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Lord Graham of Edmonton: Time!

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I have just one more sentence. Unless they get a life sentence, they must be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence even if they are still a public danger. Under the Government's proposals, anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence for a second time will automatically get a life sentence. They would then only be released when they no longer posed a danger to the public. The Italian girl's life and no doubt many others would not have been ruined. Let us not forget the victims of crime. I hope that the Government will listen and that your Lordships will support the White Paper. I hope that we shall give more support to the victims.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap because I was inefficient and did not put my name down to speak as a main speaker.

I should like to reinforce what the last three speakers on this side of the House have said and to put the general public's point of view about what highly respected judges have said in this House. Like other noble Lords, I respect the judges, and the general public respect the judges. Do not listen to the tabloid press.

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The ordinary person in the street knows what the tabloid press is like and has the sense to see what it is up to. In view of the time, I shall say no more.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am taken by surprise. We move to the end of a most important, fascinating and memorable debate. We owe it entirely to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor. Had he not taken the initiative this debate would not have taken place. I believe that there is much unfinished business. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, I believe that the Government should provide time for further discussion of the White Paper before the end of this Session of Parliament.

I remind noble Lords of the opening remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor. He said that never had such far-reaching proposals been based upon such shallow and untested figures. He went on to warn your Lordships' House and the country of the grave consequences that would follow should the main proposals be given statutory effect. I believe that that was the core of the message of the noble and learned Lord. It has been endorsed by both sides of the House throughout this debate. Apart from the one late entrant, only three of the 19 speakers have sought to make a case for the White Paper. Of the remaining speakers who have in one way or another severely criticised the White Paper, only four have been from the Opposition Benches. We know from experience in this House that when there is such a degree of unanimity embracing noble Lords on both sides of the House we are passing on a message to which the Government should listen.

I speak as a layman without any deep experience of the penal or judicial system. I have been struck by the deep and extensive knowledge of all those who have spoken and the sense of feeling that they have brought to the occasion. They have cared about the issues raised by the White Paper, and for that reason they have spoken as strongly as they have. I believe that the message is a simple one. They have no wish to be critical of the Government simply for that reason. They wish to be critical only in the hope that the White Paper will not proceed. I believe that the message that goes out from the House today to the Government is a simple one: "Please think again because you are making a grave mistake and have it in you to recognise that that is the case".

We hold this debate entirely on the initiative of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor. It should have been held in government time. The White Paper was published nearly two months ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, reminds us, the consultation period extends to 30th June. Had we not had this debate the Government would not have been consulting Parliament about proposals on which they proposed to legislate. I believe that your Lordships agree with the normal extensive consultations with outside bodies which now take place. But in consulting those outside Parliament the need to consult those within both Chambers should

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not be neglected. It is not sufficient to say that when legislation comes forward, if indeed it does, that is our opportunity to express an opinion.

We know that this Government more than most governments are reluctant to make substantial changes to their proposals once they have placed them before the House with legislation in mind. If we are to change the Government's mind today it must be in this debate and in another debate like it, not waiting until legislation comes before the House. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Minister of State at the Home Office, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will carry back the message that there is still a great deal to be discussed arising from the White Paper.

It is easy to reach the conclusion--it may be easier for those of us who have lived in politics and who have approached the White Paper from a different experience and careers--that the Whit Paper is not expected to reach the statute book after all. Essentially it is a manifesto. It is a manifesto, as has been frankly admitted in the foreword of the White Paper, based on remarks made by the Home Secretary at the Conservative Party Conference last year.

There are a number of lessons which all of us carry in our minds about party conferences. It is the invariable rule for all parties--I mean all parties--that speeches made to the massed ranks of the faithful at the conference represent policy making at its worst. The Home Secretary should be more responsible than to make such partisan speeches, or, having made them, conveniently to forget something of what they contained.

Not all of the White Paper is irredeemably unacceptable. That is why I would welcome another opportunity to discuss it. We are all disturbed by rising crime, particularly violent crime. We must all acknowledge--I believe all Members of your Lordships' House acknowledge, although perhaps the Home Secretary does not--that we do not know why that is happening. If we look back at the figures, we see that the rise began in the late 1950s. We might say that it was the end of a period of low unemployment, low inflation, steady economic growth, and far better living conditions in some respects for those in our cities than today. But we do not know. We must admit that we cannot be sure of the solutions.

For that reason, it would be much to the advantage of Parliament and the nation were the White Paper to be tentative rather than dogmatic, reflective rather than campaigning. But it is dogmatic; it is campaigning. That subtracts substantially from what virtue--there are some virtues--there may be in it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor, quoted, I think to widespread approval, the White Paper upon which the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was based. I have read that White Paper, which was published in the previous year. I thought that I would look also at how the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was presented to your Lordships' House. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me for a moment if I quote one or

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two extracts from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who introduced the Bill into the House. It was, he said:

    "one of the most important criminal justice measures of our time. It will affect the way in which the courts operate and the way in which offenders are dealt with for many years to come".
That was five years ago. He went on to say:

    "The main purposes of the Bill are to reform sentencing practice--the way in which a sentence is determined--and the way in which sentences are actually carried out. The sentence in an individual case is, of course, a matter for the magistrate or the judge concerned. It is not a matter for Parliament. It is, after all, only the sentencer who will know all the facts of the case".
That again has been endorsed today.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, went on to refer to many offences for which the only fitting punishment is imprisonment, but then he said:

    "But for many other offences, particularly for property offences, it has long been recognised that imprisonment frequently does more harm than good. It can turn inexperienced offenders, who may be verging on the edge of a criminal career, into hardened criminals."-[Official Report, 12/3/91; col. 74]
That was said only five years ago. It is not the sentiment reflected in the White Paper, but it is still the view of your Lordships as reflected in this debate. Further on in that debate, the noble Earl referred to the changes as embodying best existing practice.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell us why existing best practice has changed. If one compares the White Paper before us with the White Paper of 1990, or the speeches which we anticipate on legislation, with the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, there is no doubt that there is a huge and unbridgeable gap. If it is true, as the Government say, that crime statistics have improved during the past three years it becomes increasingly difficult to understand why the promised legislation is to come before the House.

The White Paper vibrates with short-term expediency and is totally lacking in a long-term perspective. If it were to be implemented in full it would be a disaster.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, when the announcement of the premature retirement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor, was made some weeks ago at the Central Criminal Court there were that morning among the barristers who were waiting to go into court universal expressions of sadness and real loss. In losing "the Chief", as we at the Bar call him, we are losing from that office a man who possesses in spades those qualities which a good judge needs: wisdom, fairness, a total lack of pomposity and, above all, courage. If an example of that courage were needed his initiation of today's debate and the manner in which he introduced it said it all.

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