Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, in the earlier stages of our deliberations on this Bill, reference was made by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, to the curate's egg. I think many of us are relieved that the parts of the egg which, dare I say, were less palatable have now been consigned to the waste bin. I have to say that I share the view which has already been expressed that this is now a better Bill than it was when we first received it.

I detected a certain hint in one or two comments made by the Minister that he suspected, to use a mathematical term, that there was a certain correlation between the views expressed on the Bishops' Bench and those expressed on the Opposition Benches. Let me assure the noble Lord that if he looks at the meaning of "correlation", he will find that it does not mean "identity" and that on occasions there has been a good deal more than one pennyworth of difference between the views of this Bench and those of the Opposition Benches. Nevertheless, we have been glad to share with them our concerns on this Bill. I am particularly glad also to express my thanks to all who have shared in our debates.

I express thanks to the staff of my board and their legal advisers, whom we have to thank not only for saving the chief executive of the new QCA from embarrassment but also from the burden of having to carry an inaccurate title. I am glad that we have been able to make that contribution to the Bill. As others have done, I thank the Minister for his unfailing attention, courtesy and stamina, during the very long hours that we have spent on this Bill. I am relieved that he gave us the exact time, because I have been trying to say to my colleagues just how many hours we have actually spent on the Bill. I think by the time we have finished, it may have amounted to about 36 hours. I am grateful to him for that piece of information, and I am glad that we have been able to share those 36 hours to achieve such a profitable outcome.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, I should like very briefly to spoil this "love fest" by saying that there are many Members of your Lordships' House on these Benches and many members of my party outside this House who deeply regret the necessity of sacrificing so much of the Bill to the pressure of time. We hope and believe that this defeat for the accent placed in the original Bill on the need for excellence and for selection as the only method of creating excellence will come back and that when my party is again returned to government, another blow will be dealt against the mediocrity with which the comprehensive system has landed this country for so many years.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, a Bill which began in high seriousness in your Lordships' House last month has ended in an atmosphere which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, described at the beginning of this week as somewhat "surreal". Not even the powers of

19 Mar 1997 : Column 935

intuition which enabled me, to the surprise of the noble Lord the Minister, to arrive in time for a vote on the first night of Committee were capable of predicting the course which this Bill would take in its later stages.

Naturally, I am pleased with the result. It bears saying one last time that no measure which impacts on neighbouring schools, measures such as selection or creating a sixth form, should be capable of being driven through without full consultation and, if need be, arbitration by some body which can hold the ring for those who might be disadvantaged. One of the truly sad features of the Government's educational reforms has been the way in which partnership has been eroded and local consensus and accountability discarded. At one point on Monday the noble Lord the Minister stated:

    "We expect schools to act responsibly".

On that expectation, in the present competitive atmosphere, can hang and die the freedoms of others.

So, the prospect of secondary moderns in every town recedes and, with the Opposition parties, I am glad.

I do not wish to take up any more time at this stage of proceedings, but I should like to make one proposal which I believe I aired at the end of the Education Reform Bill in 1988. There are some 26,000 maintained schools in this country and by comparison a handful of independent schools. Your Lordships' House has more than one head teacher from the latter among its Members but none I believe who has come to this House by virtue of a headship from the maintained sector. I doubt whether party leaders comb the pages of Hansard for comments from your Lordships' House. I just wonder whether the party spokespeople present would agree that our education debates, which almost always are about the maintained sector, could be enriched in future by a well chosen appointment or two from that direction and, if so, whether they might drop a word in higher places. We are not short of lawyers, doctors or university academics here, but we could benefit from current mainstream educational experience.

It remains for me to join in thanking and congratulating all those who have played a far more active and consistent part in the passage of this Bill than I have, and in particular noble Lords on the Front Benches, who have been so thoroughly and admirably on top of their briefs, day in, day out, amendment after amendment. It took me years as an education officer in the thick of things to grasp the issues and know what I was doing. The noble Lord the Minister seems to achieve that effortlessly, as do the Opposition speakers, to whom I have listened with interest and much admiration.

So to what remains of this Bill I wish a fair wind but, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Tope, with the hope that we may be spared more education legislation for some time to come.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene so late in the proceedings of this Bill. However, I do not believe that the characteristically intemperate outburst of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, should be allowed to pass unnoticed. He may be

19 Mar 1997 : Column 936

unaware of it but the Scottish secondary education system has been very largely comprehensive for a great many years. Indeed, I was at a comprehensive school before the war and did not realise that it was comprehensive until I came to London many years later. I thought that was what schools were like; and very good they were.

My point is that, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, regards as a grave disadvantage--namely, having, broadly speaking, a comprehensive educational system--the Scots are not notably under-educated and can certainly hold their own in comparison with other persons in the United Kingdom who have had the disadvantage of a highly selective system for so many years.

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Royal Assent

4.45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Aberdare): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Consolidated Fund Act,
Finance Act,
Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Act,
Policyholders Protection Act,
Pharmacists (Fitness to Practise) Act,
British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act,
Knives Act,
Architects Act,
Lieutenancies Act,
Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act,
Justices of the Peace Act,
Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Act,
Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act,
Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act,
Local Government and Rating Act,
Police (Property) Act.

Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill

4.46 p.m.

Report received.

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Clause 1 [Imprisonment for life on further conviction for certain offences]:

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon) moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 16, leave out from ("opinion") to ("decline") in line 19 and insert ("that it would be in the interests of justice for it to pass a sentence other than the sentence which that subsection would require it to pass, it may").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 19 and 19A.

19 Mar 1997 : Column 937

At the outset, it may assist our deliberations this afternoon if I inform your Lordships that, following discussions which have taken place over the past 48 hours and following reflections on the time that remains before Parliament is to be prorogued, the Government have decided to table amendments which they believe will command the support of your Lordships' House. If that belief turns out to be correct, it will enable an appropriate course to be followed to allow the Bill to reach the statute book and enable the Government's desire that the provisions that command widespread support should be on the statute book not to fall when Parliament is prorogued. The detail of the amendments will become apparent as we go through them on the Marshalled List.

I regret that the first group of amendments involves considering a number of complicated and inter-related amendments at a very late stage in the Bill's proceedings. But that need has arisen, as I said, in view of the state of play over the past few days. It might be simplest for me to deal first with Amendments Nos. 3 and 5.

Amendment No. 3 is a technical amendment designed to make the list of qualifying offences for the purposes of Clause 1 more comprehensible. It follows discussion at Committee stage when points were raised by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord McCluskey. I trust that it will prove acceptable to your Lordships.

Amendment No. 5 again is a minor technical amendment. It amends an inappropriate reference to a "qualifying" offence in Clause 2, which deals with a minimum sentence of seven years' imprisonment for a third or subsequent Class A drug trafficking offence, by replacing it with a more accurate reference to a "Class A drug trafficking" offence. The phrase "qualifying offence" is relevant for the purposes of Clause 1, but not for Clause 2. That is why we tabled the amendment.

Now that Amendment No. 1 has not been moved, Amendment No. 2 is of importance. It is tabled in my name and seeks to replace the "exceptional circumstances" test in Clause 1 with a test based on the court's consideration of the interests of justice. In relation to Clause 2, Amendment No. 4 in my name would introduce an "interests of justice" test to that clause as well.

We are mindful of both the emphasis we have placed on the need for cross-Border consistency in sentencing for drugs and concerns expressed by your Lordships in relation to the desirability of such consistency. The amendment therefore seeks to replicate for Clause 2 the precise terms of the provisions in Amendment No. 1 relating to Clause 2. It therefore mirrors the terms of amendments already passed by your Lordships to the provisions for minimum mandatory sentences for drug traffickers which are to be found in the Crime (Sentences) Bill.

It may be helpful to noble Lords if I confirm now that I do not intend moving Amendment No. 4, but intend to commend manuscript Amendment No. 3A to your Lordships in its place. Likewise, Amendments Nos. 19 and 19A are to some extent alternative. I do not intend to move Amendment No. 19 but will move Amendment No. 19A instead, which makes for a simpler provision overall.

19 Mar 1997 : Column 938

Lastly, Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together provide essentially for the same effects as the effects to Clauses 1 and 2 of Amendment No. 18A tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. I understand that the noble and learned Lord is sitting in court in Scotland today and for that reason cannot be with us. However, I trust that those amendments would have proved acceptable to him had he been present.

The question may arise as to where all that leaves us. It may not be helpful at this stage to say too much, but perhaps I can summarise it in these terms. If the amendments I have indicated I intend to move are accepted by your Lordships, Clauses 1 and 2 will require the courts to consider imposing a life sentence in the case of Clause 1 or a minimum sentence in the case of Clause 2 when the appropriate provisions apply. But the amendments will also ensure that the courts retain a discretion, which they presently have, not to impose such sentences in the interests of justice.

Clearly this is not as large a step as the Government were hoping to make. The reasons for that are obvious. I hope noble Lord on all sides will accept that the package of amendments put forward today is both an appropriate and a responsible way to proceed. We believe that in the broad scheme of things the Bill nevertheless involves a small step forward. It may be helpful to encourage those who sit as senators in the High Court constantly to have under review, as I am sure they normally do, their own sentencing practices. In particular it may serve to remind them of the existence of the power of the Appeal Court to issue sentencing guidelines and, if that power were to be used following the passage of this Bill, it would be beneficial to all concerned. It would also encourage the courts to send the right message to those who repeatedly commit serious sexual or violent offences or who repeatedly traffic in Class A drugs. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page