HC Deb 05 August 1966 vol 733 cc945-52

Amendments made: In page 10, line 20, at end insert: 7.—(1) The Courts-Martial Appeal Court may, whether or not the Court make an order under section 13 of the 1951 Act (orders for payment of costs by or to the appellant), order the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of such sums as appear to the Court reasonably sufficient to compensate any person properly attending to give evidence on an appeal under that Act or in proceedings preliminary or incidental to such an appeal, whether or not he gives evidence, for the expense, trouble or loss of time properly incurred in or incidental to his attendance.

In page 10, line 20, at end insert: 7. Without prejudice to the generality of section 8 of the 1951 Act (supplemental powers), where evidence is tendered to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court under that section the Court shall, unless they are satisfied that the evidence if received would not afford any ground for allowing the appeal, exercise their power under that section of receiving it if—

  1. (a) it appears to them that the evidence is likely to be credible and would have been admissible at the trial on an issue which is the subject of the appeal; and
  2. (b) they are satisfied that it was not adduced at the trial, but that there is a reasonable explanation for the failure so to adduce it.—[Mr. Taverne.]

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Second and Third Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.—[Mr. Taverne.]

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I should like to say a few words about the proposal that the Bill should be considered on Report at this stage. A number of important points have been made in Committee upon a Bill which I regard as being of very great importance. Many of the points made have a great deal of substance. Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State accepted this, even though he found himself unable to accept some of the Amendments proposed. It would have been wiser, certainly in retrospect, if this important Bill, arising from the work of a very important Committee, had been considered upstairs rather than on the Floor of the House and certainly at a more leisurely pace than has been possible so far. But this is not the time or place to make any proposal relating to that. What I can do is to ask my hon. and learned Friend if he thinks that a few days' delay will harm the timetable which I quite understand he desires to fulfil. It would at least gain a little time for him and his advisers to consider again some of the proposals which have been made in the course of today's debate and to which he had to give a very speedy answer, which we fully understand had to be negative in the circumstances.

I cannot believe that if this matter came before the House again in a few days' time, with the possibility of one or two Amendments after reconsideration by my hon. and learned Friend, it would take up the time of the House to such an extent as to cause us to have to come back even for a small part of a day. That would be a great compliment to the very hard and conscientious work put in by the Donovan Committee, which I am sure did not expect that its proposals would be passed through this House without a great deal of consideration and possibly amendment. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to think again about this matter, and I hope that he will take the view that it is not necessary to proceed to the Report stage of the Bill now.

Mr. Buck

I should like to reinforce what has just been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). It would seem appropriate that we should have what is described as a pause, a breathing space, for us to be able to reflect a little on what has been decided. It is particularly unfortunate that the matter is having to be considered now on Report stage on a Friday, when it is notoriously difficult for lawyers to be present. That is no doubt one of the reasons why until this very moment we have not had the pleasure of the presence of the Attorney-General. How nice it is to see him here now. This confirms a great deal of what I was about to say. It would be extremely desirable on the Report stage of a Bill as important as this to have the benefit of the presence of more of our colleagues and, in particular, the benefit of the presence of one of the Law Officers of the Crown.

I should not like any hon. Member to think that we have not been delighted by the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary has handled this matter from the personal point of view, but he has clearly been in something of a strait-jacket and his good nature has been striving to assert itself, as has been apparent by the reception he has tried to give some of our Amendments. But now is the time for a breathing space for him to consider our Amendments which are of substance which it should be possible to put before the House on Report stage. It is not right that we should have this important Bill hurried through the House in this way, and at a time which makes it notoriously difficult for so many people who are involved in the law to be present.

This is the second occasion on which the Bill has been considered on a Friday. This is the first time since the Second Reading that we have had the pleasure of the attendance of one of the Law Officers. It is difficult for my learned Friends, with their heavy practice demands, to be present, and some of us have had a certain amount of difficulty dashing to get here, even though we have only modest practices. It is unfortunate that the Bill is being considered at this time. The matter can largely be put right if we have a delay of a day or two, and if we consider this matter on Report at a more normal time.

Mr. Carlisle

I support what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). In doing so, may I make it clear that it is not our intention to try to prevent the Bill going through the House.

It has been accepted by both sides of the House that the Bill should receive its Third Reading and Royal Assent before the beginning of the new law term. If, therefore, the Under-Secretary of State says that because of the Parliamentary timetable it is impossible to do other than take the Report stage this afternoon, I suppose that we would, with regret, have to accept that, but I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider this further.

Three Amendments have been put forward which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, have merit. One of them, for the reasons mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, the hon. and learned Gentleman was unable to accept, but he might like time to consider it. One Amendment dealt with the record, and one dealt with the limitation of the time spent in custody by someone awaiting appeal.

But there is another and more important matter. At the last sitting of the Committee I moved an Amendment to delete subsection (2) of Clause 4 which deals with the power of the court to increase the severity of the sentence. It is probably due to the fact that that Amendment was selected, that an Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich and others which attempted to define severity was not selected.

After our proceedings on that day I went to the Table Office to inquire whether, as the Amendment which I had moved had been defeated, it was possible to move an Amendment on Report to define the word "severity". As I understand what I was told—and I hope that I understood it correctly—it is impossible to put down an Amendment for consideration on Report while the Committee stage is still in progress.

It has, therefore, been impossible to put down an Amendment for consideration on Report, but, as I share the view expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, that this is a Bill of considerable importance, and as I believe that it could be disposed of in a quarter of an hour at some stage, perhaps a very late stage indeed on one of the three nights next week, I invite the Under-Secretary of State to consider doing that, although I repeat that we have no desire to prevent the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Taverne

I am sorry if it is felt by some hon. Members that this matter has been rushed. I thought that this afternoon hon. Members made the points which they wished to make. Two afternoons have been devoted to the Committee stage of the Bill, and I think that we have had a full discussion on every Amendment which has been put forward. If hon. Members feel that they wish to return to the matter, and to move new Amendments on Report, we should be reluctant to stand in their way, because this is something which, in the normal course of events, they would have a right to do if the Report stage were not taken at the same time as the Committee stage.

Certainly there is pressure on the Parliamentary timetable, as I think everybody realises. Perhaps it would be possible for the House to meet again at about 6 o'clock in the morning to discuss, no doubt with a fresh approach, matters which we have discussed at considerable length in Committee, but I have no doubt that hon. Members will then protest about a Bill of such importance being taken at such an unearthly hour.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

It is unlikely that any hon. and learned Members will be in court at that hour.

Mr. Taverne

It is also rather unlikely that they will be in court the next day.

The Government do not wish to reconsider Amendments which have been fully discussed in Committee. Nor, as far as I am concerned, is this a case in which the House should be given a further opportunity of considering the Amendments which have been moved, and rejected or accepted. It is not the sort of case where, because an Amendment has been accepted, the whole nature of the Bill has been changed and the House might wish to look at it again in the light of the changes which have been brought about.

There have been occasions during the last few years when the Report stage has immediately followed the Committee stage. On one of these occasions an Amendment which was moved at a late stage altered the shape of the Bill. The House asked for further time to consider the effect of the Amendment, and the Report stage was not proceeded with then.

On another occasion, when there was nothing new to come up, the House accepted that the Report stage could follow the Committee stage immediately. It is a matter entirely for the House, but, in my view, this is not a case in which something new has arisen, which calls for a separate discussion on another occasion, nor do we wish to reconsider the matters which have been dealt with in the course of this afternoon's discussion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.

2.27 p.m.

Mr. Taverne

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has been generally welcomed. It has been fully discussed although, as I said earlier, I regret that a number of hon. Members feel that the discussions have been rushed. I do not think that at this stage there is much that I wish to add to what has been said already.

It is generally agreed that this is a valuable Bill. It achieves a number of valuable objects. It enhances the status of the appellate court and achieves a greater measure of continuity in its composition. It makes more courts available for the hearing of criminal appeals. It authorises the appointment of additional senior staff in the criminal appeal office. It will probably give greater protection to innocent persons who may be wrongly convicted, perhaps through wrongful identification. By abolishing the power to increase sentences, most of us feel that it removes a provision which had a number of undesirable effects and it means that fewer appellants will be penalised for exercising their right of appeal. For this reason, it is a valuable Bill and on behalf of the Home Office and on behalf of the Government I should like to express our great feeling of indebtedness to the Donovan Committee for its excellent work, and I commend the Bill to the House.

2.28 p.m.

Mr. Carlisle

I, too, welcome the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State said a few moments ago that there was a suggestion that discussions on the Bill had been rushed. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I was not suggesting that. I do not think that the discussion has been rushed, but one of the ways in which the Bill has been improved between the Second Reading and now is by the Government accepting a new Clause today, and in that respect I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that three weeks ago he said that he could not possibly accept it. He said today that the Home Office no longer wished to reconsider these matters. I hope that in three weeks' time he will not regret that he did not take further time to consider some of the matters raised today.

During the Second Reading debate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) said that the Bill did not make dramatic changes in the procedure of the courts of this country but that it did, and I believe does, make useful changes. As has been said, it implements the recommendation of an independent interdepartmental committee which was set up by the previous Administration, and it is the fruits of its work which are now being accepted by the present Administration.

The Court of Criminal Appeal has a noble history, and it has become an important part of the legal procedure of our country. I believe that this Bill will help to improve the standing of that court in the eyes of the public. The new composition of the court will help make for uniformity of decisions coming from the court and, at the same time, it will still rely on the experience of judges on assize of the state of crime in the country.

By widening the grounds of appeal, I believe that we shall assist in ensuring that the new Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal can in all cases see that justice is done. I believe, too, that we have assisted in that way by the Amendment on fresh evidence.

On behalf of this side of the House, I hope sincerely that the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal will, over the years, continue to enjoy the same reputation as the Court of Criminal Appeal has always had up till now.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. Buck

May I take this opportunity, though I was not able to be present at the beginning of the debate, of expressing my gratitude for the fact that the Bill now contains a provision for the admission of fresh evidence and clarifies the law, which was the acceptance of the Amendment which I put down at an earlier stage and/or the acceptance of the new Clause which was put down from the other side.

The Under-Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) have welcomed the Bill, and so do I. It is an admirable Bill which reflects the very hard work which was done by the Donovan Committee.

I would like to see this Bill which provides for the reform of one of our courts and for the reorganisation of it as part of a legislative scheme which we might have had in this Session for such things as majority verdicts on juries and reforming many other matters in our system. Even in isolation, we welcome the Bill as being a contribution to the reorganisation in the judicial system.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.