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Lord Brennan: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I invite her to note that Clause 69 deals with parents of children who truant. I am talking about penalties against convicted offenders who are the subject of court sentences.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I take that point but I understand that a parent brought before the court would be convicted of being at least complicit in their children not having attended school.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is sad to find the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, insistent on heavier penalties. It is a unique experience for me.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, we argue for neither heavier nor, after the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, less severe penalties. These are alternatives. If the noble and learned Lord can fasten that thought in his mind it would help the discussion.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have it firmly fastened in my mind. I understand an alternative and an addition. As my noble friend Lord Brennan rightly pointed out, the amendment states:

not "instead of" or "as an alternative"--

    "to making an order under sub-paragraph (1C) above"--

sub-paragraph (1C) relates to the attendance centre order--

    "the magistrates' court may impose a fine".

Thus I fix my mind firmly to the only point which offers itself. Our present proposed sentence is an attendance order. As co-conspirators, the noble Lords propose not an attendance centre order but the attendance centre order and a fine.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, it is "may".

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is, of course, "may" but that is not an alternative to simply having

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a fine as opposed to an order. In other words, the noble Lords take the proposed present sentence and add--I take the words "in addition"--£1,000 on top of the attendance centre order. That may be what they want--they may have been mixing with unsuitable company--but I do not think that it is.

That point is fatal to the presently constructed amendment. But I believe that the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, was correct. I have nothing to add to it.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, that response, charmingly given as usual, is disappointing in substance. The House will welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. The Government Front Bench will welcome his speech even more. Discussion has continued over seven hours with a break for dinner--a civilised habit in this House. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is only the second person on the government Benches in all that time to speak. The first was his neighbour--he loyally still remains in the House at this hour--the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who made an earlier intervention. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, was extraordinarily powerful, ingenious and well argued.

However, whatever the drafting, we cannot disregard the fact that the Lord Chief Justice said in an earlier debate that he felt that fines should be an alternative penalty available to the courts. I studied and wrote about unit fines in the early 1990s. It is a sad and involved story. But I do not accept any parallel between the story of unit fines and their collapse and what we talk about now.

To my astonishment, the Attorney-General--he is normally so flexible on these matters--insists that the court cannot impose a fine. We shall ban the court from even considering a fine. It will not be beyond the wit of the Home Office or others giving sentencing guidance to say that the intention is that it should be one of these three orders. I mention only the two because the attendance centre order relates only to young people. But he rules out and removes from the discretion of magistrates and the Crown Court the ability to impose a fine when they believe that that is right. It may be the only remaining penalty that can be imposed.

The examples I gave came from the Association of Chief Officers of Probation. Those individuals see offenders in court day in and day out. They feel strongly that in some circumstances--I mentioned the examples that they cited--the court will not be able to impose a curfew order or a community service order. In those cases the outcome will be a prison sentence, which could be a disproportionate and unjust penalty. I would greatly regret that, but at this time of night I shall say no more, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

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10.30 p.m.

Clause 57 [Life sentences: tariffs]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 70:

    Page 41, line 13, leave out from ("direction") to ("there") and insert ("which it would have given under section 87 below (crediting periods of remand in custody)"").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor drafting amendment. The earlier reference was incorrect. I hope that the amendment corrects it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 58 [Abolition of sentences of detention in a young offender institution, custody for life, etc.]:

Lord Dholakia had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 71:

    Page 42, line 6, at end insert--

("( ) This section will be commenced only after standards have been set and age appropriate provision made for young adults (18 to 24 years old) in custody.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I drafted the amendment I was not aware that the Government intended to table Amendment No. 72. It meets the concern that lies behind Amendment No. 71, so I shall not pursue my amendment, on the assumption that Amendment No. 72 will be carried.

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 72:

    Page 42, line 15, at end insert--

("( ) On the coming into force of this section--
(a) paragraph (b) of the definition of "qualifying sentence" in section 30(1), and
(b) paragraph (b) of the definition of "relevant sentence" in section 66(9),
are omitted.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. He and I share a concern that, although all those over 18 may be sentenced as adults, they should not all be treated in the same way as more hardened criminals. We want to introduce flexibility to the prison regime and make more appropriate provision for young adults and a large number of prisoners whose maturity and vulnerability is not necessarily related to their chronological age.

In another place, the Minister of State, Mr Boateng, made it clear that we would not implement the abolition of the sentence of detention in a young offender institution until appropriate arrangements were in place. I repeat that intention. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is well aware of that. I happily give a further commitment that the Prison Service will produce an order covering young adult offenders before DYOI is abolished. That will be drawn up after consultation with interested bodies. The order is likely to focus on the reduction of reoffending by moving young adult offenders from custody to work more effectively. Consultation will continue. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

31 Oct 2000 : Column 910

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 73:

    After Clause 62, insert the following new clause--


(" . It shall be a duty of the authority prosecuting an offence listed in schedules 1 and 2 of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 to inform the victim of that offence, or the representative of the victim, of the progress of the prosecution.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return again to our concern for the victim, particularly in the case of sex offences. They should receive better information and should be told about the progress of the prosecution. That should be an obligation on the prosecution. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are already tackling the issue. I fully understand the intention behind the amendment, but the Government are already there. The amendment would not add significantly to the steps currently in train to ensure better communication of significant decisions to all victims of crime, regardless of the type of offence. Those steps are being taken by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Any victim who asks will, as at present, be kept fully informed of the prosecution of such an offence. Under the victim's charter, that is currently the responsibility of the police rather than the prosecuting authority. However, following the review of the Crown Prosecution Service by Lord Justice Glidewell, and a recommendation made in the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Crown Prosecution Service is now running pilot projects to establish more effective ways of communicating its own decisions to victims; that is, decisions on whether charges are to be preferred or dropped, or whatever the step in the process may be. It is intended that a new system for all victims of crime will be put in place by April 2001.

As I said at the outset, I fully understand that the noble Baroness's intention is to improve the current system. However, the Government believe that the measures which are already in hand and which have been in train for some time achieve that purpose, not only for this particular tragic group of victims but for all victims of crime. For those reasons, I do not feel able to accept the amendment and I trust that it can be withdrawn.

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