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In tackling the possession of extreme pornographic images, the Bill will bring our controls on such violent and explicit material into the internet age. We can no longer control the circulation of this pernicious and potentially harmful material through legislation dealing with the traditional forms of publication and distribution. We have to look to an offence of possession. We want to ensure that the new offence hits the right target. In the other place, concerns were expressed that the offence went too wide. We understand that concern. I aim to table amendments in Committee that will clarify the drafting of the offence and, I hope, put it beyond doubt that the type of imagery found in popular mainstream films will not be covered by the offence.
The prostitution-related provisions in this Bill make important changes to the Street Offences Act 1959, to remove the term common prostitute and introduce an alternative penalty to a fine for the offence of loitering or soliciting. This new order can be tailored to the specific needs of those involved in street-based prostitution, offering a more appropriate intervention which will address the causes of their offending behaviour. We expect the order to be supervised by someone already based in a dedicated support project who is already working with the individuals involved in prostitution and who will be able to continue working with the offender beyond the terms of the order. Those based in dedicated projects have the greatest expertise in dealing with the issues faced by those involved in prostitution and are best placed to deliver this role. These new orders will enable us at least to start to address the underlying
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I have no doubt that the new offences of inciting homophobic hatred will attract much debate in this House, and rightly so. In constructing the offences we have been very conscious of the need to balance the protection of the gay and lesbian community from material inciting hatred with the right to freedom of expression. We believe that we have struck the right balance in the Bill. The new offence will apply only to threatening words and behaviour intended to stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. Given that high threshold, and all the other safeguards, including the consent of the Attorney-General to any prosecution, we do not consider that a saving is needed to protect expressions of criticism or antipathy towards homosexual practices. If such expressions are not threatening and not intended to incite hatred, they will not be covered by the offence. If they are, then they should not be excluded. This was debated in the other place, and the other place rejected such a saving by a considerable margin.
Clause 128 provides a valuable clarification of the law on the use of force in self-defence. It will help to reinforce public confidence that the criminal justice system is on their side when they act in self-defence, whether in protection of themselves or their property, or when acting as responsible citizens in seeking to prevent the commission of an offence.
Part 9 provides for violent offender orders. Those orders will provide a means of continuously protecting the public from some of the most dangerous violent offenders who still present a high risk at the end of their sentence, when there are no other means for public protection authorities to manage their risk. Violent offender orders will therefore act as an essential risk-management tool by enabling the closure of that gap in supervision arrangements. Violent offender orders will be available only in cases where there has been a previous conviction for a serious violent offence and where an individual is considered to pose a risk of serious violent harm.
Part 13 includes reserve powers to restore the statutory prohibition on inducing prison officers to take industrial action. I should like to make it very clear to the House that we have taken that step reluctantly, following the decision of the Prison Officers Association, the union representing prison officers, to withdraw from the current voluntary joint industrial relations partnership agreement. Our hope is that it will be possible to agree with the Prison Officers Association, before Royal Assent, a new dispute resolution and trade union recognition agreement which puts industrial relations within the Prison Service on a sounder long-term footing and which ensures that the working of our prisons is not disrupted by industrial action. Such action can never be justified in the prison context, not least because of the real and immediate adverse impact to the health and welfare of the prison population. Were a new voluntary agreement which includes protections against industrial action to be put in place,
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Finally, I want to alert your Lordships to one new provisiona not uninteresting provision at that. The House will be aware that on Report in another place a new clause was tabled, and subsequently withdrawn, which provided for the abolition of the common-law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. In the other place, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Maria Eagle, advised that the Government would be conducting a short, sharp consultation with the churches, particularly the Church of England, on that matter. Subject to the outcome of that consultation, it is our aim to table amendments to the Bill to abolish those essentially obsolete offences. I cannot give a guarantee, but I hope that it will be possible to table any such amendments in time for Committee.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware, I assume, that the General Council of the Bar, supported by the Law Society, has expressed disquiet about Clauses 42 and 44. What action will the Government take to engage both the Law Society and the Bar Council in discussion about those matters?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising that matter. Of course I have read the briefing from the Bar Council, which arrived this morning. I understand that my colleague, Maria Eagle, is due to meet the Bar Council within the next 24 hours. We will listen carefully to what it has to sayI have no doubt we will discuss that during this afternoons debateand hope to assuage its fears. I understand that this is an important matter but assure my noble friend that we wish to engage with the Bar Council and other relevant organisations.
I described this Bill as wide-ranging in my introductory remarks. It is wide-ranging and important, dealing with many significant issues which have a direct and immediate impact on our communities and the workings of the criminal justice system. The Bill will strengthen and safeguard those communities. I am sure that the House will wish to scrutinise the Bill carefully and the Government welcome that. With those concluding remarks, I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that extraordinarily interesting question is probably best left to the two right reverend Prelates due to speak. However, I have always noticed that the Anglican church, whatever the difficulty with the issues, tries to come to a pretty sensible outcome. I am sure that it will be able to do that on this matter. I should declare an interest as my father was a Church of England clergyman.
Lord Henley: My Lords, it is customary to offer thanks to the Minister for introducing such a long and complicated Bill. On this occasion, I offer my commiserations. We all know that it is not his fault and that he has to do as he is told. However, he must know that it is something of a farce.
In this time of rising violent crimeand there is absolutely no point trying to deny that it is such a timewhen the Government themselves are proposing that metal detectors be installed in schools to keep out knives and prisons are overcrowded, they bring forward a Bill like this, which has no coherence or theme and which has grown like Topsy since it was first introduced in another place. It has grown from one to two volumes, from 240 to 358 pages, from 129 to 202 clauses and, I think, from 23 to 38 schedules.
The Minister comes before us todaythe poor Ministerto say that they are proposing to remove two parts of that Bill, one of which was introduced only on Report in another place. Two partsof 48 clausesand, I presume, something in the order of nine of the 38 schedules will have to be struck out. This looks like chaos in legislation.
As the noble Lord made clear, the Bill is wide-ranging in covering the criminal justice and law spectrum. We have the youth rehabilitation orders, sentencing and appeals. We were going to have the new Commissioner for Offender Management and Prisons for both the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. However, we understandbecause there is allegedly no consensusthat that is going to be taken out. I do not know if it is a lack of consensus on our part which has meant that it needs to be taken out or whether it is some other lack of consensus. No doubt the noble Lord will tell us in due course.
We are to deal with bail, legal aid and, in the criminal law parts of the Bill, with pornography, sexual offences, hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, prostitution, self-defence and more. We have parts dealing with international co-operation, violent offender orders, anti-social behaviour, policing and clauses dealing with the question of whether prison officers can go on strike, as well as immigration issues.
We must be grateful that the Minister did not go through the Bill clause by clause or we might have been here for a very long time indeed, but he has given us some idea of what is in the Bill, and I imagine that we will spend a considerable time on it when we reach the Committee stage. I mention all this to make it clear that, as I have said, there is a lack of theme to the Bill. There is no consistent message, but a whole series of measuresgood, bad and indifferent, although I might have said good, bad and ugly. It is a sort of spaghetti western of a Bill. But we shall give all these parts close scrutiny in due course because some were barely discussed in another place; I shall get to those later on. The Minister himself would accept that we have a duty to look forward to what I suspect will be for him quite a testing Committee stage. In the presence of his colleague the noble Lord, Lord West, I hope that he will have some assistance from the Home Office and, looking at the sponsors in another place, possibly from Ministers in other departments such as the Department for
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Like the Minister, I do not have time to go through the Bill clause by clause, but I do want to say just something about certain aspects of it. I am sure that other noble Lords will highlight other areas. However, I should make it clear that while on this occasion my noble friend Lady Hanham is not speaking at Second Reading, she will be joining us in Committee to deal with some of the Home Office aspects, particularly those related to immigration.
I shall start by saying a little about youth rehabilitation orders, covered in Part 1. On this occasion I should like to offer the Minister a small degree of comfort by saying that I think we can give this measure some support, while expressing considerable concern about the potential inflexibility of the orders. We will need to know more about them and we shall certainly want to pursue some amendments to see how they fit together, particularly whether orders related to treatment for substance or alcohol abuse could be made compulsory. We need to make a detailed examination of this first part.
In Part 2 we move on to dealing with sentencing. As the noble Lord made clear, this part will make some profound changes, such as doing away with the power of magistrates courts to suspend sentences for summary-only offences. I presume that will mean that slightly more people will go to prison, although prisons are already bursting at the seams. At the same time, the Secretary of State is to be allowed to re-release non-dangerous offenders who breach the terms of their licence, which I presume is designed to release pressure on prison numbers. We also have the rather peculiar idea that credit will be given for periods on remand on bail just as if the individual had been locked up. I am not sure of the logic behind that unless it is again to keep down the pressure on prisons. That, too, is a measure we shall wish to pursue in Committee. It is one which I think the noble Lord will find is not necessarily as popular with the public as he thinks.
Part 3 covers appeals. As I understand it, the Government are making a profound change following the case of the Crown v Mullin, which would allow the Court of Appeal to rule that a conviction will not be unsafe if it is satisfied that the appellant is guilty of the offence. I gather that, in another place, the Government agreed to look at this again. As I understand itthe noble Lord and I have both received the same briefthe Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association, the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association, the judiciary, Justice, Liberty, the Law Society and the Criminal Cases Review Commission have all expressed their concerns. The Minister might accept that some movement or flexibility would be wise on the part of the Government. They might be well advised to consider the advice coming from such bodies.
The noble Lord says that Parts 4 and 5 need not concern us. I look forward to the noble Lords amendment removing what now appears to be about a quarter of the Bill, along withif he will give this confirmationsome nine schedules that seem to be dependent on Parts 4 and 5. When will we see those parts again, and in what legislation?
Part 6 brings us to the remaining criminal justice provisions. Two in particular will need considerable scrutiny. First, Clause 104 deals with trial or sentencing in the absence of the accused in magistrates courts and seems to create a presumption that the court will so proceed in such cases. As they already have a discretion in law to do so, does the clause really add that much? Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to enlighten us in due course. That cannot be said of Clause 105, which I suspect will effectively remove the role of lawyers in some summary cases. Again, we want to hear more from the noble Lord on that point.
Part 6 is also indicative of how the Governmentparticularly the Home Office or what is now the Ministry of Justicelegislate. On page 83, in paragraph 519, the Explanatory Notes state, for Clause 103it was originally Clause 84 when the Bill started in the Commonsthat,
So here we are repealing something that never actually came into force. It seems a strange way to legislate. As I said in an earlier speech on a Criminal Justice Bill, perhaps in time the Ministry of Justice will make improvements in the way they manage things, removed from the dead hand of the Home Office. I do not know if that will be the case; I somehow doubt it. No doubt the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord West, can look to these things and see what they can achieve in due course.
In Part 7, we move on from criminal justice to the criminal law itself. We find a whole array of diverse and disparate matters, as the noble Lord assured us. We deal with extreme pornography, prostitution, homophobic hatred, self-defence, nuclear material and facilities, and new penalties for unlawfully obtaining personal data. The Government might also consider some new penalties for incompetently losing personal datasomething that the Government seem to know a great deal about at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord West, smiles ruefully. Perhaps we can leave that for an amendment at a later stage.
My first point on this part of the Bill is that there will be problems of definitionthe Minister touched on this in his opening speechand a need for certainty or, at least, a degree more clarity. Secondlythis is particularly true of the measure on hatred on the grounds of sexual orientationthere will need to be compromise by all concerned to achieve a balance between preserving freedom of expression, as the Minister put it, while seeking the appropriate protection that the clause seems to offer. We on these Benches will enter into debates on that and other clauses and seek that compromise. Thirdly, we need to examine these clauses carefullyI am thinking, in particular, of the clause on self-defenceand consider whether what the Bill proposes does anything at all; or is it, dare I put it this way, grandstanding, so that the Government
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We still have some seven parts of the Bill to go but, before I finish, perhaps I may touch on Part 9, which deals with violent offender orders, and simply mention the others, which will get their time in due course. The Minister has, quite rightly, made his declaration on the front of the Bill that its provisions are compatible with Convention rights, as did his right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor in another place. I ask the Minister to have another look. Is he absolutely sure and happy that these provisions are compliant? I particularly refer him to Article 6 on the right to a fair trial and Article 7 on retrospective punishments. It would be wise of the Minister to take advice and have another look at that in the light of his statement on the front of the Bill.
I also note what the Minister had to say about blasphemy and blasphemous libel, and his other comments about the Church of England. We look forward to that debate and, in the light of recent letters they have written on the subject, to some former distinguished most reverend Primates taking part in it. It is a matter that we can deal with in good time and in its proper place.
I remind the House and, in particular, the Minister, of the large aspects of the Bill that were not debated in another place. There was virtually no debate on prostitution, although I understand that since the passage of the Bill through the other place, three Ministers, including the Solicitor-General, all went at once to inspect the situation in Sweden and to report on the conditions there. Why it took three Ministers I do not know; it may be that they thought there would be safety in numbers. I leave that to them. There was no debate in the other place on the powers of the magistrates courts; no debate on pornography and sex offenders; no debate on personal data, which I imagine we all want to discuss againI look forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord West, on that subject; no debate on miscarriages of justice; and no debate on powers to restrict the Court of Appeal, violent offender orders, causing a nuisance on NHS premises or tobacco salesI could go on. The noble Lord will get the drift of what I am saying.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we welcome the cheery optimism of the Minister in opening this debate, but we do not welcome the Bill. Not only is it the 54th Bill dealing with crime and criminal justice that has come before us in the past 10 and a half years, but it perpetuates muddled thinking, a lack of understanding of the fundamental legal principles that lie behind the British concept of justice and populist but meaningless gestures towards the red-tops concerns of the day. Rhetoric and vote-catching matter more than practicality and principle. It is not
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Above all, though, the Bill is a missed opportunity to encourage, in a principled way, the prevention of crime in this country by creating and resourcing the means to put young offenders on the right path and by approaching social problems not through the criminal courts but with imaginative and constructive solutions.
With regard to youth justice, there is no attempt to put forward a radical policy that will shift the emphasis towards prevention and earlier interventions. We can pick out the scattered provisions from the Bill dealing with youth justice: youth rehabilitation orders in Part 1, the sentencing of young offenders in Clause 9, youth offender contracts in Clauses 36 and 37, conditional cautions in Section 98 and Schedule 18 and a review of ASBOs in Clause 174. It is all over the place. There are three things lacking: a comprehensive approach that would deal in one comprehensible Bill with all the provisions relating to youth justice; a government structure that would place one Minister firmly in charge of policy and implementation; and a commitment to resources to carry out the tasks that are seen to be necessary.
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