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'and Part 5 of the Police Act 1997'.[Mr. Woolas.]
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier this year, I introduced a private Member's Bill of one clause only that sought to increase the penalties for illegal trading in endangered species. On the Second Reading of that Bill, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life gave me the following undertaking:
Mr. Heath: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government's assurance was repeated in the Standing Committee on 27 February, when the former Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), gave this explicit assurance:
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I say to both hon. Gentlemen that comments, assurances or any other utterances made by Ministers are not a matter for the Chair. However, those on the Government Front Bench are present in the Chamber and will no doubt have heard and taken note of the comments that have been made.
I said yesterday that I wanted to say a word of thanks to the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), who was my colleague as Under-Secretary at the Home Office until last week. I wish to repeat that. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members would be kind enough to listen, I shall deal with the point that they raised in a minute or two. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he did throughout the time that the Bill was in Committee and for all his work in the Home Office. We wish him well on the international stage. I thank hon. Members from all parties who served on the Committee, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), who was the Whip in Committee and has done a sterling job over the past few months, the past two days, and even the past few minutes. He has my undying gratitude and respect; I cannot say fairer than that.
The Bill was considered in 32 sittings in Committee and for three days on Report and Third Reading, which I understand is a record in terms of the time allocated. We have brought about very challenging changes during the three days on Report and Third Reading.
Mr. Amess: I wonder whether the Home Secretary heard clearly what my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) said about the assurance that was given in Committee about the Government providing an opportunity to introduce a measure that would protect endangered species. Will the Home Secretary now clearly comment on that issue?
Mr. Blunkett: I said a moment agothe loudness of the hon. Gentleman's voice must have clogged up his earsthat I would deal with the issue, and I shall. I have all sorts of problems in my life, but not fulfilling promises is not one of them. [Interruption.] Not yet, anyway.
I was about to say, if my hon. Friends on the Back Benches will forgive me, that all wisdom is not confined to the Government Benches. Wecertainly my hon. Friends in Committeetried to demonstrate that by being prepared to listen and respond. We demonstrated it by making the amendment to part 10 that was welcomed yesterday, addressing the composition of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and indicating that we are prepared to return to certain matters in the House of Lords.
On the issue that was raised by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, I was not aware that a commitment had been given. If it has, I give my personal guarantee that we will table an amendment in the Lords to deal with it. Had I been aware of it earlier, I would have ensured that we attempted to deal with it on Report here in the Commons.
We benefited not only from debate in Committee, but from the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We shall continue to pick up issues that have been raised over the past few days, not least this afternoon, when we had interesting discussion about sentencing in the debate that I led and in the subsequent debate on the Sentencing Guidelines Council. We should take that forward. We have said that we are prepared to listen and learn in respect of PACE codes, parliamentary scrutiny, prosecution interviews and defence witnesses.
There are other areas on which we wish to act. As I said, we shall return to the amendment process in the Lords. We want to return to the issue of cases involving a multiplicity of charges where only specimen charges can be dealt with owing to the complexity or length of the trial, and the way in which that disables the public in getting true justice.
I repeat my earlier comments that we want to ensure time for proper scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee between now and consideration in the Lords. Let me give an example for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the matter. Someone could be apprehended on a range of criminal offences to do with credit card fraud. However, only a specimen sentence could be applied. If we could bring back the whole range of sentences for that crime, as the Law Commission recommended, we could ensure that the sentence was commensurate with the number of offences. We want to revert to that subject.
Mr. Allen: First, I endorse my right hon. Friend's comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) and his conduct in Committee when he was Under-Secretary in the Home Office. Both he and the Opposition Front-Bench Members made it a pleasure to serve on the Committee, perhaps not for the Government Whip, but for Back Benchers who could participate and make a genuine contribution to the Bill. That is greatly appreciated.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Great progress was made on that and I thank him and his colleagues for extending the membership of the council. Did I hear correctly that he retains an open mind? Is he open to persuasion about the need for additional members, perhaps even including him or members of the Select Committee Chairmen's panel?
Mr. Blunkett: I have said that I am open to persuasion when there is a good case on any issue that we considered in Committee and on Report. When a rational and sensible case has been argued, we will consider an alternative solution to our proposals. For example, this afternoon, the official Opposition presented a coherent case for examining an alternative for juveniles and the mandatory 15 years for murder. I am prepared to consider a rational alternative. Governments should conduct their business in that way, especially when they have a large majority. I hope that that circumstance will prevail for a long time. Others should reciprocate by accepting that they must put their case in a manner that is conducive to achieving the Bill's intentions.
I shall give an example of another issue, apart from multiple offending, that has disquieted the public for a long time. I believe that members of all parties want to tackle it and effect change. People who proportionately defend their person, their families or their homes sometimes find that the offender, who has intruded into their homes, has the audacity to claim compensation for injury incurred while committing burglary or another offence on their property. I believe that all hon. Members would want us to table amendments in the House of Lords to prevent offenders from turning the law on its head and making a victim of the offender through civil action.
There has been much talk about the matter. I held a short dialogue on the radio at the end of February with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I gave a commitment to examine the issue. It has not been possible to find an acceptable solution yet, but with good will, we shall do that. I have not forgotten what I said on 27 February. There is good will and a willingness to find a coherent solution, and we want to do that.
Common sense has prevailed in Committee. We have had sensible, sometimes vigorous debate during the three days on Report. The majority of hon. Members want us to get the Bill right because the purpose of being here is to change the world for the better, make a difference and ensure that perpetrators are put away, that those who are innocent are not wrongly convicted and, above all, that the public know that the system works in their interests. In moving Third Reading, I intend that we should, as a party and a Government, put those aims at the forefront of our consideration in the House of Lords.
I have been deliberately low-key. I think that we have made tremendous progress, and that this is a flagship measure. The Bill, which I hope will receive Royal Assent in early autumn, will make a difference to people's lives and, above all, to the way in which they see the justice system. I invite all who work or have worked in that system to join us in ensuring that it progresses through all its stages, that we make the system work better, and that we make it work better not in the interests of history or vested interests but in the interests of those who elected us so we could create a safer, more secure world in which they could live, work and bring up their children. That is what we seek to do in the Bill.