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3.45 pm

Vera Baird (Redcar): I accept new clause 30 in principle, but I want to raise the troublesome case, under the proposed new tariff, of battered women who kill their violent partners; for example, the famous cases of women such as Emma Humphreys and Sara Thornton.

There is a pattern to such cases. Classically, a woman marries a man who is perfectly fine but who, at some stage, takes to drink. He becomes simultaneously controlling of her and dependent on her. He keeps her subservient by regular beatings, which she simply tolerates. She feels unable to leave because her children would be thrown into poverty if they went with her, and she cannot leave them behind; because her husband might follow her anyway; or because she simply lacks the will to go.

Such situations can run on for many years but they usually come to a head when the man attacks the woman and she realises that some difference makes that attack slightly more serious. Again, there is a pattern. She usually retreats into the kitchen. He follows to attack and she seizes a kitchen knife and stabs him once.

Sometimes, provocation will reduce such a case to manslaughter, but often, because that offence is specifically drawn, it cannot be provocation. The man is attacking the woman with his fists, but she stabs him with a knife so although, in truth, that is self-defence, it is not proportionate; and excessive self-defence is murder. I suggest that it should be open to a jury to find that, in certain cases, excessive self-defence ought not to be murder.

It is important to review that aspect of the law on behalf of that category of women. Someone who has reacted, or even overreacted, in the circumstances brought about by an attack, when they are likely to be acting in the grip of fear, panic or even anger—sentiments imposed on them by another person's conduct—probably ought not to be convicted of murder if they failed to measure, within some bounds, the

20 May 2003 : Column 900

amount of force to be used. Failure to react proportionately in such a situation is really the fault of the attacker, so excessive self-defence ought to be mitigated to manslaughter.

Battered women are victims of that mismatch in the criminal law. All too often, they are convicted of murder through excessive self-defence. Even before they get to that stage, they are, of course, already victims of repeated domestic violence, of which no one approves. There is now concern that they may become the victims of a new, too-high tariff for such responses.

Will those women fall within the boundaries of the exceptional circumstances provision? As I have indicated that there is a pattern to such cases, it is clear that they are not isolated. Probably eight or more women a year react in that way, which must be compared and contrasted with the fact that two women a week are killed by their violent male partner in the course of domestic violence. None the less, I have some questions.

Granted that there is a pattern and that such cases are not isolated, could it be a proper use of the exceptional circumstances provision to allow the setting of lower tariffs for women who act in excessive self-defence after a history of domestic violence? Ministers on the Treasury Bench are well aware that they can influence the way in which the judiciary implements law by making statements in the House, under the Pepper v. Hart rule, to avoid ambiguity. It lies in the hands of Ministers to say today that it would be a proper exercise of discretion to allow exceptional circumstances in the cases of battered women who have killed in the way that I described, usually by a single blow in the heat of domestic violence. Can Ministers consider that point? If they cannot consider making such an expression today, will they seriously reconsider the position of battered women who have killed, in the light of the proposed, and otherwise entirely appropriate, introduction of a 15-year tariff for a single murder?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I thank all right hon. and hon. members for their contribution to this important debate. Indeed, I am already learning that, on both sides of the House, there are strong feelings and a wealth of knowledge on these issues. I was struck—as was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—by the question from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who asked why the minimum sentences for possessing firearms will relate only to prohibited firearms. The answer is that, generally, non-prohibited firearms are not used by criminals, but the hon. Gentleman asked an interesting question and there will be further opportunities for scrutiny in another place.

My first point is that Parliament is not breaking new ground in setting minimum and mandatory sentences for certain offences. In doing so, Parliament is simply asserting its legitimate role in relation to extremely serious matters.

A number of contributions have related to tragic deaths caused by dangerous driving. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy), for Wigan (Mr. Turner) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) have mentioned a number of cases, and I

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know of one from my constituency: a young boy, Geoffrey Foy, was mown down by a driver who had no insurance.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Paul Goggins: I really do not have time to give way, I am afraid. I have very limited time.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome the fact that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport have announced a full review of road traffic offences. I can reassure the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that the most appropriate mode of trial will be examined in that review.

The Anderson case removed the Home Secretary's power to set the minimum term, and it is now the right time, therefore, for Parliament to set out its own views on sentencing in a way that is not only fair to the convicted person but recognises the seriousness of the offence. We all recognise the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who has just arrived back in his place. He was persistent, if not necessarily persuasive, in the arguments that he used in relation to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talk about the practical impossibility of some of his proposals, but I hope that he took seriously the point about such matters being so serious that Parliament needs to make its position clear.

My second point is to say in the strongest terms that the Government are not attempting to straitjacket the judges with regard to every case. I say that very strongly, particularly perhaps to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Obviously, each case and each offender is different, and it is right that the system reflects that.

Again, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked some interesting questions about how the provisions apply to juveniles, for whom we would all have greater hope in relation to the possibility and desirability of rehabilitation. The provisions already contain scope for flexibility—for example, age is included in the list of mitigating factors—but he made some very powerful points in his speech, and we shall continue to consider them.

It is important to emphasise that new schedule 2 does not include mandatory minimum sentences for each category of murder, but provides a starting point that can be varied, up or down, according to circumstances. The starting point for most murders will be 15 years. For the murder of a prison officer or a police officer, it will be 30 years. The starting point for terrorists and those who abduct and murder children will be whole life. Those levels reflect the seriousness of the offence and provide a robust framework in which judges will have discretion to reflect individual circumstances. I hope that the House agrees that that represents a fair balance.

My third point is central to the Bill. All Members of Parliament feel that there is a need to restore full public confidence in the criminal justice system. Public opinion is understandably strong on the types of offence that we have been discussing this afternoon, and it is vital that the public's voice is heard and that it resonates in our

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debates. Judges play a crucial role in the service of our communities, but they are not directly accountable. Members of parliament are directly accountable, and if we do not voice our constituents' legitimate concerns, how are they to have their say?

We do not have mob rule in this country; we live in a democracy and our constituents have a right to be heard. My constituents and those of many hon. Members certainly demand that the severity of sentence outlined in these provisions is put into law and put into practice at the earliest opportunity. The ultimate price is absolutely precious to all of us. If we get the balance right—if people are heard and Parliament establishes a robust framework in which the judges have the final say—not only will Parliament's credibility be strengthened, but so too will the credibility of the judges and the wider criminal justice system.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 325, Noes 52.

Division No. 208
[3:54 pm


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Stuart
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, rh David
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnside, David
Byers, rh Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, Nigel
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Etherington, Bill
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hendrick, Mark
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, rh Peter
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Trimble, rh David
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Nick Ainger and
Mr. Phil Woolas


Allan, Richard
Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Bruce, Malcolm
Burnett, John
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, Alistair
Chidgey, David
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Doughty, Sue
Foster, Don (Bath)
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gidley, Sandra
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Moore, Michael
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Öpik, Lembit
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Pugh, Dr. John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Shepherd, Richard
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Willis, Phil

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Richard Younger-Ross

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 May 2003 : Column 905

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

It being two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Orders [4 February, 5 March, 2 April and 19 May], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

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