§ 9.0 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, at the beginning to insert:Subject to subsection (5) of this section ".Would it be convenient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if we discussed the Amendment in page 3, line 43, at the end to insert:(5) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that this section shall not apply in relation to such offences in addition to those specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of this section as may be specified in the order, and any order under this subsection—
- (a) may vary or revoke any previous order thereunder; and
- (b) shall not be made unless a draft thereof has been approved by resolution of each Home of Parliament.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I think that that would be for the convenience of the House.
§ Mr. Simon
Matters relating to the scope of the Clause were raised, on Second Reading, by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), and in Committee, by a number of hon. Members. It was argued, first, that the procedure which the Bill lays down, with the general approbation of the House and the Standing Committte, ought not to apply to offences which involve moral turpitude or which might have serious consequences for the defendant, or at least—this was the alternative put forward—that the Secretary of State should have power to specify offences to which the Cause should not apply.
970 In point of fact, when we discussed the matter at considerable length in Committee there were three proposals before us. The first one excluded specific offences from the scope of the Bill. Secondly, there was a proposal to give directions by Home Office circular as to the sort of offences in connection with which it was inappropriate to use the new procedure under the Bill. The third proposal was that of taking power to exclude by Statutory Instrument.
When we discussed the matter in Committee it was quite clear that the general sense of the Committee was that of these three proposals the third was the one which found most favour, if it was desirable to limit in any way the scope of Clause 1. As the Bill stands, the Clause applies to all summary offences where the proceedings are initiated by summons, except those which are triable on indictment as well or for which the accused is liable to be imprisoned for a term exceeding three months.
These Amendments now before the House give the Secretary of State power to exclude other offences from the scope of the new procedure. The argument for doing so is not that offences involving moral turpitude, or those which might have serious consequences for the defendant, ought to be dealt with only in the accused person's presence, because in any event a defendant is not bound to attend, even if those offences are excluded from the scope of the Clause.
As I understand the argument in favour of the Amendment, it is rather that such offences ought to be proved in evidence before the court—particularly offences such as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport mentioned, such as travelling without a ticket, which involve the necessity of establishing a dishonest purpose—and that to dispose of them in any other way than by evidence before the court might lead to their being regarded as trivial offences.
It has never been intended that the procedure which the Bill lays down should be used for all offences within 971 the scope of Clause 1. The Departmental Committee, in Paragraph 28 of its Report, said:It would be best to confine the operation of any such new procedure to those cases which the experience of the courts has shown can safely be dealt with in the absence of the defendant.The Government agreed with that view. Indeed, we were prepared, under the Bill as it was introduced, to leave to the good sense of the prosecution and the court the determining of the limits of Clause 1, but I promised to consider the arguments put in Committee and, as this is a new procedure which we are trying, I am bound to say that I recognise the force in the argument that there is advantage in giving this power to the Secretary of State, by Statutory Instrument, approved by affirmative Resolution of Parliament, to exclude certain offences, if it is found that the new procedure is inappropriately being applied to these offences.
It is in deference to the views which were urged in Committee, and particularly the conclusion of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who thought that of the three procedures to which I have referred this was the best way of dealing with the problem, that I venture to move the Amendment.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I should like to thank the Minister very cordially for the change he has proposed to introduce into the Bill. He mentioned three possible alternatives. Speaking for myself, I should have preferred, if it were practicable, which I gather it is not, that the offences not to be included in Clause 1 should be specified and set out in the Act. I gather that that would be a task of great difficulty, in that there would be a very large number of offences which would have to be included in any Schedule to the Bill for that purpose.
The second course which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, namely that of issuing a circular from the Home Office, is one which, speaking for myself, I very much dislike. Although there may be cases in which such circulars are necessary and useful, that sort of thing savours of something like an interference by the Executive with the discharge by judicial bodies of their duties, and unless it is absolutely inevitable in a case where there are exceptional circumstances, I 972 must confess that I should very much dislike anything of that sort. I am glad, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman has rejected that second alternative method.
The Home Secretary has adopted for this Bill—and I am grateful to him for it—the procedure by way of Statutory Instrument to be subject to the affirmative Resolution. I think that he is right in so doing. The danger which many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee feared has been obviated by this method. Personally, I think that when we are dealing here with a Bill which dispenses with the necessity of proof in criminal causes, we should foresee the possibility of the danger of involuntary abuse, if I may use the term. I think it is necessary that offences should be excluded from the scope of the Bill where there is some element of moral turpitude or where there are some potentially serious aspects to the offence.
I should like to ask the Minister this question. It is no good just taking power for the Secretary of State to exclude from the scope of the Bill particular offences or categories of offences by Statutory Instrument if that power is not going to be used. I feel sure that this is not intended merely as window-dressing, and that the intention of the Government is that there should he some use made of the power for which the Minister now asks. I would be grateful if he would give me some indication what kind of use the Secretary of State has in mind for this purpose. What sort of offences does he intend to exclude, and has he in mind that this Bill, when it becomes law in the fairly near future, should lay down any categories of offences in a Statutory Instrument?
I hope the Minister will be able to say that he and his right hon. colleague are carefully considering what offences should be excluded, and that we will soon see a Statutory Instrument which does have the effect of removing from the scope of the Bill, so far as it is possible to do so, the type of offences which moth sides of the Committee had in mind in pressing the Government to make this change. If he will answer that question, I should be grateful, and I would like to repeat that I am grateful to him for proposing the change which the House is now considering.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I want to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for accepting the view that was taken, by and large, by the Committee which considered the Bill. It is still a very bad Bill, and nothing that could be done to it could improve it, but this makes it a little less bad than it was originally. Mr. Simon: If I may speak again, by leave of the House, may I say that I know that I cannot hope to satisfy the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) by anything which I say in regard to this Bill, except marginally.
If I may answer the question put to me by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), may I say that we have taken the view all along that there are certain offences which are inappropriate to be dealt with by the new procedure, hich, nevertheless, do fall within the scope of Clause 1. I nave already referred to one type of offence, which is that involving the proof of a dishonest purpose; for example, travelling without a ticket.
Although we regard it as inappropriate that the new procedure should be used, it is not the intention of the Government to introduce a Statutory Instrument before the House at an early date. We want to see—this was the consensus of view in the Committee—how the Bill will work. Only if we find the procedure used in a type of case where it is not appropriate, such as bad cases of careless driving verging on dangerous driving, or offences involving a dishonest purpose, would my right hon. Friend be bound to consider the framing of a Statutory Instrument for the consideration of the House. This is not window dressing, but a real power which will be kept in reserve until we see how the procedure works in practice.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 38, at the end to insert:by a magistrate or by the clerk of the court ".The House will recall that in cases of the type referred to in the Clause it will be possible for magistrates' courts to deal with offenders in the absence of the accused, and indeed of the prosecutor, in certain conditions provided for in the Bill. One of these involves service by the prosecutor upon the accused of certain notices 974 and concise statements of the facts of the case, and of the procedure whereby the court can accept a plea of guilty. This is the only place in which the prosecutor comes into the matter. The other proviso is that the magistrates' clerk should receive a statement from the accused of his desire to plead guilty without appearance at court.
The Bill provides that the statement of facts served on the accused and the notification from him, including any submission which he wishes to make in mitigation, shall be read out in open court. As was said during the Committee stage, there is a need for the small but not unimportant addition which is contained in the Amendment. It is most undesirable that the documents should be read out by the prosecutor, for example, by a police officer. It is particularly important, and I think permissible, to repeat here a cliché, by saying that, in the absence of the accused, justice should appear to be done. The Amendment therefore suggests that in practice these documents should be read to the court either by the clerk to the justices or by a magistrate. It includes a magistrate because in certain instances the clerk may not be able to read the document for health reasons, or it may not be convenient for him to do so. The Amendment provides an alternative.
The Amendment will ensure that the prosecutor or the police shall not appear to be conducting the case in the absence of the defendant. In Committee this point was very much stressed, but my hon. and learned Friend did not think it was desirable that the words should be inserted because it was a proper matter for the magistrates themselves to decide. Nevertheless, he promised that he would give the matter consideration in the light of the suggestions and submissions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) and myself.
We appreciate the argument about the courts having discretion in arranging their own business, but we feel that this is something which is of such importance as to outweigh the leaving of the management of these things to individual courts. I should be the last to suggest that in cases of this kind police officers are likely to do anything that is not correct, but 975 when I have appeared in some of the smaller country police courts I have found that the mere presence of the police is sometimes overpowering. If there they are to be entrusted with this duty it might create the impression that this is part of the literature put before a court by the prosecutor.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to recast his attitude towards this Amendment. Since the matter was raised by my hon. Friend and myself in Committee, it has become obvious to me that it has a very wide degree of support, not only from hon. Members who put their names to the Amendment in substantial numbers, but also from the Standing Joint Committee of the R.A.C. and the A. A., and other organisations. It is not perhaps a tremendous, epoch-making Amendment, but I believe that it is of some substance and concerns one of those not unimportant matters in which appearances are of importance.
§ Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I find it a little difficult to understand the reluctance of my hon. and learned Friend to accept what appears to be a desirable Amendment, if only for the reason that it would make the position clear. This is one of the matters on which I should have thought Parliament should make up its mind, so that when these statements are before the courts there is no doubt or discussion or query as to who is to read the statement, but it is laid down clearly by Parliament on whom that duty should rest.
As has been said already in other words, there is no reflection whatever on the police in what we are proposing. We know that in this country we are fortunate in having a police force of unquestionable integrity, and of great experience in all matters relating to the prevention of crime, but I do not think this is a responsibility we ought to place upon them. In a different context, and, of course, without any relation to this Bill, a statement was made by a most experienced judge of the High Court last week, and I venture to quote his words, because they are appropriate in this case. He said:The duty of the police is to bring a mat, to court They"—That is, the police—are not entitled to do anything in the nature of a trial976 That is a point we might bear in mind here as giving us some help. It is no part of the duty of the police to do anything other than bring the accused before the court so that the court may come to a proper decision. On grounds of clarity and so that there shall be no suggestion whatever that the evidence placed before the court comes with any added authority from the prosecution or the police, I ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider very seriously what has been said on this matter and to accept what we propose.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I should like to support the Amendment, and to do so shortly, because the views which I desire to represent to the Government have been precisely formulated by the two hon. Members who have already spoken in support of it. I would emphasise, as they did, that not the slightest reflection is intended on the police who prosecute these cases, but surely the function of reading out a statement of facts of this sort is the function of the court itself or the officers of the court. It is not desirable that it should be left to the prosecuting party, which is an interested party in the litigation before the court. We are here setting up a new procedure, and I submit to the Government that it must be either for a magistrate or, preferably, for the officer of the court, the clerk to the court, to be asked to read out what will be presumably in most cases a short statement.
The Bill is very much improved in its present form in that it requires that the statement is to be read out, and I am glad that that change has been made in it. I very much hope that the Government will go a little further and accede to this proposal in order to make sure there there is no informality about this procedure. This should be the formal action of the court itself, either through one of its members or through the clerk of the court. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the change which is now proposed.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I rise also to support the Amendment. It seems to me that this is a matter of some importance. When a defendant makes a submission to the court, it is not right that the police should read ut his submission. My experience of these matters is very rusty and goes back a long way, but I never remember the evidence of the defendant—because that is 977 what this is—being read out by a police officer. It was read out either by the solicitor or the counsel for the defendant, or, if he was not represented, by the magistrates or by the judge in a High Court case. It seems to me that it is wrong for the prosecutor, who in this case is the policeman, to read out this statement. In the absence of the defendant, it should be read by the magistrates or the clerk.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will give some thought to this matter and see whether he can meet the House on this point, because there is a lot of feeling on both sides of the House that it would be proper for this Amendment to be made.
§ Mr. Ede
I, too, would support the Amendment but for the fact that it introduces the chairman of the court. It is no part of the job of the chairman of the court to read out these statements. It is the job of the clerk. If the Amendment were confined to having the statements read by the clerk, I should support it. I think that is the proper way this should be done.
The chairmen of magistrates' courts take far too great a part in the proceedings now and I do not want to encourage them to get worse. After the magistrates have retired and returned, the chairman's job is only to say "Guilty" or "Not guilty." If the verdict is guilty, he turns to the senior police officer present and asks, "Anything known?" In the event of an affirmative answer being given to that in some detail, he has then to consider with his colleagues the sentence to be pronounced.
To give the chairman this additional chance of displaying his elocutionary powers is wrong. He would have the advantage of reading out two comparatively long statements and then announcing at some later stage the decision of the court on sentence. That seems to me to be quite wrong. The clerk is the officer of the court who should be able to read the statement in an impartial way. While the clerk is reading it, the magistrates can listen without wondering how many more h's the chairman of the court will either omit or unnecessarily include in the statement.
978 I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment in the form of imposing this duty—not of leaving it—on the clerk of the court. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott), that in initiating a new procedure which is regarded, in one quarter at least, with some suspicion, there should be no doubt as to how this work is to be done in the court. I hope that this will not be made an occasion for giving the chairman of the court a legal right to spread himself, but will impose on the clerk the duty of seeing that the statements are read out in a clear voice, with impartial emphasis, so that the court may get such little advantage as there is for it from the new procedure.
§ Mr. Simon
If I may say so with respect, this Amendment has been moved with great lucidity by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), supported by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), and some part of it has had the approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Of course, if any proposal relating to this Bill, or any part of that proposal, engages the support of the right hon. Gentleman, I think that any proponent of it can congratulate himself.
I must say that, accepting entirely the premises from which my hon. Friends proceeded, the Amendment which they propose really controverts what they have in mind. We are not here concerned only with what the defence has to say, but also with what the prosecution has to say. We are concerned with two sorts of documents; first, the statement of facts, which is the prosecution's case, and secondly, the statement in mitigation, if I may so term it, which is what the defence has to say.
The Sharpe Committee said that at the hearing the statement of facts should be read out by or on behalf of the prosecution, although not necessarily by the informant. It is envisaged that a single representative of the prosecution will read out the statements in a succession of cases. There is no need to make an express provision to that effect because, in the normal course, the prosecution will be expected to read out what there is in the statement of facts.
The Amendment requires the statement of facts to be read out by a justice or by 979 the clerk. To my mind, and I hope that the House will agree with me, it is quite wrong to require a justice or the clerk to associate himself in any way with the statement on behalf of the prosecution, which would be the effect if we were to require any justice or the clerk to read out the statement of facts. For that reason, it seems to me that this Amendment really strikes at the very root of what I know my hon. Friends have in mind, which is, that the court shall not appear to be identified with the case for the prosecution. So much for the statement of facts.
There is also the accused's submission in mitigation. I entirely agree that that ought not to be read out by a police officer, but under the present form of the Bill there is no reason why it should be. There is every likelihood to believe that it will not be so read. The natural course will be for the clerk to read out the submission, because it will be he who will have it. It will be sent to him. I entirely agree, with great respect, with what the right hon. Member for South Shields said; that it is the clerk, not the chairman of the justices, who should be charged with that task. The prosecution will not have it in its possession. It will not know its contents until it hears it read out. Therefore, in my submission, there is no need at all to deal with the point in the Bill. In any event, as I argued in Committee, I submit that it is inappropriate to deal with a procedural provision of that sort in a Statute.
I am anxious to meet my hon. Friends and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport in this matter. As I say, this is a procedural provision, and I know what the House now has in mind, which is that so far as the statement in mitigation is concerned it should be read out by the clerk to the justices. I am prepared, if the House would think it appropriate, to consult the Rule Committee on the question whether it is necessary to make a rule to that effect, and if my hon. Friends are satisfied with that, I would ask that the Amendment be withdrawn.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman deal with this point? What guarantee has the defendant, who will not be present, that if the prosecution reads the document it will be the actual 980 document that he saw? Might there not be a suspicion that on certain occasions something might be inserted or left out which would have altered the defendant's view had he known the actual document which was going to be read to the court? One is relying on the infallibility and integrity of the prosecution in the line that the hon. and learned Gentleman has taken.
§ Mr. Simon
I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. One is not entirely relying on that fact because under Clause 1 (2, iii), which is a proviso,if the court proceeds under this subsection to hear and dispose of the case in the absence of the accused, the court shall not permit any statement to be made by or on behalf of the prosecutor with respect to any facts relating to the offence charged other than the statement of facts aforesaid except on a resumption of the trial after an adjournment.There is a statutory safeguard against any matter being interpolated.
§ Mr. Gower
I would respectfully suggest that my hon. and learned Friend's remarks about the prosecutor reading the statement seemed to be at variance with one of the main objects of the Bill. One of the main objects of the Bill is not only to prevent defendants wasting their time in court but to prevent the prosecutor and police officers having to go to court at all. In that sense I think the remarks of the Joint Under-Secretary of State were at variance with one of the basic purposes of this Bill.
In any case, my hon. Friends and 1 are certainly not attached to any particular wording. and we accept what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said. We desire that the clerk should in all cases read the documents to the court. I certainly hope that at a later stage, possibly in another place, consideration will be given to the possibility of inserting in the Bill some provision to ensure that the document in mitigation shall in all cases be read out clearly by the clerk to the court.
§ I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, after "detention", to insert:or impose a fine in excess of fifty pounds981 The object of moving this Amendment is to ask the Government to consider once again the circumstances in which it should be obligatory upon the court to adjourn the proceedings. When the matter was before the Standing Committee, the proposal which we on this side made was that the court should not convict in a case in which it felt disposed to impose a fine in excess of £25. Our purpose was to prevent convictions in the absence of the defendant when there was a possibility of a substantial fine being inflicted, and we fixed upon the figure of £25 in order to give, in effect, a statutory definition of what we had in mind as a substantial fine.
The Minister has rejected that. I ask him to consider whether it would not be desirable, at any rate, to limit the possible fine to be imposed in the absence of a defendant to some larger sum. The Amendment speaks of £50. I do not know whether it is possible at this stage for the Minister to change the figure to £50—probably not—but I do ask him to accept the figure of £50 as indicating in statutory form that cases in which there is a possibility of substantial fines are not cases in which there should be convictions without the accused being present.
If my recollection is right, the hon. and learned Gentleman, in Standing Committee, said that this was a case which could be dealt with by some kind of Home Office directive. I should have thought that it was very undesirable that the Home Office—if this be what he has in mind—should circulate courts to the effect that they ought not to convict when they intend to impose a substantial fine. I should have thought that that is just the sort of thing which the Executive should not take upon itself to indicate to courts in the form of a directive circular. If there were to be some such limitation on the discretion of the courts, it should appear clearly in the terms of the Statute and not be embodied in the terms of a circular which is not made public.
I hope, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman will consider this alternative change which we propose in an endeavour to secure that cases, broadly speaking, in which the penalty is a really serious one are not cases in which this procedure is to be invoked, a conviction 982 recorded, and a penalty imposed in the absence of the defendant.
§ Mr. Simon
In another place, an Amendment relating to fines was moved, and in that case the limit was £5. When we considered the matter in Standing Committee, the limit was raised to £25. Today, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has doubled it and suggested £50. The fact that it has been raised in successive Amendments illustrates the difficulty in fixing any limit to the fine which a court may impose without adjourning. If a small fine such as £5 is fixed as the limit, the difficulty is that the purpose of the Bill may be defeated: there will be either a large number of adjournments or the courts will impose inadequate fines in order to avoid adjournments. On the other hand, if a large amount is fixed as the limit, the impression is given that Parliament does not think it necessary for a court to adjourn before imposing a fine of a lesser amount.
The difficulty about fixing a figure in the Bill is that the weight of the fine does not depend upon its intrinsic amount but upon its relation to the defendant's means. For example, if the court were dealing with a lorry driver, it might think it desirable to adjourn before imposing a fine considerably smaller than £50. When we were in Committee, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I think, suggested that, in relation to a working man, the limit of £25 then under discussion was far too high.
In fact, the limit of £50 is quite unreal. For example, in motoring offences the only motoring offence within the scope of the new procedure for which it is possible to impose a fine in excess of £50 is a second offence of careless driving. It would be highly inappropriate to use the procedure under this Bill for a second charge of the offence of careless driving. Quite clearly, in such a case the court ought to consider disqualification and adjourn on that ground.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we should indicate in statutory form the intention that cases where a substantial fine is considered by the court should be adjourned. For the reasons I have given, I suggest that to fix a limit in the Statute is quite inappropriate and would defeat the object which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind.
983 I gave an undertaking in Standing Committee that we would bring this matter to the attention of justices by a circular. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it will not be done in any way in which it might be thought that the Executive was trying to influence the courts in their procedural or sentencing policy. What we propose to do is to draw the attention of benches of justices throughout the kingdom to the passage in paragraph 45 of the Sharpe Report, in which that Committee said:We think that the courts will also adjourn, and summon the defendant, where they have it in mind to impose a large fine, or where they regard it as desirable to have information about his means.If we do that, it will ensure that without any constitutional impropriety the courts will be seized of the considerations which the right hon. and learned Gentleman urged.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendment made: In page 3, line 43, at end insert:
§ (5) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that this section shall not apply in relation to such offences in addition to those specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of this section as may be specified in the order, and any order under this subsection—
- (a)may vary or revoke any previous order thereunder; and
- (b)shall not be made unless a draft thereof has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.—[Mr. Simon.]
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon
I beg to move, That the Bill he now read the Third time.
We discussed the Bill in detail on Second Reading. It is a Bill in which the details are important, because we are embarking on a new procedure in our criminal courts, and it has the momentous change that we are not requiring the presence of witnesses for the prosecution in all cases. In view of our detailed discussion on Second Reading and the way that the Bill was discussed in Standing Committee, the House will not expect or require a lengthy speech from me on Third Reading.
The Bill has had very general support and now emerges as the result of the collective wisdom of the House, if that phrase is not inappropriate to any Measure from which the right hon. Mem- 984 ber for South Shields (Mr. Ede) dissociates himself; indeed, his attitude has not been so much of disapproval of the provisions of the Bill as disapproval of the motor car civilisation which gives rise to the necessity of the Bill.
I have been expecting the right hon. Gentleman all along to embark upon the words of Horace in one of his odes, which I think goes like this: the age of our fathers, worse than that of our grandfathers, bore us still more wicked who are soon about to bring forth a yet more vicious progeny. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has day-dreamed his way through the proceedings on the Bill, driving coach in hand and hoping that we may escape from some of the consequences which the internal combustion engine has brought upon us. Otherwise, apart from the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill has had very general support throughout the House as a useful improvement in our procedure.
Three quite important changes have been made to the Bill during its passage through Committee and on Report. First of all, the Government accepted the view that was generally expressed on Second Reading, that the procedure whereby the notices were read silently by the court before it announced its decision was cumbersome and inappropriate for a number of reasons.
We have also made an Amendment, now the new Clause 4, restricting the power to arrest to cases where there is a real necessity to bring the defendant before the court; and we have just made an Amendment on Report to bring in a sort of long-stop whereby, by statutory order, we can take outside the new procedure any offence for which experience may show it to be unsuitable.
I should like once again to express my indebtedness to the Departmental Committee on whose Report the Bill is founded, and to hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House whose suggestions have lead to the improvement of the Measure as it has made its way through the House.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Sir F. Soskice
At this stage in the history of the Bill there is very little I should like to add except to thank the Minister for having given the fullest consideration to matters urged from both 985 sides of the House. I always feel that I am completely wrong when I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) but, in spite of that, I remain unrepentant in thinking that this is a useful and sensible Measure. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend's opposition is solely grounded on the dislike to which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department referred, because I remember having spent a pleasant afternoon in close proximity to a throbbing internal combustion engine owned by my right hon. Friend Therefore, I do not think that his dislike can be so violent as the Joint Under-Secretary suggests.
I am grateful to the Minister for the changes which he has made. Whilst we realised, when we first saw the Bill, that it was useful and, pace my right hon. Friend, an essential Measure, nevertheless there were some features in it that caused us anxiety. In particular, I am glad to see the change made today to make it possible for the Secretary of State to exclude various categories of offence. As I understand the Minister, his purpose is in effect to see how the Measure works before he makes use of that power. I hope that he will watch very closely the actual functioning of the Measure in the courts and that, should it appear that the courts are not dealing with cases in the broad spirit of the Measure, he will be ready and vigilant to exclude those offences by Statutory Instrument, which he can make, subject to the approval of the House.
The change made requiring that the two documents to which the Minister referred should be read out before the court is a useful and salutary check. The alteration in the powers of arrest is also useful and necessary. I am a little disappointed by the Minister's attitude towards my proposal about severe fines. The argument was that it was no use if we made the limit too small and it was no good if we made it too big. All I had hoped was that the Minister would make the limit where it ought to be— in the middle. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member has not been able to do that, but he has given his reasons, and I am sure that he is anxious to see 986 that the Measure works as it is the Minister's intention that it should do.
We shall watch the working of the Measure in the coming years and I hope that the Minister will use his powers to change any provision in it that is found to be unsatisfactory. I thank the Minister and the Departmental Committee on whose work the Bill is based, and I wish the Bill every success in taking its place among our criminal statutes.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. and learned Gentleman has completely misrepresented the motives of my opposition to the Bill. I think that modern youth is a great deal better than the youth of my own time and a great deal better than the youth of my grandfather's period. But certainly the laws ought to be eternal, and the processes of justice, hallowed by time, ought not to be departed from without very serious reasons being given.
The only real reason given for the Bill is the convenience of the police. In my opinion that is not adequate. I am thankful, now that the Bill is shortly to become law, that in four months' time I shall retire from the bench under the age limit. I have always liked to see and to hear the actual witnesses. No written document can convey to the bench the same impression of the facts stated as does careful observation of the witnesses giving evidence.
Neither do I like the incitement in the Bill to people to plead guilty when it may very well be that their defence, if stated to the court, or their statement made to the court, might reveal a defence which they had not themselves suspected. I do not think that this departure from tried practice ought to have been undertaken with the lightness of heart in which this Bill has been undertaken. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) has appeared as a supporter of the Bill, subject to many reservations. I am in the position that my reservations go so far that I feel that I cannot support the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.