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Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Lady's work in trying to ensure that the voices of women and minority ethnic communities are heard at all levels in public service. I shall certainly ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of the points that she has made when he considers appointments to the council.
Mr. Allen: I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to make a more substantial point about the composition of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. All of us welcome the broadening of the membership to include police officers, prison governors and so on. One of the key things that we tried to achieve in Committee was to ensure that representatives of the three arms of statejudiciary, legislature and Executivewould be around the same table to discuss sentencing and arrive at a consensus about it, so that the debilitating exchange between the Lord Chief Justice, the Home Secretary and Members of Parliament could be resolved so as to restore some faith and credibility in the council. Will she discuss with the House whether she believes that it is appropriate for the Home Secretary to be directly represented on the council, if not a member of it, at some future point, or for the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs or the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department to be represented, so that all three arms of state are represented around the table?
Yvette Cooper: I know that my hon. Friend raised that point directly with the Home Secretary during debate about the previous group of amendments, as I watched the debate on the monitor. I think that I heard the Home Secretary reply that he was daunted by the prospect of having to work on the detail of a considerable number of sentencing guidelines.
There is also a broader point: we are trying to secure a balance, and we need to ensure that a wider voice is heard in developing the guidelines. My hon. Friend is right that it is important that the voice of Parliament should be heard in the process, as well as the views of the Home Secretary. Equally, it is important that we avoid over-politicising the process. For example, I know that he and other hon. Members have made clear their view that we should not engage in a bidding war about sentencing and that we should not inappropriately politicise the process and encourage debates on the Floor of the House or in which Cabinet Ministers and their shadow counterparts engage in a bidding game about the appropriate sentencing and mitigating factors regarding the detail of different guidelines.
The proposals set out an appropriate balance whereby the Home Secretary will appoint members to the Sentencing Guidelines Council on the basis of their expertise in various parts of the criminal justice system. It is right that the Home Secretary himself is not a member of the council. Equally, it is right that Parliament should be able to scrutinise the guidelines and have its voice heardthe Select Committee on Home Affairs, in particular, should be able to discuss thembut there are, frankly, advantages in not having politicians as members of the council.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth): The Minister stated a wee bit earlier that she listened to the debate on the previous group of amendments. I had assumed, having read the Bill, that new clause 28 and the clause to which it relates, clause 152, have no application in Scotland. In the previous debate, mention was made of the Sentencing Guidelines Council considering, for example, road traffic offences. For the absence of doubt, can the Minister confirm that the council's remit will have no impact and jurisdiction in Scotland?
Mr. Grieve: I understand that to have politicians sitting on the Sentencing Guidelines Council might be undesirable, and we certainly do not seek that. As the Minister will be aware, however, we have argued, and continue to argue, that a degree of parliamentary input into the process through having guidelines ratified by Parliament by affirmative resolution might go a long way towards reassuring the public about Parliament's involvement without in any way detracting from the fact that the guidelines themselves will be formulated by an expert council.
Yvette Cooper: Again, the answer is that we need to strike the right balance. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he did not want to join a bidding war on sentencing. It would be inappropriate to ask Parliament as a whole to debate and vote on the detail of every single sentence. We set the maximum sentence in Parliament, and it is right that we do so. In the previous debate, which was led by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we heard about the concerns and views of Parliament on some of the most serious offences, but we should bear in mind that there are a huge number of offences and there will need to be, over time, a large number of guidelines.
The appropriate role for Parliament is to set the broad sentencing parameters by defining the offence and the maximum sentence, and the judiciary's role is to make judgments on individual cases. The Sentencing Guidelines Council effectively provides a bridge between those two roles. If we are to get the balance right in a sensitive relationship between different branches of government and different institutions within a democracy, there is huge value in not asking Parliament as a whole to vote on every single guideline, but equally we must ensure that Parliament has its voice by allowing the Home Affairs Committee to express its views. The Sentencing Guidelines Council will also need to have regard to the views of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Government amendment No. 198 provides that a non-judicial appointment might be a civil servant. Can my hon. Friend clarify whether that is because the personal qualities of some civil servants will make them appropriate for the job, or are they intended to be another bridge between the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Secretary of State?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right that the amendment would allow civil servants to be appointed. Experience of sentencing, for example, work in the Prison Service or in sentencing policy, may mean that civil servantsGovernment employeeshave the greatest expertise. My hon. Friend is also right that we should be able to take account of appropriate expertise. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believes that people should be appointed on the basis of their expertise, not as representatives of his views.
Mr. Allen: I thank my hon. Friend and all Front-Bench Members for their generosity in giving way. It has promoted a helpful and positive dialogue. Does my hon. Friend accept that members of the Standing Committee proposed the three-way combination on the Sentencing Guidelines Council partly so that everyone bought into the process and the decision making? If the Home Secretary, a deputy or the Chairman of either the Home Affairs Committee or a Committee that deals with judicial matters does not serve on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, there may be a distance between the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature that will lead to the Home Secretary's being able to discount the council's views or hon. Members' being able to engage in a bidding war when matters come before the House. In the long-term, will my hon. Friend re-examine the possibility of uniting the three arms of state?
Yvette Cooper: In the end, no system can guarantee consensus if different views are held. However, the set-up that we propose allows a proper dialogue between those who have different views and approach the matter from different perspectives, and ensures that the dialogue takes place in the public arena. It allows for the draft guidelines to be published and for the Home Affairs Committee to comment.
It is equally important to recognise that, although we should hold a dialogue and aim for broad consensus and legitimacy for the guidelines, we each play different roles in the process. On other subjects, my hon. Friend has argued for increasing the separation of powers and introducing greater clarity into the separate components of government.
The proposal attempts to strike the right balance. The Home Secretary makes the appointments, and there are clearly plenty of opportunities for his views to be heard as part of the process. It is also important that the Sentencing Guidelines Council is constituted in the way in which the amendments set out. It will be chaired by the Lord Chief Justice and have a clear voice.
Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for her generosity in giving way. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) entertained us greatly and made valuable contributions in Committee. However, the Parliamentary Secretary is fundamentally right. Our commitments and obligations under the European convention on human rights, especially on fair trial, mean that it would be wrong for the Home Secretary to be a member of the Sentencing Guidelines Council.
Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Lady's support. We must ensure that we each play our separate roles and that the independence of the judiciary is maintained. We must also ensure that the process has the confidence of the different parts of government and our democratic institutions. The system must have the confidence of the judiciary and be able to produce high quality guidelines that the judiciary and the magistracy can use on a daily basis.
We have had an extensive debate about the Government's thinking in response to the amendments. Most other Government amendments in the group are minor and make various textual improvements to the aspect of the Bill that deals with sentencing. Some respond to drafting questions that were raised in Committee and others to deficiencies in the measure. Some are consequential.
We have tried to accommodate concerns raised by members of the Committee, while maintaining what I consider to be an important balance by ensuring that sentencing is carried out properly and appropriately, and that trials are fair and are conducted transparently. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) raised that last point.