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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I shall take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness for that explanation of her amendments. I support them—I entirely agree that this is a good thing to do. However, it is interesting to note, first, what she said at the end of her remarks about everybody needing the protection of the law—I shall come back to that. Secondly, it is interesting to note how extreme, in a way, her amendments are. In the same way as they protect the homosexual community, they protect paedophiles. We are saying—and I think it is quite right—that they, along with every other group in society, are entitled to the protection of the law. If someone is pursued by a newspaper or a mob because of their paedophile tendencies, they will be entitled to the protection provided by the amendment.

I think that gets very close to the Government agreeing that this is a general crime—that everybody is entitled to this sort of protection. A crime of this sort

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is not just a crime against the person it is committed against, it is calculated to strike fear, and prolonged fear, into the hearts of those who share whatever characteristic it is that someone is being persecuted for.

If we are to support the Government in going as far as they have in this amendment, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and I agree, we ought to look at protecting those who are persecuted and have been persecuted for a very long time by animal rights activists. Indeed, the Government are expending very large sums of money in supporting companies which have been brought to the brink of destruction by animal rights activists. Many people have suffered over a long time, yet they are not to be offered the sort of protection which is now to be extended, quite rightly, to the homosexual community.

The homosexual community has had to suffer a long time before getting the benefit of the new clause. There is a great deal to be said for the proposal by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that we should recognise the generality of this. If the intention of someone committing a crime is not only to harm the person whom they are committing the crime against but to harm a lot of other people of similar persuasion or similar condition as well, that should be taken into account in the sentencing. That is a general proposition. I cannot think of a single instance of a group of people into whom it is desirable that someone should strike fear, or make them believe that they were likely to be subject to similar crimes—because we are talking about crimes and not about reasonable protest. It is a universal wrong. Just because they are not many or their voices are not loud enough, it is not right for a group of people to have to suffer for as long as the homosexual community has had to suffer. Presumably, those who are suffering from animal extremists have suffered for quite a long time, too. We should recognise that, however few they are, they are suffering.

By making the law simpler and more universal, we can stop that evil arising, or deal with it as best we can, well before it reaches the same level of problem for another group, and before that group suffers the years of suffering that the homosexual community has had to endure. Queer bashing was something that I knew about when I was young; there has been decades of it, and now we are dealing with it. How many decades will those who work for Huntingdon Life Sciences and other animal scientists have to wait in fear before the Government decide that they have suffered enough to receive similar protection?

Viscount Colville of Culross: My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, will be bitterly disappointed that it has gone on for as long as it has, but the fact is that the Liberal Democrat amendment tabled at Committee stage has blossomed. Not only has it caused me to table my doubtless faulty amendment, but it has led to a huge acceleration of the way in which the Government have dealt with matters that they have been discussing for some time. That is

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why we have government Amendment No. 210A, and those consequential on it. For that we should be thankful.

I am not going to press the amendment, not because the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says that she and her colleagues will not support it—one never knows what they are going to support at the present moment, but I now know that they are not going to support this amendment—but because I know that there are deficiencies in the drafting and that it would not be sensible for me to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, can take away a few messages from the debate, and I am sure that she will do so. She has been ready to listen to what noble Lords have to say. First, on the question of categorisation, a number of noble Lords have given further examples of cases in which there should be protection. I am sure that there is no end to that sort of categorisation, and I am not at all content with the idea that we should have to have primary legislation every time one crops up. The assessment being done with ACPO may have the effect of producing a collection of new categories; I hope that it does and that it is conclusive, so that we do not have to have this piecemeal legislation. I encourage that process to go ahead and hope that results will be seen fairly soon.

Secondly, as noble Lords have made clear, it is not satisfactory to have four different methods under statute for dealing with this sort of situation. That suggestion was not denied. If the Minister does not wish to have the maximum sentences increased for offences of hate crime against people on account of their sexual orientation or disability, why must she have increased maximums for race and religion? There is no logic to that.

Such legislation has always been done piecemeal—it was done in 1998 and 2001, and now it is being done differently in 2003. The Home Office should rationalise its approach. If the courts are to be trusted with aggravating circumstances and enabled to pronounce increased sentences on that account, the Home Office should consider the maximums and see whether they are adequate; if they are not, they should be brought into line with the race and religion provisions and, if those maximums are excessive, they should be reduced. Let us have a level playing field without all the different categories. If that is done, something valuable will have come out of this debate, and provisions would then be much more easily implemented in relation to other categories that might be proposed, such as those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lady Warnock.

I am not going to take the matter further today, but I hope that the Minister will not give up her efforts. She has evidently been spurred on by the interest in this House to introduce the amendments. I strongly suggest that we support Amendment No. 201A and the consequentials on it. Nevertheless, we have not reached the end of the story yet. The debate may have illustrated to the Minister and her colleagues, and the officials in the Home Office, that this is unfinished

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business and that there is quite a lot more to do. I should not think that there is time to draft anything for Third Reading—this has all been done in a great rush anyway—but we may have to return to the matter on another occasion. I thank those who have taken part in the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 199 to 201 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 201A:

    After Clause 128, insert the following new clause—

(1) This section applies where the court is considering the seriousness of an offence committed in any of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2).
(2) Those circumstances are—
(a) that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on—
(i) the sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim, or
(ii) a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim, or
(b) that the offence is motivated (wholly or partly)—
(i) by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation, or
(ii) by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability.
(3) The court—
(a) must treat the fact that the offence was committed in any of those circumstances as an aggravating factor, and
(b) must state in open court that the offence was committed in such circumstances.
(4) It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) whether or not the offender's hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.
(5) In this section "disability" means any physical or mental impairment."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 201B not moved.]

Clause 136 [General limit on magistrates' court's power to impose imprisonment]:

4.45 p.m.

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 202:

    Page 82, line 21, at end insert—

"(8) This section shall not come into effect before the national roll-out of the "custody plus order" under sections 163 and 164."

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 202 and 203 are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. We had some considerable discussion on these amendments at Committee stage,

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but we are still concerned about the implications of Clauses 136 and 137, which deal with consecutive terms of imprisonment.

Clause 136 will increase the general sentence limit to 12 months for any one offence. Clause 137 will increase the limit for consecutive terms of imprisonment to 65 weeks, when sentences for more than one offence are to run consecutively. That will apply to both summary and either-way offences. In effect, the new "custody plus order" will replace all short-term prison sentences of less that 12 months, with the exception of intermittent custody in Clause 163. Under custody plus, there are strict limits for the custodial period, which must not be less than two weeks and not more than 13 weeks. We would presume, as does the Home Affairs Select Committee, that when custody plus is in force, a magistrates' court will not be able to impose a sentence which has a custodial period of more than 13 weeks.

There is a risk that Clauses 136 and 137, which collectively extend the sentencing jurisdiction of magistrates' courts, if not specifically linked to the availability of "custody plus" regimes, will sharply increase the severity of custodial sentences passed in magistrates' courts. It will also reduce the use of community sentences previously considered not so serious as to demand a custodial sentence.

Although not a significant factor in increasing the prison population, increases in the use of short custodial sentences, mainly at the expense of community sentences, over the past 10 years, have been very large. That is a trend that the Bill should properly be seeking to reverse. The amendments are designed simply to help reduce the risk that the trend will be accelerated. Amendments Nos. 202 and 203 will ensure that the limit on magistrates' courts' forces will not come into effect before the national roll-out of the "custody plus order" under Sections 163 and 164. I beg to move.

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