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Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the Minister for his warm response to the intention behind amendment No. 87, which I tabled, even though he has said that he will not accept it as worded. He was correct to refer to our debates in Committee on homophobic offences--offences motivated by hatred of people because of their sexuality. Amendment No. 87 arises from two of the issues that we discussed in Committee: first, aggravating factors based on age, gender and disability; and secondly, whether such issues should be determined through sentencing guidelines rather than through the mechanism of a new clause, as we originally proposed in Committee. Amendment No. 87 is a constructive attempt to reconcile some of the suggestions that were put to us, including the helpful suggestion from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg).

Liberal Democrats remain concerned about these issues. In Committee, we cited a considerable amount of detailed evidence from such bodies as Stonewall, which, in its survey "Queerbashing", pointed out that that offence is committed daily in our streets. We also referred to the fact that, last year, the Home Secretary grouped that offence with offences motivated by racial hatred, with which the Bill, fortunately, also deals.

I am pleased that the Minister said that the appeal courts would consider these issues, even though the

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Government will not direct them to do so in legislation. Paragraphs (a) and (d) of clause 79(3) specify

    "the need to promote consistency in sentencing"


    "the need to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system".

If we are to achieve those goals, we believe that the courts will have to address the aggravating factors about which we are talking.

Homophobic assaults are significantly under-reported precisely because of a lack of public confidence. Sentencing guidelines are important not only because of the sentences that they suggest, but because to mention them in open court will be to give a strong signal that the court is taking aggravating factors seriously--if, in sentencing, the judge says that he or she has taken on board an aggravating factor, that will give a huge boost to public confidence, and many more offences will be reported.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman's remarks are helpful, and may be complemented by two other factors. First, the crime and disorder audit can take account of the experience of particular groups, which can then be considered in decisions on strategy. The second factor is the attitude of the police. The Association of Chief Police Officers, for example, has made it clear that it recognises that the police must listen to and understand the experience of particular groups, such as the lesbian and gay communities, to deal with specific crimes.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful for those comments. We have strongly welcomed the community safety strategies and the idea that communities should be asked about what they want. We believe that communities will, through those consultation exercises, express their desire to receive the protection that we are talking about. I am also grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has taken on board the issues that we raised--hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about the importance of boosting public confidence.

Action is needed throughout the criminal justice system. The Minister referred to the police, who we believe are now making strenuous efforts. However, the tools must also be given to the Crown Prosecution Service, so that it knows that evidence on aggravating factors must be collected and that such evidence is worth presenting in court.

Moreover, the courts--including the judges and the magistrates--must also take these issues seriously and treat cases consistently. The experience that has been reported to us is that some aggravating factors are taken more seriously than others. In some cases, they can even be used as mitigating factors--in citing the homosexual panic defence, for example, individuals justify their attacks on gay people by saying, "I was scared because he was making an approach, so I had to hit him, guv." We believe that such a defence is unacceptable, and we hope that the sentencing guidelines will reflect that.

We are grateful to the Government for their constructive approach. We want to continue dialogue both with Ministers in the Home Office and, crucially, with Ministers in the Lord Chancellor's Department, who have specific responsibility for the guidance that is offered to the courts. We hope that the measures applying to

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offences motivated by racial hatred will also apply to other offences motivated by hatred--they are often committed by the same people. Moreover, we hope that the courts will maintain public confidence by dealing consistently and seriously with such offences across the country. We must send a message to the people who commit these crimes that the Government and the courts will not accept such behaviour.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 28, in page 63, line 22, at end insert--

'( ) For the purposes of this section, the Court is seised of a reference under section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 if it has given leave under subsection (1) of that section and the reference has not been disposed of.'.--[Mr. Dowd.]

Clause 84

Sexual or violent offenders

8.45 pm

Ms Roseanna Cunningham: I beg to move amendment No. 149, in page 65, line 44, leave out from beginning to end of line 1 on page 66.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 104 and 105.

Ms Cunningham: The Minister will not be surprised that I have tabled amendment No. 149, as I have previously flagged up the issue of removing the limits on extended sentences. He will be relieved to know that I do not intend to speak for more than a few minutes--both he and I have pressing engagements elsewhere--and that I shall not press the amendment to a Division.

Clause 84 introduces the concept of extended sentences for sexual and violent offenders, which I believe will become a useful adjunct to the sentencing options that are currently available to Scottish courts. The concept is welcome, but I do not see why there should be a limit on the extended sentence, particularly on sentences that are given in the High Court. People in the profession have queried why High Court judges should have a capping limit of 10 years when, under common law, a life sentence is available. It is understandable that some limits should apply in the sheriff courts for summary and solemn cases, but High Court cases involve only offenders who have committed the most serious offences.

I am sure that the Minister will not deny that an individual such as Cronin--about whom there has been a great deal of public disquiet both in Scotland and in Ireland--who seems utterly unwilling or unable to change his behaviour, needs to be watched for the rest of his life, whether he is in prison or out of prison. I doubt whether many people would fall into that category--at least, I certainly hope not. The fact that there are only a few, however, is no reason for the Government to set their face against the concept of an extension for life.

I expect that, like an ordinary sentence, the extensions would be subject to appeal. Perhaps I have overlooked the part of the Bill where that is specified, so I hope that the Minister can confirm it for the record. I hope that he will also say what provisions there will be to review extended sentences to take account of any changed circumstances that may arise.

Mr. McLeish: I rise to respond at a gloomy moment in the fixture between Scotland and Morocco--my pager

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reliably informs me that, after 18 minutes, we were one-nil down. However, we are an aspirational country, so I await with interest a further message on my pager--[Interruption.] I do not want to be sidestepped into talking about last night's match, but, if pushed, I will.

I shall respond briefly on amendment No. 149 and speak to the Government amendments. First, I share the concern of the hon. Member for Perth (Ms Cunningham) to ensure that the courts have adequate powers to impose sentences that will protect the public from serious criminals. As the provisions stand--taken together with existing legislation--they will achieve that objective.

The provisions in the clause will allow the court to impose an additional period of supervision of up to 10 years in the case of a sex offender. That is on top of any determinate custodial element to the sentence, which may in itself be very lengthy. The maximum is longer for sex offenders than for violent offenders because all the evidence shows that the behaviour of sex offenders is more deeply entrenched. The maximum extension period for violent offenders is therefore less--five years, rather than 10, where a determinate custodial sentence of four years or more is imposed. A five-year extension period could be imposed on a violent offender who would have received a custodial sentence of 10 years, but whom the court considered still to be likely to pose a risk of serious harm to the public when he ceased to be on licence. Therefore, he would either be in custody or on licence and subject to recall to custody for 15 years--well past the point at which most violent offenders, unlike sex offenders, have ceased to be a risk to the public. Should the court decide it necessary, it can impose a discretionary life sentence, which is close to what the hon. Member for Perth appears to want to achieve through the amendment; that power already exists.

The clause contains an additional power. I mentioned the difference between the maximum for sexual offences and for violent offences. If it becomes clear with the operation of the legislation that a longer additional period is desirable in the case of violent offenders, the maximum may be increased up to the same level as for sex offenders by statutory instrument, subject to affirmative resolution. The Government will have no hesitation in seeking Parliament's approval for that change if it should prove necessary.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Lady that the clause will provide the courts with adequate powers. Like all legislation, we will keep it under close scrutiny so that we can review what is happening. Our objectives are, I think, the same, but we are content with the current provisions of the clause.

On appeals, an extended sentence is a sentence and, therefore, appealable like any other sentence. I pointed out earlier that conditions can be removed by the Secretary of State if they are no longer appropriate--for example, on residential changes. There will be monitoring and review, and I think that the point about appeals has been tidied up. Given those comments, I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Government amendments Nos. 104, 105 and 109 are consequential on the introduction of clause 109 and are intended to ensure that sentence calculation rules apply similarly to extended sentences as to other custodial sentences.

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