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Column 89

applies in Scotland in this regard should apply in England. There is a need for some uniformity in the law of murder and manslaughter within the countries of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I hope that we may see some harmonisation of these criminal laws throughout the European Union in due course.

Many issues affecting the law of murder and manslaughter have been and are being considered by the Law Commission. I believe that fundamental changes should take place which go somewhat beyond this proposal. It should not await that wider consideration before being introduced. Many practising lawyers, such as myself, who have appeared in a great number of homicide cases, believe that the distinction between murder and manslaughter is now no longer sensible, and that the mandatory life sentence is no longer a realistic way of dealing with the vast range of facts that may arise in a homicide case. I accept that those issues may require wider and longer debate and possibly specific legislation, but this is an issue which the Government have had more than enough time to consider. The time for change has now arrived.

I applaud the proposal made by the hon. Member for Darlington and hope that we shall at last hear a positive response from the Minister.

Mr. Maclean : Of course I believe that people who kill should not escape the full force of the law because of a technicality. That has been my view, is my view and always will be my view.

I said in Committee that I was personally inclined to the view that abolition would turn out to be the sensible reform of the year-and-a-day rule in due course, and that also is still my view. I am not known as a person much given to sympathy for those who commit crime and I worry that the rule has outlived its usefulness, but I believe that simple abolition would create a vacuum in the way in which we treat those who may be liable to further prosecution having already been convicted of a lesser offence, if the victim goes on to die, or who may not have been prosecuted in the first place. We are, after all, talking about the most serious charge known to law in the same breath as we contemplate a potentially unlimited liability to prosecution in the future.

If the matter were really as straightforward as the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) suggests, why did the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the House of Lords Select Committee on murder and life imprisonment not leap instantly to the conclusion that the rule should be abolished ? Instead, they recommended its retention. As I said in Committee, the Law Commission had separately arrived at a decision to review the rule--not, I must point out to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), as part of a long and wide-ranging review of all aspects of crime and punishment or murder, but as a separate, shorter, sharper review. Those of us who are familiar with the Law Commission's way of working will know that consultation is its key component, and that it would be foolish and wrong to expect the commission to forgo that element simply to beat a parliamentary deadline. In any event, it is not for me, the Government or the House to try to set timetables for the Law Commission.

I do not expect that the commission will produce its report in time for the Government to amend the Bill ; still less would I presume to guarantee that the commission will come up with the same proposal as Opposition Members,


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or follow my own views on the matter. I can say, however, that the commission has been made well aware of the strength of feeling in the House and of the Government's concern.

That is why I believe that the Law Commission will take forward this difficult but discreet and limited task with urgency. I believe that the House should therefore reject this premature new clause with every confidence that the matter will be quickly and thoroughly dealt with by those who are expert in it.

Mr. Michael : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) for the way in which he has pursued the issue for a considerable time. I made the case on behalf of the Opposition in Committee, and I do not need to add to the arguments which stand in the record of the sittings of the Standing Committee of 3 March.

I remind the Minister of his words in response to our debate in Committee :

"The year and a day rule has outlived its usefulness, but we must tie up the loose ends."

With reference to those loose ends, he asked :

"What happens if the rule is abolished for murder but the charge is later reduced for manslaughter ?"--[ Official Report, Standing Committee B, 3 March 1994 ; c. 1165.]

We have put that right, because new clause 15 deals with manslaughter as well as murder.

The Minister does not wait for or listen to advice unless it suits him. There has been dangerously speedy decision-making on a range of issues-- videos and stop-and-search are only two cases in point. The Minister is again refusing to fulfil a promise made to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington by the Prime Minister. At this point, the House should vote on the issue and resolve it once and for all. Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 260, Noes 277.

Division No. 194] [7.53 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beggs, Roy

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Burden, Richard

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cummings, John

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Denham, John

Dewar, Donald


Column 91

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Eagle, Ms Angela

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Faulds, Andrew

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Harvey, Nick

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Henderson, Doug

Hendron, Dr Joe

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hoon, Geoffrey

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hume, John

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)

Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)

Jamieson, David

Janner, Greville

Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)

Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Jowell, Tessa

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Keen, Alan

Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)

Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)

Khabra, Piara S.

Kilfoyle, Peter

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)

Kirkwood, Archy

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, Terry

Livingstone, Ken

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Llwyd, Elfyn

Loyden, Eddie

Lynne, Ms Liz

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

Macdonald, Calum

McFall, John

McGrady, Eddie

McKelvey, William

Mackinlay, Andrew

McLeish, Henry

Maclennan, Robert

McMaster, Gordon

McNamara, Kevin

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Maginnis, Ken

Mahon, Alice

Mallon, Seamus

Mandelson, Peter

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

Martlew, Eric

Maxton, John

Meacher, Michael

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)

Milburn, Alan

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)

Molyneaux, Rt Hon James

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Morley, Elliot

Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)

Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)

Mowlam, Marjorie

Mudie, George

Mullin, Chris

Murphy, Paul

O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)

O'Brien, William (Normanton)

O'Hara, Edward

Olner, William

Parry, Robert

Patchett, Terry

Pendry, Tom

Pickthall, Colin

Pike, Peter L.

Pope, Greg

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)

Prescott, John

Primarolo, Dawn

Purchase, Ken

Quin, Ms Joyce

Radice, Giles

Randall, Stuart

Raynsford, Nick

Reid, Dr John

Robertson, George (Hamilton)

Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)

Roche, Mrs. Barbara

Rooker, Jeff

Rooney, Terry

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Ross, William (E Londonderry)

Rowlands, Ted

Ruddock, Joan

Sedgemore, Brian

Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Short, Clare

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)


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