Clause 6 - Aggravation of offence under section 5

Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:00 pm, 27th October 2015

I beg to move amendment 47, in clause 6, page 3, line 20, leave our “B or C” and insert “B, C or D”

This amendment is consequential on amendment 48.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 48, in clause 6, page 3, line 43, at end insert—

‘(8A) Condition D is that the person who committed the offence knew, or had reason to believe, that the consumption of psychoactive substance would cause the person consuming the substance harm.”

Makes it an aggravating factor to sell a substance which the person knew or suspected to be harmful.

Amendment 55, in clause 9, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

‘(2) In sentencing, account shall be taken of the relative harm associated with the psychoactive substance that was the subject matter of the offence”

This amendment seeks to ensure sentencing is commensurate with the potential harm done by the substance involved.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

We have tabled these amendments to address concerns about disproportionate sentencing. I raised this issue on Second Reading, and it figures heavily in the Home Affairs Committee report, which concluded that

“there is a lack of clarity in the Bill with regard to the relative harm associated with different types of NPS and the appropriate sentence commensurate with the offence.”

Amendments 47 and 48 would make it an aggravating factor to supply a psychoactive substance that the supplier knows, or has reason to believe, is harmful.

Under the 1971 Act, sentences are linked to the harm caused by the drug possessed, supplied or produced. The more harmful the drug, the harsher the maximum sentence. For example, someone prosecuted for possession with intent to supply a class A drug such as heroin could potentially receive a life sentence. The maximum punishment for possession with intent to supply a class C drug such as anabolic steroids, however, is 14 years. There is judicial discretion in applying individual sentences, but the general approach of linking to relative harm is important.

The Bill represents a radical departure from previous attempts to control drugs because it legally decouples controlled substances from an independent and objective assessment of the harm they cause. We understand why that might be appropriate. The process by which the ACMD determines the harm of a substance can be lengthy and resource-intensive, which is precisely why the Home Office cannot keep up with the illicit market. It is difficult to introduce a concept of harm in the Bill without denying the Home Office the tools it needs to address the central problem.

However, by introducing the concept of harm in clause 6, which exclusively addresses statutory aggravating factors, I do not believe we would hamstring the Home Office or prosecutors. Prosecutors would not have to prove a substance’s harmfulness to secure a prosecution for supplying, producing, importing or exporting a psychoactive substance; they would only have to demonstrate that the individual had reason to believe that the substance was harmful in order to establish an aggravating factor and a harsher punishment.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Just as importantly, the Home Office and enforcement agencies would still be able to control substances without having to prove that they are harmful. This amendment would therefore not place the authorities one step behind the market, which is the problem the Bill is designed to solve.

Section 1 of the Drugs Act 2005 included aggravation within its scope. I understand that this is hardly used. Does the Minister know how often it has been used successfully in court? He may seek inspiration on this one, or I am happy for him to write to me with the answer.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am looking forward to it.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I do not think we should be overly detained by the Minister’s billet-doux.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The greatest benefit of the amendment is that it would formally recognise that someone ought not to receive the same sort of punishment for supplying a relatively harmless substance as someone supplying a substance which they ought to know could be very dangerous. It keeps the traditional link between harm and sentencing, which is an important principle, without wrecking the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

My hon. Friend makes an important point on the issue of harm and sentencing. We probably all agree in the Committee that it should be the intention of the law that the more harmful the substance being supplied, the harsher the sentence should be for that supply.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Absolutely. I think that were this included in the Bill it could have a deterrent effect on those involved in supply and change the nature of the market towards less harmful psychoactive substances. I note that the Scottish National party has an alternative amendment which seeks to achieve a similar end. I will repeat what I said when we found ourselves in the same situation when discussing how to exclude social supply: I am very happy to work with other parties and with the Government in order to ensure that our shared goals are reached. I hope that they take this offer in the serious manner in which it is intended.

I look forward to the Government’s response with interest. They will know that this is an issue which has exercised supporters and opponents of the Bill alike, and that if a way round the problem can be reached, we ought to grasp it. Our amendment has the potential to bring even more consensus to the Bill.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip

Apologies for my slightly delayed return; I had to act as a Teller for the vote that has just happened. Our amendment 55 is an amendment to clause 9 not clause 6, although it does fit nicely with those that are here. Our approach is to look to ensure that there is a genuine protection in the concept of relative harm, as the shadow Minister mentioned prior to our suspension, and that the associated psychoactive substance is the subject matter of the offence, so that we do take account and any sentence handed down is relative to the offence. I accept that different sentencing regimes are in place within Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and I appreciate the points that the Minister will, I am sure, be making about that.

Our amendment is a probing one, but the fact that it mirrors those tabled by the Opposition suggests that the intent behind the amendments is consistent, regardless of which part of this island we happen to be presenting them from—[Interruption.] These islands. I apologise. I suggest that, as the Bill progresses, due consideration is given to the intent behind the relative harm aspects mentioned in the amendments.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I wish to speak to the group of amendments, in particular amendment 55, which provides the opportunity to talk about how the courts would deal with the issue when it comes to sentencing. I accept  that the Bill will hopefully help to revolutionise enforcement and provide tools for the police to get out there and deal appropriately and proportionally with getting psychoactive substances off the streets and out of harm’s way for hardworking citizens—all citizens, in fact. That is welcome. The Bill also recognises the civil sanctions and the civil regime regarding the seizure of such items.

When a prosecution comes before the courts—in Ireland there have not been many prosecutions and there may not be a huge number here—we want to ensure that the penalties are just and commensurate with the offence. We therefore have a problem, because the substances are different from controlled drugs, and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 contains a classification system that enables relative harm to be attached to a controlled drug, and that is then relevant to the sentence. Because of the blanket ban we do not have that, but I do not want to rehearse our previous debates on the matter.

It is important, nevertheless, not least for the courts because of proportionality, to be able to distinguish between psychoactive substances. No doubt the courts will take account of statutory and non-statutory aggravating factors—we will debate those factors later—and will consider the amount of drugs, the circumstances and the degree of sophistication, but they will also need to reach a judgment on the relative harm of the substance. I draw the Committee’s attention to page 13 of the Home Affairs Committee report, a report I know the Minister read avidly over the weekend—he could not put it down.

Chapter 5, on the concept of harm, draws reference to the evidence of Rudi Fortson, QC, who highlights the position, which the Minister reiterated to the Committee, that the Government do not wish to be disproportionate with sentencing—far be it from them to want to be disproportionate; they certainly do not. There is also wider consideration in case law, principles and conventions that would ensure that every penalty would be considered proportionally.

How, therefore, will the sentencing courts get that assistance? Rudi Fortson states that,

“in the absence of drug classification, or an expert’s opinion (if accepted) as to harm, the courts will have little option but to assume that all psychoactive substances are equally harmful”.

That is the problem we have, and it is why the debate on amendment 55 is welcome.

The Minster has already said that as soon as the Bill has completed its stages he will write to the Sentencing Council encouraging it to take action. The problem with that is that I know from experience that the council is not the quickest vehicle where taking action is concerned. On the desecration of war memorials, there was a commitment from a Justice Minister to write to the Sentencing Council, but it could be considered only when the council was to meet to consider amending its guidelines. I therefore encourage the Minister to make it clear that the process will be expedited.

The Minister and the Government have rightly taken an expedited view in relation to getting on the statute book the legislation regarding the enforcement tools, but we also need it to be fit for purpose for the courts. That is why I would like the Minster to communicate with the Sentencing Council and seek assurance that it will consider the matter in an expedited form so that we will get an answer quickly.

I also take comfort from the recent letter from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to the Home Secretary, which now provides a clear scientific framework to establish that this issue can be proved in the lab in vitro. That will also provide an opportunity, with the benefit of evidence that I think is going to be resourced, whether that is from the forensic strategy or the Centre for Applied Science and Technology. That material will all come together to provide the body of evidence for the Sentencing Council to come to an informed judgment. However, that will all need to happen at quite a rapid pace. That is my first point.

The second point is that there will need to be some flexibility, because there are new psychoactive substances coming on stream. How quickly will the Sentencing Council be able to provide appropriate guidance to the sentencing courts for these new substances? I would have thought that there will be a whole new regime for the Sentencing Council to deal with this, given the way that it has taken its time before.

It is absolutely vital for public confidence and the interests of justice that this particular chapter in the Committee’s deliberations is taken to heart. We made a recommendation here that the Sentencing Council be requested to produce appropriate sentencing guidelines, taking account of relative harms. That was a specific recommendation; I think the Minister is intimating that he is on the same page on that one. It is very important that we have something that is fit for purpose, not just for the police but for the courts.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham on amendments 47 and 48, which she has tabled. I do not wish to detain the Committee for too long, because there seems to be a degree of consensus breaking out. When we were last in discussion, about the previous clause, the consensus was between the Labour and Scottish National party Members; now it seems to be among Labour, SNP and Conservative Members that there is a degree of consensus.

I urge the Minister to consider very carefully the points that were put forward by my hon. Friend when she moved amendments 47 and 48. I agree with the Minister that all of the aggravating factors set out in the Bill so far are fair and proportionate. However, we need to go that little bit further, as my hon. Friend has said, and I would argue, as she did, that her amendments are an eminently sensible solution to disproportionate sentencing.

As it stands, the Bill makes no distinction between classes of NPS. We should be introducing the concept of harm into clause 6. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate made some very pertinent points, which were addressed in the report by the Home Affairs Committee, and I will briefly quote from a couple of passages from page 13 of that report on the concept of harm, because they should help us to form our opinions as we discuss these amendments.

The report starts off by saying that,

“one of the principal purposes of the Bill is to ‘protect hard-working citizens from the risks posed by untested, unknown and potential harmful drugs’”.

We all agree with that. That message was reiterated by Lord BatesMinister of State in the House of Lords—who said that,

“success would mean reducing the harms caused by new psychoactive substances”.

It is interesting that Lord Bates is referring specifically to the “harms caused”. That is why we argue that we should tighten up on the issue of harm in the Bill.

As the HAC report goes on to admit:

“This bill does not calibrate for harm, and indeed exempts known harmful substances whilst banning substances which are not harmful simply because they are psychoactive”.

I do not wish to regurgitate the debate on poppers, but they are a case in point. That is why harm has to be considered.

I think we all agree that somebody supplying very harmful substances should receive a harsher sentence than somebody supplying a relatively harmless substance. The link between harm and sentencing is an objectively just one, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate have both made very clear. It would also produce a situation where there is a greater disincentive to sell the more harmful substances.

I urge the Minister to think carefully about including the definition of harm in the Bill. It seems as though his noble Friend Lord Bates in the other place has considered that, as referred to in the Home Affairs Committee report. It does not make sense that we ban substances that are not harmful simply because they are psychoactive, at the same time as we do not calibrate for harm, and known harmful substances, as part of the Bill.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:45 pm, 27th October 2015

I thank colleagues for their contributions. The last point raised by the shadow Health Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, is probably the most difficult for me, not least because we would be moving away from the blanket ban. That is something that we have tried to introduce for many years. I fully understand the way in which the courts have historically looked at drugs sentencing, but this is new. However, the principle should not be any different. I highlight the fact that I will correspond with the Sentencing Council, as I alluded to earlier on. The situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland is different, but I am sure that they will follow that lead, not least because of the work the Scottish Government have done.

I fully support the principles behind the amendments, and it is clearly right that the courts should take account of the harms and the type of offence, but I feel that this is very much a matter for the independent Sentencing Council. The aggravating factors proposed in the amendments are already broadly covered by the Sentencing Council’s guidelines for drug offences, which we will be replicating. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate made about the speed at which the Sentencing Council may need to move, and the speed at which we in Government need to move to give it the facts it needs to make decisions.

The process will be an evolutionary one. We do not want a young person—we keep referring to young people—or a person who had a small amount of a substance and sold it on to someone else because they were broke to be treated exactly the same as a drug dealer who has imported two tonnes of the stuff in a container through one of our ports. Clearly, in sentencing, that would be wrong. I am committed to writing to the  Sentencing Council—it already knows that I am going to do this—to say that we expect it to take into consideration not only what the Committee and both Houses decide, but the relevant parts of the Home Affairs Committee report. The part that we have been discussing, in particular, is enormously helpful as we move forward. We do not want people to be treated differently under the law, but we want dealers, as we understand dealers, to be treated differently.

I cannot agree that we should move into the territory of harm, because to do so would completely damage the principle of our thinking. I accept that that thinking is completely new, and it will be quite interesting for the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is important that the Sentencing Council does its job in England and Wales, and that a similar thing happens in Northern Ireland and Wales. I noted the agreement of the hon. Member for Midlothian and the hon. Member for West Ham on that; when the hon. Gentleman suggested that it would be appropriate, there was a nod from Her Majesty’s Opposition. I have taken that on board, and I will write to the Sentencing Council. We could work together on the content of the letter.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am grateful to the Minister for stating that he agrees with the principle behind the amendments and that he will write to the Sentencing Council to urge it to take note of what the Committee and the Home Affairs Committee have said. That is very welcome, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I beg to move amendment 40, in clause 6, page 3, line 20, leave out “or C” and insert “, C, D or E”.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 41, in clause 6, page 3, line 43, at end insert—

‘(8A) Condition D is that the offence was committed on or in the vicinity of any premises intended to locate any vulnerable child;

(8B) In this section “vulnerable child” means any person aged under 18 who is not living with their family and is—

(a) accommodated in regulated residential care or unregulated accommodation under section 17, 20, 25 or 31 of The Children Act 1989, or,

(b) accommodated in accommodation under part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

(8C) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument specify the circumstances in which paragraph (a) and/or (b) of subsection (7B) apply.

(8D) Condition E is that the offender supplies a psychoactive substance to any persons under the age 18.’

Amendment 42, in schedule 4, page 48, line 16, at end insert—

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

(1) The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended as follows—

(2) In section 4A (Aggravation of offence of supply of controlled drug) after subsection (4) insert—

‘(4A) The third condition is that the offence was committed on any premises intended to locate any vulnerable child or in the vicinity of said premises;

(4B) in this section “vulnerable child” means any person aged under 18 who is not living with their parents or carers and is

(a) accommodated in residential care under section 17, section 20, section 25 or section 31 of The Children Act 1989, or,

(b) accommodated in a multi-occupant dwelling under part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

(4C) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument specify the circumstances in which a court must take into account Condition C;

(4D) The fourth condition is that the offender supplies a controlled drug to any persons under the age of 18.’”

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

The amendments particularly focus on sentencing, on the aggravating factors when someone is convicted under the Bill and on whether there should be a particular focus on those who supply psychoactive substances to children outside accommodation for vulnerable children. They seek to put those factors on the same footing as supplying in the vicinity of a school.

If one thinks about the purpose of including a statutory aggravating factor applying to those who supply drugs in the vicinity of a school, which is in this Bill and in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, although we are dealing with new types of drugs, the principle is the same whether it relates to a controlled drug or a psychoactive substance. If someone is plying their trade outside a school, Parliament takes the view that that is a statutory aggravating factor that does not need to be left to non-statutory guidance from the Sentencing Council. We make it clear that that is an aggravating factor that will lead to an increased sentence.

The amendments seek to tease out from the Minister why there should be a distinction. We are considering psychoactive substances, so we have to look at where they are being pushed and where they are subject to wider abuse and exploitation. That is why the amendments particularly focus on extending the statutory aggravating factor to supplying outside residential children’s homes and supported accommodation such as hostels, foyers or night stops. When dealing with such accommodation, Committee members will know from their constituencies and wider knowledge that they often house vulnerable people who can be prone to other forms of exploitation. Substance misuse, particularly of psychoactive substances, can often form part of that.

The amendments refer to accommodation for vulnerable children in order to capture both residential children’s homes and supported accommodation in which local authorities place children under the age of 18. Evidence that has come before all-party groups and no doubt Ministers suggests that such children in such accommodation are more at risk of exploitation than others. It could be argued that they are more at risk of harm than those affected by the supply outside schools, because of the other types of exploitation and abuse that go on in these types of accommodation.

References are also made in the amendments to different aspects of residential care and why children are at particular risk. The Children’s Commissioner has found that a disproportionate number of children who are sexually exploited are living in residential care. Children at a high risk of sexual exploitation also run the risk of exploitation relating to drugs. The all-party parliamentary group on runaway and missing children and adults’  inquiry highlighted the targeting of children’s homes by perpetrators due to the abuse and high vulnerability of such children, which is why the amendments seek an additional statutory aggravating factor. Children in care often lack the shield of a family to protect them from risks, so 16 and 17-year-olds and others are at particular risk of abuse, whether related to drink, drugs or psychoactive substances.

In addition to children in care, vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds may find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness but do not become looked-after children. In that zone, they are prone to having complex needs, whether in relation to housing, substance misuse, including drugs, mental health issues, contact with the criminal justice system or wider exploitation. That is why the amendment seeks a statutory aggravating factor. Why not leave it to the Sentencing Council guidelines, which include the

“targeting of any premises intended to locate vulnerable individuals or supply to such individuals and/or supply to those under 18”?

Non-statutory aggravating factors are already in the guidance.

We have to ask whether supplying to children outside a school is worthy of a statutory aggravating factor. The amendment would amend both the Bill and the Misuse of Drugs Act so that they are consistent with each other. Parliament needs to take the lead, as we did with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which looked at many areas of exploitation, particularly the exploitation of children. Now is the time to look at the body of evidence and see that the particular vulnerability for children is not so much in schools, where there is more of a protective shield and statutory agencies are trying to prevent things from happening, but away from the eyes of many people. In an area that is sadly subject to exploitation, there may well be a need for Parliament to get on the front foot and ensure that there is statutory provision. That is my position; I hope the Minister considers it seriously.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have enormous sympathy for the motivations that drove the hon. Gentleman to table the amendments. One of my first jobs was working in a children’s home, so I know just how vulnerable children can be. I also know that he has the support of the Children’s Society, which has been helping to make childhood in Britain safer for more than 100 years and is a fine organisation.

The Children’s Society has highlighted the relationship between new psychoactive substances and exploitation. Sometimes, that exploitation is economic, with reports of drug dealers forcing young men to work for them in order to pay off debts they that have accumulated by trying NPS. Sadly, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we also face the problem of sexual exploitation. The Children’s Commissioner found that more than a third—35%—of the children most at risk of sexual exploitation were living in residential care.

PACE—Parents against child sexual exploitation—have demonstrated that young girls have been targeted by groomers with NPS to try to get them hooked. We are all shocked by the grooming scandals that have hit many of our cities and towns, and I am in no doubt that the people engaged in such crimes are just the sort of criminals who ought to be hit by the strictest penalties provided by aggravated offences.

I am interested to hear what the Government make of the amendments. If they cannot accept the current drafting, would they be willing to go away, think about it and come back with alternative plans on Report, because this is an important issue? Will the Minister devote special attention to making sure that vulnerable children are given specific and focused education to ensure that they have the resilience to say no to those who want to prey on them with NPS and other drugs?

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

On Second Reading, I mentioned Baseline Training, an assessment and training company based in my constituency. Further to what the shadow Minister was saying about the exploitation of young people, Baseline gave me some truly shocking evidence before the Bill was introduced in the House. In April this year, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight drug strategy group had good intelligence that young girls had performed sex acts on men who provided them with mephedrone. There is good evidence coming from Hampshire and, I suspect, other parts of the country that backs up what the shadow Minister said.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I emphasise again that young people in care are vulnerable and need us as their parents, in loco parentis, to help them to say no to those who want to exploit them and prey on them with NPS and other drugs. They need support so that they can look out for themselves.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip

I very much agree with the principle behind the amendment. From the correspondence I have had, I know that agencies such as Who Cares? Scotland very much support the proposals. This is a particular problem, because young people in supported accommodation and the type of accommodation we are talking about require extra support, protection and help. The amendment would go a long way towards addressing some of their needs and dealing with that. I voice my support for the aims of the amendment.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 4:00 pm, 27th October 2015

I have been greatly troubled by some of the stories I have heard in my constituency of Swansea East from the local police, social workers and organisations. Young women are now grooming other young women, with the fee being legal highs. Some of the stories are absolutely horrendous. The Children’s Society has done great work on that. For 63% of the housing providers who engaged in one of its surveys, the greatest problem they saw for these young people was involvement in legal highs.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip

That is very much the case. In many situations, the young people we are seeking to help and support are at a vulnerable stage of their development. There is a reason we need to give them extra help. It is about ensuring that a situation that has resulted in their being in secure or looked-after accommodation is not made worse by not putting in place extra protection to ensure we help, support and encourage their development towards the better future that I am sure we want for all young people.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

May I say at the outset, as I did in the previous group of amendments, that I have deep sympathy not only with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate but with the excellent work that charity has been doing in this area? One of the things touched on by my hon. Friend was the anomaly between schools and children’s homes.

Clause 6 in its original form was included in the Bill for consistency’s sake, to replicate an identical provision in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, because that provision was created before the Sentencing Council existed. I looked long and hard at whether it would be right at this stage to try to replicate that, because it would completely go against what we have been trying to do with the Sentencing Council in that area. We will continue to look at this, and it will be part of the submission to the Sentencing Council, which I will probably send to each of the devolved Administrations as well. While I cannot tell them what they should do, they need to know the will of the House.

We need to keep an extremely close eye on what goes on. Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 specifically says that courts must take into consideration the sentencing guidelines on this. We need to ensure that the sentencing guidelines replicate the will of the House and of 99.9% of the public, who want to see the abhorrent crimes we have discussed—and things that it would perhaps not be appropriate to discuss here but which I know about within my ministerial capacity—are subject to the full force of the law. As I have said about previous amendments, that is a matter for the Sentencing Council on which we can advise, but there must be consistency throughout the Bill.

While I understand that the amendment is a probing one, I hope I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate assurance. The principle behind the previous set of amendments shows my reaction to this. It is something we are keen to keep under review, and it has to be specific within the correspondence I will draft, with help from others, to the Sentencing Council. With that in mind, I hope my hon. Friend will not push the amendment to a vote.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I am grateful for the debate and the cross-party agreement on the principle behind the amendment, which is the concern we all share to ensure that those convicted of supplying their evil trade to vulnerable children get the sentence they deserve. I pay tribute to the Children’s Society for championing the cause.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I was discourteous; I did not name the Children’s Society nor refer to that charity in my remarks. A charity of such distinction and with that longevity of service to vulnerable young children deserves acknowledgement by name from a Minister.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I thank the Minister for that.

The clause tries to ensure consistency on controlled drugs in relation to supply at school premises, which is understandable, but this is a landmark Bill. Professor Iverson spoke about the Bill being one of the most important and significant pieces of legislation for 40 years. With that comes a need to ensure that sentencing is appropriate to the particular substances and recognises the characteristics of certain substances. It has already  been mentioned how, sadly, such substances are used for exploitation, often of children and those in particular types of accommodation and in care. Supply of substances is a characteristic of the abuse, and that is why it is right for Parliament to consider whether it wants to ensure that supply to a vulnerable child is an aggravating factor.

I concede that the Sentencing Council has non-statutory guidelines that seek to address the matter, but it is important to recognise that they are guidelines, not tramlines. As a Parliament, we have a duty to vulnerable people, where there is that power imbalance. The substances that we are seek to criminalise and to set appropriate sentences for increase dependency, create debt, stupefy children and allow them to be exploited. As a Parliament, we should have tramlines, not guidelines, and we should be absolutely clear about that.

We can say too often that we are sending out a message. We should not always send out messages with Bills, but part of this Bill is about sending a message that these substances are illegal and are not good or safe. Part of that message should relate to sentencing so that it is clear that anyone who wants to risk plying their trade to vulnerable people in the type of accommodation specified will face a hefty sentence. Those people will not be looking up the sentencing guidelines that will go to the magistrates court and the Crown court. They will not have a clue about that, but they may well get a clue that the offence has a maximum penalty of seven years or so and that they will be at the upper end of the market for sentencing.

I recognise that the Minister will consider the matter seriously and in good faith. It must be looked at across the piece, along with the relationship between drug sentencing and the Sentencing Council. The Bill is innovative, and we want to ensure that we send out a clear, stark message to those who exploit the most vulnerable. I look forward to the Minister considering the matter further at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 7, in clause 6, page 3, line 43, leave out “on prison premises.” and insert “in a custodial institution.

‘( ) In this section—

“custodial institution” means any of the following—

(a) a prison;

(b) a young offender institution, secure training centre, secure college, young offenders institution, young offenders centre, juvenile justice centre or remand centre;

(c) a removal centre, a short-term holding facility or pre-departure accommodation;

(d) service custody premises;

“removal centre”, “short-term holding facility” and “pre-departure accommodation” have the meaning given by section 147 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

“service custody premises” has the meaning given by section 300(7) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”—(Mike Penning.)

This amendment replaces the reference to “prison premises” in clause 6(8) with a reference to a “custodial institution”. It then defines a custodial institution; the definition includes adult and juvenile prisons, immigration detention accommodation and service custody premises.


That subsection (9) of Clause 6 be transferred to the end of line 29 on page 3.—(Mike Penning.)

Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.