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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I must declare an interest as the patron of Autism Cymru. Of course vulnerable adults are not always old; autistic people and any people with learning disabilities are

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vulnerable adults. Autism seems to be increasing in our society, and the Governments in England, Wales and Scotland are giving it great attention.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, can the Minister tell us about the progress on implementing the safeguarding vulnerable groups legislation that was passed last year?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act will start to be implemented in 2008. It will be gradually introduced.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that on certain occasions Wales takes the lead and has its moment of triumph, not only on the rugby field but also with, for example, the establishment of the Commissioner for Older People in Wales. Are the Government considering such an appointment for England?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as a Welsh woman, I am proud to say that Wales quite often takes the lead. Where the older people’s commissioner is concerned, however, the situation has not changed in the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, my noble friend Lord Hunt suggested that as we have an older people’s champion—I cannot remember the exact phrase—in England who is responsible for older people. We believe that that is enough and that we do not need to appoint a commissioner for older people in England.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, will my noble friend consider the reality of the situation, which is that anyone who fears that someone, whether it be a neighbour, a friend or even their bank manager, is suffering from abuse in any form has not the foggiest idea to whom they should go to have some inquiries made?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, advocacy, information and communication of information are crucial. The Government are mindful of that, and local authorities should be as well. These days, more information is available in doctors’ surgeries, in local hospitals and on the internet, but we all could and should do more to ensure that more people are aware of their rights when it comes to social care and the abuse of vulnerable people.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we are into the 23rd minute. We must move on.

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Palestine: Unity Government

3.23 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, we welcome Palestinian President Abbas’s continued efforts at intra-Palestinian reconciliation, which have led to the agreement on forming a national unity Government. That is a positive step. We will judge the Government by their platform and actions, and respond accordingly. As we have made clear, we have always been willing to work with a Government based on the quartet principles. Now is the time for all members of the NUG to demonstrate a commitment to peace and support President Abbas in taking forward the peace process with Israel.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister accept that President Mahmoud Abbas, having formed a unity Government under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and with the commendable assistance of the Saudi Arabian Government, deserves all the support and encouragement he can get from the quartet, including individual members of the European Union and Her Majesty’s Government. Has the Minister noted the views of Ephraim Halevy, a former head of the Israeli intelligence service, who is reported to have urged that instead of regarding Hamas as a problem, we should now strive to make it part of the solution?

On 17 March, the Foreign Secretary said that the peace process would move forward only through constructive dialogue. Does the Minister not agree that now is the time for the whole quartet to deal with all members of the Palestinian unity Government without preconditions, and for dialogue between both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments to start again? An editorial in the Financial Times this morning said,

Does the Minister agree?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I think everybody is looking for the opportunity to see the dialogue go forward and I understand that there are varied opinions about what the right trigger moment and conditions are. In common with the EU at present and with the quartet, we have said that this new Palestinian Government can very easily take the appropriate steps. I hope they will, as I believe it would lead to fast negotiations. Those steps are the renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the road map. Although these are not conditions, the release of Corporal Shalit would make a fundamental difference, as indeed would help in the release of Mr Johnston, the BBC reporter.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the United States Government on Northern Ireland pushed the British Government very hard to talk to Sinn Fein/IRA long before it had given up terrorism or recognised the political settlement in Northern Ireland. As regards Israel-Palestine, American pressure is entirely in the opposite direction. Can we be reassured that the British Government are being robust in following an intelligent approach to encouraging terrorist groups to move toward political engagement rather than recognising the odd dynamics of American domestic politics?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, with great respect, I do not think that is a reasonable characterisation of the position. The United States has plainly got a different position at the moment from the Government of Israel. It is not a markedly different one but it is different to the extent that the Israelis are plainly upset about it. Everybody is trying to see whether this new national unity Government have the potential for the negotiations that are so wholeheartedly desired by this House. We may be a little way short of knowing the answer to that, but this is an occasion where rhetoric is probably a good deal less helpful than measured response.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that a senior American official met the Palestinian Minister of Finance yesterday, the Minister being a member of Fatah, not of Hamas? Does he regard that as a useful way forward?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the Palestinian Finance Minister comes from a party which is happily called the Third Way. I make no further comment but just observe that to be the case. He has undertaken an immediate review of finances and I believe the discussions are now likely to move on a basis where people understand the financial requirements and what may be envisaged for the future.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that some aspects of the preconditions imposed by the US and the EU for dealing with the Government of the Palestinian Authority when that Government was formed by Hamas alone are beginning to look both outdated and unreasonable and could look even more so if the Palestinian Authority as a party to the Arab summit meeting this weekend endorses the Saudi 2002 peace offer? Does he not also think that some consideration should be given, if a weakened Israeli Government remain unwilling to enter peace talks with the President of the Palestinian Authority, to the possibility of a first phase of talks in an indirect format with some body or bodies shuttling between the two sides in an effort to identify common ground?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, my understanding is that the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority are not only willing to talk but are finding opportunities to do so. I believe that we may, as I said a few moments ago, be a little way

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short of being certain about how this Government will perform, but I hope that we will all look at this with the utmost sympathy, looking for the opportunities in a way which does not use the language of preconditions. But we need the right mood music. The Israelis must also feel that they will be talking to people who do not desire their elimination.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords—

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is the turn of the side behind me.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is not the prudent approach to congratulate King Abdullah not only on his initiative when he was not king in respect of the 2002 Arab peace initiative but also on the Mecca agreement? However, we must also recognise that the new Palestinian Government have to show by results what their real policy is. It would be wholly premature, at this early stage, to move to recognition when we do not know, for example, what their policy is on the Israel renunciation of violence or the other criteria of the quartet.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I have tried to emphasise the importance, from the point of view of the EU and the quartet, of those understandings being made explicit. However, the Saudi Arabians have done the world a great favour in taking the steps which have helped bring these two parts of the Palestinian people together so that there is the prospect of a discussion.

Serious Crime Bill [HL]

3.31 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 39 [Intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 93:

The noble Lord said: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 99 and 100 as well. The Minister will be relieved that we have now come to what is probably the least controversial section of the Bill, Part 2. The amendments, which refer to drafting, suggest three changes, one each in Clauses 39, 43 and 44, which all fall under the part of the Bill that addresses “inchoate

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offences”. I am not entirely happy with those words, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, looks as though he agrees that they do not exactly trip off the tongue.

As the Committee will be aware, the Government’s policy on the reform of criminal law on encouraging and assisting crime in this part of the Bill is based on the Law Commission’s report No. 300. It looks to abolish the common law offences of incitement and in its place create new offences of “intentionally encouraging or assisting” crime and encouraging or assisting crime believing that one or more offences will be committed.

The Explanatory Notes state:

I have tabled a number of amendments to this part of the Bill, which I hope will provide us with the opportunity to ask probing questions and address the details of the proposals. I hope that they will provide a platform from which the Minister can justify to the Committee the Government’s position where they deviate from the recommendations of the Law Commission. That is behind these and many other amendments to Part 2.

The amendments do exactly what they say. Amendment No. 93 would replace “But he is” with “A person is”. I was taught that a sentence should not begin with “but”, but no doubt parliamentary draftsmen are much braver and more radical than I am. I would be interested to know what is behind that. Amendment No. 99 merely suggests changing “about” to “concerning,” which is clearer, in Clause 43.

Amendment No. 100 proposes replacing “reckoning” with “determining”. “Reckoning” is ugly; it sounds like an accountant’s word. I am not sure that I have seen the word used previously in this way in legislation. That is important, in that a word such as “determining”, which is familiar from legislation, would be easier to comprehend. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “determine” as,

It is better suited to setting out the provisions in Clause 44(4). I would be interested to hear the noble Baroness’s comments. No doubt we will have further questions later. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: We support these amendments for the simple reason that they seem to contain drafting recommendations by the Law Commission. There seems to have been some change on the part of the Government in their use of certain expressions, which do not fit with the definition. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Dholakia, for the way they have put their remarks. It gives me an opportunity to explain how we are taking forward the

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Law Commission’s report. These offences all arose from the Law Commission’s report Inchoate Liability for Encouraging and Assisting Crime, published last year. The commission is also considering the law in relation to the other inchoate offences of conspiracy and attempt and secondary liability. It is expected to publish reports later this year, which we will carefully consider.

We decided to bring forward now these provisions on inchoate liability for encouraging and assisting because they stand alone and will contribute to the fight against serious crime. The Law Commission supports this move. We have discussed with it our amendments and our reasons for tabling them. It has assented to the amendments. The offences in this part apply across the whole of the criminal law and are unrelated to Part 1. They will be particularly useful in the context of serious crime. In the light of the phrasing of the amendments, I will deal with some of these issues generally so that we can look at how they fit in contextually.

The new offences would apply to acts of encouragement or assistance. Currently if a person encourages or assists an offence that goes on to be committed, he can be convicted of that offence as a principal. However, if the offence is not committed, he can be convicted only if he encouraged the offence, not if he assisted it. Clause 39 creates a new offence of encouraging and assisting an offence with intent. Clause 40 creates a new offence of encouraging and assisting an offence believing that it will be committed. Clause 41 creates a new offence of encouraging or assisting offences believing that one or more will be committed. A number of elements must be proved in relation to each.

First, it must be proved that a person, whom I will refer to as D—I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, says about that—has committed an act that is capable of encouraging or assisting another person, whom I will refer to as P, to commit an offence. We will talk about this further as we progress through the clauses in this Part. It must also be proved that D acted either intending that an offence would be committed under Clause 39 or believing that it would, or that one or more would under Clauses 40 and 41. It must also be proved that D had some awareness of P’s state of mind and any circumstances or consequences that would be required for the commission of the offence. We shall discuss that a little later.

All the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, appear, as he indicated, to be drafting and stylistic measures. For instance, Amendment No. 93 would make a minor drafting change to Clause 39(2), replacing “But he is” with “A person is”. They relate to style as opposed to substance. We cannot see that those changes would make any practical difference. I do not think that the noble Lord suggested that they would.

Amendment No. 99 would make a minor drafting change to Clause 43, which sets out further rules regarding what must be proved in relation to an offence under Clause 41. We shall discuss Clause 41 in a moment. It is a very detailed clause, which we must

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consider carefully, but for now it is sufficient for me to say that rules concerning what must be proved in relation to this offence are set out in Clause 43. Again, I cannot see that the change would make any difference to the operation of the clause. As such, for the present I resist these changes. Because they are stylistic I can, of course, raise this issue with the draftsman, but I cannot see that they would make any material difference. The same applies to Amendment No. 100. We believe that the way in which these measures are expressed will make them easier to understand.

Amendment No. 100 would amend Clause 44, which sets out supplementary provisions about the offences in this part. This brings us to the issue of infinite inchoate liability or, put more simply, how far liability for inchoate offences should extend. For example, D lends a van to P, who is planning to act as X’s getaway driver in a robbery. If the robbery is committed, D can be convicted as a principal offender even though his role was of a secondary party. However, if the offence is not committed, should he be guilty of an offence even though his act is not directly linked to the commission of the offence? Clause 44(4) seeks to limit D’s potential liability.

It is currently an offence to incite an incitement. The Law Commission concluded that the new offences should follow that position. At present, incitement is generally thought to require intent; therefore, D can be guilty of inciting P to incite X—staying with our example—to murder someone else only if it was D’s intention that P should incite X. The Law Commission concluded that this was a sufficiently stringent requirement to justify D incurring criminal liability and, as such, recommended that liability for encouraging and assisting other inchoate offences or statutory forms of incitement should be restricted to where D intends to encourage or assist another to commit an inchoate offence. That is an offence under Clause 39. If D gave the van to P, intending that he assist X to commit robbery, he could be guilty of an offence in this part. However, if he believed only that P would assist X to commit robbery, he would not. We believe that is a sensible way forward and have set out in Schedule 3 the offences to which Clauses 40 and 41 should not apply. These are generally statutory offences of incitement and other inchoate offences.

3.45 pm

I am considering whether further offences should be present in Schedule 3, which is drafted as suggested in the Law Commission’s draft Bill. When we were reviewing that list, we found that additions could be made and we believe that other statutory forms of incitement should be added to ensure that the list is complete. If necessary, I would seek an agreement to make any amendment on Report. We will discuss Schedule 3 in a moment.

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