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Earl Russell: My Lords, clearly there is a mischief here. It is my recollection that that mischief is dealt with by the Abduction Act 1489. I have not been able to check whether that Act is still in force, but were the Minister able to do so before the next stage I would be extremely grateful.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Certainly I shall, my Lords. I have ample time in which to do these tasks. Abduction remains an offence. Kidnapping is an offence if it is associated with murder. Commonly, it will not be charged as a separate offence--sometimes it is--because the penalty for murder is mandatory life imprisonment, which I, for one, support.

One of the problems in the area of sexual offences is that the law is extremely unsatisfactory and confused. I remember the notable advice given by the Lord Chief Justice recently that we need, above all, in the criminal law clarity, coherence and understandability. That was why the sex offences review was set up. The recommendations to the Government were published in July 2000. The document is called Setting the Boundaries. The recommendations are in Volume 1 and the supporting evidence in Volume 2. The consultation period closes on 1st March 2001.

The point of the review is to get clear, coherent offences that are understandable and which can be prosecuted successfully. There are few things worse than criminal law that does not work. That does an awful amount of harm, not least to victims, complainants and their parents. The purpose of the review was to protect individuals,particularly children and other more vulnerable people, from abuse and exploitation and to enable abusers to be appropriately punished. The review has looked at all sex offences. The protection of children has been the central theme. The point is to get a coherent package of measures to protect all victims of sexual violation, particularly children and other vulnerable persons.

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It has been a very extensive consultation. My own department has been involved, as have the Bar Council, the Law Society, the NSPCC, Victim Support and the former Chaplain to the Speaker. The advisory group represented a wide range of pressure groups, faith groups and other interests, including Rape Crisis and victims groups in addition to many others. If we have such a review, which has been long overdue, we really should see whether we cannot achieve coherence, consistency and appropriate sanctions in the law of sexual offences.

I hope that the noble Baroness will not say that that is a disappointing reply because it is intended to be constructive and to deal with a basis which is longer term than merely this year or next. We really need to achieve clarity and coherence in this area of the law.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble and learned Lord but I find his reply disappointing. Parliamentary time has been found, without waiting for the outcome of the sexual offences review, to lower the age of consent for homosexuals and even worse, to lower the age for buggery in relation to girls aged 16. Why has parliamentary time been found to bring in those measures and yet we cannot apply ourselves to do something about the sort of crimes we read about every day in our newspapers? There is great wringing of hands; statements are made; conferences are convened, but nothing is done.

I have seen the report to which the noble and learned Lord referred. Many of its recommendations could be implemented very quickly. A great deal of thought has gone into the matter but it is taking an insufferably long time for anything to be done about it. The sexual offences review was initiated when I was a Minister at the Home Office. Now, here we are, almost four years later, and the review has not formally reported, nor has it yet given rise to any draft measures for consideration.

I return to the letter which was sent to me by the Minister. It states, in relation to the scheme which has already been set up in the Bill, that,

    "once it is up and running and operating well in practice, we could, if we thought it right, revisit it in future legislation to extend it further".

What future legislation? We have a Bill before us now in which it is possible to address some of the very real and urgent issues which have arisen out of the death of little Sarah Payne and cases of Internet procurement for sex.

But then the Minister goes on to say in his letter:

    "but to do so from the start would, in my view, weaken and complicate the measures".

It certainly would not weaken them. It may make them more complicated but as the noble and learned Lord has said, such legislation is complicated. That should not be an argument for putting off the day to address it.

I believe that we should get on with this. This is a golden opportunity. We shall have a Queen's Speech in a very short space of time. I know that the noble and learned Lord is not allowed to say what is in it.

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However, it seems that other Ministers are allowed to say what measures will be brought forward. I understand that some draft Bills likely to be included in the Queen's Speech are already in public circulation. If the noble and learned Lord was able to break all the rules of convention and say that there will indeed be a Bill to deal with these matters in the coming Session of Parliament, then that would go some way towards relieving my fears. I am afraid that it will be some time before we see any resolution of these matters. This is extremely serious; it was a disappointing reply; but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 [Interpretation of Part II]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 20, line 40, at end insert--

(""Class A drug" has the same meaning as in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 62 and 63:

    Page 21, leave out lines 2 and 3.

    Page 21, line 30, leave out (""works"") and insert (""working"").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 43 [Exclusion orders]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 64:

    Page 25, leave out lines 31 to 43.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 65, 66 and 67.

When the delegated powers committee looked at this Bill between Second Reading and Committee stage, it made an unequivocal recommendation. I referred to it previously and I said that the House should take a view about whether to accept that advice. If the House itself decided not to accept the recommendation, then the matters should be at least subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The Government have gone that far and they have done that.

Subsequently, as I said at the previous stage of this Bill, I received a letter from the chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee which forcefully reminded me that when that recommendation was made it was the unequivocal recommendation of the committee that those powers should be omitted from the Bill and that secondary legislation should not be used to extend the parameters of sentencing. I strongly agree with that advice, as I believe the House should. As I said earlier, the committee went on to say that in the event of the House not accepting its recommendation, at least such matters should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I believe that to be the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in replying to these amendments in Committee did not see the necessity for omitting the powers, but he made reference to particular penalties where it is possible that a

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parameter of one or two years would not be enough and perhaps that ought to be increased. If we believe that that is the case, we should do that now. It does not mean that the courts will award tougher penalties because the maximum is increased; it means that at least the courts will have the flexibility to go to a higher sentence if they believe that to be appropriate.

Unless the Government have in mind a particular penalty where that kind of flexibility is needed, I believe that we should wait until the next opportunity to pass primary legislation before increasing the parameters of sentencing. I also believe that we should heed the advice of the committee on this matter.

My last point is one that I made in Committee. This could be the first time ever that this House has not accepted the advice of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. It takes its work seriously for which this House has been grateful. The committee tests the kind of powers that various Secretaries of State seek in legislation. I have been a Minister so I know the tendency of all departments to resort to either Henry VIII clauses or to general powers that give rise to secondary legislation. The temptation is enormous. I have sat in the same position as the noble and learned Lord, desperately trying to defend the situation, but in the end, under the previous government and, so far, under this Government, we have always accepted the advice and the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I believe that this matter should not be an exception and that we should accept that committee's advice today. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I support this amendment to which I put my name. To be more precise, I support this string of amendments. The point that concerns us--the conferring of power to lengthen criminal sentences by regulation--is one that applies in a whole sequence of clauses.

I know something about the consultations that led to the setting up of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. As the noble Baroness has said, it has given this House extremely good service. It is extremely careful in its use of language. It does not seek to lay down the law to the House; it seeks to draw issues to the attention of the House. In the light of the way in which that committee usually uses language, I find these recommendations, by its normal style, particularly strongly worded.

I shall quote a few passages from the report of the committee because we should hear the flavour of the recommendations. It states:

    "The committee ... considers that it is inappropriate for Parliament to delegate the power to increase the severity of a sentencing power".

That is sufficiently unambiguous. It also states:

    "In so far as precedents do exist"--

other than in one single Act of the year 2000--

    "they date from before the establishment of this Committee, and so this issue has not come before us before".

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It continues:

    "the order-making power should be deleted from the bill. If, contrary to our recommendation, the power is to remain, the bill should be amended to make it clear that only affirmative procedure applies".

In the light of those words, I do not believe that it is possible to maintain that introducing an affirmative procedure constitutes compliance with the committee's recommendation.

I am reminded of the letter the King wrote to this House asking it to spare the life of the Earl of Strafford. He added at the end of the letter, "PS If he must die, it were charity to reprieve him till Saturday". Reprieving him till Saturday could not be regarded as complying with the letter; and I do not believe the House so understood it.

The reason why it is important, and has been regarded so for quite a long time, that criminal sentences should not be lengthened by regulation is that it is a basic principle that we are subject only to law to which we ourselves have consented. We do not have law made by the executive. We do not have imprisonment by administrative decree. How far regulations are law to which we have consented is a question it would be uncomfortable for us to go into at too great length. It might give rise to too many other interesting questions. And when we get to legislation, not all of those need raising.

It is much safer to have the lengthening of the maximum sentence that can be imposed done clearly, in primary legislation, with everybody knowing what is going on. That is a principle which goes back to the Donoughmore committee of 1932. Certainly, when I was first briefed on this subject by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and others when I arrived, they regarded it as one of the absolutely fixed points; that that was something which simply did not happen. They took exactly the same view which the committee has taken.

I am the last person in the matter of regulations to say that nothing should ever change. But I shall repeat to the House the advice that was given to me when I started raising the question of this House voting on regulations. I was told that if that was ever to happen it was something which required the most exhaustive preparation and that there should be the fullest consultation and consideration by all the relevant organs of the House over a long period, which indeed it had. It was considered by the Procedure Committee. It was upheld in 1994 by a resolution of this House, and it was not until six years after that that it actually happened.

So if the noble and learned Lord is to tell us that the convention that criminal sentences cannot be lengthened by regulation is to be changed, it would require, before that could be done, that element of preparation. And it would have to be a necessary condition of any such preparation that it would be understood that voting against regulations would become a great deal more frequent than anybody suggested it should be when we discussed the Greater

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London regulations. I am not sure that that is quite what the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General would like. But if he were to persist with ignoring the advice of the committee in this matter, that is the direction in which his action would lead. I hope between now and the later stages of the Bill he will consider whether that is really what he wants.

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