HC Deb 25 June 1991 vol 193 cc900-13

  1. .—(1) In section 2 of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 (transfer of prisoners out of United Kingdom), in subsection (4)(b), for sub-paragraph (i) there shall be substituted the following sub-paragraph—
  2. (2) In section 3 of that Act (transfer of prisoners into United Kingdom), after subsection (8) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
  3. (3) In paragraph 2 of the Schedule to that Act (opera' ion of certain enactments in relation to prisoners transferred into United Kingdom)—
    1. (a) in sub-paragraph (1), for the words from "section 60" to "of that section" there shall be substituted the words "section 27(1)(b) or (2), (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners)(3) or (5) or 28(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 whether the prisoner has at any time served a particular proportion or part of his sentence specified in that provision,"; and
    2. (b) in sub-paragraph (2), for the words "one third" there shall be substituted the words "any particular proportion or part".
  4. (4) In paragraph 3 of that Schedule, for the words "section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967" there shall be substituted the words "section 28(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991".'
(t), in schedule 11, page 93, line 13, at end insert—
  1. '6A.— (1) This paragraph applies where, in the case of an existing life prisoner, the Secretary of State certifies his opinion that, if—
    1. (a) section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) of this Act had been in force at the time when he was sentenced; and
    2. (b) the reference in subsection (1)(a) of that section to a violent or sexual offence the sentence for which is not fixed by law were a reference to any offence the sentence for which is not so fixed,
    the court by which he was sentenced would have ordered that that section should apply to him as soon as he had served a part of his sentence specified in the certificate.
  2. (2) In a case to which this paragraph applies, Part II of this Act except section 28(2) shall apply as if—
    1. (a) the existing life prisoner were a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of that Part; and
    2. (b) the relevant part of his sentence within the meaning of section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) of this Act were the part specified in the certificate.
  3. (3) In this paragraph "existing life prisoner" means a person who, at the commencement of Part II of this Act, is serving one or more of the following sentences, namely—
    1. (a) a sentence of life imprisonment;
    2. (b) a sentence of detention during her Majesty's pleasure or for life under section 53 of the 1933 Act; or
    3. (c) a sentence of custody for life under section 8 of the 1982 Act.
  4. (4) A person serving two or more such sentences shall not be treated as a discretionary life prisoner for the purposes of Part II of this Act unless the requirements of sub-paragraph (1) above are satisfied as respects each of those sentences; and subsections (3) and (5) of section (Duty to release discretionary life prisoners) of this Act shall not apply in relation to such a person until after he has served the relevant part of each of those sentences.'

Lords amendment No. 57, after clause 25, to insert the following new clause—Review of life sentences by Tribunal

  1. ".—(1) The Secretary of State shall refer the case of every life prisoner to the Tribunal for review not later than two years before the expiry of the penal term applicable to his case.
  2. (2) The Tribunal may direct—
    1. (a) the release on licence of a life prisoner convicted of murder;
    2. (b) the release of a life prisoner convicted of an offence other than murder—
      1. (i) on licence; or
      2. (ii) unconditionally.
  3. (3) In determining whether to direct release the Tribunal shall have regard to the risk of the life prisoner's committing further serious offences and the need to protect the public against that risk.
  4. (4) The Secretary of State may revoke the licence of any life prisoner whose release on licence has been directed by the Tribunal and recall him to prison if it appears to the Secretary of State that it is expedient in the public interest to do so and shall in that event refer the case of the prisoner so recalled to the Tribunal for further consideration so soon as practicable.
  5. (5) A life prisoner whose case is referred to the Tribunal under this section shall have the right—
    1. (a) to make representations to the Tribunal either orally or in writing;
    2. (b) to be legally represented before the Tribunal; and
    3. (c) to call witnesses on his behalf,
    and shall be given such information about his case and about the matters under consideration by the Tribunal as will enable him effectively to exercise those rights.
  6. Provided that the Tribunal may direct that there shall be no disclosure of any material which the Tribunal considers that it would not be in the public interest to disclose.
  7. (6) If the Tribunal determines not to direct the release of a life prisoner (whether convicted of murder or of some lesser offence) the Secretary of State shall refer his case to the Tribunal for further consideration within such period (not being longer than three years from the date of the previous determination) as the Tribunal may direct.
  8. (7) Where the Tribunal directs the release of a life prisoner other than one convicted of murder it may also direct the length of time for which the licence is to remain in force.
  9. (8) If the Tribunal gives no direction as to the length of a licence under subsection (7) above, it shall review the licence—
    1. (a) within three years from the date of the Tribunal's decision to release the offender on licence; and
    2. (b) before the expiry of any subsequent period of three years,
    and shall on any such review either terminate the licence or direct the length of time for which it is to remain in force.
  10. (9) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to give effect to any directions given by the Tribunal in regard to a life prisoner whose case is referred to it under this section.
  11. (10) In this section "penal term" means the sentence of imprisonment which the court is required by section (Court's duty on passing sentence of life imprisonment) to state in open 902 court as being the sentence it would have passed had it not passed a sentence of imprisonment for life and it had not taken into account the risk of serious harm to the public if the offender were to be released after a determined number of years' imprisonment.
  12. (11) In this Part "life prisoner" means a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for life."

Government motion to disagree.

No. 58, in clause 28, page 21, line 20, leave out subsections (2) to (4).

Government motion to disagree.

Government amendments to Lords amendment No. 58: (a), in page 21, line 21, leave out 'and' and insert `together'.

(b), in page 21, line 22, leave out 'a life prisoner on licence' and insert 'on licence a life prisoner who is not a discretionary life prisoner'. (c), in page 21, line 26, leave out subsection (4). No. 62, in page 22, clause 32, line 35, leave out ("or life")

Government motion to disagree.

No. 65, in page 27, clause 41, line 6, leave out ("in subsection (1)")

Government motion to disagree.

No. 66, in page 27 clause 41, line 8, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("section")

Government motion to disagree.

No. 67, in page 27, clause 42, line 27, leave out ("28(4)") and insert ("(Review of life sentences by Tribunal) (11)")

Government motion to disagree.

Mrs. Rumbold

This group of amendments is concerned with the arrangements for determining when life sentence prisoners should be released from custody. The amendments propose new procedures that would apply to all life sentence cases both where the life sentence is mandatory—that is, murder—and where it is discretionary.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary argued earlier that a life sentence should remain the mandatory sentence for the crime of murder and that the Home Secretary should retain the responsibility for deciding when offenders convicted of that crime should be released. I invite the House to disagree with the amendments in so far as they seek to apply to mandatory life sentence procedures which place the decision on the release of convicted murderers in the hands of a tribunal once the period set by the trial judge has expired.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have already ruled amendments Nos. 56 and 115, which seek to set up a life sentence tribunal, out of order on the ground that they are outside the terms of the money resolution.

We should bear in mind that the background against which we must consider changes to our procedures in life sentence cases is the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Wilson, Gunnell and Thynne. That judgment concerned only discretionary life sentence cases, and the courts drew a clear distinction between mandatory and discretionary cases.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Is the right hon. Lady's position on this issue compatible with the equivalent legal provisions concerning prisoners in Scottish prisons?

Mrs. Rumbold

Separate legislation governs the review and release of discretionary life sentence prisoners in Scotland. There are differences in practice and procedure between Scotland, England and Wales. The same principles apply, however, and we recognise that Scottish legislation will also need amending to take account of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights.

The court's reasoning, with which I agree, was that in mandatory cases, as opposed to discretionary cases, the lawfulness of detention for life is determined from the outset by the trial judge. The sentence does not fall into the successive elements of punishment for the offence, followed by detention for so long as is necessary to protect the public, as it does in discretionary cases. It therefore does not follow that mandatory life sentence prisoners are entitled, after a certain part of the sentence has been served, to have their cases reconsidered by an independent judicial body.

The Government amendments that are offered in lieu of Lords amendment No. 45, and the amendments to the words restored by disagreement with amendment No. 58, concern only discretionary life sentence cases. There has never been any doubt that our procedures in those cases would need to be changed in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. On 20 February, I said that my right hon. Friend would give the matter full consideration and would lay proposals before the House when he had completed various considerations. We are now doing that.

My right hon. Friend would not conceal that he would have preferred to have a little longer to digest all the implications of the judgment and to consult rather more widely about the proposals. However, we have been asked by the House and by the other place for amendments to be introduced in the Bill—that is what we are now doing. The amendments in my right hon. Friend's name do precisely what we have been asked. I will now outline their main features. The House will see that, in substance, the procedure proposed is quite similar to that proposed in the Lords amendments.

Provision is made for the trial judge to announce in open court the term within a discretionary life sentence which is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. That term will be open to appeal in the same way as a determinate sentence. One the term set by the trial judge has been served, the prisoner's continued detention will be based on the risk that he poses to the public, rather than the seriousness of the offence.

It would be open to the trial judge, exceptionally, not to set a term. That would be an indication that the crime which had been committed was so wicked that detention for life was justified according to the seriousness of the offence alone, irrespective of the risk to the public. Such a life sentence prisoner would therefore be in the same position as a mandatory life sentence prisoner. The question of his eventual release would therefore be a matter for the Secretary of State.

In all other discretionary life sentence cases, the prisoner would be entitled to have his continued detention after the term set by the trial judge reviewed by an independent body having the status of a court for the purposes of the European convention on human rights. We propose that that body should be the Parole Board, operating under a special set of procedures which would be laid down in rules made by the Secretary of State under clause 26(5).

We intend that the panel of the Parole Board which will consider discretionary life sentence cases will be chaired by a judge who is a member of the board, and one of its members will be a psychiatrist. The prisoner will be entitled to appear before the panel and be legally represented. If the panel concludes that the prisoner's continued detention is no longer necessary to protect the public, the Parole Board will direct the Secretary of State to release him. The Secretary of State will then be obliged to release the prisoner on licence, subject only to a power, exceptionally, to delay release for up to six months if it is in the public interest to do so—for example, because the release of a terrorist prisoner would otherwise coincide with some sensitive terrorist incident.

The proposals include transitional provisions for prisoners who are already serving discretionary life sentences. They will become eligible for review by the Parole Board in its new capacity once their existing tariffs have been served. My right hon. Friend's proposals also cover a number of other cases not dealt with in the Lords amendments, including prisoners sentenced concurrently to more than one life or determinate sentence, and prisoners transferred from other jurisdictions to serve their sentences in England and Wales.

Dr. Godman

I am extremely grateful to the Minister of State for showing her characteristic courtesy in giving way. With such a prisoner, where stands the local review committee? Is it to be bypassed by the panel that the right hon. Lady mentioned? The panel will be made up of, among others, a psychiatrist and a judge. Am I to take it that the local review committee has no place in the scheme of things?

Mrs. Rumbold

That is the case in respect of the proposals that we are bringing forward for England and Wales. The Parole Board will subsume the work done by the local review committee. I shall take account of the hon. Gentleman's question about the situation in Scotland and report to him.

The proposals meet in full the requirements of the European Court. I hope that the House will accept them in preference to the tribunal amendments introduced in the other place.

6.15 pm
Mr. Sheerman

We do not want to make a meal of this, but it is interesting to note the Government's transformation in terms of the speed and the manner in which they have reacted since the Bill went from a Committee of this House to another place. We welcome some of the reactions that the Government have announced, but we are still worried that what the Minister of State has announced will not quite meet the criteria that the European Court of Human Rights has erected. If that is the case, we shall certainly force the matter to a Division.

The new proposals still leave the United Kingdom in breach of the European convention on human rights and liable to challenge before the European Court on a future date. We all know—we have long discussed it—that the new clauses do not meet all the points in the two judgments, which stem from a long time ago. Characteristically, the Government have waited a long time to respond to the judgments in the case of Weekes of 1987 and Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell of October 1990.

The Government's thought process started in 1987, which is a long time ago. When we pressed the matter in Committee, we were told that there was still a long road ahead before we could get any definitive answer. We now seem to have an answer, because the Government have been pushed by the other place to make some decisions.

The proposals from the other place are superior to the Government's reaction, so unless the Minister of State has a total change of heart and mind, we shall oppose the Government amendments.

Subsection (7) of the new clause gives the Home Secretary power to defer an offender's release for up to six months after the date directed by the Parole Board if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify such a deferment in the public interest. We have sought eminent legal opinion on this matter, but that subsection flies in the face of the European Court's ruling, which requires an open court-like body, not the Executive, to decide on a release date. I do not want to return to the debate that we have just had, but one of our central reservations about both the mandatory life sentence and the discretionary life sentence clauses is that we believe that the principle of the Executive interfering in the judicial process is fundamentally wrong. We believe that the European Court of Human Rights will not accept such further executive interference. It is surprising that the Government have acted as they have, given that they were given a clear direction from the court. I am sure that their legal counsel must be saying, as ours is, that their proposal will not meet the criteria set down.

It is hard to envisage why the Home Secretary needs the additional power. The Parole Board could delay a prisoner's release until a suitable hostel was available. In what circumstances would there have to be a delay? We should hate to be political, but would the delay occur when a release would be politically embarrassing, such as just before a general election? Do the Government want the reserve power of six month's grace for reasons of political sensitivity? We want to know why that delay should be built in.

The European Court has made it clear that the decision must be made by a court. We should like to have the details spelt out, and we are not satisfied that the "court-like" criterion specified by the European Court will be met by statutory regulation. The Minister should fill in a little more detail about how the system will work. Our legal counsel suggested that, within the framework of the Bill, statutory regulations could not introduce a sufficiently court-like body. We may be wrong, and we never like to be too categorical about such legal matters, but our eminent counsel has suggested that that is so. Will the Minister clarify that point? We should love to know why the Government could not announce their proposal in Committee. It seems that what the Minister has suggested would not allow a totally open hearing, in which the prisoner could appear and be legally represented.

The Government's proposals do not seem to provide any safeguards. Government amendment (e) to Lords amendment No. 45 merely states: The Board shall deal with cases as respects which it gives directions under this Part on consideration of all such evidence as may be adduced before it. That is fairly opaque. Will the Government be making new rules to that effect? The Bill gives the Government power to make rules about the board's proceedings, but such basic rights should surely be on the face of the Bill. This is an important issue and it worries us that it is being introduced through the back door and not on the face of the Bill.

Given the Minister's previous responsibilities, she will know only too well that the nearest equivalent to the Parole Board's role in respect of lifers is the mental health tribunal, where patients can be represented and obtain legal aid for the purpose. We believe that, without legal aid and representation, lifers will have little chance of arguing their case in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, many of them are mentally disordered. For example, Thornton received a life sentence for setting fire to two curtains, Bilton received a life sentence for setting fire to a bed and Block received a life sentence for setting fire to a dustbin in an empty warehouse and then calling the fire brigade. All those tragic cases involved people who were mentally disordered. The Minister should state clearly whether legal aid will be available in such cases.

The burden of proof as to whether a prisoner is safe seems to have been reversed. Now, the prisoner must satisfy the board that he or she is safe, rather than the board having to demonstrate that the prisoner's incarceration is necessary. The Minister did not make that clear.

The Government have introduced the provision at a late stage, and it is not possible for us to amend it. That is a disgraceful way to deal with a major Bill in this Parliament. The Government have not had a heavy legislative timetable, and this was the main Bill in the Queen's Speech. Surely it deserved better treatment through the legislative process, and we should have been forewarned of such developments. Given the time that the Government have had to think about the legislation, it has been handled in a disgraceful way.

We tabled amendments from Committee stage onwards, but the lawyers involved in bringing the original case before the European Court are understandably angry that, having spent years trying to get the legislation changed, they do not now have the opportunity to comment, as they would have done if the change had been introduced a little earlier. If the Government had made their reaction to the judgment of the European Court clear, the people most involved would have had a chance to react, not just in a negative way, but so as to make the legislation better.

As worded, the Government's proposal applies only to life sentences imposed for violent or sexual offences. It is feasible that a person could receive life for other offences. Does the definition include, for example aggravated burglary? Will such offences be covered by the Government's provisions?

The wording suggests that the proposals come into effect only where the original sentencing court orders that they should. Does that mean that the original court can effectively veto the prisoner's right to use procedures under the European convention? That is not clear from what the Government have said to date. That point must be clarified now because this is the last opportunity to do so.

My remarks have been based on two factors. First, the Government should have met the strictures and criticisms of the European Court much earlier than they have. Secondly, due to the late timing of the Government's proposals it will be difficult to refine the legislation. The Minister knows that, during the passage of the Bill, we have had some bitter, contentious and principled arguments and disagreements, but we have also had some lively co-operation. I think that Ministers and Committee members will agree that the Opposition have improved the Bill no end during its process. That is our constitutional duty and right as Her Majesty's Opposition. We have tried to fulfil that duty and we have bitterly opposed some aspects of the Bill. Unless we receive satisfactory replies, we shall have to disagree with the proposition that the European Court's strictures have been met in full.

Mr. Maclennan

I share the anxieties of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) about whether the Government's proposals will rectify the wrong to which the European Court of Human rights has drawn attention. I am not satisfied that the Government's provisions, which were tabled late, are sufficient for the purpose.

Although the facts of the Thynne case that found this country to be in breach of article 5.4 of the European convention turned on a discretionary life prisoner's sentence, I am not entirely clear whether the court rested its arguments on the fact that the life sentence was discretionary as opposed to mandatory. There is a risk that other cases involving mandatory life sentences may now go before the European Court. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) referred to the narrowness of the finding, and the case certainly deals with a non-mandatory situation. Has the Minister taken advice on the width of the European Court's finding?

6.30 pm

This exceptional new clause, which allows the Secretary of State to defer a prisoner's release … for a period not exceeding six months seems to run across the court's finding. On what provision of the European convention do the Government rely in importing the exceptional provision set out in subsection (7)? That alone may result in our being drawn back into contention in the European Court.

I have tried to follow the Minister's description of the new procedure, but it does not seem to meet the underlying reasoning of the European Court, which was clearly set out in the judgment. It said that the review that it considered necessary should be sufficiently wide to consider the conditions justifying, according to the Convention, the special type of deprivation of liberty ordered against these applicants". Its findings reaffirmed the Weekes judgment that neither the Parole Board nor judicial review proceedings satisfy the requirements of article 5(4). The Government appear to be refining the procedures to be followed by the Parole Board. It seems to me as a layman that the European Court will not be satisfied that the review will be sufficiently wide to consider the conditions justifying, according to the Convention, the special type of deprivation of liberty". The Minister delivered her speech with a great deal of celerity and I should like to hear more, because the issue is important. It is embarrassing for this country to be dragged back and forth to the European Court on such issues. Moreover, it is late in the Bill's proceedings for the Government to make such a proposal in the feasance of the proposals from another place, which have been carefully considered by a number of lawyers who have tried to meet the European Court's objections to this country's proceedings. I hope that the Minister will reply at some length on those points.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about the problem of our going backwards and forwards to the European Court, which will continue to happen increasingly unless we straighten out the clause.

We must give hope to those now serving life sentences in our prisons. I have experience of prisons because Wandsworth prison is in my constituency and I also serve on the board of Wormwood Scrubs, which is the life assessment area unit for the south of England. Over the years, I have met and got to know many men serving life sentences. Some of them have committed the most horrendous offences and will say—if they are honest with themselves, as they start to become after a while—that the severity of their crimes were such that they would expect to remain in prison for the rest of their lives. I fully accept that anyone who takes life has committed a serious offence.

The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), is doing the rounds of prisons so she must also get to know inmates and hear about their case records. 1 often wonder, when I meet men who are serving life sentences, what I would have done in those circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) outlined the kind of person that we are discussing—they have little hope of ever being released—but there are others who need to be given some hope.

I fully accept that judges who hear a case have a right to make an observation to the Home Secretary, and the Home Secretary has a right to bear in mind the information that he receives from those who work in the establishments where lifers are kept. However, when a prisoner appeals for consideration of release, far too many inmates serving life sentences are given no hope that there will come a time when they can appeal and be given a date for their release. That must surely be an important criterion if we want genuine reforms in our prisons. I assume that all hon. Members, irrespective of party, want reforms. One certainly hears repeatedly from Ministers that the Government seek such reforms. If the ever-increasing number of inmates serving life sentences follow the rules and are not put on report, they should have the right to be given a degree of hope that there will come a time when they can appeal for release, with all the conditions that then follow.

When I meet lifers in Wandsworth prison and Wormwood Scrubs, they complain bitterly to me about the lack of opportunity that they are given. That is why, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, they feel that the way in which the Home Office is dealing with their case is unjust. They then ask the Court of Human Rights to deal with it.

What does subsection 5(a) mean by the words after he has served the relevant part of his sentence"? What period of time are we talking about? I am concerned about inmates serving life sentences who hope that one day they will be released. Many inmates find it increasingly difficult to find out when they might be released, because so much secrecy surrounds the reasons why inmates are not given the dates on which their sentences will be terminated and for how much longer they will remain in prison.

Within the past few days, I have received a letter from the Minister of State concerning a constituent of mine who is serving not a life sentence but 12 years for an offence involving the use of firearms, which I accept is a serious matter. My constituent has served about five years, has applied for release and has been turned down. No reasons were given. As an inmate in a category C prison, as a result of downgrading from a category A to a category C prison, surely he has some right to believe that he will be released in the near future. I beg the Minister to try to understand the problems caused for governors and prison officers when an inmate, who has followed all the rules of behaviour as he or she understands them and has not committed the most horrendous of crimes—we are not arguing about that—has been knocked back, to use the jargon, about the date of release.

It is about time that the Government were open about what is being proposed, and especially about this amendment. I should have thought that the comments and observations of the Law Lords and of the other place are very relevant to it, and it is regrettable that the Home Secretary is seeking to remove it.

As other hon. Members have said, the Home Secretary or the Minister of State should spell that out. Irrespective of party, Members of Parliament have to deal with inmates who write to them in great detail and with great frequency asking, "Why is this happening to me?" It would be helpful if the hon. Lady could answer some of my questions about secrecy. Why is there not more openness about the reasons for decisions which go against an inmate? Why is more hope not given to inmates who, although they may have committed a serious crime by taking someone else's life, feel that they have no hope of being given a release date so that they can start to live a normal life with their families and, one hopes, start to become of benefit to society? That is surely what prison reform in its broadest sense means, and I hope that we shall hear about that from the Minister when she replies.

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) raised many issues, but began by castigating us for not coming forward with our responses to the European Court's judgment earlier. I remind him that that judgment in October 1990 was not a foregone conclusion and had no predictable outcome, as he well knows. He also suggested that the Lords amendments were a superior solution to the amendments that the Government have tabled. That is not correct, because, among other things, they failed to confer new review rights on existing prisoners such as Gunnell, Wilson and Thynne, and the Government amendments provide for such review procedures.

The hon. Members for Huddersfield and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asked about the way in which the new parole boards will operate. Our amendment provides that the parole boards will have the final say about the release of discretionary life sentence prisoners—that is the effect of subsection (3) of amendment (a) which is proposed by the Government in lieu of amendment No. 45.

The panel of the parole board that considers such cases will be chaired, as I said in my opening remarks, by a judicial member of the board and the prisoner will be able to present his case and be legally represented. In answer to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, prisoners whose cases are before the board will be eligible for legal aid under the normal rules.

The prisoner will be present and the board will have exactly the same status and procedures as a court, as the European Court of Human Rights proposes. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland seems to doubt whether that will be the case. Parole board tribunal arrangements will be very different from those referred to by the European Court of Human Rights in the Weekes judgment, to which he referred. The board, operating as a tribunal, will be a court and will be accepted as such for ECHR purposes and I hope that that reassures him.

Specific procedures are not set out in the amendment, but will be dealt with in rules made under clause 26(5) of the Bill, as I am sure the hon. Member for Huddersfield will be glad to know.

6.45 pm

Cases in which a term will not be set will be entirely a matter for the sentencing judge's discretion, if he feels that it is right to state a minimum. We think that it would be wrong to limit his discretion.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield asked whether aggravated burglary would qualify and the answer is yes, if a life sentence is given. The hon. Members for Huddersfield and for Caithness and Sutherland both mentioned the Home Secretary's power to delay release, and I think that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland suggested that that might be a loophole. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights recognised that a limited power to deny release might be justified in some circumstances on the grounds of what it termed expediency.

The Home Secretary is always accountable to Parliament for any decisions to use that power, and he has a responsibility to protect the public and to prevent serious disorder, as we said in earlier debates. I submit that he must be in a position to discharge that responsibility by delaying a lifer's release when there are compelling reasons to believe that it would cause some form of public outrage.

In my opening remarks, I cited the example of the release of a terrorist on the anniversary of a tragedy caused by his actions which was to be marked by a public meeting. That might turn a peaceful demonstration of public feeling into something very different and very nasty. I am certain that the House will agree that the Home Secretary should be in a position to prevent that by delaying release for a short period. I assure the House that that power would be used only in the most exceptional circumstances.

At the end of the debate, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned a number of matters and asked what the "relevant part" of a life sentence means. It means that part of the sentence that is the number of years announced by a judge in open court at the time of sentencing. This time period is also subject to appeal in the normal way, as he may know. The hon. Member spoke at some length about inmates who have no information about when their sentence may come to an end. That is not quite correct, as it is my understanding that most lifers are told early in their sentence when the first formal review of their case will be heard, which gives a clear sign of the length of time that they are likely to be in custody.

Although it is not apparent that the hon. Member for Huddersfield is paying a great deal of attention to the responses that I have given, I think that it is clear to hon. Members who have listened that they have satisfactorily answered the matters that he raised. I believe that the Government's proposals, as outlined in the amendments, are the correct ones and that they will satisfactorily answer the points that were raised by the European Court of Human Rights.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 147.

Division No. 192] [6.49 pm
Adley, Robert Fry, Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Gale, Roger
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Gardiner, Sir George
Allason, Rupert Gill, Christopher
Amess, David Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Amos, Alan Goodlad, Alastair
Arbuthnot, James Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Arnold, Sir Thomas Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Ashby, David Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Aspinwall, Jack Gregory, Conal
Atkins, Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Grist, Ian
Batiste, Spencer Ground, Patrick
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Benyon, W. Hague, William
Bevan, David Gilroy Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Body, Sir Richard Hampson, Dr Keith
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hanley, Jeremy
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hannam, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bowis, John Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Harris, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Haselhurst, Alan
Brazier, Julian Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Bright, Graham Hayward, Robert
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Buck, Sir Antony Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Burns, Simon Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Burt, Alistair Hill, James
Butcher, John Hind, Kenneth
Butler, Chris Hordern, Sir Peter
Carrington, Matthew Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Carttiss, Michael Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cash, William Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Irvine, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Irving, Sir Charles
Chope, Christopher Jack, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Janman, Tim
Conway, Derek Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Curry, David Kilfedder, James
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, Stephen Knapman, Roger
Devlin, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knox, David
Dover, Den Latham, Michael
Dunn, Bob Lawrence, Ivan
Durant, Sir Anthony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dykes, Hugh Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Eggar, Tim Lightbown, David
Emery, Sir Peter Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Evennett, David McCrindle, Sir Robert
Favell, Tony Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fishburn, John Dudley MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fookes, Dame Janet Maclean, David
Forman, Nigel McLoughlin, Patrick
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Madel, David
Fox, Sir Marcus Malins, Humfrey
Franks, Cecil Maples, John
Freeman, Roger Marland, Paul
French, Douglas Marlow, Tony
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stern, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stevens, Lewis
Maude, Hon Francis Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Mellor, Rt Hon David Stokes, Sir John
Mills, Iain Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Sir David Summerson, Hugo
Moate, Roger Tapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mudd, David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Neale, Sir Gerrard Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Neubert, Sir Michael Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Norris, Steve Thornton, Malcolm
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Thurnham, Peter
Paice, James Townend, John (Bridlington)
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Trippier, David
Patnick, Irvine Twinn, Dr Ian
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Viggers, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon John Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Pawsey, James Waller, Gary
Raffan, Keith Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Riddick, Graham Watts, John
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Wells, Bowen
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Wheeler, Sir John
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Whitney, Ray
Sackville, Hon Tom Widdecombe, Ann
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Wiggin, Jerry
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Shaw, David (Dover) Wilshire, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Michael Wood, Timothy
Skeet, Sir Trevor Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Yeo, Tim
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Speller, Tony Tellers for the Ayes
Squire, Robin Mr. Tim Boswell and
Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Abbott, Ms Diane Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Dewar, Donald
Allen, Graham Dixon, Don
Anderson, Donald Dobson, Frank
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Doran, Frank
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Duffy, Sir A. E. P.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Eadie, Alexander
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Eastham, Ken
Beckett, Margaret Edwards, Huw
Bell, Stuart Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Bellotti, David Fatchett, Derek
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Fearn, Ronald
Bermingham, Gerald Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Blunkett, David Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Boateng, Paul Fisher, Mark
Boyes, Roland Flynn, Paul
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foster, Derek
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foulkes, George
Callaghan, Jim Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Galbraith, Sam
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Canavan, Dennis Godman, Dr Norman A.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gordon, Mildred
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gould, Bryan
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Graham, Thomas
Cohen, Harry Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Corbett, Robin Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cox, Tom Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Crowther, Stan Haynes, Frank
Cryer, Bob Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cunliffe, Lawrence Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Dalyell, Tam Henderson, Doug
Darling, Alistair Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hood, Jimmy
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Quin, Ms Joyce
Howells, Geraint Radice, Giles
Hoyle, Doug Randall, Stuart
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Richardson, Jo
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Robinson, Geoffrey
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rogers, Allan
Kirkwood, Archy Rooker, Jeff
Leadbitter, Ted Rowlands, Ted
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ruddock, Joan
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sheerman, Barry
Macdonald, Calum A. Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Short, Clare
McKelvey, William Skinner, Dennis
McLeish, Henry Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Maclennan, Robert Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McMaster, Gordon Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Madden, Max Snape, Peter
Marek, Dr John Spearing, Nigel
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Strang, Gavin
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Maxton, John Wallace, James
Meacher, Michael Walley, Joan
Meale, Alan Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Mullin, Chris Winnick, David
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Worthington, Tony
O'Brien, William Young, David (Bolton SE)
O'Neill, Martin
Patchett, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Pike, Peter L. Mr. Thomas McAvoy and
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie.
Primarolo, Dawn

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 45 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (t) made in lieu thereof

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