HC Deb 18 November 2003 vol 413 cc737-44

Lords amendment: No. 203

Paul Goggins

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof; Lords amendment No. 431 and the Government motion to disagree thereto.

Paul Goggins

As we have said before, we believe that it is necessary to include juveniles in the murder sentencing framework laid down in schedule 19. We have considered the issue carefully, as we undertook to do in debate in the House earlier this year. Our conclusion is that the principles as they stand incorporate sufficient flexibility in respect of juveniles for appropriate tariffs to be reached in individual cases. As hon. Members will know, in the other place concern was expressed about the application of these provisions to juveniles, and juveniles were removed from the framework last week.

We do not accept that juveniles should be dealt with outside the sentencing framework. Their inclusion is desirable, both in providing the clear, simple and transparent sentencing structure necessary to maintain public confidence in the justice system and in ensuring consistency and fairness in setting minimum terms for murder.

8.15 pm
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is serious concern in this House as well about the minimum sentencing framework for juveniles convicted of grave crimes? There is only a very short time available for this debate, and further legislation on juvenile sentencing may be introduced in the next Session. Surely this would be a good opportunity to follow the other place and leave this issue until the next Session of Parliament.

Paul Goggins

I acknowledge that similar concerns have been expressed in this House, and my response to them is the same as to those expressed in another place. However, I shall conclude my remarks fairly quickly, and so give my hon. Friend and others an opportunity to contribute to this short debate.

We understand the concerns expressed about juvenile tariffs. To allay them, we propose to reintroduce juveniles into the sentencing system, but we will specifically set in the statute a lower starting point for juveniles, to recognise the special needs of that age group. The juvenile starting point will be 12 years, which reflects recent guidance from the Lord Chief Justice. We think that there is nothing in the proposal to detract from the court's ability to set appropriate tariffs in each case, given that there will remain flexibility to aggravate and mitigate upwards and downwards.

Mr. Grieve

The Minister describes 12 years as a starting point. Will he confirm that 12 years is not the minimum starting point but a median starting point that can be reduced as well as raised?

Paul Goggins

I am happy to confirm that to the House. Throughout the Bill, the starting points are just that—starting points, not minimum tariffs. They can be raised or lowered depending on the circumstances of a case. That is true for the 12-year starting point for juveniles. The actual tariff for a juvenile may be lower or higher than 12 years.

Mr. Dawson

Does not the Bill also introduce a new provision, whereby children under 16 could end up with a 12-year sentence? In the past, that has not been possible.

Paul Goggins

The Bill gives the court the power to deal appropriately with what may be a very serious offence, whether or not it is committed by a juvenile. It makes it very clear that there should be a starting point for juveniles, as there is for adult offenders, but at the lower level of 12 years.

Although hon. Members may wish to comment on that proposal, and even disagree with it, I hope that my brief remarks have made the Government's position clear—that we wish to reintroduce juveniles into the framework, with a starting point of 12 years.

Mr. Grieve

I am well aware, from our previous debates and especially from the debate on Report, in which the Home Secretary participated, that divergent views about the correct way to approach children under 18 who commit very serious offences are perhaps inevitable. Clearly, there is always public anxiety about the matter. As I said to the Home Secretary on Report, we may have to accept that a person at the upper limit of the age group who commits a very serious offence, with attendant cruelty and signs of a psychopathic tendency, will have to serve many years in prison. That person may have to serve as long as an adult for the offence, and may never be released. In such circumstances, I suppose that a 12-year starting point may have some relevance.

The Minister will recall that I spoke about children at the bottom of the age range, who have only just reached the age of criminal responsibility. However grave and serious their crimes may be, there is always the possibility that their personalities will change as they mature, aided by the active input of those looking after them. That will often mean that a 12-year sentence will be completely inappropriate.

I shall not criticise the Government for adopting this course of action. I am grateful that they have reconsidered the starting point. However, my slight concern about the provision is that I suspect that, in reality, the children who commit serious offences—for that is what they are, children—will serve nothing like as much as 12 years. The public may then express concern about why they are so far below the starting point.

I recall the Lord Chancellor saying, when he was a Home Office Minister in the other place, that he thought that no sensible judge would have difficulty discounting the starting point sufficiently to arrive at a fair outcome. However, that seemed to me to be a slight sleight of hand, as if we would be asking the judiciary to bend the rules to adapt to particular circumstances.

It is a personal view, but I remain somewhat troubled. Although I think that the Government are right to revisit the starting point, I worry that we may be creating a system that the judiciary will observe more in the breach, instead of following it. If that is so, this exercise will have been rather pointless. Worse still, people—who get very anxious about such matters—will criticise the provision and believe that the starting point is not being observed.

I hope that I am wrong about that. I do not wish to leave the matter on a bad note, as I accept that the Home Secretary has taken on board many of the anxieties that were expressed.

Mr. Dawson

I am afraid that I cannot accept this provision, and hope that the House will follow the sensible lead given by the other place. We are talking about children who have committed very grave crimes, but they are children in extraordinary circumstances. Invariably, children in that sort of predicament will have been victims themselves, often of the most gross and appalling abuse. They often have major issues to resolve in their lives, and face huge problems.

The House will recall the case of Mary Bell. When given the appropriate level of support she was able to change her life, and some of her very serious problems were addressed. We should acknowledge that children and young people are very resilient and can make huge changes. Often, when these children are given the intensive support that they invariably need, they can change fairly quickly.

It is wrong to present a tariff of 12 years as normal. It is inappropriate to take that decision away from judges, who will need every ounce of their wisdom, discretion, learning and sensitivity to these cases to decide on the appropriate sentence. There may well be cases where a judge decides that a much shorter sentence than 12 years is required. There may well be cases where the reform of and change in the young person under an intensive regime—no doubt, within a secure setting—will lead all those charged with their care to believe that they should be released from custody and helped back into the community much more quickly than any tariff set down in the wake of what was no doubt a heinous and appalling crime.

The Government are wrong on this matter. The other place is right, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on that.

Simon Hughes

This is a difficult and sad subject on which to end our debates on the Bill. It is extremely difficult for all those concerned. I share the view of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) that the House of Lords was right in its decision. I also share the concerns expressed by those on the Conservative Front Bench in previous debates.

Clause 254 in chapter 7 provides for a determination of minimum term in relation to a mandatory life sentence. Lords amendment No. 203 states that that should not apply if the offender was under 18 when he committed the offence. The Lords decided that on the basis of extremely good advice and practice.

I shall reinforce what the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said by again quoting—I have quoted this in a previous debate—what the Lord Chief Justice said in the memorandum that he submitted on mandatory life sentences for murder on 16 June in connection with the House of Lords debate on the Bill. In paragraph 33 of that memorandum he says: I have, however, to assist the Home Secretary by making recommendations as to the minimum periods juveniles, who were in a transitional position, have to serve … The progress made in many of the approximately 140 cases I have examined is often very significant. The offenders were usually from a deprived background and when they received the attention that was provided in custody their attitudes to their offending and their behaviour were frequently transformed. Later in the same memorandum, he says: For Parliament to set the guidelines and interfere with sentencing in this unprecedented manner at this time is particularly inappropriate since it is also setting up a new expert independent body which in turn has to act on the expert advice of the Sentencing Advisory Panel.

Sentencing, particularly in relation to murder, should be removed from the political arena. The present proposal will have the effect of increasing political involvement. The Lord Chief Justice went on to describe what he had advised on juveniles in his practice direction of last year. He said:

In relation to juveniles, that is young offenders, while it was appropriate to start with the normal starting point for an adult of 12 years, there was to be a reduction for the age of a child with the result that 'for a child of 10, a judge should be considering a starting point in the region of 5 years'. He ended by looking at the proposals on young people and said in paragraph 62: I would now refer to the position of children. What is the justification for putting up their normal starting point by an equivalent of 6 years?"— I accept that the Government have tabled an amendment that would make that three years, because they have brought down the starting point from their original proposal of 15 years to 12, but the principle still applies— I particularly emphasise this because if the Government's approach is right, juveniles will not again be considered until their minimum period has been served. Can it ever be right not to allow the Parole Board to consider his case at least when he becomes 18 and ceases to be a juvenile and so eligible for the adult prison system? For me, that has always been the issue. If one commits an offence, however terrible, as a juvenile, the moment one becomes an adult in the eyes of the law one's future and past should be reviewed. What one did as a 10, 11 or 12-year-old should not be regarded as an indication of how one is likely to behave as an 18-year-old. That is why there should be no minimum. There should be no inflexibility. The court should be able to make a decision based on the individual young person before it, which should be reviewed when he or she becomes 18.

The rest of paragraph 62 of the Lord Chief Justice's memorandum states: If you have had to read the files of the successive reports relating to juvenile murderers in the numbers that I have, you could not be but appalled by such a suggestion. Many of those involved, if not all, come from a disadvantaged background. Those who have responsibility for their upbringing after they are sentenced usually do a most remarkable job of bringing up those youngsters and they can be transformed in consequence. It is not either just to them or the public to ignore the scale of the change that can take place. Nobody suggests that in their case they should be detained for life. If they are not to be detained for life, it is important in their interests and the public's interest that they are released before what has been achieved for them while in custody as a juvenile is destroyed by their exposure to the adult prison system. We all know of the public revulsion at murders committed by juveniles, and I completely understand that. However, they are juveniles and they must be given the benefit of a new start. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we are clear that the principle should be left to the judge, advised by the sentencing council, in individual cases, and not determined by Parliament. We here cannot do that job fairly either for young people or for society, and we should not try.

8.30 pm
Paul Goggins

I do not think that there is any contradiction between the belief, which I am sure we all share, that when a child becomes an adult they can reform and rebuild their life after committing a heinous crime, and the belief that there should be a starting point that judges will consider—

It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

The House divided: Ayes 322, Noes 54.

Division No. 379] [8:31 pm
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Benn, rh Hilary
Ainger, Nick Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Berry, Roger
Alexander, Douglas Best, Harold
Allen, Graham Betts, Clive
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Blackman, Liz
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Blears, Ms Hazel
Boateng, rh Paul
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Borrow, David
Atherton, Ms Candy Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Atkins, Charlotte Bradshaw, Ben
Austin, John Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Banks, Tony Browne, Desmond
Barnes, Harry Bryant, Chris
Barron, rh Kevin Buck, Ms Karen
Battle, John Burden, Richard
Bayley, Hugh Burgon, Colin
Beard, Nigel Burnham, Andy
Beckett, rh Margaret Byers, rh Stephen
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hain, rh Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Caplin, Ivor Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Casale, Roger Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Caton, Martin Hanson, David
Challen, Colin Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Chaytor, David Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hendrick, Mark
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston) Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hesford, Stephen
Clelland, David Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Heyes, David
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hodge, Margaret
Cohen, Harry Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Colman, Tony Hope, Phil (Corby)
Cooper, Yvette Hopkins, Kelvin
Cousins, Jim Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Cranston, Ross Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Howells, Dr. Kim
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cummings, John Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Ingram, rh Adam
Darling, rh Alistair Irranca-Davies, Huw
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
David, Wayne Jamieson, David
Davidson, lan Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Denham, rh John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dismore, Andrew Jowell, rh Tessa
Dobson, rh Frank Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Donohoe, Brian H. Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Doran, Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Drew, David (Stroud) Kemp, Fraser
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Khabra, Piara S.
Edwards, Huw Kidney, David
Efford, Clive King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Farrelly, Paul Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Lammy, David
Flint, Caroline Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Follett, Barbara Lazarowicz, Mark
Foster, rh Derek Lepper, David
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye) Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Francis, Dr. Hywel Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Gapes, Mike (llford S) Linton, Martin
Gardiner, Barry Love, Andrew
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S) Lucas, lan (Wrexham)
Gerrard, Neil Luke, lain (Dundee E)
Gilroy, Linda Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
Godsiff, Roger McAvoy, Thomas
Goggins, Paul McCabe, Stephen
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCartney, rh lan
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McDonagh, Siobhain
Grogan, John MacDougall, John
McFall, John Ruane, Chris
McGuire, Mrs Anne Ruddock, Joan
McIsaac, Shona Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
McKechin, Ann
Mackinlay, Andrew Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
McNulty, Tony Salter, Martin
MacShane, Denis Sarwar, Mohammad
Mactaggart, Fiona Sawford, Phil
McWilliam, John Shaw, Jonathan
Mahmood, Khalid Sheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sheridan, Jim
Mallaber, Judy Shipley, Ms Debra
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Singh, Marsha
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW) Skinner, Dennis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Merron, Gillian Southworth, Helen
Michael, rh Alun Spellar, rh John
Milburn, rh Alan Squire, Rachel
Miliband, David Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Miller, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stevenson, George
Moffatt, Laura Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Mole, Chris
Moran, Margaret Stewart, lan (Eccles)
Morgan, Julie Stoate Dr. Howard
Morley, Elliot Strang rh Dr. Gavin
Morris, rh Estelle Stringer Graham
Mountford, Kali Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mullin, Chris Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Munn, Ms Meg Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Taylor Dari (Stockton S)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Taylor David (NW Leics)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen) Thomas Gareth (Clwyd W)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug Thomas Qareth (Harrow w)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Timms, Stephen
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Tipping, Paddy
O'Neill, Martin Touhig Don (Islwyn)
Organ, Diana Trickett, Jon
Osborne Sandra (Ayr) Truswell, Paul
Owen, Albert Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Palmer, Dr. Nick Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Picking, Anne Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Pickthall, Colin Vis, Dr. Rudi
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Walley, Ms Joan
Plaskitt, James Ward, Claire
Pollard, Kerry Wareing, Robert N.
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Watson, Tom (w Bromwich E)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Watts, David
Pound, Stephen white, Brian
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Prosser, Gwyn Winnick, David
Purchase, Ken Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce Wood, Mike (Batley)
Quinn, Lawrie Woodward, Shaun
Rammell, Bill Woolas, Phil
Raynsford, rh Nick Worthington, Tony
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill) Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Derek Twigg and
Roy, Frank (Motherwell) Jim Fitzpatrick
Allan, Richard Lamb, Norman
Barrett, John Laws, David (Yeovil)
Beith, rh A. J. Llwyd, Elfyn
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Moore, Michael
Bruce, Malcolm Öpik, Lembit
Burnett, John Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent Pugh, Dr. John
Calton, Mrs Patsy Rendel, David
Carmichael, Alistair Sanders, Adrian
Chidgey, David Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Stunell, Andrew
Dawson, Hilton Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Doughty, Sue Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Foster, Don (Bath) Teather, Sarah
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Gidley, Sandra Thurso, John
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon) Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Harvey, Nick Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Heath, David Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Holmes, Paul Willis, Phil
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Younger-Ross, Richard
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Tellers for the Noes:
Keetch, Paul Mr. Alsn Reid and
Kirkwood, Sir Archy Bob Rusell

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 203 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 431 disagreed to.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 32, 35, 39, 2, 4, 8, 100, 101, 114, 116 to 123, 125, 127, 128, 131, 138, 139, 167, 173, 235 and 431: Paul Goggins, Mr. Dominic Grieve, Mr. John Heppell, Simon Hughes and Ms Dari Taylor; Paul Goggins to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Heppell.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.