HL Deb 23 July 1991 vol 531 cc648-60

1A Line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

("(1) This Part applies to a person sentenced to—

  1. (a) life imprisonment, whether or not for an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law; or
  2. (b) during Her Majesty's pleasure or for life under section 53 of the 1933 Act; or
  3. (c) custody for life under section 8 of the 1982 Act;
where the Court by which he was sentenced ordered that this section should apply to him as soon as he had served a part of his sentence specified in the Order.") The Commons disagreed to Lords Amendment 1A for the following reason—

1AA Because the considerations applicable to the release of persons serving mandatory life sentences are not the same as those applicable to prisoners whose cases will be dealt with under new clause (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners).

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. I A to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1 AA. I shall speak also to the other amendments on the Order Paper with which another place has disagreed and upon which I am inviting your Lordships not to insist.

I should make the point at the outset that, after prolonged discussion during the months of these important matters, noble Lords who served on the Select Committee have won much of what they set out to achieve and, even where the Government have remained unpersuaded, their views have been given the most careful consideration.

When the Bill went back to another place after Third Reading here, the other place accepted that there should be a review procedure in discretionary life sentence cases. More recently, the other place also accepted your Lordships' view that in discretionary life sentence cases there should not even be a power to delay release for a few months in exceptional circumstances. The other side of the coin is, of course, that your Lordships have already accepted, albeit reluctantly, that the mandatory life sentence should remain.

When the amendments which we are looking at today were moved by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, he presented them as giving an opportunity for another place to think again about certain points in its proposals which he believed could be improved. He indicated that the amendments made in another place were a step in the right direction and that his further amendments were not put forward in any spirit of conflict or confrontation.

Therefore, it has been a question of our listening to each other's arguments, respecting each other's views and there being a bit of give and a bit of take. What I am asking today, with all due respect, is that your Lordships should now, in the light of deeply held views expressed in another place about taking away from the Home Secretary his ultimate responsibility for the release of murderers back into the community, allow matters to rest where they are and allow this very worthwhile Bill to become law without further ado. I am sure that all noble Lords consider that it is a worthwhile Bill.

Perhaps I may remind the House that we sought the power to delay a life sentence prisoner's release for up to six months after it had been ordered by the Parole Board in order to cater for the exceptional circumstance where the prisoner's release at a particular moment might, for example, exacerbate a public order situation or complicate the handling of some sensitive terrorist incident. We believe that such a limited residual power would be in accordance with the ECHR judgment in the case of Thynne and others, which referred to the possibility of the Executive being able to detain the prisoner further on grounds of what it termed "expediency". However, having reflected on what was said in your Lordships' House, we concluded that it was not essential to have this power, and your Lordships' views have prevailed.

However, we failed to spot that, as a result of dropping the six-month power, a consequential amendment to our new clause would be required. I am mos. grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for noticing our mistake. Matters are now put to rights by his Amendment No. 1CB, which I hope your Lordships will accept. Once again perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for spotting that foolish error.

The main question which has still to be resolved is, of course, whether the new procedures for the review of discretionary life sentence cases should also extend to prisoners who receive the mandatory life sentence for murder, with the Home Secretary required to release such prisoners if the Parole Board so orders.

When the matter was last before this House the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, argued strongly that that should be the case; that the procedures for mandatory and discretionary cases should be the same. He suggested that it would only be a matter of time before another case before the ECHR forced us down that path. The Government, however, still believe that the Thynne judgment draws a sharp distinction between mandatory and discretionary life sentences.

I do not wish to go over this in great detail because it has been rehearsed on previous occasions. However, the decision on release in a discretionary case is, save in the wholly exceptional case where life imprisonment is passed for punishment alone, to be based purely on the question of whether the offender continues to be a risk to the public. But, in the mandatory case, the decision on the offender's release raises different and broader questions which are not, I believe, inherently judicial in character.

Parliament has decided, rightly or wrongly, that the person convicted of murder has committed a crime of such gravity that the punishment should be that he forfeit his liberty to the state for the rest of his days and can, if necessary, be detained for life. There is no presumption that he, unlike the discretionary life sentence prisoner, should be released at a certain point if he is judged no longer to be a risk.

The presumption is, on the contrary, that the prisoner should remain in custody until and unless the Home Secretary concludes that the time has come when the public interest would be better served by his release than by his continued detention. In exercising his discretion in that respect the Home Secretary must take account not just of the question of risk but of how society as a whole would view the prisoner's release at that particular juncture. Obviously, the Home Secretary takes account of the judicial recommendation, but the final decision is his and, because it is his, it has been possible for Ministers to adopt and apply policies such as the policy which ensures that those who murder police officers serve at least 20 years in prison.

The Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament for the decisions he takes. To transfer his responsibility to the Parole Board or some other body would not only mark a fundamental departure from the principle that decisions of this nature should be taken by Ministers accountable to Parliament for them, but would open up the whole question of what alternative arrangements should be made to ensure that this very heavy responsibility was discharged in a way which commanded public confidence. If decisions of that kind were not to be taken by the Home Secretary—with the Home Secretary accountable to Parliament for them—Parliament in its turn would no doubt wish to be satisfied that its own influence was not entirely lost; and that might involve far reaching changes to the way in which sentencing for murder was conducted with perhaps statutory guidelines on the length of time that those convicted of different kinds of murder should serve.

I know that the amendments are grouped separately but they fit very closely together. It may be for the convenience of the House if I turn now to Amendment No. 1B and then I need deal with the remaining amendments only very briefly later. Amendment No. 1B would require the judge to state a term in every discretionary life sentence case. The other place has disagreed with the amendment on the grounds that it does not take account of the possibility that a discretionary life sentence might be imposed not because the offender is judged to be a danger to the public but solely because the offence which the offender has committed is so serious as to justify a life sentence on that account. I am satisfied that the approach recommended by the Government is wholly consistent with the wording of the Bill before your Lordships.

In other words, this would be a discretionary life sentence passed in accordance with Clause 2(2) (a) of the Bill rather than Clause 2(2) (b); that is, a custodial sentence passed for a term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, not for a term longer than is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, such as is necessary to protect the public. Therefore, if the judge has concluded that it is necessary for the purposes of punishment to pass a life sentence on a person—not having concluded that it is necessary to pass a life sentence on a person to protect the public from him—it is entirely illogical for the court then to be required to set a term shorter than the life sentence.

Such a discretionary life sentence based purely on the seriousness of the offence would, of course, be very rare. The vast majority of discretionary life sentences are passed because there is an element of mental instability which means that the prisoner will be a risk to the public for a period which cannot be predicted in advance. However, occasionally discretionary life sentences are passed, not because the offender is perceived to be a risk to the public but because of the nature of the offence which he has committed. As I said, in such cases it would be inappropriate and illogical to require the court to state a term within the sentence which was appropriate to the seriousness of the offence because the whole of the life sentence would have been imposed to punish the offence, not just part of it. No doubt the learned judge would have made that absolutely plain.

I should emphasise that it will, of course, be entirely at the discretion of the judge whether to pass a discretionary life sentence of that nature. I am sure that it would be most exceptional but I do not consider that it would be appropriate to limit the judge's discretion in the matter in the way that Amendment No. 1B does.

Lords Amendment No. 1C would permit the Parole Board to direct that the licence of a discretionary life sentence prisoner should be lifted after a certain period. That would mean that the offender concerned was no longer subject to any form of supervision and could not be recalled to prison if he showed signs of reverting to his former ways. Another place has disagreed with this amendment on the grounds that it is implicit that licences for life sentence prisoners should last for life; and it does seem to me that if a life sentence is passed, that must mean that the offender is subject to some restriction for the rest of his life. It would be a very strange life sentence if it did not mean that.

Furthermore, the practicality of the matter is that the offenders whom we are talking about in this context will have been given life sentences because there has been judged to be an element of mental instability in their behaviour. If someone with a life sentence for sexual assaults on young children shows some years after his release an interest in committing similar offences again, surely it must remain possible to take some action.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Lord is arguing for life sentences in many cases on the grounds of mental instability. In that case would not the individuals concerned be better disposed of in special hospitals?

3.15 p.m.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the reason behind the demand for the whole review procedure is that the person was given a life sentence not just for punishment. He is given a life sentence part of which should be for punishment and the rest because of risk to the public. Therefore, the answer to the noble Earl is that, if a person is deemed by a judge to be a risk to the public and to need a life sentence in order to protect the public, it is not a far cry from that to assume that there is some instability in the person which the judge believes will mean that the person will remain a risk to the public after the punishment part of the term has expired.

I was dealing with the case of the sex offender who is given a life sentence and years later shows signs once again of taking an interest in young children. So long as the licence remains in force, steps can be taken either through tighter supervision, the attaching of new conditions to the licence, or ultimately the offender's recall to prison, to ensure that potential victims are not exposed to danger from him. I hope that on reflection your Lordships will agree that we should not deny the public the protection which is conferred by the existence of the licence for the remainder of the offender's life.

We argued before about the judgment in Thynne. At the risk of boring your Lordships I read out a great chunk of that judgment. I could find nothing that suggested for one moment that there had to be a power to terminate the licence as distinct from a power to review the sentence and release the person when the penal term was over if the man was no longer a risk to the public.

Your Lordships have succeeded in persuading another place to think again on the whole question of a review system in discretionary cases and about the six-month delay power. I do not think that we should take it amiss that another place, having considered our views on the other points, has disagreed with them. The important thing is that it should have had a chance to consider these points, and should have done so.

With regard to the debate on mandatory life sentences, I am sure that we have not heard the last of it, and it may be that on maturer reflection, policy will move in the direction which some of your Lordships wish to see. Meanwhile, I hope that your Lordships will agree that the House has had its say on these matters and that the time has come to allow this important Criminal Justice Bill to pass on to the statute book. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 A to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1AA.—(Lord Waddington.)

Lord Richard

My Lords, I agree with the Leader of the House to this extent: the House has had its say and it is time that the Bill should pass. However, the vision that the Leader of the House gave of the relationship between the two Houses in regard to the Bill was almost that of a Socratic dialogue—that there had been an intellectual exchange at the highest level between minds in this House and minds in another place as a result of which a compromise of some kind had emerged. I must say that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Leader of the House said that there had been a bit of give and a bit of take. Looking at the history of the matter, there has been a great deal of give on one side and a great deal of take on the other. However, the give and the take have not been equalised. As a result of the way in which the Government chose to deal with the matter in another place, we are left with an extraordinary position. It is in effect a double and dual system for dealing with prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

In one life sentence case, a decision will be more open, more judicial, more challengable, more transparent; in the other case, it will still be an executive decision taken on grounds one cannot know, let alone challenge, in the absence of the prisoner, and arrived at by Ministers at one knows not what level after consideration of whatever points they think fit, which again we shall never know.

I have said before and perhaps I may repeat that it is wrong in principle to lengthen sentences by executive decree in this manner. Unlike a judge, the Minister makes his decision without having heard evidence in court. It is effectively a sentencing decision. It is taken behind closed doors. The prisoner cannot appeal against it. Similarly, decisions for or against the eventual release of life sentence prisoners and on the recall of such prisoners from licence can result in further lengthy periods of imprisonment; yet those decisions are also taken by an executive process whereby the Parole Board makes recommendations to Ministers.

The amendments which this House passed and transmitted to the other place would have ensured that decisions on the release and recall of life sentence prisoners were made by a process which, unlike the current system, would have satisfied the requirements of natural justice. It is difficult to see any logic in retaining the Home Secretary's veto over the release of prisoners convicted of domestic murder in circumstances of extreme stress while relinquishing it in cases where a life sentence has been imposed for a calculated serial rape or following a manslaughter verdict on an unpredictable and unstable mentally disordered killer.

Those points have been made before. They do not require repetition. I merely say to the House that while I accept that the other place must have its way and that the Bill should now proceed, for the Leader of the House to say that another place considered the matter in an almost intellectual manner is frankly a travesty of what happened. It was considered for approximately 48 minutes after 10 o'clock. And the quality—if I may so characterise it—of the exchange is perhaps best illustrated by a passage I should like to read to the House from Hansard. The honourable gentleman, Mr. Bowen Wells, a Member of the Government party—

Noble Lords


Lord Richard

My Lords, if it is out of order for me to quote Hansard the House will be spared. It is suggested I paraphrase the extract. It is difficult to paraphrase what the right honourable Mrs. Rumbold said. The House will be spared the details of the way in which the Government tried to deal with the matter.

When asked a simple question as to how the Home Secretary announced his decision and how that might be available in this House for debate, the Minister in charge, Mrs. Rumbold, having considered the matter obviously in a lengthy way, merely said that it was not a case where the Home Secretary announces his decision at a given time. I do not accept that the matter was dealt with in another place with anything like the care and consideration that it was given in this House.

I apologise for not knowing but I am now told that I can quote the Minister. I am delighted to be able to give the House the full flavour of what the right honourable Mrs. Rumbold said: This is not a case where the Home Secretary announces his decision at a given time. When the judiciary passes sentence in court, that sentence is passed as a life sentence or as life imprisonment, which means that anyone who commits murder will for the rest of his or her days be subject to the judgment of the court that it is a life sentence. When that person comes out, or if they do not come out, it is for the Home Secretary to decide when he takes into account, not just the usual elements, but the public interest clement, and that element is the most important part of a rounded and larger decision"—[Official Report, Commons, 16/7/91; col. 312.] whatever that may mean. She was asked, "How do we know that?" She replied, at col. 313: It is not a question of how one knows that. It is a matter which Parliament has decided". That was the argument being put forward in the other place. I detected a smell of it in the argument of the Leader of the House today. However, this is not the time to repeat all the arguments. I find the Government's reply disappointing, but in all the circumstances I think the Bill should pass.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I do not oppose the Motion moved by the Leader of the House that we should not insist upon our amendment. I say that for a reason shared by many others in your Lordships' House. There is too much in the Bill which is good and useful and which needs to be enacted immediately to make the risk of losing the Bill acceptable. This is not the moment to review the arguments so exhaustively and fully presented to your Lordships. I regret that the other place disagreed with amendments approved by large majorities in your Lordships' House; that is, all except one which the other place agreed.

It was in relation to that amendment that the Leader of the House said: I do not know whether it was some diabolical plot on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, which persuaded him to start off with what many might think his worst rather than his best point".—[Official Report, 3/7/91; col. 1025.] I had no idea that I was being diabolical or so successful in being so. I must try it again.

It has been suggested to me that I should move further amendments to dilute those which are the subject of consideration today, with a view to securing the agreement of another place. I am advised that such a course presents no difficulties of procedure, but I have rejected it. Such a course can only obscure the purposes and principles which have received such overwhelming support and thus prejudice their adoption on a future occasion.

The arguments for retention of the status quo seem, in principle, to be two. First—the noble Lord the Leader of the House made the point himself—it is said that a person convicted of murder has committed a crime of such gravity that he forfeits his liberty to the state for the rest of his days and that it is for the Home Secretary to determine how long he shall remain in custody as punishment and whether or not he should be released—always, of course, on licence. But the state acts through different organs for different purposes. The Executive, the judiciary, and indeed the tribunal proposed by the Commons Amendment to determine questions of release in the particular circumstances specified, all act for the state. I believe that the Home Secretary is not the appropriate person to act for the state in these contexts.

Secondly, it is said that the Home Secretary must retain these powers for the exercise of which he is accountable to Parliament; that is, both Houses. But as we know, the powers are exercised in secret. Accountability depends on knowledge or means of acquiring it. The past quarter of a century since the mandatory life sentence for murder was introduced does not prompt confidence in that argument.

The Select Committee report brought to light secret procedures and the need for radical reform; supported overwhelmingly by your Lordships, the press, the media generally and, as I believe, by the public now that they know the position. It has been said that your Lordships are ahead of public opinion. If that is true, I count it for virtue; for surely one of our functions is to lead. However, as I said, with the information now available public opinion is in favour of the changes we propose.

It is said that the original amendments and those relating to the Commons Amendments will not be incorporated. It is sad that those amendments will not be incorporated in the Bill, but another opportunity will arise and we shall take it. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord the Leader of the House that on mature reflection there may be a change of heart by many.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, the outcome of the lengthy debates we have had on life sentences of imprisonment in the course of the Criminal Justice Bill and the messages that have passed between the two Houses is a compromise which is satisfactory to nobody. On the one side the Government maintain, as we have heard again this afternoon, that the time is not ripe to move away from the mandatory life sentence as the penalty for murder, although seeming now to accept that the change is likely to come at some time in the future.

On the other side, we have heard mounting criticisms of the way Ministers have been drawn, almost imperceptibly over the past few years, into entanglement in a procedure which confuses the proper functions of the Executive and the judiciary. As the Bill has progressed through both Houses this feature has increasingly attracted comment by speakers in another place. Many Members of Parliament, even a number of Ministers, have been startled to discover that it is Home Office Ministers meeting in private—often a Minister of State advising the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Home Secretary himself—who decide how long a prisoner should serve as a punishment for his crime. They have not heard the evidence in court and have not seen the prisoner, who himself has not been afforded any opportunity to challenge what is said about him in reports, the contents of which he may know nothing.

It is true that the judiciary is consulted on the setting of the so-called tariff. To add to the rather short list of achievements resulting from the consideration of this important matter in this House I ask the Minister of State at the Home Office who is sitting on the Front Bench, and my noble friend the Leader of the House, if they will make a determined effort to erase the word "tariff" from the Home Office vocabulary. It is an ugly and inappropriate word. The Select Committee had provided a better alternative, which is to refer to it as the "penal term".

For all crimes other than murder, the current procedures which we have debated so often over the past few months have been found to be unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. Consequently, under the obligations incorporated in the European Convention on Human Rights, they must be changed. After strong pressure from this House the Government came forward in another place with amendments to the Bill in order to bring discretionary life sentences into line with the requirements of the convention. It has already been recognised by my noble friend the Leader of the House that your Lordships acted as a spur, causing the Government to act more quickly than they otherwise might have done.

The amendments carried in this House on 3rd July were amending the Commons Amendments. They were complicated, but their effect was simple. The amendments provided a consistent procedure—just one procedure—applying the same rules to all life sentences. The response in the other place was characteristic of the hesitant way in which the Home Office has approached the whole problem, in that the Government were only prepared to move to the extent which was already unavoidable, and no further. The result is that we are now left for the future with two quite distinct procedures for deciding how long life sentence prisoners should serve in custody, and how —and by whom—their cases should be reviewed.

The procedure that applies to all cases save only murder incorporates the standards of fairness enshrined in the European convention which I may remind your Lordships were largely drawn from the common law. For reasons that the Government, but few others with any familiarity of the workings of criminal justice, find persuasive the alternative procedure endures, and it can only be described as arbitrary. I am sure that I am not alone in doubting whether these two distinct procedures can cohabit for very long. The distinctions between mandatory and discretionary sentences have become more and more complicated. They are contrived and they remain unconvincing.

Far a time I was chairman of a joint Home Office Parole Board committee which until 1983 reviewed the cases of all those who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. We never concerned ourselves with whether they were sentences for murder or rape or any of the other serious offences which had led to life imprisonment. We looked at each case on its merits. But bit by bit, in an attempt to justify retaining the power of decision within the Home Office, the distinctions between mandatory and discretionary sentences became more and more elaborate. My conclusion is that they are not necessary and have made the problem worse rather than better.

It is regrettable that we make progress in penal reform so slowly and so reluctantly. We have a debate on another related matter later this evening which has been initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. No one knows better than he how true that is. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and with the advice we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench that we should not press our amendments further in view of the clear opposition by a majority of those who voted in another place.

My final reflection at the end of this protracted process of debate and amendment on the Bill, sending it to and fro between the two Houses, is to reflect that penal reforms are never easily gained. We may recall that t he path we have followed in this Bill began in 1987 when the previous criminal justice legislation was before your Lordships' House. On that occasion it led to the setting up of the Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment which was chaired with such distinction by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. The report of the Select Committee led to the amendments which your Lordships agreed and put into the present Criminal Justice Bill.

We are part of the way towards our destination. Even the Government seem to recognise that the destination is now in sight. We may have to wait a little longer until we arrive there.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the advice of my noble friend the late Lord Stockton to those who sit on these Back Benches who are to make a speech in your Lordships' House was, "Take one point only and keep it very short". The point that I wish to take is that the traditional relationship between the Houses which has served so well and so long cannot operate in an atmosphere of assured ultimate conflict. The restoration of that relationship transcends the merits of these amendments and the reluctance to accept joint responsibility with another place for the loss of this excellent Bill. The priority is to seek to repair the fabric of that relationship, which of late has worn so thin as to have become all but threadbare.

Let us put aside all arguments as to the merits. On the main question both Houses divided one-third to two-thirds, with a very large measure of abstention. There is assuredly no manifesto commitment and in any event the Salisbury Convention would never apply where the due exercise of our functions has been foreclosed upon. That is what has happened.

It is in no ordinary circumstances that we consider the Commons disagreement to our amendments today. By an overt declaration of ultimate conflict—an instantaneous public pronouncement by the Secretary of State that the Lords amendments would be reversed—the due discharge of our constitutional functions as a revising House under the Queen in Parliament has been inhibited and is inhibited today. In ordinary circumstances, it would have been open to your Lordships either to insist or to offer alternative proposals, if so advised.

We should not be at the brink of conflict today. By this anticipatory assurance that no accommodation would be forthcoming we have been brought to the brink. Although there is no rule of order in either House which governs the situation if your Lordships were to insist and another place were to insist on their disagreement, a variation of procedure could have been introduced to save the Bill if there was any hope of accommodation. However, the Secretary of State has foreclosed on this option and this is no time for brinkmanship.

I wish to make it plain that there is no hint of criticism of another place. There is no suggestion of calculated impropriety, but in this extraordinary situation it is surely essential that we should assert our privileges and protest at this untoward erosion of our functions. We should assert our privileges and mark this protest by abstention on the safe assumption that in the event of a Division, however massive the abstention, the Government are assured of this Bill on the payroll vote. Let it not be said that we are sulking in our tents, that we lack the mettle to discharge our duties, or that by inertia we fear, or invite, imposed reform. But having asserted our privileges and made our protest surely it is only by the exercise of restraint that we may seek to restore and improve that traditional relationship.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, as I grow older I become increasingly deferential towards my youngers and betters. I am naturally anxious to fall in with the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who has expressed in these long debates my own ideals in regard to criminal matters so much better than I could. Nevertheless, this resistance to the idiocy which seems to be emanating from elsewhere is to me a matter of conscience. I know it is dangerous to talk about conscience in public life, though I am bound to say that my old friend the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, does so quite often. I remember very well George Lansbury being accused by Ernest Bevin of hawking his conscience round Europe. Everyone has a conscience and it happens that mine operates on this subject.

What is this business about not resisting the Commons? We resisted the Commons over the War Crimes Act; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, took that line. Therefore, if it was possible to resist the Commons then, why not now, which in my view raises much more fundamental human questions. No one can pretend that it is unconstitutional to resist the Commons. What is the Parliament Act for? It gives us the power, as was seen over the War Crimes Act, to hold matters up for a year. As far as I am concerned that was the right course.

I realise that there is not likely to be a Division, but I am bound to say that one individual right remains. When it is put to the vote and we are asked whether we are content, I shall say "Not-content".

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, before my noble friend replies, I am perfectly sure that the House would be right to accept the course recommended by both Front Benches. I happen to believe that the Government, by pushing us into this position on a whipped majority in the House of Commons, has set a bad precedent which might be used by other governments in slightly more embarrassing circumstances. However, having been pushed in that way, if we were to insist on our privileges we would be setting a worse example.

I am quite clear in my own mind that we should support the Government in this respect, and I agree with almost everything said by my noble friend Lord Windlesham, who sits so close to me. I should like to add that as a result of these discussions it has emerged very clearly in my mind—I can now say this without infringing the rules of order because it is relevant to the standpoint which I have taken in these few remarks—that, first, the law of manslaughter and murder ought to be thoroughly revised and rationalised; and, secondly, that at the moment all discretionary life sentences and all mandatory life sentences are nonsense.

The truth is that the public know that a life sentence does not mean what it says. For deterrent purposes, a sentence of 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years would be far more effective, subject to the right of early release. It would be very much better if the Government would recognise that fact and if it were more generally understood and supported in the country. Having said that, I can only say that I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Lord who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench have come to the right conclusion. I agree with what my noble friends Lord Nathan and Lord Windlesham said.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I rise now not to weary the House with argument but to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I have not always found it particularly easy because I have respected greatly those who have advanced arguments which I found impossible to support. I was conscious as someone new to the House that those voicing those arguments were noble Lords who had served on the Select Committee which had studied this matter with the greatest care.

I should like to thank all those who have taken part for their patience and forbearance. I close by saying that, whatever happened on the Floor of another place, I can assure the House that there was anxious thought in government as to what if anything could be done to meet the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and those who served on the Select Committee. One of the products of that was a decision to delay no longer in having a review system for discretionary life sentence cases. Another was the decision not to press the matter of the six-month delaying power.

I say again that your Lordships' time was not wasted. I have learnt a good deal during these protracted debates over a period of months now. I thank all noble Lords for the way in which they have put their arguments. I am sure that what they have said will not be forgotten.

On Question, Motion agreed to.