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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is making a very effective speech, as if this were the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill in this House. It is not. A number of us are concerned about how all that is reconciled with an announcement by the Home Secretary that there is to be a minimum sentence of five years for gun crime.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for bringing me to gun crime. It is not possible to look at our approach to burglary and to gun crime without seeking to put our overall approach to sentencing in context. I shall deal first with burglary and then come to questions about gun crime. I apologise if I have been too slow getting there.
We take the view that burglary is a serious crime. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, made clear, the same view is taken by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, by the Lord Chief Justice the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his judgment and by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine. The judgment delivered in the guidelines case by the Lord Chief Justice refers to the sentencing advisory panel and identifies what the typical burglar is and what the typical burglary consists of. Quoting the Sentencing Advisory Panel, he describes it involving a repeat offender, very often the stealing of electrical goods and some personal possessions, and some damage in getting in. The standard burglary will not usually involve violence to the individual house owner, but it will cause trauma. He also makes it clear that repeat offenders should normally merit some sort of custodial sentence. All the indications suggest that that is the typical burglary. It is serious, frequently involves persistence and will normally merit gaol.
The noble and learned Lord also identifies cases in which there is a genuine first-time offender, not somebody who has committed previous offences and who may commit a low level burglary. If it is a genuine first offence, not just a first burglary, and it is a low-level burglary, society may well be best benefited by a community sentence. As the Lord Chief Justice makes clear, that will depend on the facts. Our approach to burglary must be looked at in that context.
Reference has been made to the fact that there is a minimum sentence for burglary. The third conviction for burglary leads to a minimum sentence of three years under the 1997 Act, which the previous government introduced and we brought in in 1999. There is a clear place for minimum sentences, because
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I understand that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was stepping in behind the Lord Chief Justice to support what he had said. From what the noble and learned Lord has said now, that is clearly in line with government policy. Why did not the Home Secretary do precisely the same, rather than differing from the clear message that has come from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Home Secretary specifically referred to the approach to repeat offenders. In the clarification issued yesterday, the Lord Chief Justice made it clear that a repeat offender could expect immediate imprisonment. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary yesterday welcomed that clarification.
There is no doubt that everybody engaged in the issue is clear that burglary is a very serious offence. We are all aware of the wide range of circumstances, but the typical burglary, as I have described it, normally merits prison.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord can clear up one point that concerns me and others on the effectiveness of prison as opposed to community service in preventing reoffending by first offenders. Is one system more effective than the other?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, prison will be appropriate in certain circumstances. The Home Office independent research department says that it is not possible to draw conclusions on which is more effective, looked at overall. As I said earlier, it is not community sentences versus custody. Custody is appropriate for serious cases, for dangerous sexual or violent offenders or for persistent offenders. The debate is not assisted by seeking to analyse which is more successful overall. We have to identify where custody is appropriate and where a community sentence is appropriate.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, as I read the guidelines issued by the Lord Chief Justice, he makes it clear that sentences of 18 months or less achieve nothing because they result in the defendant being released home in about three months. That means that the Prison Service can provide nothing useful for him. A community-based sentence has the advantage that conditions can be imposed that, if broken, result in the offender going back to court to be sentenced. Such a sentence also offers for three years the protection of
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord will forgive me, there are only three minutes left for this debate. These constant interventions are not helping the Government to make their case, however good or bad it might be.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is plainly a separation between us and the Lord Chief Justice. I do not mean there is disagreement, but we are doing different things. I am simply seeking to answer on the Government's sentencing policy.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I shall deal briefly with the point that has been raised. The Criminal Justice Bill makes it clear that if a custodial sentence that involves a short period in prison is to be useful thereafter, there must be support in the community to assist the offender's reintegration into society. That covers issues such as housing, employment, family relationships and drugs and alcohol.
I shall deal briefly with gun crime. I am afraid that my time is short because I wrongly took too many interventions. Everybody agrees that the problem of gun crime has been growing. The minimum mandatory sentence sends a clear message about how seriously it is to be regarded. The courts will rightly use the sentence remorselessly. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made clear, that is only part of our approach. Other things must be done as well. I disagree with those who say that there is no place for minimum mandatory sentences. There is a place for them. In his guidelines judgment, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, makes it clear that such minimum sentences result in the courts giving a sentence that they would not otherwise give. That sends the clearest possible message of deterrence and makes sure that there is appropriate punishment.
I am sorry that I am not able to deal with all the other points that noble Lords have made. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for giving me the opportunity to put the Government's position.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think that I have only about a minute to thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We have achieved something. I chose sentencing because of the obvious confusion in the Government's mind as to their exact policy, and I invited the Minister to see whether he could sort out that confusion. However, the intervention at the end from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was not properly answered, and we can say that there is still confusion in the Government's mind on this subject. Perhaps they can address that in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:
"The House will recall that, in the defence debate on 17th October, I described the work in the United States on the development of ballistic missile defence systems and the Government's thinking on this issue. Subsequently, on 9th December, as I informed the House during Defence Questions that day, I placed in the Library a discussion paper produced by the Ministry of Defence setting out the role which active missile defence might play within a comprehensive strategy for tackling the threat from ballistic missiles. And on 17th December, I informed the House of the receipt of a request from the United States Government to upgrade the early warning radar at Fylingdales for missile defence purposes.
"I have repeatedly emphasised that the Government would not respond to such a request without a further opportunity for discussion in this House. Next week's defence debate is a very timely further occasion for the House to discuss the challenges that the United Kingdom faces in the new international security environment, including those posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology. I hope the House will find it helpful if today I set out the Government's thinking on the US request.
"The Government recognise that missile defence raises important strategic issues, as well as local concerns in North Yorkshire. Following the release of the discussion paper in December, with its invitation to all interested parties to contribute their views, we have had around 300 responses. In addition, I visited North Yorkshire last week, and heard the views of local people and their elected representatives, as well as meeting representatives from the planning authorities.
"We have taken these views into account as we have considered the key question, which is the key test which the Government will apply to the US requestwould agreeing to the upgrade of Fylingdales ultimately enhance the security of the UK and the NATO alliance?
"The background to the US request is the marked increase in the potential threat to our security from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. The Prime Minister has described weapons of mass destruction as,
'the key issue facing the world community'.
"Elsewhere, if North Korea ends its moratorium on flight testing, it could flight test a missile with the potential to reach Europe and the United States within weeks. Iran and Libya may acquire similar missile systems, not least through the proliferation of missile technology from North Korea.
"Based on the analysis and discussion which we have undertaken so far, I have therefore come to the preliminary conclusion that the answer to the US request must be yes, and that we should agree to the upgrade as proposed.
"RAF Fylingdales has operated since 1963 as a ballistic missile early warning system, which together with other radars in the United States and Greenland provides tactical warning and attack assessment of a missile attack against the United Kingdom, North America or Western Europe. It has been upgraded a number of times over the years: many honourable Members will recall the old 'golf balls' which were dismantled in the late 1980s and replaced with the existing pyramid-like structure. Indeed, a life extension programme is currently under way to maintain its capabilities to provide early warning and to track objects in space. These missions will continue to be the primary function of RAF Fylingdales.
"There are a number of misapprehensions about the US request which I have sought to dispel in various meetings in North Yorkshire. The proposal is for an upgrade of the existing radar, not some massive new construction. No change to the external appearance of the radar should be involved. The upgrade essentially comprises modification to the hardware and software of the computers within the base.
"There will be no change in the power output of the radar, which is many times below statutory safety limits. We therefore believe that no health risk to people or livestock would arise. We have already explained to the local planning authorities that we see nothing in the upgrade proposals which would require formal planning consultation, and we have promised to provide them with full supporting evidence in due course.
"The upgrade of the Fylingdales radar can and should be considered as a discrete proposition. It does not commit us in any way to any deeper involvement in missile defencealthough it gives us options to do so, should we decide on this at a later date.
"It will not involve huge costs. The upgrade will be performed at US expense, and we do not expect any significant variation in the running costs of RAF Fylingdales which, as is appropriate for an RAF station, we already bear.
'to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to Alliance territory, forces and population centres'.
"These are the reasons for concluding that agreeing to the US request would not prejudice the UK's interests. But beyond this, the key consideration is that it would represent an invaluable extra insurance against the development of a still uncertain, but potentially catastrophic, threat to the citizens of this country. It does not yet represent an immediate threat to us as of today. But there is a distinct possibility that this threat could materialise in the relatively near future.
"It would therefore be irresponsible for the Government to leave the United Kingdom without a route map to acquire a defence against this potential threat. An upgraded Fylingdales radar would be a vital building block on which missile defence for this country and for our European neighbours could later be developed, if the need arises and if we so decide.
"We are confident that agreeing to the request will not significantly increase the threat to the UK. The security interests of the UK are already closely identified with those of the US and other NATO allies, and this will not change regardless of decisions on missile defence. Keeping a low profile and hoping for the best is not an option. We also believe that any increased threat to RAF Fylingdales itself is negligible. For the foreseeable future, states of concern are very unlikely to have the
"The upgrade would indicate no commitment to further involvement with missile defence deployments. Separately, we intend to agree a new technical memorandum of understanding with the United States, which would give us full insight into the development of its missile defence programme and the opportunity for UK industry to reap the benefits of participation. But any UK acquisition of missile defence would be subject to a separate decision, at the relevant time. We must approach this in stages, considering each step in the light of how both the threat and the relevant technologies evolve.
"The Government have not yet replied to the US Administration on their request to upgrade the Fylingdales radar. I await with interest the views that honourable Members will wish to put forward, today and in next week's debate. But it is only right that the House should know the Government's preliminary conclusion that it is in the UK's interests to agree to the request. From the UK's national perspective, this specific decision is one that has real potential benefits at essentially no financial cost. But it will ensure that, if in the coming years we find that a potential devastating threat is becoming a reality, we have the opportunity to defend against it.
"Weapons of mass destruction present the gravest risk to the UK's security. A ballistic missile launched at the UK is the most catastrophic potential threat to our people in the future. The Government's first duty is to protect its citizens. I can tell the House that this is a duty that the Government will not shirk from undertaking".
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement on missile defence. We on these Benches have consistently made the case for missile defence and we support this government decision, because we believe that it is in the interests of British national security to have a system of missile defence. Can the Minister confirm that any missile defence system of our own would require forward early warning systems to protect the UK and would these be located in south-east Europe? What action is being taken over theatre missile defence?
Is it possible that Menwith Hill will be included in the programme at some future date and, in return for British agreement to the United States' request, will the Government now actively secure the involvement of the British defence industries in the development of missile defence?
On 17th December, the Government produced an explanatory public discussion paper on missile defence, which included proposals for radars, sensors, interceptors and anti-missile missiles based on land, sea and air, and satellites. Nowonly about eight parliamentary working days laterHer Majesty's Government announce their decision. The Minister said that there have been some 300 responses to this document so far, but could he tell the House how the consultation process will now continue as the Ministry of Defence has already come to the preliminary conclusion that the answer to the US request must be "Yes", and that we should agree to the upgrade as proposed?
It is difficult to see why so many objections have been raised against a missile defence system when a ballistic missile early warning system has been operating at Fylingdales, providing tactical warning and attack assessment of a missile attack against the UK, North America and western Europe, since 1963, especially when there is a proposal only for upgrading the existing radar, comprising modification to the hardware and software of the computers within the base. There will be no health risk to people and livestock and it should not commit us to deeper involvement in missile defence or involve us in huge costs.
We agree that a ballistic missile defence system would represent an extra insurance against the still uncertain but potentially catastrophic threat to the citizens of this country and the interests of the UK.
However, the Statement is rather worrying. The line that I find most worrying is that which asserts that the answer to whether missile defence should be upgraded in this country "must be yes". I also ask why we are doing this in such a rush at the moment. The Statement appears to advance the Government's view that the case has been won for missile defence and it appears to negate the whole purpose of the consultation, which has not yet been concluded. I believe that although 300 submissions have been made, there is still a week in which to supply further submissions. It is unfortunate that we have not waited until the end of the process before coming to conclusions.
The whole point of missile defence is to institute a missile shield. Fylingdales as a radar system is obviously not part of that shield; it involves the early warning system that will indicate where a missile is coming from. If a missile were directed against the UK, under the present system there would be no way in which it could be intercepted. If Fylingdales picked up a missile flying over British airspace and an interception missile was fired from the United States, where would such an interception take place? Is there a system that would stop an interception taking place in the mid-range of the trajectory? If an intercontinental ballistic missile were involved, the interception could take place over British airspace or that of our European allies, and there would be resulting contamination from the missile's warhead. That is a particular concern.
If the Government are considering not simply providing radar facilities for the United States but also the placement of anti-ballistic missiles, where would they be placed? Would they be placed within Britain, and what cost would that involve? As we understand it, the case has not been made for the technical aspects of the missile systemwhether they would work. Only a few tests have been undertaken and their results are extremely dubious.
How far have the costs of the system been analysed and how deeply have the cost implications been tested? As with the Star Wars system, this system appears to be open ended. The Minister will have some understanding of how much Fylingdales will cost but how much will it cost to site an anti-ballistic missile system, which I believe needs hot missiles, in this country? Have the Government considered how much that system would cost?
The Minister talked of the economic benefit to British industry of taking part in an anti-ballistic missile programme. However, is it really the case that it will be economically advantageous not only to British industry but to the taxpayer to take part in what could be a potential arms race with no end? As the Minister said, there is no real indication of from where the threat would come.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their comments and questions. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for voicing his party support for what I have repeated today.
It is important that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, remembers that we are living in a different world from the one that we lived in before 11th September 2001. It is apparent that some statesnot only terrorist groups within states but states themselvesare absolutely determined to build ballistic missiles and to have weapons of mass destruction. That combination presents a huge danger that did not exist previously in the same way. It is a danger to the United Kingdom, to the United States and to other countries, too. It is essential that the House recognises that the situation
Having said that, let us remember what is being announced today. We are announcing that it is the Ministry of Defence's and the Government's preliminary view that the request from the United States, which has not itself decided on a deployed missile defence system, for the existing equipment at Fylingdales to be upgraded should be given permission by the British Government. That is all. We are not making a decision today about whether or not the United Kingdom requires a missile defence system. That is something that we and Parliament must consider, and that will be done in due course. We are simply announcing that we are tending towards the view that we should be prepared to allow the United States' request.
So far as concerns theatre defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, knows, NATO researches are coming to a conclusion. It remains our view in the United Kingdom that it would be premature to decide now on acquiring an active ballistic missile defence capability for our forces deployed overseas. That view is based on our assessment of the threat, on the rapidity with which relevant defence technologies are changing and on the need to evaluate further the potential role of missile defences as one element of a broad-ranging defence response. We believe that we shall come to a conclusion about theatre missile defence within about 12 months. We shall then decide whether we should start the formal process to acquire a national capability.
Whether or not we have a missile defence system for the UK in this country, it is right and appropriate that, using its technological skills, our industry should consider whether it can assist in developing the system that the Americans have decided they will create. That has nothing at all to do with whether or not we have a missile defence system ourselves; it is the way that the defence industry works.
As I said, the question for the Government to decide was whether we should say "yes" or "no" to requests from our closest ally to upgrade the existing Fylingdales. To have said "no" effectively would have eliminated any chance in the future of deciding to have a missile defence system for this country.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, the Minister spoke briefly about procurement and industrial aspects of that. When the Government respond formally to the United States on this issue, will it be made plain that it is important that British industry retains a capability and involvement in the whole range of interception technology? If Fylingdales is to be upgraded now, and if it is likely that further advances in these systems will take place in future, it is important that in this country we remain not only abreast of developments in that technology but also involved in it.
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