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Mr. Alex Carlile: In my last gasp in the House, I make no apology for reviving--and, indeed, speaking from the heart of--the Liberal credentials that made me a Liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrat party.

When we hear the Labour party talk of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and when we hear the Home Secretary say,

The issue has been driven home by, in particular, the likes of Lord Bingham, our present Lord Chief Justice; Lord Taylor, his immediate predecessor; Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls; and Lord Donaldson, the previous Master of the Rolls--no socialist he--that the basis for making new laws in relation to criminal justice policy is worthless unless it is founded on principles of justice.

When the Bill left the House of Commons after Third Reading, the Labour party was doing a sort of soft shoe shuffle around the issues. It was not sure whether it was for or against the new provisions, or somewhere in between. In the House of Lords, it was Liberal Democrat peers who started the debate that has led to the amendment that the House of Commons will accept tonight--and I am proud of that, too.

What was the basis of the argument advanced by the Liberal Democrat peers? It was purely that the law should be just and should continue to be administered by judges, and that the House of Commons should not tell judges how to exercise their discretion in matters that go to the very root of judicial discretion.

The Labour party, of course, could not adopt the Liberal Democrat amendments in the other place; apparently, it would have been undignified for it to do so. It therefore created its own amendment, and that is what is contained in the amendments that we are debating now.

Yesterday, we were in a very odd position. It is clear that it took the Liberal Democrats to force the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, in which the House will accept a Labour amendment that was passed in the House of Lords, because the Labour party is not sure whether it really wanted its amendment--which was passed by the Lords--to be passed in the House of Commons. What a strange situation that is. However, things often move in a mysterious way and here we are.

What are we left with? For the Home Secretary to say that his particular prejudices being defeated results in a coach and horses being driven through the Bill is very unconvincing. He has a distinguished past as an expert in town and country planning law--I am told that there was none better--but he has shown his inexperience time and again in the understanding of what happens in criminal courts.

One is bound to ask oneself: what does one have to do to a Home Secretary such as this if he will not listen to the Lord Chief Justice, the previous Lord Chief Justice,

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the Master of the Rolls, the previous Master of the Rolls, the former Lord Chancellor and the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who was a Minister of State in the Home Office and who single-handedly won the argument on Second Reading on the Bill? What does it take to persuade the Home Secretary that the basis for changing criminal justice policy must be to produce just results?

I am disappointed that we have not gone a stage further than the amendments. They contain the apparently unacceptable proposition that someone should not receive a mandatory minimum sentence for burglary or the possession of class A drugs if it would be unjust for him to receive such a sentence for the possession of class A drugs or burglary, so the Government want sentences to be passed that are unjust. That is the only conclusion that one can draw, and it is a most extraordinary one.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): By definition.

Mr. Carlile: By definition, as my hon. Friend says.

We can view with great satisfaction the outcome of the negotiations. There will be minimum mandatory sentences. The Home Secretary should recognise that we for one have moved some way towards his position in accepting that there should be new presumptions in sentencing policy. Today, when the judge sentences for a third burglary or a third class A drugs offence, he takes what he considers to be the appropriate sentence, having regard to the leading cases that are in the standard books on sentencing. He then tinkers one way or the other with those standard sentences.

When the Bill enters into law, the position will be completely different. It will be presumed that the minimum mandatory sentence should be passed, but, if the judge goes through a different thought process from today's sentencing procedures and decides that it would be unjust to pass such a sentence, he will pass another sentence. What on earth can be wrong with that? It considers the victims of crime, it ensures that the criminal receives the proper sentence, and it is a sensible process. It is extraordinary to be told that that drives a coach and horses through the Bill.

We Liberal Democrats were not as successful as we would have wished to be in relation to mandatory life sentences. Yesterday in the other place, Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, in a moving and eloquent speech, pointed out that the passing of a sentence of life imprisonment is a solemn and formidable occasion. The person who is sentenced forfeits not only the time that he spends in prison, but the rest of his life, to the state. In certain circumstances, the state can recall him to prison, even if he does not commit a criminal offence.

I have been in court, probably on more occasions than the Home Secretary, when life sentences have been passed. Unfortunately, not a small number of them have been on people whom I have defended unsuccessfully, and I am delighted to say that a fair number have been on people whom I have prosecuted successfully. It is a solemn occasion, and not something to be trifled with.

It is extremely important that, when a life sentence is passed and the judge makes the prisoner forfeit the rest of his life to the state, even after that prisoner is released, if he is to be, there should be a clear understanding that

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there is a system of real justice embracing that solemn process. There is no more solemn process in the courts than the passing of a life sentence.

I would therefore have liked to see the same amendment made in relation to mandatory life sentences as in relation to burglary and class A drugs offences. None the less, we have agreed to go a little bit of the way with the Home Secretary, by means of subsection (3) of the new clause to be inserted by Lords amendment No. 1.

In life sentence cases, there will be an even stronger presumption that there should be an automatic life sentence. A case in which that will not happen will have to be very exceptional. To describe that as driving a coach and horses through the Bill passes understanding. I am afraid that it is another of the Home Secretary's slogans.

In sum, we, the Liberal Democrats, are pleased to have been the instrument of justice--for that is what we have been, when the Labour party was reluctant to play that part, and when the Home Secretary could not see it when it stared him in the face.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question required to be put at that hour by Order [this day].

ESTIMATES, 1997-98



    That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing resolution: And that the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. William Waldegrave, Mr. Michael Jack, Mr. Phillip Oppenheim and Mrs. Angela Knight do prepare and bring it in.


Mr. Michael Jack accordingly presented a Bill to apply a sum out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the year ending on 31st March 1998; to appropriate the

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supplies granted in this Session of Parliament; and to repeal certain Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Acts: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time this day and to be printed [Bill 140].

Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Order [this day] and Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.


Lords amendments again considered.

Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

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