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Mr. Allen: Would the hon. Gentleman therefore support an amendment in another place stating that the judiciary shall always be the final arbiter on individual cases? We attempted to get an amendment to that effect through in Committee.

Simon Hughes: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his campaign, which he knows that we support, to ensure that the Sentencing Guidelines Council is established. It could be given another name, if people wanted that, but it should include representatives other than from the judiciary to give advice about what the tariffs should be across the range of sentences. I hope that that is a battle that will be won in the House of Lords.

My penultimate point concerns an aim that we have failed to achieve, that of ensuring that all the criminal justice agencies are equally accountable to the public. The police are very accountable, and increasingly so, but I believe that the prison, court and probation services all need to be accountable as well.

People often ask why a certain offence is happening more often, or why crime is rising in a particular area, and it is the police who come and answer their questions. However, that is not only the police's responsibility. It is a responsibility for the probation service, for the courts, and for the people who look after our prison and custody services. The criminal justice system needs to be more broadly accountable if the public are to have confidence in it.

We all want crime to go down. We all want the crime figures to go down, and to do so clearly. We all want prevention and deterrence to go up. We all want the clear-up rate to go up, and we all want reoffending to go down. However, if we are going to have improved justice, we must ensure that everyone ends up with more confidence in the criminal justice system.

We have campaigned for fair trials abroad, and I hope that, when we have finished with the Bill, trials at home will be no less fair. That depends on keeping the jury system, on ensuring that the public own the criminal justice system, and on retaining those elements that have the confidence of the British public. Rebalancing the criminal justice system means improving the bits that do not have the confidence of the public, not lessening the advantages of those bits that do.

So far, the Government have tried to undo some of the good that already exists. We shall vote against Third Reading tonight because parts of the Bill are not right yet and are going in the wrong direction. We hope that, by the time scrutiny in the House of Lords has finished, those parts will have been changed. We want to make this Bill a generally good Criminal Justice Bill that raises everyone's confidence. We do not want a Bill that is good in parts but still unnecessarily and harmfully bad in others.

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7.43 pm

Vera Baird: I rise to say what a pleasure it was to serve on the Standing Committee scrutinising the Bill, and to add my praises to those already heaped on my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn), who is now the Minister of State in the Department for International Development but who until recently was a Home Office Minister. He dealt with matters with brilliance, courtesy and, from time to time, a very sharp wit.

I should also like to thank the Committee Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell). He was very nice, and very adaptable—especially when dealing with Back-Bench Labour Members with strong views. I hope that I have not done for his career. My primary purpose in rising, however, is to respond to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who said that he would be prepared to listen to rational argument about further change. I hope that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) were able to bring rational argument to the Standing Committee, and we would have done so again today, if new clause 25, which we tabled, had been reached this afternoon. It dealt with a matter that concerns us greatly: the fact that, in the UK, in each week of each year two children aged under 10 are killed or seriously injured when in the care of either parents or carers. Only about 25 per cent. of those deaths are followed by prosecution, primarily because of the current state of the law on joint enterprise.

The new clause that my hon. Friend and I tabled in Committee was slightly different from the one that we tabled on Report. Even our second attempt was far from perfect, but I sincerely exhort my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look into the prospect of introducing a better piece of legislation to ensure that protection.

Mr. Blunkett: It is a genuine pleasure, especially after the polite clashes between my hon. and learned Friend and me on this and previous Bills, to say that the matter is close to my heart, too. In the months ahead, if I still hold my current portfolio—as I sincerely hope—I am determined that we shall find a solution to that difficult problem.

Vera Baird rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I do not wish to spoil the happy party atmosphere, but as the hon. and learned Lady has got that point off her chest, I remind her that Third Reading is strictly about what is in the Bill, not what she hopes might be.

Vera Baird: I am grateful for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and even more grateful for the Home Secretary's response. I have nothing to add.

7.46 pm

Lady Hermon: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). I might not have agreed with everything that she said in Committee, especially her comments about the Queen sitting on a jury—[Interruption.]—given Her Majesty's age. However, I always listened with great interest to her points.

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I refuse to let the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) off the hook so easily. I insist that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) accompany him to North Down. The Conservative party organises in Northern Ireland, as does the Lib Dems' sister party, the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. I should love the two of them to visit North Down and explain why they are voting against the Bill.

Simon Hughes: I have already visited North Down and shall willingly do so again, irrespective of the difficulties of the right hon. Member for West Dorset.

Lady Hermon: I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesman; I appreciate that acceptance. However, he is not allowed to let the right hon. Member for West Dorset off the hook. The right hon. Gentleman must visit in his own right.

I shall move swiftly on. As the only Northern Ireland Member to be selected to serve on the Standing Committee, may I say what a pleasure and honour it was to do so? Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I rose with great enthusiasm and a smile on my face to turn up at 9 o'clock for the 32 sittings of the Standing Committee. If there was a hint of sarcasm in those remarks, it was only because I am not an expert in criminal law, although I certainly was by the end of those sittings.

I pay tribute to all the members of the Committee, especially the hon. Member for Leeds, Central, who provided wonderful inspiration. He was an extremely able Minister. As others have remarked, he showed great courtesy and ensured that the Committee worked as a collective unit to try to improve the Bill. I think that, collectively, we did so. The Home Secretary should be reassured that even though his able Minister has been moved to another Department—he is indeed a rising star—his replacement is a welcome new member of the Home Office team.

I take this opportunity to thank Home Office officials for their attention to all matters concerning Northern Ireland. There is, however, one slight oversight. When the Bill leaves the House, will they pay attention to new clause 54? The provision deals with a serious point: the definition of "police force" in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in taking on board the recommendations in the Patten report, knew the sensitivity of changing the Royal Ulster Constabulary's title. He also recognised that the Patten report recommended that the RUC should not be disbanded, so the proper legal title, as defined in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, is the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary), which was only changed for operational purposes. I ask that the provision be reworded.

The second point that I should like to make—I do so as someone who remains strongly enthusiastic about and supportive of the Belfast agreement—is that it is undoubtedly the case that 30 years of violence have coarsened society in Northern Ireland. We constantly read about attacks on elderly people by people carrying firearms, and antisocial crimes are unfortunately increasing, so I appreciate the Home Secretary's offer,

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made after an intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), that he would open consultations with Northern Ireland Members on the extension to Northern Ireland of the very important provisions in relation to firearms, sentencing and antisocial behaviour.

It is important that the people of Northern Ireland feel as protected as those throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. Otherwise, I warn the Government that confidence in the agreement will be further damaged, because with the greatest respect to those who talk about decommissioning, it does not affect people's everyday lives. What does affect them is antisocial behaviour, gun crime and the illegal possession of weapons that are used in robberies or to burgle houses, so will the Government please pay attention to those provisions?

May I say again what a pleasure it was to serve, with the other hon. Members, on the Standing Committee? I give credit to the Home Secretary and his team for taking on board the many amendments that were proposed in Committee.

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