HC Deb 05 April 1967 vol 744 cc345-65
Mr. Bryan

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 6, line 9, to leave out "three months" and to insert "one month".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we can discuss Amendment No. 13, in page 6, line 12, to leave out "two years" and to insert "three months".

Mr. Bryan

In view of the Assistant Postmaster-General's speech in Committee on the subject of penalties, we expect no great success with our Amendment tonight. Nevertheless, I move it, first, to give the Postmaster-General, who, unfortunately, could not be in the Committee that day, an opportunity to tell us his views on the highly important subject of penalties, and, second, to register once again our opposition in principle to the severity of penalty in relation to some, if not all, of the offences under the Bill.

The courts have a wide discretion on penalties in British law. The smallest offence will not necessarily attract the heaviest penalty. Nevertheless, the range of offences under the Bill is so wide that for the lesser offences separate and lesser penalties should be specified. The better way to produce the same effect would have been to abolish the lesser offences. For example, we tried to give the Postmaster-General a chance to bring a little humanity into the Bill by absolving from liability the fan who writes a postcard to a disc jockey.

The right hon. Gentleman has constantly told us that he is confident that the physical restraints of the Bill will put the pirates out of action. If so, why must he turn the knife in the wound to those listeners already losing their programmes and say to them, "Do not write a postcard to a disc jockey or you will be liable to three years' imprisonment or a fine of £400"?

In Committee, when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) put this sort of proposition forward, the Postmaster-General dismissed it far too lightly, saying that he could not be drawn into a discussion of individual cases. But it is by examples of individual cases that we most effectively debate in Committee. We are interested in individual cases and how the Bill affects individuals in their particular circumstances. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said, we are not interested in sweeping assurances of fair play if justice can be assured by more specific provisions in the Bill.

As legislators, we all agree that the effectiveness of our laws depends on the extent to which they seem reasonable. The difficulty on the Bill so far is that the Postmaster-General has not recognised that the Government's inaction over the years has taught people to regard the pirates as a familiar part of daily life. To the vast mass of the non-HANSARD reading public the idea that broadcasters or listeners are committing a crime worthy of heavy penalty simply does not occur. The background of the Bill makes it doubly important that we try to present it to the public unencumbered by Clauses and penalties which in many cases appear to the public as almost a joke. The absurd size of the penalties in relation to some of the crimes can bring the law into disrepute.

The Postmaster-General could have improved the Bill either by reducing the number of offences it creates by some tens of thousands or by being more specific in making the punishment fit the crime. He has chosen not to do either, and we must voice our protest in the only way open to us.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

The Amendment is perfectly fair and reasonable and the Government should reconsider this matter. Let them have regard to the so-called crimes covered by these penalties to the extent of two or three years' imprisonment. Reverting for a moment to the subject of Amendment No. 6, with which we have just dealt, let them remember that it would be possible, if a pirate station were to broadcast the fact that the Postmaster-General, the Assistant Postmaster-General, or even the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), was to open a Labour Party garden fete next Saturday, the onus would be on them to prove that they did not initiate the advertisement, and, if they were not able to establish this to the court's satisfaction, they could be liable to two years' imprisonment. This is the ludicrous situation which we have reached.

The great majority of offences under the Bill are minor offences involving secondary persons, and it is quite beyond the scope of the so-called crimes created under the Bill to go this far. Whether the Bill can be effective or not, with or without international action, penalties of two years' imprisonment will not influence the outcome at all. The Government are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and their proposals are quite unnecessary.

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Members for Howden (Mr. Bryan) and for Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) have argued that the penalties we propose are unduly severe in relation to the nature of the crimes. What both hon. Gentlemen have overlooked is that the penalities which they seek to reduce are maxima. For example, the maximum penalty under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949 is £100 or three months' imprisonment, but in the 13 years of that Act's operation the sentence of imprisonment has never been awarded and the maximum fine of £100 has been reached, I think, only once. The average fine for transmitting offences—I have had it worked out—has been about £8, although the maximum is £100, and no penalty of imprisonment has ever been imposed.

The penalty appropriate to a particular case is decided by the court which tries the case. Parliament is responsible only for setting the upper limit. It follows, therefore, that the maximum specified in any Measure should be the penalty which

Parliament would consider appropriate for the worst kind of offence which could possibly arise. That is the duty of Parliament in matters of this kind.

Here is an example, admittedly an extreme one. If it were shown that the stranding of a ship had been caused by interference from a pirate station and if, in spite of that, the pirate station went on transmitting and by so doing caused the loss of another ship and the lives of people on board, in that event it would be absurd to say that three months' imprisonment was too heavy a penalty for the offenders.

That is an extreme example, but, as Parliament is considering maximum penalties rather than average penalties, it is far more logical to consider that sort of eventuality rather than the average case or eventualities of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Cathcart. Against that background and against the more prosaic background of such statutes as the Wireless Telegraphy Act and the Road Traffic Acts, the maximum penalties set out in the Bill are seen not to be unreasonable. Indeed, when the Bill was being drafted I was in two minds whether to increase the term of imprisonment on conviction on indictment. It was a marginal consideration whether the term was too short, but we decided to leave it as it was.

The hon. Member for Howden repeated a bit of nonsense which he and his hon. Friends have been talking throughout, saying that we are turning the knife in the wound of people listening to their stations. The object of the Bill is to protect the listeners in this country. Clearly, as I said before, if we did nothing about this and said that we were doing nothing, or if we legalised them, there would quickly be 50, 60 or 100 pirate stations around our shores, and listening would be impossible in this country and in Europe. What we are doing by the Bill is not to take something away from people but to safeguard their broadcasting in the future. I am sorry, but I cannot accept the Amendment.

Question put, That "three months" stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 105.

Division NO. 303] AYES [8.20p.m.
Abse, Leo Anderson, Donald Ashley, Jack
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Archer, Peter Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)
Allen, Scholefield Armstrong, Ernest Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)
Bagier, Cordon A. T. Gourlay, Harry O'Malley, Brian
Barnes, Michael Gregory, Arnold Oram, Albert E.
Barnett, Joel Grey, Charles (Durham) Orme, Stanley
Baxter, William Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Oswald, Thomas
Beaney, Alan Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Bence, Cyril Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Padley, Walter
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Bessell, Peter Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Blackburn, F. Hamling, William Park, Trevor
Blenkinsop, Arthur Harper, Joseph Pavitt, Laurence
Boardman, H. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Booth, Albert Haseldine, Norman Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Boyden, James Hattersley, Roy Pentland, Norman
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Henig, Stanley Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Bradley, Tom Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hooley, Frank Price, William (Rugby)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Howie, W. Rees, Merlyn
Cant, R. B. Hoy, James Rhodes, Geoffrey
Carmichael, Neil Huckfield, L. Richard, Ivor
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hunter, Adam Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Hynd, John Robertson, John (Paisley)
Coe, Denis Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Rose, Paul
Concannon, J. D. Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Crawshaw, Richard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Sheldon, Robert
Dalyell, Tarn Jones, T. A. (Rhondda West) Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Kelley, Richard Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Kenyon, Clifford Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Slater, Joseph
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lawson, George Small, William
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Leadbitter, Ted Snow, Julian
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spriggs, Leslie
Delargy, Hugh Lomas, Kenneth Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Dell, Edmund Loughlin, Charles Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Dempsey, James Lubbock, Eric Thornton, Ernest
Dewar, Donald Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Dickens, James McBride, Neil Urwin, T. W.
Dobson, Ray Mackie, John Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Doig, Peter Mackintosh, John P. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dunn, James A. Maclennan, Robert Watkins, David (Consett)
Dunnett, Jack McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, c.) Whitaker, Ben
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Macpherson, Malcolm Whitlock, William
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Wilkins, W. A.
Eadie, Alex Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Manuel, Archie Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mapp, Charles Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
English, Michael Marquand, David Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Ensor, David Maxwell, Robert Winterbottom, R. E.
Faulds, Andrew Mendelson, J. J. Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Fernyhough, E. Millan, Bruce Woof, Robert
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Yates, Victor
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Zilliacus, K.
Foley, Maurice Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Ford, Ben Morris, John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fowler, Gerry Newens, Stan Mr. Ioan L. Evans and
Galpern, Sir Myer Ogden, Eric Mr. Charles R. Morris.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Higgins, Terence L.
Awdry, Daniel Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hill, J. E. B.
Baker, W. H. K. Digby, Simon Wingfield Iremonger, T. L.
Batsford, Brian Dodds-Parker, Douglas Irvine, Bryant Codman (Rye)
Beamish, Cot. Sir Tufton Doughty, Charles Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Film) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Jopling, Michael
Biffen, John Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Emery, Peter Kaberry, Sir Donald
Braine, Bernard Errington, Sir Eric Kim ball, Marcus
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Eyre, Reginald Kitson, Timothy
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lambton, Viscount
Bryan, Paul Gibson-Watt, David Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bullus, Sir Eric Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Burden, F. A. Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Carlisle, Mark Clover, Sir Douglas Longden, Gilbert
Channon, H. P. C. Gower, Raymond Loveys, W. H.
Chichester-Clark, R. Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Clegg, Walter Gurden, Harold MacArthur, Ian
Costain, A. P. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) McMaster, Stanley
Crowder, F. P. Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Maddan, Martin
Dalkeith, Earl of Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Maginnis, John E.
Dance, James Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Maude, Angus
Mawby, Ray Pounder, Rafton Tilney, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Pym, Francis van Straubenzee, W. R.
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
More, Jasper Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Ward, Dame Irene
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Weatherill, Bernard
Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Royle, Anthony Webster, David
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Russell, Sir Ronald Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Osborn, John (Hallam) Sharples, Richard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Page, Graham (Crosby) Sinclair, Sir George Worsley, Marcus
Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Smith, John Wright, Esmond
Peel, John Summers, Sir Spencer Wylie, N. R.
Percival, Ian Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Peyton, John Temple, John M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Pink, R. Bonner Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Mr. Grant and Mr. Monro.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short

I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 6, line 10, to leave out '£100' and to insert '£400'.

When the Bill was drafted the maximum penalty was £100 on summary conviction, and was fixed largely by analogy with the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, which prescribes a maximum penalty of £100 for unlicensed transmitting. It was realised, of course, that in certain cases arising under the Bill heavier penalties might be necessary. It was considered that such cases would be dealt with on indictment.

The matter of penalties has since been carefully reviewed, and it has been decided that an increase is necessary in the maximum penalty for offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The Wireless Telegraphy Bill, which has now been introduced, and will come up for Second Reading shortly, accordingly provides for the maximum penalty on summary conviction for unlicensed transmitting to be increased from £100 to £400. In these circumstances, it would be unnecessarily wasteful if all cases under this Bill in which the maximum penalty of £100 seemed inadequate had to be brought on indictment.

Indictment would, indeed, be inappropriate in the great majority of cases. With only £100 to go to magistrates would find themselves in much the same difficulties as they have been in recently under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, in relation to pirate broadcasting stations which are in territorial waters. One hundred pounds is nothing more than petty cash to the successful pirate broadcaster. We have already had an example of a pirate broadcasting station being fined the maximum of £100 and subsequently being convicted and fined heavily and repeating the offence.

It is for that reason that I move to leave out '£100' and to insert '£400'.

Mr. Bryan

We explained on the last Amendment why, on principle, we object to the penalties prescribed in the Bill. We certainly object to any increase in the penalties. In our view, the Postmaster-General has said nothing in his short speech to justify this increase. We shall, therefore, divide against it.

Question put, That '£100' stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 101, Noes 182.

Division No. 304.] AYES [8.35 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hill, J. E. B.
Awdry, Daniel Digby, Simon Wingfield Iremonger, T. L.
Baker, W. H. K. Dodds-Parker, Douglas Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Batsford, Brian Doughty, Charles Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Elliott, R. W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Jopling, Michael
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Emery, Peter Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Biffen, John Errington, Sir Eric Kaberry, Sir Donald
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Eyre, Reginald Kimball, Marcus
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kitson, Timothy
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Gibson-Watt, David Lambton, Viscount
Bryan, Paul Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bullus, Sir Eric Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Burden, F. A. Glover, Sir Douglas Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Carlisle, Mark Gower, Raymond Longden, Gilbert
Channon, H. P. G. Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Loveys, W. H.
Chichester-Clark, R. Gurden, Harold McAdden, Sir Stephen
Costain, A. P. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) MacArthur, Ian
Crowder, F. P. Harrison, Brian (Maldon) McMaster, Stanley
Dalkeith, Earl of Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Maddan, Martin
Dance, James Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Maginnis, John E.
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Higgins, Terence L. Maude, Angus
Mawby, Ray Pym, Francis van Straubenzee, W. R.
Maxwett-Hyslop, R. J. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Ward, Dame Irene
More, Jasper Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Weatherill, Bernard
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Royle, Anthony Webster, David
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Russell, Sir Ronald Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Osborn, John (Hallam) Sharples, Richard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Page, Graham (Crosby) Sinclair, Sir George Worsley, Marcus
Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Smith, John Wright, Esmond
Peel, John Summers, Sir Spencer Wylie, N. R.
Percival, Ian Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Peyton, John Temple, John M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Pink, R. Bonner Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Mr. Grant and Mr. Monro.
Pounder, Rafton Tilney, John
Abse, Leo Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morris, John (Aberavon)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ford, Ben Newens, Stan
Allen, Scholefield Forrester, John Ogden, Eric
Anderson, Donald Fowler, Gerry O'Malley, Brian
Archer, Peter Galpern, Sir Myer Oram, Albert E.
Armstrong, Ernest Gourlay, Harry Orme, Stanley
Ashley, Jack Gregory, Arnold Oswald, Thomas
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Grey, Charles (Durham) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Padley, Walter
Barnes, Michael Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Barnett, Joel Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Baxter, William Hamling, William Park, Trevor
Beaney, Atan Harper, Joseph Pavitt, Laurence
Bence, Cyril Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Haseldine, Norman Pentland, Norman
Bessell, Peter Hattersley, Roy Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S,)
Blackburn, F. Heffer, Eric S. Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Henig, Stanley Price, William (Rugby)
Boardman, H. Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Booth, Albert Hooley, Frank Rees, Merlyn
Boyden, James Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Howie, W. Richard, Ivor
Bradley, Tom Hoy, James Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Huckfield, L. Robertson, John (Paisley)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hunter, Adam Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hynd, John Rose, Paul
Cant, R. B. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Carmichael, Neil Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sheldon, Robert
Coe, Denis Jones, Dan (Burnley) Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Coleman, Donald Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Concannon, J. D. Jones, T. A. (Rhondda, W.) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Kenyon, Clifford Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Crawshaw, Richard Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Slater, Joseph
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Lawson, George Small, William
Dalyell, Tam Leadbitter, Ted Snow, Julian
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spriggs, Leslie
Davidson,James(Aberdeenshire,W.) Lomas, Kenneth Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Loughlin, Charles Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire,W.)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lubbock, Eric Thornton, Ernest
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) McBride, Neil Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Delargy, Hugh Mackie, John Watkins, David (Consett)
Dell, Edmund Mackintosh, John P. Whitaker, Ben
Dempsey, James Maclennan, Robert Whitlock, William
Dewar, Donald McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wilkins, W. A.
Dickens, James MacPherson, Malcolm Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Dobson, Ray Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Doig, Peter Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Dunnett, Jack Manuel, Archie Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Mapp, Charles Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Marquand, David Winterbottom, R. E.
Eadie, Alex Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Edwards, Robert (Bitston) Maxwell, Robert Woof, Robert
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mendelson, J. J. Yates, Victor
English, Michael Millan, Bruce Zilliacus, K.
Ensor, David Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Faulds, Andrew Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Mr. Fitch and Mr. Harold Walker.
Fernyhough, E. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)

Question, That '£400' be there inserted in the Bill, Put and agreed to.

Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 6, line 21, to leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

With this Amendment we can also discuss Amendment No. 23, in line 23, at end insert: 'but no offence committed in Scotland or in the waters adjacent thereto shall be referred to a court outside Scotland without the prior agreement of the Lord Advocate of Scotland'.

Mr. Wylie

The Amendment strikes out the provisions contained in subsection (3) of Clause 6, reading that proceedings for an offence under this Act may be taken in any place in the United Kingdom.

If this Bill were wholly concerned with offences created or committed outwith the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts, there would be something to be said for the subsection. I accept the argument that offences committed on the high seas are in a special category, and that it is difficult to ascertain which court ought to hear them at times. On that analogy the reference made by the Assistant Postmaster-General in Committee to the Continental Shelf Act was a valid one. That is where the analogy stops. The Continental Shelf Act, 1964, set up an entirely new jurisdiction for the English and Scottish courts by creating offences which could be committed in designated areas outwith this country and its territorial waters.

A great deal of this Bill is not concerned simply with offences committed outwith the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts. The whole of Clause 1 deals with offences committed within the United Kingdom or its territorial waters. Clause 2 deals with offences committed in territorial waters, and part of Clause 4 deals with offences committed in the United Kingdom, together with half of Clause 5, and so forth.

That means that as this subsection stands, if an offence is committed in Scotland under the Act, as it will become, and I am not even talking about territorial waters, then there is nothing to prevent that offence being tried in an English court. I cannot understand the reason or justification for it, but I can visualise certain circumstances when this could result in very serious injustice to people resident in Scotland.

One has to bear in mind that the law of evidence in Scotland relating to criminal law is entirely different from the law of evidence, as I understand it, in England. What might readily fail as a prosecution in Scotland could very readily succeed if the case, in someone's discretion—and we are not told in whose hands the discretion will lie—is heard in England.

From my own experience I know the resentment felt by many Scottish people in a somewhat analagous situation in trial by court-martial. Trial by court-martial, whether the offence is committed in Scotland or not, is governed by the rules of English law. I know many examples of convictions having been obtained in courts martial in Scotland which could not have been obtained if the Scottish criminal law had been applied.

8.45 p.m.

Before we start infringing the basic right of a Scottish person to exclude the jurisdiction of his own courts, a very strong case must be made out and judging from what was said during the proceedings in Committee, which I have read, that case has not been made out. If one tests it by the provisions of Clause 5(2)— A person who in Scotland, shall we say procures another person to do … something which constitutes an offence under the Bill—there is nothing which prevents the offence from being tried in England. I know that the Postmaster-General will say that in a situation like that nobody would dream of taking the proceedings in England. That may or may not be. But it seems to me wrong in principle that we should without some protest agree to a provision of this nature which has been lifted almost word for word out of the Continental Shelf Act and put in this Bill which deals with entirely different and very much wider circumstances.

I hope that the Postmaster-General will think about this matter. I do not suggest that either of the two Amendments is the right solution. It may well be that in dealing with offences committed on the high seas, a provision of this nature is not necessary. I accept that. But most of the Bill is concerned with offences not committed on the high seas and it is readily ascertained from the Bill in which jurisdiction those offences are committed.

This is not a provision which the House should allow to pass. Some restriction should be made on the very wide nature of subsection (3)

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am sure that the House will be grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Wylie) for calling attention to a very serious weakness in the Clause. From his wide and learned experience of the courts in Scotland, he has reminded us, in the absence of any Scottish Minister, of the depth of feeling which there is in Scotland about the growing tendency to overlook and override the traditionally long established powers of the Scottish courts.

I am very concerned that if we allow this subsection to pass as it is, we shall be creating a situation which in Scotland could have particularly serious legal consequences. The Government, by their actions, are already watering down some of the established authority of the Scottish courts. We were reminded during the debate in Committee on the Water Bill the other day that there were occasions when the legal position in Scotland might well have to be determined by rulings of English courts. We know that next week the Government propose to abolish a long standing custom whereby the Lord President of the Court of Session acts as arbiter in education disputes. That is to be scrapped by the Government. Recently, we saw how an English Q.C. was brought in by the Secretary of State to deal with a Scottish inquiry.

If I were to go on listing these offences against the legal system in Scotland, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might well call me to order, I would therefore simply wish to remind the House that if we allow this subsection to stand as it is, we shall be creating a situation in which a non-maritime offence, although committed in Scotland, could be heard in an English court. Apart from the fact that that would be a slap in the face for the Scottish legal system, it is also a complete denial of certain provisions in the Act of Union of 1707. I do not say this lightly. I have looked at Article XIX of the Act of Union and I will refer to it in detail presently.

If one studies the Act of Union, which holds a particular place of esteem in Scottish national life, ones sees that it is clear that the intention of the two Parliaments at that time was to protect intact the Scottish legal system and to preserve the right of citizens in Scotland to have alleged offences dealt with in the the courts of Scotland. Indeed, the Article makes it clear that the privilege, as it were, of the Scottish courts should be carefully preserved for the future.

Article XIX states: The Court of Session, or College of Justice, do after the Union, and notwithstanding thereof, remain in all Time coming within Scotland, as it is now constituted by the Laws of that Kingdom, and with the same Authority and Privileges as before the Union, subject nevertheless to such Regulations for the better Administration of Justice, as shall be made by the Parliament of Great Britain". I read those last words deliberately, because clearly Parliament in its wisdom at that time thought it right to provide a loophole for particular changes in the administration of justice which might be required for the better conduct of justice in the years to come. The Minister could, I suppose, argue that subsection (3) of the Clause falls within that definition. If he were to claim that, however, he would be denying the spirit of the Act.

The more one reads the Act of Union, particularly Article XIX, one sees the determination of the two Parliaments at that time to protect the rights of the Scottish citizen to be heard before a Scottish court. Indeed, a situation could arise under the Bill in which there could be a conflict between the English and Scottish courts.

Mr. Edward Short indicated dissent.

Mr. MacArthur

The Postmaster-General shakes his head, but in these matters I prefer to be guided by the legal knowledge of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pentlands, who has a better knowledge of the Scottish courts than any other hon. Member.

It is conceivable—I do not put it any higher; no doubt my hon. and learned Friend will correct me if my interpretation is wrong—that under subsection (3) an offence could first be heard in a Scottish court and an appeal could, I suppose, be heard in a English court.

Mr. Wylie

I think that my hon. Friend is wrong. The basic question is whether the trial in the first instance of an offence committed in Scotland should take place in other than a Scottish court. That is the issue.

Mr. MacArthur

I accept the point made by my hon. and learned Friend. Nevertheless, it is conceivable, since there is no distinction in the Bill between Scottish and English courts, for a continued hearing to take place in a different place. At one stage the hearing could be in a Scottish court, and an appeal hearing could take place in an English court. I agree that that is unlikely, but it seems to me to be a possible consequence of the subsection. If that were the result, we would be paving the way at a later stage for Article XIX to be completely breached. There, the inviolability of the Scottish courts is clearly protected.

In referring to the courts of England, the Act of Union states that the "said courts"—that is, the variety of courts previously listed, all of them English courts— 'or any other of the like Nature, after the Union, shall have no Power to cognosce, review, or alter the Acts or Sentences of the Judicatures within Scotland", and then various other qualifications follow.

It is clear that the authority of the Scottish courts was intended to be protected by Article XIX and that the findings of the Scottish courts were clearly protected in perpetuity by Article XIX. Therefore, we should be particularly careful not to allow through a subsection which in the first place is contrary to the spirit of Article XIX and in the second place could produce a situation in which a case arising in one country could go to appeal in another country. This would be entirely contrary to the later provisions of that Article.

However, I do not want to get too involved in the details of the Act of Union, although it is right that the House should recall what took place in the two Parliaments at that time and honour the pledges given by our predecessors.

The main effect of this subsection is that it introduces a legal situation which I believe is completely untenable and illustrates yet again the growing tendency of the Government to deny by Act of Parliament and by statements in the House and in Committee the ancient traditional rights of the Scottish courts.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

After the very penetrating remarks of my hon. Friend, there is not a great deal left to say. On the other hand, there are one or two points which must be made.

When I raised this matter in Committee, the Assistant Postmaster-General, with his usual courtesy, offered to look at the matter again. Thereafter, he sent me a letter saying that he regarded the matter as generally hypothetical and that he did not think that it could arise.

The hon. Gentleman went into some detail, but there are one or two points which have not been cleared up. The first is the difference between the two systems. It is not a parochial question of saying that we want everything to happen in Edinburgh and nothing to happen in London. There is a large basic difference. There is a difference in the law of evidence. In one country one needs corroboration. In the other, one does not. The verdicts are different. In Scotland, we can have a majority vote. In England, it is not possible, although it may be in the future. In Scotland, we can have a not proven verdict, which does not exist in England.

It is clear that unless we have an Amendment along the lines suggested a transfer could take place from one country to the other which could have a determining influence on the outcome of any case.

In his letter, the Assistant Postmaster-General pointed out that cases would not be transferred, and in column 256 of the proceedings in Committee he made the same point. However, surely the whole point of the subsection is that it assumes that a crime committed somewhere can be assumed to be committed somewhere else. It is not a question of transferring jurisdiction from one place to another, but simply the fact that if a crime takes place in Brighton it can be assumed to take place in Bellahouston. That is what the subsection says. It is an unusual one and one which I have not seen the like of before in the law of this country.

It is not a question of transferring jurisdiction, but one of the Government, the prosecution or anyone being able to assume for their own purposes where the offence took place. Under the Bill as we have it now, it is almost certain that some offences could readily bring conviction in English courts under their procedure and not bring prosecution in Scotland. With the wide range of variation in evidence, in corroboration and the rest of it, there could be a substantial difference. In these circumstances, the matter should be looked at again carefully.

It should be stressed that this point has come up in previous legislation which has been before the House even this year, and very special measures have been taken to safeguard it. In the Iron and Steel Bill, for example, we came up against exactly the same point. Special provision was made for a tribunal to consider whether proceedings should be Scottish or English. If the right hon. Gentleman would look at page 87 of the Iron and Steel Act he would see there a full description of precisely how it is designed to cope with Scottish and English proceedings. Some provision of this sort must be made, otherwise we would make the law a nonsense.

9.0 p.m.

These are only a few of the items which cause alarm. Although we always had courtesy and consideration from the right hon. Gentleman and the Assistant Postmaster-General in Committee, when this matter is raised and so many Scottish Members express an interest, surely the Government could have produced a Scottish Minister? We understand why they cannot produce a Law Officer. We always have the conscientious attendance of the hon. Members for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) and Glasgow, Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen), but a Scottish Minister should have been present to deal with this important point.

It is not enough to brush this matter aside. The Government are saying that a crime committed somewhere can be assumed to be committed somewhere else and that, therefore, they can pick their court for a particular crime. We all know the stories of hanging judges and something similar could arise in this case. This is not parochial nonsense, but a serious point. Despite the reply which the right hon. Gentleman might have prepared, I hope that he will look at the matter again before it goes to another place, where there are many peers who know more about Scottish law than many hon. Members present here.

Mr. Edward Short

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) that this is an extremely intricate point. He asked whether we would look at it. We have done so. The point was raised in discussing an Amendment in Committee, which was withdrawn on my hon. Friend's assurance that further consideration would be given to the points raised. I will look again at this point, although I cannot accept the Amendment at this stage.

The hon. and learned Member said that most offences under the Bill would be in the United Kingdom or external waters. This is not the case. A difficult problem arises with offences on the high seas. We found that this point did not arise, as my hon. Friend said in his letter to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). By Clause 6(5), private prosecutions and even prosecutions by Ministers are excluded. Cases can be bought in England only by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions and in Scotland, of course, Ministers have no responsibility for bringing proceedings; nor can private persons.

A case which was indisputably English would not be brought in Scotland, unless for some reason everyone concerned, including the accused agreed and vice versa. With offences committed at sea, it would be impossibly complex to make detailed arrangements covering every circumstance which could arise. If one did make arrangements like this, the result would be unnecessarily inflexible.

The best answer to the Amendment is that it is unnecessary. In any circumstance where the question of conflict of jurisdiction between English or Northern Irish and Scottish courts seems likely to arise, the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland would most certainly be to consult the Lord Advocate before instituting proceedings. I checked this with the Lord Advocate, who is content with the existing wording. Cases of potential conflict arise now in connection with offences committed at sea and no difficulty ever arises in practice.

There are other arguments against the Amendment. First of all, if it were included in the Bill, it would be necessary to make reciprocal provisions for offences committed in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. Secondly, it would give rise to considerable argument about whether an offence was committed in Scotland or England. For example, imagine a ship lying in a Scottish port made available for pirate broadcasting under an agreement made in London. Would the offence of furnishing the ship have been committed in Scotland or in England? In waters adjacent to the coast in the vicinity of the border between Scotland and England it might also be extremely difficult to say whether the offence was committed in the jurisdiction of Scottish courts, or the jurisdiction of English courts.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) said that he had never seen the like of this in legislation before, and the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) said that by this Clause we were attacking the Act of Union. In fact, two Acts were passed by a Conservative Government which made the same kind of provision, Section 284 of the Customs and Excise Act, 1952, and Section 70 of the Post Office Act, 1953. There are two Victorian Acts as well, both Merchant Shipping Acts, and Section 62 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1959, which all deal with this rather difficult point in the same way.

I cannot accept the Amendment, but I will look at the matter again, because I realise that this is an extremely complex problem. However, it is to deal with an extremely complex situation.

Mr. Wylie

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that I have all along accepted the difficulty about offences committed on the high seas. This is not a new problem, and has been dealt with under the Merchant Shipping Act and the Oil Pollution Act. The problem arises here simply in the case of offences committed under certain Clauses of the Bill in Scotland, and there is no justification for a provision of this nature applying as it does to those offences. I think that there is room for restriction. However, in view of the undertaking which the right hon. Gentleman has generously given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Channon

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 6, line 24, to leave out subsection (4).

I understand that the subsection which the Amendment seeks to delete is not in the usual form, inasmuch as it says that summary proceedings for an offence under this Act may be instituted at any time within two years from the time when the offence was committed. The purpose of the Amendment is to ask the Government why it is necessary to have this long period of two years, and I would be grateful for some explanation of it.

Mr. Joseph Slater

The hon. Gentleman tabled an identical Amendment in Committee, and I had hoped that he was satisfied with the answer that I gave there. I hope that the House will forgive me if I try briefly to explain once more why the subsection is necessary.

Not all the offences created by the Bill are appropriate for prosecution on indictment. Nevertheless, it is important that people who commit summary offences should not have an easy way of escaping prosecution. To remove the subsection would be to provide such a means of escape.

Setting a time limit for the institution of summary proceedings is a necessary protection for the citizen against being intimidated by a threat of prosecution for an ancient offence. Normally, and unless the contrary is stated, the limit is six months. However, in some legislation it has been extended, because for various reasons six months would not always be long enough for legal proceedings to be instituted, and I gave the Committee some examples of the limit being extended to three years, and even to six years in the 1952 Income Tax Act.

The reason for the extension in the Bill is that most of the offences created by the Bill will either be committed at sea, or will be such that evidence from people at sea may be needed. There will thus be considerable scope for people to evade prosecution by remaining out of the country, or by arranging for essential witnesses to remain out of the country, until it is too late for evidence to be obtained in time to bring proceedings within the six months' time limit.

The Government considered various ways of overcoming this difficulty, and we concluded that the most sensible way was to extend the normal time limit for summary proceedings to two years. We believe that this is a reasonable way of deterring people from regularly evading prosecution by remaining at sea. There will still be a certain amount of scope for evasion, but it would not be reasonable to have no time limit at all. I sincerely hope that my explanation will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Channon

I should like to study the explanation we have just had from the Assistant Postmaster-General. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.