HL Deb 22 April 1991 vol 528 cc11-23

3.10 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 28 [Power to release long-term and life prisoners]:

Lord Richard moved Amendment No. 77: Page 21, line 18, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: The amendment would abolish the Home Secretary's current power to veto the release of prisoners on parole. The proposal was made by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, which examined the parole system and published its report in 1988. The argument is best set out in the report. It recommended: The Home Secretary's responsibility for releasing determinate sentence prisoners on licence should cease. The decision to release people on parole should be taken by the Parole Board alone". The committee's report explained the reason for that recommendation as follows: The present arrangements are cumbersome and conduce to delay. They work in a way which ensures that the inmate is kept in the dark for the longest possible period. They also tend in practice to blur the responsibility for decisions: although the Home Secretary is, in theory, answerable for anything that goes wrong, the substantive consideration and risk assessment will in fact have been undertaken either by the LRC or by the Parole Board and the LRC. It seems to us much more satisfactory for responsibility to lie clearly and unambiguously with a single body". The committee concluded that the only answer to the problem was for the Home Secretary to cease to be responsible for individual parole decisions.

The Government accepted most of the recommendations of the Carlisle Committee and have incorporated them into Part II of the Bill. However, in respect of this issue the White Paper, Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public, stated that the Government could not wholly accept this recommendation. It further stated: The Government believes that some offenders have been convicted of crimes which are so serious that the Home Secretary should keep the final responsibility for the decision whether or not to accept the recommendation from the Parole Board to release them on parole, as part of his wider responsibilities for maintaining the Queen's Peace … The Home Secretary's present intention is that he should continue to consider the release of those serving very long determinate sentences of 7 years or more. They will have committed very serious crimes and may be a serious risk to public safety".

Since then the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell has made it clear that the Home Secretary's involvement in decisions on the release of offenders serving discretionary life sentences contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government are still considering what to do about that decision but must take action. In order to comply with the decision they must establish a judicial tribunal of some kind to make decisions on the release of such prisoners. That will eliminate the Home Secretary's involvement in release decisions for prisoners serving discretionary life sentences.

Prisoners serving discretionary life sentences have usually committed more serious offences and are potentially a greater risk to the public than those given determinate sentences. In my view it would be illogical to eliminate the Home Secretary's veto in respect of release decisions for discretionary life prisoners yet retain it for prisoners given fixed sentences of seven years or more. We on these Benches submit that the Government should accept the recommendations of the Carlisle Committee and end the Home Secretary's veto in respect of recommendations of parole for all prisoners serving determinate sentences.

If the Government are unwilling to consider ending the Home Secretary's veto in respect of parole decisions, we hope that they will explain to the Committee the logic of choosing a cut-off point of seven-year sentences as opposed to 10-year sentences. It is unlikely that when reviewing cases put forward the Home Secretary, with all his other responsibilities, can give deep personal consideration to all those concerning prisoners serving seven years or more. Can the Government tell the Committee, if not now before the next stage of the Bill, how many prisoners serving seven years or more and 10 years or more are reviewed for pa role each year by the Home Secretary? I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment. It would undermine to a considerable extent the responsibility of the Home Secretary for the maintenance of law and order. If when the Parole Board has made a recommendation he is to be deprived of his veto, he will be unable to discharge that responsibility.

Moreover the provision would eliminate the authority of Parliament in such issues. While the Home Secretary has a responsibility he is answerable to both Houses of Parliament. There may well be cases in which a released prisoner with a bad record has subsequently committed serious offences injuring innocent people. Either House of Parliament may wish to investigate such cases. If the amendment is carried the Home Secretary will have no option but to stand at the Dispatch Box and say, "I am afraid that it is nothing to do with me. I have no power in the matter". That would be a most unsatisfactory outcome and I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment.

Lord Hunt

I have some reservations about the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. In response to a question that I asked the noble Earl on Second Reading, I was delighted to hear him say in winding up that the Government propose to give effective powers to the Parole Board in regard to prisoners serving between four and seven years. However, I have reservations about the power to do so in respect of those serving longer sentences for more serious offences.

Several thousand prisoners are serving up to seven years, and that accords with the reality that the Parole Board's decisions are accepted by Ministers. They cannot see all the cases due to the large number of prisoners. However, the number of prisoners serving seven years or more is less. Therefore it is acceptable and possible for an appointed Minister to see those cases and to make the decisions. I believe that Parliament will expect the Home Secretary personally to scrutinise and give authority for the early release on parole of those serving the longer sentences of seven years or more.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for explaining his amendment. Its effect would be to give the Parole Board the final say in the decision to release on parole any prisoner serving a determinate sentence of four years or more. The amendment reflects the view of the Carlisle Committee, which we have carefully considered. There are arguments in favour of that view. It is right that in general Ministers should concentrate on policy rather than on individual casework. It is desirable to have a system which is simple and straightforward and avoids any unnecessarily complex decision-making process. In practice it is unusual for the Home Secretary to reject a recommendation for release by the Parole Board.

The noble Lord asked me to give the rejection figures relating to those serving seven years and those serving 10 years. I cannot give those figures but I shall inquire whether they are available. However, in 1989, 30 recommendations for parole were rejected by my right honourable friend and more than 13,000 prisoners received parole. The number not given parole against the advice of the Parole Board is therefore small.

The Home Secretary has a particular and important responsibility for public safety. It was referred to by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and is extremely important. The responsibility that is most evident in relation to those convicted of the most serious offences cannot be taken lightly. Those who have committed the worst offences must be taken seriously. It is right that the public should understand that the Home Secretary has a say in whether a person who has committed a very serious offence should be allowed back into the community.

That must be balanced against any arguments in favour of an administratively simpler system. I hope that the privileges in the Bill achieve that. For short-term prisoners—those who serve sentences of up to four years—release will be automatic at the half-way point. For long-term prisoners—those serving sentences of four years or more—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned, where the sentence is between four and seven years, it is our intention under Clause 41 that the Home Secretary should delegate to the Parole Board the power to make the decision about release. For those serving sentences of seven years or longer, we believe it is right for the Secretary of State to make the final decision and for the Parole Board to retain its advisory role and to continue to advise my right honourable friend.

The provisions in the Bill already move a good way towards a delegated system which should minimise the involvement of the Secretary of State so far as it is acceptable to do so. Some may argue that we have not moved far enough and that we have been too cautious, but I do not believe that. When the new system is tried and has been tested, Parliament may consider it right for a greater degree of delegation to the Parole Board. In that case another order could be made under Clause 41 to extend the categories of case in which the decision was delegated.

I realise that some Members of the Committee think that we should go further. For the reasons I have given, I believe it is right for the Secretary of State to have the final power. If it transpires that that power could be given eventually to the Parole Board, then the mechanism exists in the Bill to allow that to be done.

Lord Richard

Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps he can explain why seven years is chosen as the cut-off point. What is the magic about a seven-year sentence as opposed to a nine or 10-year sentence? I do not know why that cut-off point was chosen nor, indeed, whether that is suitable. Perhaps the noble Earl can help the Committee.

Earl Ferrers

One must choose a cut-off point and that was the point considered to be reasonable. Those serving sentences of four to seven years have committed fairly serious offences but are not in the same category as those serving sentences of over seven years.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

On a point of information, if an amendment such as that moved by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is not agreed to, will the Government not be in breach of the European Court of Human Rights in the face of the recent judgment in the case of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell in 1990?

Earl Ferrers

The short answer is that the Government will not be in contravention. As we have explained, we are considering that judgment to see how best it can fit into our existing system.

The Earl of Longford

Does the noble Earl believe, in the situation which he envisages, that the Home Secretary will have more information before him which is not available to the Parole Board? On the face of it, he will not.

Earl Ferrers

It may be that he will not have more information, but the Home Secretary has responsibility for public safety. He is advised by the Parole Board but there are occasions—and, as I explained, very few occasions—when the Home Secretary's judgment may require that the decision to release should not be taken.

Lord Richard

I thank the noble Earl for his response. It was not very informative as to my question about why seven years was chosen as a cut-off point. I shall not test the opinion of the Committee on this matter, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 77A not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Duration and conditions of licences]:

[Amendment No. 77B not moved.]

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Recall of long-term and life prisoners while on licence]:

[Amendment No. 77C not moved.]

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clauses 33 and 34 agreed to.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir moved Amendment No. 78: After Clause 34, insert the following new clause:

("Custody abroad

. After subsection (1A) of section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 there shall be inserted the following subsection— (1B) In subsection (1) above "relevant period" includes any period served in custody in connection solely with charges relating to the offence in any foreign jurisdiction awaiting extradition to this country where there is in existence at that time a treaty obligation for extradition between that country and the United Kingdom; and for the purpose of this subsection "custody" means continuous detention by order of a court in an establishment provided for the purpose of restricting liberty."").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to remove an anomaly in one of our sentencing procedures. The anomaly is between the sentencing of prisoners detained on remand in this country and the sentencing here of prisoners detained abroad while awaiting extradition.

The case for the change proposed by this new clause can be put quite briefly. Before the Criminal Justice Act 1967 a judge imposing a custodial sentence on a prisoner who, prior to sentence, had been remanded in custody for the offence charged could take the period of custody into account and, usually with explanation, would reduce the appropriate sentence accordingly.

Section 67 of the 1967 Act made a change. Thereafter, the judge was not concerned with the computation of the remand time spent in custody or on bail and passed in full the appropriate sentence for the offence charged. Section 67 transferred the computation to the Home Office administration with the statutory duty to reduce the period of imprisonment following the court's sentence by the relevant time spent in custody on remand.

Therefore, the position was that the length of imprisonment but not the sentence was reduced. However, no similar provision was made for a prisoner who had been arrested abroad and who had spent time in custody awaiting extradition. That time in custody abroad could not be counted towards a sentence subsequently imposed by a court here. The Committee may think that in many cases that would be manifestly unfair and, indeed, some years later the Court of Appeal held that justice required that custody abroad in those circumstances should be reflected in the sentence imposed here.

Following that and other judicial precedents, judges today consider reducing a sentence in order to give credit for time spent in foreign custody. Of course, there is no statutory obligation for that credit to be given. Therefore, we now have two sentencing procedures which the Committee may think are quite anomalous and indeed undesirable.

Perhaps I may give a hypothetical example. Two men jointly commit a crime and both are arrested roughly at the same time. One is arrested in this country and the other is arrested abroad, in perhaps Canada or the United States, and is subject to an extradition order. Both are remanded in custody: one in England for a year; the one abroad also in custody for a year. When they come up to be sentenced, by precedent the judge is required to take into account the time spent in custody abroad; that is, one year. Therefore, he reduces the appropriate sentence by one year. However, with regard to the prisoner who was arrested and remanded in custody in Britain, he passes the appropriate sentence.

One therefore has the ridiculous situation where, for the same offence, with each man equally culpable, one man receives five years and the other four years. The public may find that difficult to understand. It is manifestly wrong that one man should have on his criminal record a sentence of five years and the other a sentence of four years.

I mention that example to indicate what the anomaly means. Amendment No. 78 was tabled on the initiative of that splendid organisation, Prisoners Abroad. An amendment was moved in the other place. It was not in precisely the same terms as this one. The Minister in the other place found certain objections. One was with regard to the difficulty of defining "custody abroad". A person could be in a prison cell or a house with restricted movement. For that reason the new clause contains the definition that custody means, continuous detention by order of a court in an establishment provided for the purpose of restricting liberty".

Another objection raised by the government spokes man in the other place was that custody abroad must be directly connected with the proceedings relating to the sentence. He said that it may be difficult to be certain about that. For that reason the new clause includes the words, any period served in custody in connection solely with charges relating to the offence

Those two objections therefore have been met by Amendment No. 78. In the circumstances it is quite wrong that there should be two systems of sentence. It was regarded as being right in relation to a person on remand in this country that the Home Office administration should do the arithmetic and say by what amount the period of imprisonment should be reduced. In my submission the case for this matter to be determined administratively by the Home Office rather than by the trial judge is overwhelming. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Richard

On behalf of these Benches I am happy to support Amendment No. 78. The position at the moment is bizarre. One has the anomaly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas—a situation that can clearly arise in practice.

As I understand it the Court of Appeal said that justice requires that the amount of time spent in custody abroad should be reflected in the sentence imposed in this country. If it is not reflected in the sentence imposed in this country, then the royal prerogative is wheeled out—if that is not too inappropriate a phrase—and it is the royal prerogative that is used to remedy what prima facie is an injustice. If it were not an injustice then presumably the royal prerogative would not be thought applicable.

I believe that the then Home Secretary, now Leader of this House, wrote to Mr. Keith Best, the director of that excellent organisation, Prisoners Abroad, in March last year. He said, You are right about the position of the offender who has spent time in custody abroad awaiting extradition. Where it appears that time spent in custody abroad relating to the charge on which the prisoner was convicted has not been taken into account by the court in fixing the terms of the sentence, it is thought right to consider giving credit for that time. When justified, this is done by recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to grant an appropriate period of special remission of the prisoner's sentence". It is absurd that in a situation where the courts and the Government are saying that the time spent abroad should be reflected in the sentence, the only way of remedying the injustice is to use the royal prerogative. Further inquiries to the Home Office regarding how many times the royal prerogative has been exercised to grant special remission in those circumstances revealed that over the past five years 12 applications had been granted and no more.

When the matter was raised in the other place two points were taken by the Government. One was that custody could not be sufficiently defined so as to make it capable of administrative decision in this country. Secondly, the definition of the offence had to be related to the time spent in custody abroad. Both those points have now been taken care of in the clause before the Committee. The clause says, for the purpose of this subsection 'custody' means continuous detention by order of a court in an establishment provided for the purpose of restricting liberty". In our submission it is wrong that somebody who has spent time in custody abroad within the meaning of the definition of that subsection should find himself in front of the courts in this country deprived of credit—if one may use that phrase—for the time he spent in custody abroad and thus relying upon the exercise of the royal prerogative. As we all know, that is uncertain, at least in its inception. It is an injustice which may be remedied by the Government accepting the clause.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Thomas from a different point of view; that is, the welfare of the families involved. When one man is in custody abroad for a time, his family and children do not see him during that period. If he then returns to this country and must serve a sentence—perhaps longer than his co-defendant's—further difficulties arise. Therefore, while I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and my noble friend Lord Thomas, I support the amendment from a welfare point of view.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

I too support the amendment. One further objection was taken by the Government in the other place regarding the difficulty of discovering what was the exact length of custody abroad. In all extradition cases there is a great deal of diplomatic communication between governments under the extradition Acts and treaties. I should not have thought it would be in any way difficult to have reciprocal arrangements whereby each government, where the extradition of one of their nationals is involved, always indicate the length of custody in which that person had been held.

Baroness Phillips

Before we go any further perhaps I can ask whether I am the only person in the Chamber who does not understand what we are discussing. It is not infrequently that I have to listen to legal people explaining things. However, I am attempting to envisage the situation given, and I invite Members of the Committee to interrupt if I have not understood correctly. Two men have committed the same crime. One man is arrested in this country and the other abroad. I am not clear how that could be if both committed the crime in this country. Has one perhaps been clever enough to skip off to another country and been caught there? If so, it seems to me that he deserves to receive the extra sentence. Perhaps somebody could explain precisely what we are talking about. Why is one person awaiting extradition if both people committed the crime in this country?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

In the interests of coherent parliamentary government I hope that the Minister will look at the amendment with sympathy. By "coherent" I mean that the facts as explained by my noble friend Lord Thomas indicate that when a similar amendment was presented in another place two clear reasons—which he accepted as having a base—were given for not accepting it. It may be that those two objections have now been answered. Unless my noble friend on the Front Bench can say that an answer has not been provided to the two reasons given in another place, I do not feel that we should play cat-and-mouse. As I see it, the strength of Parliament lies in having two Houses. That gives one time, during the various proceedings on a Bill, to arrive at as near a correct conclusion as possible by listening and meeting each other along lines which have been clearly established. Having listened to my noble friend Lord Thomas, it appears that the reasons for not accepting the amendment in another place have been answered. It would be sad if the coherence of that procedure had been properly followed but not accepted through approval of the amendment itself.

Earl Ferrers

We all have sympathy with the point of view which my noble friend has put forward in his amendment. Its purpose is perfectly clear. It is to put the prisoner who has spent time in custody abroad awaiting extradition in the same position as a prisoner who has spent time in custody on remand in this country. Therefore, from that point of view, it is eminently fair. Like the offender who has spent time on remand, the period which the offender is to spend in custody under sentence would be reduced automatically and administratively by a period equal to the time that has been spent in custody abroad during extradition proceedings, if my noble friend's amendment were accepted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, was worried about the kind of cases where this situation can come about. I shall give one example concerning fraud where a number of different countries are concerned with the same case. It may be that people are taken into custody in one country and then extradited to another for sentencing. The positions of the respective offenders are not always comparable. Different arrangements are needed to take account of the different circumstances. Section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967, to which my noble friend Lord Thomas referred, makes it clear that remand time is relevant only when it is directly connected with any proceedings relating to the sentence which it affects.

That is an important principle and one that should also be reflected in the way in which foreign custody is treated. It is much more difficult to determine whether foreign custody is relevant in this way. It may, for example, have been intermittent or custody may have taken place in more than one jurisdiction. Some of it may have been in connection with charges faced by the offender in, or a sentence imposed by, the host country. Therefore, it may be difficult to determine exactly how much of that custody related to the offence with which he was charged in this country.

This new clause attempts to overcome these objections, but it would be limited to cases where detention was continuous and not intermittent, and where remand time was related to the proceedings for this particular offence. It is also limited in that it extends only to those countries with which extradition is conducted on the basis of an extradition treaty. There are many offenders who would not benefit from it. Indeed, no prisoner who is extradited from a Commonwealth country would benefit because extradition arrangements with those countries are not based on treaties.

There is a great variety of factors which may need to be considered before a decision could properly be made to reduce the sentence which is to be served in this country. It requires an exercise of sentencing discretion which I suggest to the Committee is more appropriately exercised by a judge than by a civil servant in a prison or in the Home Office. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that judges should consider reducing the sentence in order to give credit for time which has been spent in foreign custody. That seems to be the most sensible and practical arrangement. The sentencing judge has all the facts of the case before him at the time of sentence and he can make the appropriate allowance for time which has been spent in custody abroad. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, there is the safety net of the royal prerogative of mercy being, as he graphically put it, "wheeled out" on these occasions in the odd case where proper allowance has not been made. We are not saying that that will be the usual way of dealing with the matter because usually the judge will reduce the sentence. If that does not happen, only then will the royal prerogative be used. That is why the numbers are small.

We have taken steps in the Bill to ensure that sentencers can continue to reduce a sentence to take account of time which has been spent in custody. The Committee may recall that a new government clause was inserted after Clause 23 which makes general provision for the mitigation of sentence. That includes a reduction in the sentence to take account of time served abroad awaiting extradition. That may go some way towards meeting my noble friend's concerns. I understand his concerns. I hope he will agree that the way in which it is proposed to deal with the matter is better than that proposed in the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

Can the noble Earl say what the objection is to asking the foreign government to certify the time spent in custody? If that were done, all the problems raised by the noble Earl would be resolved. What is the objection to taking that course?

Earl Ferrers

I am not sure whether that would be the right thing for a foreign government to do. It is a matter which should be dealt with through the legal processes. The principal objection would be that it is very difficult to fuse one form of jurisdiction with another on a legal basis as proposed by this amendment. We propose to deal with the matter by the judge understanding the circumstances of the case and making due allowance.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I do not understand why the absence of an extradition treaty with Commonwealth countries makes it impossible to behave as though there were one.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend's amendment refers to "awaiting extradition to this country" where there is a treaty obligation. With Commonwealth countries there ire no extradition treaties and therefore they would not he affected by this amendment.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Prisoners are sent here from the Commonwealth to be tried in cases of this kind, are they not?

Earl Ferrers

That may be so. I was trying to point out that my noble friend's amendment refers to extradition treaties and the obligations which this country has. Therefore, from the point of view of my noble friend's amendment, that would exclude people from Commonwealth countries. I shall certainly take my noble friend's concern on board.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington made a very sensible suggestion. He said that a foreign government should certify the number of days in which an alleged offender has been held in custody. The noble Earl explained the problems associated with that. Unless the foreign government does so certify, how can anyone in this county know the truth of the matter? The noble Earl said that the matter should be left to the judge, but how will he know how many days the offender spent in custody unless there is some certification process? I should be very grateful if the noble Earl can help me.

Earl Ferrers

The best thing I can do is to find out exactly what the process is by which one country informs another of the number of days an offender spends in custody. I see that there is a real problem. Judges have to know the amount of time that a person has spent in custody as opposed simply to having the prisoner say how long he has spent in custody in another country. We do not sentence on the basis of certificates from a foreign government. I shall look into the point made by noble Lords.

Lord Renton

Is it not the invariable practice for the police, before sentence is passed by the judge, to be called to give the facts known to them about the antecedents of the accused? That would invariably contain information about the time spent in custody, whether in this country or abroad. The defence have the right to cross-examine the officer if he has not given such evidence in examination-in-chief.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend, with his considerable experience of the law, is probably quite correct over that. It is important though that whoever determines how many days a person has spent in prison should do so on the basis of the facts; and the courts should be aware that those facts are correct. I shall certainly look into the matter.

Baroness Phillips

I am still not clear about this. Are we talking about someone who has committed an offence in another country or about someone who has committed an offence in this country and then skipped over to Nice to have a holiday? I really do not quite understand what we are talking about.

Earl Ferrers

I do not blame the noble Baroness. I often find difficulties in that direction as well. She has a fairly vivid imagination and I think that both the examples which she gave would obtain. If a person has committed an offence in this country and then escapes, say, to France, one might get hold of the French police and say, "Look, here is this person who has done something terrible. We want him". The police then go and arrest that person and put him into custody. Then of course this particular aspect of the amendment would bite. Equally, a person may have committed an offence, such as a drug offence, in England. In the course of inquiries it may be found that one of those people involved in this drug offence, be he an Englishman or Frenchman, is sitting in Nice. Therefore, this person who has also been part of the crime for which the person in England is responsible may also require to be put into custody, and that is why again the person may be put into custody, in, say, France and be required to be extradited to this country.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir

I thank my noble friend the Minister for the answers that he gave to this amendment. However, I must confess—and I do so with all humility—that I am very disappointed indeed. I do not think that his answer was in any way relevant to the points which were made in support of this amendment. My noble friend referred to the question of custody, to the relevance of custody abroad and to the sentence passed. All that is covered in the amendment. What my noble friend has said is that he thinks the status quo should be maintained and that a judge should be the one obliged by precedents to reduce an appropriate sentence by the amount that he assesses to be the amount spent in custody abroad prior to extradition. That is the whole point which those who have spoken in favour of the amendment think is the anomaly.

Do my noble friend and his advisers think that a judge who is in the process of sentencing and is told that a defendant has been in custody abroad should take an immediate decision as to the length of that custody? Does my noble friend not think that the administrative side of the Home Office is better equipped to look into the matter to see exactly what the length of the custodial sentence abroad had been and to reach a decision? The judge can then give the appropriate sentence for the offence, and the amount spent in prison as a result of that sentence would be reduced, as it is reduced in a normal case by Home Office administration. That is all that this amendment means.

I am bitterly disappointed that my noble friend and those who advise him have not seen that there is a very strong case for this amendment. I do not intend to press it to a Division. However, I ask my noble friend and his advisers to look into this matter because there is clearly a case for a change. If he wishes the anomaly to remain it is going to bring into disrespect the procedure of sentencing.

Earl Ferrers

Before my noble friend decides whether to withdraw his amendment, I am of course distressed that he should feel bitterly disappointed by anything that I have said. I realise that he feels very strongly about this. Indeed a number of noble Lords have spoken in favour of the amendment. I should certainly like to consider what my noble friend and other Members of the Committee have said. Obviously, we are all trying to get the right answer. Just because I happen to have taken a view slightly contrary to that of my noble friend, I would not wish him to think that we were not, as it were, running down the same lines. I shall certainly take into account all that he and the Committee have said.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir

I am very much obliged to my noble friend. If he had said that in the course of his address to the Committee I should not have demonstrated such disappointment. I am most grateful to him for his undertaking and I hope that he and his advisers can look into the matter and consider what has been said in this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Reay

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.