|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Francois: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. For the avoidance of doubt, when I said that I agreed with the Minister, I agreed with his admitting the point. I did not agree with what he is trying to do.
If the Bill is passed in its current form, how long will it be before we hear siren voices suggesting that the royal arms may be removed from other courthouses in the United Kingdom in order to comply with the precedent that has been set in Northern Ireland? The explanatory notes that accompany the Bill gloss over that important point in a desultory three lines.
Mr. Tom Harris: The hon. Gentleman has intimated that that practice will be an insult to people in Scotland, England and Wales as well as Northern Ireland, yet it has pertained in Scotland at least for part of its history. Was that also an insult to the people of the other regions of the United Kingdom?
These measures will undoubtedly give succour to republicans, but not just republicans in Northern Ireland. Here we come to the heart of the point that my party is opposing. They will also be welcomed by republicans on the British mainland, including those in the British Labour party, of whom there are many, some covert and some overt. A few have gone from covert to overt in the course of this debate.
Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) in welcoming the Bill. I shall not repeat his arguments in regard to parts 1 to 3. Instead, I shall confine my remarks to parts 4 and 5 and endeavour to be relatively brief.
I too was struck by the emphasis that the report of the criminal justice review placed on international human rights standards. Paragraph 10.64 suggests that in drawing up and agreeing the aims and principles of the juvenile justice system, there would be value in drawing in particular upon the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, the international covenant on civil and political rights, UN guidelines for the prevention of juvenile delinquency, the UN standard minimum for the administration of juvenile justice, and UN guidelines for the protection of juveniles deprived of their liberty.
I am pleased that clause 53(3) states that all persons and bodies exercising functions in relation to the youth justice system must have regard to the welfare of children affected by the exercise of their functions, with a view to furthering the personal, social and educational development of the child. Will the Government consider a more detailed statement of aims and principles being drawn up, perhaps in consultation with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission?
The reparation order is useful, in that it can show children the damage, both physical and emotional, that their actions have caused to the victim, and allow them to give something back to the victim and the community and make amends for their actions in a way that a custodial sentence could not achieve.
I am also concerned about some aspects of the custody care orders mentioned in clause 56. They are specified as being for children under 14 and for offences that do not carry a term of life imprisonment for an adult. A period of six months to two years seems to me a very long time for someone so young. What is the reasoning behind the measure?
Further, in new article 44F, which details breaches of supervision requirements under the custody care orders, paragraph (3) imposes on the child a £200 fine or placement in secure accommodation for a period not to exceed 30 days. If the child has reached the age of 14, the figure rises to £1,000. These seem like quite large sums for young people. There also seems to be no mention of parental or guardian involvement. What role does the Secretary of State envisage for guardians or parents?
I am impressed by the provision for youth conferences and youth conference plans in clause 57, but I should like to see a greater commitment to the child's education expressed in the membership of youth conference panels, and greater clarity about the circumstances in which these will be convened.
Under part 5, the assumption of full responsibility for security by the Court Service and the removal of all symbols in the interior of courtrooms will ensure that the courts are a more welcoming environment for people, regardless of their community or ethnic background, a fact which Liberal Democrats very much welcome. I am also pleased to see in the criminal justice review implementation plan that the Court Service has already been proactive in the provision of information to the public and in providing outreach opportunities to the wider community through court visits and work experience placements, and that work is on-going to simplify the language used in courts.
I agree with the report of the criminal justice review in its adoption of the recommendations in "Speaking up for Justice". Under the current justice system, victims are failed, in that they often feel left out, unimportant and even non-existent. I agree with clause 67, which is designed to inform victims of the progress of their cases and of the release of prisoners back into the community. I am concerned, however, about subsection (4), which allows the Secretary of State to make available "other information" relating to the discharge and temporary release of imprisoned offenders. Will the Secretary of State publish any guidance on what "other information" might be? We have seen a rise in the incidence of vigilantism across the UK in recent years, and I seek reassurance from the Government on how they propose to minimise the risk of that.
I welcome clauses 70 and 71, on a community strategy and a local community safety partnership, but I would like to raise briefly one particular concern about the local community safety partnerships. Clause 71(3) states that membership of the partnerships is to be as specified by order made by the Secretary of State. Why are the guidelines on membership, if not the actual community groups, not written into the Bill? Could the Secretary of State at the very least make the order available in draft form to the House for its consideration?
The Bill is certainly moving in the right direction and should help in making the criminal justice system on the whole more accessible and more understood by the general public, whether or not they are ever involved with its process. Such openness and transparency are very welcome, and I support the Bill in principle.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The first thing that I want to talk about is consultation, and the way in which the Bill has been handled. Much has already been said about that in the debate, but I want to make it clear that, in general, the Opposition welcome the Government's approach to framing the legislationup to a point.
The beginning of the process, which was conducted by the Northern Ireland Office, set a good example for other Departments of how to go forward and seek consensus, and also perhaps, for the benefit of the Government, to identify areas of disagreement and find out whether they had the potential to be resolved.
However, I have to tell the Under-Secretary that the moment the Bill got into his hands, that praiseworthy approach appeared to fall apart, because of the timetable. He did extend the timetable for consultation on the draft Bill over Christmas, but not to the satisfaction of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to which I shall return in a momentand now we face the programme motion before the House, which we shall not be able to debate.
The combination of those two elements has entirely negated the beneficial effects of what the Government did before they published the Bill in November. I congratulate the Minister on having united all shades of opinion in the Assemblybecause, as he will be aware, it is united in its condemnation of the Government's handling of the Bill and their inability to give the Assembly, or anybody else, sufficient time to consult on the details of the Bill, as opposed to the details of the published review.
It is much to be regretted that the Government have not been able to meet that standard for the discussion of the Bill before this stage. It is wholly unacceptable that they have provided for only 12 sittings on the Bill in Committee, because it contains a vast amount of detail that deserves proper consideration by the people who will have to examine it.
In my 15-minute response to the debate, I should not be having to try to make up for what is lacking elsewhere because the Government have ensured that many of the hours that would be necessary in Committee will not be available. I do not believe that it will be possible to give the Bill proper consideration in Committee under the timetable that the Government have drawn up, so I urge them to withdraw it.
Now I must move on and deal with the contributions to the debate. I heard the Secretary of State say that the composition of the review group was established under the agreement. However, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) made clear in his opening remarks, the review group was a creature of the Northern Ireland Office; its composition was not part of the Belfast agreement.
The Secretary of State also said that there would continue to be consultation over the months aheadbut consultation in this place will end on 14 February, less than one month ahead, when the Committee stage will finish if the House passes the programme motion.
Concerns have been expressed in the debate about community safety, not least in the contribution by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who seemed to welcome clauses 70 and 71 before the penny dropped with her that there was nothing in them. They are Henry VIII clauses, which give the Secretary of State the power to do anything he likes.
Detail is woefully missing from clauses 70 and 71. That is not acceptable to Parliament; nor is giving the Secretary of State that much power when, because of the Government's behaviour to date, there is significant suspicion about exactly how they will use those powers if Parliament bestows them.
The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), whose long-standing interest and expertise in Northern Ireland politics is on the record, began his speech with a complaint about the youth element of part 4 of the Bill. He complained that the Bill mentioned a first duty to protect the public by preventing offending rather than by rehabilitation. By implication, the hon. Member for Cheadle agreed with him.
I wholly disagree and shall support the Government in Committee in sustaining the position as it stands. Like the hon. Gentleman, I believe in the merits of rehabilitation. It is implicit, however, that if we succeed in rehabilitating youth offenders through the youth justice system in the Billwe have no problem in principle with much of it, but considerable reservations about points of detailwe will achieve the first aim of the Bill as well as achieving what the hon. Gentleman wants in terms of protecting the interests of the child by preventing the child from continuing as an offender.
I agree with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) about consultation, and I sincerely hope that he will join us in the Division Lobby when we oppose the programme motion. His party has traditionally done that, but tonight's motion is unacceptable not just in principle, but in practice. Good work can be done on the Bill in Committee as part of the Government's consultation process.