state of the traffic on the roads, it can be dangerous for the people on the pavement. I have no qualms about the Minister's intention to give the police an additional power to take action if they think it is required.

Whether the offence is going through a red traffic light, speeding or cycling on the pavement, as the Bill is construed a young offender will pay a fine if the police choose to give him a fixed penalty notice, whereas another offender who commits an identical offence will be summoned to appear in court, whereupon, having pleaded guilty, the magistrate will, under the Bill, have no option but to refer him to a youth offender panel.

To use the expression that an enraged mother in a queue at a passport office used when talking to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) last week, that is completely barmy. How could anyone explain the logic of the system to a young person whose mate gets an on-the-spot fine, whereas for exactly the same offence he is referred for three months to a youth offender panel?

In fairness, under the Bill the court has an alternative: it could grant an absolute discharge. Some magistrates may be persuaded that that is a preferable option. Either way, it will lead to inconsistency in the sentencing of young people. Inconsistency in the administration of justice to young people is, in my experience, the harbinger of grievance, and the harbinger of grievance is the parent of alienation. That is the opposite of what the Government are sensibly trying to do in the Bill, which is to bring young people up short when they have offended. The sentence that they are given for their offence must be appropriate in the circumstances and relevant to their situation.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

I am following my hon. Friend's argument with some interest, because this is not a matter in which I have participated closely in the past. Does he agree that, if persons who have committed the same offence are given different punishments, that could give rise to a potentially objectionable situation under the European convention on human rights?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We debated this issue at some length in Committee. I can only pass on to him the Government's reassurance, which, in all fairness, we are happy to accept, that the Bill complies with all elements of the European convention on human rights. He is right: people have in the past sought redress in the European Court if our law has created an injustice which our courts are unable to address. They will be able to go to our courts when the human rights legislation that the House has passed is fully implemented.

I do not want to labour the point, except to say that it is extraordinary for the Government to expect the House to understand and agree with a sentence for a misdemeanour—not a high crime or serious offence—which will depend on how the young offender is prosecuted. In most cases, the police will not have the slightest idea of the young person's background and whether he is a known troublemaker or has never been in any trouble before.

It is ludicrous to propose that if a young person gets a fixed penalty notice, he must pay an on-the-spot fine, but if, for the same offence, he is required to appear in court, he must be referred to a youth offender panel to address his offending behaviour.

In new clause 1, we provide two entirely sensible solutions. The first is to establish which offences should trigger an automatic referral to a youth offender panel, and which offences could be regarded as less serious. As I said to the Home Secretary, we agree with this disposal. He will remember that, in the debate on Second Reading, I told him that I had visited Boston, Massachusetts with the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee looked into the imaginative way in which they deal with young offenders in Boston, and it was then that I first understood the power and good sense of subjecting young delinquents to a structured programme of reparation and rehabilitation. We are fully on side in that objective. However, if we have to accept, given the Government's majority, that the referral will change back from a discretionary to a mandatory requirement, we have a right and a responsibility to ask the Home Secretary to think again about what offences will justify a mandatory referral.

2.30 pm

We think that the Government's policy is really about dealing with offences that are dishonest, violent or involve other criminal conduct. That is why, in line two of new clause 1, we introduce the phrase an offence for which a custodial sentence is available". The aim is not just to highlight the need for offences to be serious, but to indicate clearly that the breadth of criminal activity, of vandalism and of violence, which we know that the Government are seeking to address, would carry the option of a custodial sentence. There would be an automatic referral to a youth offender panel where a young offender pleaded guilty on his first appearance in court.

In Committee, we debated the issue of seriousness in some detail. The theft of a pint of a milk was an offence that the Committee thought serious enough to warrant a referral order. Such an offence would be covered. That does not have to mean that someone who admits in his first appearance in court to theft of anything will automatically get a prison sentence, but the offence to which that person has pleaded guilty, including theft of a pint of milk, would carry a prison sentence as an option, so it would be covered, as would malicious damage, vandalism and any assault.

The petty crime that concerns local communities and characterises the behaviour of youngsters who are out of control and need their offending behaviour addressed would therefore be covered by the alternative proposal. However, serious motoring offences would also be covered. A 17-year-old driving under the influence of drugs or drink, or causing death by dangerous driving, would come within the category where a custodial sentence is an option.

No one—I agree with the spirit of what the Minister of State was saying in Committee—could possibly argue that a young person who had pleaded guilty to such a serious offence would not be in need of a programme of rehabilitation, reparation and remedial action to address his offending behaviour, but our proposal would also leave courts free to continue to dispose of less serious summary offences, which I have already described as misdemeanours, with a fine, or courts could impose a conditional discharge.

Nevertheless, it is not our intention that the restriction of offences for which a referral order is encouraged for the more serious crimes and the imposition of a fine or conditional discharge should be regarded as exclusive alternatives. Both have their place in a sensible sentencing strategy. Even if the offence involved criminality, there would be occasions where the option of a fine or conditional discharge would be an important discretion for the court to have at its disposal.

What if, for example, a 16 or 17-year-old, perhaps out with his girlfriend and not looking for trouble, is attacked by other youngsters and, in defending himself, assaults his assailants or causes damage? He may have had no intention to do so, but the action is likely to be considered reckless by the court. It happens. I am glad to note that the Home Secretary agrees.

It would be ludicrous to say in such circumstances that there is no option but to refer that person to a youth offender panel and to argue that that would be the most appropriate outcome. Clearly, it would not. The court must have the discretion to impose an alternative. A fine, or, indeed, in those circumstances, a conditional discharge, which is far more powerful than the absolute discharge, which is the only thing available under the Government's proposals, would be more appropriate.

More important, to have such a restricted sentencing option would lead to the criminal justice system being brought into disrepute. The failure of the Government's proposals to provide for such a sensible outcome will affect the way in which youth and magistrates courts deal with young people. That will lead to the sort of controversy and anger that we saw in response to some of the proposals in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. In Committee, we commented on that point.

On previous occasions, the Home Secretary has described me as an old lag because of all the long service I have done in various criminal justice Bill Standing Committees. In the Committee that considered the 1991 Act, several of us had some misgivings about unit fines, but I say in all sincerity that he is going down the same road with the current proposal. He is producing an inflexible structure that will lead to anger and controversy. Our worry is that what is a sensible initiative will be brought into disrepute even during the early years of the pilot schemes because of that inflexibility. The Government must think again.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

I ask the hon. Gentleman, in all sincerity, to consider whether he has missed the crucial point about the provision: it is about restorative justice, introducing meaning to the process involving young people and tackling issues at the crucial moment of that first appearance in court.

Mr. Greenway

If I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said, perhaps he will have an argument with the Minister of State. We heard all that claptrap in Committee. We are not missing the point at all. We are fully seized of the point. We are saying that the referral order must be appropriate to the young person in question.

The Government are introducing a scheme where some referral orders will be wholly inappropriate. Perhaps the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) was not listening, but what could be more inappropriate than to say to one young offender, "You have been cycling on the footway. Here is a fine," and to say to another, "By the way, because we did not catch you, but we know who you are, you have been summoned to the court, you will go to court and plead guilty"? The Home Secretary must accept that, under the Bill, the court would have no option but to refer that person to a youth offender panel.

I cannot for the life of me see the logic of such a situation. Where is the reparation? Where is the reintegration into society in those circumstances? It is complete nonsense to have such a conflict between two alternative disposals for precisely the same offence, depending entirely on how the young person is prosecuted. We have made our point. I can tell from the noises behind me and the nods that I see when I look around from time to time that, thankfully, some hon. Members in the Chamber agree with me.

Two other aspects of new clause 1 differ from the Government's structure. If we accept the logic of the mandatory referral for a plea of guilty, it will be hard to see the logic of giving the court any discretion if a young person pleads guilty to one offence, but not guilty to another. The Home Secretary will remember that, on Second Reading, we expressed the concern that, perversely, youngsters might be tempted to plead not guilty to avoid the youth offender panel. Bearing in mind that our proposal would restrict the referral order to more serious offences and provide the option for a fine, we think it would probably be more straightforward if the referral order were mandatory for all pleas of guilty.

The Government's case is that a guilty plea is essential to the young offender being prepared to accept that he has done wrong. If he has pleaded guilty to one offence, even if he has pleaded not guilty to another, that is an admission of guilt for the youth offender panel to work on.

The new clause incorporates all the powers that the Home Secretary thinks appropriate to extend the provisions of the referral order to other offenders. On Second Reading and in Committee, we certainly supported the concept of making referral orders appropriate and available for dealing with more persistent offenders. However, we should have preferred that persistent young offenders were brought within the scheme's provisions immediately.

If and when other than first-time offenders are brought within the scheme's provisions, we think that courts must have regard to whether such youngsters have previously been subject to a referral order. As we debated and agreed in Committee, the Government's wording technically provides for that. Nevertheless, we still feel that a requirement to have regard to whether a young offender has previously been subject to a young offender order is sufficiently important to be included in the Bill.

Although we support the idea of referral orders to youth offender panels, we disagree with the conditions in which courts will be able to pass such a sentence. The provisions are riddled with illogicality. The argument that the provisions are a completely new and radical approach to dealing with first-time young offenders does not justify the blanket provision, in every case, of referral orders. Therefore, I ask the House to support new clause 1.

Mr. Dawson

It is with regret that I disagree with the comments of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), as I fully realise that, throughout our consideration of the Bill, he has pursued his case with sincerity, great knowledge and experience. Nevertheless, I think that he has totally missed the point on the radical nature of the proposals—which are not at all intended to reflect a youth justice system that has become discredited among not only young people but those who have felt its inadequacies, whether as victims or those who work within that system. The Bill offers an approach that is absolutely trying to deal with young people at the crucial moment—when they first appear in court.

Far from being inflexible, the approach offers the supreme flexibility of providing young people with an opportunity, over a significant period of between three and 12 months, to sit with a panel that would include their parents, representatives from various agencies, people from the community and possibly victims of their offences; to use that opportunity to be confronted with the reality of their offending; and to have the underlying and overt reasons for their offending uncovered, analysed and challenged. They would also have the opportunity to make reparation to an individual victim or, perhaps more likely, to the wider community.

The Bill offers a wholly different approach from the current one, in which, very perfunctorily, young people appear in court under the influence of various messages about what the experience is supposed to be about. They endure an occasion in court that is probably meaningless for them: get the whole thing done, dusted and out of the way as quickly as possible; and then go on.

2.45 pm

In Committee, the hon. Member for Ryedale raised the issue of young people who are apprehended for going through a red traffic light. I told him then, and I tell him now, that I could today put together a programme for a young person who had been convicted of such an offence—which is a very serious one indeed—involving the auspices of other groups in the community, that would shake that young person to the core about what happens when one speeds in a motorcar. Does anyone think that that is less worthwhile than a young person appearing in court and receiving a fine that may be paid by his or her parents?

Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

Is my hon. Friend aware of a cutting-edge young offenders programme that is being operated at Buckley Hall prison by the prisoners themselves? The programme—which is receiving accreditation—is being operated just as my hon. Friend has described, by talking about people who have thrown away their lives by using cars to do things that they have come to regret. Additionally, the programme is thought to be so worthwhile that the people behind it are giving presentations to magistrates across the north-west region.

Mr. Dawson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Although I am not aware of that project, it is a perfect example of what I am talking about—a programme devised by those who have been through experiences that have meaning for offenders and to which offenders are able to respond.

I regret to say that the out-of-date approach to youth justice being advocated by the Opposition threatens to undermine the Bill's entire purpose. If we were to allow crucial get-outs, such as opportunities for young people to be dealt with in a conditional discharge and a fine, we should miss the crucially important moment—the first appearance in court—and that crucial chance to influence behaviour at that level.

As one who worked in the youth justice system for some years, I tell the hon. Member for Ryedale that one of the system's greatest failings was that, in far too many cases, by the time we got to the young people for whom we were trying to develop programmes as alternatives to custodial sentences—they had all the cautions, court appearances, fines, conditional discharges, and attendance and supervision orders behind them—they were lost to us. The moment had gone.

The Bill creates the opportunity to use the crucial moment. It brings a radical approach to justice that is meaningful to the young person and to the community, restores to the community what it has lost to offending, and gives young people an opportunity to move on and face what they have done. The approach is novel, and it builds on good experience from around the world. It is what we need in the new youth justice system, and I hope that all hon. Members will wholeheartedly support it.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Liberal Democrat Members strongly support the creation of youth offender panels, which are based on experience from not only around the world, but across the border. Some elements of Scotland's children's panels and children's hearings, which have worked well in Scotland, have been incorporated in the proposed process. We hope that the panels will provide the basis of a new approach to youth offending, and offer a more constructive response to young offenders that is based on examining the causes and consequences of their behaviour.

We also hope that the proposals will inspire a bit more confidence in victims that the young people concerned are being confronted with the consequences of their actions. We often forget how, often, victims feel that current court procedures offer absolutely nothing to them, leaving them feeling as if they would just like to get hold of the person who perpetrated the crime and give them a good talking to about what it means to be a victim and the adverse effects of their crime.

Our amendment No. 12, which is in this group, is a modest amendment that would introduce a little more flexibility to the system created by the Bill. The court will not currently have to refer first-time offenders who plead guilty to a youth offender panel if it is proposing to impose a custodial sentence or an unconditional discharge—decisions that fall at opposite ends of the scale. If neither course of action is proposed, referral to a youth offender panel will be required. The amendment would give the court the further option of a conditional discharge.

We support the Government's view that when the conditions are met, referral to a youth offender panel should be mandatory. For the new system of youth justice to be proved effective, it needs to be widely used. In the Scottish system, if guilt is accepted the children's hearing is automatic. We agree that that principle should apply. Over time we want it to be broadened beyond first-time offenders. As we gain more experience, we would like the provision to be available for a wider range of offenders.

However, we believe that giving magistrates complete discretion—which we normally favour—runs the risk of limiting the effect of that useful development in youth justice at a time when it needs to be given a fair, broad trial over a lot of cases. There is a strong case for allowing the court an extra option before the referral becomes automatic. Unless the Government accept the amendment, they will effectively abolish the conditional discharge for first-time offenders who plead guilty. They may be the most likely to respond to a conditional discharge. In some cases it would be the most effective response to the crime and it would not be sensible to drain the limited resources of the youth offender panels, so there is merit in a modicum of additional discretion.

At the moment, absolute discharge is rarely used compared with conditional discharge. Courts can impose a condition of non-offending behaviour for a year or more, so we think that it would be a useful way of avoiding clogging the new youth offender panels with minor offenders.

The Government's objection to similar amendments in this House and the other place seems to have been that they do not like conditional discharges because they send the wrong message. Are they saying that they no longer see any use in conditional discharges for first-time young offenders who plead guilty? Are they saying that they are no use for young offenders? Are they sure that the new youth offender panels will have the resources to deal with all who may currently receive a conditional discharge?

Our proposal has gained considerable support since it was first put forward in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Dholakia. It was proposed in the Standing Committee with the support of the three Opposition parties represented there.

The Conservative new clause on the new power of referral to a youth offender panel has been explained to us exhaustively. The aim of the new clause is to rewrite the relevant clauses in the Bill. It would meet our request by allowing conditional discharge as an option. It would also go further by allowing a fine. We understand that argument, but we do not think that the Government will be persuaded of it. Our concern about the new clause is that it would limit the use of referral to only those first-time offenders who plead guilty to an offence for which a custodial sentence is available. We are not convinced that referrals should be limited in that way. The new system of youth offender panels could respond effectively to offences for which there is no custodial sentence available. We prefer the Government's wording. The panel's contracts will be a new form of community sentence. Although the new clause has other merits, it imposes too great a restriction and we do not support it.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I am glad to play a small part at this stage. The new clause gives us another opportunity to think about a sensible part of the Bill that has a flaw.

Referral orders are an idea whose time has come. I congratulate the Government—I did not take part on Second Reading—on picking up those ideas and running with them. I went to see Charles Pollard and his practical efforts in Aylesbury before the election, and very impressive they were. I sat at the back of the room and watched a meeting at which parents, young offenders and victims were present and the whole issue was talked through. It was superbly managed by a young woman police officer. Clause 1 or the new clause would implement that. The fundamental difference between clause 1 and the new clause is that the new clause would give more flexibility. There is a case for more flexibility.

This is the point at which one becomes a little frustrated about coming in late to take part in the parliamentary minuet. The Home Secretary should have accepted the Lords amendment to introduce the word "may" instead of "shall". I apologise to him for not having heard his reasons for throwing it out.

I sit as a recorder. I listen to the gossip at lunch and go to the many training sessions that the Lord Chancellor rightly requires recorders to attend. We rightly required them to attend such sessions when we were in government. Complaints consistently come from experienced judges—Lord Justices, recorders and assistant recorders with huge experience and Crown court judges with the widest experience of all—about Parliament setting a provision in stone or steel and requiring them to operate it. They are willing and anxious to operate it, but they have to see the individual circumstances. They may say, "Look, this is basically a very good idea, but in this particular example it is damned silly and it will waste the referral committee's time."

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was right to draw attention to a mistake that we made in government. This Government have been in power for such a short time that they have not made any mistakes, but that may change. I know that irony is the most dangerous political weapon, because when people read comments they tend to take them at face value. It could come out over the airwaves that the former Attorney-General has said that the Government have made no mistakes and it would be quoted back to me. We made a mistake with unit fines. There was some merit in the idea, but it was barmy. I was Solicitor-General when the policy was slipping through. It shows how little we know of what goes on in other Departments. I confess—in Latin if necessary—that the unit fines system slipped through and it was intolerable.

I have far too much respect for the Home Secretary to want to see him make a similar mistake. It would not be as bad, because the worst consequence would probably be to waste the time of referral committees. That is a pity, because they need to be labour-intensive. That is why I commend them so strongly. We have to spend a great deal of time on youth justice, particularly with people in the early stages of offending. Time, effort and expertise are well used at that stage in a person's career of potential wrongdoing.

3 pm

A resource, such as those committees, should not have its time wasted, and the elaborations of the court should not be made necessary by inflexibility in the structure of the Act, as it will be. That is why I support the new clause. I do so honestly, although I do not think that the new clause is the perfect answer as it also uses the word "shall". However, it gives more options before we reach compulsory referral.

There is little opportunity left for the Home Secretary, as we are getting to Third Reading today. However, I beg him to try to find a way to allow the court honest flexibility. He may say that there is a certain flexibility because courts can always impose a fine.

Mr. Greenway

That is the whole point—the courts cannot impose a fine. However, there will be an opportunity for the Home Secretary to think again. If he gets his way, and neither the new clause nor the Liberal Democrat amendment is accepted, the Bill will go back to the other place with the measure reversed. The Home Secretary's noble colleagues will then have to explain why.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. We need to get back to the sensible position suggested by their Lordships in a thoroughly constructive amendment to this otherwise thoroughly sensible proposal by the Government. Our suggestion—that a fine or conditional discharge would provide more flexibility—is a second-best, but a useful second-best. I ask the House to think seriously about supporting the new clause.

The Home Secretary must not think it necessary to force these referral committees to take every case. They will be extremely enthusiastic to take up the right kind of case, and they will need no forcing. I have long experience of working with magistrates at every level, publicly and privately, and my impression is that they cry out for new measures, which they welcome with open arms when they are flexible. They will welcome the proposal with open arms, but it would be much more useful to them if the flexibility that was wisely proposed by the Lords—it is not a slap in the face for the Government, but a sensible suggestion—could be restored.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). I have every sympathy for the Bill, and this part in particular, but I agree with the thrust of the new clause. The basic problem that we have faced—it was raised time and again in Committee—is the inflexibility of this clause. I hope that Labour Members will not say that I have misunderstood it. I have 25 years' experience as an advocate, and I have a limited ability to understand legislation.

The new approach is, of course, welcome, and it gives an opportunity to avoid criminalising a young person who may, early on, be put back on the rails. It is a good investment of time and resources. For every reason, it is a good idea. However, I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire on the question of flexibility, which is the key issue.

Before I address that matter, there are one or two points about new clause 1 that I cannot quite accept, such as the precondition that a custodial sentence must be available. Many serious offences do not carry a custodial sentence, and that is a slight concern.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has worked extremely hard on this Bill, but I disagree with one of his points in relation to people electing trial to the Crown court. With some judges that I know—present company excepted—one would be better advised not to do that. One could end up with a right old tanning in some of the places where I used to practise.

I agree that bringing in the conditional discharge—referred to by both the hon. Member for Ryedale and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—is a proper and sensible approach. The inflexibility of the mandatory approach is most unfortunate.

I plead guilty to having introduced the subject of the milk bottle into the Committee's deliberations. I was probably subliminally concerned about the dairy industry. However, I ask the House to consider this example. At a temporary traffic light system where one can see from one end to the other, a young person sees that nothing is coming and drives through. He should not have done it—we all know that. That offence is not endorsable. However, under the Bill, that young person might well have to spend 12 months in a multidisciplinary panel approach because of that one transgression, which is not even endorsable. I am sure that there are many other examples. I am not trying to clever—I am making a point about the inflexibility of the Government's mandatory approach.

There are huge resource implications. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) may disagree. No doubt he will say that I have misunderstood the matter. I agree with the thrust of the Bill, and I am not arguing about the theory behind it or the practice of it. However, I am saying that it will not be appropriate for all offences.

Mr. Dawson

I believe sincerely that the hon. Gentleman is missing the point. This not a 12-month sentence to anything. This is an opportunity for a panel to be almost infinitely flexible and to address that young person's behaviour in a variety of ways.

Mr. Llwyd

What variety of ways are needed over a period of between three and 12 months to address the offending behaviour to which I referred? What possible expert or authority could be involved? What can be done with that type of person? These are just words. With respect, that is a complete nonsense.

Ms Beverley Hughes (Stretford and Urmston)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the example he has given, that young person has demonstrated a serious miscalculation of risk to himself or herself and to others, and that while nothing untoward may have occurred on that occasion, it is an important moment to get that young person to address that risk-taking to ensure that it does not escalate?

Mr. Llwyd

The hon. Lady makes a good point, forcefully. I accept what she says in that instance, and the point has been made. She has a valid point, and I do not profess to have the monopoly of wisdom.

My main concern is the mandatory form—the inflexibility. There are two main ways of making bad law. One is to rush it and to repent at leisure. The second is to introduce something that is inflexible. One of the worst-ever pieces of legislation passed by this House concerned the Child Support Agency, and we are still grappling with it. That was so inflexible, it did not work.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire referred to the unit fines system. I was in daily practice at that time, and the number of injustices that poured out of magistrates courts, day in, day out, was an absolute disgrace. That was again because of inflexibility. The poll tax is another example. I note that the Home Secretary is laughing loudly. I am pleased that he is enjoying himself.

I fully endorse the drift of the provision and agree with the new penalty, which will help young people in many cases; but there will be huge resource implications. Perhaps the Home Secretary does not realise how much it will cost. In some parts of north Wales and Merseyside it already takes up to six or seven weeks to get a probation report. The system will be clogged up with new referrals. I hope that the resources and expertise will be in place. I wish the system well but I foresee problems arising from its mandatory nature.

Mr. Boswell

I gather that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State described my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) as an old lag in these matters. I plead guilty to being a first offender. It is not an area in which I spend much time. I have spent a great deal of time on other legislation, from the safest of all possible positions, as a lay legislator, not a legally qualified one.

I am very much in sympathy with what my hon. Friend and others have said today, above all about the need for flexibility. I want to cite an example from completely outwith the Home Office. Recent protracted experience of the national minimum wage legislation encouraged us, in Committee, despite our opposition to the principle, to offer the Government the opportunity for flexibility in the drafting, giving them what one might loosely call a get-out clause: if something had been overlooked or got wrong, it would be possible to amend it to take account of the particular circumstances of a case.

Almost immediately, such an opportunity arose in respect of au pairs. The legislation was unsatisfactory, as it would have brought to an end the ability of the majority of the people who employ au pairs to continue to do so. The Government had to strain legal language to the uttermost to get round inflexible legislation that was set in stone, redefining not the workers who were excluded but the work, in a way that I, as a lay person, find legally implausible.

I suspect that it would have been easier to sustain the concept behind unit fines, which is not a bad one, had magistrates been able to vary their operation when they deemed that appropriate in the interests of justice or in the light of all the circumstances of a case.

3.15 pm

We have here a piece of machinery conceived for the best possible reasons, which I support in general—I have no argument with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) on that—but if we say that we must tie it down in every single case because we cannot trust those who operate it to make a judgment, we start giving rise to trouble.

If one is buying into the European convention, it is important that any punishment should be appropriate to the circumstances, not disproportionate. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) cited the example of someone driving through a red light wrongly but not endorsably. It is not at all clear that the procedure would be appropriate in that case. I am not saying that the Home Secretary would not win in court if there were a challenge, but he would have to go to court to prove the point, which is unfortunate.

I am much more concerned with the lay sanctions in two respects. One of the Government's characteristics is a careful following of the tabloid press. If we say that referral to a youth offender panel must take place in all cases, a case is bound to arise in which it is darn silly to do it. The magistrates and the Home Secretary will be unable to do anything about it and it will appear in the press in a way that discredits the system. The press will ask how any sensible group of legislators could get themselves into such a situation.

The second area of discredit, which I find equally disturbing, concerns the young offenders themselves. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy was absolutely right to ask what the panel would offer a young person in the circumstances that he described. We are talking not about a pattern of offending leading to a first appearance in court—I am at one with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre in that respect—but about a person who has behaved in a stupid and irresponsible way once.

The very fact that the person has been apprehended, resulting eventually in a court appearance, is probably sufficient in itself. Going through the elaborate rigmarole of a youth offender panel may well not meet the case. It might in some cases; that is not the issue. The issue is whether there should be discretion to waive the process when appropriate.

The provisions sit extremely ill with legislation that the Home Office introduced only yesterday in relation to spot fines. In that case, the police officer will have discretion: he may or may not decide to proceed. We are saying that police officers can have flexibility and discretion, but magistrates cannot.

If the system is set up to allow a silly result, there has to be a safety valve at the end of the case. I predict what the safety valve will be: the case will be referred to the youth offender panel, with much cost and complication; the panel will meet and it will come up with what I will frankly call a Noddy solution—one that does not address the one—off offence, but is a fiction. That adds a further element of discredit, because it takes the emphasis away from the experience of cases in which the new system is applied sensibly and appropriately and puts it on cases in which the system should never have been considered.

It is the sign of a mature Government not to say that they do not trust those who take decisions in the courts based on the legislation that they have passed. We should offer some flexibility. As a constituency Member who is concerned about young people, I have no problem with the concept of the system, but I am concerned that it may be discredited by being applied inappropriately and in a way that will attract opprobrium and hole it below the water line, when in fact we want it to succeed.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I begin with an apology to the House and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), as a constituency matter meant that I missed the beginning of his remarks. However, I caught the flavour of them at the end, and his sensible points about the need for flexibility have been adopted in subsequent contributions. I also wish to declare that I am a member of the Bar.

Ministers must listen carefully to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) in favour of more flexibility. Labour Members have made some good contributions to the debate, but they are making slightly heavy weather of the issues.

There is no need to go over the arguments about restorative justice and referral to youth panels, as there is wide agreement in the House on them. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said in support of the new clause did not contradict the general principle of restorative justice, and it cannot be said that the need for restorative justice disposes of the new clause as the administration of restorative justice requires flexibility.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy practised for 25 years in youth courts and has much greater experience than either I or the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). However, the Government must consider very carefully the arguments of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy about flexibility—which I shall turn to in a moment—and about the availability of referral to a youth offender panel in cases where a custodial sentence is not available.

The Bill restricts referral to cases punishable with imprisonment. That is one of the conditions. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked about those offences that are not punishable with imprisonment but which magistrates think might be dealt with appropriately by referral to a young offender panel. That is an important question, but the Minister of State looks puzzled.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

It is a Conservative new clause.

Mr. Clappison

That just shows how important flexibility is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale made another important point in favour of flexibility when he said that magistrates will decide such cases. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said in an intervention that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy did not get the point because the youth offender panel could administer justice in a wide variety of ways and that it had a lot of flexibility.

I see that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre agrees that that was his point, but magistrates will know the youth offender panel's capabilities and they may think that a more appropriate way to deal with a case is by means of conditional discharge or a fine.

Mr. Dawson

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that the youth offender panel will be able to discuss such matters in depth and to examine a range of different ways to deal with offending behaviour and the underlying problems that become evident? The panel will be able to make decisions on the basis of knowledge that simply is not available to a youth court.

Mr. Clappison

I appreciate that, but such decisions come after magistrates have heard the facts of a case and representations from both sides. One of the conditions for referral is that the court does not intend to impose a custodial sentence. After hearing the facts of a case, the court therefore will have to consider whether to impose a custodial sentence. That is a very important question. The hon. Gentleman's experience will tell him that the courts will want to think carefully about that. They will want to avoid imposing a custodial sentence if to do so would be unduly harsh, but they will also want to be certain that a case is not so serious that a custodial sentence is justified. The magistrates will also know what is available under a youth offender panel and might conclude that a case is best dealt with by means of conditional discharge or a fine.

It has been suggested that this rather modest new clause will undermine the edifice of restorative justice, but that is not the intention. It would give flexibility and discretion to the courts, and we should trust the magistrates.

I share the very high opinion of lay magistrates expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). Lay magistrates are very conscientious and perform an important function, and Ministers would do well to take on board what my right hon. and learned Friend said. He performed an elegant parliamentary minuet and handed a bouquet to Ministers when he commended the ideas of restorative justice and of referral to youth offender panels. Bouquets, as opposed to brickbats, are not often given to Governments by Oppositions—it certainly did not happen much before May 1997. Ministers must now think about the desirability of flexibility.

A warning should be taken from the recent past. I was not in the House when the Criminal Justice Act 1990 was passed—although I was a Conservative supporter then—so I have no expert knowledge about whether the Labour Opposition at the time were especially astute when it came to uncovering the inadequacies of that measure. I see the Minister of State smiling in a puzzled way, but we still use the framework of the 1990 Act for sentencing in criminal courts. In their amended form, the provisions have proved durable and I am not aware of any clamour for their repeal.

Before the 1990 Act was amended to take account of problems with unit costs and courts' inability to take previous convictions into account, it gave rise to great concerns among practitioners, who shared their unease with Members of Parliament at constituency surgeries. The Act was subsequently amended to render it more sensible and flexible. Ministers must listen to what has been said about flexibility and avoid tying the hands of the courts. Magistrates and judges dislike nothing more than being forced by law to take a certain course when the facts of the case suggest that a different course would be appropriate.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Another aspect of flexibility is worth mentioning. Has my hon. Friend noticed that the new clause also gives the Home Secretary flexibility to widen slightly the ambit of referral, which need not apply solely to the absolute first-time offender? I fully understand the Home Office's anxiety not to have too many such referrals, but does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions of the new clause would be valuable in many cases involving young people under 18 who are not absolutely first-time offenders? Would not the Home Secretary be wise to consider that aspect of the new clause as well?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention has gone on too long.

3.30 pm
Mr. Clappison

My right hon. and learned Friend sensibly pressed the point that we should leave it to the courts to choose horses for courses. If they are dealing with a young person, perhaps one with a previous conviction, they should have the flexibility to deal with that person as they see fit.

I prefer to trust the courts with a measure of discretion within a sound legislative framework. The courts should have available all the powers that they need, and it should be up to them to use them as they wish. We do not know the facts of individual cases, but magistrates hear the facts and the representations. Their experience and training give them discretion on how best to deal with particular cases.

I do not agree with all that was said by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), but the Home Secretary should deal with two of the points that he made. First, victims should feel that they have a say in sentencing. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Committee for which I had the privilege of serving on, set up the advisory panel. We said that it should include representatives of victims organisations, and we received certain general assurances from the Government. I should be happy if the Home Secretary would write to tell me what voice victims will have on the panel. Does anyone on the panel represent victims organisations?

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed also feared that the Bill spread resources too widely. It may be that resources will be inappropriately used because of the Bill's inflexibility. What are the implications for the probation service? We need flexibility, and Ministers should trust the courts.

The Government are making slightly heavy weather of the Bill. I cannot see why they put up such fierce resistance to a sensible amendment that has won support on both sides of the House and in the other place. It would be in the spirit of criminal justice legislation if the Government showed some flexibility and listened to representations, even by those who essentially agree with them.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

My only qualification for speaking is that I have no qualifications. By definition, I also have no interests to declare. I have never served as a Home Office Minister, perhaps partly because my father once did, and I felt that one member of a family in two generations in the Home Office was an adequate discharge of duty for a single human group.

Nor am I a lawyer, although my younger brother is. He is, in fact, the first member of the family in several generations to have been a lawyer. I once heard him at a local government wards inquiry, but I have never attended upon a court in which he was appearing. I have been a juror only once, when I heard a case involving a kebab house that was operating without a licence. The case took four days, but it was not enough on which to build an understanding of the entire legal system.

Neville Cardus once said that, even if all other batsmen in the world were destroyed in a holocaust, but Tom Graveney remained, we could reconstruct the total art of batsmanship. A wise lady scholar once said that we could construct the entire administration of the Roman empire from the construction of ut with the subjunctive. However, I defy anyone to construct the full majesty of the legal system on a single case involving a kebab house.

When I accepted an invitation to attend West London magistrates court's open day in May—the Lord Chancellor had encouraged them to hold it, and I think the practice extremely good—I did not know that I would be speaking in this debate. Indeed, it would not be dishonest to disclose that I did not know that I would speak in this debate until 2.15 pm today. I come to the Chamber with a mind of molten wax on which my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has most eloquently inscribed my education in these matters. Had I known that I would speak today, I should have paid even closer attention than I did to what I was told at the West London magistrates court.

I enjoyed that visit very much, not least because of a wholly admirable dramatic scenario—it ran all day, but I heard only part of it—in the youth court, in which contemporary cases, written up and prepared in advance in line with present practice, were acted out with splendid realism. That demonstrated how valuable the open days are. It was standing room only for the general public who attended the open day.

I have not yet heard the Government's case on new clause 1—indeed, I am preventing the Home Secretary from offering it. I listened intently to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), and I felt that there was nothing between the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman on the virtues of the proposed procedure. The real test of the issue is whether the harness in which the magistrates will work should be the leather harness commended by the great Duke of Wellington or the iron harness on which the great Napoleon Bonaparte always relied. Bonaparte's dying words may well have been, "We have enlarged the borders of glory", but it was the leather harness that did for him at the battle of Waterloo.

During the last Parliament, a leader in The Daily Telegraph rebuked me for speaking in gentle opposition to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—then the Home Secretary—on the subject of mandatory sentences. I forget the position then taken by the present Home Secretary, and I do not seek to provoke him into telling me, but I opposed mandatory sentences on the a priori grounds that it was a mistake for judges and the Executive to be in conflict. It was especially so when the Executive in conflict with the judiciary was a Conservative one.

Despite The Daily Telegraph, I remain of the same view today. We should trust magistrates, rather than making up their minds for them.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

It is a privilege to speak to these amendments. The House is broadly agreed about the principles in this part of the Bill, although there are substantial disagreements about how the proposals might operate in practice.

One of the few benefits of being in opposition—there were very few, and I do not recommend it—was that one was able to think about particular institutions in greater depth than one can manage when in government. Along with right hon. and hon. Friends and people outside the House, I paid particular attention to the profound defects of the youth justice system. My hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes) have referred to the current arrangements for dealing with young offenders. To call those arrangements a system is to offer them greater dignity than they deserve.

The system is inadequate. It lacks coherence, speed and a connection between the commission of an offence and the correction and punishment that would make it clear to the young offender that the offence should not have been committed and secure some possibility that reoffending would be avoided.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the Scottish example. The Scottish children's panels have been operating for about three decades. They are criticised within Scotland more than they are admired outside—that is always the case. None the less, when I visited Glasgow to look at the operation of the panels, everyone to whom I spoke was in favour of the system. When I consulted my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party on that matter, I wrote to all of them asking—without leading the answers—what they thought about the youth justice system. It was significant that all the replies of Members representing Scottish constituencies supported the principle of children's panels. Those Members pointed out that some changes might be made, but that the principle was sound and it was working. However, every Labour Member representing an English or Welsh constituency said that those youth justice arrangements were not working and needed to be changed.

We considered Scotland, and some of my colleagues travelled to New Zealand to examine its arrangements for family conferencing. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) mentioned, several of us have studied carefully the considerable innovations in the Thames Valley police district, under the leadership of the chief constable, Charles Pollard. We tried to distil that experience to ensure that we developed it against the background of the operation of the English and Welsh legal system, and in order to introduce proposals that would bring into the law those principles of restorative justice—they are contained in part I of the Bill.

I will deal with the specific criticisms that the scheme is too inflexible. I do not think that it is, but I shall answer the point. We are not dealing merely with yet another disposal for the existing youth justice courts; we are dealing with a wholly new approach to young offenders. Although I hope to convince the House, especially sceptical Opposition Members, that the disposal has inherent flexibility, it is inappropriate merely to offer this disposal on a menu of others—alongside fines, conditional discharges or anything else.

We want to change the way in which youth offending is corrected, which brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). Those Members of the House who have had experience of working in the youth courts—as I did many years ago—or of observing the youth courts, as I did much more recently, will realise that the most disturbing fact about the current operation is that the young offender is, at best, a spectator in a theatre where other people are the actors. At worst, the young offender is wholly detached and contemptuous of what is going on.

We have had a high-flown debate. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) speaking in Brechtian terms of alienation. He was right to do so, because that is exactly what we witness in the theatre of the youth courts. I have been in youth courts where the young offender was talked at, talked across and talked about, but never talked to. The young offender was never asked to engage his or her brain as to what he or she had done, or why—and, above all, why he or she hurt the victim of that crime. Indeed, under the current system, after the young offender has heard everyone else talk about him or her, he or she might be forgiven for thinking that there is only one victim—the young offender. Often, his or her sense of injustice at being caught and at appearing before the court is reinforced by the excuses that are trotted out on his or her behalf.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

It worries me that what happens in court under the system that will be produced by the Bill will not be so very different from what happens at present. I should be grateful for the Home Secretary's comments on that matter. The young offender will be engaged—rightly so—on the occasion when the restorative aspects of the Bill come into effect. After pleading guilty, the young offender will be sent off to the panel and the panel will then engage him. However, the Home Secretary seems to be confusing those two aspects—I am sorry to use such a harsh word as "confusing". We want to make the point that although restorative justice is extremely valuable, it is too valuable to be used in every case; the courts should be allowed to decide.

Mr. Straw

I do not accept that. I shall deal with the inherent flexibility of the system in a moment. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had his way, he would be correct in saying that the court procedures, prior to the transfer to the panel, would be similar to current arrangements. The similarity would reside in the fact that, in every case, the court would have to go through the often time-consuming and, in many cases, unnecessary process of seeking a pre-sentence report. That takes up time and, I regret, does not necessarily leave the court any the wiser. Under the Bill, where other conditions are satisfied and the court decides that neither an absolute discharge nor a sentence of immediate custody are appropriate—or that in some cases, as I shall explain, even if the offence is an imprisonable one, a sentence of immediate custody is not available because of the operation of other provisions—clause 1 will operate automatically to secure a transfer to the panel if the offender pleads guilty. That will help to reduce the time taken in the theatre of the court.

An inherent feature of the arrangements is the long-standing policy of successive Governments and courts of encouraging those who are guilty to plead guilty. To conclude the formal part of the court process by a reference to the panel should act as further encouragement.

Opposition Members have questioned the flexibility of the proposed scheme. I accept what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have said about the inflexibility of the unit fine arrangements introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Indeed, other parts of that Act were inflexible. Extraordinarily, I did not protest at the time, although I was doing other things as a member of the Opposition Front Bench. However, I should have protested had I noticed the extraordinary inclusion in the 1991 Act that previous convictions should not be taken into account. It would have been eccentric for even an old Labour Government to introduce such a measure, but, given that the original policy was published when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, I feel that it should be regarded as an abberation.

Sir Nicholas Lyell


Mr. Straw

I will give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As the former Solicitor-General, he may have been the author of that abberation.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. My intervention will be very brief.

I am certainly not the author of the abberation. I am afraid that it was deep within the psyche of the Home Office at the time. The judges then construed it in a way that saddened many of us, and they did not get the Home Office out of its hole; in fact, they dug it into a deeper hole, and we had to get it out of the hole later.

Mr. Straw

That may or may not be the case, but I do not recall seeing a Home Office civil servant moving the Second Reading of the legislation that began as the Criminal Justice Bill in 1990. My former constituency neighbour, now Lord Waddington—who was not seen as being on the soft side of the Tory party—was the Home Secretary of the day. Wherever the idea came from, Ministers had clearly discussed it collectively at some length, and had agreed on it. It was not a minor matter. It was not an issue like that involving the Passport Agency, which Home Secretaries may be forgiven for thinking has operated reasonably well for some time—while it is operating well, that is; not otherwise. However, we will not pursue that little excursion.

The circumstances with which the Bill deals are very different from those provided for by the Criminal Justice Act 1991 in regard to unit fines. Flexibility is inherent in the Bill in its present form. Referral will be automatic when there is no absolute discharge or immediate custody. I draw hon. Members' attention to clause 8. There is considerable flexibility in what is actually contained in the contract of a young offender. It certainly does not say, "The case will be transferred to the panel, and this or that must happen." Subsection (2) states: The terms of the programme may"— not "shall"— include provision for any of the following". The subsection makes provision for the offender to make financial or other reparation to any person who appears to the panel to be a victim of, or otherwise affected by, the offence". That amounts to a financial penalty, which the panel can impose, while taking more account of the resources of the young person involved than a court might.

The clause requires offenders to attend mediation sessions with any such victim or other person". It requires offenders to carry out unpaid work or service … the offender to be at home at times specified in or determined under the programme"— that means a curfew. It requires attendance by the offender at a school … the offender to participate in specified activities … the offender to present himself to specified persons … to stay away from specified places or persons and so forth. If offenders refuse to comply with any of the provisions in the contracts that they have signed, they must go back to court and they will be sentenced for their original offence. That is the first part of the flexibility mechanism that has been introduced.

Mr. Boswell

The Home Secretary has explained the provision clearly. Is it not the case, however, that, because the referral is mandatory, it will be a prerequisite for the panel to meet and draw up a contract in each case, even in cases in which—as Conservative Members have tended to argue—referral is inappropriate, and the drawing up of a contract may well be not just otiose but inimical to the cause of preparation?

Mr. Straw

With great respect, I simply do not accept that.

3.45 pm
Mr. Llwyd

When I mentioned resource implications earlier, the Home Secretary shook his head vigorously. Is he now saying that clause 8 has no resource implications?

Mr. Straw

No, I am not saying that. Most measures that are presented to the House have resource consequences. May I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 211 of the explanatory notes? I do not suggest that he has them to hand, but they contain details of the Bill's financial effects. They state—of course, these are estimates—that referrals to youth offender panels will save the probation service around £5.1 million, but will impose costs of about half a million pounds, given the revenue required for fines. Clause 6 will require some increased recruitment for training, which will be met by the comprehensive spending review settlement for pilot youth justice schemes in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Part of the purpose of the pilot scheme is to ensure not just that the scheme works, but that we have clear estimates of its total costs. I cannot say this for certain, but I believe that, if it operates efficiently it will save court costs. It ought to save on legal aid as well. Of course, there will be expenditure on the part of the youth offender panels, but I do not think that the Bill will lead to a great increase in spending overall.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I must make progress, but I will take one last intervention from the former Solicitor-General.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am extremely grateful.

May I ask the Home Secretary about his most recent answer to a question about clause 8? Is he not making the mistake of drawing a parallel with the Children and Young Persons Act 1969? Is it not the case that, according to the Home Secretary's view of the Bill, the courts cannot be trusted to make disposals? I am talking about the inflexibility that means that unless someone is locked up as a result of a custodial sentence, or receives an absolute discharge, the courts have no discretion—the discretion is handed over to the panel. Is that not a big mistake?

Mr. Straw

I do not accept that. It is not a question of trusting the courts; it is a question of whether the magistrates court is the appropriate forum to determine the content of the programme under the referral order. In many cases, experienced youth justice magistrates will be members of the panels.

Mr. Clappison

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I must get on with my speech.

In Scotland, issues of guilt and innocence are dealt with by the sheriff—a paid judicial office-holder—rather than by magistrates. The Scottish system has moved away from the idea of magistrates courts dealing with issues involving not just the sentence and disposal of young offenders, but their guilt. Our proposals require people to be experienced and professional. I have a high regard for lay magistrates: I think they recognise that dealing with young offenders requires considerable professionalism and training. Indeed, it is possible that members of the proposed panels might have to be magistrates.

The Opposition asked whether other disposals should be available. First, let me deal with the issue of conditional discharge. It is my judgment—I make no apology for it—that conditional discharge is a hopeless disposal for young people, many of whom will have received a number of conditional discharges, or their equivalent, before even going to court. Unless a grave offence is involved, for which a conditional discharge is not appropriate anyway—I mean a serious offence; I do not mean a grave offence within the meaning of clause 53—the police will have already issued warnings and cautions.

When I visited youth courts, I took exception to the fact that, in some cases, half the disposals were conditional discharges. Those of us who have practised in such courts know all too well that young offenders regard conditional discharges as a case of, "I got away with it again."

In section 66 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we made it impossible for a conditional discharge to be issued by a youth court if a final warning had been issued within the previous two years. In most cases, it would not in any sense be available.

4 pm

There are currently severe problems with the collection of fines, even against adults—so much so that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and I are extremely concerned. In far too many courts throughout the country, far too many fines are remitted—in other words, cancelled—when defaulters wilfully refuse to pay. Except for a small minority—the older age group—the offenders with which this Bill deals will not have resources of their own, so the idea that a fine would be an appropriate penalty is not realistic.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the case of the young person who goes through a red light, so let us deal with it. Statistically, the most numerous group of young offenders who transgress the red light will be aged less than 17: they cannot have a driving licence because they are under age, so they will be literally driving while disqualified from driving. It is probable that they will also be committing many other offences as well. If they have nicked a car or are driving without a licence, it is a serious offence, not a trivial one. Therefore, even if they happen to jump a red light, it is likely that they have committed other, more serious offences.

There will be a small group of red light offenders aged 17 to 18 who have a driving licence—those who, because one has to wait a bit before getting a licence, are in the last nine months of their 17th year. Because gravity factors are already laid down for dealing with offences, most offenders from that small group who jump a light will get a police reprimand or a final warning under our scheme. They might get a fixed penalty: if they accept it, that is the end of the matter and the new arrangements are not triggered. Also, if they object to the fixed penalty, go to court and plead not guilty, the new arrangements are not triggered because they have pleaded not guilty.

The circumstances in which a young offender has jumped a light and the arrangements are then triggered will be few and far between. My judgment is that, in those circumstances, it may well be appropriate to send the youngster to the youth panel. Youngsters in the 17 to 20 age range can commit extremely reckless driving offences. We know that roughly a quarter of all driving offences are committed by those aged between 17 and 24. In many parts of the United States—a country with which we compete for the best road safety record—if youngsters offend against traffic regulations, they are made the subject of the sort of intervention that we seek, rather than being fined or having their offence treated as a trivial matter. I hope that it is recognised that, in the few circumstances in which the new arrangements are triggered, they are appropriate.

I have one final point on the issue of flexibility. I accept—although I doubt it—that the pilots might disclose that there are inflexibilities unanticipated by the House, or the prospect of which has so far been resisted by the Government. For that reason, clause 2(3) provides: The Secretary of State may by regulations make such amendments of this section"— the one that lays down the triggers— as he considers appropriate for altering in any way the descriptions of offenders in the case of which the compulsory referral conditions or the discretionary referral conditions fall to be satisfied for purposes of section 1(2) or (3) (as the case may be). Therefore, that flexibility is written into the Bill. The Government have no more interest than the Opposition in ending up with a scheme that is brought into disrepute because of inflexibility at the margin, so we shall watch the pilots carefully.

My final comments relate to the provision in the Opposition new clause that would extend the conditions which have to be satisfied before there can be a referral. It contains the phrase: for which a custodial sentence is available". I occupied the Opposition Front Bench for almost 17 years, and it was always irritating to me when clever-dick Ministers stood up and said that an amendment was "technically defective". None the less, although the Government resist the principle behind the new clause, that phrase itself is so seriously technically defective that, even if that were our only objection to the new clause—of course, it is not—it would be sufficient to make us reject it.

The phrase describes not an offence that is imprisonable for an adult, but an offence in which a custodial sentence is available for the offender before the court. Any imprisonable offence for adults is also an offence for which custody is available for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds; but, leaving aside grave offences, custody is available for 12, 13 and 14-year olds only if the offender has previously been convicted of at least two other similar offences and has breached a supervision order in respect of one of them.

If the new clause were accepted as drafted, we could end up with the curious situation in which, having decided that custody was not going to be used, a court could not use the transfer referral order to the panel because custody was not available for that offender, and therefore had to impose a fine or a conditional discharge. The extent to which the provision is defective and would hobble the court is obvious.

I hope that the House accepts that I have tried to answer, as fully as I can, the points raised by Opposition Members. The provisions are extremely important. If they are successfully piloted, as I believe they will be, and with the backing of the House and the other place, we shall in years to come be able to look back on this period—indeed, on today—as an occasion on which we began the most major reform since the war of the way in which we deal with young offenders.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's tutorial on life on the Opposition Front Bench. We have no intention of spending anything like as long on the Opposition Benches before returning to the Benches that his party currently occupies. None the less, we are grateful for the manner in which he has responded to our arguments.

Modesty forbids my revealing the source of the phrase that he has just described as technically inaccurate and defective. However, our intention in tabling new clause 1 is to make a fundamental point, which is why I shall shortly invite the House to express its view in the Lobby. I am also grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends who spoke in support of the general principle of flexibility.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) failed to explain the Liberal Democrats change of heart on a provision of discretion that his noble Friends in the other place thought so important as to be persuaded to vote in favour of amending a fundamental aspect of clause 1—the "shall" to "may" amendment, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) referred. The Liberal Democrats in the other place supported that amendment, yet, not only did the Liberal Democrat Members in this place vote in Committee against the decision of their noble Friends, but they now speak in favour of the Government's position. We shall be fascinated to see what the right hon. Gentleman's noble Friends make of that when the Bill returns to the other place. I have an inkling that the question of discretion will come up again when, as seems certain, the other place is asked to consider whether the Government's scheme is correct.

Several of my right hon. and hon. Friends spoke in favour of the general principle of additional flexibility. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) that I am glad that we tabled the new clause, not least because of the amusing and enlightening contribution that it enabled him to make. My right hon. Friend, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)—who, not so long ago, moved from shadowing this Department to shadowing education and speaks from considerable experience and knowledge of the Bill—all spoke in favour of a degree of flexibility.

With no disrespect to any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I shall, in the final analysis, rely more on the contribution of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who has 25 years' experience as a criminal barrister. Although he has difficulty with one or two elements of the new clause, I am sure that he will understand—as I am sure the Home Secretary does—the intricacies of ensuring that we have before us proposals that have not been debated in Committee. It is therefore in order for us to debate those proposals today, and we bore that in mind when drafting new clause 1. In Committee and in the debate today, the hon. Gentleman spoke from experience and pointed out that there is a lack of flexibility in the Bill which will lead to inconsistency, a sense of injustice and, in time, discrediting of the Government's proposals.

There was nothing in the Home Secretary's remarks that responded to the issue, which I addressed in some depth, of on-the-spot fines for young offenders. By delving into clause 8, he served only to heighten our concerns. He effectively concluded that the courts cannot be trusted, a point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire made in an extremely good intervention. The more one considers the scheme, the more one sees the clear discrepancy between what would be included in a youth offender contract and the way in which that young person would be disposed of, for the same offence, if he or she were given an on-the-spot fine or fixed penalty notice.

I find it extraordinary that, knowing that we were likely to have this debate today, the Minister of State found it timely yesterday to table the Fixed Penalty Offences Order 1999.

Mr. Straw

Get off.

Mr. Greenway

The right hon. Gentleman says, "Get off', but in no way have his remarks addressed the point that we have made throughout the debate. If a policeman decides to give a 16 or 17-year-old tearaway a fixed penalty notice, that is the end of it, but the court cannot have the same discretion. What is more, if the case ends up going to court, the same circumstances will result in a referral to a youth offender panel, where within the menu of the contract there is nothing available to the panel that is comparable to a fixed penalty notice.

In addition, the panels are likely to prescribe a different course of action in the contracts that they draw up. There will be a huge variation in those contracts, compared with those of other panels, for precisely the same offence. That, too, is an inconsistency that will be the harbinger of resentment, which leads to alienation and is the very opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve.

4.15 pm

The Government could, particularly in Committee, have accepted that their clause is too narrowly drawn. I thought that at the very end of his remarks, the Home Secretary almost admitted that the power that he has under clause 2—which is, in any case, incorporated into our new clause—to vary all the provisions in the light of experience means that perhaps the Government have not got this right and will have to return to it in the future.

The Government will, in any case, run into choppy waters in the other place over this issue. It is disappointing that they have not felt able at least to admit that a tiny degree of extra flexibility ought to be incorporated into the Bill. On Report, we discuss new clauses and amendments tabled by the Opposition to make a point about the Government's Bill, and those new clauses and amendments are bound, on occasion, not to have been drafted entirely correctly—but I do not believe that that should dissuade Opposition Members from pressing the point.

We invite the House to support new clause 1 in the Lobbies because we genuinely believe that the Government are making an error of judgment. When that error comes to light, we shall at least have the satisfaction of being able to point to our attitude to the Bill, and, in years to come, the opportunity in government of putting it right.

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

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 296.

Division No. 230] [4.17 pm
Amess, David Beroow, John
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Beresford, Sir Paul
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Body, Sir Richard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Boswell, Tim
Beggs, Roy Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Luff, Peter
Brazier, Julian Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Browning, Mrs Angela McIntosh, Miss Anne
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Burns, Simon McLoughlin, Patrick
Cash, William Madel, Sir David
Chope, Christopher Maples, John
Clappison, James Mates, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Moss, Malcolm
Collins, Tim Norman, Archie
Colvin, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Paterson, Owen
Cran, James Pickles, Eric
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Prior, David
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Robathan, Andrew
Duncan, Alan Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Duncan Smith, Iain St Aubyn, Nick
Evans, Nigel Sayeed, Jonathan
Faber, David Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Flight, Howard Simpson, Keith (Mid—Norfolk)
Forsythe, Clifford Soames, Nicholas
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Spicer, Sir Michael
Fox, Dr Liam Spring, Richard
Garnier, Edward Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gibb, Nick Streeter, Gary
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Swayne, Desmond
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Syms, Robert
Gray, James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Green, Damian Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Greenway, John Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Grieve, Dominic Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Taylor, Sir Teddy
Heald, Oliver Thompson, William
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David Townend, John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Tredinnick, David
Horam, John Trend, Michael
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Trimble, Rt Hon David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tyrie, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Viggers, Peter
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Wells, Bowen
Jenkin, Bernard Whittingdale, John
Key, Robert Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Wilkinson, John
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Willetts, David
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Wilshire, David
Leigh, Edward Woodward, Shaun
Letwin, Oliver Yeo, Tim
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Llwyd, Elfyn Tellers for the Ayes:
Loughton, Tim Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Mrs. Jacqui Lait.
Ainger, Nick Bennett, Andrew F
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Benton, Joe
Alexander, Douglas Best, Harold
Allan, Richard Betts, Clive
Allen, Graham Blackman, Liz
Ashton, Joe Blears, Ms Hazel
Atherton, Ms Candy Blizzard, Bob
Austin, John Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Barnes, Harry Boateng, Paul
Barron, Kevin Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Beard, Nigel Bradshaw, Ben
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Brand, Dr Peter
Beith, Rt Hon A J Breed, Colin
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Browne, Desmond
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Burgon, Colin Hancock, Mike
Butler, Mrs Christine Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hepburn, Stephen
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cann, Jamie Hinchliffe, David
Caplin, Ivor Hodge, Ms Margaret
Casale, Roger Hood, Jimmy
Caton, Martin Hope, Phil
Cawsey, Ian Hopkins, Kelvin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Chisholm, Malcolm Howells, Dr Kim
Clapham, Michael Hoyle, Lindsay
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Humble, Mrs Joan
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hurst, Alan
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Iddon, Dr Brian
Clelland, David Illsley, Eric
Coaker, Vernon Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Coffey, Ms Ann Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Coleman, Iain Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Colman, Tony Jenkins, Brian
Connarty, Michael Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Corbyn, Jeremy Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Corston, Ms Jean Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cotter, Brian Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cummings, John Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Darvill, Keith Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Keeble, Ms Sally
Dawson, Hilton Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Dean, Mrs Janet Keetch, Paul
Dismore, Andrew Kelly, Ms Ruth
Donohoe, Brian H Kemp, Fraser
Dowd, Jim Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Drown, Ms Julia Khabra, Piara S
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Efford, Clive King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ennis, Jeff Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Etherington, Bill Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fearn, Ronnie Lepper, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank Leslie, Christopher
Fisher, Mark Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Linton, Martin
Flint, Caroline Livingstone, Ken
Flynn, Paul Lock, David
Follett, Barbara Love, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McCabe, Steve
Fyfe, Maria McCafferty, Ms Chris
Galloway, George McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Gapes, Mike McDonagh, Siobhain
Gardiner, Barry Macdonald, Calum
George, Andrew (St Ives) McDonnell, John
Gerrard, Neil McFall, John
Gibson, Dr Ian McIsaac, Shona
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Godman, Dr Norman A McNamara, Kevin
Goggins, Paul MacShane, Denis
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mactaggart, Fiona
Gorrie, Donald McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mallaber, Judy
Grocott, Bruce Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Short, Rt Hon Clare
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Singh, Marsha
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Merron, Gillian Snape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Southworth, Ms Helen
Mitchell, Austin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moffatt, Laura Steinberg, Gerry
Moran, Ms Margaret Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stinchcombe, Paul
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stoate, Dr Howard
Mudie, George Stott, Roger
Mullin, Chris Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stringer, Graham
Norris, Dan Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stunell, Andrew
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Olner, Bill Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Neill, Marlin Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Öpik, Lembit Timms, Stephen
Organ, Mrs Diana Tipping, Paddy
Osborne, Ms Sandra Todd, Mark
Palmer, Dr Nick Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pearson, Ian Touhig, Don
Pickthall, Colin Trickett, Jon
Pike, Peter L Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pond, Chris Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pope, Greg Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pound, Stephen Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Powell, Sir Raymond Tyler, Paul
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Vis, Dr Rudi
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Walley, Ms Joan
Prosser, Gwyn Wareing, Robert N
Purchase, Ken Watts, David
Radice, Rt Hon Giles White, Brian
Rammell, Bill Whitehead, Dr Alan
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wicks, Malcolm
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wills, Michael
Rooker, Jeff Winnick, David
Rowlands, Ted Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Roy, Frank Wise, Audrey
Ruddock, Joan Worthington, Tony
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wray, James
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Ryan, Ms Joan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. David Hanson and
Shipley, Ms Debra Mr. Keith Hill.

Question accordingly negatived.

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