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Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I realise the lateness of the hour and apologise to the Committee for rising at this time. I appreciate in particular that my noble friend the Minister has been in this Chamber since three o'clock. However, I do not feel it possible to allow Clause 1 to go past without saying a few words about my concern with regard to some of its proposals. I shall attempt not to repeat what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said, other than to say that I hope the Minister will take great thought about what he said at the end of his speech about the likely effects on the size of the prison population caused in particular by Part II of the Bill, which we shall debate next week.
I feel that there is a genuine problem in Clause 1, which the Home Office has recognised and faced; but it has taken an unnecessarily complicated way to try to deal with it. Clearly one must accept that there is a concern, which the Minister has expressed on many occasions, that people serving determinate sentences are released back into society when it is still felt that they are a danger. That is an anxiety we can all understand and share. But is the method of dealing with that problem enormously to increase the number of
As I understand it, in all these cases the court will be asked to pass a sentence of life imprisonment on the second conviction: not a second conviction for rape or anything of that nature, but a second conviction for one of the offences that fall within this group. The court must then state the tariff. I will be grateful if the Minister will give thought to this point. The tariff is not a sentence. Presumably, therefore, if the judge says, "You will go to prison for life; I recommend that you stay there for three years", that three years is the minimum period the defendant has to serve.
Since the tariff is not a sentence, various clauses that deal with obtaining remission for good behaviour do not apply to that minimum period. That being so, what incentive is there for that individual to behave while in prison? What thought has been given by the Home Office to a substantial increase of potentially dangerous people in prison when, no matter how they behave, their sentences cannot be reduced?
The other matter about which I should like to ask the Minister is this. If it be right that of the 207 cases identified in 1994 to which this clause would apply, only 10 received life sentences, what is the logic which says that we should require the rest to receive life sentences in future? That is particularly illogical when the White Paper itself does not criticise the length of sentence passed in those cases. I suggest that we are posing a real problem for the prison service; we are posing problems for the courts--the release of those with determinate sentences who still remain a danger and who could be dealt with more effectively, for instance, by reference to the Butler Report.
Finally--because of the lateness of the hour I will limit my remarks to this--has the Minister seen the research being carried out by Dr. Roger Hood? If so, what is the attitude of the Home Office towards it? That research shows that this Bill, if passed, would affect only 10 per cent. of those about whom the Government claim to be concerned; namely, those who may be being released at the end of their sentences while still posing a danger to society. As I understand it, that figure was worked out on the basis of those who had been refused parole.
If it be right that 90 per cent. of those who are at risk of committing further offences do not come within the ambit of Clause 1--either because they are first-time rapists or because they have been convicted of offences against children which do not amount to rape and do not come within the ambit of this Bill--would it not be sensible to find some method such as that recommended by Lord Butler for dealing with cases in general which fall within that criterion, rather than taking a sledgehammer approach which will lead to many people receiving life sentences where in normal circumstances that would not be justified?
Lord Monson: Perhaps I may preface my remarks by saying that this is one of strangest Committee stages I have ever attended. Here we are discussing a major Bill which will have profound effects upon our criminal justice system and which, justifiably or unjustifiably, will have a major effect upon our civil liberties, and yet for the past two hours there have been no more than 20 or 25 noble Lords in the Committee; and it is not actually particularly late. There is no need for the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, to apologise for speaking at this late hour, because it is not by historical standards a particularly late hour. This must have something to do with the impending general election and the consequent end of term feeling. But it is very worrying all the same.
As a layman, it seems to me that Clause 1 is the most important clause in the Bill, providing, as it does, for life imprisonment for a second but quite possibly totally unrelated so called serious offence. I say "so called" because, although many of the offences are indeed serious, some are not, by any normal standards. And not all, of course, are intended.
I give, as an example, manslaughter. Let us suppose that a respectable train driver, married with two children, having worked for whatever company succeeds British Rail for 25 years and who committed as a teenager an offence involving violence, foolishly one day takes his eyes off the track, goes through a red signal, crashes into the back of another train and kills a passenger. He will quite possibly be tried and convicted of manslaughter. Is it really necessary to sentence him to life imprisonment? Does he really pose a danger to the public?
What about rape? We all know that there are degrees of rape that vary enormously in their heinousness and effect upon the victim. On the one hand there is the terrible incident of the three men who broke into the vicar's house and raped and did other terrible things to his daughter. In my opinion, the sentences passed in that case were totally inadequate. They should have been at least double what they were, if not longer. On the other hand, there is the kind of case which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows all about, where a very young university student was invited into bed by a young woman who then changed her mind literally at the eleventh hour. In the event, he was acquitted, but he might very well not have been acquitted, and he too might be subject to being sentenced to life imprisonment for a second offence of any kind or description.
We note also that attempted rape is included. There are enormously varying degrees of attempted rape. Some are extremely serious and involve great physical assault and terror on the part of the victim. On the other hand, at the farcical extreme there is the case of Mr. Angus Diggle, where no physical harm was caused and, as both parties were totally drunk, there was hardly any mental distress either. Yet the same law will apply to this great range--in terms of heinousness--of cases.
Even if life only means 18 months or two years, what effect will it have in practice? How will a person sentenced to life imprisonment but released after 18 months be able to get a decent job and hold it down? Will he be able to get a mortgage? Will he be able to get a passport? Some countries will not allow people in with that kind of thing hanging over them. Some people say that it is tough luck and that it does not matter. I think it does matter. If we want people to reform and go steady, we have to give them a chance to have a decent job. With life imprisonment being there in the background--undeservedly in some cases (but not all: in some cases it will be fully merited)--I do not see how it can be justified.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill: Whether it is late at night or not, perhaps I may invite the Minister's attention to one situation which, although hypothetical, is one that I think is by no means unrealistic. It is directly related to Clause 1 of the Bill. Let us suppose that a defendant is convicted of a second qualifying Clause 1 offence and is therefore, on the face of it, liable to an automatic life sentence. Two psychiatric consultants of unimpeachable reputation, approved by the Secretary of State, examine the defendant in depth and go into the witness box and express the opinion that in their judgment the defendant does not present a continuing danger to the public, although of course he should be punished for his second offence. The Crown calls no evidence to challenge that opinion and indeed accepts it.
Does the Minister suggest that in that situation the judge should be required to pass a life sentence? If so, does she suggest that that result would be just and that it would serve any public interest to sentence such a defendant to life imprisonment? If her answer is that a judge would not have to impose a life sentence in such a situation, what does the clause achieve, because in appropriate cases a life sentence can be imposed now and, if it is not when it should be, the Attorney-General can come to the court and ask for the substitution of such a sentence?
I described this case as hypothetical, but I also venture to suggest that it is realistic because, as Dr. Hood's evidence shows, most of those who would become subject in theory to the automatic life sentence provided by Clause 1 would not present a continuing danger to the public. Therefore, they would be in a position to call evidence of this kind, which is the very sort of evidence that the Parole Board relies on when it makes its judgment that a prisoner can be safely released. I am sorry to burden the Minister with a question of that kind, whether late in the evening or not, but it is an important question and it goes to the root of Clause 1 of the Bill.
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